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Idle Warship

Habits of the Heart

(Fontana; US: 1 Nov 2011)


Idle Warship
Habits of the Heart


For the past decade, Idle Warship, the duo made up of Talib Kweli and Res, relegated their music to their MySpace pages or respective solo albums. Finally they released their first full-length album Habits of the Heart and it’s one of the year’s unrivaled collaborative efforts. Res’ voice harkens back to the great jazz ladies, such as Billie Holiday or Ella Fitzgerald, while Kweli offers his dependable musical virtuosity. Pairing Res’ sound to Kweli’s eclectic mix of instrumental and electronic beats creates a flawless merging of organic and synthetic sound. Whether it is a stylistic smooth R&B ballad, a dance song based in electronica, a classic hip-hop flow clearly influenced by the Philadelphia sound, or just a simple mambo, this album is impossible to categorize. Each track is its own self-contained art piece and that makes the entire album fun, addictive, and so worth the wait. Elisabeth Woronzoff


 

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Joy Kills Sorrow

This Unknown Science

(Signature Sounds; US: 13 Sep 2011; UK: 19 Sep 2011)

Review [15.Sep.2011]


Joy Kills Sorrow
This Unknown Science


2011 wasn’t exactly a real breakout year for bluegrass music—there were no O Brother, Where Art Thou?-type albums leading a charge—but this long-player from a young Boston-area band makes the case that you can still do new, astounding things with old-timey music, and do it joyously. From the opening mandolin trills of “Reservations” to the, well, sweet ballad “Such Sweet Alarms”, This Unknown Science is like taking a journey into the past with a youthful, unbridled energy that makes everything seem current and fashionable. The songwriting is ace, the musicianship is stellar, and the female-fronted vocals hit you like taking a spoonful of honey. In short, This Unknown Science seems to exist on its own planet, and is an enjoyable ride from start to finish. On a personal note, I had this album in my CD player alarm clock from September (its release date) to December of 2011, and it was a giddy pleasure to wake up every morning to this. This Unknown Science, being a country-ish, bluegrass album, may be a bit of an anomaly in 2011 releases, but it definitely holds its own and marks an important leap forward in Americana craft. No one is making music quite like this, and that’s what makes this disc so special. Zachary Houle


 

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The Kilimanjaro Darkjazz Ensemble

From the Stairwell

(Parallel Corners; US: 1 Mar 2011)


The Kilimanjaro Darkjazz Ensemble
From the Stairwell


You remember those ‘magic eye’ autostereogram computer art prints, where there would be a sheet of dancing Snoopy’s and, if you looked at it long enough, you’d eventually see a 3-D image of Woodstock smoking a joint or something? From the Stairwell is like that, only far more rewarding. You can break the album down into its constituent parts, like the tasteful electronic manipulations and cool drumming Gideon Kiers, the smoky bass and piano of Jason Köhnen, the ethereal vocals of Charlotte Cegarra, the shimmering guitar work of Eelco Bosman, and the impressive orchestral credits goes on. Yet, in doing so, one misses the point of From the Stairwell. The eight lengthy collaborations here evoke something intangible, something tribal and stirring. The album sets a mood, spreading sensations of film-noir betrayal and espionage, breathing on the listener’s neck until they can’t help but dart a look over their shoulder. Few groups today have this visceral of a telekinetic charge. Alan Ranta


 

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Kronos Quartet / Kimmo Pohjonen / Samuli Kosminen

Uniko

(Ondine; US: 1 Feb 2011; UK: 28 Feb 2011)

Review [12.May.2011]


Kronos Quartet / Kimmo Pohjonen / Samuli Kosminen
Uniko


Uniko is a seven-movement suite, a collaborative effort between the Kronos Quartet, accordionist Kimmo Pohjonen and percussionist/electronics guru Samuli Kosminen that is not only a fantastic work in its own right but is a stunning display of equality in a cooperative effort. Of the six musicians involved, not one steals the show and not one gets left behind. All instruments swirl together perfectly, allowing an intense, dramatic mash-up of World and classical music to float to the top. Kosminen’s use of digital noises can’t get any further from being a hindrance and Pohjonen’s wordless vocalizations work the same way: taking nothing from and always adding to the mystery of Uniko. Like most great pieces of music out there, this is stuff that blurs the lines without going out of its way to do so. It just rolls out like it is, and that’s what makes this joint effort such an overlooked masterpiece. John Garratt


 

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Ladytron

Gravity the Seducer

(Nettwerk; US: 13 Sep 2011; UK: 12 Sep 2011)

Review [6.Nov.2011]


Ladytron
Gravity the Seducer


While drawing praise for its technical craft, Ladytron’s 2011 release has been underappreciated, in comparison to the extensive popularity of the band’s three previous albums: Light & Magic, Witching Hour, and Velocifero, which saw crossover support for the band’s embrace of an edgier, electro-rock hybrid sound. Gravity the Seducer is a resolute return to basics, evidenced by a determined live set in which the band comes out of the gates with “Ritual”, the hardest edged of three instrumentals on the album. Gravity the Seducer emphasizes a mesmerizing atmospheric texture, presenting soaring vocals on the part of Helen Marnie in the album’s opening track, “White Elephant”, while Mirage, hearkens back to synth-pop roots, warm vocals over a track that would be at home on OMD’s Dazzle Ships. “Ritual” is the most distinctive, an ominous and lush track that in minor key, sounds like an instrumental followup to Blondie’s club classic “Atomic”. While some fans prefer the band’s recent catchy hooks, with the exception of well-received single “Ace of Hearts”, Ladytron has crafted a gorgeous work with deep tracks that provide shades one might expect to accompany a Kafkaesque movie soundtrack, reminiscent of a 2011 breakout artist, Still Corners, who draw inspiration from French new wave and Italian horror. While the term ethereal vocals is sadly overused, “Ambulances” should serve as the poster child for its proper use, while “Melting Ice” features an intoxicating combination of atmospherics with an irresistible electronic back-beat. Dennis Shin


 

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Hugh Laurie

Let Them Talk

(Warner Bros.; US: 6 Sep 2011)


Hugh Laurie
Let Them Talk


It doesn’t take many listens to Let Them Talk before it becomes abundantly clear Hugh Laurie has the chops to pull off this excursion through the best of American blues. The Doctor is in, and he’s very much at home with the music he’s covering here. Clearly this is a labor of love for Laurie. On the title track he lets his voice and piano tell it all, and holding that song up to the light on its own merits it seems to completely sum up his motives. “Let them whisper because they know not what’s between you and I,” he sings. “I’m gonna keep on, I’m gonna keep on loving you ‘til the day that I die.” Give the album a chance and you’ll be converted. By the time Let Them Talk has played out in its full glory, you’ll have forgotten this is a blues album by an actor. It’ll be more “where’s this guy been all these years?” Jonathan Sanders


 

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Loka

Passing Place

(Ninja Tune; US: 6 Dec 2011)


Loka
Passing Place


Since the release of Fire Shepherds in 2006, Loka has experienced a rebirth. Co-founder Karl Webb walked away from the project some time ago, leaving Mark Kyriacou to flesh out the official Loka line-up with four members of their touring band. As a result, Passing Place has more ideas and a far richer sound than its predecessor. There’s an effortless late ‘60s mod bachelor pad soundtrack vibe now, where Fire Shepherds leaned more towards sparser yet lengthier jazz explorations. Passing Place is graphically cinematic and hauntingly beautiful, yet thoroughly groovy, taking the orchestral jazz of One-Armed Bandit by labelmates Jaga Jazzist to a more polished and fully-realized place. You can see the movie this album was meant to score as you listen. Alan Ranta


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