BONNIE "PRINCE" BILLY
The Letting Go
While The Letting Go, Will Oldham's eighth album under the "Prince" moniker, is his most opulent recording yet, he may have already given his most poignant, concentrated vocal to another man's release. His warble graced a hymn on the most recent Current 93 album; over a bed of both banjo and tamboura, it evoked Appalachia, the Scottish Highlands, and India, mesmerizing as Oldham revisited his well-trodden themes of earthly death and heavenly retribution. He also cropped up on Björk and Matthew Barney's Drawing Restraint 9 soundtrack, that collaboration leading to his recording at the same Reykjavik studio she uses.
In such a chilly clime, The Letting Go is startling in its warmth: violins, violas, cellos, flugelhorns, and electric piano thaw out the chill of the last Prince album of originals, 2003's stark and unadorned Master and Everyone. Surrounding him here are Emmett Kelly on guitar, his brother Paul on bass, the Dirty Three's Jim White on drums, and Dawn McCarthy (of Faun Fables), shadowing his every breath of yang with her own yin as they provide a comforting bed.
While his earliest Palace efforts feared and trembled before the Good Book, Will's been stuck on "Song of Solomon" ever since. How his voice entwines with McCarthy on "Lay and Love" is as classic as Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris. And such heaving, sinuous strings make "Love Comes to Me" and "Cursed Sleep" some of the most evocative (and climactic) of his entire catalog. So while he still sees a darkness, Oldham's also propped on his elbow, basking in the afterglow. ANDY BETA
Unifying Themes Redux
Before Cave-In spaced out and transformed into shitty wanna-be mainstream rockers à la 3 Doors Down and before every band was biting Converge and Jake Bannon's graphic-design style with some bullshit ink-splattered hoodie, Botch pioneered a brutal hybrid of metal and hardcore that's still viciously potent. The Northwest's answer to a sizable mid-'90s scene anchored in Boston by labels like Hydra Head, Botch remains one of the most imitated bands in contemporary hardcore.
This reissue of the out-of-print Unifying Themes Redux (originally released in 2002 on local label Excursion) is a comprehensive career retrospective and saves record nerds from besmirching the rare 7-inches that this disc collects. From the start, Botch's mix of complex time changes and brutal precision is on display with early material recorded by Wes Weresch at Tacoma's stalwart Uptone Studios back when the band was still called the John Birch Conspiracy Theory. While their sound was savage, Botch never took themselves too seriously, and their tongue-in-cheek covers of "O Fortuna," and "Rock Lobster" rock more than either track ever has had a right to.
Botch's members have moved on to other sounds with Minus the Bear and These Arms Are Snakes, but the genre they helped to define is being looted and diluted by mainstream pop in ways that parallel the ascendancy of hair/glam metal over the nebulous but universally understood category "true metal." It seems jejune to complain about the void left by a band that only disbanded four years ago, but whether you call it math rock or metalcore, Botch still slay any of today's MTV2 and MySpace also-rans. CHRISTOPHER HONG
Conceived and led by longtime Boredoms drummer Yoshimi P-We, OOIOO hit something of a comfortable stride on this, their fifth full-length. Like Yoshimi's other primary band, OOIOO make aggressively genreless music; from song to song and section to section they manage frequently surprising shifts into primal/elemental musical spaces that belie modern classification. OOIOO's palette, while occasionally overlapping with that of Boredoms, is unique, and has developed over the course of their eight-year career into a vocabulary that balances refinement of the band's musical character and unfettered invention. Theirs is a paradoxically formless pop sensibility; while the music's building blocks are primarily beautiful and often familiar feeling (harmonizing guitar lines, Yoshimi's deft trumpet, singing that's rooted in Japanese folk tradition, etc.), the way in which they are utilized and arranged works more in the vein of ancient trance musics or 20th-century minimalism.
OOIOO's blissful-experimental-pop-as-hypnosis MO is purer and simpler than ever on Taiga. Less spastic in its conception and execution than on previous efforts, most of the disc's tracks don't have song structure so much as a sense of gradual, natural, concerted development. The band's growth has been guided by Yoshimi's apparent personal shifts of focus in recent years to an intense communion with nature and a paganistic/ecstatic spirituality. While in less inventive and musically capable hands all of this could translate to yawny mush, with Taiga, OOIOO continue to expand the lush beauty and tingling weirdness of their vision while still stopping to smell the flowers. SAM MICKENS
With her new record, Electrice, founding Charalambides vocalist/guitarist and longtime pillar of avant folk Christina Carter extends the current experimental-music landscape's deep obsession with drone (an obsession partially spurred by the effect of Carter's work of the last several years) to the conception and construction of her songs. Beyond the base musical characteristics of "drone," she adopts in this work the concept's static, drawing-more-from-the-foundation-of-less nature by restricting herself to one guitar tuning and one key for the entirety of the record's four extended art songs.
Thankfully, Carter is an artist of enough skill and inspiration that the limited harmonic palette still yields a song suite rich in content and possessed of a hospital-bed resignation and great pining gravity. Working only with her restrainedly multitracked voice and guitars, she builds speed-of-nature songs imbedded with meditations on language, chronic pain, and water-damaged memories. Her guitars are largely shorn of sharp edges, alternately pure and pianistic or awash in jellied chorus, and her voice veers from a less bitter but no less weary Patti Smith–esque moan to pure-pretty sonorities.
With four songs in about 40 minutes, Electrice unfolds with an effective balance of improvisational looseness and solemn compositional clarity. Like the treetop swordfight in Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, the record evokes the feeling of a potentially infinite respite of celestial calm. SAM MICKENS
Inside In/Inside Out
These English fops were the next big thing around August 3, so sorry for the delay, but this debut has just dropped in the U.S. Insta-fleeting fame aside, the Kooks' main contribution may ultimately be that they're the first of a generation that consider the Strokes elder statesmen. This debut starts with a slower, pensive stroll (not unlike Is This It), and by tune three, they've hit the clipped Motown beats and droll vox in stride.
But despite singer Luke Pritchard's recent "misquoted" quips that these post-Strokes Brit boy bands will be "bigger than Britpop," the best songs here ("Eddie's Gun," "If Only") have the greasy charm of prime Supergrass. Elsewhere, there are scruffed vocal melodies and acoustic-flecked sweet ditties that'll guarantee lass action. But even the most gullible eyelash batters might grow weary of the innocuous, bad-date lyrics. Their boyfriends might notice that the Ziggy-inspired stuff was probably copped from Spacehog.
Nevertheless, the band has oodles of that effortless musicianship and jaunty vibe that Brit blokes have apparently been taught during grade-school detention hall since the Oasis/Blur feud. ERIC DAVIDSON
All This Time
With the opportunity for bands to develop their sound so rare now, it's jarring when you hear a band pushing themselves forward. The leap from this Cincinnati band's 2005 debut could span the Ohio River. The debut was a sturdy enough stomp through scruffy blues rock. But All This Time is another matter entirely. "Into the Open" opens with plaintive piano strolling in before Erika Wennerstrom's riffs and chorus cry of "Things are coming into focus" rise up. From there the band turn their formerly flabby 12-bars into swaying, string-scratched schlep-ics and rolling, misty pop, like PJ Harvey demos woozily worked up by a slumming Fleetwood Mac. The looser rhythm section swing their predominantly whiskey waltzes into the shimmering songwriting shifts. Heartless Bastards seem brighter now, more dawn than dusk. ERIC DAVIDSON