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Tinariwen Sun Kil Moon, Sunn O))) and Ulver 

Sound Advice

click to enlarge Emmaar

Tinariwen

Emmaar

Wedge

File next to: Dirty Three, Amadou & Miriam

Tinariwen plays a Malian form of "desert blues," but this atmospheric and hypnotic release is literally and figuratively miles away from hackneyed and recycled Stevie Ray Vaughan tropes. Because of volatile and dangerous situations in their homeland of Mali (even resulting in the kidnapping of guitarist Abdallah Ag Lamida), the group retreated to another desert to record this release — Joshua Tree in California. Perhaps due to the presence of guests such as Red Hot Chili Peppers guitarist Josh Klinghoffer and former Chavez/Bonnie "Prince" Billy guitar hero Matt Sweeney, the sound sometimes has a slight Southwestern influence, resembling Calexico's spaghetti western drama on tracks like "Toumast Tincha" and the galloping "Emajer." However, the chanted vocals, entwining modal guitars, and droning tablas create a sun-scorched, nomadic sound all their own in the rock 'n' roll world. This is a record that turns desolate landscapes into plaintive, mesmerizing soundscapes. — Collin Estes

click to enlarge Benji

Sun Kil Moon

Benji

Caldo Verde

File next to: Elliott Smith, Neil Young, Red House Painters

Recent Sun Kil Moon releases were largely indistinguishable from Mark Kozelek's solo albums, which is not always a good thing. The band's founder has put out several live albums of road lament, even as Sun Kil Moon's strident folk rock began moving in the same direction. While 2012's Among the Leaves tried to expand the palette, it remained a self-absorbed solo work disguised as a Sun Kil Moon album. Benji is a conscious attempt to break the mold by enumerating tragedies Kozelek has experienced in his Ohio family, along with a political track or two, such as a song about Newtown. Some will find the unrelenting sadness to be too much information, but Kozelek manages to make death funny and droll through pop culture references. The result is Kozelek's most distinctive work in 20 years, even as he whines about nearing 50. — Loring Wirbel

click to enlarge Terrestrials

Sunn O))) & Ulver

Terrestrials

Southern Lord

File next to: Starving Weirdos, Fripp & Eno, Miles Davis

Given that both Seattle's Sunn O))) and Norway's Ulver are known for feedback-drenched noise drones and black metal, a collaboration would be expected to sound like Merzbow meets Metal Machine Music. Au contraire. This compact, moody 35-minute album consists of three tracks with an ambient, near-orchestral feel, complete with Mellotron, bells, and even violin. A final 14-minute track even includes some vocals that owe more to folkie chants than metal growls. The closest antecedent might be Brian Eno's longer ambient works such as Thursday Afternoon or Music for Airports, albeit with a shorter running time. Jam sessions recorded in a single take follow the musicians' whims, so this collaboration should be appreciated for just what it is — an unexpected turn by both bands to a loosely defined post-metal world. — Loring Wirbel

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