Album cover courtesy ATO
Talk is cheap. Sometimes the most powerful way to say something is with music. Guitar gurus Rodrigo y Gabriela having been speaking volumes with their jaw-dropping albums for years, and the recently released 9 Dead Alive (ATO) continues the impressive tradition. Here, we further explore the Dead and four other recommended instrumental albums:
1) Rodrigo y Gabriela – 9 Dead Alive
Technically, there are vocals on the 2014 album by the Mexico guitar-slingers, if you count the heady “Sunday Neurosis.” That track features ponderings by psychiatrist Viktor Frankl over Rodrigo Sanchez’s and Gabriela Quintero’s rhythmic and watery strumming. But the rest of the album relies on the stunning musicality of the pair. Culling from traditional flamenco and perhaps a bit of Jonny Greenwood’s uneasy noodling, 9 Dead Alive covers the emotional spectrum. “Megapolis” is contemplative and crisp, kicking in with percussion more than three-fourths of the way through the song. Track one, “The Soundmaker,” is bold, stomping and rattling. “Misty Moses” takes a jazzy route, lacing together mellow “verses” with forceful bridges. The nine jams are all spellbinding.
2) Frank Lenz – Water Tiger
Again, we caution that this is not an entirely instrumental album (see the jovial surf-rock closer, “Debts Lance/For Bella with Love”). But omit that novelty, and you get a serene musical record by the man behind the drums for Pedro the Lion and Starflyer 59. Indulge in the sumptuous synth and comet-tail noise of “A Kill He’s Healed.” Recognize a bit of the Postal Service in the dreamy “Pentasynth.” Go for a breezy stroll with the gentle “All the Gears in the World” as your companion. It’s all rather lovely and surprising for a drummer to have such a light touch.
3) Explosions in the Sky – Take Care, Take Care, Take Care
Explosions in the Sky burst onto the music scene by scoring the soundtrack to the film version of Friday Night Lights. Their thundering drums coupled with resonating guitar plucks truly brought to mind heavenly, evanescent art. On their last non-soundtrack offering, 2011’s Take Care, Take Care, Take Care (Temporary Residence), the Texas band infused a bit more of a groove into their signature sound. Pulse-pounding tracks like “Be Comfortable, Creature” saw the troupe in flux, wrestling with their symphonic and metal tendencies. Their website notes that the aurally inquisitive foursome will be working on a new album this year. We can’t wait.
4) Rachel Grimes – Compound Leaves
Cinematic and stark, the work of Rachel Grimes is all snowy landscapes and minimalist beauty. She’s provided piano and composition for PJ Harvey and Glen Hansard’s the Frames, and here she provides gorgeous naturescapes. The melodic and riveting “My Dear Companion” trots like a faithful pony. And “Far Light” captures the celestial dance of aurora borealis. Compound Leaves is a lush listen, transcendent and soothing.
5) Russian Circles – Empros
Not all instrumental albums are meant for relaxation. Empros (Sargent House) is gloriously nightmarish. (Fitting— Russian Circles opened for spooky rockers Tool in the past.) The Chicago brooders muscle their way through six walloping songs on their 2011 release. It’s christened with the snarling, growling, screeching “309” and then takes a breathier turn with the single “Miádek,” dedicated to the group’s tour bus driver. Metalheads with a soft heart? We can dig it.