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All Over the Map

By Carlo Wolff

David Torn

Prezens (ECM)

David Torn packs more into one track than most other musicians invest in a whole album. He’s a texturalist who thrives on improvisation and collaboration, the hallmarks of this startling, diverse CD. The music is harsh, in the shredder showcase “Sink” and the sprawling “Bulbs”; funky, in “Ring for Endless Travel”; mesmerizing like deepest Bjork, in the meticulously bent “Ever More Other”; and inspiring, in “Miss Place, the Mist . . . ,” a great, anthemic construction that sets Gypsy tonality in a pop frame. Prezens documents a rigorous, fearless musician who’s doctored hours of tracks recorded live in 2005 into an unpredictable, surprising sequence in which it’s hard to tell where Torn’s distorted, manipulated guitar leaves off so keyboardist Craig Taborn can override. Saxophonist Tim Berne, like Torn a jazz iconoclast for going on 30 years, is easy to identify, as is drummer Tom Rainey (though what precisely he plays and how much it’s been electronically altered is up to the listener to parse). Percussionist Matt Chamberlain checks in on “Miss Place,” a welcome melodic stop toward the end of this demanding and singular CD. This is swirling, brave music for those willing to open their ears to the new. Some listening here is easier than other; go along for the whole trip.

I’m From Barcelona

Let Me Introduce My Friends (Mute)

Joining the very short list of bands with contractions in their names are the sprawling Swedish ensemble I’m From Barcelona. None of the 29 members are actually from the Spanish city included in their moniker. Formed by Emanuel Lundgren in Jonkoping, Sweden, the band are a tribute to the butler on the television program Fawlty Towers for whom it was a catch phrase. With perhaps more people on board than he actually needs, it’s no surprise that a giddy sense of community tumbles through the proceedings. Though different in character, there’s a link to the much smaller-populated band that Ronnie Lane formed in the ’70s, Slim Chance. As with Lane’s endeavor, none of this would work if there weren’t solid songs on which to build the rollicking arrangements. Lundgren’s vocals are buoyed by delightful chorus vocals, and colorful instrumentation (horns, strings, accordions, a glockenspiel, and more all come and go) adorn the rhythmic core of guitars, bass, piano, and drums. And they’ve even got a catchy theme song: “We’re From Barcelona.”

—David Greenberger

Devin Townsend

Ziltoid the Omniscient (Heavy Devy)

“I am Ziltoid the Omniscient. I have come far from across the omniverse! You shall fetch me your universe’s ultimate cup of coffee! Black! You have five Earth minutes. Make it perfect!” It’s hard to believe that is the introduction to what will almost certainly be the best metal album of 2007, but it is. The metal-opera epic of alien conqueror Ziltoid the Omniscient (the ultimate fourth-dimensional guitar hero if he does say so himself) and his quest to capture the world’s finest coffee bean while doing battle with Captain Spectacular is this year’s greatest metal triumph, and it was all put together by one man.

Strapping Young Lad frontman and mad genius Devin Townsend returns all by his lonesome, replacing his industrial-death-metal compatriots with the kind of inspiration he hasn’t had since Strapping Young Lad’s metal-canon-worthy album City. Townsend, who is notorious as much for his prolificness as for his bipolar disorder, has kept a frenzied schedule of album releases, and as of late he has been accused of pushing product out before it is polished. But none of that matters with Ziltoid. How good is Ziltoid?

Ziltoid is like a cybernetic version of Queen come back to life to put things right with rock & roll.

Townsend’s Zappa-esque, comedic-metal story is so good it should make Trent Reznor shake in his black boots. The perfection of Townsend’s spacey pop-metal delivery should make Billy Corgan think twice before releasing his band’s reunion album this summer.

The tracks on Ziltoid transcend the goofy sci-fi theme—most of them could be radio hits if it weren’t for the mad ramblings of Ziltoid: “Fooey! Indeed! Fooey!” “Solar Winds,” a track reminiscent of Metallica’s Black Album with its huge chorus of “Now it’s gone, gone away”—is both epic and moving, but it also has the spoken introduction, “We now join Captain Spectacular as he introspectively gazes out his starship window on his way to find the 5th dimensional nebulo 9.” Devin Townsend is officially my hero.

—David King

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