Even a cursory glance of our biweekly “What Heavy Blog Is Really Listening To” posts (last weeks update here) will reveal that there is a great deal of variety among our staff’s musical tastes. Due to this, we brainstormed the idea of “Playlist Swap,” another biweekly segment that takes place between playlist updates. We randomly select two of the participants from each update, have them pick their favorite track from each of the nine albums in their grid and then send the list over to the other person to listen to and comment on. Within these commentaries occurs praise, criticism and discovery, and we hope that you experience a few instances of this last point as well. This week’s post brought staff members Scott Murphy and Jimmy Mullett together to peruse each other’s tastes:
Jimmy’s Grid & Scott’s Thoughts
Scott: As the only member of Heavy Blog’s staff that I know from real life, Jimmy have a much different dynamic than other people on the blog in that we’ve been able to listen to and discuss music in the flesh and sift through the shelves at Bull Moose and Newbury Comics on a weekly basis (much to the chagrin of my bank account). Jimmy’s taste has broadened since we first met, and he’s always turning me on to new music that I probably would’ve never checked out otherwise. I’m interested to see if this playlist swap will do just that:
Billy Joel – 52nd Street – “Zanzibar”
Jimmy: I’m unashamedly a Billy Joel fan. I just love him. I grew up listening to him, but it wasn’t until recently that his style and his lyrics just hit home with me. The Stranger is definitely up there with my all-time favorite albums.
52nd Street is an interesting album, though. When I (briefly) lived in Manhattan, I actually walked through 52nd (where the album was recorded) just to see how it had changed from the jazz capital of yesteryear. Hint—it’s all goddamn business offices now instead of jazz clubs. (Seriously, screw Midtown; I don’t know why people like it.) I think Billy was in a way lamenting the decline of jazz on the album, and throwing back his sound to records that made him want to be a musician in the first place. “Zanzibar” actually features famed hard bop trumpeter Freddie Hubbard, who is perhaps my favorite trumpet player.
Scott: I honestly can’t remember the last time I listened to Billy Joel…it may have been as far back as Freshman year of high school when I found a greatest hits set on my parent’s CD shelf. This track might change that; everything about it draws me in and makes me want to see how much of Billy’s talents I’ve been missing because of my obsession with “We Didn’t Start the Fire.” Obviously the trumpet-work that closes out the track is spectacular, but my favorite part of the composition is that sort of “shuffling” piano line that conjures an image of strolling about Manhattan at the peak of jazz’s popularity. I’m going to have to snag this album from Jimmy’s collection.
Porcupine Tree – In Absentia – “Lips of Ashes”
Jimmy: I know that Scott isn’t the biggest Porcupine Tree fan, and I don’t blame him—people tend to overrate Steven Wilson’s work a lot, so the resulting listen can be a little underwhelming.
Obviously, I listened to this album to take notes for the Heavy Rewind I did earlier this week. It’s an album that changed the way I listened to music. “Lips of Ashes” is maybe the strangest song on the album—every time I hear it, the lack of drums and the icy synths remind me of some murky world, where life is just starting out. And the guitar solo is so incredible on this album—it pierces me every time.
Scott: Did I expect to dislike this? Honestly, yes. I’ve had a rocky relationship with progressive rock and metal, with the albums I’ve spun either becoming some of my favorites of all time or examples of what I try to avoid when I look for new music. However, while what I’ve heard of Porcupine Tree in the past didn’t wow me, this track is excellent, and I have no caveats to pin onto that statement. A truly great progressive track feels like a grandiose piece in itself as well as a foreshadowing tale of something greater, which is something this track excels at. The composition is gorgeous and makes me want to listen to what follows. Thanks to Jimmy for giving me the opportunity to conquer my prejudices.
Madonna – Like a Virgin – “Like a Virgin”
Jimmy: I’m a sucker for the 1980s, where pop music was as synth-filled and campy as can be. For some reason, I’ve been listening to this song over and over again for the past few weeks. And I love it! I can’t say I like all of Madonna’s work—I really haven’t listened to most of it, to be honest—but I love the babydoll way her voice sounds in this song. And let’s not forget the little “Hey!” she belts after the chorus begins.
And let’s not forget Weird Al’s awesome parody of this song.
Scott: The fact that Jimmy loves Madonna will always be entertaining to me. I don’t mean that there’s anything wrong with liking Madonna; I happen to respect and enjoy her music immensely. While she isn’t the best pop artist in any specific category, she’s one of the few pop stars to be great in all of the major aspects of being a star and capitalizing on everything that title has to offer. “Like a Virgin” is an obvious classic that showcases exactly how intelligent Madonna is and, more importantly, hw many great songs she’s penned over the course of her career.
Cthe’ilist – Le Dernier Crépuscule – “Voidspawn”
Jimmy: I have no idea how to pronounce this band’s name, but this album was incredibly enjoyable. It has a feeling at times that I wish bands like Fleshgod Apocalypse had (i.e. majestic and epically monstrous), and it has some awesome guitar solos to boot, but it doesn’t let either get in the way of some solid death metal.
Scott: Totally agree with Jimmy on this one; such a solid death metal album. I do think there’s merit to the Demilich-worship tag, but there’s so much more going on that I don’t think you can pigeonhole Cthe’ilist into one specific lane or down to one sole influence. They’re playing death metal the way it was founded: fast, grimy and full of evil.
Daughters – Daughters – “The Virgin”
Jimmy: My thoughts about this album as a whole are on my article about modern mathcore, so check that out if you’re interested. “The Virgin,” aside from contributing to the “virgin theme” I apparently have in this grid, is a kickass song. Although I’m a big fan of mathcore, I find that a lot of it can get a little redundant. Not so much with Daughters—they do it up in a big way. You probably won’t find another mathcore band using vocals the same way!
Scott: I’m not entirely sure if I like this or not, and I know exactly what’s causing my hesitation. This is wicked solid musically; I love manic, noisy music, especially when it comes to rock and its adjacent genres. But those vocals…man, they sound like a bored David Byrne. To be fair to Daughters, I do like the uniqueness of this stylistic choice, and I feel like it’s something that could be fairly easy to get accustomed to. I’ll try some more tracks and see what happens.
Tom Waits – Bone Machine – “Goin’ Out West”
Jimmy: Tom Waits can be a hit or miss for me. It’s like I need to be in the right mood to deal with that growl of his.
Unless, of course, if that track is “Goin’ Out West.” It’s just catchy, and one of the few Tom Waits songs where I feel that the instrumentation actually lines up with Waits’s vocals; it has a foreboding sound to it, like Waits is starting up a motorcycle right in the middle of Mad Max and then taking a ride through the ruined world.
Scott: Jimmy’s mentioned this album to me numerous times recently, and I now I can see exactly why. I borrows Swordfishtrombones from Jimmy a few weeks ago and fell in love with Tom Waits’ bold take on jazz and blues, both musically and (especially) vocally. My favorite part of any Waits track is the latter, so I was stoked to play this track and hear his husky growl on full throttle. It works well against the simple, ominous instrumentation, which is written carefully so as to give a cushion for his voice to shine while also remaining interesting in itself. I can’t wait to snag this from Jimmy’s collection.
Swans – The Seer – “The Seer Returns”
Jimmy: I was tempted to give Scott the 32-minute title track, which I’m sure he wouldn’t mind, given his love for Swans, but I decided to give him the sequel. The Seer is probably the best album from the band that I’ve heard yet; it’s dense—it’s an album that gives more and more upon each listen. “The Seer Returns” showcases what I like about Swans the best—the way they use rhythm in a manner that might border on incessant, but is undeniably grooving.
Scott: It amazes how much this album floors me no matter how many times I put it on. I remember buying this as a blind purchase back in 2012 solely due to all of the acclaim it had received up to that point, which began an arguably excessive devotion to Swans and a bucket list item to own all of their records on vinyl (I’m getting there, by the way). Jimmy could have icked any track, to be honest; every song on here is a towering testament to the strength of the record as a whole.
Charles Mingus – Black Saint and the Sinner Lady – “Track A—Solo Dancer”
Jimmy: It sometimes takes me a while to listen to music I’ve recently bought, considering all the new stuff that’s always dropping. So when Black Saint and the Sinner Lady came on the other day, I was just floored. I stopped everything I was doing and just sat there listening to it. I’d forgotten how goddamn amazing of an album it is. Mingus’s use of avant-garde song structure combined with more standard jazz sounds is simply stunning, and almost like it was straight out of a noir, not unlike Miles Davis’s film score for Ascenseur pour l’échafaud.
Scott: I’ve only ever heard Minugs Ah Um (which is excellent), but what I’m hearing here is even better. This is supposed to be a concept album of sorts (if I recall correctly), and since Jimmy let me borrow the whole CD, I’m looking forward to spinning it in full to se how every track plays out.
Alice Coltrane – Universal Consciousness – “The Ankh of Amen-Ra”
Jimmy: I didn’t really know what to expect when I bought some Alice Coltrane a few weeks ago; I’d seen her name come up a couple times on Amoeba Music’s awesome “What’s In My Bag?” segment on YouTube, and kept hearing that it was really avant-garde jazz. I mean, who’s heard of using a harp in a jazz album?
However, I’m loathe to call Universal Consciousness a jazz album, mostly because it has so much more than just jazz. Sure, there are the organ stylings pinned under the other orchestration, but the strings and the harp bring such a classical vibe to the entire thing. It feels almost sacrilege to box it into a specific label other than the word “beautiful.”
Scott: My only prior experience with Alice Coltrane was with her mention on Sunn O))‘s Monoliths & Dimensions, but hearing her own music is obviously quite a bit different. I agree wholeheartedly with Jimmy’s description of the album and – like Charles Mingus – look forward to listening to the album in full.
Scott’s Grid & Jimmy’s Comments
Jimmy: Scott and I have been friends for, what, five years now? And through it we’ve seen our tastes in music change in ways we didn’t expect. Hell, I can remember when Scott was trying to push Carnifex on me while I was trying to convert him to, like, Tesseract.
Nowadays, it’s always interesting to see what he’s been listening to; I may not always enjoy all of it, but Scott’s music is incredibly expansive when it comes to taste—you never know what you’re going to get.
Blasphemy – Fallen Angel of Doom – “Darkness Prevails”
Scott: I can almost guarantee that Jimmy isn’t going to enjoy this very much. Bestial black metal – which is still one of my favorite genre names – is an abrasive genre that doesn’t focus much at all at great songwriting, to be perfectly honest. For me, I just just love the immense, brutal slabs of aggression that blur by faster and heavier than most of it subgenre peers. Blasphemy are credited as starting the style, so I was glad to finally place it in my collection.
Jimmy: This was just okay to listen to. It reminded me a lot of Venom, at least in the quality of production. I don’t think it’s bad black/death metal, but the production really put me off; I like to hear more of what’s going on in the track, personally. And, besides, if I’m going to listen to this sort of music, I always have Behemoth to fall back on, right? Major props to the solo and the beginning of the track, though—they set the mood really well.
Dust – Agony Planet – “Breeding Pit”
Scott: This was one of the first 2016 releases that I was anticipating, and it’s due entirely to the strength of this track. It strikes such an amazing balance between danceability and dark, spacious atmospheres, two of my favorite traits when it comes to electronic music. I feel like Jimmy is going to love this, and I hope I’ve inspired him to add an entry to his running “Best of” list for the year.
Jimmy: Wow! Thoroughly impressed with this track! The intro legitimately scared me, and the cool groove that starts up really got me into what the song had to offer. There are times that it seemed a little too repetitious, but right when I was getting bored, the track would throw me for a loop by adding something interesting. And that album cover? Super cool. It almost looks like it was done by Justin Bartlett, or maybe some demented resurrection of Albrecht Dürer. I’m definitely looking more into this album when I have the chance.
Église – Église – “A Host of Sparrows”
Scott: I said quite a bit about this record in my review, so I’ll direct anyone interested to there – and if you love Converge, please do yourself the courtesy. I can’t remember how big of a Converge fan Jimmy is; we haven’t talked about them for a while since they’ve been fairly silent for a while now (seriously, what the fuck, guys?).
Jimmy: Scott wasn’t wrong in his review when he compared this band to Converge. And I agree with him—Église is no Converge copycat, though; they definitely have a different thing going when it comes to song structure. I’d say they use a lot more feedback than Converge, and they use it in a different way, which is definitely a plus for me
I actually had this on my “to listen” list for a while, but haven’t gotten around to it. I’m super psyched that I did, though; I’m always on the prowl for new hardcore music, and this doesn’t disappoint. Super cool artwork, too, though I’ll still always prefer Jacob Bannon’s work over it.
Gas – Pop – “Untitled 4”
Scott: I’ve tried for so fucking long to find this at a decent price on CD or vinyl; it’s easily one of the greatest pieces of ambient music I’ve ever heard. This track in particular strikes me in such a powerful way, with the intermixing of the subtle, consistent kick drum, lightly distorted bell and overall gorgeous atmosphere. I really hope Jimmy likes this so I don;t have to feel bad gushing about it next time I see him.
Jimmy: Pop is an album that I wanted to give a try but never did because I ended up listening to Music For Airports or Rubycon instead.
I’m a little on the fence on liking this track, though. I really like the feeling it gives off, but it’s a bit too repetitive for my taste. (I’m not against repetition, but I like to see a progression after some time, which doesn’t really happen enough for me.) Then again, ambient music is arguably about more than the song itself—it’s about the experience that it projects to the listener—and the experience from this song is interesting, to say the least. It’s what I imagine the elevator music in heaven sounds like.
While I’m not sure that I’d ever buy this or even borrow it from Scott (assuming he has it on CD), I’m still very happy to have listened to it.
Lord Mantis – Perverter – “Perverter of the Will”
Scott: If it’s sludgy, loud and packaged behind a gruesome cover, I can all but guarantee that I’ll love it. Dragged Into Sunlight and Coffinworm are two of my my favorite current metal bands, and since Lord Mantis has been heavily recommended to me because of that, I finally decided to check them out. They didn’t disappoint at all, and I’m glad I finally got around to checking them out.
Jimmy: I got into Lord Mantis while scouring through the Best of 2014 lists and seeing Death Mask ranked pretty high. I always end up considering buying it when Scott and I go to the CD store, but it’s a little too expensive for me. (To be fair, I’m pretty cheap.)
Anyway, I can’t say I hate this song; in fact, it’s very much the opposite. I love the production—the guitars sound super crunchy—and the singer projects an aura that I really like. (Wow, did I just use the word “aura” to describe music? I’m turning into a douche before my very eyes, apparently.) On the side of songwriting, I like how Lord Mantis switches things up structurally, yet keeps the riffs they play pretty basic, for the most part. The solo—if you can call it that—has a really cool feel to it, too.
And, if I’m correct, Justin Bartlett did make the album cover. Only he could draw something that messed up.
Warning, Scott—I’m stealing this next time I come over to raid your CD collection!
Menomena – Moms – “Pique”
Scott: I wish that I’d had more time to spend with this album. This goes for all of the albums here (life blog is life, lately), but I found Moms to be the most intriguing album of the fresh listens that were included in my grid. I sent a picture to Nick – who loves Menomena – while I was at Newbury Comics asking him if I should buy it on CD, and he responded with a resounding “YES.” You know what, I’m going to put it back in my Jeep and see if I can digest it further.
Jimmy: From the little research I did, this band didn’t choose their name after the Muppets song; however, that’s all I can think of when someone says Menomena.
I can’t say I’m a huge fan of indie rock; it always feels like the same old thing—whiny vocals, less-than-stellar guitar work, and enough pretentiousness in their lyrics and image to make Kanye West look like the Buddha. However, this is a nice change of pace. The addition of horns and more auxiliary percussion are pretty cool; at points it almost reminds me of Ray Barretto. Not sure if I’d listen to any more of these guys, though.
Silver Jews – American Water – “Random Rules”
Scott: Attracted by the name; sold by the music. If you’re at all into alt-country or indie rock, this is a must-listen. I mainly spun it to unwind and relax while I was falling asleep, but the listens I’ve given it while fully conscious were full of snarky lyrics and dusty, sharp music.
Jimmy: When Scott told me the name of this band, I couldn’t help but laugh. You gotta respect a musician that calls a project Silver Jews.
Musically, however, I can’t say I’m much of a fan. It isn’t horrible, but the song sounds a little too lazily written for my taste, like an indie Neil Young who’s basically not trying. (So basically Neil Young now?) I’m not much of an alt-country/folk/whatever this counts as, anyway.
Ulver – ATGCLVLSSCAP – “Glammer Hammer”
Scott: When I heard a reworked version of one of my favorite moments from Messe I.X-VI.X, I immediately stopped listening to ATGCLVLSSCAP in the background and began to pa attention to Ulver excelling at music once again. I remember Jimmy saying that he’d only listened to some of the album, which is fair since it’s nearly an hour and a half long. Still, this is a must listen for 2016 in my opinion, so I’m glad this will give him an excuse to revisit the album.
Jimmy: For some reason, I only listened to part of this album, which is a damn shame because what I’ve heard is fantastic.
I’ll admit that I haven’t listened to much Ulver, but they deserve major kudos for sticking to their guns musically and just doing whatever the hell they want. That’s admirable; we need more of that in the music scene today.
Sonically, I can’t help but think of some sort of experimental rock version of Bitches Brew when I listen to this, though it’s much more structured than Bitches Brew. I’d heard that the album was actually created from live improvisations that were then altered in the studio, which just screams electric-era Miles Davis to me.
All that aside, though, I really like this. Like many of the other people on staff at Heavy Blog, this will probably end up ranking pretty high on my end of the year list.