Like the grand majority of modern metal fans, our tastes here at Heavy Blog are incredibly vast, with our 3X3s in each Playlist Update typically covering numerous genres and sometimes a different style in each square. While we have occasionally covered non-metal topics in past blog posts, we decided that a dedicated column was warranted in order to more completely recommend all of the music that we have been listening to. Unmetal Monday is a weekly column which covers noteworthy news, tracks and albums from outside the metal universe, and we encourage you all to share your favorite non-metal picks from the week in the comments. Head past the jump to dial down the distortion:
Go Back to the Future/Past With Carpenter Brut’s Trilogy
When you think of retrowave, you’re actually imagining the future with the past’s eyes. We look forward to a future filled with the dreams, horrors and aspirations of decades long gone, extrapolating along with them on lines that are no longer relevant. This gives us a form of very special nostalgia, tinged with the lost dreams of our parents or older selves. And it also makes for a hell of a musical theme, infusing tired beats with a longing that’s both taken seriously and jokingly, derided and praised at the same time. Carpenter Brut, one of the grooviest, most prolific artists within this genre, has perfectly captured this dualistic vibe with his Trilogy, a romp through velvety synths, undulating beats and rich samples.
“Disco Zombi Italia” is only one of many examples. It begins with a sample that might be a regurgitated loop of some disco track from the 70’s. It quickly piles on an infectious and happy-go-lucky main synth lead that will carry us through the entire thing. However, that lead is also backed by almost inaudibly saturated backing synths, at least three and sometimes four tracks thick. The drums play their somewhat traditional role in all of this, pushing us forward along the track as we, inevitably almost, end up with the sample we first began with.
The tracks immediately after it, like “L.A Venice Bitch 80’s” or later track “Sexkiller On the Loose,” continue along those lines. The trick here is to try and grasp all the synth tracks and backing parts happening at once and then to let them fade into the whole, diverting your attention to the main lead. This back and forth, from rich backing parts to insanely catchy lead, is the core engine at the base of this spaceship of dance. It’s a great example of why retrowave is interesting: you can dance to it but you can also analyze it, appreciating the intricate interplay between classic sounds and modern manifestations. Brut does all of this expertly, creating a modulating tapestry that bears hours and hours of scrutiny.
Wander Your Way Through El Huervo’s Vandereer
Quick, what do glitch electronica, rustic folk, and instrumental hip-hop all have in common? Correct answer: they’re all present on the newest LP from El Huervo, titled Vandereer. From the opening vocal samples and violin of “Notation” to the final, sputtering static of the outro of closing track “Cauldron,” this prolific Swedish artist has amassed a collection of some of his finest tunes to date, a diverse and spicy concoction of various tastes mixed together with a trip-hop base simmered to a fine, bubbling stew. Pulling from a relaxed trip-hop sound reminiscent of artists like Emancipator and Blue Sky Black Death for the melodic sound, El Huervo takes lo-fi rattling snares and thumping kick drums that sound like they were pulled straight from a Wu-Tang Clan demo reel, layers of crisp, shimmering synths, distorted guitars, and various vocal and instrumental samples, and ties them all together into complex, multifaceted, engaging compositions.
If there’s a trick to balancing diversity and cohesion, El Huervo has surely found it here. Every piece sparkles with an energy its own, developing a unique persona across its runtime that still manages to fit into the grand scheme of Vandereer. No two songs feel alike, each creating a different vibe, all of which inform the overall sonic environment of the album. At first, Vandereer is a drive through a windswept post-apocalyptic desert, all crushed asphalt and sun-baked sand, but as the music progresses, so does the scenery, and by the end, the listener has entered an abandoned city, where vines choke the concrete and small creatures skitter through the rubble, and stepping into the urban jungle, one finds naught but more sand, fine, coarse, and constant. Every part of this album is dry and colorful, pristine with an apocalyptic splendor; the vistas that encompass the audience here are rolling dunes and craggy, broken buildings.
Vandereer is a moving experience. Its sounds are lush and subtle, and everything comes together on repeat listens in a way most albums in this genre don’t. Everything here is built around exploration in some way, be it in the music itself and the vast soundscapes thereof, or the metasonic sense and the way these tracks were meant to listened to over and over again to uncover the various treasures hidden within. But far from being monolithic and overpowering, from the first note until the last, Vandereer is welcoming and compelling, inviting every traveler to start the thousand-mile adventure ahead with a single step in the right direction.
O’Brother Embrace The Darkness With Endless Light
I am admittedly late to be jumping onto the O’Brother train, but I’ve seen their name pop up multiple times over the past couple of months from people whose tastes I respect. That plus the fact that they’ll be supporting The Dear Hunter on their upcoming tour convinced me to give them and their new album Endless Light a listen. That was clearly a good decision, because Endless Light is a stellar heavy rock record that’s packed wall to wall with massive hooks, gorgeous production and arrangements, and enough simmering emotion to provide all the cathartic shouting one could need.
The band employs a generally dark, gloomy, and compact sound that calls to mind the work of bands like the aforementioned The Dear Hunter (particularly the sound they employed on the Black EP), Junius, and, at times, Muse in their prime, particularly in the warbled bordering on operatic tones of vocalist Tanner Merritt. The band’s three-guitar punch could be easily either overused or wasted, but instead they’re layered brilliantly to create cascading walls of contrasting sludgy aggression and cleaner beauty. That ability to squeeze so much clarity and gorgeous sound out of a template bent towards oversaturated arena rock is really what sets them apart from so many other bands who play in this area of dark alt rock. It’s the hallmark of a mature band who know when to show just the right amounts of restraint and when to unleash hellfire upon the world.
Mostly though, Endless Light is just a hell of an enjoyable listen because every single track is a goddamn jam. Even though there isn’t a huge sonic diversity present track-to-track, the huge melodic and guitar hooks on every song prevent it all from blending together into an indistinguishable mush. It actually makes picking out standout tracks difficult because they’re all so consistently great. This is an album that can be listened to piecemeal or on shuffle just as well as front-to-back. Any way you look at it, Endless Light is just an incredibly solid piece of work, one that could be a sleeper choice on many people’s year-end lists.