Unmetal Monday – 5/2/16 (Aesop Rock, Drake, Nulabee, Radiohead)

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:

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Radiohead Cryptically Tease New Album In Very Radiohead Fashion

It hasn’t seemed that way (at least from my perspective), but the wait since the iconoclastic British art-rockers Radiohead‘s previous album, 2011’s The King of Limbs, has been the longest fans have had to wait for a new release. Much of that I suspect comes down to the fact that, although still fervently appreciated by many, the band simply are not viewed as nearly as essential as they were even a decade ago around the time they released In Rainbows. Though TKoL gets a far worse rap than I feel it deserves, it still did not feel like an album from a band able to push the boundaries of mainstream alt-rock in the most captivating ways.

That said, their upcoming ninth album is still in the top tier of heavily-anticipated albums for 2016, and since the beginning of the year the band have been in full-on cryptic clues mode. They registered two different companies, Dawn Chorus LLP and Dawnchorus Ltd., fueling speculation that the album’s release was imminent given they did something similar shortly before releasing TKoL. It’s been a few months since then with few other clues other than the occasional interview snippet from band members and people associated with their management saying it was coming soon.

This weekend though saw two major steps in the direction of marketing for the release. First came news that branded leaflets featuring the text “SING THE SONG OF SIXPENCE THAT GOES / BURN THE WITCH / WE KNOW WHERE YOU LIVE” were mailed to the band’s fans in the UK. “Burn the Witch” happens to be a song that the band supposedly wrote in the early 2000s but never recorded or played live aside from a few opening teaser chords (frontman Thom Yorke referenced orchestral instrumentals that would enter then). The leaflets featured the band’s patented monster bear logo and typically vaguely menacing text that dabbles in paranoia, surveillance states, etc., as well as some abstract-looking artwork.

Then on Sunday, fans noticed that the band’s official website appeared to be growing fainter and fainter while tweets and posts on their Facebook page were disappearing. By mid-afternoon in the US, the website was completely white and their social media pages were completely wiped and left blank. This, of course, has only fueled expectations that the new album is imminent. Even though the band have dropped their previous two albums by surprise with only a few days’ notice and next to no promotion or marketing prior, this elongated and more strategically piecemeal approach they appear to be taking this time around suggests that there could be plenty more cryptic clues on the way.

Until we hear some music though it’s a bit difficult to get too excited. For a band that has always been as much about image and abstract ideas as the music itself, fans know that the “image” of Radiohead will always be enticing. We can only hope that the actual music will follow suit.

Nick Cusworth

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Time to Etch the Skyline with Nulabee

If you haven’t checked out Nulabee yet, although we’ve told you to several times, then you’re denying your mind a serious dose of wonder. The maverick trades in heavy synths for light-heart vocals, using them as instrumental backdrops to his cheerful and upbeat retro/synthwave. His previous album, Treefall Gaps, is one of the most uplifting, electronic earworms, so damned catchy and intriguing.

Now, Nulabee is gearing up for a follow up release, New Etch of Skyline. While we were treated to a single from it already, it’s “Wildcall” that I want to shine my soapbox/spotlight on this time. It’s pure, pure Nulabee: in the center, a vocal sample heavily fed through effects. This is chopped up in many ways, with alternating rhythmic structures and multiple instruments around it. It’s all a foil though for a basic, EDM-infused line which dominates the center.

 

Just like all Nulabee tracks, these parts fuse into a whole that will make you clap, nod your head and simply let your mind drift off into bright pink skies, snow-capped mountain tops and Plexiglas constructions. New Etch of Skyline is coming soon and boy, I wish I had some summer rains to couple it with. In lieu of that, I’ll have to settle for “just” another fantastic release, putting to shame the dark city lines of his fellow musicians.

Eden Kupermintz

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The Impossible Kid Is Impossibly Good

One can arguably understand every album from heady rapper and long-time underground star Aesop Rock through the prism of a specific concept: Bazooka Tooth is about his experience in the rap world, Labor Days deals with the pitfalls of middle class life, None Shall Pass is Aes’ musings on society at large, and Skelethon tracks his arc from isolation to redemption in light of numerous traumatic and deeply personal events. After looking at a release of Aes’ through the lens provided, everything begins to fall into place; each stitch of the grand tapestry he fashions in his albums suddenly arranges into the proper order and the themes and motifs therein are much more understandable and enjoyable. To truly listen to an Aesop Rock record is to grapple with the same feelings he does about a given issue, with his lyrics as the primary tool with which the reader/listener enters his head.

What, then, is the key to unlocking The Impossible Kid? How does one decode the complex wordplay and recurring emotions that make up this new album? Two words: midlife crisis. Aes, or Ian Bivitz by birth, age 37, is unmarried (once-divorced) and has no children; he worries about his life and the state of his affairs constantly; he is becoming stuck in a rut and neurotic about it, which leads him to get stuck further in a rut, and so on. It’s a vicious cycle for him.

The Impossible Kid is hopefully not the winding down of Aesop Rock’s music career, but he’s starting to reach the halfway point of his life and, thusly, is becoming more and more nostalgic. On this LP, Aes reflects on his childhood and his origins as a notorious underground hip-hop artist. He grapples with the fact that his body is going to start turning against him within the next decade; he ruminates on everything that’s made who he is; he reflects on the winding, overwrought, emotional journey he’s taken through life and how he’s become the man he is today. This is possibly Aesop’s most introspective release so far: there are complex themes – chief among which are finding a healthy balance between doing everything he wants and pigeonholing himself into a life society demands from him – and each track helps to vivisect the mind of the underground rapper extraordinaire responsible for this release, delving deeper and deeper into his psyche as the album goes on. “Shrunk” chronicles his experience and eventual dissatisfaction with a psychiatrist who was supposed to help him. Opener “Mystery Fish” tracks his observations on the alley he walks through every day going to and from his San Francisco apartment. “TUFF” bares to the audience his feelings of being “off-the-rails” in his words, the feeling of bugging out and needing to seek help for his issues. It’s not all sad: his typical tongue-in-cheek wordplay is present throughout, the bizarre and hilariously obscure references Aes is known for show up often, and his ratty, self-deprecating, too-young-to-be-this-grumpy aesthetic is in full effect. “Kirby” is a light-hearted and sweet ode to his cat of the same name that appears just over halfway through the album, a crucial breath of happy air before plunging even deeper into the murky water of reckless nihilism and introversion verging on misanthropy that define The Impossible Kid’s overall vibe.

Musically, it’s probably his most digestible release yet: his voice is much more tempered than it has been in the past, less nasal than ever before and his breath control is phenomenal. The longest song, “Blood Sandwich,” clocks in at a slim 4:25 – less than the average length of his songs – and that’s the only song here that runs over 4 minutes. The beats meander much less than they ever have on an album of his, and the combination of his typically organic, rattling drums and the usual electric guitar is present, but what really makes a lot of the instrumentals here are the keys and sparse 808-style beats that keep everything lean and focused.

It’s hard to say that The Impossible Kid one of the best albums that Aesop Rock has put out, since his discography is relatively sparse for how long he’s been around. But it’s certainly up there with his absolute best (None Shall Pass and Labor Days, namely). Everything here is spot on and the emotional themes feel so warm and empathetic that it’s hard to even enunciate any flaws because of how immediately intimate this release is. Not only one of the best releases from Aes, this is likely one of the best releases of 2016.

Simon Handmaker

Views From the 6 on Drake’s Views (From the 6)

I stepped out of my front door to an unusually sunny Friday morning in the south end of Drake‘s beloved city, his latest album preloaded on my phone right after it had dropped that day, to immediately see two men with the OVO logo emblazoned on the backs of their hoodies. Later highlights of the day included the incredibly fun “One Dance” blasting in the middle of Yonge-Dundas Square, countless billboards all across downtown with nothing but the album’s title on a stark white background, and a plane flying around the city with a large VIEWS banner attached to it.

Drake is an icon as much as an artist, a Torontonian who has carved an identity so prominent that seemingly everyone knows of the various parts making up his persona – the relationships, the constant self-reflection, the inextricable link to his city – even if they haven’t listened to a second of his music. He’s at the point where, after being molded by his city (“Weston Road Flows”) he’s molding it right back, literally renaming Toronto (no one called it “the 6” until he started the trend) in his ongoing quest to immortalize it through the lens of his many romantic exploits.

And as one might expect, not much has changed in the way of subject matter on Views. Drake remains as nostalgic and self-reflective as ever, though with a dash of self-awareness to be found amidst all that for once (“That’s for sure though/I made a career out of reminiscing”). Reminders of his overwhelming success (“Hype”, “Grammys”) are also rather frequent across the 20-track record, which appropriately concludes with the now-infamous “Hotline Bling”. And the fact of the matter is that it’s a pretty good record: the production is incredibly slick, and while he’s no Frank Ocean, Drake can pull out a mean hook now and then to keep things interesting. The obvious hits aside, opener “Keep the Family Close” is particularly impressive, and while it lacks the qualities that make for a big hit, the catchy hooks, gradual buildup, and incorporation of live instrumentation towards the latter half is all genuinely brilliant. The guest spots – and particularly Rihanna’s on “Too Good” – are also very well done, and make for some diversity in an album otherwise dominated by Drake’s delivery.

But it’s not perfect: “Redemption”, for instance, drags longer than it needs to, and “Childs Play” starts off strong before not really going anywhere. The album does suffer from filler, and for every great verse there is a subpar one to be found elsewhere across the many tracks on here. It also can exhausting to listen through several consecutive tracks with some… exceedingly similar themes, though I suppose that’s what’s to be expected from a Drake record.

But the bottom line is that Views is still worth a listen, and even if not all of the tracks are particularly great, the sleek production alone means that it’s an album I can see myself putting on at least for background music when I need it. Otherwise, I maintain that while he is good at both, I like Drake more as a representative (a mascot?) of my city than I do him as an artist. Yuh.

Ahmed Hasan