Even a cursory glance of our biweekly “What Heavy Blog Is Really Listening To” posts 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 has newcomer Jonathan face off against Jimmy 2.
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Jon’s Grid & Jimmy’s Comments
Jimmy: I don’t really know Jonathan all too well (which is really a mistake on my part), but he’s been one of the most sincerely-nice dudes I’ve ever met since he joined the blog a few months ago. One look at his grid reveals some pretty awesome tastes as well—very varied, yet not afraid to dig deep into a genre if it’s interesting enough. In short, he’s a great addition to Heavy Blog’s already-awesome staff.
Départe—Failure, Subside—“Ashes in Bloom”
Jonathan: Départe hit me like a brick to the head last year. Their blend of propulsive and highly atmospheric technical death metal smacks clearly of Ulcerate, but definitely brings a bit more melody (and production clarity) to the table. “Ashes in Bloom” is a close to perfect example of what this band does well: bludgeoning drum work, atmospheric and sharp guitar work, and a mix of clean and harsh vocals. Love this band. Love this track.
Jimmy: Départe are one of those bands that I hear about in conversation but never really looked into a whole lot. There’s only so much music one can listen to, you know? And after listening to “Ashes In Bloom” I’m a little ambivalent about that previous decision. I’m not saying that this is a bad band or a bad track at all—in fact, there are parts of it I enjoy immensely, like the atmospheric-yet-atonal-as-hell guitar work or the vocals, and the way this meshes post-metal and black metal together in a way that I’ve never really heard before. But those moments are few and far between—for a nine minute track I didn’t feel like there was a lot of substance. Maybe it would make more sense when listening to the album in full? Again, this wasn’t an experience that I regret at all—this is a good band, obviously, but perhaps I’m not getting their music in the right context.
Fleet Foxes—S/T—“White Winter Hymnal”
Jonathan: Traveled through the German countryside a couple weeks ago, and this song served as an appropriate soundtrack. I cannot get enough of Fleet Foxes. This track has always presented an interesting juxtaposition of lyrical content and sound (“turn the white snow red as strawberries in the summertime” is perhaps the most pleasant description of blood splatter I’ve heard). Plus, Robin Pecknold’s voice is just magnificent. He could sing to me about genocide and I would fall asleep with a stupid smile on my face.
Jimmy: Back in 2011 I worked at Newbury Comics during the holidays (for those who aren’t in New England it’s like an FYE), and there were two albums that people didn’t stop talking about/playing. One was The Black Keys’s El Camino, and the other was this album. (Helplessness Blues had just come out, so I think there was a lot of comparison between the two, especially considering how much people liked this first Fleet Foxes album.) I can’t say I had too much interest in it—a coworker described it to me using something along the lines of “indie folk”, and I could tell it wasn’t my jam.
And I guess I was right on that judgment. To be fair, it’s not horrible—it’s not like I want to pierce my eardrums with sharp instruments or something—but I certainly wouldn’t listen to this of my own accord. It’s just…I don’t know—it feels like it builds up and then goes nowhere, like most indie folk acts for me.
Power Trip—Nightmare Logic—“Nightmare Logic”
Jonathan: Power Trip makes me want to run a mile at full speed or punch a hole in a wall. Much to the relief of my wife, I’ve stuck to the former (drywall is expensive). They blend thrash and hardcore better than anyone in the game right now, and their new album is fantastic. This track exemplifies what they do well. It isn’t technically dazzling or otherworldly original. It’s just great music to bang your head to.
Jimmy: Now this—I was so damn excited to listen to this. Anthony Fantano (aka The Needle Drop) keeps talking about how good the singles from Nightmare Logic are, and I’m not one to say no to some well-done crossover thrash. It’s cool that thrash seems to be on the upswing in 2017, what with a fucking stellar album from Iron Reagan and this album poised to come out the same day that this article is supposed to be published (2/24). I can’t say that Power Trip doesn’t meet expectations, either—this is a heavy-as-fuck, ball-to-the-wall track. It just makes me more excited to listen to Nightmare Logic in full.
Jonathan: Trying to explain my relationship with Immolation is a little like attempting to describe my relationship with Colorado’s mountains: they’ve always been there, and I’ve always loved them. It’s hard for me to be impartial regarding any of this band’s output, but this track presented a new sonic direction which I really enjoyed and was not expecting. Immolation have always struck a nerve for me in the way that they create some incredibly ominous and chaotic music that includes enough groove and rhythm to almost dance to. This is groovy death metal from masters of the trade
Jimmy: This is another album that I can’t wait for, either. Jon’s excellent review (seriously read it—it’s one of the best reviews I’ve read on this site, and that’s saying a lot) really sold me on Atonement. Although I like me some good death metal, I’ve never really delved into the genre as much as Scott or some of the other guys on the blog have. This is really my first introduction to Immolation, and I can’t say it’s a bad one, either. I was a little anxious at the two-minute mark that this track wasn’t going to have the juice to make it to the end in an interesting way, but then it just breaks down into…something fucking amazing. Those high-end guitar riffs (I think with harmonics?) just stitch the track together in the best way possible.
Kamasi Washington —The Epic—“Cherokee”
Jonathan: My sister loves jazz. She frequents clubs on the regular and has pointed me toward some pretty interesting music. Kamasi Washington was a find from one of these excursions. Needless to say she’s the best and I will love her forever. For an album that clocks in at over three hours, it was difficult to choose a track to highlight among the absolute wealth of material here. I chose “Cherokee” because it is just pure soul goodness from start to finish. The drum work is wonderful, and the vocal performance is stellar, and encapsulates so many of the qualities that made The Epic one of the best jazz albums I’ve heard in years.
Jimmy: It’s been far too long since I’ve listened to Kamasi. But I do have to thank Jonathan—because of this swap I finally just sucked it up and bought this damn album already, thank God.
Anyway, back to the music. Although I enjoy The Epic quite a lot, I’ve found that the amount of music on it can make it exhausting; by the beginning of the second disc I’m about ready to call it a day. So to hear this single track—from the third disc, nonetheless—was a nice change. Although I prefer the instrumental tracks on The Epic more, “Cherokee” still kicks ass—there’s a certain solemnness to the lyrics, but at the same time the funky beat makes it just plain fun to listen to. It’s an enjoyable track on nearly every level.
Now, then, Kamasi—when can we expect the follow-up to The Epic? Pretty please with a cherry on top?
Haken—The Mountain—”Cockroach King”
Jonathan: I still can’t figure out how I feel about Haken. They simultaneously blow my mind and make me chuckle. Their music is so bizarre at points, yet tugs those heartstrings with some incredibly melodic and beautiful passages. This song exemplifies the traits existent within Haken’s music. It is almost like a circus. Weird, bouncy passages vie for dominance with more propulsive and heavy portions of the track. It all feels brilliant and super odd to me.
Jimmy: Haken, like the aforementioned Départe, is a band that I keep hearing great things about, but never really had enough interest to pursue. (Not to mention that I find a lot of today’s prog metal to be a little stale and/or uninteresting. Sorry, rest of Heavy Blog!)
To be fair, though, I was a bit surprise by the vocals and the bouncy beat on “Cockroach King”. (Is is weird that this guy’s vocals at times remind me of Les Claypool?) Haken managed to write a pretty nifty song here with a lot of disparate elements that seamlessly come together—though it feels a little schizoid/Mr. Bungle-ish at times, which I don’t think is what they entirely had in mind. But it’s obvious these guys have a fun sense of humor to match their admittedly-stellar musicianship. Still, though, I’m not really sure whether I’d bother with Haken more after this. Nothing against these guys, but if I want good prog I can always put on some good old Opeth.
Spectral Lore—Gnosis—”Averroes’ Search”
Jonathan: Have been following Spectral Lore for a while now. One of the more interesting groups currently inhabiting the atmospheric black metal realm. This track doesn’t feel very metal at all, which is something I appreciate about Spectral Lore as a whole. The project is completely unafraid to dive into atmosphere with a dedication that transcends genre norms. Great stuff.
Jimmy: Ever since Eden’s awesome article on them a few weeks ago, I’ve been really compelled to give Spectral Lore a try, considering not only their somewhat-experimental approach to composing black metal, but also the fact that they are willing to push their musical abilities to new, unfamiliar directions (like this album’s use of Greek folk music). Unfortunately, I just haven’t gotten around to giving these guys the listen they deserve—there’s a lot of music on my to-listen lists that need some sorting out first.
I’m glad Jonathan had this on his grid, though, because a little taste is better than nothing at all. And believe me when I say I think it’s a gorgeous piece of music. Although I was expecting something more along the lines of Greek-folk-music-meets-Agalloch (which I guess happens in other tracks on Gnosis) I’m nonetheless impressed by the band’s talent. You don’t see a lot of metal bands play around with folk instruments like this and do it as well as Spectral Lore does here. This just makes my need to listen to this band much more of a priority than before.
Eminem—The Marshall Mathers LP—”Amityville”
Jonathan: There aren’t many things that shock me anymore. Eminem still shocks me. The descriptions of violence and anti-social behavior still resonate as genuinely haphazard and profane. “Amityville” is a great example of Eminem’s uncanny ability to make us uncomfortable, particularly in its absolutely filthy second verse. Additionally, the third verse shows Em spitting some of the fiercest bars of his career. The man was absolutely savage in his heyday.
Jimmy: I would’ve picked “Stan” or “Kim” personally (seriously, the amount of emotion/rage/fucked-up-ness on “Kim” gives me goosebumps), but, hey, any Eminem’s good with me. It took me a long time to really like and respect his music, but I can definitely say I’m a fan of Eminem now. While “Amityville” isn’t my favorite track on The Marshall Mathers LP, the flow is still great and the production has this smoky greatness to it that I can’t get enough of. Good pick, Jon.
The Ghost Inside—Dear Youth—”Out of Control”
Jonathan: Metalcore and I are not great friends. We will cordially say hello to each other when we pass on the street, but we aren’t typically getting drinks and reminiscing about old times. The Ghost Inside is different for me. Not only do I really enjoy their music, it’s actually hard to listen to without a visceral emotional response given the hardship the band has had to overcome. This song is a banger, and gives me hope that they will return and annihilate our minds once more soon.
Jimmy: Even when I was in my “metalcore phase”, I never really gave The Ghost Inside much attention. Scott was more than happy to burn me a copy of Returners, but I probably only listened to it once and then went back to spinning Trivium like a madman. I can’t really say that my attitude towards this has changed a whole lot (except replace Trivium with, I dont know, free jazz up the wazoo?)—it’s not like “Out of Control” is bad, but I can think of other, more compelling metalcore that I’d rather listen to, like 36 Crazyfists. Nonetheless, this was a nice blast from the past.
Jimmy’s Grid & Jon’s Comments
John: This being my first playlist swap with Heavy Blog, I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect. I mean, I’m new. My taste is terrible. Now everyone knows it. Ring the bells of shame, sister. Happy to report that I actually had a total blast with this. I was particularly excited to take up Jimmy’s invitation to swap playlists because of his penchant for music that tends toward more esoteric/experimental territory, but doesn’t neglect metal of the rage-filled banger variety. I read over Jimmy’s selection of tracks for this installment and wasn’t disappointed. There is some excellent material here, including work from a few artists that I have not previously been exposed to. In all, I found this a satisfying exercise, and I hope you enjoy listening to this stuff as much as I did.
Coil—Black Antlers—“The Wraiths and Strays of Paris”
Jimmy: Coil’s a fucking weird band, man. Like, I love that they were always willing to experiment with music, and I adore The Ape of Naples, yet I can’t help but have trouble with their other albums, Black Antlers being no exception. It’s not like these are bad albums at all, but I sort of expected the dark, moody music Coil’s famous for to be a little more assertive and grooving. “The Wraiths and Strays of Paris” is a cool song, though—it sort of keeps you in a state of disbelief until its over, because you don’t really know what to expect. I really dig how the middle eastern samples dovetail with those crazy electronic beats as well.
It sucks that Coil’s never done a reissue, though; I’d buy their entire discography without a doubt if that happened.
Jonathan: This track mixes beautiful, ethereal, and creepy in a really cool way. Dig it. Feels almost like a slow-motion, more sinister Flying Lotus to me. Being a superfan of everything FlyLo creates, this is definitely a compliment. I have had limited exposure to Coil’s discography, but this track makes me want to explore the group more thoroughly. Great use of space and texture.
Miles Davis—The Man With The Horn—“Fat Time”
Jimmy: I was listening to this album for my series of articles on Miles Davis’s later career, and I honestly didn’t expect to find it to be this good. Don’t expect Bitches Brew on Man With The Horn, because this is a totally different direction for Miles, but it’s nonetheless a sweet album to chill out to. “Fat Time” stands as one of the high points of this album, what with its strutting, incredibly-groovy rhythm, and the return of Miles’s muted playing. Seriously, if you’re a Davis fan who’s unsure about Miles’s material after his reclusive years, listen to this track. Maybe expect more Herbie Hancock than traditional Davis here, but it’s nonetheless Miles doing what he does best—playing a mean trumpet.
Jonathan: My introduction to Miles Davis was through Kind of Blue, which is essentially the jazz gateway drug. I didn’t discover The Man With the Horn for a few years after my first exposure to his music. It is, unfortunately, one of Davis’ less ballyhooed albums. But damn if it isn’t fantastic. This is a great composition. Heavy fusion elements in this track, especially that absolutely mammoth guitar solo about five minutes in. Pulls in a lot of the traits I appreciate most about Davis’s music. Easy track to dig.
Dr. MiNT—Voices In The Void—“Spacerobot[Dance]”
Jimmy: This album as a whole was a little bit of a disappointment, mostly because I expected a majority of the tracks to be like this one. “Spacerobot[Dance]” is such a nice change from most jazz that comes out today—it’s fun and incredibly complex (with a bouncy beat to boot), but isn’t overly saccharine/smooth like I feel a lot of contemporary jazz is. Some of the rest of Voices In The Void was good, but nothing on it still compares to this track. If we did Tracks Of The Year rather than Albums, there is no doubt in my mind that this would be near the top.
Jonathan: More jazzy goodness here. Had never heard of Dr. Mint before playing this track. Consider me among the newly converted. This is amazing. Really entertaining mixture of rock and jazz. Enjoyed some of the electronic elements present as well. The kit work on this track is also pretty damn fantastic. I mean… it’s all good. This whole thing is the shit. Hits me in a similar way to Thank You Scientist!’s record last year. Will be checking this album out in full.
The Drowned God—Moonbearer—“Nighttime Lips”
Jimmy: When I first saw Simon’s review for Moonbearer, I (for some stupid reason) got the thought that I’d be listening to a post-black metal album. (Maybe it was because the band’s name sounds like it should be a black metal band? And the album cover is misleading as well?) So I put it on while shoveling the other day and was pretty angry at first by what I was hearing, but I soon really grew into it. The Drowned God manages to play a really beautiful style of post-hardcore that has a sort of dreamy, Deftones influence to it as well. “Nighttime Lips” to me was the dreamiest track on the album, with those gorgeous guitars starting it off a little like The Safety Fire’s “Glass Crush”. I’m not sure if Moonbearer one of my favorite albums of this year so far, but I nonetheless enjoyed the listen after I got over the initial shock of not getting black metal.
Jonathan: Had to go and pick my favorite track on one of my favorite albums of 2017, didn’t you? I’m a total sucker for The Drowned God. I find myself drawn to this particular track every time I spin the record. The guitar tone has this reverb-laden, lush texture to it that just slays me. The lyrics are just the right kind of dramatic and fit the sonic texture of the music perfectly. Everything about this track is grand. Just like the record as a whole.
The Jimi Hendrix Experience—Electric Ladyland—“Voodoo Child (Slight Return)”
Jimmy: I still have a tough time deciding which of the Jimi Hendrix Experience’s albums I like the most—it’s as if it changes upon every listen for me. It had been a while since I listened to any Hendrix, though, so I popped Electric Ladyland on in the car, and, when it was all over, proceeded to listen to “Voodoo Chile (Slight Return)” three more times because it’s that great of a song. That wah-ed riff at the beginning is so fucking great, and the track only gets better from there.
Jonathan: I’ve been in several (more than slightly intoxicated) arguments regarding the who is the greatest guitarist of all time. I have impatiently listened to arguments for Duane Allman, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Jimmy Page, and even one particularly impassioned argument for Jack White. Which was, you know, just great. Most of these conversations end with me shouting “HENDRIX!!!” directly into some poor soul’s face. The man holds the title in my eyes for a vast multitude of reasons. But if listening to this track doesn’t make you want to whip out your air guitar and shred your face off you are fundamentally dead inside.
High On Fire—Luminiferous—“Luminiferous”
Jimmy: Sometimes I’ll look through my CD collection to see if there’s anything I don’t listen to anymore that I could sell, and I inevitably stop by my little collection of High On Fire CDs and wonder whether they’re worth keeping or not. And every sing fucking time I end up leaving them there because HoF rocks so goddamn loud that I’d never forgive myself if I sold Luminiferous. It’s not my favorite HoF release (that probably goes to Death Is This Communion or Blessed Black Wings), but it’s nonetheless a bitchin’ album, and the title track only proves that fact with its face-shredding ferocity and hardcore punk speed. I can’t express how excited I am for a new album from these guys. Maybe this year?
Jonathan: Saw these guys with Meshuggah several months ago. It was lit. Especially High on Fire’s performance of their material from their latest album. Matt Pike is a magnetic presence if there ever was one. From said record, this track is probably my favorite next to “The Black Plot”. It’s Pike and company at their speed-driven sludgiest. The band has not made a bad album in their career, and Luminiferous is just another feather in their cap.
Iron Reagan—Crossover Ministry—“Fuck the Neighbors”
Jimmy: I was expecting a pretty great album from these guys after listening to Tyranny of Will a while ago, but nothing could’ve prepared me for how awesome Crossover Ministry is. It’s actually the first album of this year that I can definitely say will be somewhere on my AOTY. It hit every single mark that I wanted—it’s rough and fast, aggressive as hell, but also hilarious, with “Fuck the Neighbors” being my favorite. The guitars on the chorus are just…awesome. And this video just makes it better:
Jonathan: I still haven’t decided how I feel about Iron Reagan’s latest record. While I don’t dislike it, it has not stuck with me like I hoped it would. More listens may reveal a deeper appreciation. Despite my lack of passion for the record as a whole, this song is so freakin’ great. It’s terse, pissed, chug-heavy, and hilarious. I laughed my ass off the first time I heard it, which is a quality that metal and hardcore don’t always excel in. A nice fat middle finger to your stupid neighbors and their stupid yard.
Merzbow—Aodron—“Ao, Pt. 3”
Jimmy: First off, I’m sorry, Jon, for subjecting you to this. Merzbow is not for everyone. Second, though: this is a good start for Merzbow in 2017. After basically being obsessed with his albums Wattle and Atsusaku last year I couldn’t wait for some new stuff by this guy, and he hasn’t disappointed. Aodron is perhaps a bit more directed when it comes to Merzbow’s sound (i.e. it isn’t just a wall of noise), and while I consider that a bit of a double-edged sword, I nonetheless think this is a great harsh noise album.
Jonathan: Shamefully, my first exposure to Merzbow was his collaboration with Full of Hell. Which isn’t to say that I didn’t enjoy that record. Far from it, because it’s fantastic. Just that I wish I had heard his music sooner. There are very few noise artists that can hold my attention like Merzbow. I don’t find myself wishing I were listening to something with a hook while enjoying his particular brand of madness. The incredibly abrasive soundscapes he creates never feel unlistenable to me, and “Ao, Pt. 3” is no exception. Excellent noise from a legend of the craft.
Jimmy: When I listen to free improvisation I usually expect a lot of chaos and atonality, which is why I’ve never quite latched onto EAI (electro-acoustic improvisation) a whole lot, since its basically improvised musique concreté. However, I wanted to give this album a try, and it fucking blew me away. Muddersten’s use of sound for its own sake (essentially doing away with any sort of composition), coupled with their interesting field recordings, make for yet another album that I’m going to spinning a lot this year.
John: This thing makes me feel things. Not all good things, either. Hard to describe my impression of this track. The low-register rumble that undergirds the first half of the track is really dark and sinister, and I like it a lot. But the scratchy squeaks and squeals that also pop up throughout the first few minutes just made me want to scratch my eyeballs out. Once “Karpatklok” hit the halfway point I started to dig it a lot more. Willing to give the whole album a spin, but DAMN was the first two and a half minutes of this thing brutal for me. Love bands willing to experiment on this level, even if the result isn’t always my proverbial cup of tea. Consider me cautiously intrigued.