There’s a lot happening in the music world, and we here at Heavy Blog try our very best to keep up with it! Like the vast majority of heavy music fans, our tastes 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 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. This week, we’ll be highlighting a few albums and tracks that struck our fancy over the past few weeks. Head past the jump to dial down the distortion:
Sheer Mag – Need to Feel Your Love
I may act like I’m all cutting edge on the exterior with all these death metal recs, but I most certainly have a soft, gooey center for the nostalgic sounds of my youth. My first exposure to rock music came from my dad, who loved to listen to 70s and 80s rock in the garage while he worked on various projects on his days off. I got introduced to KISS, Eagles, Journey, Thin Lizzy, and dozens of other bands just by hanging out with my dad as he worked on family vehicles or built cool stuff in that garage, dilapidated boombox blasting “God of Thunder” or “Take It Easy” in the background. These afternoons had a significant impact on the way that I began to consume and relish music, and with their debut LP Need to Feel Your Love, Sheer Mag brings me right back there in the best possible way.
With this record, the band perfect the 70s rock sound they have been honing over the past few years through three EPs. All of the potential and vigor inherent in those releases is here in spades. Even further than their previous work, the band dive into a rich variety of sounds and textures from the 70s in particular that make the album a diverse and always interesting listen. From the countrified southern rock of “Suffer Me” that recalls the above mentioned Eagles, or perhaps even early 38 Special, to the funk-infused vibes of the album’s title track and KISS-esque hard rock of “Meet Me in the Street”, there is plenty to enjoy here.
The thing that makes Sheer Mag more than just another simple throwback band is the stellar instrumental and vocal work that breathes creativity and vitality. This is music made by people who love their influences, and use only the very best parts to create a sound that feels both like a walk down memory lane while maintaining a level of freshness and crispness unusual in bands playing this type of music. Loving this album. Give it a spin!
Good Game – Don’t Blow It.
Members of highly-praised math rock bands Invalids and Floral have joined forces to create a new band: Good Game. Their first full-fledged release, Don’t Blow It., just came out last Saturday, and is unsurprisingly really good. The five-piece from Boston play high-energy and complex riffs atop which the soft voices of Brock and Addy soar. This EP stays on the shorter side of things, with three songs making up about ten minutes of material, but their lack of content is compensated by its undeniable high quality. These poppy tunes have a way of getting stuck in your head despite the incomprehensible guitar noodlings and fast-paced drum beats. In the world of emo-ish, pop-leaning math rock, Good Game are certainly one of the best and most promising names of recent history. You can grab the digital EP for free on bandcamp.
Coca Leaf – Deep Marble Sunrise
Any pre-listen research done on Coca Leaf’s Deep Marble Sunrise should raise more questions than clarity. Let’s break it down—you have members of bands who play noise rock and post-punk (ZZ Ramirez of Destruction Unit and Ukiah Drag), experimental indie pop/rock (David Vassalotti and Carson Cox of Merchandise) and industrial punk (Ben Greenberg of Uniform), all coming together to create an amalgamation of genres far-removed from any of their main projects. The quartet embraces an “anything goes” attitude that leads them through elements of dub, jazz funk and no wave rooted in themes of a sweltering sonic oasis.
Coca Leaf’s greatest strength is their driving, kinetic energy amid an encompassing atmosphere, a mood they establish and expand upon beautifully across just five full-length tracks (and a short interlude). Just take opener “New Soft Dawn”—the group weaves a cushion of ethereal guitars and layers on tropical piano chords and glitzy electronics over a shuffling, danceable beat. The track feels like a dream sequence that hazily recalls the highlights of 90s pop music. Yet, the group quickly shows their diversity on “No Light Bleeds the Den,” a noisy, slow-burning concoction of desert rock and no wave. “Riding Ice” feels like “New Soft Dawn” on a bad acid trip with sneering vocals that malfunctions into a glitching cacophony. All the aforementioned have a distinct 70s vibe as well, expanding on the 80s no wave influences with hints of krautrock and progressive electronic. The band dives into this trend head on with the title track, essentially sounding like Tangerine Dream composing a horror soundtrack.
As the album closes with a sunset jam on “Glaze,” the experience comes to an fades and remains like a lingering memory. There weren’t many direct and comparisons in this write-up because Coca Leaf operate tangentially in all of the mentioned genres. Their style ebbs and flows within a stylistic canvas painted with a broad brush, and the result is a record content with being uncomfortable in its own skin. The fact the record works so well is an impressive feat that prompts daydreams about the band’s future endeavors, hopefully with albums even longer and more ambitious. Deep Marble Sunrise should be experimental music fans’ go to summer album that also earns a year-round spot in their rotations.
Katie Ellen – Cowgirl Blues
From the ashes of the almighty Chumped emerges Katie Ellen, the new project from singer/songwriter Anika Pyle and drummer Dan Frelly. Trading in the more hard-edged, driving punk of Chumped in favor of a more nuanced power-pop palette, Cowgirl Blues is no less affecting and immediate than any of Pyle’s previous efforts.
Opening track “Drawing Room” sets the table for the entire album: Pyle’s characteristic vocals take center stage over an understated rhythm guitar backdrop before finally exploding in an emotional cacophony. Cowgirl Blues is a much more personal album than anything in Chumped’s brief discography, and “Drawing Room” packs an emotional wallop while also delivering a near-instant lyrical earworm: “Take me to the drawing room where I’ll withdraw from everything but you.”
From there, the album doesn’t let up over the ten-song track list, alternating between the up-tempo indie punk in “Lucy Stone” and “Houses into Homes” and more introspective torch burners like the devastating mid-album set piece “Proposal.” Pyle writes from a distinctly female perspective, crafting tales of heartbreak but, more importantly, also redemption and self-love. In a scene that unfortunately has a history of fostering sexism and a general diminishing of strong female voices, it’s refreshing to hear unapologetic (and unironic) girl power on display.
But, really, the album lands even ignoring gender politics. This is tight, shimmering emo for all grown-ups: thoughtful songs for and about people suddenly waking up in their 30s, not quite sure of who they are and where they fit in the world. Luckily, Cowgirl Blues rises above and transforms that existential anxiety into an exhilarating, joyful listen.
FFO: Diet Cig, Swearin’, Jeff Rosenstock
Human Leather – Lazy Karaoke
When Ulver released their album this year, it seemed as if the metal community collectively remembered that darkwave was a thing. The Depeche Mode comparisons flew left and right, with people seemingly surprised that that type of aesthetic and sound still existed. The reality is, however, that darkwave is well and kicking, even if its flag-bearers haven’t released music in a while. One of the best results of this style, still harking back to the murky days of the 80’s are Human Leather, a duo dealing in the thickly stylized vibes of said decade. On their latest release, Lazy Karaoke, the two channel the melancholy and heady atmosphere of the sub-genre, turning to the distinct ideas of darkwave for their inspiration.
Tracks like “Ugly Sister” go a long way to explain the charm that this release holds. The vocals, reminiscent somewhat of Toby Driver’s work on Kayo Dot‘s latest releases (which, of course, stems from the fact that those releases have their 80’s influence as well), blend as expected with the thick synth tones and synthetic drums. The overall atmosphere is one of despairing nostalgia, of a longing for compassion mingled with social derision. In short, it is the sub-genre writ large and that kind of sleeve-first approach to influence permeates through the rest of the album.
In short, Lazy Karaoke is for you if you miss the days when electronic music meant, first and foremost, sadness and a thin haze of aloofness. It is also for you if you love emotional music, the type of tunes that aren’t afraid to express their awkwardness and fear of the future.