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 bi-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
A. Savage – Thawing Dawn
As an artist, Andrew Savage has always seemed a bit restless. Besides serving as the co-brain-trust and front man for indie stalwarts Parquet Courts, Savage also serves as the band’s artistic director of sorts, producing all the artwork and product layout for the band’s records (he even won a Grammy for Best Recording Package for the group’s 2016 Human Performance). Beyond that, he founded and runs the indie label Dull Tools, created seemingly so Savage can curate bands he loves and give them supportive platform to reach greater audiences. As if that isn’t enough, he also finds time to record music outside of Parquet Courts and last week released his first solo record, Thawing Dawn.
Recorded under the moniker A. Savage, Thawing Dawn is a passionate love letter to old-school country and Americana filtered through the same intelligent, slightly detached viewpoint fans of Parquet Courts have come to expect. The tracks alternate between tender folk ballads (“Wild, Wild, Wild Horses,” “Ladies from Houston”), fun honky-tonk revivalism (“Phantom Limbo,” “Winter in the South”) and catchy, angular indie pop that wouldn’t be at all out of place on a true Parquet Courts release (“Eyeballs,” “Thawing Dawn”). Happily, Savage sounds at home and comfortable in the myriad of sounds presented and each song is soaked with Savage’s trademark verbose wit and cutting social commentary.
After the polarizing Monastic Living, fans may be a bit gun-shy of Parquet Courts side projects and off-shoots that can sometimes tread into purposefully difficult “capital A Art” projects. Fear not, Thawing Dawn is a fantastic collection of straightforward, earnest songs using a slightly vintage sonic palate to explore Savage’s favorite themes of dislocation, middle class ennui, materialism, and, to quote Craig Finn, “that American sadness.” And as with most of Savage’s music, the rewards only increase on repeated listening as the lyrical content the instantly catchy hooks belie slowly bubble their way to the top of listener’s consciousness. Until then, Thawing Dawn is more than immediately tuneful so sit back, kick your boots up, crack a Lone Star and enjoy.
Carbon Based Lifeforms – Derelicts
Ambience is a really tough thing to capture. The very essence of it means that something is not there, that something suffuses a place instead of being in it. Recording music by removing it is hard. But there are some people out there who can pull it off, skilled in the act of saying more by saying less. Carbon Based Lifeforms is a great example; the highly prolific group has been doing their thing actively for the better part of this decade and they’ve been doing it well.
What is their thing? It’s a clash between chillwave, post-rock and ambient music. It’s a rich tapestry of tones and sounds that recalls Com Truise’s latest release or a slowed down 65daysofstatic. Their latest release, Derelicts turns up these influences even further, creating a landscape filled with beats, waves and layers of sound. That’s when the album is upbeat; when the sound disperses into true ambience, it bears even more strength, a kind of quiet resignation which leaves in the almost-silences.
It’s a powerful and moving album which manages to pull of what many ambient and electronic artists can only wish for, direction and purpose coupled with willful exploration of sonic ideas. Derelicts will appeal to both your side which desires to recline and immerse itself in sound and the side actively looking for interesting ideas and their execution.
St. Vincent – Masseduction
It’s pretty hard to talk about indie rock over the past decade without mentioning the overwhelming influence of Annie Clark and her musical vehicle St. Vincent. Since her debut album Marry Me in 2007, Clark has been pushing the envelope with releases that have sequentially become increasingly more esoteric and odd. From the lush yet tastefully sparse Grizzly Bear-esque compositions of Actor, through the more ethereal sounds of Strange Mercy, culminating in her truly magnificent, electronics-infused self-titled release, St. Vincent has done everything except sit still. With her fifth full-length release, Masseduction, St. Vincent finds herself charging yet again into bold new territory with an altogether new approach: Instant accessibility.
Make no mistake, though these tracks may be more immediately digestible than her previous work, they are far from simplistic. The lyrical and thematic material in songs like “Pills”, “New York”, and “Fear the Future” detail issues societal, cultural, and personal with verve and nuance, culminating in some of the most honest, biting, and clear songwriting of Clark’s career. Far from a dumbing down of her more eccentric proclivities, Masseduction instead condenses this headiness into sonically digestible songs that continue in the more electronic direction of her previous record, while adding muted, lush, and truly gorgeous orchestral passages that rival in beauty any of her previous work. “Happy Birthday, Johnny”, “New York”, and “Slow Disco” in particular display this songwriting disposition impeccably well. Overall, this is an album that feels both incredibly focused while maintaining a keen sense of the adventurous. While it may seem less untameable than some of her previous work, these songs are no less sharp and pointed than her best material.
So, how does Masseduction stack up to the rest of her stellar catalog? In my mind incredibly well. The more listens you are willing to give this record, the more wonders it unfolds. I don’t really know where I’d rank it in comparison to her other albums, but at this point I don’t particularly care. This is another excellent record in a history of amazing records for St. Vincent. As far as I’m concerned, the winning streak continues.
Watchdog – Can of Worms
Anne Quillier has truly made a name for herself in the jazz fusion scene. Be it on her sextet or in various other projects; the last of which being Watchdog, which features Anne on Rhodes, Moog, piano, and vocals, and Pierre Horckmans on clarinets. The minimalist nature of the duo works in their favour: Anne is mostly in charge of laying down the themes and creating the atmosphere upon which the songs thrive, while Pierre fills the room with the soothing voice of the clarinet. This has quite a lot of similarities with math rock, being rooted on complex time signatures, but also has the additional feature of advanced harmonic background. The Pince-oreilles label and collective is a pretty fertile breeding grounds for such jazz experimentations, and it’s always an exciting day when a new release comes out from under their wing.