Even a cursory glance of our biweekly playlist updates 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, where two of our contributors 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 brought editors Simon Handmaker and Jonathan Adams together to peruse each other’s tastes:
Simon’s Grid and Jonathan’s Comments
Jaden Smith – “B.L.U.E.” (Syre)
Jonathan: For some reason I assumed that Jaden Smith was one of Will Smith’s children, and became very afraid. But then I remembered that was Willow, and breathed a sigh of relief. Anyway, the music and stuff. [Note from Simon: Jaden Smith is Will Smith’s other kid.]
“B.L.U.E.” is technically a sequence of four tracks, one for each letter in the title (MATH!). The first of these songs, “B”, threw me off in a big way. Biblical themes of creation, Adam and Eve/Eden set the stage for some pretty dramatic stuff throughout the track. Perhaps this is unique to my ears, but the first few moments of this track almost sounded like a folk-influenced ballad. Like, weirdly Xanthochroid-level shit. That didn’t last long. The beat hits around 1:40 and doesn’t relent from there. Keys make an entrance as Smith’s filtered voice cuts into the track with verve and a helluva lot of emotion. This passion carries into “L”, which hits the beat established in the previous track even harder. Smith’s delivery is a mix of singing and rapping which for the most part works, though not always. Overall, I’m not very impressed with Smith’s flow. It’s far from terrible, but doesn’t seem to be his principal strength. To my ears, Smith excels in the more frenetic moments. “U” is by far my favorite track of the suite, bringing in a Kanye West circa My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy-era sonic landscape that feels kinetic and fractured yet somehow cohesive. This is also Smith’s best vocal performance, bringing in a rich variety of bars, unhinged anger, and impassioned pleas that are the most convincing of the bunch. Final track “E” leaves a pretty lackluster taste after the smorgasbord presented in the previous track, ending the suite on a low note.
This was more of a review than I wanted it to be. But I needed to process this. Plus, it’s four individual tracks, so deal. Overall I don’t feel incredibly impressed by “B.L.U.E.”. I mean, it’s fine, but so little of it stuck with me after a few listens. There are some great moments, but they feel scattered within an overlong sequence of songs that probably could have been cut down to two. Interested to hear more, but not in love with it.
King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard – “Crumbling Castle” (Polygondwanaland)
Jonathan: In case you are one of the lucky few people living in a cave deep in the Carpathian Mountains utterly isolated from all forms of culture, you’ve probably heard about King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard unleashing five albums on our unready asses in 2017. It’s been quite the year for the Australian prog masters. Overall, I think Polygondwanaland is the best of the bunch, and this song is probably my favorite track on the record. I was pretty stoked when Simon selected it. Mostly because it meant that I had an excuse to listen to it again.
Polygondwanaland is the best synthesis, at least regarding King Gizzard’s 2017 output, of what they do well. “Crumbling Castles” works so well both within the context of the album and as a stand-alone track because it’s a self-contained odyssey that establishes themes you will hear throughout the record. The chant-like nature of the vocals, short and potent solos, cycling synths, playful interludes and almost doom metal-esque flourishes during the finale all exemplify a 9-minute sampler of the wonders this album has in store. Which, in case this hasn’t been made clear, is general awesomeness. I love the crap out of this track.
BROCKHAMPTON – “Sweet” (Saturation 2)
Jonathan: While “Junky” will always and forever be my favorite track from BROCKHAMPTON’s excellent Saturation 2, “Sweet” probably represents the group’s strengths most effectively. God, this is such a great album and track. The production fits the song perfectly (thin, reedy and engaging beat that allows for each member’s lyrical dexterity to shine), and once again displays the group’s ability to take sounds that on paper shouldn’t work and fit them seamlessly underneath some fantastic flows and lyrics. Joba’s fifth verse is a masterclass in how to make laid back hip hop without losing humor or a nice edge. Kevin Abstract’s chorus is also a highlight, providing a thread connecting all these rappers’ differing styles together.
It’s a modern marvel that this many artists can work so seamlessly together, never taking too much space and allowing one another to contribute sick verse after sick verse. I’m not very familiar with the catalogs of each of the nine members of this collective, but listening to both parts of Saturation makes me want to deep dive into everything they’ve so far produced.
Yellow Eyes – “Shrillness in the Heated Grass” (Immersion Trench Reverie)
Jonathan: Yellow Eyes belong right up there in the modern American atmoblack pantheon with Krallice, Panopticon, and Wolves In the Throne Room. Immersion Trench Reverie is their best record by a long shot. “Shrillness in the Heated Grass” is also my favorite track on the record (home run pick, Simon). There are a few reasons for this: Memorable melody, just the right amount of variety, and the inclusion of sonic elements outside the guitar/drum/bass triad that separate this track from typical atmoblack fare.
The opening guitar lines are catchy as hell, which is kind to weird to say about a black metal track. Yellow Eyes are especially good at dropping earworms throughout this record, but the melody that flows in and out of this track is the strongest and best. The middle section of the track contains tons of riffs that heighten the tension and release it with expert-level control, while the tail end includes those gorgeous field recordings that pop up in various spots on the record, and includes a chorus of female voices that is ghostly and beautiful. Essentially it’s got everything that I love and it makes me very happy. You are doing yourself a grave disservice if you don’t check out this record. Start with this track and get transported.
YOB – “Adrift in the Ocean” (Atma)
Jonathan: News of Mike Scheidt’s illness and near death experience shook me in a big way. YOB has been enormously influential in my development as a music lover, and without them there are several bands that I now consider to be favorites (Pallbearer, Conan, and Bongripper to name a few) that I may not have discovered otherwise. The fact that Scheidt is steadily on the road to recovery is one of the bright spots of a dismal year for me culturally, and for that I am very grateful.
I’ll also level and say that Atma is not my favorite YOB record. That by no means makes it bad, because YOB have yet to produce a bad record. But it has never stuck to my insides like Clearing a Path to Ascend or The Great Cessation have. Nevertheless, “Adrift in the Ocean” is an absolutely fantastic track that I love to pieces. Pulling those Neurosis influences and mixing them with their own unique delivery has seldom sounded so sweet in the band’s discography. Each individual element in this track’s cycle is so satisfying, in particular Aaron Rieseberg’s bass. Bringing Bell Witch levels of clarity to his instrument, Rieseberg propels the track to new melodic heights on multiple fronts, especially around the three and nine minute marks, where he gets plenty of time in the mix to shine. It’s one of my favorite individual performances on the album.
Don’t let anything dissuade you from checking out YOB if you have yet to do so. Modern metal would not be the same without them, and they continually write some of the best material in the stoner/doom game.
Black Tusk – “Born of Strife” (Pillars of Ash)
Jonathan: For some reason, Black Tusk is a hard sell for me. I’m all about that sludge life, but the band never seemed to stick out in any meaningful or unique way outside their obvious High On Fire, Red Fang, and/or Torche influences. Having these influences is not a bad thing, but there isn’t much that Black Tusk brings to the table that I couldn’t get by listening to my favorite tracks from the above bands. Regardless, “Born of Strife” has a few particular elements that intrigue me.
The most immediate draw for me regarding this track is its glaring punk influence, particularly in the vocals and drumming early on. While the track contains plenty of sludge stickiness, the punk-ish rasps (provided here I believe by Andrew Fidler) and the propulsive, d-beat skins-smacking of James May provide plenty of undeniably fun energy throughout the track.
Other than that, while it most certainly hits hard and presents a fun, almost crossover vibe, the track isn’t particularly memorable. If you like your sludge infused with some punk influences, this track and band are right up your alley. Just not my proverbial cup of tea in the subgenre.
Open Mike Eagle – “Happy Wasteland Day” (Brick Body Kids Still Daydream)
Jonathan: Okay, this album is the shit. Open Mike Eagle has been on my radar for quite some time, but I didn’t start fully delving into his work until the middle of this year. Not only is he one of the most insanely talented lyricists in the rap game right now, his utilization of concept to stark and brilliant effect is unparalleled in modern hip-hop. He’s a legend in the making, and I have Simon to thank for pushing me in his general direction.
This track is fire. It’s so smooth and fuzzy and lovely. Exile’s production is delicious in general, but on this track in particular he’s firing on all cylinders. The simple, propulsive beat gives the proceedings a luxurious vibe that is never grating or oppressive, but also refuses to sit still. Eagle raps over and around it like the languid genius he is. “This is normal/It’s normal now” he intones during the chorus, but this track is anything but. Eagle’s personal lyrics and social conscience are a sight to behold and are well outside of the ordinary in popular hip hop, and his confidence in his delivery has only grown with each new project, with this track being a perfect example of his growth as an artist. God. Just stop reading this and listen.
The Dillinger Escape Plan – “Nothing’s Funny” (One of Us Is the Killer)
Jonathan: There are probably no two bands in extreme music that had more of an impact on me during my teenage years than Converge and The Dillinger Escape Plan. Their mathy, intricately controlled aggression was exactly what sixteen-year-old me needed to take on (what seemed at the time to be) the ungodly horrors of late adolescence. While I have deep relationships with Ire Works and Option Paralysis, One of Us Is the Killer hit me at a time where the music of Dillinger wasn’t as appealing to me as it had been in years previous. Which is a bit of a shame, since revisiting it this year a few times saw it ascend to the upper ranks of the band’s catalog in my estimation. This track in particular is great in typical Dillinger fashion, bringing in a traditional jagged and off-kilter start-stop composition, but on the whole presenting a much more cohesive and riff-centered track than we are used to seeing from the band. It’s hooky as hell, and has an insane amount of memorable riffs. It’s an extremely easy track to listen to while losing none of its technical razzle dazzle. One of the best tracks from one of the band’s best albums. I dig.
Screamfeeder – “All Over It Again” (Pop Guilt)
Jonathan: Had not heard of Screamfeeder until here introduced by Simon. Which, by the way… Simon. Thank you. This is so great. Definitely takes care of an itch I’ve been looking to scratch for the past few months. So much metal and extreme music at the end of the year invariably puts me in a mood to explore sounds I haven’t focused on during the past few months. Will definitely be checking this record out in full.
This track has a lot going for it. The heavily 90s influenced production, guitar tone, and vocal harmonization bring me back in a big way. Catchy, hooky riffs galore meld with some underlying acoustic passages that keep a full head of steam through the track’s too brief three-minutes. While the voices here are wizened and not necessarily earth shattering, they are charming in a way that Yo La Tengo or The Flaming Lips are charming. One doesn’t need to deliver a stellar vocal performance to allow the pure emotion and joy or melancholy of a performance to shine through, and there are plenty of awesome elements to commend here. Great track, and I can’t wait to dive into Pop Guilt in full.
Jonathan’s Grid and Simon’s Comments
Björk – “Blissing Me” (Utopia)
Simon: Man, it’s been so goddamn long since I listened to Bjork. It’s not that I didn’t like what I heard, but I guess I just… never followed up on it. I have terrible FOMO that requires me to listen to the newest things as soon as I possibly can, so giving the back catalog of an artist like her the time it really needs to develop and blossom in my mind is something of a luxury I’m unable to afford myself. So, unfortunately, Utopia fell under my radar, which, if “Blissing Me” is any indication, makes me a huge doofus. I love how lush and textured this whole track is. The interplay between the layers of vocals, the plucked strings, the piano, and the eventual small skitterings of electronic clicks and chirps in the background make me feel as though this would be the result of a pop album made by program music i-era Kashiwa Daisuke, but Bjork’s voice brings this very icy, crisp, cold element to the whole affair that really sets it apart from something anybody else could make. This is an incredible track and judging by the way it’s written – no real structure to the track, a full display of idiosyncrasies without any concept of reservation – makes me think it would only be better in an album context. I can’t wait to check out Utopia.
King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard – “Loyalty” (Polygondwanaland)
Simon: Dun-dun-dun-dun-DUN. Dun-dun-dun-dun-DUN. Dun-dun-dun-dun-DUN. Dun-dun-dun-dun-DUN. Dun-dun-dun-dun-DUN. Dun-dun-dun-dun-DUN. Dun-dun-dun-dun-DUN.
If you want to see my thoughts on Polygondwanaland, check out our most recent Editor’s Picks column. As for “Loyalty” specifically, I think it’s an excellent chilled-out track from the record’s latter half that perfectly illustrates everything great about the ol’ Gizz. What this band does so well is build layers on layers on layers of instrumentation that all gradually evolves at a glacial pace, so the listener barely recognizes it happening. “Loyalty” starts out with a single buzzsaw synthesizer played in off-time, joined by a guitar that plays in a slightly different off-time, joined by a bass playing yet another off-time rhythm, and so on. Stu’s vocals creep in on top and color the song with a seriously spooky vibe, and eventually instruments start replacing themselves. When everything melds together, it becomes enrapturing, beautiful, and enormous, not quite like anything else this generation of rock bands has seen, with the genre’s modern emphasis on simplicity and stripped-to-the-bone songwriting. Beyond being a great track and a good sample of the album, “Loyalty” is a perfect example of King Gizzard’s main draw as a band.
SZA – “Garden (Say It Like Dat)” (Ctrl)
Simon: Ctrl is the best album of the year. Sorry, everyone, but seriously, yeah. SZA completely wrecked the competition with this one. (It’s not my favorite album – and nowhere to be found on my top 25 list – but on an objective level, Ctrl is absolutely the best album that 2017 called forth.) The melancholic, subtly hopeful, introspective lyricism intertwines so perfectly with the ethereal, glimmering alt-R&B instrumentals that Ctrl transcends just being music and becomes a sort of all-encompassing vibe, a character of experience that codifies and translates the world around it. “Garden (Say It Like Dat)” is a stellar example of what makes SZA so good: lilting rhythms, a slight pulse to the instrumentation, vocals that feel both defiant and mournful, a sense of total aesthetic control. SZA is a perfectionist on the level of Kevin Shields (of My Bloody Valentine fame), and Ctrl was over four years in the making (and would have probably been longer if Top Dawg Entertainment hadn’t practically wrenched the record from SZA’s hands); however, when it results in albums like this, there’s absolutely no harm in letting SZA indulge in the fineness of her craft.
Is it obvious that I love this album a lot?
Loss – “All Grows On Tears” (Horizonless)
Simon: I’m just so unsure of where I stand on Loss. I recognize that Horizonless is a perfectly well-crafted slab of funereal blackened doom metal, that it has exactly the sort of ethereal solemnity needed to strike exactly the tone it should, and that it is lush, textured, beautiful, excellent. I know all of these things, but Horizonless just doesn’t really do anything for me. It’s not a genre problem; there are plenty of similar bands I heavily enjoy. I don’t feel much listening to this that I should: the album fails to strike a chord with me even though I can exactly see not only the chord but the band striking it repeatedly. I don’t know, man. Maybe it just needs time to click, but I’m growing worried that listening to this album will never be more than an obligation.
Godflesh – “Mirror of Finite Light” (Post Self)
Simon: Man, I am just so not an industrial fan. As far as Justin Broadrick goes, I’m so much more into JESU than Godflesh, and “Mirror of Finite Light” does absolutely nothing to change that. I get that it’s supposed to be simple and repetitive, and there’s a lot of music that is exactly that that I absolutely love, but anything industrial has never really done much for me. I think it’s how it is both bleak and not aggressive: I like both of those of those qualities, but they just can’t go together for me. I love bleak music, and while I wouldn’t say I categorically love music that isn’t aggressive, there’s plenty of music I like that isn’t, but the combination of the two – especially in a supposedly “heavy” genre – just doesn’t work me. The simplistic melodies and marching-beat drums of “Mirror” have a sort of lock-step groove to them and the slurred, half-murmured vocals have a bit of an ominous tendency to them, but there’s nothing that really catches my ear or makes me feel as though I would ever really listen to this of my own volition. Sorry, Jonathan!
DSKNT – “Resurgence of Primordial Void Aperture” (PhsPHR Entropy)
Simon: I had no idea what to really expect going into this, and I’m really glad about that. First off, the Portal influence at play here is immediately obvious: DSKNT play about in the same filthy muck and murk and occupy the same sort of dark, ruinous headspace. But where listening to Portal is like diving headfirst into an enormous dark cavern, listening to DSKNT is more like looking over its edge. The blackness isn’t fully enveloping you yet, and so the light from behind can illuminate just how impossibly deep the abyss goes. I’m tempted to say it’s even more effective, actually, since it’s easier to appreciate exactly how filthy and gargantuan the darkness is when there’s stabs of violent luminosity that contrast it. I suppose it’s enough to say that “Resurgence of Primordial Void Aperture” (okay, let’s be real, that track title is just some words thrown together for maximum grimness) has the same sort of continuous blackened death metal clangor as its brethren in the caverncore realm, but the occasional hint of melody that surfaces keeps it from going fully off the deep end, and that alone makes it worth my while. Very looking forward to hearing this album in full.
Krallice – “This Forest for Which We Have Killed” (Go Be Forgotten)
Simon: I’ve been wicked into Krallice recently, which is odd, because they’re not really a band I’ve ever had a particularly big thing for. Sure, I like them, and I would say they’re objectively good as hell, but man, something with Diotima and Years Past Matter really clicked with me recently – not sure if it was the weather, the end-of-the-semester stress from school, other personal happenings, or what.
Admittedly, part of it is probably how fucking cool it is that they put out two great albums within a month of each other. Both Loum and Go Be Forgotten are excellent albums in their own right, made only cooler by the circumstances surrounding their release, mostly how beautifully down-to-earth the complete lack of pomp and circumstance in terms of promotion was. No singles, no previews, no interviews or Instagram takeovers or tour announcements, just, “Hey. We’re putting out two new albums – one this month, one next month. They’ll be good.” Rock the fuck on.
I should talk about the music, huh? “This Forest For Which We Have Killed” is pretty much exactly what you’d expect from Krallice: they’ve established a niche within black metal based on the thundering drumwork of Lev Weinstein, the inimitably insectile relentless shred-attack of Colin Marston and Mick Barr, and Nick McMaster’s pendulous bass. Does “This Forest” do it well? Yeah, it certainly does. Is it a complete reinvention of their sound? Not even close. Everyone who’s listened to both 2017 records is probably thinking at me that the reason for this is the complete balls-to-the-walls experimentation of Loum, and that having two records of that nature would be hugely fatiguing, and I agree, which is probably why I’m perfectly content with Krallice doing as Krallice does. Anyway, as someone who likes the band, I like this track, but I’d be hard-pressed to say that “This Forest” is going to change the mind of anyone who already knows they don’t care much for Krallice.
The Body & Full of Hell – “Didn’t the Night End” (Ascending A Mountain of Heavy Light)
Simon: What a goddamn album this is. I love both of these bands, and hearing The Body and Full of Hell get together for an absolutely hog-wild power electronics outing has definitely been one of the best treats of the year for me. Honestly, I didn’t have particularly high expectations for this one, since it came so hot on the heels of a Full of Hell LP and their previous collab, but wow! What! An! Album! “Didn’t the Night End” is a perfect track for showing exactly what Ascending is all about: synths click and shimmer and warble to the point of breaking and far beyond, electronic drums and real ones go batshit insane bouncing off one another, guitars form auditory sludge in the background, and both bands trade vocal snippets as the whole thing builds into a crescendo of pure hellacious noise. I didn’t expect to get such a power electronics album – let alone a fucking great one – from these two bands, but hey, I’m certainly not complaining.
Thantifaxath – “Self-Devouring Womb” (Void Masquerading As Matter)
Simon: This has been on my radar for a minute, but I haven’t checked it out yet – so it goes with much music at this time of the year. Big shoutout to Jonathan for throwing “Self-Devouring Womb” on here, because, uh, wow, this is one hell of a song. Warped, spider-like guitar lines and non-Euclidean percussion find themselves twisting and bending around one another as they battle for supremacy. The 20th-century philosopher Husserl spoke of the perception of time as a sort of train or field: we have a retention of what has just happened, a primal impression of the very moment at hand, and a protention of our immediate future. Three separate modes of temporal reality coexist. What “Self-Devouring Womb” does is force time-consciousness into a ritual of autocannibalism: the future and the past eat themselves and each other in the present; time bends and shatters as any sort of foothold is lost on what exactly is happening in the track at hand; the mind begs for structure but finds none.
I feel like the proper way to describe this is like an ongoing, outward-moving collapse: first, a building crumbles, then the ones near it, then the ones near those, and so on. A city reduced to rubble at exponentially increasing speeds, an explosion of outward dust and cement and glass that never falters or ceases. It expands outwards, threatening planets and stars, shrinking and pulverizing whatever it touches. Everything in the universe just keeps collapsing, condensing, reducing. I guess the title is pretty accurate, no? I’m going to need to hear this full release. Thantifaxath have crafted a winner here.