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 (even if it’s, you know… Tuesday) 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:
The Dear Hunter – All Is As All Should Be EP
The term “fanservice” is one generally used with derision as a way to criticize a decision made by a creator that seemingly was made to cater to fans specifically, often to the detriment of the actual product. In the case of a band like The Dear Hunter though, they have turned fanservice into an artform, in mostly all the right ways. Having built up a more than respectably-sized fanbase without ever having broken heavily into more mainstream rock and pop publications and channels, and after years of working through mid-tier independent labels like Triple Crown and Equal Vision, mastermind Casey Crescenzo and the rest of the band have officially gone the fully independent route through Crescenzo’s own imprint Cave and Canary Goods. And as their first release as a fully independent band, All Is As All Should Be, they decided to take the idea of fanservice to about as literal and personal a level as possible. Consulting with longtime and dedicated fans of the band, they took prompts for subject matter, musical style, and more, producing six tracks of music dedicated to those specific people and to The Dear Hunter community as a whole.
For longtime fans of the band, there won’t be much present in AIAASB that you haven’t heard in some form or another from them before. Musically, this is the closest the band have come to replicating the same eclectic and fun but exceedingly satisfying work sprinkled throughout The Color Spectrum, and there are many moments that feel like could have been lifted straight from that series. In particular opener “The Right Wrong,” with its typically TDH-ian proggy lead riff and interlude/breakdown that’s a small step from the breakdown in “This Body” off of the Black EP, and the invigorating sing-song-y “Shake Me (Awake)” blend the more joyful and loose elements that defined that epic non-canonical work and contrasted it sharply against the more serious and tightly-constructed music of the Acts series. This is also what makes it a great entry point for listeners possibly interested in the group but also intimidated at the prospect of jumping into the gargantuan Acts or Color Spectrum series (and no offense to Migrant, but I think there are few people who would recommend anyone start with that album). AIAASB is a perfect distillation of Crescenzo and the group’s compositional adventurism, technical chops, and gift for writing instantly memorable and catchy hooks, melodies, and more.
Most importantly, the EP is one that was clearly made with a ton of love and fun. This is probably most evident not in the music itself but in the video for the most off-kilter track of the set, “Blame Paradise,” which features an increasingly over-the-top premise featuring a sentient tomato high schooler that really only goes more off the rails from there until everything is being blown up and destroyed some interdimensional space creature. It’s utterly ridiculous and tongue-in-cheek, but in true TDH form, filled with tons of easter eggs for the superfans and the like. The rest of the EP, even at its most serious and serene like on “Beyond the Pale” and “Witness Me,” succeeds for all of its winking and genuine love for the people it’s being written for. More than almost any other band and fanbase, The Dear Hunter has built their success on the special relationship between creator and fans, and it’s just nice to see that be rewarded in the form of things as grand and ambitious as the Acts and as relatively small and personal as this EP here. In the end, that’s the best kind of fanservice imaginable.
Phoebe Bridgers – Stranger in the Alps
It’s a real shame that indie has become watered down these days because there’s something inherently impressive in its core sound. The ability to capture the attention of the listener without huge production or lyrical themes takes a daft hand and the best of the indie genres are those who still possess that gift. Under that definition, Phoebe Bridgers might just be one of the best indie artists around as I’m pretty I’d follow her voice into hell and back.
At the core of Stranger in the Alps lies her voice and her forms of expression, straddling the lines between indie, country and American folk. Her music is steeped in long roads which unwind into the distance, mountains in the distance which somehow seem to girdle the territory you’re in but also expand it, and smokey evenings spent gazing out of a window. Everything else revolves around these musical ideas; the guitars coax and the rare backing vocals, performed with a soft baritone, only work to enhance Bridgers’ magic.
The real wonder of Stranger in the Alps then is how it exemplifies the indie ideal; so much is achieved with so little. It feels like the album should be insubstantial, that it should drift above your head and away from your heart. But, instead, something about the fragile insistence of its tunes, the way they’re sprung not only from fonts of nostalgia but also from a deep link to the songs of place, folk and memory, gives them a subtle strength. It is strong just as much as it is subtle; I haven’t been able to step away from this album ever since I discovered it.
This comes from the amount of personality and intimate connection which Bridgers allows to seep into the formula. Among the grander influences which inform the album are personal memories, experiences, hopes and dreams, creating a more personal story which uses the grander context as its backdrop. The result only enhances the size of the album while still keeping the overall picture from being too daunting. Stranger in the Alps haunts me and I welcome it.
Jeff Rosenstock – Post-
Happy New Year, scumbags. Full-blown-adult punk champion Jeff Rosenstock released a surprise new full length on January 1, 2018 and it’s a perfect way to begin a new year. Fully embracing the transition from more internal, emotive concerns of his early solo releases toward outward-focused existential angst, Post- picks up directly where 2016’s masterpiece Worry. left off: deeply concerned with the state of the country, our society writ large, and Jeff’s (and, by extension, all of our) precarious ability to affect positive change as one small dude in such a big world. Sound heavy? Hell yeah it’s heavy, but Jeff retains his uncanny ability to carve a supportive, hopeful space even amongst such disquiet. Also, it just rocks.
Musically, Post- brings a similar vein of fidgety, explosive indie punk we’ve come to expect from Sir Rosenstock. But, just as with Worry., there is a discernible strain of ambition and experimentation mixed into the proceedings that mirrors and propels the thematic concerns of the album. Namely, Post- is bookended by two monster epics that ground the entire tracklist. “USA” is a hyper-distilled, ground-level exploration of the weariness, frustration, and fatigue that, for many, characterized 2017 in an America many of us don’t recognize with any comfort. Thankfully, the album ends on a slightly more hopefully note, an 11 minute rollicking, insisting rallying cry that, despite the plethora of societal forces seemingly hell bent on creating an American Hell Hole™ “we’re not gonna let them win again.”
To be sure, this record is still brand spanking new and still settling into everybody’s ears and minds, yours truly included. But it sounds great upon first listen and, regardless, it’s good to have Jeff back around creating energetic, sincere music wrestling with genuine universal concerns of the times. Here’s to a better year.
(Sandy) Alex G. – Rocket
Variety in recorded material can be either an album’s greatest asset or a crippling liability. Such judgments are obviously almost exclusively subject to individual taste and musical or artistic context, but I would posit that most of us can remember an album experience where an album hit us with an unpleasant sonic curveball that made us cringe. (Sandy) Alex G.’s stunning and eclectic record Rocket hurls several such curveballs, but with a twist: They’re all great. Within this ever shifting kaleidoscope of slacker and indie rock, folk, country, psychedelic freak-outs, punk tinges and americana shades there is an absolute gem of an album that upon repeat listens reveals through lines that tie the whole crazy mess together. This is an absolute gem of a record and I am so glad it exists.
That’s a lot to unpack in an opening paragraph. Just trying to classify this music is a chore in and of itself, but all of the above genres make themselves known one way or another as the record progresses. The energetic and dramatic banjo plucking of album opener “Poison Roots” herald the Sandy’s Americana and folk leanings, as well as his general instrumental eclecticism. Piano, banjo, violin, and guitar all vie for attention in the mix, creating a cornucopia of sound that seems like it shouldn’t work, but absolutely does. This is the case with so many songs on this album. They just shouldn’t work. The compositions are fussy and busy and alter fairly radically from track to track, with instruments fighting for attention in a general sound war that would sink most other albums. But not Rocket. (Sandy) Alex G. thrives on this chaos, creating soundscapes that are simultaneously beautiful and layered without ever feeling too overwhelming. His songwriting approach is fearless, and nets mostly absolutely stunning and deeply eclectic results. Examples include the straightforward and pleasant country influences of “Proud” being immediately followed by the smooth and trippy psych-infused “County”, only to morph into a strings and banjo-laced indie rock ballad in “Bobby”. Then we reach a three track sequence that comes out of absolute nowhere, throwing the entire sonic aesthetic record off a bridge. The gently psychedelic “Witch”, the twitchy “Horse”, and the utterly bananas punk-blast that is “Brick” sound almost nothing like the tracks that came before them. Then we’re off to piano balladry of “Sportstar”, complete with heavy vocal processing and angular guitar work. It’s a nearly indescribable mesh of sounds that are individually so wildly different that it often feels like the album should have been broken into parts or sections. But that would take away from the album’s peculiar and mesmerizing charm. This album is so outrageously good because these songs are all good, stylistic swings aside. The songwriting talent and confidence on display here is dizzying. Each of these songs work individually in their own right, but also serve to create a subversive and fantastically entertaining whole that is unlike any record you heard in 2017.
If variety is the spice of life, (Sandy) Alex G. is the spiciest musician alive outside Igorrr’s Gautier Serre. There is so much to discover and explore in this record, and every second of it is worthwhile. Within the unpredictability and madness of this music, (Sandy) Alex G. finds a rhythm completely unique to himself that is as welcoming and entrancing as the best of what indie music had to offer in 2017. Listen, let go, and get transported. This record is well worth your time.