Even a cursory glance at 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 editor Simon Handmaker and Editor in Chief Eden Kupermintz together to peruse each other’s tastes:
Eden’s Grid and Simon’s Comments
Nulabee – Queen for a Day (The Promise of Horizon)
This is… pleasant. I have to admit, I’m not really a huge fan of this sort of electronic music, but I can definitely see the appeal in Nulabee. It’s airy and relaxed without being insubstantial, and there’s a definite energy to this song that feels uplifting. I have to say, I’m impressed with the amount going on in this song. The appeals to footwork that appear in the rhythmic breaks reminds me in a very positive way of last year’s excellent Iglooghost album, the layers of synthesizers are very well-managed, and the drums sound organic – something that’s always a challenge for electronic music. Overall, I’d say I can definitely understand why someone would find a lot to enjoy here, but this just isn’t really my style.
Elbow – Build a Rocket Boys! (Open Arms)
If you hold an empty craft beer bottle up to your ear, you can faintly hear this song playing inside. This sounds like what I’d expect to hear playing if I showed up at someone’s apartment for a tasting of artisanal local Sriracha-battered tacos. Something something gentrification. Ribbing aside, I’m not really sure what to think of this. I’ve heard a lot about Elbow from Eden and Nick in the past, and I was sort of expecting some sort of And So I Watch You From Afar-esque post-rock – maybe based on the cover of their most recent album, I think? Either way, this is fine. I need to check out the rest of this album and see how I feel about this in context. It’s not doing anything for me at the moment, but I feel as though that’s due to a lack of understanding this song as part of a larger structure, not any fault of the piece itself.
Malady – Toinen Toista (Toinen Toista)
I, uh, sure, okay. I was honestly expecting black metal because the name of this song is in a European language. Instead, I got some really lovely, spacey progressive psych rock that reminds me of… avant-garde black/folk metal band Thy Catafalque? I know that’s a weird comparison, but let me explain. The mood of this is very, very similar to some of their stuff: huge, expansive, open, lots of soundscapes to explore. It’s not that there’s a huge amount going on, necessarily, but that what is there suggests this whole ethereal otherworld that lies just out of reach. It’s really beautiful stuff. I can’t wait to listen to more of this album. (Eden’s note: this album isn’t out yet, so no tracks can be linked to. Soon!).
Falconer – Falconer (Lord of the Blacksmiths)
Ok, I was NOT expecting power metal sung by a baritone. I assumed it had to be out there somewhere, but I never really expected to hear it, you know? Getting past that initial shock, though, this is a pretty solid track. There’s no part of it I like quite as much as that opening riff, which hits way harder than power metal has any right to do, but even though the rest of it is sort of paint-by-numbers as far as the genre goes, I can’t really find anything to fault here. The production is way more impressive to me than the actual track: the guitars are deep and have some serious heft to them, and the drums sit perfectly in the mix to accentuate both the rest of the instrumentation and the vocals. I doubt I’d go back to this of my own accord, but this certainly isn’t bad by any means. All that in mind, though, the way they’ve very cleverly incorporated the sound of a hammer hitting an anvil into some parts of this is ingenious.
Conjurer – Mire (The Mire)
Damn, alright. I see you, Eden. As with quite a lot of the releases from the incredible and perpetually underrated Holy Roar records, Conjurer is extremely my shit. I’ve been listening to a lot of Totem Skin and early Downfall of Gaia recently, and this scratches the exact same itch. It’s a similar mix of sludge and blackened crust punk that they play, but with a much larger post-metal influence that really elevates this to something that might be even more impressive. From this alone, this is becoming one of my most anticipated albums of the first part of this year. I don’t really have anything else to say, but it’s more from being wowed by how great this is than anything else. God damn.
She – Chroma (Spectacular)
“Spectacular” sounds like what the Super Mario Brothers movie would look like if it was a Mega Man adaptation instead. Does that make sense? No? Okay. So it’s got this unapologetic 80’s synth-funk swagger going on that has the same attitude to a T, it’s got this synths that are ever-so-slightly bitcrushed to be reminiscent of classic chiptune stuff but aren’t nearly compressed enough to be fully a part of that aesthetic, and the song in general just has this super weird atmosphere that feels like the sort of weird, vaguely hopeful conceptual sci-fi we had before everything went into Gritty Reboot Fuckoff territory. Also, that slowdown at the end is incredible. This is great. Can’t wait to dive into this album.
Years of Rice & Salt – Nothing of Cities (Carnival)
Okay, that little bit with the horns is pretty great, but I wish the rest of it captured me more. I do appreciate the way Years of Rice & Salt tread off the beaten path a bit for their genre – certain melodic choices, like the plucked strings, remind me a bit of Vampillia, one of my favorite Japanese bands – but this is a bit too meandering and typical post-rock for me. Eden’s heard my complaints about the genre before, and so I’m sure my relatively middling opinion of this comes as no surprise for that reason. I certainly don’t hate “Carnival” at all, but it’s hard to muster up more enthusiasm for this. I just wish that bit with the horns was longer, really – if that was twice as long, I’m sure this entire album would be worth it. That’s how you do a fucking climax. The rest of this, though? I can take it or leave it.
Kauan – Kaiho (Siiville Nousu)
I can’t believe this is the band that put out Sorni Nai. I mean, I guess I’ve seen more dramatic changes, but still, what? What a total fucking departure from what they used to do. It’s a pretty incredible difference, honestly. I wish I had more to say about this. It’s decent post-rock that takes some small electronic cues from the aforementioned Vampillia or (far more likely) 65daysofstatic but doesn’t lean fully into it, and spends most of time just meandering very pleasantly through some choice progressions. I feel like I’ve heard it a thousand times before, but it’s certainly not done poorly for what it is. Seems like the same sort of stuff Kopf hoch. does but not as varied or lush.
After the Burial – Rareform (Rareform)
I’ve been on a bit of a kick with going back to what I listened to in middle and high school recently, so getting to revisit one of my favorite albums from that period is always a treat. Rareform is probably one of the best progressive metalcore albums, hands down; there is not a single bad riff, melody, or breakdown to be found on this album. Seriously, everything about this is just so spot on: that short drum fill into one of the most energetic riffs the album has to offer, the way the drums move back and forth between accentuating said riff’s groove and blasting away to make sure every note hits like a truck, the pre-chorus that goes into that great chug part, the way both guitars are constantly working in harmony with one another. You get my point. It’s just a headrush of a track from beginning to end. I may not listen to Rareform a lot, but I absolutely love it nonetheless, and this is such a prime cut from it.
Simon’s Grid and Eden’s Comments
Beaten to Death – Dodsfest! (True Norwegian Internet Metal Warrior)
Let me open my entry with a “HAHAHHAHA HOLY SHIT THAT TRACK NAME”. The rest of this band’s name choices seem to be as on point as this one but more importantly, the music is fucking great. Simon has been touting this guys as “the best grind band ever” and honestly, I can see his point; there’s something about Beaten to Death that’s just impossible to resist. I ended up listening to the entirety of this album several times, and the rest of their discography to boot, all resulting from this one track. When you remember that I am far from the biggest grindcore fan, this becomes quite an achievement. I think the trick is in everything surrounding the actual music; these guys are a breath of fresh air in a genre obsessed with its own aesthetic and edginess. Instead, we get a mix of great music, punishing as it is, coated in a layer of humor and self deprecation. Perfect.
Pallbearer – Heartless (Dancing in Madness)
This album is the highlight of Pallbearer’s career and “Dancing in Madness” might just be the highlight of the album. It’s everything which works so well on Heartless, the Pallbearer formula refined and condensed into something almost too emotional to bear. I try not to listen to this album so much so that it stays pristine but also so that I don’t break do cnwn entirely. It’s just so evocative and cutting in a way their previous works (while still great) just weren’t able to achieve. On this track, you get a taste of all the elements which make that happen: the slow, gentle beginning, the incredible vocals, the way the track unfolds before you, not so much a crescendo structure as it is a summit to be constantly climbed. On top of that, you can add the masterful production, guitar, synth and percussion tones all blending into perfection. I remember making fun of the album’s cover before it was released but, honestly, it makes perfect sense now that I’ve made this album one of my most faithful companions and most of all on “Dancing in Madness”. God damn, what a track. What a release.
Combatwoundedveteran – I Know A Girl Who Develops Crime Scene Photos (Propaganda Films Shot With a Sitcom Script)
I’ve heard this name in underground circles several times before and it’s easy to understand why when you realize this album was released in 1999 and possibly represents one of the ignition points for one of the later stages of powerviolence, on the eve of the millennium. It’s firmly rooted in punk but goes several steps further into grindcore territory, creating that special mix that is powerviolence. Sadly, I am not a fan of this; unlike the more robust Beaten to Death, this track failed to grab me in any way. Of course, it’s silly listening to just one track for 56 seconds and making up your mind so I went a bit further and the album didn’t do much for me either; not enough for me to hang on to. Next!
Mammoth Grinder – Cosmic Crypt (Superior Firepower)
Now this is more my style of classic filth from the days of yore. Mammoth Grinder are a key part in the revival of old school hardcore, hardcore which strode the lines between it and death metal with an irreverent swagger. Cosmic Crypt very much connects back to that style, chock full of nasty riffs, furious and bottomless growls and an overall air of stank which is the best thing when you’re in need of unadulterated hate in your life. “Superior Firepower” is very much the classic manifestation of all of that; it goes fast, it goes in one direction and it keeps going. I think that’s what I love the most about Mammoth Grinder; they are absolutely relentless. No pauses are afforded, no quarter given, only hot, steaming, nasty metal.
Madvillain – Madvillainy (Figaro)
If there’s one sin I’ve committed in life, it’s not listening to Madvillain enough (or MF Doom in general, to be honest). As I deepen my knowledge of hip hop, skipping over this absolutely seminal artist is plain dumb and I make plans to fix that every week. Maybe this will be my excuse, since “Figaro” is basically everything I love in hip hop. It has varied instrumentation that’s made up of more than just bass and kick drums, incredible flow and amazing lyrics (“Coast to coast Joe Shmoe’s flows ill, go chill / Not supposed to overdose No-Doz pills / Off pride tykes talk wide through scar meat / Off sides like how Worf rides with Starfleet”). I think what gets me the most about what I’ve heard of Midvillain is how small yet powerful his voice is; where many other hip hop/rap artists rely on a powerful delivery to grab the listener’s attention, Madvillain would rather intrigue you and reel you in than drop a twist or emphasize an especially powerful bar. Instead, the track invites you to listen in and try and follow him as he weaves around the beat and verses of the track. Masterful.
Orchid – Dance Tonight! Revolution Tomorrow! (…and the Cat Turned to Smoke)
Simon’s been linking to this album for years now and I’m glad I finally got the chance to check it out, even if it was just one track. This is like if a screamo band crashed right into a stoner metal band. The instruments are fuzzed out and contemplative (I especially love the drum tone, muffled but yet somehow still packing a punch) while the vocals race circles around them with their shrill delivery. The vocalist also sounds constantly at the edge of their stamina in the best kinds of way, their lack of breath lending a sense of urgency and heartbreak to the whole thing. Top notch.
Open Mike Eagle + Paul White – Hella Personal Film Festival (Drunk Dreaming)
One of the best things Simon has ever done for me was pressuring me to finally listen to Open Mike Eagle. Beyond his album in 2017, which ranked in my top 10, Hella Personal Film Festival is an incredibly clever album, perhaps a little less grandiose than the 2017 offering but no less powerful for it. “Drunk Dreaming” is a perfect example of this; you can’t resist the production work that Paul White has done on this track, which blends so well with Mike’s flow and vibe on this. The lyrics are also cleverly political will still being intimate, which is perhaps Mike’s strongest attribute as a composer and writer. What’s more to say? This track is a joy for anyone who likes their hip hop subtle, intimate and still insightful.
Beaten to Death – Unplugged (Don’t You Dare to Call Us Heavy Metal)
Yeah, OK, this band is great. I fucking get it, jesus. This track is all fury and no fluff, channeling much the same vibes as their previous entry on this list. I like this track more though; it goes a lot of places and is much more progressive, for lack of a better word. The guitar leads on this one almost sound like a math rock band and that’s fucking insane when you consider the constant blastbeats and harsh vocals which play alongside them. I won’t ever call you heavy metal Beaten to Death but I will call you fucking excellent.
Iron Reagan – Crossover Ministry (Fuck the Neighbors)
One of the OG crossover bands (it’s literally in the name of the album folks), Iron Reagan definitely have high street cred but they’re just not my thing. I mean, the entire genre isn’t really my thing; I can appreciate punk and most thrash metal from a distance but I don’t connect to it personally. Same here, this track kind of just flew over my head and didn’t do much. Also, the samples were pretty pointless; it’s all very mid-late 80’s and just feels really out of place.