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:
Belle and Sebastian – How to Solve Our Human Problems Pt. 2
The Scottish septet are back with the second of three planned EPs to be released in as many months, the ambitiously titled How to Solve Our Human Problems (Pt.2). The release follows the same gently beautiful path of synth and dance tinged chamber pop that the group laid out on Pt. 1 and their most recent full length, Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance. And yet, excluding the unabashedly earnest, sunshine-soaked “I’ll Be Your Pilot,” the band’s signature surface sheen of nearly-saccharine sweet tenderness belies a lurking undercurrent of uncertainty and heartache across the 20ish minute runtime.
After all, despite the group chanting and caffeinated dance backdrop of the opening track “Show Me the Sun,” Stuart Murdoch’s opening lines are “What do you want of me?” The potential intended recipients of the question are legion: not only the lover he longs to love and the music he fears “is not enough” within the song’s narrative, but also, potentially, the somewhat disgruntled fans who grew up listening to Belle and Sebastian records in their childhood bedrooms. There have long been grumblings about the band’s shift away from the hushed, delicate pop of If You’re Feeling Sinister et al. and maybe, just maybe, Stuart and Co. have finally turned the corner past those nostalgically-rooted complaints to fully embrace their louder, dancier, and, yes, happier modern selves. Maybe this is what modern rock songs sound like in 2018.
Probably an overread. Either way, I’m happy to report that Pt. 2 is just as enjoyable and essential to the bands catalogue as anything post-The Life Pursuit. In “The Same Star” Sarah Martin, once again, steals the show with a tuneful, buoyant ditty about the dangers of getting lost longing for “the good old days” and celebrating the knowledge that old lovers (old sounds? old expectations?) only hold us back from living our best lives now. Stevie delivers one of his delightfully strangest offerings in years in the lumbering, hook-resistant “Cornflakes” and the album closer “A Plague on Other Boys” stands toe-to-toe with the best story-songs Murdoch has ever written about lost love and the slow realization that time moves on and “you’re free to fraternize again.” How to Solve Our Human Problems may be more danceable and may have more lush instrumentation than the band’s releases in the 90’s, but, thankfully, the end result is still unmistakably Belle and Sebastian.
No Age – Snares Like A Haircut
Modern bands releasing quality noise rock are not as plentiful as one would hope in the age of the much-ballyhooed death of rock. Sure, Girl Band, Liars, Japandroids, A Place to Bury Strangers, and Lightning Bolt have all released various level of quality material over the past decade, but it’s hard to point to a bright, shining star amongst the noisiest of rockers in today’s musical landscape. One of the bands who has gotten the closest to achieving that hallowed status of genre standard bearer is No Age, whose 2007 debut Weirdo Rippers and 2008 follow-up Nouns were unique and mesmerizing entries into the world of organized noise that gave many a listener hope for both the genre and the future of a young, talented new band. Unfortunately, the band’s subsequent material failed to recapture the magic and vital energy of their first record, leaving the band to fall into the general ether of obscurity shared by many of their peers. But if 2018 is to be the year of the noise revival, let it begin with Snares Like A Haircut, No Age’s wonderful and revitalizing new record.
From its opening moments, Snares Like A Haircut is a more joyous and sonically rich affair than the majority of the band’s previous output. “Cruise Control” begins with a jagged guitar lead that feels very similar to what one would find in the band’s earliest material, then melts into a reverb-soaked power wash of joyous noise that gives the track a fundamentally positive vibe that envelopes the proceedings in a similar fashion to a Wavves or Girls track. This ethereal, pervasive sense of uptempo positivity continues throughout the front half of the record, with “Stuck in the Changer” and “Drippy” serving as additional jolts of a raw, almost joyous energy that is as infectious as one could expect from a band playing this type of music. Album single “Send Me” changes the pace to a more languid jaunt, with the track’s quasi-religious petition to embark into the unknown accompanied by mellow sonic textures that fit the lyrical themes like a glove. It’s a fitting example of the thoughtfulness and care that went into each aspect of this record, creating a very cohesive listening experience that was not a hallmark of No Age’s latest records.
For those who miss the “noise” element of the band’s brand of rock, never fret. The looping, mildly abrasive instrumentals of their previous work are here, but more muted than in previous records. The instrumental title track is a soothing yet off-kilter foray into noisy atmospherics, serving as an appropriate segue to the record’s noisier and more rambunctious second half. But the album’s diversity never feels contrived or disorganized, but rather like differing elements revolving around a thematically consistent sonic sun. Final track “Primitive Plus” is the ultimate example of this, pulling all of the various elements and themes presented throughout the record together into a euphoric finale that is as gorgeous and lush a track as anything No Age have yet written. This is a startlingly cohesive effort from a band not particularly known for their adherence to theme, and is perhaps the band’s most thoroughly and consistently great record to date.
In all, there is a wealth of fantastic songs here that present the most engaging and infectious material of the band’s career. This is a fantastic record, and fans of indie and noise rock should prepare themselves for an absolutely lovely January surprise. After one of the best years for new music in recent memory, 2018 is off to a blistering start.
Kubbi Releases Two New, Stunning Tracks From Upcoming “Taiga”
If you’re unaware, Kubbi is one of the most exciting names in a resurgence we’ve been seeing in the EDM scene. Making actually great music, unlike a lot of the “stock” EDM artists out there, this “movement” takes inspiration from glitch, videogame music and retrowave to create something truly unique. No one does it better than Kubbi; his 2015 Ember is a must hear for fans of any type of electronic music fans.
Kubbi is also known for his interesting artistic process; the artist has “hundreds of tracks” in some form of processing or another and slowly trickles them into public circulation. As such, he is releasing lots of music ahead of this year’s release, Taiga, due in March. Case in point: I’m writing about two tracks here but there’s going to be a third one by the time this post goes up. In any case, the two offerings we’ve had of the album so far have been nothing short of magnificent.
First, there’s the dreamy and out there “Spiritdance”, which blends some truly chill vibes with the famous Kubbi breaks, all glitch and groove. The combo here works extremely well; the more relaxed structure of the main parts of the track set you up perfectly for when everything breaks down near the middle and then the end. “Antlers”, the second track, is a more direct approach and a shorter track. It still features an essentially spaced out and dreamy sound, one which should be very familiar to fans of Ember, but since it’s shorter, the breakdown plays a much larger role within it, a glorious one to boot. This is one of the producer’s stronger tracks to date.
All in all, you best mark your calendars for when this drops (which is March 10th, to be exact). It’s a highly anticipated release for many on the blog staff (including yours truly) and should be one of the better releases dropping this year.
Update: since the time of writing, we’ve been made aware of this link by the artist, which contains all four tracks currently available for streaming. You know what to do.