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:
Actors – It Will Come To You
2018 has been a big year for new post-punk, with releases from The Soft Moon, No Age, and Shame leaving indelible impressions on me in the year’s first quarter. With new releases from Preoccupations and Iceage on the way, this trend doesn’t look to be slowing down any time soon. This is completely fine by me. Protomartyr continue their conquest as one of the best bands in modern music, IDLES has burst onto the scene as a sheer force of manic energy and creativity, and Algiers perpetually morphs and reshapes what post-punk can be. It’s a good time to be a fan of this particular subgenre, and there are very few reasons why fans of this brand of modern discontent should lack some level of excitement regarding the future. Vancouver’s ACTORS do nothing to dampen this magical moment in post-punk with their assured, energetic debut record It Will Come To You. If you’re a fan of any of the above bands, you would do yourself a disservice not to check this record out.
Right out the gate, ACTORS come out swinging. “L’appel Du Vide” jangles, sparks, and thrums its way into your head with a catchiness that feels reminiscent of mid-80s punk. Frontman Jason Corbett’s vocal delivery and guitar work unfurl with total confidence and no inconsiderable level of restraint, combining the energy and verve of punk with an almost early-90s U2-esque sing-along component to the song’s verses. It’s a great way to kick-off the record. Subsequent track “Slaves” is just as good, and features some fantastic work from ex-KEN Mode bassist Jahmeel Russell, who in particular shines throughout the record. But to only highlight these two musicians would do a disservice to the rest of ACTORS’ stalwart cast. Shannon Hemmett’s synths pull in a decidedly cinematic flair to the proceedings, with “Face Meets Glass” feeling like the score for Drive if it were channeled through the prism of Miami Vice. Adam Fink’s contribution through the rhythm section cannot be understated either, with his work propelling “Hit to the Head” and “We Don’t Have to Dance” forward with undeniable zeal. In all, there isn’t a single track on this record that I dislike. But what elevates this project above middling-to-passable post-punk is its sincere, well-constructed fusion of styles that are fantastically performed and skillfully composed. This is good stuff, and possible the most fun you will have with a post-punk record this year.
ACTORS have accomplished something special with their debut, and I am excited to see where they go next. While the music here isn’t breaking any particular mode, it is perfectly content in the understanding that it doesn’t have to. It’s highly engaging music written by people who very obviously enjoy what they are creating, and execute their vision with a great deal of skill. Great stuff. More, please.
Andrew WK – You’re Not Alone
Musician, vocalist, producer, writer and all around bon vivant Andrew WK is back with the record we all need now. You’re Not Alone comes at a time of great conflict and strife around the world, and Andrew just wants to make sure we embrace the party of life and try to get along. It’s almost difficult to write about this in Unmetal Mondays since it’s so closely related to much of the standard HBIH material, but Andrew WK is his own thing in some ways. The music can be defined as standard hard rock, but there’s such a powerful energy to what he does that it defies boundaries.
You’re Not Alone is rife with the joyous celebration that WK brings to all things. Its upbeat positivity is designed to make the listener embrace all aspects of life. The record itself is littered with these kinds of affirmations. “The Feeling of Being Alive” is a small lecture about not fearing the feelings of being wrong and viewing it as a challenge. “In Your Darkest Moments” encourages us all to power through the hard times. “Confusion and Clarity” is about focusing on the things that bring us joy. WK is the perfect voice for these feelings.
And the music? It’s just a manifestation of these affirmations. Imagine the feeling of triumphant joy. Think about the feeling you get when you work hard to achieve something and you succeed. This record is the soundtrack of that feeling. The first single, “Music Is Worth Living For,” is the perfect example. Upbeat drums and guitars combined with celebratory flecks of piano and synths while Andrew WK sings about not letting life get you down and rising above the losses. It is the sound of unadulterated revelry.
Maybe it seems silly to you. How can someone who sings primarily about partying reflect the triumph of the human spirit? To you I say you’re missing the point. To WK, partying isn’t just drinking too many beers with your friends. It’s not just a barbeque with your neighbors. Life is a party. Partying is embracing all things with love and passion and never giving up. Partying is about not letting the negativity get you down and remembering the things in life that bring you joy. I plan on returning to this record any time I need that reminder. Party on, my dudes.
Kubbi – Taiga
Genres die when the artists and the fans which make them up refuse to grow. This usually happens when a feedback loop between fans and artists is created; some artists make something incredibly amazing, the fans get hooked on that sound and from then on just want more and more of it. Artists then feed into that, either convincing themselves that the fans’ wishes are justified and that this is really as best as it gets or just ignoring their own artistic direction in order to make a living (which, by the way, is 100% fine and shouldn’t be attacked). Somewhere down the line however, this feedback loop runs out of any real staying power and sticks around out of sheer inertia. That’s how we get “dead” genres that are still incredibly popular.
This is what happened to electronic dance music (EDM) and it happened fairly quickly. The signature “low drums, build up and drop” structure became overpowering and resulted in carbon copies, intent on the cheap chemical thrills that these sort of tracks can instill on the dance floor. But now that the loop has run dry and EDM has become kind of a meme instead of a prolific musical genre, there is room for innovation once again. Like we told you last time when we covered the first tracks from this album, Kubbi represents one of those new points of dynamic energy inside of EDM. His career has always been about evolving what the genre and its sounds meant; from glitch, to synthwave, to breakcore, Kubbi has been casting his net far and wide in search of new musical ideas.
And now, he’s come to Taiga, the most atmospheric and ambient of his releases. This is Kubbi filtered through the lens of introspective and dreamy EDM in the style of Stellardrone, Spectral Lore’s Voyager EP, and 65daysofstatic’s most recent releases. The signature Kubbi sound is still here; you can expect lots of different synth tones, those thick and luxurious bass sounds he often uses, and even the odd callback to his more glitch-y, previous release, Ember. But here, these sounds are spaced out and interspersed with the sounds that inhabited the build-ups on the previous release, namely muffled drums, a more “expansive” and wonder-filled synth tone and a structure that’s less about a build up and a drop than it is about setting a mood and exploring it.
In short, Taiga is an important step forward both for Kubbi as an artist and the somewhat-embarrassing feedback loop that’s become of electronic music. It shows that there are still interesting things to be made within the genre and that experimenting with new sounds can yield great results. For those willing to adjust their expectations away from danceability and into a more varied, nuanced and complex sensibility, Taiga holds many hours of fun, the kind of fun you get from dreaming about far away places or from experiencing the beauty of nature. The good kind, that is.
Ritualz – Doom
Black leather jacket. Black leather fingerless gloves. Blood slowly dripping from both as a man in dark sunglasses exits a back alley into the dim illumination of a long-dormant city street. His steps are deliberate; not too slow, but not in any hurry either. The carnage behind him is already receding from his memory, a brief blip of punishing violence, then darkness. He swings his leg over his motorcycle, starts and revs the engine, and speeds into the night, the last vestiges of another’s human life-force trailing behind him in a crimson mist.
It’s hard to be more evocative than Ritualz is in his debut full-length record, Doom. The pure cinematic quality to his darkwave/electronic soundscapes is inescapable, and if you aren’t vividly imagining the violent underpinnings of an urban sprawl while letting tracks like “Lust Eternal” or “Pig” wash over you I just don’t know if we can be friends. Pulling heavy influence from the most industrial aspects of Nine Inch Nails (particularly in the key-infused bits of album closer “The Last of Us”) and wrapped in the more violent atmospheres of HEALTH, Doom is a sonic trip that is as eerie and inviting as it is lecherous and violent. Hailing from Mexico City, one-man wrecking crew JC Lobo has conjured something dark and intriguing here. From the start, Lobo’s vocals are creepy and all-consuming, and the music he creates equally stark. “Trash Mental” comes roaring into your speakers with static, kinetic vitality, setting the stage and tone for the deep saturation of bleakness to come. “To Black” pulls off a minimalist, Depeche Mode-esque beat with aplomb, while the finale of “Rats” riffs on the harsh, oblique noise of Prurient. There are vestiges of electronic artists like Gesaffelstein here as well, particularly in the noisiness of the title track and the spaciness of “Spazz”. Needless to say, Ritualz’s influences are fairly apparent from the get-go. While a knock on the music could be that it isn’t particularly new, the thought and care that went into this music’s creation sets it apart from most of its contemporaries through the consistency and magnitude of its vision. This is a singular sonic force that is performed with exactness and conviction.
If you like your electronic music atmospheric, sensuous, and sinister, you’ve come to the right place. Ritualz’s Doom is violence perpetrated in a dark alleyway in the dead of night, with all the hell and mystery that such a setting implies. Very impressed by this debut.
Superchunk – What a Time to Be Alive
Superchunk have done the impossible. Ever since bursting out of a nearly ten-year hiatus with 2010’s Majesty Shredding, Mac and the gang have been on a mission to prove that not only are there second acts in American music, but occasionally the second act can eclipse the first. Superchunk have always held an elite position in the punk and indie scene, not only for energetic and infectious records like No Pocky for Kitty and Here’s Where the Strings Come in, but also for providing a platform for local underground talent with the (now) powerhouse Merge label. But with What a Time to Be Alive, the band’s third and most recent record since fully reforming in 2010, Superchunk have rightfully cemented their status as scene heroes and have confirmed the suspicions fans have been harboring since Majesty Shredding: second-act Superchunk is the band’s greatest iteration in its long and storied history.
What a Time to Be Alive is an unabashed protest record for our times: furious and bewildered, brimming with activist impulses and diminishing hopes. The advance press prior to the album’s release (as well as the record’s title itself) hinted at the purity of focus that was to come, but it’s still hard not to be bowled over by blunt complaints that “all these old men won’t die too soon” or desperate wishes that our Orwellian leader “die scared of all the kids that know the truth” about him. Superchunk have always deftly navigated the lyrical minefield that so often plague young punk bands, never falling victim to grossly gendered, overly-emotional torch songs. On What a Time to Be Alive, such levelheadedness continues to pay off in spades as the maturity and big-picture thinking the band has exhibited their entire career finds a white-hot focus in the Trump administration and the historical chaos it has wrought on us all.
Musically, the band is more than ready to match the album’s thematic fury. Harkening back to their early-days punk sound more than ever before, the album seemingly has two speeds across the 11 tracks: pissed off and REALLY pissed off. The title track opener sets the table in classic, up-beat Superchunk fashion, complete with Jon Wurster’s energetic drumming and an irresistibly infectious refrain. From there, somehow the record only kicks it up a gear, balancing tuneful and emotionally potent ragers (“Dead Photographers,” “Reagan Youth”) with even speedier, careening barn burners (“Lost My Brain,” “I Got Cut”). For a band that has made an entire career on being impossibly tight even within the competitive confines of the underground punk scene, Superchunk seem to only get tighter with age, an invaluable asset when you’re playing songs like your life (and, by extension, all of ours) depends on it.
And even at their most focused and most urgent, Superchunk still find time to act as benevolent scene leaders, opening their collective arms to help prop up fellow indie survivors as well as younger bands walking the trail they blazed 20 years ago. “Erasure” is perhaps the album’s most resigned cut (save for closer “Black Thread”), full of worry about “a hate so graceless and so cavalier.” But the pessimism is buoyed somewhat by the help of guest vocalists Katie Crutchfield and Stephin Merritt, of Waxahatchee and The Magnetic Fields, respectively. After all these years, Superchunk know that it’s always better to be surrounded by friends. They just really hate that it’s under these circumstances.