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 now cover non-metal topics more frequently, we decided that a dedicated column was warranted in order to more completely recommend all of the unheavy music we’ve been listening to lately. 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. Head past the jump to dial down the distortion:
Hop Along – Bark Your Head Off, Dog
Three years is a long time to wait. Since exploding into the greater collective consciousness with 2015’s Painted Shut, Hop Along have been very quiet. Almost too quiet. For many (this author included), Painted Shut was a revelation: a watermark moment for modern indie rock, full of pathos, intelligence, big hooks, and literate storytelling that seems directly descendant from the likes of Neutral Milk Hotel and John Darnielle. Much ink has been spilled over that record – and rightly so – but since its release, Francis and the gang seemed to go dormant with nary so much as an unreleased b-side or one-off single to tie eager fans over. As it turns out the band was burrowing deep, deliberately chasing quality over quantity and patiently writing a record that would serve as worthy follow up to their second full length.
After listening to Bark Your Head Off, Dog, it’s easier to understand the three-year wait. Dog is dense and knotty, full of lines that will make your breath catch and initially inscrutable scenes that slowly illuminate themselves more with repeated listens. Foxes darting in front of cars, children lying in bed covered in each other’s snot, men mouthing off in bars, birdfeeders in backyards – all small pieces of the grand puzzle Francis Quinlan creates through the record, a puzzle that resists simple explanation or even immediate comprehension. Hop Along have released a grower in the best sense of the term: a record that satisfies on initial listen but blooms into something lush and incredible with every subsequent spin.
Quinlan’s phrasing is still the best in the business and the angular yet soothing instrumentation provided by the rest of the band provide the perfect backdrop for vignettes filled with old men declaring “of course I am for peace – one that suits me” and drunken observations that “I can hear you; the whole bar can.” Bark Your Head Off, Dog is filled with these brief glimpses into a larger narrative, intoxicating but elusive and always beckoning you back for further clarity. Weeks after its release, I’m still digging deep into the album and discovering previously obscured connections and meanings. With a record as ornate and layered as Dog, we may need another three years to fully unpack and digest it.
Kimbra – Primal Heart
Aside from that one big break (you know which one, don’t make me link to it), Kimbra has been very much her own artist. She takes her time releasing each album and so, even though her career is almost a decade old, this is her third album. She’s collaborated eclectically, in genres which seem dictated by her passion for the music being made rather than the size or “relevancy” of her partners in collaboration (especially memorable for this writer is her work with As Tall As Lions, one of the most underrated bands ever). This is what makes her so special and endearing; Kimbra has her own voice and identity and it comes through no matter what she does.
This is very much the case with Primal Heart. For those well versed in her discography, the album sees her take an even further step back from the antics of the genres in which she works, embracing a host of unique synth tones, song structures and compositional approaches. Throughout the album, even though it has many effects, parts and accompanying voices, the focus is always Kimbra and her timbre. Take “Everybody Knows” for example; you have synths, percussion, backing tracks, guitars and more but Kimbra’s voice is where the track’s weight comes from. Her voice is what it’s all about.
And it works. The result is an album which, while not exactly “laid back” by virtue of the sheer number of sounds utilized on it, gives us off the sensation of being effortless. In lieu of the grandeur and flash that so often accompanies artists which one might be tempted to include when talking about Kimbra, she prefers the kind of personal honesty that’s always seen her through. In short, Primal Heart is a convincing and pleasing work of indie pop and has plenty for you to sink your teeth into while always being careful to never overwhelm. It’s a smooth ride with one of music’s most unique voices. Hop on.
Moodie Black – Lucas Acid
As powerful a force as nostalgia can be when it comes to music, it still has fierce competition with our evolving tastes and worldviews as listeners. This has been particularly true for me when it comes to my continuously shifting view of hip-hop. Albums I used to blast in my Jeep during high school and my early college years now make me cringe because of their lyrics; misogyny and homophobia I could once ignore now make me wince with every derogatory bar. While this has tainted some of my favorite classic albums (like Big L‘s Lifestylez ov da Poor & Dangerous), it’s also forced me to explore rap’s vibrant underground, which is replete with emcees and producers keen on flipping the genre’s script from both a lyrical and sonic perspective. This is particularly true for rappers that challenge hip-hop’s omnipresent underbelly of toxic masculinity by embracing nontraditional lyrical themes and, more significantly, proving that gender and sexuality should be a nonfactor when it comes to judging rappers’ talent behind the mic. Non-male rappers have always needed to put in extra effort to be heard and respected, and even then they face prejudice based on non-lyrical elements that their male counterparts have never had to face. Cardi B has been praised for her full-length debut Invasion of Privacy yet still faces backhand comments about how much of the album is indebted to her collaborators, despite co-writing credits being extremely commonplace throughout mainstream hip-hop. And despite the lyrical prowess of queer rappers like Cakes da Killa and Zebra Katz, some of my hip-hop head friends can’t get past the sexual themes between two men, despite tolerating degrading lyrical themes from straight male rappers.
This problematic musical context is why artists like Moodie Black are so important for their role in pushing the genre forward. Though still outside mainstream hip-hop, rapper K and guitarist Sean Lindahl are providing a unique, crucial voice for the genre’s landscape, both with their pioneering influence on the noise-rap movement and particularly K’s lyricism. Lucas Acid is defined by K’s struggles as a non-binary trans femme person of color in a country that’s been historically and presently antagonistic towards both the LGBTQ+ community and people of color. With a biting flow and precise, raw delivery, K’s exploration of her experiences is refreshing; her lyrics are poignant and relevant even without the problematic context of modern hip-hop. For both a genre and a society that prefers consistent, unoffensive narratives, it’s crucial that stories from artists like K are presented to demonstrate the struggles privileged persons try to ignore and to prove that quality lyrics and intriguing subject matter can come from emcees other than straight men obsessed with their own masculinity.
Musically, Moodie Black is as forward-thinking as ever. The duo has obviously spent the four years since N A U S E A honing their sound and exploring new territory that expands the already progressive rap subgenre of industrial hip-hop. Lucas Acid might be the closest hip-hop has ever come to emulating the dark underbelly of shoegaze (or shoegaze in general, depending on your opinions of cloud rap). Moodie Black has succeeded in making me ask myself a question that never occurred to me: what if Wreck and Reference and Have a Nice Life collaborated on a dark hip-hop record? Shifting between pounding, noisy industrial romps and ethereal echoes of reverberating guitar chords, Lucas Acid is a shining example of how hip-hop production is truly an endless blank canvas. It’s a fitting backdrop for K’s lyrics and complimentary to her attempt at challenging problematic genre norms.