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:
Grouper – Grid of Points
Fandom can be a bit turbulent when it comes to new music. In terms of quality, quantity and frequency, it’s rare to find an artist that hits a consistent stride of steady releases; something along the lines of The Black Dahlia Murder, who’ve churned out a solid slab of melodeath every other year wince 2003 without fail. Reclusive artists like Liz Harris often flip this script entirely. The creative force behind Grouper last connected with her fans on Ruins (2014), a brilliant expansion on her lo-fi, ambient folk formula recorded during a private, tranquil residency in Aljezur, Portugal. Harris’ exceptional ability to craft sparse-yet-vast sonic landscapes was made all the more impressive by her instrumental setup: a portable 4-track, stereo mic, upright piano and gorgeous, pained vocals. Unfortunately for Grouper fans, Ruins capped off an excellent trio of albums, including the 2013 reissue and release of
Dragging a Dead Deer Up a Hill and The Man Who Died in His Boat, respectively. The four-year wait prior to Grid of Points was entirely silent, and the album announcement came quietly from Kranky a few weeks ago, in typical Grouper fashion. And though the album is a slight departure from Harris’ typical output under the Grouper banner, it’s still yet another stunningly gorgeous example of her inimitable brand of atmospheric folk.
Grid of Points immediately distinguishes itself with its runtime; at 21 minutes, it’s at least half as long as nearly all of Grouper’s discography. Admittedly, this is a bit disappointing for longtime fans, in that 20~ minutes of new music after a four-year hiatus is hardly enough to fully quell a musical appetite. Even so, Grid of Points is still one of the best experiences folk and ambient fans can treat themselves to this year. Those uninitiated with Grouper’s output might find Grid of Points to be a perfect, succinct entry point. Harris’ cavernous compositions cascade piano and ethereal vocals around the listener’s psyche, transporting them to Ucross, Wyoming where the album’s seven tracks were conceived. And even with the short runtime, it’s effortless to lose yourself in Harris’ enthralling atmospheres. Sure, it’d be nice to have a bit of a longer project to be consumed by, but Grid of Points is a more than fitting sonic tapestry until we receive our next helping of Grouper.
Iceage – Beyondless
I’ve been covering a lot of releases in the post-punk realm so far this year through Unmetal Monday. Shame, Actors, Preoccupations, The Soft Moon, etc. While I love this brand of music generally, the more expansive amount of coverage this year is mostly dictated by the quality of the releases in this space. Iceage brings us another such quality release with their outstanding fourth full-length, Beyondless. But far from being just another solid entry in an equally solid discography, Beyondless finds the band diversifying their sound in tone, instrumentation, and song-structure, culminating in their best album to date.
Not since New Brigade has Iceage sounded this alive and vital. That’s not meant to knock the fantastic music found in You’re Nothing and Plowing Into the Field of Love, which are both excellent releases. But there’s a vitality here that feels more rich and vibrant than we’ve heard from the band in some time. These tracks bristle with a kinetic energy that never sacrifices detail or nuance, which too often seems like an either/or proposition in post-punk. Whether it’s the forlorn and/or bombastic horn sections in “Hurrah” and “The Day the Music Dies” or the excellent vocal guest work of Sky Ferriera in “Pain Killer”, the band incorporate unique and expansive textures to songs that crackle and buzz with post-punk energy. Hints of Protomartyr and even The National can be picked up in the militant drumming of “Plead the Fifth” or the guitar-drenched madness of “Catch It”, but Iceage is operating in a sonic space that’s hard to draw easy and full comparison to. Beyondless finds the band carving out their own territory more than in any of their previous recordings, culminating in a record that sounds more like Iceage than any before it. “Take It All” is a perfect example of this, utilizing strings, gentle pianos, pop-oriented drum sequences and an impassioned vocal performance to conjure a sound that feels like trademark Iceage, flowing directly into the equally compelling bass-driven hum and borderline show tune vibe of “Showtime”. The number of sonic influences here are not small or always subtle, but never once detract from the sound and aesthetic of a band that has fully and confidently come into its own. If you have followed the band’s development thus far and have even moderately enjoyed what you’ve heard, I’m going to posit that you’ll be a big fan of what you find here.
There are few post-punk records that have been released this year that come close to the level of energy and sonic adventurousness that Iceage tap into here. Sometimes it can take a few albums for a band to hit their stride, and on attempt number four they’ve struck gold. If you’re looking for a soundtrack to your next walk through the city, look no further than Beyondless. It’s a trip, and one well worth taking.
Gregorio Franco Is At It Again; Set to Release “Quantum Memories”
We told you about Gregorio Franco a while ago and his excellent synthwave trappings. Much befitting the scene he’s operating in, Franco has now announced yet another release, titled Quantum Memories set to be released on May 13th which is in just a few days. With the announcement were also uploaded three new tracks and they’re damn good. They run an interesting gamut of sounds, perhaps giving us a taste of the wide range of sounds we can expect on this release. The first one of these tracks is also the first on the album, titled “Psineus”. It’s very much an opening track but a successful one at that, setting the scene with lush synth tones and an epic vibe which reminds us of Neurotech. This airy and melodramatic opener works really well with the other singles, upping the ante from the get-go.
The second single released, “Larvata”, is a much more ominous track backed by sinister guitars and a creepy feeling of danger. While not exactly a transition, it definitely feels reliant on context and should prove to be an excellent foil for whatever comes after it; it’s hard to listen to its outro without getting an itch for a monstrous beat dropping at its other side. If we know Franco, he’s sure to deliver just that, never one to miss out on an opportunity. The final single released, “Oustichos”, is a John Carpenter-inspired rager, opening with undulating synths that enchant the listener. Soon, however, unlike the previous track, an infectious beat is added to the mix, grounding the ethereal tones in tellurian, resounding bass.
The result is the more danceable of the three track, a pelvis moving piece which manages to preserve the futuristic vibe that the other two tracks possess. Overall, it’s safe to say that we’re pretty excited about this release. Franco is an exciting artist to follow, as he continues to explore his synthwave roots and take risks with his style, album structure and tone. Make sure to head on over to this Bandcamp to pre-order this one; it’s hard to see it disappointing us in any way.