Even a cursory glance of 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 editors Jonathan Adams and Scott Murphy together to peruse each other’s tastes:
Scott’s Grid and Jonathan’s Thoughts
James Blake – “The Wilhelm Scream” (James Blake)
I don’t know about my dreams / I don’t know about my dreamin’ anymore….
In February 2011 I found myself in the library at the University of Denver, studying for some exam or another. For those unfamiliar with Colorado winters, February is where the magic and joy of holiday snowfall goes to die. Miserably wet, heavy snowflakes coat the ground in a slushy film that makes walking safely without snow boots practically impossible. Minutes prior, I’d been out in that mess, making the trek from the main hall where the majority of my classes were held to the library. My jacket soaked, boots caked in dirty slush, I trudged my way to my studying spot, placed conveniently in front of a very large window, giving me a crystal clear view of the white mayhem taking place outside. Shedding layers, I grabbed my computer and iPod (oh, those were the days), plopped on the couch and began studying. A friend had recommended the debut album by James Blake to me, and since I was in the post-new year music slump, I decided to give it a shot.
After a decent opening track, “The Wilhelm Scream” comes waltzing through my headphones. My study session essentially stopped for four minutes as the lush, minimalist production and Blake’s mesmerizing voice carried me far away from my exams.
I don’t know about my love / I don’t know about my lovin’ anymore…
The lyrics to this track are incredibly simple, but sliced directly into a pit of self-doubt and relational uncertainty that I had been living with for months. A strained relationship and the indecision of a young man unsure if he even likes the major he’s chosen all came to a head that afternoon. I stared out the window at the snow falling outside, and my general agitation at its heaviness melted away into something like kinship. Internally I felt that messy chill, and that emotion’s physical metaphor brought relief. I eventually finished studying, but only after running through this track for about twenty minutes on repeat.
All that I know is I’m fallin’, fallin’, fallin’, fallin’… Might as well fall in
Listening to this again through Scott’s suggestion brought this memory flooding back to my conscious. That relationship did end (and poorly). That major did end up having nothing to do with my professional career. But all of that’s okay. I’m happier, more grounded, than I’ve ever been. Music like James Blake’s is a key component of that health. This song is a masterpiece of mood that holds a special place in my heart. Blake is a master at what he does, and may the wonders of his unique musical voice never cease.
Cathedral – “North Berwick Witch Trials” (The Garden of Unearthly Delights)
Lord, Cathedral is so dang fantastic. Founded by Lee Dorian following his departure from Napalm Death, the band peddle a form of stoner sludge/doom that is about as far from the sound of his previous band as is humanly possible. Slower, longer, immensely heavy tracks throughout their discography separated them from their origins definitively, and “North Berwick Witch Trials” exemplifies everything the band do well in one microcosmic sample.
Kicking off with a vocal sample of a sentencing of death by hanging, this track takes listeners through an oral history of the witch hunts in England in the early 16th Century. For such dark and violent content, the track is fantastically upbeat. A veritable riff-fest, Cathedral embark on a sonic journey that feels as fresh on album 8 as it did on album 1. If you enjoy a whole lot of fantastic riffs with your breakfast, look no further than “North Berwick Witch Trials”. Love this track. Love this band.
I miss Cathedral. Since their dissolution in 2013, their respective sonic spaces have missed their influential and incredibly fun presence. Here’s hoping for a reunion at some point. Until then, we’ve got ten fantastic records to keep us company.
Toby Driver – “Eptaceros” (In the L..L..Library Loft)
I have a confession to make: I haven’t heard a single Toby Driver or Kayo Dot record. I know. Drag me into the town square and set my heretical flesh alight. When I saw this track on Scott’s list I got pretty excited. Finally, an opportunity to get introduced to Toby Driver. After giving this track its due, I’ve gotta say I’m smitten.
I don’t know if all of Driver’s music sounds as exquisite as “Eptaceros” does, but I sure as hell wouldn’t mind if it did. Unfolding at a languid pace, this track is difficult to listen to without becoming fully absorbed by its charms. The start-stop of its composition is just off-kilter enough to feel both densely textured and slightly confusing. It’s not too much, nor is it too little. It’s honestly a brilliantly written piece of music that feels parts Prurient (though far less abrasive), Kid A-era Radiohead, and… Toby Driver, I suppose.
There’s not a lot of music out in the world like this, and I’m beyond excited to have the opportunity to dive into a completely untouched discography. I’ve heard tell that there’s a new album from this dude on the horizon. I’ve got some catching up to do.
Electric Wizard – “Dunwich” (Witchcult Today)
Which is the most underrated Electric Wizard record, and why is it Witchcult Today? An underrated gem of a record, it is often overshadowed in the annals of the band’s discography by Dopethrone, Come My Fanatics…, and Time to Die. I would posit that it stands as an equal to any release in the band’s catalog. “Dunwich” is a perfect example why.
While Electric Wizard is known for their immense riffs, this has to be one of the best of the bunch. It’s fantastically heavy, but insanely catchy by the same measure. Once you hear it, you’ll be humming it for the rest of the day. Surrounding this delightful riff is a horror-scape of sounds and textures that call back to the band’s previous releases with glee. It feels both morbidly evil and deliciously good simultaneously, which is something that Electric Wizard do better than any other doom band. It’s a fantastic track from an equally fantastic record.
Irreversible Entanglements – “Chicago to Texas” (Irreversible Entanglements)
Outside of being an excellent human and renowned craft beer aficionado, Scott also has incredible taste in music. It’s as diverse in style as it is rich in quality, and this playlist swap is no exception to that rule. One thing about his musical taste that I am always particularly impressed by is his depth of experience with and knowledge of jazz. As a blooming fan of the genre, I look to resident jazzheads Scott and Nick for advice regarding what’s worth checking out in the scene. There’s… a lot of ground I’ve yet to cover. Like the work of Irreversible Entanglements, for example. This is free jazz, and good god almighty is it glorious.
I’m completely enamored by this track. “Chicago to Texas” feels loose, tactile, and simmers with an intensity that is complex and diverse. Much of this intensity originated from the crystal clear, knife-like poetry of Camae Ayewa. The spoken poetry here is incisive to the point of abject discomfort, tearing headlong through the musical collage like a bullet through flesh. It’s piercing, damning, insightful commentary from an incredible voice, and I’ve not been able to shake it since I first heard it. The music is no less stirring, diving and circling in a cloud of notes that is as elusive as it is arresting. It’s the complete free jazz package, and I cannot wait to hear more.
One of the benefits of this enterprise is the ability to discover new quality music that one might not otherwise have heard. This is most certainly the case here, and I couldn’t be more elated. I once more bow to the Shrine of Scott.
Obscura – “The Anticosmic Overload” (Cosmogenesis)
Oh yeah. We’re back in my wheelhouse, baby. Death metal always and forever. Here is a delightful slab of progressive/technical death metal goodness from one of the subgenre’s most divisive acts. Though that division would come a bit later in the band’s discography. Because you’ll be hard pressed to find a tech death fan who doesn’t think Cosmogenesis is very close to a stone-cold masterpiece. “The Anticosmic Overload” is the first track on the record, and what an introduction to the band it is.
To be clear, this isn’t Obscura at their most technically or musically adventurous. But as an intro to the juggernaut they would become, I find it difficult to believe they could have kicked off the album better. The musicianship here is just flawless, highlighting (despite a constantly rotating group of members) the band’s penchant for highly technical songcraft and performance. The riffs here are equally fantastic (with that fine-ass number at 1:40 being especially delectable), each chasing down and obliterating the one that preceded it. Hannes Grossman’s drum work is lights-out amazing as well, rounding off the track as a full-bodied meal of technical death metal goodness.
Say what you will about Obscura, their technical skill is objectively undeniable. If you like your death metal complex and invigorating it’s hard to go wrong with most any record in their discography. “The Anticosmic Overload” is but a sample of the wonders that await you.
Psycroptic – “Skin Coffin” (The Scepter of the Ancients)
Back at it again with the death metal. This time more brutal fare from the deranged minds of Psycroptic. If you’re a fan of brutal death metal, it’s pretty close to impossible to not have heard of this group. If this is the case, let’s remedy that immediately. Psycroptic represent some of the best and most consistent that the subgenre have to offer, and pull out all the stops when it comes to intensity. It’s a package that needs to be accepted whole or not at all. Pig squeals and all.
“Skin Coffin” is just a nasty piece of music. Hard to describe it any other way. The guitar and drum work is relentlessly fast and vicious, carving through your eardrums like so many rusty knives. The guttural vocal delivery is just disgusting, vacillating between growls and gut-churning throaty noise-making. It’s a fairly strong example of what brutal death metal has to offer, but isn’t bereft of some more technical elements. The musicianship here is quite good, and provides plenty of opportunity for more methodical digestion.
This track is good. This band is good. Scott’s hitting home runs over here.
Time of Orchids – “High Enthusiast” (Sarcast While)
Hm. First track of the bunch that I still am not sure how I feel about. Completely unfamiliar with Time of Orchids, and “High Enthusiast” most certainly piques my interest in the band’s discography. But… I don’t know how I feel about this.
One thing I know for certain is that I don’t dislike it. This is most certainly not bad (whatever that means) music. I’m especially fond of the rhythm work here, with the kit and bass working as an effective tandem. The jangly guitars are fairly engaging as well. I suppose musically there’s little to complain about. It seems that the vocals are all that remain, and I think this is where my hesitation sits. The melodic lines that the vocalists here traverse don’t all work for me. While one moment I feel soothed and enamored by these melodies, the next they seem to clash with the music in a way that feels really jarring to me. It puts the track on a weird footing that makes it difficult for me to fully invest and get lost in.
However, and it’s a BIG however, I’m really intrigued by this track. The more I think about it, the more I want to go back and give it another listen. A hallmark of music that I will eventually fall in love with. I’m definitely going to give this band a fair shake.
Wolf Eyes – “Stabbed in the Face” (Burning Mind)
Good lord. This is some noisy, putrid stuff from Wolf Eyes. Reminds me of Prurient and Throbbing Gristle on their worst days. Which is absolutely a good thing. Yeah, I quite like this.
“Stabbed in the Face” is the audio equivalent of being repeatedly and rhythmically stabbed… in the face. With a knife. It’s an apt song title, no doubt about it. It’s a combination of chirps, buzzes, wretches that finds its rhythm pretty much immediately and beats you to death with it. There’s little of the pretension that’s found in many other artists making this type of noise. It’s straightforward ugliness that offers no relief. The one moment where the cacophony subsides for a split second, the song kicks right back into gear, even nastier than before. If you hate noise-oriented music, this track will be pure torture. If you like it, you’ll love this.
Jonathan’s Grid and Scott’s Thoughts
Deafheaven – “Canary Yellow” (Ordinary Corrupt Human Love)
Even after a couple listens, I’m still not entirely sure how I feel about Ordinary Corrupt Human Love. I used to be a huge Deafheaven fan prior to New Bermuda, and in many ways I still am. I’ll still go toe-to-toe with anyone who doesn’t acknowledge that Sunbather was something special from both a musical and cultural standpoint. But once New Bermuda came around, it felt like the band was more concerned with their metal phase than anything else, resulting in a solidly…well, solid album, and that’s about it.
Now we come to OCHL, which overall feels like the perfect foil to New Bermuda. Never before has the “DFHVN aren’t KVLT” crowd had more ammo to fire at “black metal posers.” I’m personally not worried about whether “Canary Yellow” is the next “I Am the Black Wizards,” nor have I ever used that lens with Deafheaven. I know this blurb has seemed mostly negative thus far, but I honestly do enjoy “Canary Yellow” and the majority of what Deafheaven have to offer on OCHL. I guess where my issues lie are with the lack of “oomph,” to use a technical musical terminology. The first times I heard “Violet” from Roads to Judah and “Dream House” from Sunbather, I felt like I was listening to something truly special, and that turned out to be a completely accurate first impression.
Yet, with a track like “Canary Yellow,” I feel like I mostly get a lot of “good” elements that are undeniably enjoyable but not much more than that. The song opens with a pleasant post-rock intro straight from the Explosions in the Sky playbook before progressing into some more-or-less standard post-black territory with shades and hues of indie rock, especially toward the end. Again, it’s all good, just not great, as if the band took the best pieces for their back catalog and dialed it down just a peg. I can totally see why someone would put OCHL on their year-end list, but it just doesn’t grab me enough to earn a spot on mine.
Thou – “The Only Law” (Rhea Sylvia)
It’s pretty amazing how I’ve wanted to hear new Thou for so long, and yet I haven’t heard a single song from their extensive 2018 output. I’ve never been a huge EP guy, and I suppose the eventual promise of a new full-length lead me to unconsciously shelve these initial releases. Clearly, that was a big mistake, as “The Only Law” is an excellent, unique track that’s unlike what I first fell in love with on Heathen. It’s not quite a full nod toward Converge, but it certainly embraces the formula of “slow, melancholic sludge” incredibly well. The prominence of clean vocals is a nice and well-executed addition that still leaves plenty of room for Bryan Funck’s always incredible screams. I know the band is trying out a few different sounds and ideas on these EPs, so my palette is still thoroughly whetted for the new full-length.
Denzel Curry – “Clout Cobain” (TA13OO)
One of the toughest parts of being a recovering backpacker is catching up on all the worthwhile rappers I scoffed at due to my own misconceptions of their artistry. Pretty much anyone associated with the term “trap” earned a strikethrough from me, and artists like Travis Scott, Denzel Curry and Young Thug have helped me realize just how misguided this approach to modern hip-hop was. Sure, these artists aren’t the next Aesop Rock, but they’re also not trying to be, and it’s pretty unfair to judge every other genre on its aesthetic attributes while holding hip-hop to a higher standard in terms of its lyrics and content. I’d actually been formulating this opinion while listening to TA13OO the other day, and I’m glad I’ve finally come around to appreciating and enjoying a style I’ve long maligned. “Clout Cobain” is a great example of this – it has a great beat that serves as the foundation for clever lyrics that touch on tough themes of depression and suicidal thoughts. The main benefit of this newfound love of modern hip-hop is that there’s penty of catching up that I can do now that I’ve come around to the style.
Jesus Piece – “Curse of the Serpent” (Only Self)
This is one of those bands I’ve heard a lot about but still know very little about. From what I gathered prior to this listen, Jesus Piece are a modern hardcore band that is actually worth your time, which is a promising sentiment to hear considering my historic indifference to the genre. And after a few spins of “Curse of the Serpent,” I mostly agree with the pitch I’ve been sold up until my first listen. It’s a hard-hitting romp with plenty of distortion, riffs and angry yelling to get anyone into heavier music hyped to jump int0 the pit. I was surprised at just how much the vocalist reminded me of a deeper-voiced Barney Greenway from Napalm Death, which was definitely a highlight. But in all honesty, this track embodied my main issue with hardcore: longevity. I can’t imagine listening to a full album of songs like this, but I suppose in this context, that’s not really an applicable critique. I imagine returning to this during my next trip to the gym, but we’ll see. I usually go with something from Beneath the Massacre – songwriting plus brutality is always a win for me.
Zu93 – “The Coming of the Mirror Emperor” (Mirror Emperor)
My relationship with David Tibet and friends has been a wild journey. From the moment Myke C-Town of Dead End Hip-Hop first mentioned Current 93 during one of his vinyl updates, I’ve been intrigued by Tibet and company’s approach to the avant-garde, poetry and dark folk. I’ve mainly enjoyed recent albums like I Am the Last Of All the Field That Fell and Tibet’s collaboration with Youth from Killing Joke on Hypnopazūzu. I do feel like the band’s older material is a bit long-winded due largely to Tibet’s intricate poetic yarns, but on the whole, I’d count myself as a fan of their music. Jonathan, on the other hand, was not someone whom I’d ever peg as someone who’d enjoy C93, so his endorsement intrigued me quite a bit. Tibet and Zu have obviously crafted a lush, textured album based on “The Coming of the Mirror Emperor,” which builds considerable tension with a lyrical and acoustic guitar journey that feels like the start of a grand journey. As always, anything Tibet works on requires multiple listens to fully unpack, and I can tell this is going to be a worthwhile listen once I sit down to do just that. Yet another great recommendation from main blogger-in-crime.
Imperial Triumphant – “Cosmopolis” (Vile Luxury)
At this point, my extensive review and Ed Picks nod should convey just how much I love this album, and I was glad (but unsurprised) to see that Jonathan agrees wholeheartedly. With that said, I feel like there’s not much for me to say that I haven’t already said. “Comsopolis” is an excellent example of why Vile Luxury si such an exceptional, inventive album – the bleating trumpet and mild chords at the onset give off a jazzy vibe, which is crushed into the pavement with the band’s standard brand of chaotic blackened death metal. It’s dissonant, experimental and just plain fun to enjoy, which is precisely why it’s far and away my favorite metal album of the year and will likely remain that way throughout year’s end.
Terminus – “Believe Me” (Fortune Looming)
The amount of great things going on in this track is truly staggering. Massive shoutout to Jonathan for giving me an excuse to dive into what Terminus have to offer. Bar for bar, I found myself drawing up different comparisons, only to have another style thrown in my face. What starts as a fuzzier, more experimental Torche quickly incorporates elements from old-school stoner rock with plenty of prog sensibilities. Above all, the the band succeed at delivering this combination in the catchiest way possible. If modern rock radio was the slight bit adventurous, I could this being an absolute banger of a summer rock anthem. Excuse me while I spin Fortune Looming for the rest of the day (well, after these last two entries are done, actually).
Koenji Hyakkei – “Levhorm” (Dhorimviskha)
How fucking wacky is this album? Our friend and fellow contributor Dave Tremblay recommended the album heavily when it first came out, and whatever expectations I had were stomped on and reshaped into something nearly unrecognizable. Similar to Zu93, I was surprised to see Jonathan lauding this so highly, but then again, his opinion is consistently great. I want to call this “avant-garde Yes,” but I feel like it only covers the surface of what Koenji Hyakkei reaches for on Dhorimviskha. To use some more universal descriptors, everything on the album is just incredibly bold and fearless. From the outlandish instrumentation to the unbridled vocal ranges, this is prog rock written and performed without the slightest interest in where the boundaries of the genre might be. Oddly enough, it’s also an exceptionally catchy album, with plenty of earworm passages that keep me coming back again and again. “Levhorm” is one of many tracks (read: all) that exemplify this, and I encourage anyone even slightly interested in prog to experience what will at the very least be an interesting listen from an inventive artist.
Frontierer – “Glitcher” (Unloved)
At the risk of being ostracized by the Heavy Blog community, I will voice a small critique of Unloved. The album is a tad long, which is alleviated a bit but a variety of ideas on the back end of the track list. Even so, there’s no denying how punishing Frontierer‘s music is from start to finish on the album. I mean, just listen to that breakdown at 1:30 on “Glitcher” and try to tell me you’re not chair-moshing at your desk. I love the faster tempo at the end of the track, which almost like the mathcore version of The Acacia Strain‘s “Ramirez.” It’s a perfect stew of tech metal, mathcore and pure aggression, and it will remain my go-to music for getting amped until the next album drops.