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:
Yves Tumor – Safe in the Hands of Love
If uniqueness were a brand, Yves Tumor would be its face and voice. There are very few artists who can channel vulnerability, paranoia, and sonic strangeness like the Tennessee-born, Turin-based auteur Sean Bowie. His is music unmoored. Sound entirely untethered from genre tradition, floating wistfully through your ears with a captivating energy. All of that may speak to you as a net negative, making this music sound a bit insubstantial. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Safe in the Hands of Love, the project’s fourth full-length release, is an oddly accessible and musically rich amalgamation of sounds plundered from electronic music, R&B, indie rock, Throbbing Gristle-inspired noise, and psychedelia that is grounded in a compelling and bracingly honest lyrical odyssey, culminating ultimately in a record unlike any other released this year. It’s one of the best of the year, as well as his best album by a fairly wide margin.
A distinct advantage that Safe in the Hands of Love has over its contemporaries in the avant-garde/experimental music scene is its ability to remain largely accessible in the midst of some fairly unconventional music. While a very unique, at times indescribable amalgamation of textures, Yves Tumor isn’t without its own reference points. “Faith in Nothing Except Salvation”, the albums opening track, comes across almost like a Madlib production. It’s brassy and fuzzy, with a dark undercurrent that throbs and pulses until the track meets its all-too-abrupt end. Then comes “Economy of Freedom”, which feels reminiscent to the spacious, jittery approach to pop of FKA Twigs. Bowie’s voice makes its first of many effective appearances here. Underneath the glitzy haze of the music, his voice carries an emotional weight that grounds the music in the harsh realities of life lived in fear and paranoia. “Honesty” is another incredible example of Bowie’s impeccable songwriting ability and blunt lyrical style, creating a twisted and propulsive track that is as arresting as it is dark. Following track “Noid” swings the pendulum from that dark musical space into a much brighter and upbeat place, while the lyrics serve as a stark counterpoint, highlighting Bowie’s fears in stark technicolor. Album highlight “Licking an Orchid” featuring James K and containing some vocal Menomena vibes, is a sumptuous, complex piece of music that floats out of grasp every time you feel like you’ve got it pegged. The remainder of the record riffs on these themes in even more memorable ways, but I can’t spoil everything. This is a record meant to be fully absorbed, dissected, and reconstructed by each individual listener. It practically begs for repeat listening, and I encourage you answer its call in the affirmative. This album blossoms in new and unexpected ways with each listen.
There have been a great many records that I have enjoyed this year, but few hit me as hard and effectively in my first few listens as Safe in the Hands of Love has. This will most certainly serve as a defining record for modern experimental music, and should end up on a great many year-end lists. It will most certainly be on mine. It’s a feast. Don’t skip it.
JEFF the Brotherhood – Magick Songs
Garage rock duo JEFF the Brotherhood is bringing it back for their 12th record in 13 years. Only this time, the boys steer away from the heavy hitting hard garage rock in favor of more cerebral psychedelia. Magick Songs sees the Orrall brothers skew more toward drone and spacey rock music on the softest side, but they still are able to keep the garage feel with their patented simplicity in songwriting.
Unlike previous releases, the Orralls seem far more willing to dip their toes into more experimental forms of rock music. They mostly ditch the fuzzed-out garage rock guitars and fast-paced crashing drums for synthesizers and droning-style songwriting. The Brotherhood encourages the listener to enter their own headspace while lazing away an afternoon listening to their latest record. Melodies play out over the drone via several ways, such as a washed-out saxophone in “Locator” or a spacey synth in “Singing Garden”.
And while they haven’t completely abandoned the awesome onslaught that is JEFF the Brotherhood guitar rock, even their guitar oriented tracks are more subdued. Take the single “Camel Swallowed Whole”. It’s still a guitar-driven song, but it’s somehow different even apart from the tone. It’s got some layering to it involving at least 2 guitar parts, the rhythmic chords with the occasional guitar melody layered on top. There’s also the inclusion of the atmospheric wind instruments just to give some ambiance to the entire song. They’re still JEFF, so there’s got to be a little guitar solo action to the track.
Overall, this is an interesting inclusion in the JEFF the Brotherhood discography. They’re a band that’s never really been afraid of what being a guitar and drums duo means, but it can be limiting sometimes. It’s also nice to see them indulge their psychedelic side that they’ve always had but never really expanded upon. Certainly Magick Songs isn’t the record you’d introduce your friend to JEFF with, but it’s a fantastic entry overall.
The Black Queen – Infinite Games
It’s always nice to find out that side projects are much more than that. With The Black Queen, it wasn’t clear how far the A-list members of the underground which comprised the project would take it (Greg Puciato of The Dillinger Escape Plan, Joshua Eustis from Telefon Tel Aviv and ex-Nine Inch Nails and Steven Alexander, who worked with both DEP and NIN). Their second album under the name, Infinite Games is more than a solid answer to that question and it answers with a loud positive. Infinite Games is a more toned down and fleshed out version of the darkwave that The Black Queen promised on their first album.
Many of the contemporary tropes which make the genre live today have been done away with in favor of more interesting and original compositions. The first album was good, don’t get me wrong, but it also felt very obvious and safe at parts; it was almost a homage to darkwave rather than a darkwave album. Infinite Games is much more interesting in that regard; the track structures are less obvious and feel more of The Black Queen, more special and intimate. The tones utilized are still very much troperific but because the rest of it takes more chances and does more with Puciato’s voice, the album as a whole makes you think a bit more.
This is, at the end of the day, a challenge facing any artist making anything like “retro music”. The whole idea of making music in a genre that’s out of its time is to play with its tropes while making it recognizably your own. With their debut album, The Black Queen somewhat erred to close to recognition. Infinite Games sees them digging deeper, perhaps channeling a bit more industrial influences a la Nine Inch Nails, and making music that feels truer to their unique vision rather than beholden to that of albums past.