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:
Phosphorescent – C’est La Vie
Matthew Houck’s track record of excellence as the main man behind Phosphorescent is unimpeachable. There are few voices in the country, folk, and Americana scenes that carry as much weight as his, and after 2013’s revelatory record Muchacho and the incredible “Song for Zula” he went from underground favorite to breakout star. It’s been five years since that release, with Houck in the intervening time marrying, bringing a child into the world, and moving from New York to Nashville. It’s been a busy few years for the singer-songwriter, and C’est La Vie his document of that time passed by. Fans of the man’s music can breathe a sigh of relief: It’s very good.
More than perhaps any record Phosphorescent has yet released, C’est La Vie exudes a sonic warmth that puts we listeners directly on a beach, dancing around a roaring fire, with him. But there’s a darkened edge to the music here, as the howling and caterwauling of “Black Moon / Silver Waves” and it’s more subdued, bookend companion “Silver Moon / Black Waves” attest. This edge is smoothed through the albums delicious main body, with “C’est La Vie No. 2” providing a rich sonic background to Houck’s changing and evolving perspectives. “New Birth In New England” feels like a musical hybrid between Jimmy Buffett and Sturgill Simpson, all slide guitar and bright, almost funky guitar tones accompanied by some delightful vocal melody. Speaking of vocal work, “Around the Horn” pulls together a harmonic vibe to rival Fleet Foxes to great effect, eventually morphing into a Wilco-inspired beat/bass/piano number. It’s a magnificent display of Houck’s talents as a songwriter and musician, filled to the brim with goodness.
Whether C’est La Vie strikes you as deeply as Muchacho will depend on what you come to Phosphorescent’s music for. While a different record both sonically and lyrically from its predecessor, C’est La Vie serves as a logical evolution of the group’s sound, and is one of their best records to date. Fans of Phosphorescent, rejoice. Matthew Houck is in fine form here.
Avantdale Bowling Club – Self Titled
I’ve spent the last couple of years shedding the prejudice of my youth in search of hip-hop/rap that I enjoy. I grew up with that stupid, useless metalhead mentality that metal is the only genre that’s worth anything, perhaps allowing some leeway for punk and progressive rock but not much else. And boy, do I regret it; there’s just so much amazing music being made in genres other than metal. Case in point, and one of my favorite discoveries in my life: experimental hip-hop. Taking the basic styles of rap and overlaying it on top of chill beats, jazz-y arrangements or abrasive noise is one of the most beautiful things to me. In my search for that type of music, I’ve discovered so many different ways with which artists can interact with rap, all of them wonderful.
Enter Avantdale Bowling Club, just a few weeks ago. These New Zealand natives have an intriguing proposition for you: what if we made rap but put it over a free jazz ensemble? The result is much more powerful than you can imagine; their album, recently released, features tripped out instrumental sections alongside amazing lyrics and rapping techniques, courtesy of Tom Scott. The thick bass, indulgent drums, drunk piano, and the jovial horns scattered throughout the album are a perfect accompaniment to his words, running mostly on the themes of the past, his family, melancholy and depression, friendship, and much more. The result of those two mingling was a first for me, a rap/hip-hop album which made me sad.
But Avantdale Bowling Club are not into the type of sadness that drains and drags low. Instead, it is the type of sober outlook on life, affirmed both by the directions in which the instruments go and the lyrics, the type of sadness that strives to do better, to exceed oneself. Just listen to the opening track, “Years Gone By”, which muses on the path that Scott has taken to get to this point, ending with his finding renewed purpose in his son (a theme which repeats often through the album). As the words die down and the instruments, present throughout the whole track, take back over, listen to how the horn and the piano open up an expense for you to consider the meaning of the words that came before, of where we go from here, of what the future holds. Such special moments can be heard throughout the album, opening the listener first to musical enjoyment but also to deep introspection and stock taking of their own lives.