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:
Basement – Beside Myself
I’m certainly no authority when it comes to emo or contemporary alt-rock. Nevertheless, I like to think I know good music when I hear it, and Basement’s fourth full-length outing certainly falls into this category. Beside Myself is entirely captivating, from the moment “Disconnect” kicks in—with its simultaneously uplifting and depressing palette, and equal-parts undeniably affecting and catchy chorus—to the mellow, melancholic climax of “Right Here”; the record immediately grabs a hold of your heartstrings and hardly lets go.
The name I keep seeing being thrown around most in relation to the record is that of Jimmy Eat World. Yet, Beside Myself feels far more vital and heartfelt than anything that band have ever produced (at least outside of Bleed American (2001)), and it has far more of a grungy, alt-rock edge to it in place of that band’s college rock and pop punk references. Elements of early Foo Fighters and Smashing Pumpkins are readily recognisable throughout the record, as well as occasional nods to Nirvana, and it just feels far more substantial than what many of their contemporaries have achieved in recent years.
Basement have had a considerable amount of buzz attached to them for some time now, but Beside Myself is the first time they’ve ever truly justified the hype—and not only have they met expectations, but they’ve smashed them out of the park entirely. Whether or not the album will go down as a hallmark of its genre remains to be seen but, from the outside, it appears to have all the hallmarks of a classic in the making.
Current 93 – The Light Is Leaving Us All
There are few more effective Mad Hatters in the music world than David Tibet. For over three decades, he and his company of musical misfits in Current 93 have been conjuring some of the wildest, densest, most utterly transfixing neo-folk known to man. 20+ full-length albums into an unimpeachably important and influential career, it’s not entirely out of place to question whether the band has expended all of its creative juices. The 2010s haven’t necessarily been their most artistically fruitful, and one could argue that Tibet’s other projects (Zu93 and Hypnopazuzu in particular) have produced more exceptional material outside the auspices of his main musical collective. The Light Is Leaving Us All is a direct repudiation of that argument, with the band producing music as rich, subdued, and mesmerizing as they have at any point in their career. It’s the group’s best record in a decade, and a welcome return to form.
For those familiar with the band’s aesthetic, “return to form” could mean many different things. In this case, it involves the band leaving the experimental, minimalist drone of The Moons At Your Door and Honeysuckle Aeons behind in favor of the softly panoramic visions found in Of Ruine or Some Blazing Starre (The Broken Heart of Man) and Black Ships Ate the Sky, filling our welcome ears with a welcome set of sonic flavors not fully developed to this degree in some time. Opening track “The Birds Are Sweetly Singing” is a clarion call for the Current 93 faithful, filled with wailing guitars, meandering electronics, and Tibet’s ominous intonations of scene-setting (if “Hearth. Forest. Maze. Hill. Barn. House. Castle.” doesn’t get you in the mood for some standard Current 93 weirdness I don’t know what will). Cyclical folk songwriting and acoustic guitar guide us through “The Policeman Is Dead”, but unlike a few of the band’s more well-known records, The Light Is Leaving Us All shifts its instrumental focus frequently and to great effect. “Bright Dead Star”, “30 Red Houses”, and “A Thousand Witches” each utilize different instrumental bases upon which to lay Tibet’s crazed musings, and rather than feeling scattered or inconsistent, Tibet’s voice serves here as the all-uniting instrument bringing all of these disparate components together. In all of its epically scaled meandering, the album never feels like anything other than itself, another truly exceptional entry in the Current 93 canon.
Needless to say, Current 93 are not for everyone, and this album is yet another testament of their sometimes significant barrier to entry. This is singular music, written and performed in a singular way by an artist who has been honing his vision for decades. But if you can take Tibet at his apocalyptic word, there are many treasures to be found both in The Light Is Leaving Us All and in the rest of the band’s discography. If you’re new to the band, this might not be the best place to start. Then again, it certainly isn’t the worst. My suggestion to you would be to dive in, headlong, right now, into the utterly unique sonic and lyrical world that David Tibet has prepared for you. Who knows how you’ll react, but one thing is certain: You won’t forget it either way.
Gunship – Dark All Day
OK, this is how we start: there’s an episode of Seinfeld called “The Frogger”; the side plot of that episode involves Elaine finding a piece of cake that’s obviously gone bad in her boss’s fridge. It turns out to be a super “vintage” and rare cake but that’s not the point here. The point is that Elaine can’t look away from the cake even though she knows it’s bad. There’s something about its smell, something about the idea of the bad cake, that makes her unable to turn away from it. Furthermore, she craves it. She craves it but she is disgusting by it at the same time, a kind of weird loop that only heightens her infatuation with the cake, ending in her eating the ill begotten thing and dancing to express her escape from this cycle of desire and revulsion.
The reason I love this plot line so much is that it captures our relationship with “cheese”, cliches, and retro aesthetics perfectly. We know those over the top synths are “bad”, we know that super cliche saxophone is “crass” but yet, we still want those things, damn it. And wanting them makes us a bit embarrassed, a feeling we channel into “owning” the genre and embracing it wholesale. That’s how synthwave (and vaporwave, in a different, interesting way) came to be. That’s what draws us towards it, at least in part; we crave those sounds that were once considered cheap and our revulsion/attraction to them keeps us coming for more.
Gunship have always known this; their approach to synthwave and synthpop always had a heavy emphasis on diving way, way deep into the 80’s influence and returning with over the top synths, cheesy chorus lines, and way more. But Dark All Day is something else, even for them. It’s like an avatar of the too-bright arcade hall, the falling apart neon sign, the decade of economical decrepitude and cultural frenzy rolled up into an album. All you need to do to “get” this vibe is listen to the title track and let it was over you; let the saccharine vocals wash all over you as the just-wild-enough saxophone pierces the night with its siren call. Listen as the massive synths take over the mix and the guitars are added for that embellishment no one asked for but that your stomach rejoices in, sailing high on the waves of the sugar rush.
Other high points of weaponized nostalgia included the gritty “The Drone Racing League” and the dreamy “When You Grow Up, Your Heart Dies”, filled with old dial tones and awkward, teenage dialogue about creating your own destiny. The end result is one of the more fun albums I’ve heard in years; it just takes the idea of synthwave and synthpop made in 2018, essentially conjuring up the 80’s to haunt us, and runs with it, taking it to its extreme. If you’re looking for subtlety, look elsewhere; but if you’re looking for huge hooks, massive vocal lines, triumphant saxophone and the sublimation of the contemporary world into nostalgia for an age that never really existed, then look no further.