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. As is tradition, 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:
Jessica Pratt – Quiet Signs
One night last week, my wife and I found ourselves in a bar in California with a group of friends. My head felt like it was ready to split open from a grueling headache I’d been nursing, and while I always enjoy spending time with people I like, the only place I wanted this particular night was a bed and an unhealthy amount of painkillers. Unable to bear the noise level, I stepped outside for a moment to see if I could regroup. The brisk Ojai Valley night air hit my face like a soothing song, immediately relieving some of the tension in my pounding head. I sat on a bench not far from the bar, closed my eyes and absorbed the nurturing elements of quiet. I could have sat there for hours, letting those coveted moments of cool silence envelop me as minute by precious minute of healing silence healed my hurting head. Jessica Pratt’s astounding new record Quiet Signs feels almost exactly like the above scenario in musical form, and I’m in love with it.
For those unfamiliar with the Los Angeles singer-songwriter’s distinctly lo-fi, guitar-based musings, Quiet Signs is Pratt’s third album and the first to be recorded in a studio setting. While the production value may be more lush than in previous efforts, the heart of Pratt’s music remains the same: sparse, cyclical, gorgeous guitar melodies that are straightforward in construction and, above all else, quiet. Appropriately titled, Quiet Signs is in many ways the antithesis of modern music in 2019. Pratt’s voice floats across these tracks at a volume barely above a whisper, allowing simple instrumentation and incredibly well-constructed songwriting to take center-stage. But Pratt’s unique vocal performance remains, as always, one of her music’s highlights. Quiet and gentle does not necessarily indicate a loss of power, and the vocal work on “Poly Blue” and “Crossing” is some of the strongest and most potent of her career. For all its insistence on being unobtrusive, these songs can sure fill a room, and are packed with an emotional resonance that sticks with you long after the album has ended. It’s a musical world enriched with repeat trips, and having been through this record several times I can’t seem to find fault with it.
Channeling Joni Mitchell and more modern “sadgirl” singer-songwriters like Phoebe Bridgers, Haley Heynderickx, and Lucy Dacus, Pratt has crafted music that feels both timeless and incredibly of-the-moment. She may not shout her ascendance among the singer-songwriter ranks from the rooftops, but when your music stands this strongly on its own there’s little need for bluster. In an existence that rarely, if ever, terminates its ceaseless noise-making, Quiet Signs stands nearly peerless as a musical mission statement against the noise war. Like a moment of reprieve from a noise-saturated barroom, it’s a rejuvenating, healing experience. Long may it ruminate.
The Jon Hill Project – Rebirth
The Jon Hill Project first caught my attention purely because of the concept of it, without even knowing who Jon Hill is. Rebirth sees Jon (who is a percussionist, song-writer) team up with two other songwriters and eleven different vocalists, one per song. It’s basically a Roadrunner United, or Nuclear Blast Allstars of the modern progressive indie/post-rock/post-hardcore scene, without any label affiliation. What really piqued my interest was finding out that one of those songwriters was guitarist Spencer Gill of the post-rock band Tides of Man. In whole, the album features: Aaron Marsh from Copeland, Brennan Taulbee from Polyenso, Nate Barcalow from Finch, Tilian Pearson from Dance Gavin Dance, Donovan Melero from Hail the Sun, Keith Goodwin from Good Old War, Kerry Courtney from Goodnight Neverland, Casey Crescenzo from The Dear Hunter, Michael McGough from Being as an Ocean, Tanner Merritt from O’Brother and Nathan Hussey from All Get Out. The lyrics however are entirely written by Jon, and these vocalists serve as a vessel for his emotional outpouring of honesty regarding a recently failed marriage and his struggles with addiction.
While this album features vocalists from several progressive and genre pushing bands, don’t expect that too much from this album. It’s written mostly in a pop style song structure,so a lot of the songs ride on the vocalist’s performance. You can definitely hear the Tides of Man influence on guitar, but vocals are generally at the forefront. A couple voices featured I can appreciate but prefer them in short doses… so it actually works out pretty well! It’s like micro-dosing catchy earworms from eleven different singers, in the stylings of post-rock tinted indie pop/rock. Like a custom playlist of that specific mood played on shuffle. Your enjoyment of each individual song will depend largely on the vocalist; with there being so many there’s a chance you might find yourself skipping a couple. However, the songs hit for me enough times out of the whole thing that I can call it a success.
On the catchy side of things, the lead single “Would You Save Me Now” featuring Adam of Copeland, and “Same Old Song” with Tilian of Dance Gavin Dance absolutely nail it. I think I enjoyed Tilian’s performance on this more than anything on the last DGD album, maybe just due to the simple, fun, poppiness of it and him sticking to a comfort zone. On the more moody and post-rock end, “Take the Last Step” with Casey of The Dear Hunter (which is all around the best song on the album), “Grey’s Gift” with Brennan of Polyenso, and “Flat Line” featuring Tanner of O’Brother are the other standouts of the album. There’s a good chance when I come back to this album months from now that I’ll come back specifically to listen to those songs, but they’re that good on their own that it’s worth it. I applaud Jon and Spencer’s ability to be able to write up to the level and strengths of a relatively diverse and extremely talented group of frontmen. If you’re at all into any of the vocalists featured, their genres, or Tides of Man, this album is worth checking out. I really hope we get to see another album for this project in the future with a different cast, and while we’re at it – I could go for another successful metal-edition of this concept too!
Mercury Rev – Bobbie Gentry’s The Delta Sweete Revisited
Have you heard the one about the psychedelic art rock band that brought together a bunch of talented singers to re-record a semi-forgotten country music classic? No? Makes sense because I’m unsure it’s happened before, but that’s exactly what Mercury Rev has done for Bobbie Gentry’s The Delta Sweete Revisited. The band brought together a number of fantastically talented singers like Norah Jones, Phoebe Bridgers, Margo Price, and many others from across the music spectrum. It’s an incredible undertaking that defies logic but produces a remarkably beautiful record.
The record is a remake of Bobbie Gentry’s forgotten 1969 classic record, a timely psychedelic take on country music, employing the best of what both rock and country had to offer at the time. It featured both big budget country elements, like a string orchestra and twangy guitars, and Summer of Love-style rock music trippiness. Mercury Rev’s version leans heavily into the psychedelia while still relying on the source material country to fill in the gaps. It’s a pretty delightful exploration of a different kind of space that few have delved into.
The production values hold the record together, but the vocalist selection is what makes the record so special. Singers such as Norah Jones and Margo Price make a lot of sense, being talented and soulful singer-songwriters in their own right. Phoebe Bridgers seems like a bit of stretch on the face of it, but given that they’re going for a modern psychedelic sound on the record, she almost had to be involved. Once you break past that barrier, inclusions such as Slowdive’s Rachel Goswell and Stereolab’s Laetitia Sadier just fit very well. Other contributors include Beth Orton, known for her collaborations with the Chemical Brothers, and more experimental songwriters like Marissa Nadler, Kaela Sinclair, Susanne Sundfør, and Carice van Houten only further add to the uniqueness of this album. Bobbie Gentry definitely set the stage for experimentation in country music, but she probably never envisioned something like this. Any fan of music in general or country music in particular should take a listen.
Reid Willis – The Longing Device
Many albums try to have a dark vibe but most of them fail, ending up with intimations of darkness without the true article, often resulting in cringe inducing lyrics and aesthetics. However, when the vibe is nailed there’s nothing quite like it, smooth, caressing, cold albums that channel a sleek kind of darkness that’s irresistible. That’s very much the case with Reid Willis‘s The Longing Device, an elegant album which draws on IDM, ambience, and a wide variety of electronica for its ice-cold feels.
While Willis shirks common IDM structures, they can be heard in places on the album, in subtle little build ups and familiar tones. These ideas, however, are re-contextualized in the overall tone of the album, which benefits both from deep, processed drums and bass-adjacent effects but also from acoustic instruments, happy-go-lucky synth lines and an overall dedication to the dramatic and the emotive. In this, Willis reminds us of Culprate, with the contrast being drawn between the deeper recesses of tracks like “Vanity Seeds” and the more lighthearted “Eco, My Friend”.
In his more ambient moments, filled with those flirtations with IDM, Willis might conjure up memories of Kubbi through a mirror darkly, the faint wisps of electronica much less dominant than in the glitch-influenced trappings of that artist but still melodic and playful in ways which call him to mind. Whichever mode or comparison Willis is operating with, the sounds on The Longing Device strike deep and hard, creating a powerful beat and atmosphere. The album feels a bit like being submerged in black, icy water but somehow feeling warm all over.