One of my biggest regrets this year is that I wasn’t able to attend the first ever dunk!USA festival in Burlington,…
These posts are written by: Nick Cusworth
Each month, we always seem to come to the same conclusion when it comes to our Editors’ Picks column: Friday release days open the floodgates and unleash a seemingly endless stream of quality new music. But while some of our Editors and Contributors sit down gleefully each week to dive into this newly stocked treasure trove, others find themselves drawing a blank at the end of the month due to the breakneck pace needed to keep up to date with what’s been released. Which brings us to this Heavy Blog PSA: a weekly roundup of new albums which pares down the the week’s releases to only our highest recommendations. Here you’ll find full album/single streams, pre-order links and, most importantly, a collection of albums that could very well earn a spot on your year end list. Enjoy!
The beauty of good art-rock and pop is that it often presents the best of many musical worlds. For those of us who love a good vocal hook, catchy choruses, and a certain immediacy that pop offers but still crave some amount of edge and compositional twists and turns to keep things from getting too simplistic or repetitive, it’s the sonic equivalent of having our cake and eating it too. That mixture of familiar and the unexpected are the things that make acts like St. Vincent or Bent Knee at their best so utterly engrossing, addictive, and fun. And for those who are fans of either of those two aforementioned groups/artists, here’s another to add to your rotation who will surely not disappoint: The New Tarot.
I am at Rough Trade in Williamsburg, Brooklyn for the Boston-based art-rock band Bent Knee, both to interview them and to see them play live for my first time. I would love to say that I had been following the band for years and have already seen them a handful of times, but somehow their head-spinning mixture of heavy-hitting Faith No More energy, proggy theatrics, and off-kilter pop/rock experimentations somewhere between Björk and St. Vincent had escaped me until only just this year when a fellow Heavy Blogger introduced me to them through their 2014 sophomore LP Shiny Eyed Babies. Upon hearing tracks like “Way Too Long” and “Being Human” I was instantly hooked. The blend of jazz influences with the bite of heavy rock and metal, extensive incorporation of violin, and the powerful siren sounds of vocalist Courtney Swain were more than enough to grab my attention, and I quickly did all I could to catch myself up on their (at the time) 3 albums.
Richmond, VA post-rock/metal act Shy, Low are a band that have miraculously escaped our official attention on this site, which is quite simply a huge mistake on our parts. The band’s previous full-length, 2015’s Hiraeth, is an example of brilliantly-executed and emotionally-tinged cinematic instrumental rock that skirts the line between post-rock and metal in league with the likes of Caspian and We Lost The Sea. It’s great stuff that any fan of this kind of music should be listening to.
Another homegrown project we are immensely fond of comes straight from our dear editor-in-chief, the aforementioned Eden Kupermintz, and our good friend Greg Greenberg (Seven Circles), who, with guitarists Doug Van Bevers and Nick Maini and drummer Travis Orbin (ex-Periphery, Darkest Hour) form Instar, a beautiful fusion of post-rock, math-rock, jazz/metal fusion, and spoken word. Those who are at all familiar with Eden know that he is an ardent lover and connoisseur of sci-fi and a writer himself, and he lends his own illustrative prose and mellifluous voice to give the project a distinctly cosmic post-y feeling. The last time we mentioned the band on this site it was to recommend their debut EP, which featured Eden on one track and other guest vocalists on the other two. Eden has since joined the project as a full-fledged member, and if the lead track from their upcoming album Ex Nihilo Cycles “Stepping Stones” is any indication, Instar is prepared to take an enormous leap for their first full-length release.
It’s been a long road, but the sax is back, baby. For years the instrument, once employed lavishly upon all sorts of classic and progressive rock tracks through the 60s and 70s, became a revolting cliche and symbol of rock excess, softness, and melodrama. And, frankly, given how the instrument became abused and synonymous with the type of smooth jazz playing that would coat pop and rock ballads through the 80s into 90s with a sonic perfume strong enough to make you gag, it’s not surprising that it fell out of style. In many ways it went hand-in-hand with the back-to-basics mentality that ran through the punk, DIY, grunge, indie, and (to a different extent) metal movements of the 80s through the 90s and well into the turn of the century. Since then, though, the pendulum has slowly but steadily moved back into the other direction, and more bands and listeners view the sax and other woodwinds as viable and enticing flourishes or even centerpieces to give their music either a certain distinction or whiff of nostalgia. And though metal has perhaps resisted incorporating the instrument for longer than most other genres, there is now an utter wealth of examples of artists and bands using the instrument to (mostly) good effect, particularly in the more progressive black, death, and doom spheres, where bands like Wrvth, Aenaon, Dreadnought, and, of course, SHINING – Jorgen Munkeby probably more than anyone has made the idea of sax-heavy metal sound forward-thinking and “cool” – are releasing high-quality work that makes use of the instrument in a whole wide range of ways.
As I wrote in my review of LA post/math-rock enclave Arms of Tripoli’s recent sophomore album Daughters, I have a particular soft spot for the band not only because they clearly pull influence from so many instrumental and progressive bands that I already love, but also because they were the first band I came to know and love specifically through writing for Heavy Blog back in 2014 for their debut full-length Dream In Tongues. In my mind the band are just about everything that is good about instrumental post-rock without any of the bloat, mediocrity, and tediousness that plagues so much of the genre and its heavier cousins in post-metal. I’ve been following them closely since and eagerly awaited their next release. So when Arms’ bassist Mike Bouvet reached out to me personally about the upcoming release of Daughters, I knew that I wanted to talk to them about a whole bunch of things. Over a few e-mails we discussed their formation, their collaboration and improv-focused writing process, what sets them apart from most post-rock bands out there, and, of course, eggs.
RVRSAL’s first release, entitled Finding it and Losing it, is exactly the kind of blend of jazz influence with a host of other flavors that is guaranteed to grab our attention, and we are very pleased to be premiering it in its entirety here!
Man, 2017, y’all. We realize that it’s kind of our m.o. to be proponents of the whole “Golden Age of Metal” narrative and be incredibly positive about the consistently great level of stuff that is being put out from pretty much every part of the musical spectrum, but it’s such an easy thing to do when we are so constantly bombarded with new material that utterly consumes our attention. Even in months where one of us might not have as many new albums that really impressed them, without doubt there will be another one who could barely keep up because of all the superb releases from genres they pay close attention to. This April has certainly been no different in that regard, and we have a whole slew of top-notch albums to recommend to you all.