Like the grand majority of modern metal fans, our tastes here at Heavy Blog 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 weekly column which will cover noteworthy news, 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. Head past the jump to dial down the distortion:
The Remains from Cymbals Eat(ing) Guitars is an “Aerobed”
It didn’t get any coverage from us last year due to its patently un-metal or unheavy nature, but Staten Island indie rock group Cymbals Eat Guitars released easily one of the best albums of any genre in 2014 (made it into my personal Top 10) in the sprawling and immensely satisfying LOSE. The band excels at blending abrasive and occasionally blistering guitar rock with catchy as all hell hooks and sweeter, more emotional and personal passages, all glued together by the easily identifiable vocal stylings and excellent lyrical writing of Joseph D’Agostino. If you’re not already familiar with them, go listen to LOSE asap. The band have been relatively quiet in the past year, but a couple of important pieces of news came to light this past week. First, the band have signed with indie label Sinderlyn, and they are reportedly starting work on LP 4 soon, to be released next fall. Second, they released a new standalone track that will be featured in the latest release of indie singer/songwriter Kevin Devine’s vinyl split series, Devinyl Splits, called “Aerobed.”
“Aerobed” is a somewhat atypical track for the group, starting off as a low-key acoustic slow burner, though still featuring all of the trademarks of D’Agostino’s vocal delivery and razor-sharp writing. The track explodes in its back half into more typical Cymbals Eat Guitars bombast briefly before dipping back into solo muted guitar strumming. The track was produced by Jesse Lacey of Brand New, which makes sense given that they’ve toured together before and the two groups share a lot of musical DNA in their brand of heavily emotional songwriting. So go listen to this, listen through CEG’s catalog (all three of their albums are great in different ways), and get hyped for new CEG in 2016!
ELO Are Back With the Daddest of Rocks and It’s Pretty Great
We’ve already covered the first two singles released by the newly reborn Electric Light Orchestra; we said that they harked back to the days of classic rock, with their blend of almost childish enthusiasm. And guess what, this appears to be the case yet again: “One Step at a Time,” the latest single from the upcoming album, is just pure joy. It features an insanely corny cowbell, an overdriven guitar solo/bridge and an overall air of listening to bossa nova in an overpriced tourist restaurant in some European tourist trap.
And you know what, you can say that the lights are tacky and the food is terrible and that waiter is a condescending prick but you’re enjoying yourself. There’s something about the cliche and the cheese that is immensely comforting, familiar and just damn accurate. That’s where we’re at with this single; yes, I know it’s corny but I love the taste and I wish I had more right now. Garcon, another round of that cheap wine please!
Def Leppard will Make You Wish You Were Too
It took Def Leppard 38 years to make a self-titled record. For not immediately getting that rock cliché out of the way, they deserve applause. The self-titled record itself however does not. I’m not saying that it’s a bad album or painful to listen to, but it’s just so average. You could get material like this from any band that have been operating for nearly forty years. Some of that old age comes off as charm with genuinely enjoyable songs like ‘Man Enough’, ‘Energized’ and ‘All Time High’ but the rest of the album just feels bland and forgettable.
With a 14 track, almost 55 minute run-time, three good tracks doesn’t cut it. This is a new collection of songs for the band to play at their guaranteed festival gigs and for fans to spin through, but that’s about the only purpose it serves besides reminding us that the band is still alive. It’s actually pretty funny, because the opening track ‘Let’s Go’ starts off with the line, “Do you really really wanna do this now?” and I don’t think they ever asked themselves that question in the first place. Listen to this record if you’re incredibly nostalgic for the 80’s or if you’re a Def Leppard fan. If you exist outside those two demographics, there isn’t much here for you.
Return to the Moon with EL VY
Matt Berninger has one of the most easily recognizable voices in modern rock/pop, his velvety baritone tone and lyrics full of sexual and emotional angst providing the foundation of indie veterans The National’s success in the past decade and change. With the band taking some time off since their previous release Trouble Will Find Me to work on other projects, it’s not surprising that Berninger would come out with his own thing at some point. I don’t think anyone was expecting EL VY or Return to the Moon however. A collaboration between Berninger and singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Brent Knopf (ex-Menomena and currently his solo project Ramona Falls, both of which are bands you absolutely need to listen to if you haven’t, particularly Menomena; I could write a lengthy post on the genius of Menomena alone), EL VY has the distinct feeling of being a parallel universe version of The National that is far looser, slinkier, and dare I say, fun.
There are certainly a few tracks on Return to the Moon that sound like they could be straight-up The National b-sides or templates for new material, particularly down to mid-tempo ballads “No Time To Crank The Sun,” “It’s a Game,” and closer “Careless.” But the majority of the album is characterized more by the deliriously fun mixture of mischievous synth pop and Berninger slipping into a more Leonard Cohen-like persona. It’s highly appropriate that the album was released right before Halloween, as the synth work and overall tone of the album has all the feeling of a hipstery, cooler-than-thou horror flick, which may sound vomit-inducing when put that way, but in reality is lacking in pretension and is just plain enjoyable. Opener “Return to the Moon” is about as close as you’ll probably ever see to Berninger fronting a straight-forward pop jam. “Silent Ivy Minute” sounds like The National, Spoon, and “The Monster Mash” thrown into a blender in the best way possible. Some of these tracks are by far the most personal and caustic Berninger’s gotten with his lyrics, which already have a penchant for poignant frankness in dealing with depression, neuroses, and sexual frustration. “I’m The Man To Be” has the wonderful imagery of the narrator describing his dick being held up by kites and him being “in the lobby with the green-colored fuck-me shirt.”
The duo of “Sad Case” and “Happiness, Missouri” are easily the most pleasantly surprising and stunning of the bunch though. The heavy punches over the off-kilter 7/4 of “Sad Case” lead perfectly into the cool as hell driving groove of “Happiness, Missouri,” tied together with the refrain of “Happiness, Missouri, got to get your mind off” that will absolutely get stuck in your head. The partnership of Berninger and Knopf is already drawing comparisons to another powerhouse collaboration of the past decade in Spencer Krug and Dan Boekner, otherwise known as Wolf Parade, and in those two songs in particular the comparison makes the most sense. It’s impossible to know at this time if EL VY will be a one-off thing or something the pair intend to build up more in the future, but regardless, Return to the Moon is easily one of the best and most gleefully surprising indie rock albums of the year.
Sparks and Steel: Electronic Music for Metalheads
Samuel Kerridge – Always Offended Never Ashamed
A UK native currently residing in Berlin, Samuel Kerridge has established himself as one of the more unique voices in today’s electronic scene. Always Offended Never Ashamed, his second and latest LP, was released earlier this year on his own imprint, Contort Records, and delivers the most distilled form of his sound yet. The music found on this album is the stuff of nightmares: mutated vocals meet ear-splintering drones against a backdrop of overwhelming noise and slow, but explosive beats.
Like Raime – who I covered in last week’s column – Kerridge also has a penchant for all things dark and brooding, and uses rhythm as a framework that supports the song rather than dominating it. Unlike Raime, however, Always Offended Never Ashamed is much more violent by nature, offering an experience that will perhaps be a pinch more familiar for the metalhead. In fact, at some points this album sounds like an electronic version of drone doom forefathers Sunn O))), a band that Kerridge himself recognizes as a huge influence on his music.
With its gargantuan distortion and all the jittering, machine-like sounds, Always Offended Never Ashamed is as industrial as it gets, yet it is also raw, primal, and very much alive. Songs like ‘DAYT’ and ‘WIAGW’ sound as if infected with the pulse of a living, sentient machine, one that is struggling to contain its sadistic urges. The latter of those also represents the most cathartic point of the album, a barrage of synth arpeggios that swirl around Kerridge’s effect-laden voice. It serves as a neat counterpoint to the rather melodic ‘WOSN’, driving the album back into harsher territory and perhaps hinting at said machine’s inevitable fall to temptation. Ultimately, everything comes together to form an album unusually expressive for its kind that, with its dualistic nature, portrays the hellish soundscapes of the apocalypse just as much as it does the cold, brutal reality of our machine-powered world.
Landmark Folk from Black Metal Pioneers
Music can be a knife. It can descend on your non-suspecting flesh and cleave you to the bone, revealing the fragile, pulsing layers below. In order to create such music, artists must first cut themselves. From their own pain, their own raw vitality, comes the impetus and intent of a cut later administered to those who listen to the product of their pain and resonate with it. Such is the case with Ulver‘s sophomore album, Kveldssanger.
As far as technicalities go, this album was released in 1995, right after their trend setting debut, Bergtatt, and immediately before their celebrated Nattens madrigal, one of the more abrasive and well-composed black albums that exist. Kveldssanger is a black sheep in that regard, composed of no metal at all, let alone black. However, the roots are there; the album is a bold and juvenile exploration of Norwegian folk music and the power of night, forest, rain and frost. I say juvenile because the artists were very young back then and, by their own admission, were not quite ready for the task that they had set themselves. However, construing this as a weakness of the album would be a mistake.
Whether because it made them more focused or because they were closer to their emotions, less jaded, the young Ulver managed to create something unique and deeply moving with this album. It is the quintessential folk album made by a black metal artist: it blends drawn out guitar segments with catatonic choirs, amplified as if in a cavern. It’s slightly over half an hour run-time is about depression, being lost and confounded; it’s about a dark sky overcome with storms. In that sense, it stems from the exact roots of black metal but does something different with them: instead of shouting out its pain in a conflagration of blast beats and tremolo picks, it subsumes it into a frost-armored dagger that drives deep into our hearts.
Why are we even writing about this album? Because it’s important. Because it’s seminal. Because it birth an understanding of the links between the Nordic folk traditions and black metal. Because in the midst of the drawn out folk guitars and the sometimes tiring repetitions of the basic, folk themes there just lies something in Kveldssanger that very few albums have. What that thing is cannot be described in words but it makes it one of the most unique creations out there. I invite you to revisit this chilling, harrowing, beautiful creation that so well mirrors the Scandinavian landscape this band was forged in.