Even a cursory glance of our biweekly “What Heavy Blog Is Really Listening To” posts (last weeks update here) will reveal that there is a great deal of variety among our staff’s musical tastes. Due to this, we brainstormed the idea of “Playlist Swap,” another biweekly segment that takes place between playlist updates. We randomly select two of the participants from each update, have them pick their favorite track from each of the nine albums in their grid and then send the list over to the other person to listen to and comment on. Within these commentaries occurs praise, criticism and discovery, and we hope that you experience a few instances of this last point as well. This week’s post brought staff members Scott Murphy and David Aleksov together to peruse each other’s tastes:
David’s Grid & Scott’s Comments
It’s probably a safe assumption that my tastes align most closely with David’s than with anyone else on staff. Every other week I’m stoked to see what David’s been listening to in the hopes that there’ll be a new album that I haven’t heard of before (thankfully, this happens regularly). I also credit David with bringing electronic music back to my attention; I never forgot it existed (obviously), but I’ve become much more aware of the genre’s newest offerings. As I glanced over David’s grid, I saw an even spread of familiar and foreign covers, and I was excited to revisit some favorites and explore something new.
Ontal – Entropia – “Transmigration”
David’s Pick: It’s been less than two weeks since this album was released and it has already become my album of the year. Entropia covers about as many subgenres of electronic music as its song count, yet every track on it feels incredibly consistent in style, and ‘Transmigration’ is no exception. Starting with the sounds of a conveyor belt chugging over background ambiance, it soon explodes into a flurry of breakbeats carried through by a rumbling bassline, which furthers the album’s unique fusion of abrasive, noise-drenched industrialism with sublime, delicate melodies.
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Scott’s Comments: So begins the many electronic albums in David’s grid, which doesn’t upset me at all; what I’ve checked out on my own from David’s suggestions confirmed that he has solid taste. Yet, as much as I love this column, most electronic music requires much more than a single track to convey the proper mood, with this offering from Ontal being no exception. “Transmigration” is grabbing my attention, but while I like what I’m feeling, I can’t help but feel that a full listen of Entropia would have a greater impact. I suppose I’ll have to do just that.
Gorod – A Maze of Recycled Creeds – “Syncretic Delirium”
David’s Pick: Gorod is by far my favorite death metal band, and I will always be excited about hearing new music from them no matter where my music taste ends up. With A Maze Of Recycled Creeds they have come out guns blazing and delivered an album even better than its predecessor. The ending section of ‘Syncretic Delirium’ in particular makes for one of the most spine-chilling, amazeballs moments in Gorod’s whole discography.
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Scott’s Comments: This was probably the track that I most looked forward to listening to, mainly due to the praise it’s been receiving among our fellow contributors. I’ve never listened to Gorod, but ever serious tech death fan I know swears by these guys, and so far, I can see why. I’m reminded of the intensity and technicality of Psycroptic (without the shitty vocals) and the progressive tendencies of Decrepit Birth, the latter of which is one of my favorite teach death bands. As the track evolves, I’m becoming even more intrigued; the guitar work on the second half of this track is excellent, and I love how the addition of synth is done subtly enough to seem genuine but still have a beneficial presence. I’m actually surprised at how quickly the track went by…it felt a lot shorter than five minutes. Even so, I’m wicked impressed by this track and plan on spinning this in full very soon.
Massive Attack – Protection – “Eurochild”
David’s Pick: Although their latter-era music had more oomph, it was Massive Attack‘s first two albums that proved to be the most influential in spawning the trip hop genre, and as with anything this band has ever touched, Protection was a work of sheer genius. ‘Eurochild’ perfectly encapsulates this early Massive Attack sound with its smooth atmosphere, jazz-inspired rhythm section, and playful yet intelligent lyrics.
Scott’s Comments: David and I have shared our mutual admiration for Mezzanine before, but he’s undoubtedly more familiar with the remainder of their discography. A friend of mine and I were actually just smoking hookah and sharing some beers while listening to Mezzanine right before I got home and started this post, so my mindset is perfect for some solid trip-hop. “Eurochild” fits this description perfectly; I have no idea why I haven’t delved further into what else Massive Attack has to offer. I’ll be on the lookout for some more MA on my next stop for records.
Ø [Phase] – Alone In Time? – “Nep-tune”
David’s Pick: For an album released by an artist usually known for his fairly conventional (nonetheless excellent) techno productions, Alone In Time? is a pretty unconventional techno album, and ‘Nep-tune’ is perhaps the oddest one out. I love everything about this track, from its staggered beat and odd-time hi-hats, to its spacey, multi-layered synths, to even its ridiculous name.
Scott’s Comments: I definitely feel like Ø…[Phase]… Ø [Phase]…? However the fuck you pronounce their name, I feel like they do a much better job of drawing me into their aesthetic with this stand-alone track than Ontal did. I love how hard this beat hits right out of the gate, and especially how well it builds without ever boiling over and releasing the tension that builds over the course of the track. Out of the handful of artists that I’d never heard of prior to this swap, they’ve done the best job of captivating my interest, and I’m genuinely curious to see how the rest of the album plays out.
Varg – Ursviken – “Ursviken”
David’s Pick: It turns out there were, at some point, two Scandinavian metal musicians that went by the name of Varg. I’m pretty glad at least one of them jumped ship, as I’ve recently been obsessed with his distinctly Swedish style of deep, densely atmospheric dance music.. The entirely ambient title track from Ursviken is also its opener, and it sets the tone for the rest of the album by reaching a perfect harmony between the serene and the gloomy.
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Scott’s Comments: “Urvisken” actually drove me away from its eponymous album the first time that I tried out Varg’s music (and no, this isn’t that Varg). I’m a huge fan of ambient, but it has to be done in a certain way; a chord needs to be struck with me early on prior to the track’s repetition. Tim Hecker and William Basinski are my favorite purveyors of this art, as they concoct the perfect chords and melodies that resonate beautifully but evolve ever so slightly over time. If I’m being frank…Varg doesn’t really achieve this for me. The field recording style on this track does interest me, but I can’t help but glaze over most of what the track has to offer, which is a damning critique even for this genre. For me, good ambient can be both zoned out and in to; this does neither.
Samuel Kerridge – A Fallen Empire – “Straight To Hell”
David’s Pick: Samuel Kerridge makes music that is the electronic equivalent of doom metal, in my opinion. This definitely seems to be the case for ‘Straight To Hell’, a cut from his first album that is perhaps one of his noisiest, most destructive ventures yet. Its hair-raising synth sounds more like machines grinding against each other, and its martial beat offers an even more cathartic edge to the song.
Scott’s Comments: Holy shit, how have I not checked this guy out already? I know this isn’t his most recent album, but if he continues this style, he’s earned a spot on my AOTY list. I’m hesitant to label this ambient due to how abrasive and noisy the synth tone is, and particularly the amount of power in the beat. Regardless of what it is, it’s droning bliss, and I need more Samuel Kerridge in my life. Thanks for this, David.
Converge – Axe to Fall – “Worms Will Feed / Rats Will Feast”
David’s Pick: Without a doubt one of the greatest bands on the planet. I don’t even listen to much “core” music of any kind, but Converge are leagues above any and all of their peers. Songs such as ‘Worms Will Feed…’, that are much slower and longer for their standards, are yet another testament to their genius, if only for the fact that they can execute something so far from their usual M.O. so well. This song is one of the heaviest I have ever heard, and its main riff one of the most recognizable.
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Scott’s Comments: Let me be clear: I fucking love Axe to Fall; I genuinely don’t think I’d be listening to Converge without it. One of my cousin’s old boyfriend’s and I were chatting about metal at some family function, and I told him how I’d bought Jane Doe and wasn’t really vibing with it (Emmure was one of my favorite bands at the time, mind you). He advised me to start with Axe to Fall instead, and holy shit did that change everything. I still consider this Converge’s most accessible record, and it prompted me to buy their back catalogue immediately after. Having said that…I’m not the biggest fan of this track. It’s objectively a great track, and it’s grooving wicked nicely right now as I listen to it in an isolated setting. But I think it’s placement on the record kind of kills the stellar run of intensity that opens up the album, and overall, it’s not one of Converge’s better slow song, nor even one of the better ones on Axe to Fall (see “Wretched World”). Still, it’s Converge; I really can’t bitch too much.
Gorillaz – Demon Days – “November Has Come”
David’s Pick: This was probably the album for which it was the hardest to pick a favorite song. That’s because not only is Demon Days consistently excellent, it also has a lot of fucking songs, of which all or most are equally worthy to write about. I ultimately went for the rather short ‘November Has Come’ because of the MF Doom feature – it’s one of my favorite Doom appearances, and if anything it just sets the song apart as having two amazing artists instead of one.
Scott’s Comments: I can guarantee that I’ve heard other Gorillaz tracks other than “Feel Good Inc.,” but I don’t remember a single one of them. A lot of my friends in high school loved these guys, but I was too busy blasting deathcore from my headphones in the hallway and rocking my oversized Slipknot hoodie (really fucking glad things have changed since then). I’m not sure if this track is indicative of what the rest of Demon Days sounds like, but it’s definetly piqued my interest. Anything DOOM rhymes over usually impresses me, and the fact that he spits for the entire track rather than just one verse is fantastic. The music itself is solid; not really a Madlib or J Dilla quality beat, but it’s definitely enjoyable. I’ll have to spin the full album one of these days and see if I’ve been missing out.
Andy Stott – Luxury Problems – “Numb”
David’s Pick: Featuring one of the most hypnotic vocal lines I’ve had the pleasure of hearing, ‘Numb’ struck me as the perfect album opener from the first time I heard it. With it, UK producer Andy Stott struck pure gold, and with the album he would go on to cement himself as the face behind some of the most otherworldly electronic music of recent times. ‘Numb’ embraces his murky, almost lo-fi production style and his trademark sense of creating an atmosphere that is at once sinister and serene.
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Scott’s Comments: I bought this album on a whim a little while back; it was marked down nicely in the discount vinyl bin and I recognized the album artwork from somewhere. It was one of the best blind purchases I’ve ever made. Something about Andy Stott’s style hits every major checkmark I expect of electronic music simultaneously, and the album was even able to get my Dad to ask me who was playing. “Numb” captures everything I love about Andy: building, haunting melodies shining through a perfectly treated female vocal sample. I really need to spin this album again…
Scott’s Grid & David’s Thoughts
I’ve really been looking forward to swap playlists with Scott, since I think his mentality when it comes to music is pretty similar to mine. Both of our tastes are eclectic in that we listen to a diverse array of genres, but they’re also very different for the same reason. In fact, looking at our grids, there’s barely any stylistic overlap. Even before delving in, I could have safely said that the name of the game here would be artists that I hold in high regard but haven’t properly checked out. After listening to everything, I can say that not only was this true, but I also came out of most of the songs very pleasantly surprised!
Black Flag – Slip It In – “Slip It In”
Scott’s Pick: Oddly enough, I was first exposed to Black Flag by my hometown library; they had a copy of Damaged that I checked out and spun on several summer days back in middle school. I rediscovered them in high school and scoured Amazon for their other albums, which ultimately led me to snag the shittiest, cheapest used copies of My War, Family Man and Slip It In. They’re all pretty dissimilar to Damaged but played a large part in opening up my appreciation and enjoyment of experimental music, particularly Family Man’s odd. Slip It In is unquestionably my top pick in terms of BF album art (I still think the cover’s fucking hilarious), but it’s not my favorite music-wise (that’d probably be My War). Even so, it’s a great album, and “Slip It In” is such a classic hardcore anthem.
David’s Comments: I appreciate the immense influence Black Flag had on punk, hardcore, and the popularization of the DIY ethos. However, I’m not particularly enthusiastic about their music, and while this song was somewhat enjoyable it didn’t change my perspective all that much. I liked the rhythm section – the bass and drums combine into a wildly groovy gallop, which is nicely accentuated by the riffs. Yes, unlike most modern hardcore this song has actual riffs. It even has a solo! That was a surprise. The solo itself didn’t really do much for me, but it was cool seeing the rock’n’roll influence manifest itself. However, the goony vocals and over-the-top nature of the song cause it to ultimately fall flat for me. Oh well.
Can – Tago Mago – “Halleluhwah”
Scott’s Pick: Tago Mago is one of my favorite pieces of vinyl in my collection (2XLP: 1purple, 1 periwinkle), and it helps that it’s also one of my favorite records. One day I asked myself “what the fuck is krautrock,” eventually discovered Can, started with Tago Mago because I liked its artwork and experienced a beneficial case of judging a book by its cover. “Halleluhwah” is definitely the most well-known track on the album, and it’s not hard to see why given the seventies jam rock bliss that ensues for nineteen joyous minutes.
David’s Comments: German krautrock was one of the principal influences on the development of electronic music. Can are listed as a German krautrock band, so as a fan of electronic music, this interests me greatly. After coming out of the song, though, I feel more of a jazzy vibe from it than any kind of electronic prototype. Nonetheless, I really like this. The instrumentation is pretty unorthodox and captivating. The bass and guitars dwell on each theme for large portions of the song, being primarily concerned with repetition while it’s the drums that lead the song forward. This is some seriously awesome drumming: it has just the right mix of flashiness and restraint, constantly adding subtle flourishes while keeping a solid groove. I love the eerie violin that almost unnoticeably creeps up in the mid-section, as well as the sudden shift towards all-out insanity near the song’s end. Lastly, I also like the vocals – they remind me of something more traditional/poppy a la Happy Mondays, and they’re used sparsely which I think is fitting.
Godflesh – Song of Love and Hate – “Sterile Prophet”
Scott’s Pick: I’m wicked thankful that A World Lit Only Lit By Fire reminded me how much I love Godflesh, or really anything Justin Broadrick touches. Similar to my BF tale from above, I found a cheap copy of Pure at Newbury Comics back in the day and then rushed to Amazon to complete my collection (I’m still missing Selfless and Hymns, unfortunately). I can kind of see why some people label Song of Love and Hate as a “nu-metal” album, but 1.) There’s really no sanitized appeal & 2.) Who the fuck cares when the riffs are this good? The final groove in “Sterile Prophet” is easily one of the catchiest things Justin’s written.
David’s Comments: I never really picked up on Godflesh, but if this song is any indication, I suspect the band will appeal to me. I really like the production here – the bass sounds amazing, and the guitars are just the right mix of clear and crunchy. The drums could be a bit more powerful, although they do sound very organic. It seemed like pretty much the whole track featured the same riff in slightly different variations, but I didn’t mind since all forms of it crushed. The breakdown about two thirds in was particularly awesome, and I love how the song proceeds from there by ramping up the noise and reverb
Iceage – New Brigade – “Collapse”
Scott’s Pick: I’ll admit that I didn’t give Plowing Into the Fields of Love a fair shot, but the singles I heard paled in comparison to You’re Nothing and New Brigade. I’m not sure which album I prefer, but regardless, Iceage are probably my favorite (current) post-punk band (top honors will always go to Joy Division). “Collapse” has one of the best earworm guitar hooks on the album, so I figured it would be a good pick.
David’s Comments: I’ve kept hearing people rave on about this band, but I haven’t really been impressed by them so far. ‘Collapse’ seems like a pretty good song, and I think I can understand the appeal behind iceage in general, yet I didn’t come out of this wowed in any way. Similar to Black Flag, I guess I can attribute that to simply not being into most forms of punk all that much. I definitely got an old-school punk vibe from the vocals and production, while the frenzied drums and chaotic leads yell post-hardcore more than anything. Overall I would revisit this for its raw energy and great drumming, but I still don’t feel fully on board with iceage.
Miles Davis – Bitches Brew – “Bitches Brew”
Scott’s Pick: I kind of feel like a dick for picking the longest track on Bitches Brew for David to listen to…but then I remember how brilliant it is. Spending a half-hour with Miles Davis is always time well spent, and the title-track of this jazz milestone perfectly encapsulates why this album is still one of the best in the genre.
David’s Comments: One of the most essential jazz albums by one of the most essential jazz artists, Bitches Brew is especially endearing to me because it helped spawn jazz fusion, a genre very close to my heart. Even at an intimidating 27 minutes, listening to this song was a breeze. The interplay between every instrument is a wonder to behold. Themes and motifs fly in and out, only to be reintroduced again faster than you can keep track. Yet on a larger scale it seems that the song moves at a sluggish pace, taking the time to meticulously unravel its every little detail. A lot of emphasis is placed on preserving the mood here, something all too often forgotten in most technically demanding forms of jazz (read: most jazz). I won’t comment on the individual licks, solos and so on, but that’s only because there’s so much that I don’t know where to begin.
Scott Walker – Bish Bosch – “Epizootics!”
Scott’s Pick: It may have taken me several listens to finally “get” Bish Bosch, but when I did, Scott Walker earned my fandom and made me forget that he shares a name with a terrible governor. This is definitely one of the strangest albums I own, but I feel like David will be able to appreciate it to at least some degree. Still, I made sure to pick one of the more”normal” tracks on the album.
David’s Comments: I absolutely loved everything about this. The baritone sax floored me from the first second, and it only got better from there. Scott’s vocals heavily reminded me of Nick Cave in their range as well as their unorthodox phrasing, although, given both musicians’ long tenure, I can’t say for certain who sounds like who. When the snare drum came in I was again blown away, this time by how delightfully inappropriate it sounds – it’s almost like it was taken from a different album, yet manages to work so, so well. The acoustic outro presented another surprise just when I thought I had figured out the song, although this one works mostly as a cute gimmick. All in all, this was probably the song I enjoyed the most, and I’m very happy to have finally given Scott Walker a shot.
Steely Dan – Gaucho – “Hey Nineteen”
Scott’s Pick: Something about Gaucho’s artwork has always drawn my attention…I genuinely can’t explain why. Whatever it is, Newbury was having a spectacular vinyl sale last week, so picking up a lightly worn used copy of the album for chump change was a no-brainer. The only Steely Dan record I’d heard was Aja, and “Peg” is both a classic track and one of the only songs I enjoy from my work’s playlist. I honestly haven’t spun Aja in a while, but Gaucho sounds relatively similar, and I’ve been enjoying it quite a bit. Honestly, there really aren’t any “wow” tracks despite the album being solid, so I just picked its biggest hit.
David’s Comments: I’ve never come across Steely Dan. Wikipedia tells me they fall into the category of jazz rock – throw in some funk and I’d pretty much agree. Honestly though, the song sounds too retro for my liking, and the vocals/lyrics get quite cheesy at times. The instrumental is decent I guess. It has a smooth vibe to it so at worst it’s perfectly harmless. I don’t like the fact that the drums don’t change almost at all in this song, but the rest of the instrumentation is actually pretty good. Still, I don’t think I’ve missed out on much by being oblivious of Steely Dan’s existence.
Swans – Holy Money – “A Screw (Holy Money)”
Scott’s Pick: I’ve never actually sat at my laptop and actively bid for anything on Ebay, but seeing this for an absurdly reasonable price changed that instantly (seriously, Google old Swans records for sale and tell me $26 isn’t a fucking steal). It didn’t matter that I’d never heard a single track from the album before; I’ve loved everything Gira and crew have written, and this was no exception. In my opinion, Swans records should be heard in full, but the semi-title track is a pretty swell representation of the album as whole.
David’s Comments: Neglecting Swans’ early output is a musical crime I just know I can’t keep committing, so this song was probably the one I was looking forward to the most. Holy shit does Michael Gira sound like an entirely different person here. Except not really – it’s only his timbre that seems alien, because his psychotic vocal delivery and primal lyrics would be perfectly at home even on 2014’s To Be Kind. Production-wise, this admittedly sounds a bit dated, but it works to the song’s advantage in a way, making it sound kind of cavernous (cavernous is always a good attribute if you’re Swans, imo). While it’s not particularly heavy for the band’s standards, it has the same type of droning repetitiveness and eerie atmosphere that I love about them so much. Definitely impressed with this one!
Yes – Close to the Edge – “Siberian Khatru”
Scott’s Pick: It’s strange how my vinyl collection went from being Yes-less to containing three amazing gatefolds in just a couple of weeks. I found a copy of Relayer at the Bull Moose in Portsmouth after an interview for my internship, “borrowed” my dad’s old copy of Drama (to be fair, he hasn’t spun it in years) and picked up Close to the Edge at the same Newbury sale where I bought Gaucho. Music aside, Roger Dean painted some of my all-time favorite album art and really necessitates vinyl as a format for viewing. Yes also happens to make excellent prog rock, and it’s pretty well-established that Close to the Edge is the band’s best. I’d argue that “Siberian Khatru” is one of the best prog rock songs ever written and truly elevates the album to that status, but I’ll let David decide.
David’s Comments: Nothing like some classic 70s progressive rock to close things out. I usually prefer my prog a bit more modern, but these early records by Yes and other genre titans displayed an unbelievable degree of innovation, and ‘Siberian Khatru’ was a good reminder of that. Listening to the vocals at around the 5:30 mark, I can definitely hear where Between The Buried And Me’s Tommy Rogers drew from in developing his cleans. At other times, the vocals do sound cheesy, but it wasn’t as much of an obstacle for me as in the Steely Dan song. Anyway, it’s the guitarwork that steals the show here, with more tasteful licks being thrown in than I could count. In typical prog fashion, the theme introduced at the start of the song creeps its way back near the end. It’s moments like this that are my favorite thing about the genre.