Unmetal Monday – 3/7/16

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 covers 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:

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City of the Sun Writes An Ode to the sun and all the cities in between

A few weeks ago I wrote about NYC acoustic trio City of the Sun in anticipation of their debut album, to the sun and all the cities in between. At the time I lauded them for their ability to blend traditional folk guitar music with modern post-rock and pop influences, creating a shimmering display of uplifting and rich sounds. With that album out now, it’s obvious that the samples the band have already put out were no fluke. Despite having a relatively limited pool of musical resources to pull from in two acoustic guitars and light percussion, the band have a tremendous amount to say, and the result is an hour of beautiful and invigorating sounds that can serve as the perfect soundtrack to your every day.

Contrary to its sunny and rosy exterior – the album cover is literally an illustration of epically beautiful sunrise over picturesque and lush green mountains – at the core of most of the music featured on this album is an understated and introspective melancholy. The band avoid the easy route in this kind of music by not just constructing simple high-energy and positive pop tunes filled with hand clap and foot stomp-inducing passages and melodies, the kind designed for instant gratification and not much else. Rather, they take the long view on these compositions and make sure to pack enough substance and tension underneath to make those triumphant moments of build and ecstatic release even more powerful. The journey from “Imagination” through “Interlude” and then “W. 16th St.” is a perfect example of this, as the band dial down their playing to emphasize slow-burning emotion, only to perfectly build it back up with “W. 16th St.” into wonderfully cathartic resolution. It’s this firm grasp of push and pull, tension and release, that bring the group closer to the world of classic post-rock like Explosions In The Sky, Mono and others, and ultimately elevates the music from pleasant background music to something that actively deserves your attention.

Also like their post-rock brethren, the music of to the sun and all the cities in between is not particularly technical in the way that much Flamenco and classical guitar-influenced music can be. The group focuses much more on building cascading layers and texture, or in the case of more traditional tunes like “La Puerta Roja” and “Razon,” settling into a groove and taking it to its logical conclusion. That’s not a knock on them, but if you go into the album expecting something closer to the more dazzling acoustic work of artists like Rodrigo y Gabriela, you will likely be a bit underwhelmed in that respect. City of the Sun isn’t about that though. Their music is slow-burning, yet still equally captivating in the end.

An hour seems a bit long for an album like this and probably could’ve been just as good with one or two fewer tracks, but it’s a testament to the ingenuity and skill of the band that it goes by remarkably quickly and smoothly. As with most of this kind of music, the album is very much a sum of its parts, though certain tracks and sections stand out more than others (lead single “Those Days Are Now” is still the best overall encapsulation of their total sound). As a whole though, to the sun and all the cities in between is a lovely piece of work, one that will almost certainly make City of the Sun and all those who listen to it better for it.

You can purchase the album via Chesky Records here.

Nick Cusworth

Finnegan Shanahan Explores New Paths Across Familiar Terrain In The Two Halves

Of all the music, scenes, and record labels my wonderful city of New York has to offer, the music I find to be by far the most interesting, different, and progressive comes from an unexpected place. In the past 8 or so years, New Amsterdam Records has been the nexus of all things that are great about experimental, genre-bending and genre-agnostic music with a classical bent. They’ve built an incredibly diverse roster that is often difficult to impossible to accurately describe sonically. Their latest release, composer and multi-instrumentalist Finnegan Shanahan‘s The Two Halves, though certainly on the more immediate and accessible side of things for NewAm, is nonetheless a potent exploration of the worlds of chamber pop and indie rock that stays true to the best of both while forging a fresh path forward.

The Two Halves is a 6-track song cycle inspired by a map of the Hudson River Railroad from the 1850s, and, true to form, it possesses a strong feeling of exploration and adventure, elevating the familiar and well-trodden territory of the Catskill Mountains and beyond into something far more mythical and epic. Similarly, Shanahan is able to deftly weave in between the familiar worlds of classical, rock, and pop and create a formidable hybrid that calls to mind some of the best work of artists and groups like Owen Pallett (whose lofty vocals Shanahan’s most closely resembles), Grizzly Bear, Mutual Benefit and more. From the sweeping, horn-laden opener “The Platelayers,” to the tricky time signatures and headbang-worthy (or head-nodding at the very least) hits of “The Great Sunstroke,” all the way to the great climax of “The Azimuth,” The Two Halves is a masterfully composed piece that is wholly inviting, richly evocative, and always entertaining.

Much of that is thanks to hugely talented and ever-adaptive chamber ensemble Contemporaneous – of which Shanahan is a founding member – who builds the epic action underneath him and is able to turn any technical or stylistic challenge into an asset. In an age where producing large ensemble work such as this is even less practical and financially feasible than ever, it’s refreshing to know that groups like Contemporaneous, artists like Shanahan, and labels like New Amsterdam are intent to keep the tradition alive while continuing to push the music they’re traditionally suited for forward in every kind of direction.

You can buy the album via New Amsterdam here.

NC

No Words Necessary – Kendrick Lamar’s untitled unmastered

Kendrick Lamar has been bringing a renewed sense of importance to his TV appearances by performing songs that didn’t make the cut for his critically acclaimed album To Pimp a Butterfly. Songs in this series have been given the moniker of “untitled” and are great enough to make any listener wonder why they didn’t end up on the album in the first place. Luckily for us, Kendrick gave us a gift (possibly at the request of Lebron James) and decided to let us have eight of his untitled tracks as a surprise release entitled untitled unmastered.. They include the tracks and chunks of verses from his performances on The Colbert Report, The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon and The Grammys.

Though you can tell throughout why these songs didn’t make it onto TPAB, this is a solid collection of tracks that surprise you with just how little they sound like b-sides, with very few exceptions. When artists put out releases in this vein the songs are usually just okay and worth maybe a listen or two, but not many more after that. With untitled unmastered., the tracks stand out and act as an interesting companion piece to TPAB, offering a perspective on the quality of material that was on the cutting room floor when Kendrick was putting together the record. Instead of him merely alluding to what could have been on wax through his live performances, he knew these songs were meant to be more than files sitting on harddrives.

It’s also important to note that the songs that were debuted through his TV appearances being present in their studio recorded forms doesn’t cheapen the impact of their live versions. “untitled 03” is missing sections that were performed when we knew it as “Untitled 1,” while “untitled 02” and “untitled 08” were mashed together to make his “Untitled 2” performance. Though the recorded versions are great and retain elements of their live counterparts, they don’t replace them by any means. You’ll still be going to those performances to see Kendrick’s unique energy on top of getting bits of the music that only exist in those particular moments when the cameras are rolling and the world is watching.

You can buy the album via iTunes here.

Ryan Castrati

Transcend Past The Laws Of Physics With Roly Porter’s ‘Third Law’

Roly Porter was once at the forefront of the UK dubstep scene as one half of seminal duo Vex’d, but these days he couldn’t be further away from any kind of dance floor-minded electronica. Instead, he’s taken up a sound decidedly more expansive and cinematic, yet also more visceral. Think of the kind of neoclassically-tinged ambient but with a darker spin to it, akin to Tim Hecker if he had more of an interest in harsh noise. On Porter’s 2013 effort, Life Cycle Of A Massive Star, this translated into a dreamy concept piece that scored its titular namesake to perfection. Three years later, his sound has taken an even more abstract turn on Third Law.

Coming as his debut for the venerable Tri Angle, Third Law is right at home with the label’s esoteric output, which ranges from the sluggish-paced techno of Vessel to the avant-garde outings of The Haxan Cloak. Like the latter, Porter has a flair for the theatrical that permeates through every second of this album. He uses a rich sound palette and a diverse array of emotions, all of which ultimately work towards the single goal of creating music that oozes grandeur. While there’s no underlying concept this time, each song on Third Law paints soundscapes vivid enough to make it a mini album-like experience on its own. Opener “4101” kicks off with a sequence of ominous chants that slowly gives way to a thumping beat and overwhelming levels of noise, and it would be all too appropriate, even if clichéd, to dub it as apocalyptic. Elsewhere, Porter employs an approach twice as relentless on tracks like “Mass” and “In Flight”, both of which conjure up a cacophony of epilepsy-inducing synths and rapid-fire drums. Naturally, there are several bouts of respite in between, such as the gently oscillating “In System”, to round out the listening experience.

In a way, Roly Porter’s dubstep origins make sense when listening to ‘Third Law’. On it, he marries a wide range of influences – the classically informed sections are reminiscent of German pianist-turned-producer Nils Frahm, whereas the most delicate moments might borrow from fellow ambient purveyor Rafael Anton Irisarri. Unlike his peers, however, Porter seems much more willing to explore the abrasive part of the spectrum, and to utilize rhythmic textures as a backbone for the music. The end product is an album that, while owing its title to a fundamental scientific law, exists in a separate world with rules all its own.

David Aleksov

Sarah Neufeld Ascends the Rarefied Peaks Of The Ridge

If you’ve been reading our Unmetal Monday posts in the past few weeks, you might know that we’ve been looking forward to Sarah Neufeld‘s The Ridge for a while now. And we’ve good reason: the released singles were emotional and amazing, displaying her excellent violin skills in a somber and ethereal atmosphere. Now, that album is finally here and let me tell you, those ethereal backdrops? They’re very much the norm here. The entire album has a certain unattainable, out of reach quality, fueled not only by the violin but also by Neufeld’s vocals.

These vocals make up a lot of the impact of one of the best tracks on the album, “Chase the Bright and Burning”. Here, they play the role of an effervescent choir, extolling wonder above the layered and complex usages of violin. This complexity, often challenging to the ear, is a hallmark of this album. If you’re imagining this creation as some sort of pleasant romp through hills, interspersed with the bright violence a violin is capable of from time to time, you’re sorely mistaken.

Instead, Neufeld utilizes several layers of violin to create something more akin to a bewilderment, a hazy, all-encompassing atmosphere of bright eyes, stark peaks and wind swept plains. This is as its most powerful on the longest track on the album, “A Long Awaited Scar”. In it, trench deep drums almost frolic below the three, and sometimes four, tracks of violin present before finally exploding into a powerful barrage of almost house inspired beats. At the surmount of this track, definitely the epicenter of the album, Neufeld’s vocals are again introduced. This creates a peak within the peak, where everything drains and the true power of what Neufeld is doing here comes to light.

Coming down from that peak isn’t easy; the album is certainly a task on the ear. However, the delivery is so convincing that it rarely fades long from my rotation, dominating its rightful place a singular album. I can’t think of much that sounds like this, not even her earlier work with the brilliant Colin Stetson. This is something else, its own beast, its own voice. Its own ridge.

You can buy the album via Paper Bag Records here.

Eden Kupermintz

We Came From Wolves Make A Delightful Mess With “Ruiner”

My first attempt at drafting something for Unmetal Monday is one that has some sentimental value for me but I won’t get into it too much because you don’t care. <strong>We Came From Wolves</strong> are a proudly Scots band that exist in a catchy, sweet vacuum somewhere between <strong>Glassjaw</strong> and <strong>Biffy Clyro</strong> (fellow Scots who really should have given up after <em>Puzzle</em>, in my always honest and humble opinion). Their track “Ruiner” is their smartest work to date and is a guaranteed earworm, even for a hardened pisscore merchant like myself. If you need some hard hitting emotional rock that doesn’t require a degree in post modernism or calculus to enjoy, step on up and check out their brand new music video for this track.

Ths video is a bit of a throwback for me personally as I lived in the city of Perth where it was filmed. Spent a lot of my time doing the same things as the antagonist as well; piss drunk and making terrible life decisions. It’s bittersweet for me as well though, much like the open and crushingly honest lyrics from Mr Kyle Burgess. An open letter to himself as a younger man almost, the lyrical content matches the actions on display in a video that highlights the self destructive nature of every other twenty something Scots male. All of this is backed by a furiously groovy track that recalls <strong>Head Automatica</strong> as much as it does <strong>Alexisonfire</strong>. The comparison to the latter is more fitting with the big sing a long refrain at the end of the track, framing a great piece of visual art with a song that won’t even quit once it’s faded out.

We Came From Wolves’ debut album is available on iTunes, and if you’ve got this far without reaching for the grindcore then you need to check it out. How’s that for an Unmetal debut aye?

Matt MacLennan

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