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 Jimmy Mullett and Simon Handmaker together to peruse each other’s tastes:
Simon’s Grid & Jimmy’s Comments
Jimmy Mullet: Simon’s always listening to something interesting that I haven’t heard of, so this has been a cool experience, just so see what goes on in that epic beard—er, head—of his. I know we don’t always see eye to eye on a lot of music—our thoughts on The Body couldn’t be more far apart—but nonetheless I think Simon has his own appealing taste in music that’s fun to hear about.
Kylesa – Static Tensions -“Scapegoat”
Simon Handmaker: I am an unabashedly huge Kylesa fan; this is obvious to anybody who’s glanced at the staff page and noticed that they sit as my second-favorite band under the almighty Yob. Their combination of sounds is, for me, essentially everything I could possibly want out of heavy music, and to have it in such abundance is a blessing unlike anything else. I routinely spin Static Tensions, and “Scapegoat,” the opening track, stands out as one of the strongest things these Savannah sludge savants have written to date.
Jimmy Mullet: I’ve always been meaning to listen to Kylesa’s earlier stuff, so I’m glad to be forced to do it now! Scott Murphy actually got me into Kylesa, around the time Spiral Shadow came out, and I can definitely say that that album and Ultraviolet are (in my opinion) pretty rad shit. (Exhausting Fire was “meh” for me—not bad at all, but nothing special, honestly.) “Scapegoat” didn’t sound much different than the previous albums mentioned, which isn’t terrible—Kylesa has a great sound, and I’ll always welcome more of it.
Prurient – Bermuda Drain – “A Meal Can Be Made”
SH: I honestly don’t know what it is about this song specifically that’s so great. This combination of elements is so off-the-wall silly and fun – in the bizarre, twisted, Prurient way of course – that it’s always my go-to track for Bermuda Drain. The rest of the album sounds nothing like this (but it’s still great), and I knew Jimmy would probably be acquainted with Prurient, so I figured this would probably be a great track to have in here.
JM: Wow…just…wow. I’d listened to Frozen Niagra Falls last year, so I thought I knew what to expect, but nope.
Honestly, I’m not sure what to think. On one hand, it’s a really cool idea for a sound, and each part of this track is performed/recorded impeccably, but overall it’s just okay. I’m not really either way on Prurient to begin with, and I think “A Meal Can Be Made” has sort of cemented my ambivalence towards it. Still, though, very original.
The Mars Volta – Deloused in the Comatorium – “Drunkship of Lanterns”
SH: What is there to even say about these guys that hasn’t been said already? I’ll leave it short and sweet; The Mars Volta is, hands down, one of the greatest and most ingenious progressive rock bands of all time, and “Drunkship of Lanterns” demonstrates quite well why this is.
JM: I’ve listened to this album more times than I can count, so I definitely don’t mind spinning it again! The Mars Volta is one of my favorite bands ever, to the point that I can’t decide between Amputechture or Bedlam in Goliath for my favorite album of all time. (I know that a lot of people don’t care much for TMV’s work after Frances the Mute, but screw them, they’re just missing out on some good stuff.)
So, yeah. Loved this. Enough said.
Skeletonwitch – Serpents Unleashed – “Serpents Unleashed”
SH: Although I’m not particularly into thrash metal, at all, something about Skeletonwitch is just so damn fun. Their songs are short, to-the-point bangers that hit hard and never overstay their welcome. The title track from their most recent album, “Serpents Unleashed” shows off exactly what makes these dudes such a trip.
JM: Scott also introduced me to Skeletonwitch, through their album Forever Abomination, and I really enjoyed that album back in the day. (Really haven’t listened to it lately.) I never listened to the album Serpents Unleashed, but this track is totally making me want to try it out now. It’s always cool to see variations on the traditional thrash formula, and Skeletonwitch happens to do what they do very well. This was a pretty short song, though; I was sort of hoping for something a little longer.
GZA/Genius – Liquid Swords – “4th Chamber”
SH: This is the rap album, in my opinion. Easily in my top five – and the #1 spot depending on the day – and probably the best boom-bap album of all time, this track, featuring Ghostface Killah, my other favorite MC from the Wu-Tang Clan, has so much going for it. The super minimal beat, the flows, the lyrics, the great intro – everything just comes together perfectly here.
JM: C’mon, this whole album is a rap classic, and essential listening if you’re even mildly interested in what Wu-Tang has to offer. I personally like Enter the Wu-Tang more than Liquid Swords, but this is still a fucking badass album. “4th Chamber” is just further proof of that statement.
El Huervo – Vandereer – “FriLejd”
SH: Trip-hop is probably my favorite subgenre of electronic/semi-electronic music, a four-year obsession that started for me back when my friend showed me Emancipator. This album is everything I love about trip-hop, and this is a great, if somewhat repetitive, track that shows what Vandereer is all about as an album.
JM: I keep seeing Simon obsessing over this album, so it’s cool to see what it’s actually like. However, this is sort of “meh” on my end. Some parts of it are cool, I guess. Trip-hop is a cool genre, but I’d really rather listen to Massive Attack than this any day. It just feels a little repetitive after a while, honestly.
Slice The Cake – Odyssey to the West – “The Exile Part 2: The City of Destruction”
SH: The new Slice The Cake is awesome. Although I will readily admit that it tends to veer into melodrama at times and is too long to have a lot of lasting power as a full album, it’s a great slice (ha ha) of just what makes these guys so beloved on an international level. Despite the turmoil surrounding the release of this, I’ve been really digging on it, and I’m excited to hear what Jimmy has to say about what is one of the most interesting releases of the year in my opinion.
JM: Since joining in February (or was it January? It’s already getting away from me, apparently), I’ve seen the staff of Heavy Blog have a lot of varying opinions on a lot of music. However, I had never seen such a divide—or, rather, such a high contrast in opinion—until this album was released. It seems like people who like STC either hate or love this; very little in between.
I’ve never really listened to Slice (or heard of them until this album, for that matter), and upon listening to it I can understand why I haven’t bothered. In all fairness, it’s very well done, but I don’t think I could take listening to an entire album’s worth of this. Maybe an EP, though.
Cult of Luna & Julie Christmas – Mariner – “The Wreck of the S.S. Needle”
SH: Holy. Shit. I cannot get enough of this album. Cult of Luna is one of my favorite bands, and Julie Christmas’ previous bands, Made Out Of Babies and Battle of Mice, have both enraptured me with the combination of her fiery astral vocals and the dirty, detestable music. This single is unbelievably good because of the way the parties involved in this album have managed to fuse their sounds into something just totally different than anything either has done yet. I’m not going to be surprised at all if this is one of the most common top picks of this year.
JM: It seems like most of the writers on Heavy Blog have been repeatedly listening to this. I can definitely see why just from the lineup alone; Cult of Luna really killed it with their last album, Veritkal, so to see another new album from these guys—with a well-respected female vocalist added to boot—is, I bet, one of the highlights of 2016 for many people.
Honestly, though, I’m not quite sure what to think of Mariner at this point. This track is actually my first experience of it, though it’s on my more immediate list of stuff to listen to. Julie Christmas’s vocals are just weird, honestly. Not in a bad way, but still, just odd, as if Billy Holiday and Björk fused DBZ-style and subsequently fronted a metal band. There’s a lot of pain in her voice, and that can be an asset and a detriment.
Although I’m ambivalent at the moment, I cannot wait to listen to the rest of this album when I have a free moment.
The Ocean – Aeolian – “The City In the Sea”
SH: Although Anthropocentric is my favorite album of theirs, Aeolian is a pretty close second. This opening track throws everything good about this band’s older sound together into a raging storm, and their undeniable hardcore punk influence really shines through: it’s an intense, visceral combination, and I’ve listened to it on the way to class practically every day this week to wake myself up.
JM: This is actually the only Ocean album I haven’t owned/listened to, though I’ve wanted to. I’m sort of mad that I haven’t now, because this is pretty rad! I love the noisy synths the band uses in the background; it definitely adds another dimension of sound onto the band’s sound. The changes in tempo and mood are also interesting changes that I definitely enjoy, especially when listening to post-metal, which, in my mind, can be a little repetitive sometimes.
Jimmy’s Grid & Simon’s Comments
Simon Handmaker: Immediately upon seeing the playlist ahead of me, the first thing I thought was “hell yeah! no metal,” and that’s for good reason: I need to expand my auditory palate. Going to college and being surrounded by people who have amazing taste, little ol’ me in the corner with my very small scope was confused and a little worried I wouldn’t be able to find anyone super cool to talk to (thankfully, that has not been the case). I’m also not particularly into classic or well-recognized stuff; I’m way too involved in underground shit for my own good. I really haven’t had much chance to talk to Jimmy yet about music that isn’t just whatever the whole staff is talking about (i.e., The Body or Cult Of Luna), so it’s gonna be fun taking a gander at his music like this.
Thundercat – The Golden Age of Apocalypse – “Daylight”
Jimmy Mullet: I’ve been really digging anything with Flying Lotus’s fingerprints lately, and his contributions to Thundercat’s music is awesome. But let’s not forget the star, Thundercat himself. The man’s a cool singer and one hell of a bass player that has really rewritten the rulebook on jazz fusion/nu-jazz/what have you. “Daylight” is only the beginning of what is one of the best modern jazz albums albums I’ve ever heard.
Simon Handmaker: Thundercat is an artist I’ve been wanting to check out more, both based on the new supergroup featuring him, Shabazz Palaces, and Flying Lotus, and because of pressure from friends to give him a listen. This is awesome, and I’m definitely gonna be checking it out more: the wavy, pulsing synths and basswork are great, and the super obvious FlyLo contributions take this to a whole new level.
David Bowie – Blackstar – “Blackstar”
JM: I don’t understand why exactly I like this album, but I do. Every time I listen to it, it grows on me just a little more, like a friendly musical parasite. The title track, however, is the epitome of what Blackstar has to offer for me, from the kooky, Scott Walker-esque beginning, to its strange-as-hell video. I can almost guarantee this will be high on my AOTY list later this year.
SH: Okay, there’s no easy way to say this without sounding like a huge dick, but I’ve honestly never been a big Bowie fan. Obviously, I appreciate his contributions to music and I think he’s an absolutely incredible musician, but his voice has always struck me the wrong way and I can never put my finger on exactly what it is. Anyway, this is an amazing track, but, once again, Bowie’s voice just irritates my sensibilities in some way. If I could find an instrumental version of this album, it would probably be one of my favorite releases of the year.
Billy Joel – Piano Man – “Captain Jack”
JM: Good old Billy. No artist lately has spoken to me through music and lyrics as much as Mr. Joel. “Captain Jack,” while not my favorite Joel song, has the most interesting lyrics for me. Every time I hear the song, I can see the story that he must’ve seen when he was writing it, with adult children, trying to find themselves, but becoming more and more lost in a haze of drugs and onanism. It’s a powerful message that cuts through to me every time I hear it.
SH: My dad’s a huge Billy Joel fan, so I’ve heard quite a lot of his stuff. While I appreciate him for what he is, he’s never been in my regular rotation, and this just sort of affirms why: a lot of older, less experimental music (by modern standards, anyway) just really doesn’t do anything for me, outside of a select few bands, and unfortunately, Billy Joel just isn’t in that handful of groups. It’s nice to be reminded of my dad, though, since if college has done one thing for me, it’s made me able to appreciate my parents a whole hell of a lot more than I ever did when I lived with them. I should call my dad today.
Death Grips – No Love Deep Web – “No Love”
JM: Death Grips was one of the first hip-hop groups that I really listened to (thanks again to Scott Murphy). If it wasn’t for their mixtape Ex-Military and their debut The Money Store, I probably wouldn’t be as into hip-hop and rap as I am now. And although I prefer Money Store over the later DG albums, I still think that “No Love” is a solid, badass song
SH: I’ve really not been a big fan of anything Death Grips has done after their first two albums. Exmilitary and The Money Store are great, but nothing they’ve put out since has grabbed my attention at all: it all just feels like they have nothing left to say and just want to do weird shit just to be weird and edgy. It’s more grating than anything, and while I realize that No Love Deep Web is considered to be their best, to me it just sounds like “ooga booga, we’re Death Grips, we’re here to be different and alternative,” and I have so much trouble getting behind how pointless it all feels.
The Weeknd – Trilogy – “The Zone”
JM: I really dug the Weeknd’s latest album, Beauty Behind the Madness, to the point that it was probably my favorite album of 2015. However, I do miss the old days when it was just his mixtapes out. I always felt like The Weeknd had this special type of spooky R&B, as if, like, Michael Jackson and The Haxan Cloak had collided into each other. “The Zone” probably isn’t the best example of that, but considering the current state of R&B, it’s a pretty far reach into left field, which I highly admire.
SH: The Weeknd is an artist that I have definitely heard quite a lot about; that being said, I have not listened to him (at least, to my knowledge). I’ve been missing out, big time. This is a huge amount of what I love about R&B pushed up against the sort of weirdly despondent, spaced-out trappy vibe that I get from artists like Lil Ugly Mane and Future, and the atmosphere this track makes is pretty much exactly what I want from some rainy day easy listening. Definitely going to be coming back to this in the future.
Amon Tobin – Permutation – “Bridge”
JM: Listen to me: drum and bass and jazz. On paper it looks weird, but it sounds so damn cool. “Bridge,” I think, best represents that sound, too, as it cuts between some hardcore DNB and well placed jazz sample. Amon Tobin is a genius of a producer, considering that this album was from the early end of his career. Since then, Tobin has reinvented himself as a producer with a voice so singular that it’s sad he doesn’t get much more attention.
SH: I’m always interested in weird genre fusions, and D&B + jazz seems like one that’s right up my alley. The first thing to come to mind is last year’s excellent Jaga Jazzist record, Starfire, which fluidly fused EDM with modern jazz in a bizarre and eclectic mashup that left my jaw on the floor the first time I heard it. This is great; the way everything fuses together into a piece that is surprisingly straightforward given how disparate the parts of it are totally surprised me and the overall dirty, urban vibe feels totally apt for the warm Chicago night during which I’m writing this.
Stevie Wonder – Talking Book – “You Are the Sunshine of My Life”
JM: In my mind, I have a list of songs that can brighten my day no matter what. Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On” is on there, as is almost every track of Billy Joel’s The Stranger. But no song in that list makes me quite as happy as “You Are the Sunshine of My Life.” This is could honestly be my favorite song, ever. Wonder’s vocals give me shivers—you can literally feel the care and passion in his voice as he sings.
SH: My younger brother has an odd proclivity for Stevie Wonder, given that just about everything else he listens to is either trap or EDM, but I totally understand why: this dude is fucking great. There’s a reason he’s been so lauded for so long, and this prime cut of his demonstrates that perfectly.
A Tribe Called Quest – The Low End Theory – “Vibes and Stuff”
JM: The fact that this pretty much coincided with Phife Dog’s passing is just a coincidence. I honestly didn’t even know who Phife Dawg was until l saw the announcement of his passing in the news. For me, A Tribe Called Quest was (and still is) a tough listen for me—the flow is a little lackluster, compared to other hip hop groups (AHEM, Wu-Tang) and the production could be a little boring sometimes. It took me a long time to really enjoy Low-End Theory, but it’s been worth every step.
SH: If you haven’t noticed from past stuff I’ve written or my “What We’re Listening To” grids, I love hip-hop and try to cultivate a good critical appreciation of it by listening to a diverse selection of albums. Somehow, I haven’t seriously sat down and visited ATCQ yet, even though I know through word of mouth and the odd track here and there that they’re absolutely amazing. Really, I don’t have much to say about this cut: it’s a great track, but we all know that by now, and I don’t want to harp on it too much for risk of being redundant.
The Beatles – On Air: Live At The BBC, Volume 2 – “Roll Over Beethoven”
JM: I don’t know. It’s The Beatles—what more do you want? I know that some people think they’re very overrated—and I agree with them to a point—but I really can’t imagine my life without John, Paul, George, and Ringo. I’ve listened to them since I was a kid, and that nostalgia will never wear off for me. They may not be my favorite artists, but they’re like a music safety blanket—always available when you need them.
SH: I have never liked The Beatles. My friend Morgan wrote a huge paper on them my senior year of high school, from which I gained a good degree of insight into them as a band (another friend of mine did the same sort of paper for Journey, who I have since grown to love (make whatever judgements you want about that)), but nothing’s been enough for me to actually enjoy them yet. Sure, I appreciate them, and this track is fun, I guess, but in my opinion, little they’ve done amounts to anything near what their contemporaries were up to at the time.