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 always seems to be listening to something that makes you do a mental 180; he has a lot of really well-developed tastes in a neat variety of genres. Last time I did a swap with him, though, I wasn’t too crazy about most of what he had to offer. I don’t think I hated any of it, but not much seemed to jump at me. Fortunately, that’s not the case this time; Simon’s been listening to some interesting tunes in a nice variety of genres. I may not have liked everything in his grid, but he nonetheless had some really cool music for me to try out. Better yet, some of it is new, which means there’s some potential AOTY material for me to check out!
Torche – Restarter – “Minions”
SH: Recently, I’ve been listening to this band a lot, and although this was my album of the week from them, Harmonicraft has been in my rotation for a solid month now, which is longer than a lot of albums tend to last. Torche’s light-hearted take on sludge metal is just too much damn fun to not be in my summer rotation, even if their albums are typically a little light on substance.
JM: I’ve known about Torche for some time, but I don’t think I’ve ever really listened to them; I was just never interested enough to try, honestly. This song pretty much reaffirms that. I don’t think this is bad at all—it really isn’t—it’s just something that I’ve heard other bands do better. If I want that sludgy/stoner sound, I could listen to Kylesa or Mastodon, or, hell, even Baroness.
I will give Torche their just due, though: the album artwork for Harmonicraft is friggin great. Definitely one of the most metal album covers ever illustrated.
The Fall Of Troy – OK – “401k”
SH: I’ve been a big fan of The Fall Of Troy for quite some time now, and I don’t think why they’ve maintained such relevance after the heyday of their brand of techy post-hardcore ended some 5-odd years ago at the absolute latest is really much of a secret: they find the perfect combination of teenage angst and interesting music. Add a bit of mathcore-esque technicality and some lighthearted self-awareness to the typical “woe is me” post-hardcore mentality and you’ve got a total winner. OK, their new comeback album, probably isn’t gonna end up topping my best-of lists anytime soon, but it’s a fun album that I certainly find myself revisiting a lot, and “401k” is far and away my favorite track from it.
JM: I had no idea what to expect from this. I’ve heard of Fall Of Troy, but I never knew what type of music they played. Honestly, I like this! It’s like a lighter Dillinger Escape Plan, or as if Every Time I Die and Mastodon had like combined. (I just hear a lot of those bluesy, banjo-ish licks that dominated early Mastodon stuff.) But it’s a lot more than just that. Some electronic stuff too, which I’m never not against having in a song. And, seriously, this thing came out this year? How the hell did I miss this? Thank you, Simon, for pointing this out to me!
Kylesa – Time Will Fuse Its Worth – “Where The Horizon Unfolds”
SH: Since their breakup, I’ve been trying to collect every Kylesa album, or at the very least, their most recent five of seven (not to say I don’t like the self-titled or To Walk A Middle Course, they just don’t hold the same emotional weight for me). The first record that really sticks out to me, Time Will Fuse Its Worth is a bundle of sludge-metal goodies that show the band really spreading their wings for the first time. This track isn’t necessarily anything out of the ordinary for Time Will Fuse but I have a soft spot for their groovier tracks, of which this is definitely one.
JM: I’ll never say no to a chance to listen to some Kylesa. Although I’m not nearly as well versed as Simon is in their discography (I really only know Shadow Spiral and Ultraviolet), they’ve been a band that has never disappointed me when I randomly decide to listen. “Where the Horizon Unfolds” is no different. It’s a little muddier and heavier than the Kylesa I’m used to, but that doesn’t mean I like it any less. I’ll take that Savannah sludge anytime! I’ll have to make a mental note to give entire catalog a listen sometime.
Vektor – Terminal Redux – “Liquid Crystal Disease (LCD)”
SH: I should preface this by saying I’m not really a thrash metal fan at all. That being said, I still checked this out, mostly to see what all the hubbub is about, and I definitely wasn’t disappointed: this is a great album from a band that consistently releases great stuff, and the monolithic technicality of their approach is, to put it simply, fucking awesome. I can’t really see myself revisiting this much, though, because of how enormous this album is, especially considering the fact that it’s kinda balls to the wall for the whole thing. It’s a 70-minute experience, and while that’s super rad, it’s just not something I really have the time for. I honestly just picked this track because it was the first one I heard and consequently it’s the one that’s stuck with me the best.
JM: People are really getting psyched about this album, and theoretically I can see why—it’s a high-concept progressive thrash album that has over an hour’s worth of material on it from a band that has a pretty awesome reputation for releasing good material. However, I don’t really see this album living up to the hype (like that’s a surprise); this is just pretty meh thrash to me. The vocals are a little annoying to listen to, and guitars aren’t bad, but they aren’t anything that makes me want to listen more. Even if I was interested in the concept—which I’m not—I wouldn’t be able to understand it, anyway, since the vocals basically make it incomprehensible. Lets not forget how long it is, too. I’ve actually tried to listen to Terminal Redux a few times before, but couldn’t even make it through the first track because I was so bored.
Maybe I just need to sleep on this album and come back to it at a later time, but as of now I’m not a fan (though I can see why people like it). (I can pretty much see the amount of hate I’m going to get for saying all that, but whatever.)
Swans – The Seer – “The Seer Returns”
SH: This past week, listening to The Seer, was the first time I actually sat down and listened to a Swans album in full. I’ve listened to a few tracks here and there, but I hadn’t taken the plunge because nothing had really stuck out to me much until someone played me “Avatar” and I had a bit of a “holy shit” moment. While I can’t say that at this point I’m a total convert to the Swans camp at all, I found this to be a really cool listen, even if it’s not necessarily something I would jock on the regular because of its monolithic length. “The Seer Returns” is definitely my favorite track because of the super cool Western influences and the rattling, jangly folky sound. It reminds me of Johnny Cash focused through the prism of Bees Made Honey-era Earth.
JM: The Seer as a whole took me a while to enjoy (like, three years), but I freaking love it now. “The Seer Returns” is one of the cooler tracks in my opinion; I like the cool rhythm, and how the music doesn’t get boring, despite being repeated for basically the whole six minutes of this track track. Gira is pretty creepy sounding in this, and I like the slight Western influence that’s brought into this song—it’s just enough to give it a rustic flavor without overwhelming the song.
Home – Before The Night – “Pyxis”
SH: Although I’m not into EDM stuff or “harder” electronic music, I absolutely love more downtempo, relaxed stuff like Home. Before The Night is a pretty good chillwave release, and “Pyxis” showcases just what makes that so: warbling retro synths over modern electro kicks and a groovy bassline make for a good time. It’s not a hard equation.
JM: I think I’ve heard of Home somewhere before this…the name definitely rings a bell, but I don’t know where from. Anyway, this isn’t bad—in fact, it’s pretty rad. I think I’ve mentioned on one of these swaps before that I’m a sucker for that quintessential 80s New Wave synth sound. This is a cool, very singular reinterpretation of that sound. I’ve always found synthwave to be pretty awesome since I discovered it, but this is a little different; it’s airier and lighter, much less intense.
The only bad thing I have to say is that I’m not sure how much I could listen to it; “Pyxis” in particular has this tinge of melancholy to it, like it’s the night before graduation, and everything’s about to change, and you try to hold on, but you just can’t let things be static. I have to really be in the right mood to listen to this, or I’ll probably ball my eyes out while spinning it.
Summoning – Minas Morgul – “The Passing Of The Grey Company”
SH: Atmospheric black metal and folk black metal (also known as pagan black metal) are both fantastic genres in my opinion, and epic black metal like Summoning is where both intersect in a pretty odd way. It’s a lot more methodical and melodic than most other subgenres under the black metal umbrella, with a focus on that really “epic” feel (hence the name) that only comes from slowing things down and letting songs unfold in a much different way.
Minas Morgul is, at least from my understanding, the album that really brought this genre to fruition, and as such, worth visiting for that reason alone. It’s also a great black metal album, if a little long-winded and meandering at times (but hey – what do you expect from something based on Lord of the Rings?). With the shorter tracks, you can’t really get that trve epic vibe, which is why I picked one of the longest songs on here.
JM: You had to pick the second longest song in this album, didn’t you, Simon? I’m just kidding; I really don’t care—it’s fun to listen to new music. I can’t say that I expected this song to start or even sound like it does. I can’t even tell if that’s a synth or a bagpipe or a clavichord or something at the beginning.
However, it’s not bad. This is some strangely written black metal for sure, but it just works somehow. Listening to it almost makes me want to read LOTR again. Almost. My one complaint about this song is the production and the mixing; the synth/bagpipe/thing is a bit too high, and its general sound clashes a little with the wall of guitar and generally the rest of the sound of the album. (In all fairness, black metal’s production, despite being a signature element of the genre, has always been a bit of a issue with me.) Still, though, this is a really cool interpretation of Tolkien’s work.
Negura Bunget – OM – “Dedeseptul”
SH: Negura Bunget is a weird, weird band, and the middle third of OM is probably where their oddball approach to songwriting most comes out. “Dedeseptul” is a perfect example of this: a winding tornado of folk instruments and avant-garde black metal come together to form something that’s both weird and intriguing (at least for me).
JM: This is some cool black metal (at least, I think it’s black metal), albeit a little odd on the songwriting. While “The Passing of the Grey Company” was weird, it was predictable; this, on the other hand, feels almost schizophrenic. It goes places where I never imagined it to go. Not that that’s a bad thing; it’s nice to be surprised every now and then.
The addition of folk instrumentation to the song really makes me want to check out this band a little more, too; I’ve always thought that black metal and folk music have an interesting relationship, and it’s cool to see those elements mixed together here.
Perturbator – The Uncanny Valley – “She Moves Like A Knife”
SH: Retrowave is awesome, no ifs, ands, or buts. The musical equivalent of 80s nostalgia, the combination of pulsing drumbeats and analog synths makes for music that feels exciting yet grim, capturing that unique cyberpunk feel of classic 80’s action/sci-fi films like Blade Runner. Although Perturbator isn’t my favorite artist in the genre by any means, I definitely enjoy him, and this new album certainly shows off just what makes synthwave/retrowave such a great genre of electronic music. “She Moves Like A Knife” is an instantly catchy banger that represents all of Uncanny Valley‘s high points.
JM: I remember watching the “Femme Fatale” music video and really liking both the video and the song, but when I listened to Uncanny Valley, it just didn’t feel the same. Something seemed forced, like this was just a uninspired parody of synthwave (which is in itself a parody, if you really think about it).
This track, however, really makes me relisten to this album, because I was obviously wrong in my first impression. It’s a lot more intense than that Home song from before, but it’s just cool. It sounds like how I’d want Neuromancer or like any early cyberpunk novel to sound like.
Jimmy’s Grid & Simon’s Comments
Simon Handmaker: Once again, Jimmy’s grid has left me a mixed bag of emotions: on the one hand, what I enjoy here is stuff I totally love, but what I doesn’t strike my fancy certainly makes up a sizable chunk of this. I love swapping with Jimmy, though, because his taste is so different from mine and so very, very interesting, and it’s always a pleasure for me to listen to the tracks he’s chosen for a variety of reasons. He starts and ends on familiar ground for me, but the middle is a pretty wild ride that I was definitely happy to experience.
Eyedea & Abilities—First Born—“Birth of a Fish”
JM: Eyedea & Abilities is probably my favorite hip-hop duo. I have such huge respect for them that I plan on one day writing a biography on the late Eyedea (nee Matthew Larsen). Even though they didn’t last as long as they should’ve (releasing only three albums), they managed to stretch the boundaries of their genre in such a way that no one else could replicate it.
While I’m more partial to their last album By The Throat, I always like to listen to the other E&A albums. This album—and, in particular, this song—has a weird production style combined with great beats and some pretty cool (and slightly satirical) lyrics, with an excellent flow to bring the entire thing together.
SH: Anything Rhymesayers/Def Jux is gold in my eyes. That label can do no wrong, and Eyedea & Abilities is perhaps the best way in which they went right (bar my personal favorite rap artist, Aesop Rock). This is a dope track, and I love the message behind it – like, open your eyes, man, and change your perspective, you know? In all seriousness, I really do love when Eyedea gets a little more personal with his rhymes, because the messages he delivers are not only good ones but extremely well-articulated.
Merzbow & Gareth Davis—Atsusaku—“Haihan”
JM: This year has been my year to get into Merzbow, I guess. His previous release this year, Kouen Kyoudai, really took me by surprise, and this album is no different.
For those that expect nothing but literal noise from Merzbow—you’re sort of right. It is noise, but there’s so much more embedded into than just that. I like to think of it as the sonic equivalent of a Pollock painting; if you’re going to take it at face value, you’re sort of missing the point. You need to give it time and look for the little details that pop out at you.
SH: Well, it’s Merzbow. What you expect going in is certainly what you get, and this isn’t an exception to that. I do love me some harsh noise, though, so this was fun to listen to, if not something I’d see myself revisiting much in the future. Brevity is an important value to me with forms of music this challenging to the ears, so I can’t say I enjoyed this past around the 3- or 4- minute mark.
Billy Joel—Songs in the Attic—“Los Angelenos”
JM: I know, blah blah blah, Billy Joel, blah. I love the guy. Enough said about that. “Los Angelenos,” though, is an underrated song by the guy. If you’re sick of “Piano Man” and “It’s Still Rock and Roll,” this is a good alternative. I especially like Billy’s songwriting here; it’s a bit of a change in emphasis (since the title and the main themes are really in the verses rather than the chorus), and just a solid song. His live version on Songs in the Attic is probably my favorite version of the song as well, as he brings a lot of passion into his performance.
SH: There’s really nothing I can say about Billy Joel that somebody else hasn’t said in a more eloquent and touching fashion. I always love a chance to listen to some older classic stuff I don’t really ever get around to, so I’m pretty glad Jimmy gave me this chance to do just that. This is certainly a fun cut of his, but I don’t really ever find myself going back to Billy Joel and I don’t think this is going to change that at all.
Dead Can Dance—Dead Can Dance—“The Fatal Impact”
JM: I’m sort of wondering what Simon’s going to think of Dead Can Dance. I could see him either loving it or hating it, but nothing really in between.
I’m not as much of a fan of this album—the band’s debut—as their later albums, like Spiritchaser, Into the Labyrinth and Aion, but it’s still a cool journey to take every so often. If you’re a fan of Joy Division and interested in Dead Can Dance, this is actually a pretty good album to try; it has a lot of post-punk elements, but is so damn original in its presentation.
SH: This is, uh, something. I’m not really sure what to think of this; I’d need to hear it in the context of the full album. I don’t wanna say I love it just yet, but if I listened to the whole self-titled from these guys I could see this being something I really dig on occasion. Is it wrong to say this reminds me of a more melodic Swans?
Head Wound City—A New Wave of Violence—“Old Age Takes Too Long”
JM: I don’t remember where I had heard of Head Wound City, but when their debut came out a few weeks ago, I immediately put it on my “to listen” list, and I was pretty happy with what I heard. It’s like noisy hardcore played by indie rock musicians (which is actually the case, considering that there’s a member of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs in it). It hits hard, but it still remembers to be pretty interesting when it comes to songwriting. Just a good balance of elements altogether.
SH: I’ve heard a fair amount about this band, but this is the first time I’m actually sitting down and listening, and I’m diggin’ it for sure. I love me some yelling-screaming music, and this is just pure, unadulterated anger, ready to be released in a surge of glee. The grim synths lurking in the background before the first explosion are a great touch, and the rolling drums combined with the chunky rhythmic guitar remind me of Kylesa, which is never a bad thing. This definitely makes me think I need to sit down and actually listen to the full album this is from.
The Cure—Disintegration—“Pictures of You”
JM: Disintegration is considered the best Cure album, which I’m pretty much in agreement, though their Pornography album is a very close second for me. “Pictures of You,” though, is my favorite Cure song ever. There’s just something so dreamy and beautiful (and catchy) about it that I can’t help but listen to it like three or four times whenever I have Disintegration on.
SH: Man, I am really not a fan of The Cure. I don’t know what it is about them, but they just don’t speak to me the way they apparently do to so many. I can appreciate this track – and the band in general – for what they are and how they’ve affected music as a whole, but it’s just not my scene at all, and “Pictures of You” doesn’t really do anything to change my thoughts regarding this classic group.
John Zorn—Lucifer: Book of Angels Vol. 10—“Sother”
JM: I’m still trying to figure out what I really think about this album. It basically consists of a string sextet, conducted by John Zorn, playing a mixture of klezmer music and improvisation (also written by Zorn). I mean, overall, it’s a cool album, and definitely worth one listen, but I’m not sure how much value would come from listening to it again, which is sort of a surprise considering the sheer depth of most of John Zorn’s work. The first few tracks are nice, but after a while it seems to work best as a soundtrack to writing a book about Israel. There’s nothing inherently wrong with the music; it just gets a little so-so after a while.
SH: My experience with John Zorn is limited to the album he did with Napalm Death (if you haven’t heard Utilitarian, check it out soon, it’s great), but he’s one of those artists I’ve had on the back burner for quite some time now. As a Jew, though, I totally have a soft spot for klezmer music, so this is really fun for me to hear. Plus, I always love the opportunity to listen to improvisational music. I do agree with Jimmy, though: I can’t see myself ever really coming back to this, since it’s not particularly deep or worth taking beyond face value.
[Note: sorry for the dubious quality of the youtube video here. Prince was pretty adamant about his music not being on streaming services, so this is the best we could find. Thanks for understanding. We love you.]
JM: It’s disheartening to hear that Prince has passed, but I think we have to admit that it’s been a while since he’s released some really good music, like this album. Just the first track of Controversy cements Prince’s place as an R&B megastar, and this isn’t even the best he’s done. I do, however, have a soft spot for Controversy; I love Prince’s use of wacky synths in it and the humor he uses in tracks like “Jack U Off.”
SH: Man, who doesn’t love Prince? He’s always fun to listen to, and this is certainly a track that shows off his strengths as both an instrumentalist and vocalist. I really don’t have much to say beyond that: this is a good track from a good artist. I’ll leave it at that rather than drag it out for any reason.
The Mars Volta—Frances the Mute—“L’Via L’Viaquez”
JM: A lot of people consider the best Mars Volta albums to be either this album or their debut Deloused in the Comatorium. I personally disagree with both—I like their Amputechture and Bedlam in Goliath albums much more—but I do have to admit that basically everything TMV put out was really solid (well, except for Octahedron and Nocturniquet, but let’s not talk about those, okay?), including Frances the Mute.
And “L’Via L’Viaquez”…God, you have to be completely heartless to not like this song. The band’s use of Latin elements, mixed with their general experimental tendencies, makes this not only one of the best songs the band’s ever written, but also a great gateway song if you have an urge to listen to Latin music.
SH: Jimmy’s wrong; Octahedron and Nocturniquet are great albums, even if they’re admittedly not up to the standard the band previously set for themselves. With that out of the way, I have to say: god, I fucking love this band. Everything they’ve ever done is pure gold, and the touches of Latin music take everything up a notch for some of the most enjoyable and interesting tunes ever given to the world of rock music. For me, it’s impossible to great their tracks just because everything is incomprehensibly good, but “L’Via L’Viaquez” is one of their best by any standard. Thanks for letting me end with this one, Jimmy.