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:
Rachel Ana Dobken – Detach
One of my greatest pleasures of writing for this site is having the opportunities to talk about and promote the music of people I’ve gotten to know personally and respect tremendously as artists. Such is the case with singer-songwriter, guitarist, and yes, drummer, Rachel Ana Dobken. Hailing from the same collection of buildings and woods in the middle of NY State called Bard College as yours truly, Dobken blends an intoxicating concoction of jazzy soulfulness and indie rock janglyness that often calls to mind the earlier work of St. Vincent and the more recent output of Fiona Apple. Her debut EP Detach just came out this past week, and if any of what I’ve just written are things that appeal to you, then this EP will satiate your needs and then some.
The four tracks present here walk a fine line between poppy accessibility and brainy jazz progressions/breaks, often resulting in a sense of knowing where a song is going to go only to have those expectations upended. Opener “24” is a smooth and summery ode to love at an age when you feel just old enough to know better and yet still figuring some important things out, oscillating between a light and sunny groove and driving choruses. The sultry “Loner” starts off as a somewhat typical bluesy ballad before gradually swelling into a proggy jazz monster featuring a killer guitar solo (courtesy of Ryan MacLean, another Bard graduate whose sheer talent makes me downright angry at times) and a modulated chord resolution in the climax that shouldn’t work but somehow does and just heightens the tension of the entire thing. And closer “Receive” jumps frequently between a bouncy rock waltz and a show-stopping jazz ballad.
Dobken’s gorgeous vocals are ultimately the glue that hold the entire thing together, particularly on “Loner” and “Receive,” where the rawness and power of her voice feel right on the edge of overwhelming her but manage to elevate the music to their emotionally-charged climaxes. It’s the sound of someone who doesn’t just have a pretty, vibrato-filled voice, but an actual soul behind it. Detach is equal parts heart, soul, and brain, presenting a formula that will surely serve her well for years to come.
Karmakanic – DOT
70’s progressive rock worship is a tricky sub-genre. By which I mean, that it’s terrible and most bands within it fall completely flat on their face while trying to emulate some of the greatest bands to have ever made music. Enslaved to the misconceptions surrounding that era, they misplace what made the music of the time great. Instead of placing it within the honesty, musical variety and compositional strengths of the musicians, they imagine it to be in over the top technicality and flamboyant epicness.
However, there a few bands that avoid all that and make great music, as good as some of the albums released in the 70’s. Dark Suns, The Flower Kings and more make that same brand of honest, happy-go-lucky rock that has enshrined that decade into the collective unconscious. Karmakanic, to those unfamiliar, is another one of the those bands. They were founded by Jonas Reingold, The Flower Kings’ bassist. Together with other great musicians, they make straightforward, progressive rock. Their Who’s the Boss in the Factory is a superb album and one of my personal favorites.
Apparently, without much fuss, the band are planning to release another album this year, DOT. Awash in the Carl Sagan like ideas that the name hints at, DOT is yet another strong release from the band. You won’t get anything you’re not expecting here: vocal melodies, long tracks (the longest being almost twenty four minutes) and plenty of cheese. However, if you like all of the above then you definitely need to check out this album when it comes out. Karmakanic have always been moved by a sincere passion instead of just a desire to copy or emulate. This is their own music and it works.
The bass lines are of course delicious. The main track, “God, the universe and everything else no one really cares about”, the fretless bass lines of Reingold are like faint brush strokes, filling in the spaces around the guitars and vocals. The vocals themselves are informed by the familiar choir mentality, channeling Yes or Genesis. In general, the latter is the to go comparison here: the expansive concepts, the role of the synths, the style of drumming, all scream of Genesis. And, again, if you’re looking for that, you should definitely check this album out. It’s a fun, soothing, moving frolic in an age long gone. And I’m not talking about just the 70’s: DOT has a fantastical edge to it that will take you into many, non-existent places.
Classixx – Faraway Reach
The music Michael David and Tyler Blake create as Classixx is truly a product of their surroundings. High school friends and LA natives, the duo channel the lush, breezy feeling of finding bliss under the California sun, all while crafting some of the most infectious dance tunes in modern electronic music. Their debut Hanging Gardens (2013) established a firm foundation for their sound and garnered well-deserved intrigue, something that I questioned a bit once the duo announced the track listing for Faraway Reach earlier this year. Classixx and Disclosure were once tied for my favorite modern dance act, a bit of friendly-competition that changed once Disclosure dropped Caracal last year. Presumably in an attempt to go bolder with their sophomore record, Disclosure maximized the star power by including guest spots from Sam Smith (whom they helped to popularize through their first collab “Latch”), Miguel, Lorde and The Weeknd, among others. But in the process, they largely abandoned their focused mastery of house music, instead opting for mid-paced, mediocre R&B beats. It was an enormous disappointment for me, which is what caused me to worry when David and Blake alluded to a similar tactic with their own sophomore offering. Some of the feature spots intrigued me (Passion Pit, How to Dress Well) while others concerned me a great deal, namely how the fuck T-Pain is going to fit into a Classixx track.
But as soon as “Grecian Summer” began to unfold, any anxiety I had about Faraway Reach immediately faded away. The track has such an inherent feel of déjà vu, almost as if you’ve heard it before but are pleasantly surprised by sections you’d forgotten existed. And thankfully, Classixx’s staple gauzy synth tones continue after “Grecian Summer” closes out, and each ensuing track reminded me exactly why I loved Hanging Gardens so much. And while the duo aren’t afraid to slow down the BPM, they never lose sight of their central sound when doing so. With some help from De Lux, the band make for a light, danceable transition on “In These Fine Times,” warming up for the ensuing tracks. Pacing is one of Classixx’s strongest traits; David and Blake know exactly when the listener needs a cool, summer breeze and when they need an excuse to let loose on a crowded beach during Spring Break. Most surprising of these moments is “Just Let Go,” a track I’d assumed would be a slower jam considering How to Dress Well’s typical style. But Tom Krell tosses aside his crooning R&B comfort zone and belts atop an absolute banger of a beat, making for an invigorating song enhanced by Krell’s inherent vulnerability. It’s the kind of club track that inspires dancing but provides even greater depth during a sit-down listen. But the biggest shock by far is the T-Pain dominated track “Whatever I Want;” not because it’s good, but because it’s one of the best songs on the album. Classixx essentially crafted an adjacent rendition of the eminent Kanye West-T-Pain collab “Good Life,” never losing their signature style but providing T-Pain with the perfect background for a carefree summer jam.
I’ m starting to ramble at this point, mainly because Faraway Reach is one of those albums that lacks filler and warrants discussion of each track. At just twelve tracks, it’s a concise listen that packs in a enormous of quality in a short period of time. There’s no other word for Faraway Reach bu “fun,” and anyone in need of a fantastic dance record need not search anywhere else.
clipping. – Wriggle
With frontman Daveed Diggs busy participating in one of the most popular Broadway musicals in recent memory, Hamilton, new clipping. material seemed like it was nothing more than a distant dream. However, it would seem that Diggs winning a Tony for his performance in Hamilton convinced the group that it was time for a little something new. The harsh noise rap group dropped their new EP Wriggle without warning, leaving us with six new tracks to deconstruct and digest. Though the title implies otherwise, this EP sees clipping. being quite comfortable in not only their niche, but also this compact format.
Would it be a clipping. release without an a cappella intro? The only noises present besides Diggs voice are the ambiance of a hustling and bustling city, complete with cars accelerating, the chirps of various bugs and police sirens. A vivid sonic portrait to match the one being painted lyrically, with mentions of a city with a dark heart and being nothing more than the drop in the bottom of a bucket that everyone is clamoring to climb out of. As the track ends, we’re greeted with the groups signature intro phrase “It’s clipping, bitch.” and a dense wall of white noise, acting as a brick through the listeners mental window.
“Shooter” walks through the shattered glass sounding like a warped DJ Mustard beat, with deep, warbling bass hits that sit in-between the various clicks and clacks guns make when they’re loaded, shot or dropping bullets to the ground. There’s a feeling of unease throughout the track, which is offset by Diggs delivering punchline after punchline in his raps. For example: “Caught his ass on demand: Netflix” are the type of bars in this track, but the song manages to keep an overall tone of serious danger/queasiness in the face of these joking lines.
“Back Up” starts with, funnily enough, the sound of a truck backing up, which is overtaken by booming percussion and scattered stings of distortion. ANTWON delivers an okay verse that doesn’t really say too much, while Signor Benedick the Moor delivers a fun, charismatic verse about crackheads. By the time Diggs comes in, a majority of the track has turned to distortion and also lost a little bit of focus along the way. This song is arguably the weakest on the EP, but even weak clipping. is still fairly enjoyable.
The title track “Wriggle” kicks off with a Whitehouse sample that asks “Can you wriggle like an eel?” This sample is chopped up and used in various parts of the song for multiple purposes. This song pulses with life for its whole duration, never giving the listener a second to breathe. It feels like your brain is running through a hallway that has strobes going at full force in order to occupy your mind as the hallway grows more and more narrow. It gives off the impression of a more conventional Death Grips song at times. Diggs rapping about prostitution at breakneck speeds fits the atmosphere of the track perfectly.
“Hot Fuck No Love” is the most down and dirty track on the EP, featuring Maxi Wild speaking throughout about doing quite a few naughty things that she doesn’t expect to be called back for doing. This whole track feels dirty, with gritty subbass and a dancing beat that twitters through your ears to simulate the pleasure that’s being experienced lyrically. Diggs’ lyrics about hot fucking with no love show how over the top and aggressive the subject matter is, with the lyrical cherry on top being the excellent, somehow even more aggressive verse from Cakes da Killa.
The last track on the EP, “Our Time” is the best closing track the group has in their discography hands down. It opens with toy piano-esque notes and sees Diggs rapping, even singing a little bit, about two different people who aren’t exactly ready to let go of each other. He does all this over drifting white noise that can’t seem to stay in one place for more than a few seconds, with hi-hats and other percussive stabs of distortion rattling throughout. Nailah Middleton sings beautifully over a line of white noise that moves up and down in pitch, only breaking for a second verse from Diggs. After that Nailah sings into the abyss as she becomes cloaked in distortion, her voice staying clear, while everything around her explodes and gets louder and louder until the end of the track. This song feels so fleshed out and realized, which makes it the perfect note to go out on.
This EP proves that clipping. do very well in the short form, staying mostly focused on bringing songs that are well worth repeat listens. When a group releases an EP, sometimes it can feel like a throwaway project to satiate fans until the next full-length. Luckily, this EP is anything but throwaway. As a matter of fact, what the group has crafted here is essential. It provides the fans with new music, while also providing the group for a road map for where the group should go next. If you haven’t gotten the message as to what rap group is going to be around and enjoyable for quite awhile, here’s a hint: It’s clipping., bitch.