Even a cursory glance of our biweekly “What Heavy Blog Is Really Listening To” posts (last week’s 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 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/people 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 writers Andrew Hatch and Jimmy Mullett together to peruse each other’s tastes, or, more aptly, to annoy each other with their horrible taste in music:
Andrew’s Grid and Jimmy’s Comments
Aryon—Rebels of the Night—“Metally Insane”
Andrew: I’ve been on a bit of a NWOBHM/thrash binge lately. I could’ve given Jimmy a couple more albums to listen to, but I decided not to inundate him. Even though it’s probably not the best song on the album, “Mentally Insane” showcases my favorite part of this era of metal. It kicks off the album’s B side with a rip-roaring solo and keeps the foot on the gas pedal all the way through with energetic performances from the whole band.
Jimmy: It took me some heavy searching to this album. How Andrew even managed to find this album is beyond me; I guess he spends a lot of time on Encyclopedia Metallum or something? I mean this is an 80s metal band that released a demo and the album containing this song, and that’s it. Anyway, “Metally Insane” was a nice throwback for those days when I’d listen to more traditional, heavy metal like Judas Priest; it’s full of shredding guitar, and you can’t go wrong with that. I don’t think I’d listen to the entire album, though—the production is a little weak (though that could’ve been the YouTube video’s fault) and I can always fall back on some Priest if I really feel like it.
Derek and the Dominos—Layla and Other Love Songs—“Little Wing”
Andrew: I remember when my dad played this revamped Jimi Hendrix song in the car to my brothers and me, trying to expose us young lads to “good music.” I thought it was okay. Now, “Little Wing” is emblematic of everything I love about blues rock: soulful lyrics, a psychedelic tinge, and expressionate, flowing, lead guitar.
Jimmy: I was hoping that Andrew would pick the obvious song in this album (“Layla”), but instead he picked a cover of the Hendrix song “Little Wing,” and I do love me some Hendrix. Overall, though, this wasn’t a bad track; I think I prefer Hendrix’s version, but this is a cool interpretation of a great song. And I do have to admit that Clapton is one hell of a guitarist, though I’d probably rather listen to Cream than this project.
Mark Gormley—Mark Gormley—“All We Need”
Andrew: That’s right. Mark Gormley. He somehow shot to Internet fame around 2010 for the awkward “Powerstance” the mom-jeans-sporting Gormley struts in the hilariously low budget greenscreen music video for his song “Without You”. But what The Gorm lacks in fashion sense and stage presence, he makes up for in songwriting chops and a unique, legitimately great voice. Despite the poor recording quality, “Gray Days” features Gormley’s emotionally charged voice over a somber acoustic guitar. Laugh at the video all you want, but this is a seriously fantastic song.
Jimmy: I don’t think I’ve ever really badmouthed a song on this playlist swap, but there’s a first for everything, I guess. Honestly, I don’t like to badmouth music in my writing on this site, because it does absolutely nothing helpful, but this…this was fucking horrible. I think to a lot of people this is a so-bad-it’s-good type of thing (think The Room put to music), but that irony is apparently lost on me. The production is shitty, Gormley’s voice is so weak and unnecessary that it sounds like a really poor Simon and Garfunkel impression, the song writing is bland and feels never-ending, and on top of is what might be the worst music video I’ve ever seen. I think the one good part (if there’s even such a thing with this dreck) is the guitar solo, but that’s just like polishing a turd; it’s a turd at the end of the day.
Nordjevel—Nordjevel—“Norges sorte himmel”
Andrew: This brilliant debut album shines the whole way through, but the closing track burns brighter than them all. Although aggressive and unrelenting, the song never gets lost in it’s own chaos. Bookended with short piano bits that contrast beautifully with the tremolo shredding contained within, “Norges sorte himmel” concludes an already fantastic effort by Nordjevel.
Jimmy: After the atrocity that was committed above, I was in desperate need of a palate cleanser. (Or just something to poke my eardrums out with.) I guess Nordjevel provided that with some admittedly decent black metal without all the extra bells or whistles on it that so many bands in that genre have at the moment. However, this is another black metal project that I’d probably skip on. The songwriting is okay, but there’s nothing that really hooks me and makes me want to listen to the entire album. But, hey, credit where credit is due.
Witch Vomit—A Scream From the Tomb Below—“Ripped From the Crypt”
Andrew: I don’t normally like this sort of death metal, with low, indiscernible growls and a crusty guitar tone, but leave it to Witch Vomit to cook up some yummy riffs in their first full-length release. “Ripped from the Crypt” begins with some frenzied “Raining Blood”-esque guitar wailing before descending into some surprisingly catchy riffs that make me smile.
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Jimmy: I thought that maybe with a name like Witch Vomit that this might be a grindcore act (it seems like a grindcore name, right?), but instead it’s some well-done doom-influenced death. (This isn’t exactly death-doom, in my opinion; it’s more on the death metal side of things.) Although there were some awesome parts to this song, and I definitely want to hear more, I was disappointed that the song just kind of up and ended. I wanted it to be just a little longer, because it seemed like the band had wrote themselves into a good place, but then decided to finish the whole shebang prematurely. Nonetheless, I’m going to make a note not to forget to check this album out in full later on.
Sigur Rós—Agaetis Byrjun—“Svefn-g-englar”
Andrew: I’ve never listened to Sigur Rós before this album, but I’m very glad I gave it a try. There’s something wordlessly beautiful about the ethereal sounds these Icelanders create. It’s a testament to the band’s ability that they have become renowned for emotional and moving songs, despite singing in a language almost none can understand.
Jimmy: I’ve always found Sigur Rós to be a little pretentious, what with the whole “Vonlenska” thing, but at the same time I highly respect their music. Jónsi‘s vocals can be a bit much after a while, though.
The same pretty much applies here; instrumentally I adore this song, but the vocals take me out a little bit.
Andrew: I grabbed this album from the library with somewhat subdued expectations, but I was pleasantly surprised. The album is chock-full of thick, buzzy riffs and is buoyed by vocalist Andrew Stockdale’s unique voice. “Tales” was my favorite track for it’s fun mix of power balladry and rad lead guitar effects.
Jimmy: I really like this album, actually, but it was tracks like this that eventually made me decide to sell my copy of it. Wolfmother makes such great energetic bluesy hard rock that even to slow down a little like in this track is sort of depressing. (I mean have you heard “Love Train?”) (Granted, this is actually one of the better slow songs because of those little hyper moments; I don’t think I ever got through the closer, “Vagabond because of how slow and sad it sounds to me.)
Pagan Altar—Judgment of the Dead—“Judgment of the Dead”
Andrew: Pagan Altar plays a pleasantly simple hybrid of doom and traditional heavy metal, and plays it well. Although the vocals aren’t great, Pagan Altar is saved by incredible guitar work from Alan Jones on just about every song. Mr. Jones is in peak form on “Judgement of the Dead”, dishing out heavy and lively riffs along with a solo that lifts the song into the stratosphere.
Jimmy: I usually expect doom metal to start off with some pretty heavy guitars, so it was a neat little change to have the intro of this song feature something slower and more melancholic before blasting into some Master of Reality-inspired riffs.
While I did like this song—honestly, the guitar is fucking awesome, totally up my alley—I still feel like other bands like Black Sabbath and St. Vitus play this style better. I think the main thing that brought me down was the vocals. When you have singers like Ozzy Osbourne and Messiah Marcolin playing in the same genre, though, you set the bar pretty high, and it can be tough to come close to it.
Metal Church—Metal Church—“Metal Church”
Andrew: Metal Church x 3 is everything I love about this era heavy metal. It’s over the top, with the wind-effects opening and the evil laugh and the lyrics, but the ridiculousness is backed by riffs worth their weight in gold. The undulating riff that threads through the song is one of the more irresistibly headbang-y riffs I’ve heard. The vocals are high pitched without sounding thin or weak, and the dueling guitar solos wrap everything up in a nice metal bow.
Jimmy: I never listened to Metal Church beyond this song, but this is a fucking awesome song so I don’t really care what else the band has to offer. From the beginning drum beat (very bouncy for a metal band, wouldn’t you say?) to the doom-y guitar riffs to the David Wayne’s insanely cool vocals, this song just kicks so much ass. I remember hearing it, oddly enough, at the Barcade in Brooklyn, and almost felt the urge to stand on the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles arcade game and wail the lyrics above all the other ruckus. This song was basically written with the phrase “horns up” in mind. What a great way to end Andrew’s grid.
Jimmy’s Grid and Andrew’s Comments
Painkiller—Execution Ground—“Parish of Tama”
Jimmy: I’ve talked about Painkiller before during my swap with Spencer, but that was on their debut EP(s) Buried Secrets and Guts of a Virgin. While I do love those releases, Execution Ground takes what had been already established—that is, an avant-garde sort of grindcore with plenty of free jazz influences—and effectively flips it on its head, replacing the micro-songs of the previous albums with tracks extending past ten minutes. I like that it still has that Painkiller sound (there’s really no turning that off with a guy like John Zorn on the helm), yet extends further into dub territory. Good stuff, if I do say so myself.
Andrew: The first thing I wrote in my notes about this song was “the saxophonist is being murdered”. I prefer my saxophonists mostly intact and playing the most accessible possible melodies, because I’ve never been able to cultivate an ear for jazz beyond enjoying some stuff from Buddy Rich’s big band (like “Channel One Suite”).The atonal chaos that is Execution Ground isn’t exactly friendly for jazz beginners.
Corrective Measure—S/T 7”—“No Acceptance”
Jimmy: I wrote about this band in the No Heroes in New England column for this week, and I still can’t believe how much I enjoy their music. It’s very much a continuation of 80s hardcore punk, but the sound itself isn’t what does it for me (though I do appreciate it)—rather, is the energy exuded from Corrective Measure’s instrumentation and the powerful, yet guttural, precision of singer Braden Sinclair. I think we’ve come to a point that the term “punk” has a lot of different meanings musically, but at its core all the punk subgenres are connected by this: the ireful energy involved in every single power chord strummed out.
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Andrew: Only in fucking hardcore could I accidentally listen to an entire EP. I’ve always disliked the shouting vocals in hardcore/punk, but everything else sounded great. The riffs were fun and the bass was surprisingly audible and interesting to hear. The production was the good kind of bad production, which is always a treat to hear. If only I didn’t hate the vocals, I would probably get into hardcore.
Nine Inch Nails—The Downward Spiral—“Closer”
Jimmy: You’ve either heard this song by now or you’ve been living in a cave for the past twenty or so years. Whether you actually like “Closer” is a different subject altogether, and I really don’t blame you if you’re not a fan; I personally see an analogue to what “Raining Blood” did for Slayer—it’s arguably their definitive song, but they have so much more great material beyond that single song. I’ll still stand by “Closer”, though (and “Raining Blood” for that matter), and the fucking sweet music video that was made for it as well.
Andrew: I’ve heard way too much about NIN to have never actually listened to their music. This song surprised me. I didn’t realize there was so much electronic influence in their music. For some reason, I’d always imagined their sound as closer to Rammstein. As interesting as this was to listen to, I didn’t enjoy very much of it. I’ve always had trouble liking this kind of restrained electronic music because it sounds so sparse. I did find myself liking the end, though, when things picked up a little.
John Coltrane—Meditations—“The Father, Son and the Holy Ghost”
Jimmy: I’m actually interested to see what Andrew thinks of later Coltrane, and of free jazz in general. I honestly wouldn’t be surprised (or offended) if he doesn’t like it; free jazz is not a particularly accessible genre, but Andrew has a strong sense of adventure, and some admirable determination to stick things out until the end, so who knows? I’ve always been a sucker for this track—and really this album—because of the way Coltrane essentially acts as Janus, keeping some familiar parts of more “traditional” jazz, yet pioneering ahead with free jazz at the same time.
Andrew: Uh oh, more jazz. Instead of a murder most vile, this time we open with the sweet symphony of New York at rush hour. Jokes aside, this has the same problem I’ve had with other jazz. There just doesn’t seem to be a melody to latch onto. To my untrained ears, it all just sounds like cacophony. I honestly do not think I could differentiate between jazz and notes generated at random.
John Zorn—The String Quartets—”Kol Nidre”
Jimmy: Named after (but compositionally different to) the chant/declaration that the Jewish people perform on the eve of Yom Kippur, John Zorn creates, in my opinion, an incredible depiction of Jewish culture with this string quartet. It’s a bit minimalist, but that only strengthens and puts more emphasis onto each note Zorn wrote. You sort of get a feeling of a culture that’s viewed as fragile but is in actuality resilient and, in a sense, unbreakable: a people that are proud of their roots and traditions to the point that they last to this day. This is the type of song that inspires me to explore my own Jewish heritage.
Andrew: Wow, this is really interesting. It sounds meditative – the violin note that plays constantly reminds me of a Tibetan singing bowl. I love how John Zorn arranges violins in a completely different way than I’ve ever heard before. The natural beauty of the strings’ timbre contrasted against the unnatural melody is captivatingly bittersweet. I’ll have to check this out further.
Jeff Beck—Blow By Blow—“Cause We’ve Ended As Lovers”
Jimmy: It’s been years since I had last listened to Blow By Blow, so it was a cool little reunion of sorts for me to play it again and discuss it in our last Jazz Club. Jeff Beck’s incredibly delicate phrasing makes this song hit home even faster, as if he’s reciting poetry with his guitar. “Cause We’ve Ended As Lovers” isn’t the most upbeat of tracks on Blow By Blow—that’d probably go to “Scatterbrain,” but there’s a lot of soul in it, and that’s what I particularly like to hear from a seasoned musician like Jeff Beck.
Andrew: Jeff Beck is yet another artist that I’ve heard lots of good things about, but have never gotten around to listening to. The guitar crooning fell a little flat for me at first because it didn’t seem to actually go anywhere – but once he really went to town on his guitar, I was able to get into the music a little bit. I wish I liked this more than I do.
Forndom—Dauora Dura—“Den grymma hästen”
Jimmy: This is yet another track where I can’t wait to see Andrew’s reaction. He’s expressed a lot of interest in a variety of metal (and music in general), so I wonder what he’ll think of something that’s so folk-influenced that it’s just barely metal. This is an album that will most likely be on my AOTY for 2016, just for sheer creativity and the ability of the band to express so much emotion with such limited instrumentation.
Andrew: The album art had me prepared for some really intense black metal. That was very not correct. There really isn’t much going on in this song on the surface, but I can tell there’s lots to dig into beneath the waves. I’m intrigued enough that I think I’ll return to this to see what multiple listens will unearth.
Billy Joel—Turnstiles—“Miami 2017 (I’ve Seen the Lights Go Out On Broadway”)
Jimmy: Blah blah blah Billy Joel blah. He’s great. Love the man’s music. More than that, though, this song has started to really speak to me as of late. Maybe it’s my interpretation of the track (in my defense, Joel actually reworded parts of “Miami 2017” depending on the current affairs of the world) but I’ve started to read it as not exactly a call to arms, but a call for integrity and bravery in a world dominated by humanity’s savagery towards itself and the resulting fear of said savagery. “They turned our power down / and drove us underground / but we went right on with the show.”
Andrew: Billy Joel! I don’t love every Billy Joel song, but he’s had a few gems. It’s too bad this one escaped my attention. I love the gorgeous piano running through the song, and Billy’s heartfelt vocals are easy to sing along with. This is a song I’ll be returning to. Thanks, Jimmy!
Miles Davis—Kind of Blue—“So What”
Jimmy: I don’t know how much jazz Andrew has listened to, but there’s no better place to start than this album. Aside from being considered the best-selling jazz album ever (the exact sales numbers are apparently murky at best), this is one of the most approachable albums in the genre as well. Hearing Miles’s solo always makes me think of New York at the time of its recording; full of hustle and bustle and new beginnings for people of all races, yet with a tiny little center cone of serenity for those who ventured to the jazz clubs on 52nd and in Harlem.
Andrew: Jimmy, I’m beginning to think you like jazz. This song was easier to latch onto than the other jazz tracks you assigned me. I think it’s partly because the slower pace allows time for me to digest what I’m hearing. There were scattered moments that I enjoyed, but it’s still going to be quite a while before I enjoy jazz, if ever.