With so much great music out there and so much music that our staff reviews (and plenty that we don’t), it can be difficult to keep up with it all and determine which releases are the most worth your time. Harnessing the wide-ranging and diverse tastes of our editorial staff, our monthly Editors’ Picks column is our gift to you to guide you towards the music that’s impacting us the most. You can read our picks from previous months right here.
It’s been a little bit since we did one of these, namely because we took the month off in June in favor of our big staff mid-year list. Thankfully, as we’ve entered the dog days of summer the quantity of stellar new albums to listen to has remained hot. We’ve got a wide selection of picks for you this month, ranging from jazz to prog to atmospheric black metal and far more. And as we’ve done the past few times we’ve done this, a list of other notable albums will be below, and a Spotify playlist of our top picks will be featured in the site’s sidebar. With that, let’s get to some amazing albums!
BADBADNOTGOOD – IV
It’s perhaps a bit redundant for me to be writing about this album immediately on the heels of our Jazz Club discussion, in which I gushed every which way about the latest from the Toronto “jazz” enclave. I put jazz in quotation marks not because BBNG aren’t superb jazz musicians, but because until fairly recently it could be difficult to make a case that BBNG were most well-known for being a capital-J jazz group. As Scott, Jimmy, and I talked about in our conversation, their early work and success was drawn mostly for their hip-hop covers and own fun and energetic trip-hop beatmaking. Their previous album, III, signaled a transition of sorts towards something more “serious,” if not subdued. But with IV, BBNG have galloped ahead to the forefront of modern jazz without sacrificing the curiosity, exploration, and fun that drew fans to them in the first place.
If nothing else, IV is certainly the most diverse and far-reaching the group has ever been. From the more traditional trip-hop and hip-hop of “Speaking Gently,” “Lavender,” and “Hyssop of Love,” to the retro soul/r&b of “Time Moves Slow” and “In Your Eyes,” to the hard-hitting straight-ahead jazz and fusion of “IV” and “Cashmere,” to the simply undefinable modern fusion sounds of “Confessions Pt II” (featuring the monstrous support of Colin Stetson) and “Chompy’s Paradise,” the album is a true buffet of jazz and jazz-tangential sounds. Somehow they manage to hold all of these strands together with aplomb though, each stylistic divergence illuminating a new sonic area listeners didn’t even know the group was capable of. The title track in particular, which could easily fit in the late 60s repertoire of the post-bop/early fusion greats like Herbie Hancock, Freddie Hubbard, Wayne Shorter, and more, is a sheer eye-opener of a song, one that should erase any skepticisms anyone possesses about the group’s jazz credentials.
Much of this can be attributed to the addition of saxophonist Leland Whitty as a full-time member, allowing the rest of the group to slide into more traditional jazz quartet roles and build more complex compositions. Whitty shines throughout the album as the melodic lynchpin, even able to expertly mimic the kind of textural arpeggio rapidfires on “Confessions” that has defined Stetson’s own sound. But it’s clear throughout the album that the entire group are working together at a new level, each pushing the other to aim higher and think outside the boxes they had created for themselves. IV is certainly one of the best jazz albums released so far this year, and for the jazz lovers among us, it may end up being one of the best albums of the year, period.
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ColdWorld – Autumn
In our day and age, black metal is undergoing a transformation. What started as a few bands in the late 2000’s has now burgeoned into a fully fledged movement, with several offshoots and branchings. The idea is simple: you take the unbridled aggression of black metal and merge it with all sorts of elements you wouldn’t expect to find alongside it. Thus are born atmospheric black metal, post black metal, folk black metal and countless other iterations. ColdWorld can be firmly placed within the first sub-genre but with an added twist. Where other bands use atmosphere as a backdrop to black metal, here there is no back and front.
Everything is presented in a direct and forward fashion. The strings and orchestration make up one part of this equation. They are overwhelming, ethereal and dreamy. The closest comparison would be Anathema on Weather Systems, full bodied yet progressive composition which ducks and weaves across the emotional spectrum. To these add haunting, female vocals and you have the emotional and tonal capacity of ColdWorld.
Black metal, well produced, high octave black metal, makes up the second part of the equation. Blast beats, screeching vocals and tremolo picking all operate alongside the above mentioned orchestration, adding the forlorn and hopeless edge we expect from these sort of releases. The end result is indeed an equation: both sides live side by side, equal in their importance. This is what makes Autumn such a powerful release. It is not a mix or black metal with an accompanying piece. It’s music which is directed towards a certain set of emotions and is not afraid to utilize all tools in its disposal towards its achievement.
Defeated Sanity – Disposal of the Dead // Dharmata
Okay, the concept of releasing a split with yourself is pretty ridiculous. You know what’s more ridiculous than that? Actually pulling it off. Defeated Sanity are one of the most talented bands in the death metal game right now. Most people familiar with them probably have simply categorized them as brutal technical death metal. Disposal of the Dead shows that they’re absolutely the masters of this genre, as it’s incredibly well-made and is ridiculously heavy. That’s it, right? That’s the Defeated Sanity we all know and love.
What’s the point, then? Well, the point is Dharmata. See, they took the “split with themselves” concept very seriously, as Dharmata is an entirely different record. The average song is at least two minutes longer on this side of the fence, and it’s generally as different as one can get while remaining in the death metal sphere. Dharmata is an amazingly accurate throwback to old school death metal a la Death, Cynic and Atheist. Featuring over-the-top jazz influences, syncopation, Ron Jarzombek-esque playing, Dharmata is the best Death album we never got. Even the production is authentic to old school tech death, and they’ve enlisted Max Phelps of Exist/Death to All to replicate the vocal style as well. This contrast between the two halves of this album is just shocking, but in a very positive way. Disposal of the Dead is an excellent Defeated Sanity release, but Dharmata is a transcendent love letter to the roots of the genre, and the two put together results in a unique, mesmerizing package that chronicles two different eras of death metal. Dharmata alone would be album-of-the-year tier, but adding more to it just ups the value of this already delightful surprise.
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Periphery – Periphery III: Select Difficulty
I must have spun Periphery’s fifth full-length record Periphery III: Select Difficulty dozens of times since we published our review, and I’ve decided that the record is even better than we gave it credit for; despite naming PIII as some of the band’s best material to date, it’s come to surpass their debut record in favor and has somehow taken hold as my personal favorite Periphery record thus far. It’s a return of that passionate PI sound with Juggernaut’s gloriously polished songwriting and production, and depending on how the band proceeds, PIII may go down as the definitive Periphery record.
Select Difficulty is an excellent collection of songs that have standalone power in a way that none of the other records in their discography have. From the one-two punch of heavy as fuck openers “The Price Is Wrong” and “Motormouth” to the closing romantic power ballad “Lune”, the band are in top form as diverse and progressive songwriters. Memorable riffs and hooks absolutely litter this record, and it’s bolstered by an increased reliance on synths and a newfound addition of live orchestra. I just can’t gush enough; this is Periphery’s ideal realized, and they’ve no doubt solidified their position as leaders of an entire subgenre of music.
Revocation – Great Is Our Sin
It is a modern rarity to see bands stay consistent over time. Times change, and in these times it becomes a common occurrence to see bands decline after releasing an album that appears as their opus. Revocation are a special case. Unlike their music, their progression has been far from chaotic, and has instead been a gradual and calculated incline into the future of metal music. Great Is Our Sin is the latest offering from the band, and it happens to be their best album yet, both musically and objectively.
From the opening drum sounds of “Arbiters of The Apocalypse” to the closing chords on “Cleaving Giants Of Ice”, and even into the special Slayer covering of “Altar Of Sacrifice” it becomes clear that revocation had yet to put their best foot forward, instead preparing us to embrace their current sound with wide open ears. This album is full of fantastic riffs, superb drumming, and a very powerful rhythm section, but what really sets the album apart from the rest of the band’s discography is their attention to detail. Every note, every accent, is calculated. It’s the band as their most cohesive, creative, and powerful. While the band had functioned as a whole unit before, this current unit feels stronger than ever, with a stunning ability to create memorable metal music like nobody else.
It becomes special to say that you were able to be around to watch a band progress. Chaos Of Forms is where the transformation began, and this is where it has led. The band, according to guitarist Dan Gargiulo, is exactly where they want to be. They’ve clearly found their path, and have been walking down it for some time. Now, they have finally arrived at the promised land, and the don’t plan on leaving. We are extremely fortunate to be a part of that with them.
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Thank You Scientist – Stranger Heads Prevail
Nobody really knew what to expect of the followup to 2012’s amazing Maps of Nonexistent Places until we got the first track off of this new record, and after that came out, we all knew exactly what Stranger Heads Prevail was going to be: the same sort of bombastic, hyperactive, upbeat progressive rock with heavy jazz influence that we got before, but raised to higher stakes. In every way, Stranger Heads Prevail is the perfect sophomore album; the concepts and methods present on Maps are fully realized, the band doubles down on their jazzy, brassy prog rock sound, and everything that was so, so right about Maps remains while most of that album’s mistakes have been righted.
The guitarwork gives in to slippery tendencies often, darting around listener’s expectations with time changes and quick 32nd-note runs that break up the chunky, funky rhythms that form the backbones of the tracks. The bass is as present as ever, laying down hearty rhythms and bearing a surprising amount of the melodic structure, while the percussion accents the off-time nature of most of the tracks. As always, the mainstay instruments are accompanied by a variety of their jazzier brethren, elevating the already-solid sound of the band into the stratosphere with a combination of both high-energy accompaniment to the “main” band and genuinely exciting parts of their own accord. The writing is phenomenal; the performances doubly so.
All in all, Stranger Heads Prevail is exactly what everyone wanted from the sophomore Thank You Scientist record. It’s cleaner; it’s tighter; it’s punchier; it’s better. It’s a superlative record in every sense of the word. Anybody who came to this site for the proggier side of what we cover is doing themselves a disservice by not listening to this album.
Wreck and Reference – Indifferent Rivers Romance Ends
For a reviewer, there’s nothing worse than forcing your fingers to stumble across the keyboard until some kind of something stumbles onto the page. This happens with every type of the record, whether it’s too awful to spend any further effort considering, too mediocre to formulate a thought in either direction, or too fantastic too even know where to start. But none of these scenarios truly fits the sensation that Indifferent Rivers Romance Ends gave me; everything Wreck and Reference had to offer silenced me in totally unique terms. Admittedly, the analogy of an anechoic chamber has resided with me since the first time I played their music – something necessitated for my review prior to writing down my thoughts. But at the same time, it’s the still, suffocating quality of the duo’s approach to industrial is precisely what cause my fingers to freeze and soul to sink.
See, there’s nothing much to penetrate on IRRE – just a whole lot to absorb and be overwhelmed with. From the ever-shifting soundscapes of ambient, drone, industrial and noise to the duo’s overwhelming lyrical and vocal assaults, the album bears the odd dichotomy of simplistic components amassing to a massive, draining tempest that sucks the life out of the listener. Dense and depressing, starving yet satiating, Wreck and Reference have crafted their finest record to date by stuffing an excess of emotion into such stark, minimalistic compositions. And in the end, that is what inspired my fingers to begin thundering across the keyboard; it took that one “click” to make me realize how much this album has to offer without worrying about offering all that much to focus on. It’s the extended time dedicated to crushing microcosms of grief which hammers home both the brilliance and devastation that IRRE is ridden with.
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Other Notable Releases:
Arca – Entrañas
The Avalanches – Wildflower
Bat for Lashes – The Bride
GL – Touch
Ian William Craig – Centres
Illudium – Septem
Inter Arma – Paradise Gallows
FAMILY – Future History
Mephistopheles – Sounds of the End
Michael Kiwanuka – Love & Hate
Sarathy Korwar – Day to Day