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 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 has Nick and David going tête-à-tête with some things the two already share their admiration for and some unexpected surprises!
Nick’s Grid & David’s Comments
Nick has a fairly eclectic taste that shares as many similarities as it does differences with mine. To me, that’s pretty much the ideal scenario for a playlist swap, as it allows for discoveries to be made in genres that both are familiar with but don’t regularly listen to. On my part, this was definitely true – in fact, this was the most enjoyable swap I’ve done so far. All nine tracks I got from Nick were at least decent, with most of them being great.
Thank You Scientist – “Caverns”
Nick’s Comments: It’s honestly difficult to pick just one track from this album to highlight because the entire thing is just monster jam after monster jam. Stranger Heads Prevail will almost certainly be near the top of many of our year-end lists next month for very good reasons, but tracks like “Caverns” are definitely a huge part of that. It’s more aggressive than their earlier output and far more adventurous from the get-go with the mind-bending instrumental intro. It also happens to be exceedingly catchy between the chorus and the shouts of “Been a long December!” at the climax. If you’re still unfamiliar with this group this is a perfect entry point.
David’s Thoughts: Reviewing Thank You Scientist’s debut was the first thing I ever did on Heavy Blog. I still regard the album as a great one and stand by my praise of it, so naturally I was looking forward to see how the band’s next outing would unfold. Even so, I hadn’t gotten around to it for a while, and this swap was just the push I needed to go and listen to the entire album. I’m glad I did it, as I found Stranger Heads Prevail to be just as dazzling as its predecessor, while also more mature and cohesive overall. ‘Caverns’ is one of the better songs on here, too!
Janelle Monáe – “Ghetto Woman”
Nick’s Comments: Listening to a lot of Solange‘s latest (excellent) album A Seat At The Table also got me itching to listen to the ever-eclectic and funky Janelle Monáe. The Electric Lady was a bit of an overstuffed mess that lost the thread of her Metropolis/Blade Runner storyline somewhat, but it still hosts an incredibly strong set of tunes. Of those strong songs though, “Ghetto Woman” easily rides above the rest for me, from it’s amazingly nasty deep jungle synth groove, to its touching personal lyrics about the inspiration Monáe’s mother has served for her, all the way to the deliriously great rapped climax and instrumental outro at the end. Though she’s been spending much of her time lately building up her acting career, I’m hopeful for new music from her within the next year.
David’s Thoughts: I had heard some strong praise for Janelle Monáe before, but perhaps that made me go into this expecting a bit too much, as “Ghetto Woman” turned out to be pretty lukewarm. That’s not to say it’s bad in any way – this is light years ahead of most drek that gets dragged around as R&B these days, and I can understand why someone would legit enjoy it. I just didn’t have any real connection with this song. Chalk it up to my ambivalence towards the genre, I guess.
Mammoth – “Obscurements”
Nick’s Comments: Despite Mammoth‘s blend of jazz fusion with progressive rock/metal and some electronic influences seemingly being tailor-made for me, it actually took me a few listens to Deviations to really warm up to them. Blame it on the strong association I have with slap bass and terribly cheesy “fusion” from the 80s and 90s. “Obscurements” was definitely a track that I felt a connection with almost immediately though, which isn’t surprising given that it features…wait for it…sax. Even barring that though, “Obscurements” is a brilliant piece of instrumental prog that puts almost the entirety of the rest of the field to shame. It’s technically complex and dense but not at the expense of compelling composition and songwriting. It’s eclectic while still sounding like a cohesive singular piece of music. And it grooves like a motherfucker.
David’s Thoughts: Back to prog means back to awesome. The cover for this Mammoth album impressed me immediately, and I appreciate it even more after listening to the song since it’s so fitting. Obvious comparisons like Plini aside, “Obscurements” reminded me of Paul Wardingham in its futuristic atmosphere, and Lye by Mistake in the overt jazz fusion influence. The transitions were a bit jarring indeed, which is kind of a given in the genre. Otherwise, though, this was ten minutes of musical bliss.
A Sense of Gravity – “Shadowed Lines”
Nick’s Comments: I already wrote my thoughts about this track when we premiered the video for it, but basically, yeah, I’m pretty hyped on this album, and so are many of us on staff who have listened to Atrament already. It’s pretty great.
David’s Thoughts: I wrote about another song off of this album in my previous swap with Noyan, so not much to say here. ‘Shadowed Lines’ is more of the same, which is definitely a good thing. It takes a bit of a slower approach but is just as interesting from an instrumental perspective. Like before, the keys absolutely steal the show.
Anciients – “Worshipper”
Nick’s Comments: Once again, I wrote about this album recently for our latest Editors’ Picks, so won’t elaborate much more beyond that, but this album is just a non-stop shit-kicker of bombastic progressive sludge, and this track is an absolute highlight of it. A must-listen for all fans of pre-Crack the Skye Mastodon.
David’s Thoughts: I remember briefly digging these guys’ debut back in 2013 and then forgetting all about them. A shame, really, as “Worshipper” reminded me just how solid of a band Anciients is. Their music is enjoyable Mastodon-core at worst, and dazzling modern progressive metal at best. “Worshipper” definitely veered towards the latter, framing an onslaught of riffs into quite the epic song structure.
Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society – “Dark Alliance”
Nick’s Comments: Starting to sound like a broken record here, I know, but I’ve spilled more than enough words about this album over the past month and a half to last me quite a while. I keep returning to “Dark Alliance” as my go-to track for introducing people to Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society and Real Enemies though if only for its sheer wtf factor. If you’re preparing yourself mentally to hear “big band” and then listen to this you will undoubtedly be surprised by its mixture of 80s electro-funk, Star Wars Cantina-like boogie, and peppy Latin grooves for good measure to draw the connection between the Reagan administration’s War on Drugs with the blind eye they turned towards the drug trafficking from Nicaraguan Contras.
David’s Thoughts: Although I’m not as knowledgeable of the genre as Nick is, I’m an avid jazz fan just the same, so naturally this song was a pure gem. Like a lot of classic jazz, “Dark Alliance” is densely packed with ideas on all fronts. Throughout the song I heard everything from acid/303 synths, a swath of brass instruments that I struggled to tell apart, and a salsa section (?!). That last one felt a bit tacked on, but that’s it as far as criticism goes.
I also have to commend whoever did the mixing and mastering here. The production is pitch perfect, a feat twice as impressive considering how many elements are at play.
Perturbator – “Neo Tokyo”
Nick’s Comments: I legitimately had trouble deciding which track to choose for this one. Perturbator‘s The Uncanny Valley is great in large part because it spends so much of its time eschewing classic retrowave tropes that have become commonplace in favor of more interesting eclecticism. Ultimately I went with its much more conventional opener though since it’s just a solid piece of what Perturbator has always done well. Not my favorite track off of the album, but if you’re looking for excellent retro high-octane sci-fi electronica then this is the place to start.
David’s Thoughts: I went into this already wanting to like it because of the Akira/Neo Tokyo reference. Alas, its name remains the coolest thing about this otherwise respectable song. There’s just something off-putting about the sound here texturally, as if the synths are a bit too…synthetic? Seems like a weird thing to say, but the majority of electronic music I listen to has a bit more of an organic, and often atmospheric flair to it. Still, it’s easy to see this as part of an alternate soundtrack to Akira or any similarly dystopian movie, so I dig it anyway.
Latitudes – “Body Within A Body”
Nick’s Comments: We’re at the point in the year where I’m starting to actively revisit albums from earlier in the year that I loved and see how well they’ve held up. Old Sunlight from post-metal band Latitudes is absolutely one of those albums that has held together remarkably well, and “Body Within A Body” continues to be the absolute highlight for it. It’s just constantly simmering with barely-contained emotion up until it comes to a breaking point at the track’s climax. I am generally skeptical of vocals when it comes to a lot of post-metal, but this track and album are utterly carried by them.
David’s Thoughts: The “plurals” band name had me skeptical, but “Body Within a Body” proved to be yet another great entry in what was already a winner of a swap. Its second half in particular was simply stunning. If I’d have to nitpick, I was a bit irked by how abruptly the song opens, as it feels like a continuation of the previous song more than a proper beginning. This wasn’t outright bad per se – it merely persuaded me that listening to Old Sunlight in its entirety seems the way to go. Which I’ll definitely do soon!
Grizzly Bear – “Will Calls”
Nick’s Comments: God, this song. It’s the mark of a truly excellent band when their B-side material is just as good, if not better, than the already great album material they’ve put out. “Will Calls,” while sharing some of the darker ambience of much of Shields, rightfully was kept off the album since I really can’t imagine where it would have fit in sequence-wise except perhaps as a closer, which means that it would have needed to replace “Sun In Your Eyes,” which would have been a monumental shame. That said, this track easily ranks up near the top of the band’s catalog and features Ed Droste letting loose in a way he really hasn’t before and I wish he would more often. I would absolutely love if the band played around more with these kinds of sounds for album #5, but if not, I will be content with this gem of a track.
David’s Thoughts: Probably not a consciously made choice on Nick’s behalf, but this sure was a case of saving the best for last. As weird as it feels to say that about a B-side, “Will Calls” completely deserves the praise. At face value, it’s just an awesome song start to finish. I loved the usage of brushes during the verse, as well as the vocals with their soothing timbre. Even the slightly lo-fi production style worked well in that it brought a touch of sincerity. More impressive yet was the song’s near seven minute length, a rarity in indie rock that I haven’t seen much this side of Cymbals Eat Guitars. Then again, I wouldn’t be able to tell this is indie rock if I hadn’t read so beforehand.
David’s Grid & Nick’s Comments
As David already said, the two of us have a lot of musical overlap, which perhaps makes the potential for drastically clashing opinions on stuff we share less likely, but since our respective areas of expertise are definitely not one in the same there’s still an awful lot the two of us can introduce to the other. There are several things here I’m already intimately familiar with, but still more than enough that I’m not to make this an interesting and worthwhile swap.
Nicolas Jaar – “Three Sides of Nazareth”
David’s Comments: Over the past decade, Nicolas Jaar has evolved into one of the leading figures in contemporary electronic music. He’s carved out a pretty distinct style for himself, too, starting with deep house in his early days and adding influence after influence to the point that it’s hard to classify most of his recent music. Part of his latest LP, ‘Three Sides of Nazareth’ is a melting pot of styles even on its own. There’s shades of post-punk, downtempo, new wave and more, stitched together in a way that sounds unmistakably Jaar.
Nick’s Thoughts: I am pretty intimately familiar with Jaar and Sirens, and you can read my more elaborated thoughts on it here. That said, “Three Sizes Of Nazareth” was an excellent track, if somewhat unconventional to Jaar, to choose here. Its straight-forward groove belies everything that is actually going on here in terms of genre and influence. It’s a densely entertaining piece of work though, which is pretty much what you can say about all of Jaar’s best work, even as he continues to push himself on albums like Sirens.
Joey Bada$$ – “Piece of Mind”
David’s Comments: One of my favorite hip hop albums from the 2010’s, B4.DA.$$ is all the proof you need that boom-bap can still be relevant when done right. It sees Joey Bada$$ incorporate his Wu-Tang Clan influence into something more personal, which is all the more evident through the introspective lyrics of tracks like ‘Piece of Mind’. Above all, though, it displays a superb knack for production and flow, which are the main reasons I listen to hip hop anyway.
Nick’s Thoughts: I have a complicated relationship with a lot of hip hop. I tend to gravitate towards the music that is more heavily-indebted towards its jazz instrumental roots and allows me to view the vocals as just another instrument thrown into the mix. In that sense this track from Joey Bada$$ definitely hits the sweet spot for me in terms of what I like about hip hop. It’s got a great, laid-back groove, and his vocals are able to float above them perfectly to form a cohesive flow. This is definitely enough to motivate me to give this album a shot.
Radiohead – “Weird Fishes / Arpeggi”
David’s Comments: Difficult as it may be to settle on an album as one’s favorite in all of music, for the past few years I’ve inevitably come back to In Rainbows when deciding mine. There are others that work better in certain moods, yet the universality of my obsession with this album is second to none. That said, I don’t know where to begin singing its praises, so I just won’t. Even ‘Weird Fishes / Arpeggi’ has enough outstanding qualities on its own to write a mini-review. As sublime as the album’s most delicate ballads and as energetic as any of its upbeat rock tunes, it’s a perfect summary of In Rainbows as a whole, and a favorite among favorites.
Nick’s Thoughts: This is an another area that David and I were already in firm agreement on, so I don’t really have too much to add to what he said. This track is definitely a highlight for In Rainbows and the band in general. It’s also a great example of the genius of Jonny Greenwood’s contributions beyond guitar, as the airy key instrument whose name is escaping me at this moment was the perfect touch to put the overall mood and feel of this track over the top.
Ulcerate – “Yield to Naught”
David’s Comments: Ulcerate occupies a weird spot in my music collection, as I think I’m more infatuated with the idea of the band than the band itself. Their suffocating post-death metal style fascinates me, but works best when reserved only for the most masochistic of moods. Even then, it’s exhausting to sit through any of their albums in full, so I rarely end up listening to them. Shrines of Paralysis is no different, though it does splice enough dynamics into the usual mayhem to make it an exceptionally memorable effort.
Nick’s Thoughts: Ah yes, here comes the part where I have to do the whole “this has some interesting stuff in it but is really just not for me” thing. Ever since filming them live back in 2014 I’ve really respected drummer Jaime Saint Merat’s incredible skills, and I like how prominently he’s featured in their mix, giving the music a much more rhythmically dense and percussive feel. Ultimately though this kind of brutal death metal is just not the kind of thing that grabs me and makes me want to listen to more, and this track does little to change my mind on that. I do appreciate the post-metal sounds featured towards the end of the track though.
Alva Noto + Ryuichi Sakamoto – “Uoon I”
David’s Comments: The pairing of electronic producer Alva Noto with legendary Japanese composer Ryuichi Sakamoto has produced several landmark albums, of which none are more essential than their debut Vrioon. It’s difficult to wrap one’s head around what makes these guys good, as their music is very understated. At its core, Vrioon is an almost hour’s worth of low-key piano melodies backed by subtle ambiance, glitch noises and the occasional beat. That might sound tedious, but for me it’s all in the eye for detail and masterful composition.
Nick’s Thoughts: I also struggle with my feelings about ambient music, by-and-large. I love its ability to truly immerse you in a world of sound and allow you to live inside it for extended periods of time. On the other hand, I often get impatient and bored with it much of the time because I want it to build off of that great sonic foundation into something more immediately gripping. This track is a pretty excellent example of that. I love the aesthetic and overall feel of this, but after a few minutes I can feel my attention start to waver and crave something a bit more grounded. If I needed something to throw on in the background that wouldn’t distract me I could see this working though. Beyond that I can’t say I have too much interest in it.
Lustmord – “Black Static”
David’s Comments: Lustmord pretty much invented the genre of dark ambient with his 1990 album Heresy, and has remained at its forefront ever since. Dark Matter, his latest effort, is hardly new despite being released in 2016. It’s made up solely of deep space recordings gathered from NASA and similar sources over the past fifteen years, which is intriguing enough on its own. It sounds somewhat like one would imagine space does, too – an infinite abyss of sub-bass drones drenched in reverb, so esoteric that distinguishing its nuances becomes a nigh impossible task.
Nick’s Thoughts: Oy, and here’s the darker flipside to my feelings about the previous track. I actually really love the atmosphere here, and knowing that it’s comprised of NASA space clips makes it all the more interesting. I can easily see throwing this on while taking care of other work and simply forgetting that it’s there, which is both a positive and a negative. Definitely not much room for active listening though.
Orphx – “Zero Hour”
David’s Comments: Pitch Black Mirror is on my short list for the best album of 2016; more than that, I’d say it’s perhaps the best dance music album of the decade. It was recorded mainly with analog hardware, and makes (unconventional) use of several guest vocalists. Stylistically, it’s rooted in industrial techno, but also draws from post-punk, ambient, EBM and electro. What I like the most about it, however, is its mastery of tension and dynamics, which it maintains regardless of how raucous things get.
Nick’s Thoughts: Now this is what I was hoping to find more of in a playlist swap with David. I don’t keep particularly close tabs on EDM and electronic stuff even though I enjoy much of it, so I was hoping for some good recommendations from him here. This track from Orphx definitely fits the bill and helps fill a bit of the void I’ve been feeling with the lack of new soul-suckingly dark electronica from The Haxan Cloak of late. Definitely going to need to give this album a proper spin, and I may come to feel as enamored with it as he does.
Alcest – “Untouched”
David’s Comments: I kind of lost track of Alcest for the past few years, with 2010’s Écailles De Lune being the last album to pique my interest and actually maintain it. I wouldn’t even consider myself a purist for the black metal part of their sound – on the contrary, the shoegaze influence was always what appealed to me most. Maybe shoegaze on its own wasn’t enough, I guess, as all it took was a reestablished sense of urgency on Kodama to bring the band back into my attention. I still haven’t listened to it that much, but it only takes one listen to realize all of it is great. Plus, that cover tho.
Nick’s Thoughts: As we’ve noted elsewhere, Kodama is literally everything that Alcest should have been following Écailles De Lune rather than what ended up being Shelter. It’s a perfect blend of their heavier black metal roots and the lighter, shoegazey sound they’ve been playing around with for years. The shoegaze is certainly more front-and-center than in their earlier material, but unlike Shelter it doesn’t consume their entire sound. There is still plenty of room for darker, harder-hitting moments and grooves, providing a necessary contrast that has been the hallmark of their best work. “Untouched” is definitely one of the lighter moments on the album, and on it’s own it’s definitely not my favorite from Kodama, but it fits in very well with everything else happening around it.
Biosphere – “The Things I Tell You”
David’s Comments: I already rambled about Biosphere in the swap with Noyan. Substrata is my favorite album of his, and is widely regarded as an ambient classic. Each song on it is great, but ‘The Things I Tell You’ stands out because of its unusual structure. Its unassuming start is not too different from many an ambient song, yet it takes a detour towards the middle as a brief Twin Peaks quote gives way a bleeping, icy synth.
Nick’s Thoughts: I actually listened to the Biosphere track included in that swap, and I was intrigued enough that I added them to my Google Music library, though I haven’t listened to more yet. This is the kind of ambient music I am probably drawn to the most since there is more going on here in general for me to hold onto. Though it’s unlikely that it’ll become something I love nearly as much as David does, I can definitely appreciate it, and I look forward to digging into Biosphere’s extensive catalog more in the future.