It’s January, which means we get to finally put all of the music from the previous year behind us and focus strictly on new and exciting music again. It also means that we get to celebrate an anniversary of sorts, as we have officially been running this column for one year! Happy birthday, Editors’ Picks! We have truly enjoyed bringing this column to life and developing it throughout the year as it gives our editorial body the best chance to do what we love best, which is curating and recommending our favorite music to all of you. We hope you’ve been enjoying it as well, and if there’s anything you think we could be doing to make these articles more useful to you please let us know. We’d love to get feedback and talk to you all about it.
No long-winded intros today. Let’s just get to the jams!
Austra – Future Politics
I’m not gonna sugarcoat it. The past week and a half has been really damn difficult on people like myself and many, many others in the US and around the world. There isn’t an abundance of things to feel particularly optimistic about, especially when it comes to social and political issues. It’s incredibly easy to view everything going on around us and simply feel overwhelmed by it all, shrinking into terror, apathy, resignation. But with Future Politics, Canadian synth-pop band Austra are challenging each and every one of us to fight that feeling, to resist first by rejecting the current reality and envisioning what we want the future to look like. On opener “We Were Alive,” Austra frontwoman Katie Stelmanis sings:
I am moribund
It’s what you want: torpidity
But I sigh
What if we were alive?
What if we were alive?
What if we were alive?
Stelmanis, who wrote all of the lyrics and most of the music for the album, and whose heavenly warbles breathe life into the thick and often icy haze of synths and electronic elements underneath, sets out this challenge from the get-go, and this tone flows throughout the album even as she recognizes what she’s up against. On “Utopia” she laments the increasing footprint of characterless glass condos filling up her home city of Toronto, the increasing gentrification and corporatization, and a loss of place and feeling inside of it. But the rejoinder in the chorus returns to this imagining a better place, as she sings: “I can picture a place where everybody feels it too / It might be fiction but I see it ahead / There’s nothing I wouldn’t do / There’s nothing I wouldn’t do.” She battles against her own doubts and demons in “I’m A Monster,” depression and caring for those with it in “I Love You More Than You Love Yourself,” the complete lack of acknowledgement from the government of missing students in Mexico in closer “43,” and offers herself to mother Earth herself in “Gaia.”
These songs and subject matter could easily fall into easy platitudes and over-simplification, but Stelmanis and Austra keep it all grounded in enough sincere emotion and struggle—carried through the ethereal vehicle of Stelmanis’s voice—that it never crosses that line. The ethos of Future Politics is not one of blind optimism, but one of facing our current reality, taking stock of the challenges ahead, and simply pushing forward towards the world we want and need. It’s a small bit of balm for the pain already present in our current situation, but when what the opposition wants is torpidity, all we need to do to resist is to keep moving.
Aversions Crown – Xenocide
It’s 2017 and we’re listening to deathcore again? Weird times indeed. Well, Australia’s finest, Aversions Crown, have really brought their A game with the blazing fast, relentless death metal assault that is Xenocide, so they deserve appreciation. What sets these Aussies apart from their fellow -core brethren is that they understand the elements of a song serve the whole, not the other way around. Never do they halt a song to a crawl just to have a breakdown, but instead the breakdown is a culmination of the minutes of blast beating and fast double bass that come before. Featuring technical riffing with Fallujah-esque atmospheric leads also helps too.
The success of Xenocide comes from its cohesion. Everything fits tightly together, not vying for attention or feeling forced. The dedication to keeping everything so packed together gives the album a razor sharp focus, which helps the band deliver a non-stop assault of solid heaviness. Perhaps in a more eventful month this album wouldn’t have gotten the spotlight, but for now, this hits the spot, and that’s all that matters.
bedwetter – volume 1: flick your tongue against your teeth and describe the present.
LIL UGLY MANE is an artist that constantly forces his audience to engage with his work on his own terms, and his new work under the name bedwetter is absolutely no different. The somewhat impenetrable, sometimes enigmatic, and always moody rapper offers some of his most raw verses yet on what seems to be the first chapter in a series of releases. Having worked on bedwetter for a while and facing issues with putting out the whole thing due to the sheer amount of emotional work he’s poured into the project, LIL UGLY MANE dropped volume 1: flick your teeth against your tongue and describe the present. out of nowhere just after midnight on the 29th of this month.
It’d be incorrect to describe this as a full album, or an EP; volume 1 seems to be something resembling a mixtape more than anything else, although not many of the tracks actually emphasize the presence of UGLY MANE himself. Most of the tracks are shorter instrumental pieces, ideas and sketches more than full tracks (not that UGLY doesn’t have a long history of releasing sketches – his “Side of Tape” series of releases is entirely that), but the clouded, obtuse, and nihilistic verses he does drop on this tape serve alongside these more contemplative elements to build into something fraught with moody ruminations and a nigh-impenetrable darkness.
The fare is sometimes that of typical UGLY MANE – he discusses treating his self-disgust through alcohol on “stoop lights” and using rapping to cope with mental illness on the paranoid and disturbing “haze of interference” – but the track that sticks out like a sore thumb is the first full track on volume 1, “man with a helmet.” UGLY follows a child kidnapping here in a brutally honest fashion, describing the affair in sordid, vivid detail. It’s physically painful to hear a rapper talk about something so awful in such a realistic manner, with images like the child clutching an X-Men card he has with him for dear luck and the ugly, distorted, blue glow of a television screen coming from the inside of a dark room as a dark omen of what’s to come. It’s a harrowing barrage of images and emotions, UGLY doing what he does best as he constructs a singular vignette into a twisting narrative of its own right, harkening back to the latter half of Uneven Compromise, which is always a plus.
Musically, volume 1 certainly continues in the trend of dark, spacey, ambient beats that use lots of found noise to build a suffocating atmosphere like we saw on Oblivion Access, but UGLY’s refined his methodology here and uses more diverse samples to get across the same basic effect. Volume 1 ticks off all the right boxes for a new LIL UGLY MANE project, and if whatever comes next from bedwetter is as good as this, we’re in for one hell of a ride.
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Cloud Nothings – Life Without Sound
Of all the genres I listened to in high school, pop punk is the only member of my regular rotation that hasn’t carried over to my current listening habits. As time’s gone on, my affinity for deathcore paved the way for a love of death metal, and my preferences for post-hardcore have led me to seek bands closer and closer to the genre’s origins. But when it comes to pop punk, there hasn’t seemed to be be anywhere for my tastes to go – no sound or band that I’d consider a true “logical progression.” Just to clarify before taking this metaphor any further, none of this is meant to insinuate that Cloud Nothings is a purely pop punk band, especially considering the band’s darker trajectory from their power pop roots. But what Here and Nowhere Else (2014) established—and Life Without Sound solidifies—is exactly what deters me from pop punk and why Cloud Nothings so effectively fills my personal genre-gap.
For starters, let’s explore the point mentioned above: Cloud Nothings isn’t a pop punk band. The quartet more comfortably fits in a slew of different rock subgenres, including post-hardcore, indie rock, post-punk, noise rock, punk, emo and so on. Life Without Sound exhibits arguably more than any of the band’s previous records, what with tracks like “Darkened Rings” channeling Nirvana’s punkiest moments and duo-finale “Strange Year” and “Realize My Fate” representing the band’s noisiest tracks to date, complete with vocalist/guitarist Dylan Baldi’s hoarse, retching yells. But amid this spread of stylistic influences lies the band’s signature penchant for downright catchy songwriting—like, seriously catchy. Just give one listen to Here and Nowhere Else’s “I’m Not Part of Me” for proof of how flawlessly the band’s raw melodies demand indefinite repeat listens.
Life Without Sound achieves an at least comparable moment with “Modern Act,” a track that acts as proof to the thesis I laid out above. Most pop punk from my younger years—we’re talking staples like blink-182, New Found Glory, All Time Low, etc.—relied heavily on simple, saccharine melodies that placed more emphasis on the huge earworm chorus than penning a complete composition. By contrast, “Modern Act” is an immediately addicting track that’s structurally complete at every moment. Its summery opening chords move into an even build through the verse, eventually leading to both a bridge and pre-chorus the seamlessly partner to prep for the oncoming chorus. By the time the refrain arrives, it feels just as much like a fulfilling payoff as it does a natural, effortless next step from an incredible introduction.
Two of the song’s moments in particular help outline the final and most pertinent reasons that Cloud Nothings have satisfied my post punk cravings. My aforementioned favorite bands from the genre and their peers had a knack for shimmering, sugar-coated production that further amplified their riffs and melodies, often times compensating for the mediocre songwriting lying underneath. Life Without Sound, on the other hand, is impeccably produced with a simple, poignant tone, a sound which leaves the opening chords of “Modern Act” naked and baring its true, genuinely well-written melody.
Finally, the lyrics and mood of “Modern Act” – along with the album’s other tracks – feel timeless, rather than pop punk’s usual odes to a time I now view as a bygone, juvenile era. Baldi isn’t pining for a high school crush or bragging about teenage hooliganry; he’s pleading for a change of tide on his profound depression and isolation, admitting that “I want a life, that’s all I need lately/I am alive but all alone.” These are feelings that pervade us throughout our entire lives, remaining relatable long after walking across the stage with your diploma.
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The Drowned God – Moonbearer
The proliferation of post hardcore seems to be an endless tide. The sub-genre and its dark, brooding atmosphere are seemingly everywhere, with labels and bands sprouting like so many mushrooms after the first rain. As with all such movements patterns and standards appear to be evolving; sounds are becoming more established and “what’s done” and “what isn’t done” are categories which are slowly coalescing. To perhaps keep the “movement” alive, vision and fresh voices are required, the fuel which all musical births require to keep going.
Enter The Drowned God and their amalgam of post hardcore, post metal and emo. Moonbearer, their debut full-length release, mixes all of the above into an emotionally charged and aggressively raw experience. The darkness which illuminates post hardcore certainly moves through it but its tinted with more honesty and range of expression by the emo influences, mostly felt on the amazing vocals which play throughout. Moonbearer can also get crushingly heavy at times, as it dips into the undercurrents of post metal and their cavernous nature.
Finally, the album also plays with structure and track length, as is evinced on closing track “Moon”, clocking in at over thirteen minutes. This, coupled with the amalgam of influences cited above, allows the album to stand tall above its brethren and takes its place is one of the first masterpieces in 2017. Hopefully, The Drowned God can build on this momentum and we are witnessing the birth of an important new voice and perspective within not one but three musical communities.
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OTHER NOTABLE RELEASES:
아버지 – reflections (vaporwave)
Vaporwave made out of small, extremely repetitive samples leads to beautiful atmospheres and a sense of pensive, well, reflection that most vaporwave doesn’t accomplish nearly as well. Not for the impatient but wonderful nonetheless.
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Julie Byrne – Not Even Happiness (chamber folk/singer-songwriter)
If you’ve ever wanted to hear a more tangible Grouper without the layers of ethereal reverb, Julie Byrne is your perfect, earthly option. The New York-based singer-songwriter plays music that’s equal parts transcendental beauty and studio apartment acoustic sessions – Nick Drake’s legacy reinvigorated not through depression-induced rural reclusion, but through modern, urban heartbreak.
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Set and Setting – Reflectionless (post-metal)
The Florida post-metal outfit have put out their most streamlined and focused set of beefy and atmospheric instrumental tracks to date, producing an album that should put them in league with the likes of Russian Circles and more.
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TWRP – Ladyworld (nu-disco, future funk)
What do you get when you marry disco, synthwave, sci-fi aesthetics and over the top irreverence? Nothing but a catchy, fun, evocative album made for dance, long drives and neon-pink moons setting over a ringed world.
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