Even a cursory glance of our biweekly “What Heavy Blog Is Really Listening To” posts 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. Today, our technical music extraordinaire Ahmed Hasan butts heads with experimental weirdo Jimmy Mullett in what no doubt be recorded in history books the world over as a battle for the ages. ONWARD!
Ahmed’s Grid & Jimmy’s Comments
Jimmy: For most of my time on the blog, I really didn’t know Ahmed, for some reason. However, when we all met up for Eden’s wedding in New York City, I got to spend some time with him, and seriously? He’s a great dude—really nice, super chill. (Smart dude, too.) And don’t let him fool you: he’s a goddamn guitar wizard. This playlist swap has been pending for a long time.
Wormrot—Voices—“God’s in His Heaven”
Ahmed: While I’ve always appreciated grindcore’s punk ethos as it hovered in the periphery of my tastes, I’ve never encountered an album that pulled me into the subgenre quite like Voices did. I was tempted to pick “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Grind” here solely for the title, but it seems Simon and Jonathan beat me to it on our last playlist swap; and so “God’s in His Heaven” was the natural second choice, with the climax just shy of the song’s halfway point never failing to make my hairs stand on end. In grind we rot indeed.
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Jimmy: When I first heard about Voices, I was super psyched; I have a great respect for grindcore, but I’ve always wanted grindcore with a little bit of a twist to it (which is partially why I like Naked City so much). However, upon listening to it, I was a little disappointed; a lot of the post-hardcore influences on it weren’t really my thing, and at the end of the day it just wasn’t my cup of tea.
It was cool to give Voices another shot in some capacity, but, like before, it didn’t do much for me. “God’s in His Heaven” isn’t a bad song; I’m just not much for this type of grindcore, I guess.
Ahmed: I have no reservations in proclaiming myself to be the biggest Meshuggah fan here at Heavy Blog, possibly to poor Jimmy’s chagrin (seeing as he has two of their songs to contend with today). Catch 33 in particular remains my favourite Meshuggah album, the one-song 47-minute suite starting off a little slow before, post “Mind’s Mirrors”, becoming one of my favourite pieces of music ever written. Dark, chaotic, and utterly mind-melting, “Dehumanization” is probably one of the most technical (and frankly absurd) tunes the Shug has ever put out, and boasts what remains one of their absolute heaviest breakdowns near the end.
Jimmy: Warning: I am not a Meshuggah fan. They’re obviously great musicians, but I’ve found the whole polyrhythms thing not only done to death (seriously, guys, they’ve been basically doing more or less the same thing for 22 years), but also a little gimmicky. The many, many chances I’ve tried to give myself to get into Meshuggah’s music have always ended in failure. I even forced myself to buy this album, in fact, because I wanted to hear something more experimental. Honestly, though, I don’t really find this to be experimental. Maybe progressive, but not experimental.
This time around, I enjoyed it a little bit more—particularly the last forty seconds or so—but that’s not saying much. Sorry, Ahmed—I know you love these guys, but I’m not a fan.
John Coltrane—A Love Supreme—“Resolution”
Ahmed: In line with my long-overdue exploration of jazz, I finally got around to delving into the Coltranes‘ work this past week. I’m honestly not sure what took me this long; A Love Supreme is very much the masterpiece it’s been made out to be over the years, and “Resolution” in particular has what’s possibly the greatest sax refrain I’ve ever heard. McCoy Tyner‘s piano playing is also stunning on this track, and the Brad Mehldau fan in me remains incredibly pleased to witness firsthand how Tyner’s style likely made its way to the latter’s work.
Jimmy: Now here’s something I can dig my teeth into! I adore Coltrane; I’ve actually made it a goal to buy nearly everything he’s put out on Impulse (not an easy task when your local record store never gets new Coltrane albums in). The sax riff in “Resolution” is one of my favorite moments in jazz, hands-down, right next to Miles’s solo in “So What” and “Naima”.
However, I do think that A Love Supreme, sadly, overshadows Coltrane’s discography more than it ought to. It’s a great album, sure, but I feel like there are equally good or even better albums in his catalog, like Giant Steps, Olé, Meditations, and Interstellar Space, just to name a few. But hey, great fucking pick, Ahmed! Love you, bro.
Alice Coltrane—Ptah, the El Daoud—“Turiya and Ramakrishna”
Ahmed: Continuing on that theme, Alice Coltrane’s Ptah, the El Daoud has proved a similarly fantastic listen. Where “Resolution” had me hooked with that sax refrain, Alice Coltrane, in turn, boasts a masterful touch to her piano playing here. While “Turiya and Ramakrishna” does admittedly lack Pharoah Sanders’ sax, Coltrane holds her own regardless with a stunning solo before Ron Carter’s bass takes over for the second half. An absolutely brilliant track from start to finish.
Jimmy: While I’ve listened to a lot of John Coltrane, I can’t say the same thing about his wife. I own one album of hers, Lord of Lords/Universal Consciousness (it’s one of those two-albums-on-one-disc things that Impulse does for reissues), and it’s good, but I’ve never really listened to it as much as I should. The other album I’ve listened to—and really liked—was Journey To Satchidananda with Pharaoh Sanders, which, again, was a great experience, and on my to-buy list.
So, it was cool to hear something else from the Alice Coltrane catalog—and, seriously: this thing doesn’t disappoint. I can’t even begin to describe how much I love bluesy piano, and this track is filled to the brim with it. It’s sort of what I wished Keith Jarrett actually sounded like. Even the parts that don’t have Alice banging those keys have an amazing atmosphere—even though it’s more on the side of traditional jazz when it comes to overall aesthetics, there’s still enough of that spiritual, world influence, with the drumming and sleigh bells and bass lines, to make this an interesting listen.
Meshuggah—Nothing—“Straws Pulled at Random”
Ahmed: And thus we return to the world of Meshuggah. Nothing remains an album that defined their modern sound, leaving the rest of the metal world in the dust for almost a decade; and yet it still holds up far better than most recent releases at that. “Straws Pulled at Random” combines all the rhythmic wizardry that Nothing brought to the table with a massive spacelike outro, complete with one of the simplest yet most tasteful solos Fredrik Thordendal’s ever put to tape.
Jimmy: Oh, look, more Meshuggah…Yay, more polyrhythms and lackluster songwriting…at least Nothing has a cool album cover, though (I’m looking at the remastered cover as I write this). The solo is a nice change of pace, but at the same time it really doesn’t feel like it fits in with the song—it’s as if someone mixed Joe Satriani for those couple of seconds or something.
Again—not a fan. Sorry. Or not—it’s just my opinion.
Flying Lotus—Cosmogramma—“Table Tennis”
Ahmed: Cosmogramma was actually one of the very first albums even tangentially related to jazz that truly captured my attention all those years back (specifically with the infectious “Do the Astral Plane”) and – I’m pleased to say – has held up supremely well since. While not necessarily most people’s favourite off the album, I love “Table Tennis” in particular for its somewhat whimsical and almost hallucinatory sound. The song sounds like a hazy dream where one rapidly flits between several places at once, as Laura Darlington‘s voice distantly washes over the din, remaining the one constant in the otherwise delirious soundscapes FlyLo conjures.
Jimmy: Sort-of-little-known-fact time: Steven Ellison, a.k.a Flying Lotus, is actually the grand-nephew of John and Alice Coltrane. But aside from that…I’ve always been a big Flying Lotus fan, ever since I heard Cosmogramma for the first time. (I really wish he’d come out with a new album this year already, though!) However, my usual favorite tracks on this album come at the front end (“Clock Catcher”, “Pickled!”, that sort of thing), so it was a nice change of pace to really hone in on something on the other half of Cosmogramma. And, like basically all of Flying Lotus’s work, it fails to disappoint.
Frank Ocean—Channel Orange—“Forrest Gump”
Ahmed: I don’t even have much context to give here past saying that I love Channel Orange to death and that it remains one of my favourite albums of all time. “Forrest Gump” is one of those rare songs that never fails to put a smile on my face and a spring in my step; there’s a certain wide-eyed innocence to the language Frank uses to describe how in love he is with the athletic ‘Forrest Gump, its relative simplicity only tugging harder on the ol’ heartstrings.
Jimmy: God, I think the last time I even listened to this album was back in 2012 when it came out. I do owe Channel Orange a lot, though, since it almost single-handedly got me into R&B (or, rather, “Thinkin Bout You”).
“Forrest Gump” is an okay. It’s a little too sparse for my liking, but Frank has a great voice, so it’s not as if I’m listening to this and bored out of my mind. It’s a cool track, but I’d rather have “Thinkin” on instead.
Between the Buried and Me—Alaska—“Alaska”
Ahmed: I’m not the biggest BTBAM fan in the world, to be frank, and much of the community’s love for them (especially post-Colors) eludes me somewhat. But I do like Alaska a fair bit, and the title track from the album combines the best of 00’s American progressive death metal with a certain grimy exterior that I just can’t get enough of.
Jimmy: I don’t know why I never really got into BTBAM more…I remember at some point listening to (maybe even buying?) Colors, but I grew out of it pretty fast. I don’t know. I think Scott sort of inadvertently poisoned the well with them (he’s not a fan).
In any case, this was an okay listen. I really liked that proggy beginning, but it feels a little schizophrenic, as if they don’t know what to play or how long to play it for. I don’t mind erratic music by any means, but when you write a killer riff like the intro of “Alaska”, and have tracks that stretch over ten minutes (not in this album, though), I feel like you have leeway to explore that riff a little more.
Necrophagist—Epitaph—“Only Ash Remains”
Ahmed: The album that started it all. Almost a decade and a half after its release, Epitaph remains in the highest echelon of tech death releases, from its note-perfect riffs, inhumanly clean production, and classically inspired solo work. Even in the midst of all that, “Only Ash Remains” is a clear standout from the album, right from the intricate bass solo that kicks it off to Muhammed Suicmez’s cheeky inclusion of a melody from “Dance of the Knights” from Sergei Prokofiev‘s Romeo and Juliet ballet in the song’s outro solo.
Jimmy: Ah…Necrophagist—a legitimately good band that’s now really become a joke in the metal world, just like Tool. (C’mon guys, just release a damn album!) (Here’s a joke: how many Necrophagists does it take to change a light bulb? Answer: I don’t know—they still haven’t gotten around to it.) (Horrible, not-even-funny joke, yes, I know, I’m very sorry.)
Seriously, though, I’m all for tech death when it’s done well, and these guys do it well—ripping solos, production that isn’t too overwhelming, songwriting that keeps me interested—good job, Necrophagist. Good on you.
Jimmy’s Grid & Ahmed’s Comments
Ahmed: I admittedly approached Jimmy’s grid with a bit of apprehension (potentially because of his scaremongering about there being two John Zorn-related songs on here – okay, entirely because of that) but I came out pleasantly surprised. It also helps that I’ve been really looking into branching out from the usual fare into more jazz-oriented tunes, for which it seems I definitely ended up with the right person to swap with.
Erik Friedlander—Volac: The Book of Angels, Vol. 8—“Harhazial”
Jimmy: John Zorn’s Masada project has always grabbed my attention, ever since I first learned about it a few years ago. Essentially, Zorn wrote an entire songbook’s worth of music (more specifically, a sort of blend between Shape of Jazz To Come-era Ornette Coleman and traditional Jewish klezmer music), with certain strictures involved in each song (such as it should be able to be playable by any number of musicians). He ended the traditional Masada lineup with an Anniversary series that had people like Mike Patton, Ikue Mori, and Sylvie Courvoisier interpreting Masada tunes in some really interesting ways, sort of highlighting the best of what each musician could do, yet still retaining a sound that’s nonetheless Zorn.
This particular album comes from Zorn’s second Masada book, The Book of Angels, and features cellist Erik Friedlander interpreting a few Masada tracks alone. Suffice to say, it’s an incredibly singular listen; Friedlander’s playing makes the “weeping” aspects of klezmer really shine, and manages to keep the listener’s attention with the way he phrases the entire track.
Ahmed: For my recent dabblings in jazz, I haven’t actually encountered much cello at all; so while I’ll admit this track caught be a little off guard in being quite literally just a solo cello piece, it’s beautifully composed, and almost inherently calming off the bat. I’m not the best at interpreting solo pieces, but I do quite like how it starts in a natural minor key before dabbling into what sounds like harmonic minor lines on first listen. A solid start!
Death Grips—The Money Store—“Double Helix”
Jimmy: Sometimes things just converge randomly, and you can’t even believe the results. While I mostly owe The Beastie Boys for getting me into hip-hop, Death Grips were the group that showed me how paper-thin the boundaries of the genre can be. MC Ride doesn’t just rap—he fucking busts your jaw open and yells down your throat. Likewise, Zach Hill and Flatlander don’t just play drums and produce—they create these fucked up soundscapes that are just barely rockin’ enough to count as hip-hop, as if Wolf Eyes and RZA were sharing a blunt and decided to screw around in the studio together. “Double Helix” makes interesting use of the band’s skills, with this weird, acidic beat that seems to melt over you as you listen to it. And the video, with Ride staring at you from a Prius’s back-up camera? Fucking great.
Ahmed: Oh, Jimmy, why do you do me like this. I joke, partially – I was a huge Death Grips fan for a period of time some years ago, right around when Government Plates was released, before I kind of lost interest in their schtick (musical and otherwise). Even then, “Double Helix” is definitely one of the better songs off of The Money Store; I like MC Ride’s flow a lot on this track, and Zach Hill never fails to impress with his spastic drum work.
Jane’s Addiction—Nothing’s Shocking—“Ocean Size”
Jimmy: Out of all the rock bands I’ve enjoyed over the years, Jane’s Addiction has to be the strangest; in the last thirty-two years (nineteen of which they have been an active band), they’ve released only four albums. And out of those four albums, their debut is really the only album I enjoy. But shit, what a great debut it is—full of squealing solos and more nasally Perry Farrell vocals than you know what to do with. Nothing’s Shocking is an album that I’ve owned since high school, and refuse to give up under any circumstance, and “Ocean Size” is the topping on the fucking cake of reasons for keeping it. Why? Because, quite simply, it rocks. If you’re a sucker for that quintessential rockstar solo sound, you’ll find it here with Dave Navarro.
Ahmed: The one grunge band that completely slipped me by, it seems. While the track is admittedly a lot of fun, I’m not sure how I feel about the vocals here – they fit a little strangely in the mix, and have a bit of an annoying effect. I do quite like the guitar work though, and the occasional dabbling into acoustic guitars is very well done. It’s also fairly impressive that this was released in 1988, however, and I imagine was way ahead of its time.
Jimmy: A couple months ago, I was hit with two huge realizations: (1) it’s been forever since I’ve listened to Mastodon, and (2) I only own Crack The Skye on CD. I’ve since remedied that, owning everything except the albums after Crack (just, no…no thanks…). Honestly, Mastodon were one of those bands that strengthened my love for metal—I’ve probably listened to all four of those albums more than almost any other metal band, (except maybe Opeth)—and it’s great to listen to them again. “Hearts Alive”, for me, is the band best expressing the influence of Moby-Dick on Leviathan, what with that creepy instrumental bridge in the middle, and just an unsettling, uncanny feeling presiding throughout the entire track.
Ahmed: Now we’re talking! Leviathan is another one of my favourite albums of all time, and I maintain that it’s easily Mastodon’s best (yes, even above Crack the Skye). The riffs are big and the choruses are bigger; “Naked Burn” is Mastodon at their prime, featuring roaring guitar work backed by thundering bass lines and Brann Dailor’s unapologetic million-fills-a-minute drumming. I also love the prominent use of Mastodon’s acoustic layering technique on this song, where a given riff is overdubbed with an acoustic guitar playing the same thing. Although I’m now forced to take a few moments before moving to the next song in order to listen through Leviathan in its entirety once again.
Jimmy: I don’t like to badmouth music acts—I really don’t, even if I don’t personally like the music. What’s the point of it? Someone likes those groups, so let them enjoy it while I enjoy my shit. When it comes to a band like Radiohead, though, it becomes pretty tough to remain in this mindset. They’re not a bad band by any means (in fact, quite the opposite), but their fans mindlessly worship them and deify them so much that it becomes tough to see that the music is just “great”, not “the greatest thing since sliced bread.” (Coincidentally, sliced bread is not very good, either.) Kid A was enjoyable enough that I own a copy of it, but nothing else has really come close—except “Nude”. My god, “Nude” is such a great song. I literally will put this track on repeat to get myself to sleep at night, and just everything about it musically, from the dreamy instrumentation to Thom York’s falsetto phrasing, is just gorgeous. (The lyrics, though? Meh. I’ve seen better.)
Ahmed: Full disclosure: this is my first time ever listening to a Radiohead song. Which is probably made extra terrible by the fact that I’ve been a huge Muse fan for almost ten years. Either way, I can see why the two were compared so often in Muse’s earlier days; Thom Yorke’s soft vocals strike a familiar chord over the sparse instrumentation, and I find myself quite liking how the arrangement plays out as a whole. Maybe I’ll finally give the remainder of this album, and indeed this band itself, a chance.
Jimmy: Rush, to me, anyway, come off as one of those bands that you either really love, or really hate, with very little regard in between those two points. Fortunately, I’m more on the former side—2112 and Moving Pictures are some of my favorite albums ever. Some of Rush I’m not a huge fan (Caress of Steel in particular turned me off a bit), but it’s nice to be able to turn on an album like Moving Pictures every now and then. “YYZ” is without a doubt my favorite track off the album—I love how great the band is at their instrumentation, and that strange drum hit that Neil Peart does during Alex Lifeson’s solo…I just fucking love it.
Ahmed: As a Toronto native, thank you, Jimmy. I can confirm this song remains as iconic as ever. No further comment required.
Wadada Leo Smith—Luminous Axis—“Harp: A Gleaming Sama”
Jimmy: Wadada Leo Smith has always been somewhat of a musical anomaly to me. Usually after listening to a few albums I have a fair idea of if I like the artist or not, but Smith just refuses to be regarded under either of these terms. To put his sound in a nutshell, he takes this, loopy, strange-as-all-hell Miles Davis-in-Bitches Brew trumpet work and applies it to just about any possible sound (in Luminous Axis’s case, above a sea of electronic sounds, courtesy of some of the best musicians in the New York Downtown scene). It’s…it’s just so damn perplexing that I’m always half-tempted to sell my copies of his music. But then I take it down from the shelf and try it again.
Ahmed: Alright, this caught me somewhat off guard. Super sparse jazz (I think?) with weird, ambient sound effects and whatnot popping in at intervals while a shrill trumpet pierces the silence. I can see what the track is trying to do, but I don’t really know if I’m particularly into this; there’s lots of musical blank space, which is interesting in its own right, but I can’t really get into the parts that are filled.
Souls Of Mischief—93 ’til Infinity—“A Name I Call Myself”
Jimmy: When people think of jazz rap nowadays, usually two names come to mind: A Tribe Called Quest, and Kendrick Lamar—after all, their work makes up what we usually consider to be jazz rap. But, really, I never found either to fit that jazz sensibility very well; I always wanted to listen to an album of people just straight-up dropping rhymes over Miles Davis samples. Souls Of Mischief comes as close to that dream as I’ll ever probably get, and, best of all, they do it in their own, unique way. Also: does anyone else get major Danny Brown vibes at the beginning of “A Name I Call Myself?” Because I do, and I love it.
Ahmed: ’90s hip hop! Another curveball, but definitely a more pleasant one. My hip hop credentials are relatively embarrassing and I haven’t dabbled in nearly enough of this at all, but this track is a lot of fun and that beat is way too infectious for its own good.
John Zorn—The Dreamers—“A Ride On Cottonfair”
Jimmy: A fair amount of critics look at The Dreamers and the early incarnation of this album, The Gift, and consider this John Zorn’s most accessible work. And while it’s easily some of the easiest listening you’ll find in the Zorn catalog, I don’t think it’s really “accessible”, because most of Zorn’s work is nothing like this. From Naked City to the Moonchild albums with Mike Patton, he’s always brought this disturbing, extreme element to his music that I honestly can never get enough of.
However, “A Ride On Cottonfair” is a really great track—it’s cool to see Zorn put aside the more beautifully macabre parts of his music and embrace the simplicity of a jazzy, impeccably written and performed piano trio track.
Ahmed: Ah, the dreaded Zorn I keep hearing so much about. This track is quite lovely from the outset though, starting off with some standard piano-driven jazz fare. It doesn’t stray very far from that formula, but the Mehldau fan in me is pleased for the second time today.