In a month that’s designated as the solstice of the musical year, as we transition from “early” releases into the summer release schedule, this column might be more necessary than ever. While we just published out Top 25 list and that could, technically, shine a light on several of these albums, June albums have a weird tendency to disappear amidst the cracks, only to be discovered next year. This makes sense; some of them don’t have the time needed to make those mid-year lists, as we receive them too close to writing. Still others might represent albums which slip through consensus and thus don’t make it to such collaborative lists but still deserve a spotlight.
Good thing we have this column then. I’ve been meditating on why we even started Editors’ Picks; the concept itself seems odd. It’s a remnant of old journalistic structure, where the editor in a publication was this authoritative and prestigious figure, cloaked in years of experience and insight. That’s hardly the case anymore, in Heavy Blog and outside of it, as Internet structures break down the gates between individuals and editorial privileges. And that’s why it’s a good thing we have this column; it enables the unique voices which have broken through to the editorial body of the blog to speak outside of consensus. We give our editors free rein when selecting these releases; they can pick whatever they like. Thus, they are unshackled by majority rule and are able to bring to light albums which might otherwise have remained in the dark.
Put that together with the fact that the editors are just listeners and fans like any of the other writers (and the readers as well) and you get a golden opportunity for discovery. Instead of passing judgement from our throne on high (which isn’t high anymore, at all), our goal with this column is to dredge the deeps and bring forth releases which A) are great and deserve recognition, even if we’ve already sung their praises and B) might represent releases that need more attention outside of Heavy Blog’s consensus, eclectic as it might be. We hope you enjoy reading it as much as we do writing; it’s a rare pleasure to be able to curate the tastes of such a close knit group.
Bent Knee – Land Animal (art rock, progressive rock)
Under usual circumstances I find myself to be both suspicious of and generally disappointed by artists who release an abundance of music in close succession. Coming up with a full-length album’s worth of great or even good material is tough enough. Coming up with two albums’ worth of quality songs is magnitudes more difficult, especially when only given a year or so separation between the two. The result of this kind of heavy output tends to be over-reaching and overstuffed albums with far too much filler and not nearly enough focus. And yet Bent Knee have been able to accomplish the near impossible over the past two years with Say So and now Land Animal.
As Eden alluded to in his review, Land Animal continues the progression of the band over the course of their career to take the many disparate styles and moods they incorporate into their music and streamline them into tracks that are positively quivering with energy, seemingly always on the verge of exploding into a maelstrom of guitars, keys, violin, and, of course, the force that is Courtney Swain and her seemingly infinitely pliable and powerful voice. The songs are still plenty diverse – take the huge stylistic shifts from anthemic opener “Terror Bird” to the off-kilter pop of “Hole” to the moody art-rock of “Holy Ghost” and somber slow-burn ballad of “Insides In.” Frankly, I could just keep going on as every Bent Knee song is a fresh experience unto itself. But what makes Land Animal all the more effective is that, for all its wild eclecticism and quirks, the entire album flows together magnificently well and feels like a unified creative statement. This is a band firing on all creative cylinders just as they seem primed to finally get the wider attention and exposure they deserve.
Brockhampton – Saturation (abstract hip-hop, conscious hip-hop)
On my end, this has been a pretty underwhelming year for rap. The previously inimitable Kendrick Lamar dropped what I’d say is his worst work yet, Young Thug’s Beautiful Thugger Girls was… fine, none of Future’s output has lived up to his run in 2016 (except for “Mask Off,” which is a great track), Lil Ugly Mane’s new release under the name bedwetter was good but only has a few substantial tracks to it (although holy shit are those three tracks amazing), and the hotly-anticipated Culture from Migos didn’t amount to much since “Bad and Boujee” put their best foot forward by a pretty big margin. This isn’t really to say that I’ve actively disliked many of these releases, just that this has not been a particularly good year for the genre, especially in comparison to how amazing 2015 and 2016 were.
Enter BROCKHAMPTON. A Los Angeles rap group spearheaded by Kevin Abstract, this collective calls themselves “the first internet boy band.” Unlike most boy bands, though, they have more than a handful of good tracks – because every song on their newest release, the mixtape Saturation, is fucking fantastic. Across roughly 50 minutes of music, this nine-rapper crew explores a variety of sounds, from the bass-blasting hardcore rap of “HEAT” to the lush and ethereal R&B-infused trap of “FAKE”. Look, this is gonna sound ridiculous, but there really are no bad songs on this record. Sure, some of them are better than others, but every track on Saturation is just great. There’s a fantastic amount of eclecticism throughout in both the performances and beats; the diversity is definitely this album’s greatest strength. There are no repeats on Saturation, no two tracks that feel similar in their vibe so that one overrides the other or negates it entirely.
In a year of rap releases that feel insubstantial or underwhelming, Saturation is anything but. BROCKHAMPTON have served up an incredible amount of variety and overall quality here, and fans of the current trends in rap will be able to find a great deal to love here no matter what draws them in.
Com Truise – Iteration (chillwave, synthwave)
Is synthwave truncated? A few years ago, as the genre was exploding, this question would have seemed absurd. However, as we stand at the tail end of the main momentum which launched this scene/genre/aesthetic, it seems particularly apt. Much of what gets released under the genre (and its brethren retrowave and vaporwave) seems trite, stale and, frankly, boring. At the base of the problem is repetition; not many artists seem eager on doing more with the synthwave formula than recycle it. Releases seem to lean on the same sort of aesthetic, far beyond the actual music being created, content to continue to play lip service to the ideas which made the synthwave movement come to life rather than exploring what they actually mean in our day and age.
Thank god for Com Truise then. Five years after his last release, the LA based musician finally released his Iteration this month and it’s nothing short of brilliant. Walking the line between synthwave, vaporwave (represented by especially dream-y melodies and that signature approach to rhythm and timing which have made the genre famous) and chillwave, Iteration is a fascinating album which weaves fresh approaches to synthwave into an unmistakable ambiance. At its core lie rich synth tones which are the hallmark of the genre but somehow tempered by clever uses of drums and other, less straight-forward, effects like volume control, beat randomizers and so on.
Whether we’re talking about the more straight-forward vibes of “Isotasy” or the weirder trappings of “Vaccume”, Iteration manages to dispel many of the misgivings one might have with the genre at large. Whether this means hope for it though is a different question, since Com Truise has an unexpected side effect, namely that everything else made around him seems lacking. At least we can still enjoy his ideas and approaches to the style while we hope it doesn’t take him five more years to release new music.
Fleet Foxes – Crack-Up (chamber folk, progressive folk)
“I am all that I need…”, Robin Pecknold nearly whispers during the opening track of Fleet Foxes’ impeccable new record Crack-Up. These words would seem like a brazen, self-confident statement of personal power coming from other lungs. But in Pecknold’s delivery I’ve never felt more certain that a songwriter was lying to me. This vulnerable, almost uncomfortable level of uncertainty is one of the hallmarks of this record, and is a defining characteristic that helps make Crack-Up Fleet Foxes’ finest record to date.
While the lyrical content here is rich, obtuse, and often self-defeating, the music presents itself as a worthy counterpoint to such a dreary atmosphere. Even if one dislikes the more defeatist lyrical direction that band has taken with this release, it is very difficult to argue that the tracks on this album are anything other than absolutely gorgeous. Songs like “Cassius, -” and “Kept Woman” are as instrumentally lush as Pecknold’s vocal arrangements (which are as always incredible), making for an album that is at times both immeasurably sad and rapturously beautiful. Multi-part, lengthy tracks such as album opener “I Am All That I Need / Arroyo Seco / Thumbprint Scar” coexist with straightforward ballads like the lovely “If You Need To, Keep Time On Me” and “Fool’s Errand” without feeling in the slightest way disjointed, a testament to some great songwriting choices by the band. On the whole the record ebbs and flows in an incredibly organic way, especially for a band that has not been producing music for over half-a-decade. This is the album I always hoped that they would make, and I could not be more in love with it.
Igorrr – Savage Sinusoid (avant-garde metal, breakcore)
Fans of Igorrr already know that whatever he puts out is going to be ridiculous. Gauiter Serre, the man behind the curtain, is a famed avant-garde artist known for merging genres in bizarre ways. With Savage Sinusiod he’s upped the ante in several ways. By bringing in some more conventional metal elements into the mix, he’s grounded the experimentation and provided a framework it can contrast against. He’s also learned from his experiences with Corpo-Mente and integrated some of that sound here as well. This both makes Savage Sinusiod heavier, and also makes everything stand out more. If you want an album to blow your mind and melt your face, look no further.
Seriously, this is no joke. We have synchronized yelling over chugs, blast beats, breakbeat electronica, balkan folk accordion, sax, noise, a piano ballad, operatic female singing, guttural vocals sampled and chopped up… Anything Serre could think of was just thrown in there. On the surface this sounds like it could be a disaster, but it just works so well. There’s so much more than what I enumerated there too. Sure, the trope of avant-garde metal being circus music with some weird instrumentation and an oddball vocal style thrown in there exists for a reason. But Igorrr does not fall prey to that trope. This album takes that trope, laughs at it, then tramples over it while polka-dancing.
Selling an avant-garde album to a listener based on sheer weirdness feels like a gimmick. In a sense, this album isn’t even that weird. There’s a method to the madness. And that’s the key. These are just straight up awesome, catchy, heavy songs. They just happen to be off-kilter to the max. If you’re inherently not turned off by idiosyncratic, abrasive, experimental music, you’ll love Savage Sinusoid. It’s awesome. Go listen to it and lose yourself.
Wren Kitz – Dancing on Soda Lake (ambient folk, tape music)
Tucked away in the hidden gem of Burlington, Vermont is the incredibly eclectic NNA Tapes, the best modern record label for lovers of experimental music. For the past nine years, the label has remained consistent in their mission to release the best that the underground has to offer, regardless of genre. From post-minimalist saxophone quartet Battle Trance to composer Tredici Bacci‘s infatuation with 60’s/70’s soundtrack music to the experimental synth punk of Drainolith, the label’s roster knows no limits except for a dedication to quality. Burlington-based artist Wren Kitz only bolsters this sterling reputation, as his NNA debut Dancing on Soda Lake seamlessly blends organic and artificial textures within an ambient folk foundation. It’s a gorgeous record with a unique voice that should appeal to music listeners of diverse persuasions.
As a result, Kitz’s music is difficult to categorize. To attempt a simple description, imagine the original analog tapes for Smashing Pumpkins‘ “Take Me Down” from Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness being processed through William Basinski‘s signature disintegration and manipulation process. The resulting ambient folk traced with the ethereal atmosphere of ambient music is a combination sourced straight from an unseen world of shadows and specters. There are hints of Grizzly Bear, Mount Eerie and Nick Drake along the way, but Kit’s approach to folk truly transcends the genre, all while retaining it’s pure simplicity and the sheer beauty of its compositional style. The album is yet another exceptional mark on NNA’s track record as well as ample proof that Kitz should be on the radars of folk fans and experimental music lovers alike.
ZETA – ZETA (electropop, synthwave)
The long awaited collaborative synthwave project featuring Katie Jackson, Paul Ortiz (Chimp Spanner), and Dan Tompkins (Tesseract) finally dropped this month, and it blew all our expectations out of the water. Synthwave is a genre of music in which the inclusion of vocals is controversial, but Tompkins absolutely soars in the retrofuturistic electronic environment crafted by the duo of Jackson and Ortiz. ZETA rides neon-glowing waves of nostalgia for the soundtracks of classic video games and grimey 80’s action flicks in the most perfect summation of an entire genre and aesthetic since Perturbator’s 2014 breakout Dangerous Days, and at the risk of alienating an entire genre’s fanbase, the inclusion of vocal hooks and evocative lyrics makes it one of the most fun and memorable records the genre has to offer.
Other Notable Albums
EX EYE – EX EYE (avant-garde metal, post metal)
Take crushing drums straight from Liturgy’s quiver and mesh them with Colin Stetson’s incomparable saxophone and you get this looming tower of abrasive, post metal aggression.
Green Druid – Ashen Blood (psychedelic rock, stoner doom)
Doom metal upstarts Green Druid are producing some hype with their debut record Ashen Blood. If you are unsure as to why this is, listen to the album’s opening track “Pale Blood Sky.” The riff at 3:30 will melt your brain. A fantastic release from an up-and-coming band with tons of potential.
Impetuous Ritual – Blight Upon Martyred Sentience (blackened death metal, death-doom)
Impetuous Ritual play the kind of death metal that induces migraines. Think music in the vein of Portal, Altarage, and Ulcerate, but with an even deeper sense of noise-orientated suffocation. This is death metal at its most gleefully oppressive, and commands nothing less than complete surrender to its noise-drenched madness.
King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard – Murder of the Universe (garage rock, heavy psych)
The Australian progressive/psychedelic/punky garage rock wizards are back with their second album (of four or five!!) that they’re putting out in 2017. Bringing a healthy portion of spoken word and some chunky proto-metal riffing into their already aggressive and energetic style, these songs contain some of the band’s most dense, compositionally intense, and dark material to date, all strung together in a series of three suites that each tell their own story.
Larkin Grim – Chasing an Illusion (free folk, indie folk)
Heavy emotional burden and bittersweet inspiration prompted Larkin Grimm to journey back into the studio and record Chasing an Illusion, her first album in five years. Themes of overcoming pain through an embrace of spirituality and inner strength arrive through a combination of folk, the bluesy jazz soul of Ornette Coleman and transcendental spirituality of Alice Coltrane. The result is a folk album unafraid to let its superb, unique voice soar above listeners’ expectations.
Origin – Unparalleled Universe (tech death)
Origin are always amazing. They’re the unparalleled kings of fast death metal, and they seem to show no signs of slowing down. Unparalleled Universe is one of their best albums yet. Now that they’ve settled in their sound, they’ve become more creative with their writing without sacrificing their core elements. Everyone in the band carries their weight. If you want speed, energy and aggression, the buck stops here.
White Suns – Psychic Drift (dark ambient, power electronics)
With Psychic Drift, White Suns have created the sonic and lyrical embodiment of a mortifying psychological thriller rooted in true human experiences, landing in a sonic landscape rife with the dregs of the human psyche when pushed beyond the limits of what it can tolerate.