There’s a lot happening in the music world, and we here at Heavy Blog try our very best to keep up with it! Like the vast majority of heavy music fans, our tastes are incredibly vast, with our 3X3s in each Playlist Update typically covering numerous genres and sometimes a different style in each square. While we have occasionally covered non-metal topics in past blog posts, we decided that a dedicated column was warranted in order to more completely recommend all of the music that we have been listening to. Unmetal Monday is a weekly column which covers noteworthy tracks and albums from outside the metal universe, and we encourage you all to share your favorite non-metal picks from the week in the comments. This week, we’ll be highlighting a few albums and tracks that struck our fancy over the past few weeks. Head past the jump to dial down the distortion.
Broken Social Scene – Hug of Thunder
A band like Canadian supergroup/collective Broken Social Scene (featuring members of Metric, Stars, Do Make Say Think, as well as Feist) feels very much like a relic of a bygone era in indie rock in this day and age. Back in the early 2000s when this group of friends started collaborating and when they released their landmark album, 2002’s You Forgot It In People, indie rock was still the epicenter of musical creativity and excitement. The landscape since then has changed dramatically as that generation of artists have gotten grayer and indie is no longer pushing boundaries and demanding breathless coverage in nearly the same way that artists from the new generation of hip-hop, r&b, electronic, and pop are. But BSS are still standing and still clearly have something to say, as their first album in 7 years, Hug of Thunder, is a shot of energy and passion that, while certainly more “mature” than their earliest, best work, still feels just as vital.
House and Land – House and Land
Americana is such a rich and overlooked genre. Too often do people hear words like “country”, “bluegrass”, and “folk” and immediately think about clichés involving sexists driving trucks, porkpie hats, and horned-rimmed glasses respectively. I say, “enough!”. Let’s break down those walls by listening to some truly creative folk music from North Carolina!
House and Land plays all traditional American folk songs but this is no museum piece band. The duo, comprised of Sarah Louise and Sally Anne Morgan, turns the old into new with absolutely brilliant modern minimalist arrangements. Everything is acoustic and everything is old. Despite using so few instruments and not adding much more than a 7th chord here or there to these Appalachian staples, these women bring a new life to these songs. The arrangements are detailed and creative while still maintaining the original character of the songs. Both Sarah and Sally have taken the time to learn the nuances of their instruments and their chemistry together couldn’t better. Fans of Gillian Welch and Joanna Newsom should definitely check this thing out. This is how folk music is supposed to be played. House and Land shows us how to modify traditions to keep them alive while still showing respect for them. If you’re still celebrating the 4th of July, or haven’t lost complete faith in our country just yet, celebrate America’s badass music history with this album. Or just look at the beautiful cover.
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The National – “Guilty Party”
There are few bands in indie rock (or any other genre, for that matter) that have more lucidly commented on the modern condition than Brooklyn’s The National, or shown as much raw creativity and talent in the process. Between Matt Berninger’s odd yet strangely comforting lyrics and vocal delivery, the Dessner brothers’ sparse guitar work, and Scott and Bryan Devendorf’s absolutely stellar rhythm section, The National have cemented their place among the indie rock greats, occupying a strange space somewhere between Leonard Cohen’s dark smoothness and Television or Joy Division’s blatant post-punk oddness. The latter half of the last decade saw the band release a sequence of three albums (Alligator, Boxer, and High Violet) that are unmatched in impact and uniform excellence in rock music. However, 2013’s Trouble Will Find Me presented a bit of a disappointing departure in quality from their previous three records, giving the band’s sound over to more derivative songwriting that didn’t quite match the grandeur of the band’s previous material. 2017 sees the release of Sleep Well Beast, the band’s seventh full-length record. What can we expect from the band this time around? If the latest single from the record is any indication, very good things.
“Guilty Party”, the second single from the above mentioned new album, presents the best of everything the band does well. It is a focused, varied, beautiful track that feels very much like the band has again found that special formula they somewhat lost in their previous release. Incorporating more electronic elements to the band’s repertoire than usual, the sonic palette upon which Berninger delivers his defeated, mournful lyrics feels both familiar and incredibly fresh. Devendorf’s drums, long a highlight of the band’s sound, take a backseat to the electronic beats at the beginning of the track and don’t make an appearance until about a minute in, and are placed a bit further toward the back of the mix in essentially the opposite fashion of their general bombast in previous records. But this change in instrumental emphasis serves the track well, creating a more ethereal and subdued sound that lilts and flows with a mix of piano, strings, and horns creating a rich tapestry of sound that feels reminiscent of High Violet without being overtly derivative. Berninger’s lyrics are excellent and straightforward, detailing the crumbling of a relationship through the lens of full-on existential crisis. No one writes lyrics on the dread of existence like Berninger, and here he is in top form.
I cannot wait to hear this record. If the singles thus far released are a fair representation of what the remainder of the album is going to sound like, we may have an album of the year contender on our hands.
St. Vincent – “New York”
Annie Clark’s career is the definition of measured progress. Each new album she writes as St. Vincent shows remarkable growth in composition and a broadening of her genre base, a trajectory she maintains while also ensuring each individual record is a landmark statement of purpose in her discography. It’s been incredible to watch Clark tinker with and perfect her sound, from the youthful chamber pop of Marry Me up through the experimental art pop of Talking Heads-inspired St. Vincent (due in no small part to her 2012 collaborative album with David Byrne).
With all of this in mind, “New York” is a peculiar lead single for her upcoming fifth solo album. The experimentation of her last record is absent, and the track is a bit shorter and simpler than even her more straightforward earlier songwriting. None of this is meant to insinuate it’s a poor track; to the contrary, Clark’s personality still shines through, just with a different lens. Her take on a piano ballad comes off like a slightly more alternative Lady Gaga with lovesick lyrics delivered with a fiery spirit—“New York isn’t New York without you, love/So far in a few blocks to be so low/And if I call you from First Avenue/Where you’re the only motherfucker in the city who can handle me.”
Admittedly, the track will likely prove divisive among fans and particularly off-putting to fans who’ve followed the evolution of her career. Still, “New York” is a short-but-sweet track that benefits from Clark’s sharp songwriting, and while it might not continue the artsy direction of St. Vincent, it’s still a perfectly enjoyable track. What’s more, the track could very well be an outlier; Clark’s no stranger to crafting well-rounded albums that touch on every mood, and this new record likely be no exception.
Tyler, the Creator – “Who Dat Boy” & “911/Mr. Lonely”
Two years and some months after the release of Tyler, the Creator’s noisy adventure of an album Cherry Bomb, we have the first two singles from his new album Scum Fuck Flower Boy which drops July 21st. The first of the two singles “Who Dat Boy” is a raucous, thumping banger with eerie, tense synths backing it the whole way through. It almost sounds like a horror movie soundtrack at points. This song is one of Tyler’s brag tracks where he’s just having fun and not going too deep, but rather having fun with his bars. It features A$AP Rocky, which I personally believe to be a real treat because he handles Tyler’s wonky production with aplomb. The more I listen to the song the more I like it, which is usually how Tyler’s singles work for me. In the context of the album I’m sure I’ll like it even more. The video is also very worth watching as it shows Tyler causing an explosion then hobbling over to Rocky’s house to have a white man’s face placed over his so he can escape the authorities in his nice-ass McLaren. It’s quite the trip.
The second single is “911/Mr. Lonely”, a multi-part track that at first has Tyler singing about loneliness and how he just wants someone to bang his line because he’ll definitely pick up. It’s a bit melancholy, but then it picks up (no pun intended) when Frank Ocean briefly appears for a few bars, but then the beat switches and banging bass accentuated by synthesizers soundtracks some of Tyler’s darker thoughts about his life, such as how he’s filling a void in his life with things he wants like cars, yet he’s been filling this void for so long that he’s beginning to wonder if he’s actually enjoys what he’s filling said void with. This song acts as a good foil to the braggadocio of “Who Dat Boy” and is an effective multi-part song, showcasing two different, yet similar sides of Tyler’s lonely feelings. These two tracks have me quite excited for Scum Fuck Flower Boy, which we luckily don’t have to wait too long for at all.
– Ryan Castrati