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 bi-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 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:
Dave Hause – Bury Me in Philly
Dave Hause’s latest offering was released way back in February and it’s a shame we’re only getting to this now because it’s an excellent slab of tunes aimed at punk rockers and Americana fans meeting at the intersection of classic ‘80s rock. Bury Me in Philly is equal parts Loved Ones, Springsteen, Social Distortion, and Bryan Adams. This album might be the best distilled essence of what he’s been trying to get at for his entire career and in these waning days of summer there’s no reason you shouldn’t be rocking these life-affirming, fist pumping jams to feel a little bit better about things or to help get you through it all.
For instance, “The Flinch” is a song about not giving up, recognizing that though you’ve “flinched before, I ain’t flinching anymore” which, considering recent events, might be something we could use a little bit more of; some additional girding of our convictions to the things that are important and right to us. But one of the best things about Hause has always been the way he connects memorable rhymes and melodies to a heartfelt style of blue-collar rock that’s really a Jersey-Philly kind of thing that you know when you hear it.
You can also tell right away on Bury Me in Philly the the production is straight out of the glossier ‘80s anthemic rock of the aforementioned Canadian rocker and, local heroes, the Hooters whose Eric Bazilian produced the album. “With You”, “Dirty Fucker”, and “My Mistake” shine with these particular touches whereas “Shaky Jesus” is more typical of what Hause has rolled out on previous albums. He even, if unwittingly, invokes ‘80s hit, “I Want Candy” on “The Ride”. Hause is not immune from little nods like this and, usually, he pulls them off which is a nice twist to his craft.
An area that he exhibits lessons learned from his predecessors is an innate ability to tell a story in his songs. The latter track is just one of the examples here but Hause litters this album with all kinds of memorable tales about the people he’s come in contact with or dreamed up as inhabitants of his corner of the world. And that, truly, is what Hause is about: connecting and speaking in an honest way to life’s stories. The title-track as closer is a slice of victory where the singer drops all kinds of lyrical winks and nods at friends and his own history. A keen ear will note a phrase, for instance, from one of Dillinger Four’s more rousing numbers, “doublewhiskeycokenoice”, but all that aside, this is one hell of a record to get while the sun is still out and you need something to crank with the car windows down.
Grizzly Bear – Painted Ruins
Five years between albums isn’t entirely uncommon for many bands in this day and age, but for a band like Grizzly Bear it somehow felt much longer. For a group that, for better or worse, became the poster boys for “big indie” in the late 2000s with their mixture of fawning critical accolades and budding mainstream/commercial prospects – built largely off of the back of a couple of singles from 2009’s Veckatimest – their extended absence and return somehow became blown up into a deluge of thinkpieces and articles about whether a band like them matters in 2017. Putting aside that whole discussion because it would require an entire article unto itself to unpack and is a largely asinine argument that is much more about music journalists no longer feeling important and needing to cater to broader and more mainstream tastes (as well as modern internet sensibilities) than anything else, once again Grizzly Bear have found themselves being thrown into the middle of a media meta-commentary on trends and the industry rather than simply one about the music itself. Much like how their debut as a quartet Yellow House incorrectly found them thrown in with everything from “freak-folk” to “baroque pop,” the music media still doesn’t really know how to talk about Grizzly Bear’s music except in relation to other music despite the fact that their entire career has been built off of subverting listener expectations and whatever boxes people might want to throw them into.
So how about the music anyway? Painted Ruins finds the band once again taking everything listeners think they know about them and turning it on its head despite sounding unequivocally like Grizzly Bear. In many ways the album sounds like a combination of many of the best elements of their previous three albums. The delicate, ghostly, and pastoral folk of Yellow House is pulsing throughout Dan Rossen’s intricate guitarwork, Chris Taylor’s horn arrangements, and particularly on Taylor’s first venture on lead vocals in “Systole.” The grander production and more immediate energy of Veckatimest finds its way throughout as well on “Mourning Sound,” “Losing All Sense,” and “Neighbors,” which sounds like a spiritual successor to Veckatimest highlight “Ready, Able.” And there certainly is the darker psychedelic and experimental sensibilities of the incredibly underappreciated Shields flowing through “Three Rings,” “Glass Hillside” (probably the strangest and coolest revival of 70s psychedelic prog you will hear), and closer “Sky Took Hold.” The elements are there, but the results sound utterly fresh and as enigmatically beautiful as fans have come to expect Grizzly Bear’s music to be.
As usual the talents of all four members are on full display, from Ed Droste’s heartwrenching vocal melodies, Dan Rossen’s brilliant guitars and puzzle-like compositional mind, Chris Taylor’s unconventional basslines and simultaneously kaleidoscopic and knife’s edge sharp production, and Chris Bear’s virtuosic drumming. Much has been made over the years about Bear being the band’s secret weapon, especially live, but if it weren’t already obvious that the man is one of rock’s best drummers, then Painted Ruins should make the argument for itself. This album fucking moves and grooves, and though you would be hard-pressed to call it the band’s “dance album,” the rhythmic underpinnings of the songs play a much larger role here than they ever have, and it elevates the entire thing because of it.
Writing extensively about an album like Painted Ruins after only listening to it a handful of times feels near impossible and, frankly, unfair. Grizzly Bear’s music is the sonic equivalent of a deep dive piece of writing. It requires time, concentration, and consuming it from beginning to end without picking out songs here and there. It resists hot takes and certainly deserves more than the seeming sighs and overwrought essays on why they’re just the latest popular indie band from the 2000s to release an album this year to a landscape that has left them behind. There will always be room for thoughtful, gorgeous, and demanding music. Whether people want to give it the space is up to them, but it’s only to their detriment to write an album like this off. Ask me again towards the end of the year, but I expect Painted Ruins to continue to grow in my mind and stick in it until it becomes easily one of my very top albums of the year.
Käki – Thought Patterns
The realm of “dark jazz” can be a big and scary one. I’m no expert on the genre – far from it –, but it often goes back to Twin Peaks. While I have never watched the show and don’t intend to, I’ve heard its soundtrack more than once, thanks to the horde of bands covering it left and right. The last of which was by the obscure legends in Marimba Plus (listen to it here), and the sense of longing and general melancholy expressed in it vaguely embodies what “dark jazz” is about. However, if that’s the case, then the Finnish duo Käki should be categorized as free dark jazz. Indeed, the band comprises a saxophonist-drummer and a guitarist-pianist; an uncommon combination. Well, calling the former an actual saxophonist would probably rile up many trained musicians, for this live-recorded set is the first time drummer Jere played the instrument. It yields surprisingly great results, giving fuel to those who say that anyone can play jazz and that jazz is just “playing all the wrong notes”. The four tracks on Thought Patterns are each over ten minutes long, making the whole album close to fifty minutes in duration. During that time, you’ll feel many different ways of being uncomfortable. It’s an eerie experimentation, a soundtrack to the gloomiest, most anxious horror or thriller movies. This is something that will probably get you out of your comfort zone, and that’s a valid reason to give it a solid listen.
Kesha – Rainbow
If you remember Kesha’s first two chart-topping records, 2010’s Animal and 2012’s Warrior, you might be wondering why we are including her in this Unmetal Monday. The Kesha most people know has a dollar sign in her name and sings trashy dance-pop with all the excess of an early Lady Gaga without the grace and subtlety to back it up. She seemed like a burn-out in those days. Now after 5 years and a lot of turmoil, she has returned with Rainbow, a total artistic 180. Her new sound takes out the electronic-pop and relies on a more rock and country influenced sound. It’s still pop but it’s pop backed up by Eagles of Death Metal and Dolly Parton. Kesha’s spunky attitude and confidence is still in tact but there’s a real maturity between this Kesha and her earlier work. Tracks like “Bastards” (a reference to Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale) and “Hunt You Down” are fiery and twangy while huge ballads like “Praying” and “Rainbow” showcase some real, raw emotion, epic string arrangements, and Kesha’s brilliant vocal talent. “Godzilla” opens with a couple of fun verses and ends with a sign of contentment and “Spaceship” is the perfect ending. Seriously, just go listen to that track. Kesha and her new team of producers have crafted the perfect record for her return. It’s appropriately vulnerable while still accessible and fun. This isn’t just a collection of earworms, it’s a pop masterpiece.
-Joe The Bear
King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard (w/ Mild High Club)– Sketches of Brunswick East
Releasing albums two years in a row is a fairly notable accomplishment in the music world. Releasing five albums in a year? That’s (microtonal) bananas. Australia’s King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard are reportedly doing just that, and with Sketches of Brunswick East are now past the halfway mark on their way to completing this monumental task. But music that only exists to serve a gimmick or concept is usually pretty friggin’ terrible, so we now have to ask whether or not this record serves a higher purpose outside of the band’s insane ambitions. Thankfully, just like with Flying Microtonal Banana and Murder of the Universe, Gizzard delivers the goods in spades, as Sketches of Brunswick East is not only the best of the three albums the band has released this year, but one of their best full stop.
In association with LA noisemaker Mild High Club, Gizzard have unleashed upon us a record that is essentially the tonal opposite of the record that preceded it. Where Murder of the Universe worked a frantic, proto-metal vibe for the entirety of its batshit duration, Sketches of Brunswick East channels a more direct, often light-hearted, and richly diverse compositional approach. Songs jump from 70s-influenced smoothness of tracks like “Countdown” to the proggy, psychedelic vibes of “Cranes, Planes, and Migraines” and “The Book”, and then to the jazzy overtones of “You Can Be Your Own Silhouette” with an ease that is admirable for any band, let alone one that has produced as much music as Gizzard in the past year. The band don’t play it safe on the songwriting side either, generating some lovely conceptual cleverness in “Dusk to Dawn On Lygon Street”, which uses a guitar motif that propels and metamorphoses itself from major key loveliness to minor-infused menace as the lyrics transition the song from day to night. It’s small details like this that make this band’s records so much fun to dig into, and Sketches of Brunswick East does not disappoint.
Gizzard is working on their very own plane of reality right now, and it’s awesome. If you have yet to jump on the Gizzard takeover of 2017, it’s not too late to dive headlong into some quality albums by a group of talented musicians that seem to me only starting to tap into their great potential. Give this a spin if you’re in the mood for great tunes that pull from a veritable cornucopia of influences, played and composed with verve and flair by a band clicking on another level right now.
Guy Andrews – Tåke
A year ago, the field between post rock and electronica was changed forever when 65daysofstatic released Music for an Infinite Universe. It blended their signature sound with both a more dreamy and a more explosive sound at the same time, creating an insanely powerful album from the unlikely merger. Now, it appears that more artists are flowing in to join that rush, with expansive and ambient post rock being fed more and more into electronica. One of these name is Guy Andrews who is set to releases his album Tåke on the 22nd of September. Tåke can be both meditative and aggressive, drawing on a sleek combination of rugged electronica, crystal clear yet delay-ridden guitars and an overall atmosphere that screams of space or icebergs.
For now, we only have a single for you from the album but it’s a true delight. “Fjell” is an excellent sample of what Andrews is capable of on Tåke; the track has a unique structure which keeps the listener hooked, a sore spot when making music in two genres not known for their variety. Here though, the different sounds make up a rich tapestry, with enough going on at each moment to keep you reeled in. The emotional impact is where the track (and the album) excel however; landscapes and moods are conjured with equal ease, whether by those mournful guitars or the constantly churning, electronic beat. The spaces created between them, more than contrast but not quite harmony, is what won me over originally and why I keep going back to this track.
Expect a lot more good things from Andrews when the album finally drops. For now, you can head over to Houndstooth Records to pre-order it.