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 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:
Iglooghost – Neō Wax Bloom
Instead of trying to weave around the genre or say an artist like Iglooghost “defies classification” (as if that means anything anymore given this age of genre hyper-awareness), I’m going to start with the genre here and then use that as the thread through which I deconstruct this upstart Brainfeeder signee’s first proper LP. Ready? Cool.
Neō Wax Bloom is a bubblegum breakcore album. “What? That’s stupid. Neither of those tell us anything,” you say. Sure. Okay. Let me explain: bubblegum, taken from the term bubblegum bass here, is a term for the lightening and “pinkening” of the music. Plastic-y synths and sped-/pitched-up vocal samples collide with deep bass; influence is taken from EDM, footwork, and all other sorts of electronic music. “Upbeat” would certainly be a key term in describing a bubblegum sound. “Happy” would be another, similar one. Breakcore could not be any more different: it is dark, and ugly, and abrasive, and works with layers of harsh and discordant noise underpinned by churning, writhing drums. It’s the sound you would get if you got industrial addicted to meth. “Harsh” and “unsettling” would be apt words for breakcore.
What happens with their combination in the form of Neō Wax Bloom is nothing short of magical. The complex, layered, erratic, extremely detailed approach of breakcore collides headfirst with bubblegum bass into something that manages to simultaneously be batshit insane and impossibly listenable. High-pitched vocals collide with walls of synths as drums cascade behind them at upwards of 200 beats per minute; snare rolls operating at roughly the speed of light lead into sunny, bright landscapes of sound for moments of pure sonic bliss. It makes no fucking sense, and it’s wonderful. Just listen to it, alright?
Looming – Seed
Metal or not, one of the most difficult challenges a band faces is creating music that’s truly distinctive. What with the internet and all (get off my lawn!), even the most experimental musicians can easily find pockets of like-minded musicians creating similar sounds. Looming isn’t blow-your-mind, I’ve-never-heard-anything-even-remotely-like-this-before avant garde, but they do manage to carve out a distinctive sound in the crowded, monolithic boys club of punk-leaning indie. And regardless of idiosyncrasy, they make driving tunes that are catchy as hell.
Seed is the band’s second full length and it picks up directly where Nailbiter (also excellent) left off, full of angular, up-tempo indie rock driven by Jessica Knght’s verbose and unique vocal delivery. Nearly every track contains a memorable lyric delivery and the jittery drumming and restless tempo changes throughout make for an engaging listening experience. Young adult existential angst is well-trod territory for this genre (and almost all others), but Looming bring enough unique sonic flair and lyrical intelligence to make the entire exercise worthwhile, memorable, and in the end, truly affecting.
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Protomartyr – Relatives in Descent
The Post-punk Revival of the 1990s and early aughts was a movement I found myself utterly enthralled by as a young music lover. I can still distinctly remember the first time I heard Interpol’s transcendent Turn On the Bright Lights, while The Strokes’ influential Is This It still finds its way into my regular rotation on a seemingly annual basis. While the popular influence of the bands that helped make this scene a cultural force has either faded or lost much of its original potency, the vestiges and splinters of the scene they built have in the past few years blossomed into a natural and powerful evolution of the post-punk aesthetic by new bands that have begun to build for themselves a sterling reputation in the music world. Preoccupations (formerly Viet Cong), Algiers, Ought, Girl Band, and Idles represent just a small sampling of this talented group of bands who have released some fantastic post-punk-influenced albums over the past few years, exploring new and exciting sonic and lyrical frontiers with often stellar results. This continuation of a seemingly dead revival is in my mind an entirely good thing, because when done right this music mixes scathing social commentary and sonic abrasiveness/adventurousness unlike any other music being currently produced.
Jostling for a seat at the table with the above group of bands over the past several years is Protomartyr, who have in three albums pushed the envelope of what post-punk was and could be through their unique and potent mix of lyrical cynicism and compositional intrepidness. With their fourth album, Relatives In Descent, Protomartyr have created the peak statement of all that makes post-punk music great. This set of incredible tracks prove that Protomartyr are no longer vying for a seat at the table in the post-punk world, they’ve ascended to its throne. This is one of the best albums of the year in any genre, and an incredible addition to the band’s already immaculate back catalog.
Nailing down the principal strength of Protomartyr’s music is close to impossible. Each individual portion of the band provides its own unique flair that congeals into a sharp, fierce mixture of punk sensibility, songwriting genius, sonic adventurousness, and instrumental dexterity that few other bands can replicate. Opening track “A Private Understanding” exemplifies each of these qualities in spades. Joe Casey’s lyrics are equal parts euphoric and decrepit, emphasizing intelligent cynicism mixed with a dash of longing and a brief smattering of hope. The instrumental performances keep pace with Casey’s expert wordplay (seriously, the man is a brilliant songwriter and lyricist), creating a rich tableau of sound that is parts angular, dark, heavy, and eventually triumphant. Of particular note is the drum work of Alex Leonard, who here creates structures that drive and propel the music with masterful control. This track and “Windsor Hum” in particular give him plenty of room to showcase his talent, and his performance is one of the highlights of the album. The songs on this album are uniformly excellent. There isn’t a dud here. Whether it be the borderline lyrical histrionics of “Here Is the Thing”, the dark and jagged builds and shifts of “My Children”, the melancholy undercurrent of “The Chuckler”, or the haunted dreaminess of “Night-Blooming Cereus”, Protomartyr are in complete and masterful control of the roiling, churning chaos they have created. It is a peerless statement of societal decay, sonic ferocity, and on occasion the bright glimmers of hope one may find in the rubble.
This album will end up on my year-end list. It very well may end up on many more lists than my own as well. I sincerely hope so. Relatives In Descent is a brilliant album by a band that has been slowly and steadily building its reputation and repertoire with great album after great album, finally releasing their masterpiece in 2017 to this music lover’s absolute delight. Cannot recommend this record highly enough.
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Tetragrid – Epochs
Jazz fusion is an immensely broad genre, but there’s a certain style of jazz fusion that definitely feels more jazz fusion than any other. Well, we’ve all got our different history with the genre and very own point of view on it, so that’s most certainly a matter of opinion, but Toronto’s trio Tetragrid nail what is, for me, the sound of jazz fusion. Their debut EP, Epochs, is a mere three songs long, but they put their foot in the door with it, and it’s undeniable that it’s a record of high quality. Never mind the somewhat childish cover art, the music that hides behind it is anything but! The trio consists of drums, guitars, and of a bassist-keyboardist. Their songs are pretty heavy and syncopated, somewhat like Planet X – in fact, that’s what they sound like the most to me –, but focus less on absurd musicianship and more on songwriting. Don’t let this EP slide by, it’s a great debut EP!
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Nordic Giants – Taxonomy of Illusions
I’m usually extremely allergic to new age spirituality in my music. But that allergy is more due to the fact of the shallowness with which bands approach these ideas, co-opting them to fit their own limited and, frankly, boring viewpoints. While I don’t personally believe in any of the perspectives that the so called “New Age” movement has spawned, I do believe that if they’re used to question power structures and to think differently of ourselves, they can do wonders for people, as long as they’re taken with a grain of salt. Thus, bands that utilize those ideas in an intelligent and meaningful way get a pass from me, no matter how cliche or naive their ideas seems.
Nordic Giants is perhaps the best example of this. This UK-based post rock/electronica band have been dealing with New Age since their inception, sampling multiple thinkers and ideas into their tracks. But they’ve also crafted a challenging and deep live persona, used Martin Luther King (and not his more well known speeches only) and created a convincing and well thought-out world perspective of their own. Now, as the duo prepare to release their latest album Amplify Human Vibration, they’ve released a new track, “Taxonomy of Illusions”. It takes its name from the name of a lecture by Terence McKenna, one of the more interesting and radical thinkers of the “late” New Age movement.
As befits this band, they’ve yet again chosen a well written and evocative text as the basis of their music. The electronics work beautifully with it, creating first a build up around its opening passages and then soaring into high peaks as it builds momentum and, finally, assaults the listener’s/society’s beliefs in true McKenna fashion. The tones and instruments used are also characteristic of Nordic Giants, brightly colored and full of treble and reverb. In short, its business as usual for this enigmatic duo and that’s far, far from a bad thing. Nordic Giants are set to deliver yet another brilliant album, further building on their legacy and influence as trendsetters in the field of electronic post rock.