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:
Bjork – Utopia
There is no artist on the planet like Bjork. A voice that is equal parts immediately recognizable and impossible to describe, the pop goddess from Iceland has been churning out mesmerizing albums for decades. While her early output is utterly unassailable (her run of albums from 1995’s Post through 2004’s Medulla being one of the greatest sequences of captivating and revolutionary pop albums ever), her latter-day material has been less universally adored. Starting with 2007’s Volta, Bjork began to experiment with sounds that would generate critical and popular polarization. Her follow-up record Biophilia did little to dissuade either side of these divergent camps, in many ways doubling down on and moderately expanding the sounds established by her previous record. Thankfully, such ambiguity toward her output would not last. After a four year gestation period and the termination of her long-term relationship with artist Matthew Barney, Vulnicura swam through the eardrums of the planet with all the verve and emotional power of a thunderstorm in the dark, displaying lyrically and musically everything that makes her music special and beautiful. This resurgence and reinvigoration of her sound can be in large part attributed to the co-production of Venezuela’s Arca, who has released three solo records in addition to working with artists like FKA Twigs and Kanye West to create one of the most unusual and transfixing production aesthetics in modern music. He again lends his talents to Bjork’s latest record, Utopia, which continues the trends established by Vulnicura, but also expands on them in very rich and fulfilling ways.
One of the most noticeable differences between Vulnicura and Utopia is mood. While the former found Bjork in a state of existential ambiguity and deep sadness, Utopia peddles a mood far more uplifting and positive. This change in outlook is evident both compositionally and lyrically, finding Bjork exploring topics of relationships, life, and sexuality atop a kaleidoscopic sea of luxuriant compositions that are some of the most beautiful of her career. From the opening track “Arisen My Senses”, it is evident that Bjork is approaching her music from a very different state of mind. This continues through the stark, gorgeous “Blissing Me”, the haunting “The Gate”, and the gorgeously and off-kilter composition of the album’s title track, showcasing with more clarity than ever the sonic footprint that Arca has left on Bjork’s sound. To be frank, the marriage between these two artists is one of such perfect symbiosis that it’s a wonder that the two have not collaborated before the past few years. It’s hard to imagine another pairing scaling the dizzying heights of “Body Memory” or the glitchy goodness of “Claimstaker” with such complementary force. The two seem made for each other, and the music they conjure here is very much in keeping with the sonic magnificence laid down by Vulnicura.
Utopia doesn’t come without its potential downsides. While one of her most sonically adventurous and rapturous records, it is also her longest record by a fairly wide margin, clocking in at over 71 minutes in length. While this is not an inherently negative quality, it does create some level of difficulty in the absorption department for listeners. The whole record is a great deal to take in during one sitting, but those who persist (especially through multiple listens) will be rewarded by a cornucopia of sounds and themes that feel distinctly Bjork without ever feeling stagnant or overly repetitive regarding her previous work. Utopia once again presents Bjork as an artist continuing to build and re-shape the future of pop music through delicious and incomparably lush sounds and textures. Newcomers to her closet of wonders and long-time fans alike should find plenty to love here.
The Recess Bureau – Consensus
24 of November is a busy day for Danbury, Connecticut jazz fusion collective The Recess Bureau. Indeed, they’ve released two EPs on this day, and I’m going to talk about the latter of the two. Consensus is a funky jazz fusion release with loads of influences borrowed from hip hop and R&B, and it’s a rather new facet of the band that I’m seeing, here. Of course, the parallels to draw with Snarky Puppy, and other jazz quasi-big bands of that ilk, are many, but I like to think that The Recess Bureau keep sound of their own. The singer, who also appears on The Big Stink, is Fernanda Franco, and she brings almost entirely on her own that whole R&B vibe, with lush and warm vocals. Consensus is also, in its own way, a protest EP. It’s not too flamboyant about it, but it’s in the details. Overall, it’s a fantastic little album, so I encourage you to go and listen to it, and give a try to its companion The Big Stink as well!
Meet Scattle, the trip hop artist you never knew you needed
Man, how influential was Hotline Miami? The game not only ushered in a host of ultra-violent, throwback, top down sort of games into the industry but was also instrumental in the success of synth and retrowave. It’s almost impossible to talk about that game’s rise to fame without mentioning the soundtrack; many people have heard countless artists from it without playing a second of the game. Alongside synthwave, Hotline Miami also featured plenty of artists who dabbled and still dabble in trip hope, synthwave’s off-kilter sibling. The OST is still a treasure trove of music to discover; take Scattle for example.
Simon was the one who first turned me onto this guy and he said it was the artwork, made by another trip hop artists called El Huervo that first caught his attention. On his recommendation, I first checked out a single released in November of this year, “Caution”, before diving into 2015’s Timelapse and my attention was caught instantly. Something was very familiar about the aesthetics and music, beyond the ties to the magnificent El Huervo. Only when scrolling back on his Bandcamp page did it click; Scattle was a part of the Hotline Miami soundtrack. This also tells you what you can expect musically from this artist: plenty of strong beats, rich synthesized textures, a predilection for the 80’s and a violent streak which runs underneath the whole thing.
Trip hop can be touch and go for me but when it’s this good, I’m instantly hooked. Timelapse has this alluring quality of being more clever than it originally sets out to be; there’s plenty of stuff hiding underneath the surface, like the subtle key changes on the title track, for example. There’s just a well of ideas, transitions and grooves to discover on this release, beyond it just being danceable and downright fun. And hey, those things aren’t bad in and of themselves so pour yourself some sort of phlorescent drink, put on your favorite pair of shades and hit the streets of an imaginary Miami as the pixels deteriorate around you.