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:
Shame – Songs of Praise
For fans of post-punk, the last few years have been a veritable treasure trove of great releases. Ought, Algiers, Viet Cong/Preoccupations, Iceage, Idles, Girl Band, and The Men have each released fantastic records over the past three years, and there’s little indication that this success won’t continue into 2018. Within the ranks of the modern post-punk elite, we can now consider newcomers Shame a vital contributor to the genre’s continued success. Songs of Praise is a damn good debut, and one of the early highlights of 2018.
In a musical environment where critics often put a premium on “newness” or unique sensibilities (myself included), it’s easy to overlook when a band knows exactly what they want to do, execute that vision with clarity, skill, and conviction, even though that plan may not be intended to present anything definitively new. This, for me, is where Shame lands, and that is far from an insult or statement of disappointment. Mainly because the bands and sounds Shame chooses to incorporate blend so wonderfully into the band’s own organic energy. The Ramones-like propulsion of “Lampoon”, frontman Charlie Steen’s Nick Cave-inspired musings on “The Lick”, the sonic influence of The Fall and Wire dripping off nearly every track present a fantastic kaleidoscope of post-punk influence that is nearly impossible to ignore or dislike. But Shame thankfully offer bit more than the aping of fantastic influences, and for the most part transcend their inspirations with a manic energy all their own. This band must put on one helluva live show, because the amount of raw energy that permeates this entire record is absolutely electric. This sense of raw power is heightened due to a composition style that focuses the mix toward the angular, fierce guitar work. Steen’s lyrics are highly entertaining as well, blending the snarky, literate realism of Idles’ Joe Talbot with the humor of and stark confidence of Future of the Left/Christian Fitness’ Andrew Falkous, with perhaps an even more aggressive bent. Songs of Praise in many ways listens like a “best of” release for everything post-punk does well, and that by itself makes it worth a listen.
There are bands working the punk and post-punk circuits who don’t have the level of self-assurance and confidence that Shame has on their debut record halfway through their multi-decade careers. These UK boys are worth keeping a close eye on, and I have extremely high hopes regarding their subsequent output. But for now, all I need is Song of Praise. While it may not be the most original album to come out of the modern post-punk movement, it sure as hell is as good as the best of them. A fantastic release.
Nulabee – Queen for a Day
EDM is pretty much over, this much we know. Lost in the ever unfolding labyrinths of shady Spotify artists, Soundcloud’s imminent demise and the lurid backrooms of multi-million corporations, the genre has lost much of the creative drive and flair that once motivated it. However, this is no reason to despair since, like a wildfire through the proverbial woods, the death of a genre can be the best thing that happened to it. Think of retrowave; 80’s pop had to die so that the genre could have a throwback to something now extinct. Nulabee, even though the producer has been consistently at work for a few years now, presents what is perhaps the first of a wave of throwbacks to when EDM was great. His latest release, Queen for a Day, is another bold re-exploration into what the genre is still capable of, especially now that it’s “dead”.
Check out the second track, “Kingdoms Fall” for a taste of what I mean. Listen to the infectious beat, driven by a consistent composition and driving force instead of pointless build ups and drops. Listen to the clever use of what’s become a tired cliche by now, the digitized childish voice, here used as an instrument instead of a novelty. When the beat does disappear and then build up again, it’s done in a clever contextualization of the moment among verses and choruses. The track simply shines with a direction and a purpose, freed from the shackles of what’s come to be expected of EDM in our day and age.
The real beauty is that it’s also immediately recognizable as EDM. It doesn’t resort to outside influences and experimentation. Instead, its strength lies in re-visiting the genre posthumously, musing on what it meant and why it worked so well. This makes Queen for a Day, release today, a true pleasure to listen to. Its playful, emotionally evocative and hopeful like all good EDM should be but it also considers the genre from new perspectives and approaches. Oh, and did we mention its beautifully produced? That has absolutely become the standard for Nulabee releases but damn has he outdone himself here. Check out the next track, “The Promise of Horizon”, for some of the deepest and most beautifully realized drum/string combinations you’ve heard.
VLMV – Stranded, Not Lost
There’s a genre out there that’s all about the fuzz which lives between the strings of the piano. I haven’t written about it enough but it contains some of my favorite artists: Deaf Center and Sebastian Piano, for example. This genre relies on ambiance and the way the inherently percussive timbre of the piano slices through anything undefined to produce moving pieces of music which traverse the range between melancholic to hopeful with a surprising dexterity. These works are usually devoid of music. That is, unless you’re VLMV (pronounced “ALMA”). This duo accomplishes everything I described above but then also adds in touching vocals, elevating the whole experience to new levels. On February 16th they’ll be releasing another full length release, titled Stranded, Not Lost.
The first track we have from the release, “All These Ghosts”, is a perfect introduction to the album. The interplay between the lightly strummed guitars, the faint ambiance which suffuses the track (in the form of string effects, looped and re-rendered) and the moving vocals which remind us of Gates, works to create a rich track. This “richness” characterizes the entire album, giving it much more flesh than its minimalist roots might indicate. The result is an album which has more than just an initial emotional impact, something which all albums in the genre tend to lean heavily on, but also a lingering ability to reveal more layers to the dedicated listener. This means that Stranded, Not Lost survives rotation with an exemplary resilience, constantly rewarding and enriching the listening experience. Bottom line, it’s a fantastically realized release for those of you out there who like to listen to music which sounds like the dawn breaking, in all its terrible, melancholy and amazing glory.