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:
Guided by Voices – Space Gun
It’s easy to get overwhelmed by Guided by Voices’ output. If you factor in all of Robert Pollard’s ever-cycling side projects, Space Gun is the twelfth full-length release in the GBV greater universal since 2015 alone. That’s a lot of low-fi garage pop to keep up with, even if the vast majority of those releases are good to great. Perhaps needing to take a breather and refill the beer fridge himself, Pollard has promised that Space Gun will be the only full length Guided by Voices studio project released this year. We’ll have to wait and see how that plays out, Uncle Bob says a lot of things. But what is certain is that Space Gun is the most focused, tuneful GBV record in recent memory, a streamlined masterclass in power pop that should serve as an open-armed invitation to any erstwhile GBV fan that has been wandering away, fatigued, from the band in recent years.
If Space Gun is, indeed, the total sum of new GBV we’ll get in 2018, it won’t be such a bad thing: Pollard and Co. made extra sure to cut the fat, tighten the focus, and fill the record front to back with the propulsive and tight rock songs tailor made for fans to sing along and drink along to. The opening title track is GBV at their most anthemic and sincerely wistful, curio “Blink Blank” channels a catchy 80’s synth pop vibe using only vocal samples, and aside from it’s modern production, “I love Kangaroos,” with its breezy acoustic feel and catchy, verbose vocal performance, could sit comfortably on any mid-90’s GBV classic album.
It’s a fool’s errand to hope for any long-term stability to the Guided by Voices lineup. But the current band iteration Pollard has surrounded himself with (including Doug Gillard and Bobby Bare Jr.) seem to serve him well, largely keeping the songs tight and guitar-focused, providing the perfect power pop backdrop for Pollard’s cryptic – and, occasionally, devastatingly impactful – word salad lyrics. In other words, Space Gun is an upper-tier GBV album, one sure to satisfy longtime fans while also providing a perfect entry point for any curious passerby’s too busy or intimidated to go back through the band’s catalogue. Forget the past: right now, the club is open. All are welcome.
The Messthetics – The Messthetics
While it’s going to probably be a very long time before we get that Fugazi reunion we all want and crave, I guess we’ll just have to settle for amazing Fugazi member side projects. The latest comes from the rhythm section of bassist Joe Lally and drummer Brendan Cathy, the jazz rock trio The Messthetics. Together with local DC jazz guitarist and improvisation virtuoso Anthony Pirog, the trio have produced a self-titled album of incredible instrumental improvisation with a lo-fi punk ethic.
As clichéd as it is to say it, my first thought when hearing this record was Band of Gypsys-era Jimi Hendrix. The music just flows from the three guys, but Pirog steals the scenes. He has such an incredible talent for improvisation and technical mastery while also not being afraid to experiment. The first single, “Serpent Tongue,” shows Pirog riffing on anything a guitar player could: power chords, dissonant chords, quick licks in standard scales, effects-induced noise, the works. You can hear how the music just flows from his fingers, almost as if he’s liberating sound for the instrument. Similarly on “Quantum Path,” Pirog can make his guitar sound like it’s having the most glorious panic attack with its frantic finger tapping riff.
Pirog can just as equally handle slower rhythm improv. In “Once Upon a Time,” Pirog shows his mastery over ambience. It’s a soothing chord progression with some fuzz and chorus just singing over the slow brush drum rhythm and light bass progression. It’s very atmospheric and ambient jazz even when Pirog kicks it up halfway through.
It’s definitely hard to expect this from the rhythm section for one of the seminal punk bands of our time but it just works. Fugazi was known for experimentation in punk and spawned a movement of experimental punk bands playing with sound and genres. Despite that, you would never think that the two would hook up with a jazz improviser. If you ever wanted something experimental and just rocking, the Messthetics are it. It’s straightforward but complex. There’s something here for any kind of music fan.
Mount Eerie – Now Only
Thursday marks one year since cancer took my father-in-law’s life. I’ve been thinking about how quickly a year goes by. How much has happened, how many things my wife and I have done, since we sat in that hospice center during his final days. There are some events that create a sort of indentation in your life, around which everything else you do dips, descends, and swirls. An inescapable sort of gravity. This is one of them. It seems the death of Phil Elverum’s wife has had a similar impact. I’ll never be able to fully understand the depth of Phil’s pain, because one thing that I’ve found true about the death of loved ones is that the devastation surrounding that absence is completely individual, encapsulated in memories and emotions that have literally never been shared by anyone else in the same way. It’s a grief that is incredibly isolating, because truly no one can share it with you. The only thing we can do is speak that experience. Sing it. Invite others to see that hole in our being and partake in the communion of absence. His second record regarding the death of his wife (the first being last year’s devastating A Crow Looked At Me), Now Only, continues Phil’s grieving process through song. It’s a sparse, eloquent, beautiful record.
All the sonic touchpoints contained within A Crow… are here: Straightforward arrangements, sparse instrumentation, invasively honest and forthcoming lyrics, and Phil’s forlorn vocal intonations. But to stop there would sell this record short. Outside of similar thematic material, the music and arrangements here are just a bit more expansive. A bit more rich. A little fuller. It’s a logical and effective continuation of the process begun in A Crow… in practically every way. And while the lyrical content of the record is a direct continuation of the themes presented in A Crow…, Now Only finds slivers of light gleaming through the gently floating dust of loss. There is some form of healing here, a decisive motion through the stages of grief that points toward hope. “Distortion” captures these sorts of moments well, as Phil declares “But in my tears right now, light gleams”. It’s a poignant reminder that even within the dark and lonely room that is grief, the process of healing continues unabated. “Now Only” even finds Phil exercising a dark sense of humor that brings awkward chuckles and a brief smile at the unreasonable and uncontrollable juggernaut that is death. “Earth”, one of the best songs Phil has ever written, carries the proceedings below the ground, and is as emotionally devastating as music gets. It’s transfixing in its unique and blatant devastation, and also contains a nod to Wolves in the Throne Room that is as perfect a reference as I have heard in recent years. All of this combines into another utter triumph of personal musical storytelling that is unique in its sensibility and bracing honesty.
This week we’ll be visiting my father-in-law’s (Thomas… his name is Thomas) grave as a family. I’ve been thinking about the trip we took with him to St. Petersburg, Florida the year before he died. How a man whose once incredibly strong body had been obliterated by cancer, still grabbed a paddle board and waded into the Gulf, huge grin on his face, and fought the current and waves trying to stand on that unwieldy board. I remember floating in the water, watching him struggle and persist with the mental strength of ten men. How similar to the illness he was battling, there was little I could do to help him get on that board. That in the water we were equalized in our powerlessness to change things completely outside of our control. I don’t really know what all of that means. But it helps to write it down. In that sense, I think I can understand to some degree where Phil Elverum is coming from. There is catharsis, healing, and hope in speaking the experience of grief. Now Only is Elverum’s second testament to this experience, and it is an uncomfortable yet utterly necessary thing to behold.
Hypno5e/A Backward Glance On the Travel Road – “Who Wakes Up From This Dream Does Not Bear My Name”
There’s a lot you can say about Hypno5e but it all comes down to once fact; they’re weird. From the dubious naming choice, through the way they weave multiple languages into their post metal sensibilities, to the ways in which they refuse to obey the laws that make up post metal, the band have never had much use for being normal. Their previous release, Shores of the Abstract Line, was a difficult and rewarding album. It featured depressing monologues in English, Spanish, and French as well as acoustic segments littered in between the heavier breakdowns and drawn out crescendos. Now, as they gear up for their next release, it seems as if Hypno5e are taking a completely different path; they have been reborn as A Backward Glance On the Travel Road.
This ensemble contains exactly the same members as its parent band but is almost entirely an acoustic band. Their upcoming release, Alba – Les Hombres Errantes, is an acoustic companion to a film being made by their own Emmanuel Jessua (vocals/guitars). Having heard the full album, I can tell you that it’s excellent. It’s expectedly even more somber than their previous releases, which makes sense if you’re familiar with their approach to the acoustic guitars and vocals. Some of the more powerful post metal passages were preserved in a way, by some passages that have a thicker guitar tone and more powerful strumming techniques. But most of it moves in the dark depths of Hypno5e’s timbre, channeling the most melancholic and oppressive of their sound.
“Who Wakes Up From this Dream Does Not Bear My Name” is both the first track from the album and the last single released from it (alongside the poignant “Cuarto del Alba” and the more flamboyant “Los Heraldos Negros”). It is also a very good indication of what you can expect from the album; the acoustic guitar which dominates it is echoing and magnificent, and the signature vocals are present in full force. The track is a long one and takes some time to reach a boiling point but the entire album as well as this track are not about the crescendo; they’re about the distance travelled and the atmosphere which the band (in whichever form you’d prefer to approach them) create via their unique sound. If you’re a fan of undulating acoustic album and of melancholy, this album is one to keep an eye out for.