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:
The High Energy Protons – Rogue Wave
We’ve spent some words on the blog describing “the hero’s journey” and its meaning to music. But when I opened an email for a synthwave release claiming to describe that selfsame cycle, I’ll admit I was pretty skeptical. Usually, such retellings involve a hefty amount of lyrics and complicated contrast of instruments and I wasn’t sure that an electronic release could achieve the same themes. But, lo and behold, I was gladly proven wrong by The High Energy Protons’ release, Rogue Wave. Musically, we’re talking about synthwave that’s very close to chillwave, relying on texture, tone and a large variety of sounds to get its message across. The result is a deep and rich album with which to dive, rather than an octane heavy beast driven by momentum and bangers.
Which is great; Rogue Wave does an incredible job of luring you into its own vibe. And that’s where the hero’s journey comes in; there’s a definite sensation on the album of progression, of drama and its resolution, of a story being told. Opener “Voyage” for example has the sensation of an unravelling road, of a setting being displayed to us. It’s calm but has a tight tension to it, like a spring waiting to be uncoiled. Further down the line, with “Rivals” for example, we find much more sinister and “rocky” waters (literally, since the album has a nautical theme). The music is more dynamic and straight forward, carrying across the direct sensation of a conflict being built and then, near the end, resolved.
These are the kind of electronic releases which I love; it has thematic depth and isn’t afraid to make the music follow suit. As a result, Rogue Wave is an album that keeps your attention way beyond the first few listens. It’s not just about aesthetically pleasing tracks but also about a more intricate story and progression via music. In that regard, it perhaps most closely resembles the finer examples of video games soundtracks being produced today, like the work done for Pyre (by Darren Korb) or Celeste (by Kuraine). If you’re looking for good, engaging, and electronic music, look no farther; The High Energy Protons have what you need.
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Beach House – 7
It’s hard to find a band in indie pop more consistent than Beach House. Over six records, the band has honed its dream pop sensibility into a fine art, creating an immediately distinguishable sound that is the gold standard in the genre. This level of cohesion and clarity of vision, however, hasn’t always played in the band’s favor. After the monumental that was Bloom, 2015’s Depression Cherry and Thank Your Lucky Stars felt like much of the same, but not in a good way. I’ve listened to those albums a significant number of times and after each spin each felt more and more like a lifeless shell from which the soul of the band had somehow vacated. Pretty, not without merit, but soulless. The band’s latest record, the simply titled 7, corrects this mistake by re-invigorating the sound that made Beach House the tour de force they are, and is an excellent addition to their mostly brilliant discography.
The most immediately noticeable characteristic of 7 is its immediate accessibility. Gone are the languid, atmosphere-oriented meanderings of Cherry, filled instead with the dreamy, lively composition “Dark Spring”. It’s distinctly Beach House, but with extra verve and focus. “Pay No Mind” is no less compelling, adding a minor touch of romantic gravity to the proceedings. There’s nary a dud on the record, with each subsequent track bringing their own take on the band’s previous work. But, oddly enough given its focus on callbacks, 7 is very far from a retread. It has its own distinct sonic approach to the band’s formula that helps it maintain a certain level of uniqueness throughout. “Lemon Glow” is probably the best example of this, using a songwriting template that feels like it could belong on any of Beach House’s early records, though you may have a tough time picking which. And that’s the beauty of 7: It’s all that the band do well, spanning their entire career, without ever directly aping their previous work. It’s the reset the band needed, and is in my mind a rousing success.
If you, like myself, were underwhelmed by the band’s most recent output, 7 will enchant you thoroughly. If the band’s 2015 releases were your jam, that doesn’t mean that you won’t enjoy 7. This is the Beach House album for all Beach House fans, and one of the most focused and revelatory of their career.
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Leon Bridges – Good Thing
In 2015, soul and R&B singer Leon Bridges released Coming Home, a widely praised 60s R&B revival album rife with Motown references. It truly harkened back to a golden age of R&B, bringing to mind classic artists like Sam & Dave, Wilson Pickett, and Otis Redding. It’s certainly not something we hear often now. Most R&B has moved with the times and adopted a more electronic sound. Bridges instead reached back. His new album, Good Thing, brings more of that sound into the new millennium.
What was so interesting about the previous album was that even the production values made it sound like it was straight out of the 60s. Good Thing removes that Stax Records filter and instead makes it sound as though those same kinds of songs were recorded with modern technology. Bridges is also able to put a modern twist to his music with more contemporary sounding singing techniques and instrumentation.
Unlike the previous record, Bridges expands his sound outside the expected realm. He doesn’t limit himself to the style we knew in the first record. Bridges tries his hand at a few related styles. “Bad Bad News” is closer to a modern jazz track with vocals. “Shy” and “Lions” are R&B songs more akin to Toni Braxton than the 60s sound. There’s even a more 80s blue-eyed soul track with “You Don’t Know”. Good Thing proves Bridges is a vocal talent that isn’t limited to the sound he first became renowned for.
Still, Bridges stands out during the older style numbers. “Bet Ain’t Worth the Hand” is a perfect example of the modern take on 60s soul. There’s a clarity to the song that the first album purposely didn’t have and it’s a fantastic rendition of that style of songwriting. The sampling of classic themes of the era are all there: harp and orchestral introduction, the echoing lyrics from backing vocalists along with excellent harmonies during the chorus, the delightful sparseness when Bridges plays with a verse melody. It’s such a pleasure to hear the new take on this classic sound. The entire album shows Bridges’ range, and hopefully we hear more takes from him in the future.