Ah, May! One of the best months of the year, when Spring is here and the elements seem more benign before the scorching heat of the Summer sun descends upon us. It’s also a good time for music, as many labels, bands and outlets shake off the webs of Winter’s sleep and try to get as much music out there to dominate the Summer charts. Have I mentioned all seasons? Just missing Autumn. There we go! Anyway, back to the matter at hand; this month’s list is stacked and once again full of a variety of musical goodness. As we start to head off into the middle of the year, midway lists are starting to be built and everyone is partaking in everyone’s taste, looking for that one release that got away and simply must show up in theirs.
Can we talk about how weird lists are and how weird posts like these are? We’ve grown used to their appearance and this idea of cataloging music according to what’s “best”, which is a really silly notion. Music hardly stays put, not to mention our opinions of it. On a certain day, a specific album might be the best thing I’ve ever heard and on another, I can’t stand it. And yet, here we find ourselves again, putting things into order (although not too rigid here) and acting like our opinions on music are solid and stable. Maybe it’s because the sheer amount of music we have access to scares us or that we’re afraid of feeling overwhelmed, but there’s something therapeutic for me in all this bookkeeping; it helps me feel that I’ve got a handle on things and that I’m spending my time properly.
Do you feel the same way? Maybe not, maybe so. In any case, the list below has something for you. Whether looking for a casual burst of endorphin or a conceptual masterpiece to sink your teeth into, the below post will slake your thirst. So, head on down below the jump and get your taste of May; June is already fast approaching,
Alkaloid – Liquid Anatomy (progressive death metal)
The more I write about music and immerse myself in the questions of what makes it tick, the more I am paradoxically drawn to simpler definitions of what good music is. Right now, I’m of the distinct conviction (which will probably be exchanged in a few weeks for something else) that an album’s worth lies in how many “holy fucking shit WHAT” moments it has on it. These are musical moments that leave your jaw open as you try to take in what happened both on a mental level and on an emotional level, as the impact of the moment washes over you. When Alkaloid‘s The Malkuth Grimoire released, I got the chance to hear an album with one of the highest number of those moments on it. I never expected this supergroup to be good, much less excellent; supergroups usually suck. But they were amazing, ambitious, organic and technically perfect.
How little did I know. Liquid Anatomy basically takes everything that was awesome about the previous album and injects it with a healthy dose of shameless Yes and Rush worship. Seeing as those are two of my favorite bands, I was instantly sold, from the first moment that “Kernel Panic” played. But the true genius is that, somehow, Liquid Anatomy manages to be just as heavy as The Malkuth Grimoire alongside the brighter, more progressive sections. The guitars just wave in and out of both styles, converging into a massive whole of intricacy, heaviness, brutality and sci-fi wonder. It’s mind-boggling how Alkaloid was able to keep everything in place but by utilizing good songwriting, great album structure and just the sheer talent of players in their roster, they were able to pull it off.
I’d be remiss if I also didn’t mention Morean’s vocals and how far he’s come from the recent release. Obviously, he’s no stranger to metal and singing; Dark Fortress is one of the most important bands in modern metal. But on this album, he’s truly pushed himself to new heights of performance. His voice sounds so unbelievably crisp and convincing on this album that it carries many of the more complex tracks, anchoring your attention as the cosmos crashes around you. Add in the unbelievable talent sitting behind the drums and the guitars and you have yourself a beast of an album, perhaps the best progressive death metal album this year (in a year that’s seen several amazing releases in the genre) and beyond, of the past decade at the very least.
The Body – I Have Fought Against It, But I Can’t Any Longer. (drone metal, post-industrial)
One of the more interesting arcs of a band’s career in metal has been The Body‘s gradual incorporation of more and more electronics into their music. It’s hard to argue that this was, in any way, not a positive thing: their niche ground of hyper-nihilistic sludge/drone had become less and less fertile with continual regular harvests, and the Oregonian duo started to grow more complacent with their lot. Although regular collaborations, like those with Thou (holy shit, their collabs with Thou are fucking incredible) and Vampillia kept them from going stale, the danger was certainly there.
But then, lo and behold, along comes 2016’s No One Deserves Happiness, an effort that completely switched up The Body’s game plan for the better. Incorporating elements of pop music like bright, gauzy synthesizers, drum machines, and the dangerously hypnotic vocals of Maralie Armstrong alongside the typical crushing guitar work and banshee screech of Chip King, NODH showed that the pair still had plenty of miles left to go before the grand experiment that is The Body ran out of ground to explore. A subsequent two collaborations with grindcore savants Full of Hell and the A Home On Earth EP further explored the band’s new power electronics-inspired direction, and with new album I Have Fought Against It, But I Can’t Any Longer. we see this sound explored even further.
It’s clear that The Body has gotten far, far more comfortable since NODH‘s release with the electronic elements they’re choosing to employ here: where that album was somewhat stiff and uniform in its use of drum machines and synths, I Have Fought Against It is far more lithe, nimble, adaptive. Tracks wriggle and squirm, more writhing and snaking their way from start to finish than following a direct A-to-B path. Vocal contributions from the inimitable Lingua Ignota bring such a clear sense of character to each song on which she appears, and these songs go on to form the emotional underpinning of the entire album. I Have Fought Against It grows, changes, morphs, perseveres: it is, in every sense of the word, an album that is truly alive. And with living, The Body is here to remind us, comes suffering.
Body Void – I Live Inside a Burning House (sludge metal, crust punk)
Heavy can mean many things to your average metalhead. It can be defined as the vibrations of a titanic riff, surging slowly and mercilessly through your chest. Think the black-hearted sonic savagery of Conan or Electric Wizard for reference. Heaviness can also be thematic in nature, exemplified through music that guides/drags us through tales of hopelessness and despair from bands like Loss or Nort. There are many ways to define what is heavy, but what most all of us should be able to agree upon is that Body Void is heavy. Really, really, ridiculously heavy. Mixing the sludgy, doom-oriented brutalization of the above acts and coupling it with lyrics that deal with topics like gender identity, suicidal depression, and the struggle of living everyday life, it’s hard to imagine 2018 giving us an album more unrelentingly, oppressively heavy than their sophomore record, I Live Inside a Burning House. Grab some headphones and prepare for cosmic obliteration.
While the band is relatively green, they have through two albums (including last year’s excellent appetizer Ruins) presented a sound that is impressively distinct, intensely focused, and utterly devastating. There’s a maturity to this record. A confidence that stems from knowing you have good material to share. They aren’t wrong. Will Ryan’s pained, emotion-tinged vocals are the perfect accompaniment to music heavy enough to sink an aircraft carrier. Ryan’s guitar work is as controlled and ferocious as his vocals, while Parker Ryan (bass) and Edward Holgerson (drums) provide a rhythmic undercurrent that adds additional weight to the proceedings. The massive “Haunted” uses all eighteen minutes of its run-time to slowly pummel listeners into submission, using the majority of this time to build a decaying doom castle, only to be razed by a rage-filled blast of blackened hardcore/sludge that closes the song with all the fire and fury one could want. “Trauma Creature”, and “Phantom Limb” all follow suit, presenting a near-perfect mixture of glacial doom and manically aggressive bursts of up-tempo energy. Album finale “Given”, the longest track on the record at over twenty minutes, is a soul-crushing experience that will most assuredly cause some deep levels of anxiety throughout its gargantuan run-time. For fans of the more emotionally wrathful musings of Primitive Man, look no further for your enraged, utterly depressed fix.
I Live Inside a Burning House is a triumphant example of lyrical and sonic unity, with each allowing the other the opportunity to breathe and suffocate in equal measure. I strongly encourage you to read through the lyric sheet for this record. There are powerful and potent statements being made on many important topics, and metal needs voices like these to bring these subjects to the forefront. With this record, Body Void have here cemented their place as one of the most thoroughly engaging and nightmarishly heavy bands on the planet. This is the stuff of violent dreams and unrelenting nightmares. Prepare your body accordingly.
Garganjua – Through The Void (progressive doom metal)
We’ve been boring you with the details of the revival which doom metal is undergoing for a few years now, to the extent that it’s no longer worth mentioning. Doom metal being one of the most prolific sub-genres of metal is old news. But herein lies the best proof of its prominence; it’s so ubiquitous that it’s become day to day, just another fact. That’s also where the danger lies, as fans start to enter a different phase of listening, one in which they might encourage repetition and templates, searching for the same thrills for which the beginning of the cycle was notable. Thus, it becomes even more important to highlight outstanding voices inside the genre and Garganjua are definitely that.
If you want to split hairs even further, it’s easy to demarcate even further within doom and point towards a sort of “emotional doom” that’s come to the fore. Spearheaded by bands like Pallbearer and YOB, this kind of doom focuses not so much on heaviness (although there’s plenty of that) but also on vocals dripping with expression, distress and an overflowing of emotion. These are the spaces within which Garganjua operate, weaving enough variety and structural progressive attitudes to stand well above the crop. Take the acoustic passages on opener “A Distant Shore”, wholly their’s and expertly positioned, or the trade-off between harsh and clean vocals on “Crushed Beneath the Tide”, creating a tapestry of highs and lows that sucks the listener in.
All of this leads to maybe the most important trait of Through the Void, especially in light of doom and its current position: it makes the album re-listenable to an incredible degree. This is where a lot of doom metal fails, content to wow on first impact without hiding much beneath the surface. But here, Garganjua have placed so many layers, ideas and sounds out of the immediate listener’s reach, tantalizing with so much more beneath the surface. The album opens up the more you listen to it, like a manuscript unfolding beneath the attentive reader’s gaze. The result is something which is more than just towering and overwhelming but an album you can stick your teeth into and come back to. Even though the emotions displayed are melodramatic and often out of reach, this attention to detail offers a human bridge extending from your ear to the heart of the band. And that’s what all great doom does; open a door for you into the emotion-drenched world of another human being. Reach out a hand; you won’t regret it.
Ihsahn – Ámr (progressive metal)
Anything Ihsahn does is likely to show up in our lists. He’s just too good at this “making music” thing. However, don’t let that undersell Ámr. It’s more than just that – it’s perhaps his best album since at least After. He paints with such narrow strokes that it’s hard to think how one could innovate in this space, but he always finds a way. When one listens to an Ihsahn album, one generally knows what to expect. Some heavy 8-string riffing, some weird melodic stuff, mellow ballads, screaming, singing, and a very particular musical texture. That’s still true of Ámr, but it somehow feels completely fresh.
It’s no secret that Ihsahn was a close collaborator of Leprous for years, and here we can see traces of that. In fact, Ámr can also be considered the best Leprous album since Coal, which is also why it speaks to me as a disenfranchised former Leprous fan. But of course, it has Ihsahn’s unique personal twist on it, which makes things even better. He has a way of overlaying what would be rather conventional melodies, but picking combinations of melodies that don’t work together, yet somehow making them work. I know, this sounds self-contradictory, but that’s the nature of his genius. He can simultaneously comfort and unsettle the listener.
We see his usual experimental streak all over the place, with monotone synth-based riffs that go into full on black metal in “Lend Me The Eyes of Millenia”, a mess of singing, energetic drumming, samples and more that come together beautifully in “In Rites Of Passage”, typically-Ihsahn songs like “One Less Enemy” and “Marble Soul”, a poppy sing-along in “Twin Black Angels”, a borderline Emperor song in “Wake”, and much more. Honestly, these descriptions are all underselling how much is going on in each song.
In the end, it’s hard to capture Ihsahn’s brilliance into words, as what he does is always way more than the sum of its parts, and it defies expectations consistently. The only surprise here is that he’s still going so strong after so many fantastic albums, and that he’s perhaps even better than ever.
TWRP – Together Through Time (nu-disco)
One of my favorite moments in the history of nu-disco was when a relatively popular French house duo caused one of the biggest flip-flops in modern music journalism. Back in 2001, Pitchfork’s review of Discovery by Daft Punk slapped a 6.4 on the album and described it as a grotesque, relatively harmless Frankenbaby birthed by prog and disco. Eight years later, the site placed Discovery third among its 200 Best Albums of the 2000s, praising the album for “rewriting electronic pop’s pleasure principles.” I personally credit this reversal to Pitchfork wanting to keep up with Daft Punk’s stratospheric rise in popularity post-Discovery, but on the other hand, nu-disco can be a jarring listen for newcomers. The combination of disco, funk and house with prominent sci-fi themes kind of is a Frankenbaby of sorts, and when executed poorly, it can be bland and repetitive at best and an unbearable gimmick at worst. Plenty of artists have pulled it off with style, including personal favorites like Classixx, Lindstrøm and Todd Terje. Yet, no one has recaptured that magic I felt the first time I heard Discovery quite like TWRP has on Together Through Time. The album uses all of nu-disco’s best qualities to deliver the best summer soundtrack I’ve heard in years.
TWRP execute everything about nu-disco so well that it’s difficult to pick which element to highlight first. In just a minute’s time, intro “Head up High” checks every box fans of the genre should look for – prominent, slapping bass; epic synth, guitar and string lines; driving percussion; and an overarching vibe of 80s nostalgia cemented by a delightfully Goonies-esque opening melody. From their, the group continues to pile on the bangers track after track. Not only does “Synthesize Her” immediately launch a huge sonic summer bash, it also presents the groups quirky, clever sense of humor. The track truly feels like an ode to dance music on every level, complete with an infectious vocoder chorus, bouncing piano chords and a guitar hook and solo that weave through it all beautifully.
From there, it’s truly a “pick your pleasure” kind of situation. The Protomen jump on “Phantom Racer” to produce what’s probably the best Street Racer homage ever laid to tape; “Our Fathers” proves the band can almost entirely ditch the synths and write an organic nu-disco jam; and “Life Party” layers on gratuitous layers of feel-good fun for an addictive dance anthem, similar in many ways to the classic Daft Punk cut “Digital Love.” The album’s other guest spots compliment TWRP’s music perfectly, particularly Lydia Persaud‘s feature on “Take Care of U.” The track feels like the disco jam Bruno Mars and Mark Ronson wish they wrote, and the band’s vocoder vocals provide great support for Persaud’s phenomenal vocal delivery. TWRP and Planet Booty deliver some sultry swagger on “Tactile Sensation,” and Dan Avidan hops on “Starlight Brigade” to help elevate some thumping 80s electro-rock.
I could keep rambling on, but my main point is pretty simple: this should be your go-to album for the summer, and I truly question your sense of fun if you don’t find yourself at least tapping your foot to virtually every track. Though I’ve gravitated more towards experimental and avant-garde music over the years, I’ve never lost my deep-seeded passion for quality dance music, and albums like Together Through Time remind me why. There’s a reason I’ve spun the album nonstop since Eden recommended it earlier this month, and I can’t imagine I’ll find more pure enjoyment from another album I hear this year.
Amorphis – Queen of Time (melodeath, folk metal)
This record deserves more than the blurb it gets here. The reigning kings of melodic metal are back with another stellar release. It’s hard to imagine this band releasing a bad record, and Queen of Time does absolutely nothing to cast doubt on that notion. A must listen.
Beach House – 7 (dream pop, shoegaze)
This is Beach House’s seventh record. It’s also one of their best and most affecting. If you are even remotely interested in this band’s development or premium dream pop, you’ve come to the right place.
LEYA – The Fool (avant-garde, modern classical)
There aren’t many guarantees in life, but at least I know NNA Tapes will drop at least one noteworthy album every month. The Fool is the latest example in this trend of great experimental releases, from LEYA‘s intriguing combination of harp, violin and dual vocals down to its bizarre (and amazing) cover art. Adam Markiewicz and Marilu Donovan are a ferociously creative duo that takes a maximalist approach to a minimalist lineup. The duo’s quartet of instruments converges to create striking modern compositions that dive headfirst into the avant-garde, coming out the other end as a collection of unique, memorable tracks that excel far above the often stale landscape of modern classical.
Shakey Graves – Can’t Wake Up (alt-country, indie rock)
I’ve been slowly warming up to Shakey Graves’ Americana and folk-infused musings over the past several years. Can’t Wake Up is the moment that Alejandro Rose-Garcia’s musical evolution blossoms into something truly special. A fantastic record for fans of traditional American music that is unafraid to experiment.
Wayfarer – World’s Blood (atmospheric black metal)
Denver! Need I fucking say more? Is there no limit to the amount of amazing doom, black, folk and otherwise nature-obsessed bands this city will produce? Regardless of the answer, you can add Wayfarer to the list; World’s Blood is an impressive step forward for this band, further cementing them as a name to watch in the fields of atmospheric black metal.