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:
Akkord – Akkord
This might technically be considered a throwback, since this album came out in 2013, but not for me; I’ve only now started delving deeper into the world of electronic music. I like to explore genres this way, declaring a segment or scene I’d like to get into. Two years ago, I started seriously looking at black metal and now that I have a more or less serviceable acquaintance with the genre, I’m turning my sights elsewhere. Interestingly enough, though metal and electronic music (especially the “darker” genres we’ll be exploring today), there’s a lot of animosity there, at least where I’m from. I guess it’s a matter of differing aesthetics and approaches to music, especially when metal puts so much emphasis on authenticity while electronic music is all about reproduction and sampling.
In any case, Akkord’s self titled album is a fantastic work of dark electronic music, blending lo-fi jungle beats, harrowing techno influences and chill ambience. The end result is an album which goes hard but also knows how to caress, creating a soundscape that’s cold and oddly beautiful. Tracks like “Rocendal” for example, near the end of the album, utilize the ambience in interesting ways, often times even turning it into wobbles reminiscent of a kind of turned down dubstep. Putting the beats and the ambience on the same pulse is a brilliant move and one which lends Akkord a real strength; even when it’s tripped out, it still has punch, calling back to the staccato heartbeats which make it move.
Akkord is also a beguiling beat, constantly transforming itself and where it’s coming from. Check out “3dOS” for example for a more “club” vibe, where the techno influences really shine through on the mainline beat that drives the track. Those odd dub sounds are still there, but the track is much more about the electronic callouts and the ferocity of the approach. By the time the main lines of the track are introduced you’re all in, ready to let loose with the powerful rhythmic shifts in the middle of the track. All of these make Akkord a deep and intriguing album, defying expectations and labeling with ease. There’s a lot here for those looking for the kind of frigid darkness which techno excels at with none of the price of repetition and simplicity.
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Oneohtrix Point Never – Age Of
Daniel Lopatin is a fairly ubiquitous name in the world of electronic music. As Oneohtrix Point Never, he has released and produced several critically acclaimed records, including collaborations with Anohni, FKA Twigs, Tim Hecker, and a slew of other acclaimed artists. Not to mention his soundtrack work for the Safdi Brothers’ fantastic 2017 film Good Time, or his status as a grandfather of the vaporwave microgenre. He’s an artist that you’ve probably heard, even if you’ve never heard of him. On his tenth record, Age Of, Lopatin has created one of his most ambitious and deeply collaborative projects yet. It’s a dark, fluid, lush and triumphant record that is one of the best of his illustrious career.
Those familiar with the OPN discography are undoubtedly familiar with the diverse palette of sounds and textures that Lopatin plays with. Age Of presents a unique addition to this already varied catalog by containing, oddly, some of his most conventionally structured compositions yet. Standout track “The Station” started as a potential collaborative project with Usher, while “Black Snow” grooves and snaps like a Top 40 ballad, complete with auto-tuned vocals and a consistent, entrancing rhythmic thread throughout. While slightly less bonkers in his approach to his music this time around, Lopatin’s focus on recognizable pop structures is by no means a bad thing. More than on any record in his career, Age Of introduces recognizable and easily digestible musical motifs only to slowly, methodically deconstruct them to their most ethereal, essential, and sometimes sinister elements. “Babylon” is a perfect example of this, seeming at first an easily recognizable clone of the type of minimalist pop found in Bon Iver’s latest recordings. But a quick look under the hood finds a ridiculous amount of oddball sonic wealth that undergirds the song’s more relatable melodies, including some frantic screaming from Dominick Fernow of Prurient. As the record progresses, things get weirder and darker, taking these song structures and deconstructing them in creative and effective ways. The radical screams and diabolical whispers that slither over a jittery structure of beats and chopped vocals in “Warning” turn a song that could have been fairly standard fare into something wild and untamed. The contributions of Prurient and Anohni ( most notably present on “Same”) are particularly impactful in this regard, filling tracks throughout the record with either intensely soulful vocal harmony or wildly aggressive black metal-esque pyrotechnics. James Blake, Eli Keszler, and Kelsey Lu provide additional instrumentation and production help throughout the record as well, giving it a distinctly synthy, dreamy edge. It’s a who’s who of avant pop and electronic music that culminates into a deep deconstruction of pop music in 2018. It is, on the whole, a triumph of electronic music composition.
Daniel Lopatin is one of electronic music’s most consistently creative and uniformly excellent treasures, and Age Of does nothing to tarnish this reputation. One of his most engaging and diverse records, and one of my favorite releases of the year. Don’t miss this one.
Neko Case – Hell-On
Alt-country darling Neko Case is back after an extended hiatus with Hell-On. Between this and her last solo record, The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, the More I Love You, she had several other projects, including guest appearances on two New Pornographers records and a record with k.d. lang and Laura Veirs. Still, those aren’t Neko Case records, and many of us missed her very original take on Americana and folk.
For those who don’t know, Case became big for her particular brand of alternative country and Americana. They’re uniquely country songs but not the Grand Ole Opry-style of country or top 40 pop country you find on most mainstream radio stations. Case ditches the twangy guitars and redneck stylings and focuses instead on songwriting. This album is the perfect example of Case at her best. Her lyrics often focus on introspection and headier concepts, often telling specific stories or narrating emotional breakdowns. The lyrics are frequently accompanied by pianos and acoustic guitars or more folk-inspired backing bands. Everything is awash in reverb often making them very sparse tracks but also really engages emotional responses.
Case’s songs can also be very pointed in their themes and these are often her best tracks. “Last Lion of Albion” is the best example on Hell-On. The whole song calls out people using images to define themselves based on the past while also recognizing those things are gone and we didn’t care about them when they were here. She references Roman she-wolves, Tasmanian devils, and Native American tribes on the western American plains. This is all accompanied by the original protest music: folk music. Lightly strummed acoustic guitars and light drum beats from simple drum kits. And never forget the tambourine accompaniment! If you like some twang with your country music, move along. If you like something folky and thought-provoking, please give Neko a listen.
Chvrches – Love is Dead
If the only real problem with Chvrches’ first album, The Bones of What You Believe (2013), was that none of its other songs were quite as good as “Gun”; then its follow-up—2015’s Every Eye Open—primarily suffered from being a more self-serious effort… that also didn’t have any songs that were as good as “Gun” on it. Love is Dead rectifies these issues, somewhat, by blending the more focused nature of the synth-pop trio’s sophomore effort with the more immediate nature of the material from their debut, to produce an album that both stands out more on first listen than its predecessor and perhaps rewards repeat listens more so than the band’s debut as well.
Lead single, “Get Out” and “Deliverance” provide early highlights, especially the latter, which blends a sullen, bass-heavy tone in with the Scots’ usual technicolour soundscape. Opener, “Graffiti” likewise comes of like an earnest—and highly successful—attempt at recapturing the more upbeat nature of their early material, while maintaining the more serious tone of their later output. Deeper cuts, like “Forever,” “Never Say Die” and “Graves” prove similarly successful in recapturing the inherently “fun” aspects of their genre, that were perhaps somewhat lost on Every Eye Open; while “Miracle” provides the welcome sequel to Pvris’s debut that that fellow alphabetically-challenged trio refused to deliver in last year’s All We Know of Heaven, All We Need of Hell.
Love is Dead’s only real downfall is that, even at just under fifty-minutes, it comes across as a bit over-long, and perhaps a bit sickly sweet for its own good. Three of the record’s later numbers, “God’s Plan”, “Really Gone” and “II” could be cut with little detriment to the overall experience. The first of this is one of those unfortunate male-vocal-lead numbers that the band (and others of their ilk) insist on including on each record—seemingly just to remind you that there are actually other members of the band, besides their charismatic, and semi-iconic frontwoman (looking at you London Grammar). The track isn’t a particularly successful take on the format either, and the album’s other male-lead offering, “My Enemy” at least goes to the effort of recruiting The National’s Matt Berninger to give it some character. But hey, I guess people need bathroom breaks sometimes…
Minor (and perhaps largely unfair) gripes aside, however, Love Is Dead remains a remarkable effort which, if not necessarily Chvrches’ best is certainly their most consistent, and arguably their most effective overall. There’s still nothing as good as “Gun” on it though.