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:
DJ Richard – Dies Iræ Xerox
DJ Richard makes music for the saddest, darkest dance party of all-time. With compositions drenched in a pitch black cloak of atmosphere, expertly melding droned-out noise with a roiling undercurrent of jittery beats, his records are a one-way trip to the dark side of electronic music. Dies Iræ Xerox is no exception to this standard, and honestly sets the standard for how this type of music can and should sound in 2018. It’s an assured, aggressive sophomore outing that further cements DJ Richard’s reputation as one of the premiere artists working in this sonic space.
For those unfamiliar, DJ Richard’s music is a mix of the sheer darkness HEALTH conjured in Death Magic and the creeping menace of The Soft Moon dropped into an expansive, sometimes shimmering blanket of atmosphere. Not as aggressive in tempo as the music from the above artists, DJ Richard takes his time creating stark, spacey soundscapes that nestle their way into your brain and stay there. Whether with the skittering, memorable bite of “Pitfall” and its constant and oppressive electronic dirge, or the dark-alley-at-midnight vibe of “Tunnel Stalker”, DJ Richard’s compositions have a way of sticking with you both musically and psychologically. While the beats here are fit for a very depressed rave, it’s the drone, ambient, and noise elements that set him apart from his contemporaries. The album’s title cut, “In Broad Daylight”, and “Ancestral Helm” all detail this particular side of his compositional style, adding depth, complexity, and additional flavor to this seething brood of melancholy tracks. It’s a smorgasbord of deliberately paced audio nihilism, and I relished every second of it.
If the darker, atmosphere-oriented side of electronic music tickles your fancy, don’t sleep on Dies Iræ Xerox. It’s a fantastic album from a talented producer who is only just beginning to make his mark. Give this record time to sink its hooks into you and before long you won’t be able to free yourself from its intoxicating spell. Essential listening for electronic music aficionados.
Florence + the Machine – High as Hope
If you’re a newcomer to Florence + the Machine like myself, then you’ve picked an exceptional entry point into their discography. One of my closest friends is an unabashed F+M fanboy who’s begged me for years to dive into what he describes as some of the best art/chamber/indie pop out there. From what I’ve heard (primarily from Lungs), Florence Welch’s unmistakable vocals lead some of sweeping, anthemic pop that’s equally textured with layers of details. Yet, only the essence of this approach is present throughout High as Hope, as Welch uses the tracklist to pen some deeply personal and moving narratives about the struggles inherent in both her own life and the natural human experience. What’s truly incredible about this album is Welch’s ability to transform listener’s sympathy into empathy. Whereas other confessionals understandably focus on the pain of the situation, Welch paints vivid stories seeped in mutual understanding between singer and listener.
Take the phenomenal track “Hunger.” I’ve never struggled with an eating disorder but know people close to me who have, putting me in a position to support them however I can without truly knowing what they struggle with on a daily basis. While “Hunger” doesn’t quite fill that gap, Welch does an incredible job in fostering as empathy as a songwriter can. With her distinct vocal power and personality, she belts out “At seventeen, I started to starve myself/I thought that love was a kind of emptiness/And at least I understood then the hunger I felt/And I didn’t have to call it loneliness/We all have a hunger,” later adding on “I thought that love was in the drugs/But the more I took, the more it took away/And I could never get enough/I thought that love was on the stage.” Despite never experiencing the challenges Welch lays out in her lyrics, the refrain “We all have a hunger” is a potent link that should spark relatability in the listener. Welch is declaring that we’ve all experienced some degree of existential emptiness, where we feel that a specific trait or who we are at our core just isn’t enough to achieve or be what we feel we “need” to be. The way Welch seamlessly connects her own life with this universal experience is a striking and brilliant connection that allows listeners like me to come a bit closer to understanding the daily strife of people with various disorders.
Elsewhere, “Grace” sees Welch retelling a specific story from her own life in an ode to her sister. Even here, her lyrics and delivery are transitive and tear-inducing, complete with some simple but poignant piano chords and a sucker punch opening line (“I’m sorry I ruined your birthday”). As a chorus of vocals joins her and the music swells, Welch nails perfect note after perfect note, both in her execution along with knowing exactly when to throw different inflections and notes into the mix.
The fact I’ve spent the bulk of this post writing about my two favorite songs on the album should be a telling sign of what High as Hope has to offer. Frankly, I could fill paragraph after paragraph with my thoughts on each track, but I’ll spare you all the headache. Welch and her accompanyists excel on every level; lyrically, musically and vocally, High as Hope is everything a pop-focused singer/songwriter should try to achieve. I’m kicking myself for not listening to F+M sooner (something I’ve admittedly done with countless artists before). But thankfully, this was one hell of an album to kick off the journey with.
Cody Rueger – Natural Elements
Meditative, overcast beaches. A slow rolling tide. Is it coming in? Going out? The great treeline towers over the beach. Trails weaving through the ferns and moss. Paths that swerve around trees wind up and down over roots and concave where the soil was once soft. A bird coos in the distance while the waves meander over the grey beaches. The pull of the ocean whooshes the water back and almost harmonizes with a nearby creek. Much time was spent by Cody Rueger hiking up and down the British Columbian coast while he was writing his album. He took photos of scenery and meditated. And when he wasn’t out and about, he found solitude with his cat Indy and plucked away at an acoustic guitar. He has been playing for years. Not the kind of guy to play “Wonderwall” at parties, or even go to parties for that matter. His solitude and persistence with his craft, along with inspirations such as Alan Gogoll, Jon Gomm and Andy McKee, garnered a quiet and introspective voice.
The album in question, Natural Elements is nearing a year old and has found its way in and out of my playlists. Namely, ones used for walking the dogs or early morning drives. Often Natural Elements is played in tandem with Cloudkicker’s Fade or Let Yourself Be Huge as well as Gustavo Santaolalla’s The Last of Us Soundtrack. Certainly not albums that would find themselves to be the end all be all for contemplative acoustic instrumental music. But also more calming and atmospheric than post-rock and its neighbouring genres. These albums are products of their environments or at least strive to sound naturalistic and removed from busy pedestrian life. Natural Elements is no different.
The album is strictly a single semi-acoustic guitar with some Jon Gomm-esque percussion on the hollowed out body of the instrument exercised on a few occasions. The tones are crisp and there isn’t any distortion or accompaniment to be found. There’s some bravery to playing acoustic guitars because the amplification that masks the noise created by faster fretting and a more raw, immersion breaking position change on the fretboard becomes an obstacle. Composing and playing have to be approached differently, but with Natural Elements, Cody finds himself circumventing a lot of the unavoidable noise through tapping and harmonics. The songs have long stretches where it sounds almost like individual sampled notes are all that’s on display. But the notes ring through and the recordings have slight imperfections that elevate the album.
Natural Elements is a great piece of music to have coffee over or to put on with a nice view of nature. It’s essential background music and a must have if you’re seeking a soundtrack to moments in your life that are nice when they’re quiet but memorable to the sounds of someone playing instrumental campfire style guitar. A great way to start your Monday at the very least.