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:
Yazz Ahmed – La Saboteuse, Remixed
In terms of musical proficiency, jazz is not my first language. The sounds, foundations, and contemporary adventurousness of the style intrigue me to no end, but jumping into an entirely new genre of music can feel daunting. Where does one start with a genre that’s been around for over 100 years? How do I set a foundation to understand the history, evolution, and quality of a form of music with that much water under the bridge? I write all this to make it plain that I am most certainly not an expert in this style, and freely admit that there is much I still need to learn about it. Thankfully, my developing background in and appreciation of the genre hasn’t stopped me from enjoying the hell out of everything Yazz Ahmed has created.
Since the release of her most recent record La Saboteuse (one of my favorite releases of last year), I have been thoroughly entranced by the mixture of styles and textures present in her music. There are few albums I’ve heard over the past few years that so seamlessly blended differing styles of music from different cultures into a cohesive, digestible whole. La Saboteuse was a triumph through and through, but Ahmed isn’t done exploring this particular microcosm of her musical headspace just yet. Next week she will be dropping La Saboteuse, Remixed, in which she teams up with three individuals from different musical and artistic spaces to reinterpret tracks from her last record. If you liked what you heard in La Saboteuse, you’re going to love what’s in store for you here.
If, much like me, you cringe at the word “Remix”, I can’t say I blame you. Cash grabs that they typically are, remix albums rarely live up to the original material being covered, and often feel listless and empty (though bands like Bloc Party can easily make a case for the opposite being true). La Saboteuse, Remixed is very far removed from the above criticism by nature of each of these tracks addings something incredibly dynamic to the original piece being reinterpreted. Visual/Auditory artist Hector Plimmer condenses, “The Lost Pearl”’s sprawling seven minutes into a beat and bass heavy interpretation that keeps the principal musical motifs of the original track intact, but deconstructs and rebuilds them in a way that makes your brain recall the wonderful melodic lines of the original while organically accepting the new dynamics on display here. DJ Khalab’s afro-futurist rendition of album standout “Jamil Jamal” is an absolute delight, cracking open the original composition and bathing it in a pool of glitchy electronics that maintain the languid, lush spark of Ahmed’s writing while feeling entirely new. “Al Emadi” gets perhaps the most club-ready remix of this project in the beat magic of Portugeuse trio Blacksea Nao Maya, who infuse the track with all of the vigor and atmosphere requisite for a jazz-inspired banger. If in all this one feels that slight longing for Ahmed’s own voice, fear not. Final track “Spindrifring” is a collaboration of her own design, combining elements from La Saboteuse’s title-track with excerpts from the works of Corinna Silvester and Lewis Wright. It’s a sound collage as dense and transfixing as anything she has yet composed, and serves as a bridge to her previous work and where the bold new frontiers of modern jazz might take her. Personally, I’m just thankful to be along for the ride.
Yazz Ahmed is in a league of her own, and La Saboteuse, Remixed is another prime example of her immense talent and influence on display. If you enjoy modern jazz in the slightest, hers is a name that you need to become familiar with very quickly. A fantastic piece of music from one of contemporary jazz’s most eclectic and electric voices. I may not yet be an expert in jazz history, but if the work of Yazz Ahmed is any indication of the genre’s future capabilities consider me deeply invested. You can pre-order digital and physical copies of this release on her Bandcamp page.
Duett – Cycles
I don’t know what kind of synthwave sorcery Duett employs, but it has to be a potent one; just as I began scouring Bandcamp for something to write up for this week’s Unmetal Monday, they released a new album, the first full length in three years. The last one, Borderline, was a summer-infused jaunt through synths and great vocal guest spots that reminded me of projects like She or a more pop-oriented Com Truise. Cycles definitely seems to be continuing that same approach; opener “Afterglow” is filled with the same kind of dreamy 80’s vibe that previous work have been so resplendent in displaying. Here too, the idea is to create a certain vibe rather than challenge musical boundaries, beautifully channeling sun, bounce and a generally summer sort of vibe.
It’s also a pleasure to see that Stewart Lockwood makes a return to the project. Lockwood’s guest vocals have been a staple of the project for a long time, with “Julienne” being one of the best tracks on Borderline. On Cycles, he lends his husky timbre to “Don’t Make Me Wait”, giving it a more rounded and well fleshed out sound as he did in the past for the project. It too is one of the best tracks on the album, fusing Duett’s penchant and talent for beats and Lockwood’s ability to weave atmosphere and emotional expression to new heights. This is also a gateway into another thing which makes Cycles so good; it seems as if Duett has refined their craft to a higher degree, allowing them to create an album that’s a bit more varied and subtle than previous works. To the sunny disposition you can now add slightly more brooding tracks, fleshing out this release into one of the best we’ve heard from the genre. Roll down your windows, put on your favorite pair of shades and let the road unwind before you.