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:
Noname – Room 25
Funk and jazz-inflected hip-hop has existed since the dawn of the genre, but the past few years have seen a renaissance of sorts for the style. This recent popular resurgence can be at least in part credited to Kendrick Lamar’s wildly inventive and acclaimed record To Pimp a Butterfly, which is perhaps the best such amalgamation of these styles that I’ve heard. Since its release in 2015, the critical zeitgeist has compared and contrasted nearly every hip-hop record with jazz overtones to that masterpiece, and in many cases rightfully so. While an excellent and sonically diverse sound with loads of potential, there’s most certainly a chronic case of trend-hopping gripping hip-hop, as dozens of artists have attempted to emulate this popular sound with mixed results. Chicago rapper Noname’s sophomore effort, Room 25, hops on a grand total of zero bandwagons while unfurling its jazzy soundscape. It’s a rich, complex album that uses jazz influences as a robust vehicle for a set of stories, observations, and social/cultural critiques that could only be told in the manner in which Noname is telling them. It’s an island unto itself in the hip-hop world, and one of the most emotionally and sonically mesmerizing releases I’ve heard this year.
Mixing a playful, soulful rap flow with spoken word poetry, listening to Noname feels a bit more like a small jazz club experience than an arena-filling romp. The more intimate production and composition style of this record serves its mission incredibly well, creating a constant sonic complement to Noname’s deeply personal and culturally relevant commentary. Opener “Self” displays these above traits well, utilizing a smooth, R&B-infused song structure that stays muted as Noname verbally dances above the organic beats and lush instrumentation. “Blaxploitation”, replete with audio samples and scathing social commentary, opens up the albums jazzier side, throwing in some nifty drum work into the mix. But despite its blunt lyrical content, it never dips into full-on audio violence. It’s difficult to understate just how fantastic and understated the instrumentals on this record are. Nearly every decision from a compositional standpoint is pure gold. “Prayer Song” just builds on these elements into a brutal, deeply sorrowful story of violence and cultural decay delivered with soulful elegance. And so the album goes, gently stated banger after banger.
There’s a lot to unpack in Room 25, but one of its principal beauties is its delightful subtlety. Noname is a calming, serene presence even in the most ferocious and dark passages here, exuding a level of confidence and artistic clarity that is a wonder to behold. Whether unveiling her commentary on society’s many ills or opening herself to the listener with admirable vulnerability on a personal level, she excels in conveying her thoughts and perspectives in a thoroughly engaging and impactful manner. Throw some of the most exquisite instrumentation of the year on top of it and you have one of the best hip-hop releases of the year. Absolutely fantastic stuff.
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Slothrust – The Pact
It would be hard to describe Slothrust and their sound in a pithy sentence or even with one of the major genre names we all associate a sound with. It’s too depressive to be power pop, too upbeat to be generally indie or alt-rock, and the songwriting is often too complex and deep to be pop punk. The Pact expands on that idea even more, varying the songs even more than they had on previous releases. One song may be that female-led pop punk sound with simple and fun lyrics, but the next song could be a deeply emotional acoustic ballad. The options on the record are basically endless and shows a clear ability by the band to not be pigeonholed and categorized.
It would be difficult to ascribe any one of these tracks the title of standout song. They all standout to a certain extent simply as a result of them all sounding so markedly different. “Double Down” is an excellent almost-dream pop track with a grungy bent. “Planetarium” is a really fun and chaotic pop punk track. “Walk Away” is fuller Slowdive track they never wrote. “For Robin” feels kind of like a new poppy take on 60s R&B. You could pick any one of these tracks as the standout and you’d see very little argument from anyone.
Unfortunately, that’s the problem with the record. It doesn’t feel like a cohesive work simply because each track is so distinctly different from each other. A handful of each track could have been released as EPs and there would be no argument about how great they were. The album suffers because of the difference in the songs. In the age of streaming music, that may not matter so much. It shouldn’t affect your opinion of the band or the record and having too many great songs on one album is a good problem to have. I’d strongly encourage everyone to listen to this record anyway just so you experience what good songwriting sounds like.
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65daysofstatic – Z1_output090918
If there’s one thing you can’t say about 65daysofstatic it’s that they’re complacent. The band have shifted immensely in their career, moving away from the noise rock aspects of their earlier albums, through their more aggressively electronic middle years, and all the way to the dream-y, space-y and post-rock influenced Wild Light and No Man’s Sky: Music for an Infinite Universe. Now, the Australian gang are gearing up for another shift, for another “something new” in their history. 65daysofstatic are set to disembark on a set of tour dates in the UK and Europe (dates below) a fact which, on the face of it, is nothing innovative. But these shows will not feature 65daysofstatic in the strictest sense of the term; instead, they will feature unique sets composed and performed entirely by algorithms which the band themselves have written.
To showcase what these algorithms can do, the band have released a first track which resulted from this experience. The video is comprised of seeing the actual parts of the algorithm at work. While it’s hard to surmise exactly what is happening (which is a shame for us tech-heads. It would have been nice to get a little more detail from the band), we can assume some thing. You’ll see the term “lookahead” a few times; we can assume that’s a part of the algorithm which controls what comes next and where the pieces made by other parts of the code fit. Beyond that, you can catch a semi-obscured look at the network of instruments to which the code has access, with labels like “r kick” (probably referring to a kick drum) and “r snare” (probably referring to a snare drum).
The track itself is surprisingly cohesive and good. It’s definitely on the most experimental side of things, as many passages feel somewhat disjointed and surprising. But if you’ve listened to the Soundscapes side of the band’s previous album, this shouldn’t surprise you too much; 65daysofstatic have been dabbling in the more unsettling side of composition for a while. What fascinates me the most here are questions of copyright law, authenticity and the live experience. In what manner can we say that 65daysofstatic are going on tour? In what way do they collect proceeds for these shows? Sure, they wrote the algorithms but how do we conceptualize the fact that they “own” the music being made? I’m not saying they don’t; instinct tells us they do.
But in the near future we’ll need to figure out these questions with more than instinct and start digging into how the relationship between creators, their work and their product fits into an age where machines can make music. That’s way more important than worrying about SkyNet or the machines turning us all into batteries. In the meantime, while our corporate overlords still allow us, head on over to 65daysofstatic’s website to get some tickets for the below dates.
Oct 12th: AMFest, Barcelona, Spain.
Oct 14th: Paradiso, Amsterdam, Netherlands.
Oct 27th: Funkhaus, Berlin, Germany.
Nov 19th: The Contemporary, Nottingham, UK.
Nov 20th: Village Underground, London, UK.
Nov 21st: Band Studios, Bristol, UK.
Nov 22nd: CCA, Glasgow, UK.
Nov 23rd: Howard Assembly Room, Leeds, UK.
Nov 24th: Sage 2, Gateshead, UK.