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:
Better Oblivion Community Center – S/T
Phoebe Bridgers’s transcendently sad Stranger in the Alps hit me like a brick in 2017. Her melancholic, straightforward vocal delivery coupled with simplistic yet highly effective musical compositions made her debut one of the absolute highlights of the decade in this musical space for me. Rewind back to 2005, when a younger me was first getting into indie rock. Bright Eyes’ I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning had a nearly identical impact on me as that of Phoebe’s record, sending me down a rabbit hole of musical exploration and discovery that persists to this day. So it would be safe to assume that when I heard rumors of a Conor Oberst and Bridgers collaborative record I was all hype, all the time. Their work together on “Would You Rather” from Phoebe’s debut was an album highlight, so there’s little doubt that on some level the two can work together successfully. But could they sustain this magic through a full release? Better Oblivion Community Center answers that questions in the affirmative in every measurable metric.
Collaborative albums are a strange beast. In my experience, they very rarely improve on either artist’s previous work and are in general pretty damn terrible. The lack of success for these sorts of records generally stems from collaborators not being able to blend their sounds in a cohesive manner, instead presenting an uneven seesaw of stylistic switches that feels more like two different albums warring against one another than a singular recording. Another common failure surfaces when artists strike out in directions that are new but don’t play to their strengths, resulting in music that’s just bad rather than tonally inconsistent. Better Oblivion Community Center, similar to Bridgers’ other collaborative work in boygenius (with Lucy Dacus and Julien Baker), proves a happy exception to the above trends by blending the styles of these musicians far better than one typically finds in collaborative records. Sure, some songs feel a lot more like Phoebe (“Didn’t Know What I Was In For”, “Chesapeake”) while others smack much more readily of Bright Eyes (“Sleepwalkin’”, “My City”, “Forest Lawn”), but all of them feel like joint efforts between two artists very much on the same page.
Having two styles that on their face complement one another helps a great deal when making a collaborative record, but Better Oblivion Community Center‘s success can be attributed to more than simple stylistic cohesion. Bridgers and Oberst are smart songwriters, and approach these songs with a singular vision that allows them to formulate a sound that respects and highlights their strengths and creates space for each to exercise them regularly. “Dylan Thomas” might be the best example of this on the record, presenting a track that blends each artist’s musical style into a composition that feels both familiar and singular, while displaying a lyrical narrative that could have been written by either Oberst or Bridgers. It’s a microcosm for the record as a whole, which is just a treat from start to finish.
Better Oblivion Community Center ebbs and flows through lyrical, musical, and emotional currents that feel consistent with both Phoebe and Conor’s back catalogues, only instilled with renewed vigor. It’s evident that these artists share many creative muses, and hearing them display them together is a true pleasure. I would be more than happy if this band became a staple of these artists’ careers, but only time will tell if we’ll get more from them. If we don’t, we’re the lucky recipients of a rare treat: A collaborative album that doesn’t suck, and highlights each of its creators’ obvious strengths. That by itself makes Better Oblivion Community Center a triumph, and an album I will return to frequently in the years to come.
Daniel McGurty – Faith Healer
Something has to be pretty special to slap the grind stew outta my mouth, but this special something has been on my to-do list for long enough. Digitally altering and smearing excrement over the boundaries keeping glitch, electronica, and ambient work separate, Daniel McGurty plays with these sounds like a curious scientist would with new, volatile elements. Unsurprisingly, the results vary, eliciting bliss and tears in the corner of your eyes just as often as they take on the form of a good samaritan ready to cut you from ear-to-ear with kindness. And a sharp knife.
Faith Healer covers more bases than I thought I needed in the music I listen to between blast beats and belched vocals. But it wasn’t until I got through to the title track that I realised something important. Sometimes you need a stiff reminder of what it feels like to feel the bass of some nameless house mix rattle your eyeballs as you tilt your head back after yet another short, turbo charged line of MDMA; precariously snorted from the keys of a piano in someone’s hallway. Cuts like “Gravity all nonsense now” and “Outside the will of God” are warmer numbers though, threatening to erupt at any minute but bringing back the gentle rushes of ecstasy in lavish, thick strokes – apparently it’s possible to feel like you’re coming up and coming down at the same time. Who had any idea it could be this rapturous?
Taking the trip with McGurty and Faith Healer will reward you immensely. Show me a hundred glitch or electronic artists that can bleep, bloop, and clack kick drums as loud as anyone else, I’ll show you a hundred acts who can’t come close to the character and charm in this. Currently, I’m stomping my feet along the kick drums in “Edinburgh”, ready for another metaphysical trip to the capital city, soundtracked and brought on by the sometimes dangerous, always gorgeous sounds on McGurty’s record. Take a chance, take a risk on something outside of your special place and shower yourself with stunning sounds and slip something tasty under your tongue while you’re at it.
Future – Future Hndrxx Presents: The WIZRD
As consistent and dependable as the sands of time in an hourglass, you can count on new releases from Future almost quarterly. The self-titled super trapper is widely known for his prolific songwriting. In previous entries of Unmetal Mondays, I have noted Future’s ability to produce record after mixtape after EP and collaboration. The man is a trap machine. He simply can’t sit still. And bless him for it in 2019 as his newest record, Future Hndrxx Presents: The WIZRD, shows him owning himself and his style for all of us to enjoy.
Over the course of his 9 year career in producing music, Future has begun to own himself and develop a pretty unique sound. In the beginning, he was producing a lot of “club bangers” and highly aggressive songs filled with deep pounding bass and lightning fast lyrical passages. While that sound hasn’t been abandoned, he has opted for preferring more, dare I say, heady passages and cerebral beats. The songs on the latest record aren’t quite the bumping bangers of before. There’s a much more subdued quality to them all. The lyrical content is still there but everything seems more academic when it has the reserved sound of these songs. Imagine having a college lecture with drum machine beats underneath and you’d be spot on to the sound of these songs.
For a perfect example, look no further than “Call the Coroner”. The song is describing a lot of the lifestyle of drug dealers which isn’t outside the realm of trap or Future. The change is in the presentation. Previous releases from Future have songs reflecting these images but they’re full of huge sounds likes sirens or thundering bass beats. This iteration of Future shows a lean into subtlety. The drum tracks still feature the same percussion sounds but they’re far more sparse than they usually have been. There’s still synthesizers in the background but they aren’t as overpowering as they would have been in previous tracks. In the world of trap, few artists rely on subtlety to produce their songs. It’s refreshing to see an artist change in this way to have his own unique voice. When the next Future release comes along in a few months or so, we’ll see if he sticks with this sound. He would be wise to explore this side of himself further.
Strawberry Blonde – Calling
Summer is already here, if you will that to be true, summoned by your desire for fresh skies and warm sun. Strawberry Blonde‘s Calling EP can be a powerful aid in that summoning, filled to the brim with bright riffs but also dream-y pop vocals. How does that work? You see, Calling sits on the stitch between math-rock and indie-pop, perhaps meeting in that indie middle ground to find its cohesive sound. Take “Maybe” for example, the second track; the guitar leads that weave in and out in the form of two separate tracks wouldn’t be out of place on a Sloth & Turtle release (can we please have another album by them, please?) or a standards ditty. Operating with them in the background is a cool brass line, adding a kind of chilled out groove to the whole thing.
This groove explodes with a wild meter change right after the middle of the track; the drums lead it, changing tracks almost abruptly while the rest of the instruments catch up. The brass becomes a bit louder and more immediate, an energy coming to it as the track nears its end, ushered in by the return of the delicate guitar lines. Over all of this, the vocals are pleasant but carry plenty of strength, their unique timbre perfectly suited to the balancing act they play with the instruments. The result is a track that has plenty going on but is smooth at the same time, putting you in an excellent mood.
It’s like exploring an intricate cake, filled with delightful swerves of meringue and fruit; there’s something waiting inside each bite to delight you but none of the flavors are overwhelming, instead lending themselves to a kind of complex harmony. The entire album, short and sweet, follows along these lines, never straying far from the bright soundscapes which started it (although the appropriately named “Feels” is a bit more somber). This makes it a pleasure to revisit again and again, as it never outstays its welcome. It’s like a ray of sunlight in the midst of winter, gone quickly but warming to the core, despite its short sojourn.
– Eden Kupermintz