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. As is tradition, 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:
The National – “You Had Your Soul With You”
I typically have a difficult time picking my favorite things. Ask me about my all-time favorite film/food/album/book, and you’ll get a rambling list of items that MAY fit that description, but choosing just one most preferred thing in any of those categories is damn near impossible. The same cannot be said of my favorite band. That status belongs to The National. Since 2007, no single band has had a greater impact on my life. They’re the best rock has, and may they be blessed eternal. So when I heard the track “You Had Your Soul With You” from their forthcoming record I Am Easy To Find, there was no way that I was going to skip writing about it. So here we are, with another record on the way and a small sample of its riches before us. Let’s go.
As a general rule, The National tend to be fairly open collaborators, with projects like Clogs, El Vy, Big Red Machine, and collaborative efforts like Dark Was the Night and the Grateful Dead tribute record Day of the Dead populating their ever-expanding catalog. But outside of some sparse guest vocal work from Sufjan Stevens, the band tends to shirk obvious collaborations in their full-length material. Right off the bat, “You Had Your Soul With You” flies in the face of this standard convention by including some distinct and incredibly effective vocals from David Bowie bandmate Gail Ann Dorsey, whose beautiful voice serves as a lovely counterpoint to Matt Berninger’s baritone, giving this track an immediate flair that no track from the band’s back catalog can quite match. The music itself is no less compelling, delivering a skittering, jolting composition of constant forward movement that dips and swerves with the off-kilter uniformity of a starling murmuration. It’s an exciting direction for the band, mixing the unpredictability and vitality of High Violet with the soaring emotion of Trouble Will Find Me. But the true show-stealer here is Dorsey, who in the latter third of the track is given the floor to allow her voice to punch hearts unaccompanied by Berninger. It’s the most emotionally resonant portion of the track, and a highlight of the band’s discography.
In short, this track is really good. Being a stan of the band, there’s little that can dissuade me from hopping aboard the hype train for I Am Easy To Find, but it’s always nice when your unreasonable level of excitement for a record is justified by its first single. “You Had Your Soul With You” is a fantastic example of what The National do well (i.e. everything), and I cannot wait to hear this record in its entirety. Until then, you can pre-order the record on the band’s website. Also look for the accompanying short-film of the same name, directed by Mike Mills, to drop soon.
Solange – When I Get Home
It must feel nice to let go completely, to be free in a radical sense of the term, untethered by oppressive structure and restriction. This sort of “radical freedom” seems to be the goal of Solange‘s most recent release, When I Get Home. Following on the heels of the critically acclaimed A Seat At the Table, When I Get Home is a record with plenty to prove that chooses to fly in the face of expectations and set out on its own. It features Solange branching out in fractal directions, exploring a cloud of nebulous hip-hop possibilities through ambient tracks, fragments of tracks, and her incredible voice in the center as some sort of (very loosely defined) anchor to it all.
The first half of the album is traditional enough, even if it’s already more “flight of fancy” than previous releases. Tracks like “Down With the Clique” and “Way to The Show” represent the most “safely” Solange tracks on the album, showcasing her R&B approach to beat and vocal execution. Solange sounds as great as always, her timbre clear and present, even when she reaches for the higher notes in her register. However, the interlude “Can I Hold the Mic” is where things take a sharp turn. Featuring a short and fast spoken word part by Solange over weird electronics, the track quickly blends right into the next one, “Stay Flo”, which uses vocal samples to paint around Solange’s main parts.
From there, the intensity of the ambience starts to slowly die up. The excellent “Almeda” already features a kind of trap sensibility, both in the “lazy” beat and instrumentation but also in some of the effects which are applied to Solange’s vocals. By the time couplet made up of “Jerrod” and “Binz” rolls along, the ambience is in full force, with “Binz” seeing Solange almost improvise in response to odd synth tones, painting shapes with their voices against a dreamy background created by constant drums, deep tones, and an array of effects like rays of the sun playing across a pond.
There have been some voices out there in the broader community criticizing this album for feeling unfinished or half-baked but I think that’s the point; When I Get Home is all about letting go and exploring spaces which might not be well defined or solid. It’s a more daring album, turning not to experimentation through addition but rather to paring back, to getting in touch with a core which, paradoxically, is more diffuse and out of reach than we’d like to imagine. It’s also a fantastic album musically, seeing Solange exploring more tastes and flavors for her singing and what it can do. More than anything, it’s a trip and a half, launching the listener into many different, unique, and nuanced places. For those with the capacity to listen, it offers a more challenging, but also richer, hip-hop/R&B experience.