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:
Forhill – Figments
There’s very little metal out there that calms me down. Some bands within the genre certainly dabble with ambience and atmosphere, but the genre is inherently occupied with turning on instead of off, with being wired instead of relaxed. That’s why there’s something of an inherent bias among metalheads for many of the calmer genres of music. They seem trite or simplistic, relying on the cliche adage of “less is more” (although sub-genre like drone and doom might relate to that last statement).
But cliches are cliches because they touch on a deep truth, repeated again and again throughout our culture. Sometimes, less really is more. Take Forhill’s Figments for example. It’s an album firmly grounded in chillout and ambience, surrounding the listener with wave after wave of cool beats, resonant synths and an overall silky complexion. All of which things are exactly what gives it so much powerful; Figments is able to transport the listener to a calmer, smoother place where undulating colors mesh to create new textures of sight and sound.
The secret lies in Forhill having a very calm and secure inner voice. The musical pieces communicate with each other, using the tools of theme and aesthetic to create a common ground which runs throughout the album. Ideas from opener “Searching”, with its relatively solid beats but far-flung synths, might repeat elsewhere on the marvelously named “Arboretum” and its thicker but no less poignant synths. The end result is an experience, a multi-spectral performance from an electronic artist not afraid to rein it when needed, while still keeping things rich and interesting for the listener.
The National – “Hairpin Turns”
The National have, over their nearly two decades worth of existence, quietly built one of the most influential and successful careers in American rock music. Bursting onto the indie rock scene in 2005 with their third full-length record Alligator, the band have yet to release an album that didn’t end up somewhere in or near my top ten list for a given year. If the first three tracks released from their eighth record I Am Easy to Find are any indication, The National are no closer to irrelevance than they were in 2007, when Boxer destroyed the indie rock collective conscious, and served as the soundtrack to a country’s march into a new sociopolitical chapter of its history. “Hairpin Turns”, the latest of these pre-release tracks, is another example of The National continuing on the trajectory established by 2017’s Sleep Well Beast, and that’s a decidedly good thing.
While The National have long been focused on a singular, insular sound that rarely called in collaborative voices outside of guest musicians, “Hairpin Turns” brings in the ever-present and powerful vocals of Gail Ann Dorsey (who was also featured on the band’s first single off the record, “You Had Your Soul With You”), while adding vocalist Lisa Hannigan into the mix. This inclusion of diverse voices into their music, especially those of the female variety, is a notable expansion of the band’s songwriting and performative template. Matching this more inclusive energy are the electronic elements the band have been steadily incorporating into their sound since Sleep Well Beast, confirming that the expansion of their sound established in that record is here to stay. But that isn’t to say the musical touchstones that make The National’s music so transfixing are absent here. A melancholy-tinged yet oddly triumphant piano sequence populates the track’s chorus, while Matt Berninger’s layered vocals display the finest qualities of his upper and lower registers, giving the track a simultaneous sense of pathos and progression. It’s a deft display of songwriting prowess by a band that deeply understands its history, and is willing to build upon it in aesthetic and philosophical ways.
While not quite as arresting as “You Had Your Soul With You” or “Light Years”, “Hairpin Turns” is a noteworthy addition to the band’s ever-expanding sonic palette, and a track that I have been stuck on since its release. The National have most certainly continued to build their sound into something a bit more hopeful than we are used to hearing from them, though thankfully without sacrificing the sense of middle-aged dread that have made them a staple for indie rock fans for nearly twenty years now. Excited to hear how this newfound perspective continues to impact their recorded material, as well as rock music in general.
Tacocat – This Mess is a Place
Somewhere there’s a band that bridges the jangle of the Bangles with the swirling melodies of the best of ‘90s alt-rock and finish it off with a bit of punk attitude where it all sort of settles into a delicious musical sundae. “Grains of Salt” is a lovely piece of alt-pop adorned with a number of melodic layers thanks to the execution of the band and the production of Erik Blood. “The Joke of Life” also benefits from the sense of a big room created by the surf-like sounds of the guitars and the breezy vocals that belie the sarcasm with which Emily Nokes delivers the lines.
One of the brilliant pieces of work this band achieves is in staying a main course of melodic yet stern guitar driven rock-pop while moving subtly within the structure. Sometimes this means more fuzz (“Little Friend”) or a call back to the subtle power of the Go-Go’s (“Rose Colored Sky”) or the 1-2, fuck you lean guitar punk of predecessors like Bratmobile (“The Problem”). This is all to say, Tacocat wield a number of tricks to keep their latest album interesting from first note to last.
“Crystal Ball” is the antidote for those feeling the hangover of the modern world, reminding us “what a time to be barely alive”. Meanwhile, there’s almost a Rentals feel to “Meet Me at La Palma” that lends itself really well to the band’s own quirky pop sensibilities. This may well be the most polished work that Tacocat have put out yet and it’s also a fun dose of pithy wit that delivers on the angst and dread in it’s own irresistible way. It’s not quite punk, it’s not quite entirely pop, but it is entirely on-point.