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:
Purple Mountains – S/T
Silver Jews was a staple of the indie rock scene as the century turned, and leading man David Berman an unassuming poet for underground music’s most devoted fans. The band’s dissolution in 2009 was rock music’s loss, or at least so it seemed at the time. A decade later, one of independent music’s wry prophets returns with a new project, Purple Mountains. As quiet as Berman has been since the break-up of Silver Jews, Purple Mountains displays the songwriter at his most open and inviting, unfurling the man’s life in the intervening time since with clarity, vitality, and bracing honesty. It’s an absolutely remarkable return to form for a voice that never really left us, with music as rich and layered as the man himself.
Time, at least on an artistic level, has been good to Berman. As a songwriter, the collection of tracks that make up his new project’s self-titled record are some of the most focused and dynamic of his career. The emotionally compelling lyrics of tracks like “Margaritas at the Mall” and “I Loved Being My Mother’s Son” are imbued with an assured musical palette that further punctuates the points he is emphasizing. “Maybe I’m the Only One for Me” feels like the most direct and vulnerable lyrical work of Craig Finn, Stephen Malkmus, or Conor Oberst under his Bright Eyes guise mixed with Wilco at their most musically expansive and upbeat, and it’s at no time anything less than utterly compelling. And while the lyrics on the album often dip into more melancholic aspects of Berman’s life, the music is almost exclusively warm, drenched in barroom Americana and folk-rock sensibilities that make for a sonic tapestry that’s as compelling as any I’ve heard in rock music this year.
There isn’t a dud of a track on this record, a moment of wasted opportunity. If you’ve followed Berman’s career up to this point, I can assure you that there will be something for you to love here. Musically and lyrically, it’s like David Berman never left, but we can all be grateful for the wisdom gained and continued musical genius maintained through a decade of ghost-like anonymity. Purple Mountains finds the spirit of Silver Jews alive and well, continued through a new project that adds further depth and texture to an already remarkable musical career. When it comes to writing anthems for the literate and bummed out, Berman retains his lofty throne. One of the most uniformly excellent releases in indie rock this year.
Keep Your Secrets – Be Your Own Skin And Bone
Keep Your Secrets is an electro-acoustic project from multimedia artist Kyle Smith. A million miles away from the absurd amount of blackened grind, festering old-school death metal, and manic, panicked hardcore that I love, this acoustic pleasantry is as stripped down as it gets – one man, his fingers, and six strings (not the title of my next sex tape, by the way). Now, you can cry nepotism all you want, but Kyle is my tattoo artist and I will always support my artistic friends wherever possible. However, I wouldn’t include it here if I didn’t think it jammed, so bite me.
Like an acoustic version of melodic metalcore greats Misery Signals or The Ghost Inside, there are huge hooks and wonderfully vibrant licks all over this little release. “Journeys” has a great thump behind the twangy, string-skipping riff and when it comes back in after a gentle pause, it comes back with a sullen vengeance, turning the open strings into hard-hitting beats. “Loose Ends” and “Get Home” both work around simple motifs, with strummed flourishes and more string-popping brightness. Listening to Be Your Own Skin And Bone it’s easy to imagine these ditties being turned into uplifting metalcore numbers in the vein of the aforementioned bands; you’ll probably find yourself tapping imaginary kick patterns and mouthing vocals that you didn’t know you could write. I know I did.
Waveshaper – Artifact
This topic probably needs a much broader canvas to be fully explored but synthwave has emerged from its childhood and into adulthood. This is marked by many things, among them the many old-school actors in the genre moving on, the disappearance and then reappearance of sub-genres, and the such. This also echoes within the careers of specific artists, as they now have enough of a discography behind them to have disappointed, exceeded expectations, subverted, and created them. Waveshaper is a great example of this; the project has been in operation since 2014 and has gone through several iterations of the synthwave sound, from the cheesy, nascent sounds of the early days, through the bombastic phases of mid-career releases, and now to the synthesis, to Artifact.
Artifact is, simply put, a joy to listen to. It presents Waveshaper matured, drawing on several of the key sounds that have made him successful in the past and melding them together into the project’s best release yet. Tracks like “Departure” present the more energetic, in your face approach to the project. The beat goes hard, the synths are large and satisfying, and the overall sensation is one of burgeoning energy and momentum. The following title track however, presents a more restrained face, relying instead on an ear-worm of a hook to augment its slightly more chilled-out vibes. “Artifact” the track is the gentle roll in a car on the side of a beach to “Departure”‘s careening down a highway.
Other modes on the album include even more dreamy tracks, like closer “Jupiter Hours”, and more indulgent moments like the cheesy trappings of aptly named “Legacy”. Overall, this variety of expression is what makes Artifact and, indeed, any synthwave album in our Current Year to be worthwhile. As it stands today, it is no longer acceptable for synthwave as a genre to just “do its thing” like it was for so many years, when the genre was fresh and finding itself. Now, we demand more from its members and the albums released under the wide moniker of its aesthetics. Waveshaper can show many artists in the field the way, as the project digs deeper and deeper into what makes its music work.