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:
Bedouine – Bird Songs for a Killjoy
If a mixture of the unique nighttime ballads of Jessica Pratt, the earthy tones of Joni Mitchell, the bracing vulnerability of Julien Baker, the gently plucked emotional honesty of Phoebe Bridgers, and the vibrant musical arrangements of Angel Olsen and Julia Jacklin sounds appealing, Azniv Korkejian and Bedouine is everything you need in 2019. The Syrian born, LA-based folk songstress dropped her sophomore record Bird Songs for a Killjoy a few months ago, and lord if it isn’t one of the most delightful listening experiences I’ve had so far this year. Incorporating elements from the above artists and the recently resurgent Laurel Canyon sound without ever coming across as anything other than a genuinely felt and carefully composed collection of songs, Bedouine has here crafted a record that can easily be counted with recent releases from Big Thief, Lucy Dacus, and the aforementioned Bridgers among my favorite folk/singer-songwriter records to be released over the last half-decade.
That’s a lot of praise for an introduction to an album from an artist it seems few people have heard of, but I assure you that Bird Songs more than justifies the acclaim. Opener “Under the Night” is a perfect mix of southern country/folk sensibilities with orchestral arrangements that never veers from utterly charming and heartfelt. Subsequent track “Sunshine Sometimes” could have been pulled directly from a folk compilation from the 1960s, filled with lyrics about wildflowers coupled with some tender, gently delivered vocal melodies. It’s a track that’s as lovely as it is brief, and serves to highlight Bedouine’s uncanny songwriting ability. If you’re still with her after these two tracks, things only get better as Bird Songs progresses. “When You’re Gone”, “Bird Gone Wild”, and “Echo Park” all easily land among my favorite tracks of the year, featuring arrangements that are memorable, diverse, unassumingly complex, and simply gorgeous to a fault. In short, it’s everything I could ask for in a folk record.
If the recent resurgence of quality singer-songwriter/folk-infused records has made you as glad as it has me, Bird Songs will most certainly garner consideration on your year-end list. There are few artists working in these spheres with as much raw talent and wide-ranging emotional transparency as Korkejian, and Bedouine’s sophomore outing is nothing short of outstanding throughout. Equally perfect music for a pleasant summer walk or a good cry session in your bedroom.
Hotel Pools– Constant
We live in confusing times. The proliferation of media, the refusal of anything to die, results in the constant haunting of the present by the past (and, weirdly enough, the future). If you don’t immediately get what I’m saying (and I bet most of you do), just open your TV and your local movie guide. You’ll see the old being sold to us as the new, the past that never was and the future that never came to be coalescing into one (think of the interesting disparities between how the characters of Stranger Things probably saw the Marvel superheroes and how they’re portrayed today in movies).
Out of this hybridity, out of the liquid chimera of the past-future, sometimes emerge good things. Like retrowave. Or vaporwave. Out of the decaying mall-scapes of a nation once deemed great, out of the great West, more an imaginary territory than a reality, emerge soundscapes that are both futuristic and retro (retro-futuristic, yes, yes). They lean on sounds from the 80’s but more than that, they lean on the past that never quite was and the future that was sold to us in that past and which will never come to be. In those places, between our memory and our destiny, there is a lot of tension, a lot of desire, a lot of hope, and a lot of sadness.
If any of this is ringing a bell with you, a tone of sympathy perhaps, then you should check out Hotel Pools and their latest release, Constant. It’s simply the above two paragraphs in musical form.
YBN Cordae – The Lost Boy
Pain is Cordae Dunston’s resource. Pain doesn’t have to be an unworkable mass of despondency, frustration, catatonia, seething rage, regret, longing. For a lot of people it is though. Like a reeking fatberg, a grotesque matrix of unfiltered raw material, pain builds up within our murky, mental depths each time a challenging experience comes our way. We have a choice, it can either by quickly and efficiently dropped down the drain, where it will inevitably merge with our fatberg. At some point though, this fatberg will start causing major problems, bursting out from beneath and tainting everything it touches. The other option is to trek down to those mental sewers, reach into your greasy fatberg, wrestle with it despite your stinging hands and streaming eyeballs, and form something comprehensible, something that serves you rather than the other way around. Make pain your resource rather than your ruin. That is essentially Cordae’s m.o. on his debut album The Lost Boy.]
That was one hell of a lumbering metaphor and if its meaning completely evades you, I don’t blame you at all. Just google ‘fatberg’ and hopefully you’ll see what I mean (I wouldn’t recommend eating while you do this).
While he goes by the moniker YBN Cordae – which signifies his allegiance to the YBN collective of rappers, producers and social media personalities – Cordae is easily the most refined and mature artist of the bunch with his homely, approachable flow, solid rhyme schemes and a lyrical style that’s like talking to an old friend over coffee, empathic and privy to your reactions to life circumstances, but simultaneously not overbearingly woke like the musical equivalent of a bootleg motivational poster. He’s not afraid to litter his bars with references to his early life, which it seems was forever in flux physically and emotionally, having lived in a trailer park in South Carolina, the trenches in Maryland as well as the suburbs. He pens on the luscious crooner “Been Around”: ‘Haven’t really been the best, but this my life I’m livin’/Although it seem so bittersweet when you ain’t got nothing to eat/And Sallie Mae callin’ your phone for like the fifth time this week/All your bills overdue, all your bitches over you/Only one option remains, you just gotta show and prove’.
Cordae’s endearing tales move through his generation’s tension with the so-called ‘old heads’ on “Have Mercy”, the pain and symbolism of relocation on “Bad Idea”, the soul-sucking void of social media on “Thousand Words” and the recognition of his possible influence on album closer “Lost & Found”. Of course a tale is never as endearing unless the backing track clicks, but thankfully The Lost Boy brings us that in spades with a clear nod to the old-school hip hop that his father played around him as a child, but also a nimble ear for more recent legends like Kendrick Lamar, Kanye West and J.I.D. Cordae has a penchant for clear, rounded beats, often laced with gorgeous soul-infused melodies, the kind that you find yourself unconsciously humming and twitching to whilst walking down the street.
YBN Cordae’s pain fatberg is a big one, loaded with sodden entrails and seeping with pus, but he’s still getting stuck in there shoulder-deep. His music might help you reach into yours too.