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:
Chance the Rapper – The Big Day
The central irony (and downfall) of Chance’s proper debut album is just how much it feels like a mixtape. The hyper-positive gospel rapper is no stranger to hip-hop’s favorite release format; Acid Rap and Coloring Book are both fantastic, fully-realized projects despite the “mixtape” label. Both releases are also far more focused and filler-free than the vast majority of mixtapes, each boasting a 14-track, 55-minute runtime. To the contrary, The Big Day is a 22-track, 77-minute behemoth that struggles with the typical cutting-room-floor issues that plague many (most?) mainstream hip-hop releases. There are plenty of highlights along the way, but none of the album’s standout tracks compensate for Chance’s overambition and cut corners.
Thankfully, the album launches on a positive note. “All Day Long” is vintage, summery Chance, featuring fantastic vocals from John Legend and a soulful, gospel-themed beat with a distinct modern twist. Chance’s typically corny lyrics produce some cringes early, unfortunately, with clunkers like “I need stock and it gotta be Pippi Long” and “Life is short as a midget, but mine’s a little LeBron.” The spotty lyrics continue throughout the album, but they don’t distract too much from his clever bars and some truly fantastic production. Many of the album’s tracks draw influences from ’90s R&B and hip-hop, as well as Kanye West’s signature “chipmunk soul” production techniques.
Shockingly, this arguably works most effectively on “Do You Remember,” featuring Death Cab for Cutie, of all people. The beat bleeds bittersweet and nostalgic themes, and Ben Gibbard’s vocals flow perfectly with the soulful samples. Chance also drops some of his strongest lines on the album, including clever boasts (“First album, every track could be the outro”) to wordplay-driven introspection (“Used to have obsession with the 27 club/Now I’m turning 27, wanna make it to the 2070 club/Put the 27s down, Lord give me a clean lung”).
The strong lyrics continue on “Eternal,” an endearing anti-cheating anthem. Chance’s heavy focus on his marriage throughout The Big Day has been an intense (and somewhat justified) criticism of the new album. To me, it’s mostly harmless and can be pretty adorable on tracks like this. He brings out some touching, hilarious punchlines throughout the song; my personal favorite: “You send him to the store and forget that he left/You send me to the store, I come back with a chef.”
Unfortunately, the album starts to falter immediately after. “Hot Shower” has a minimal trap beat that simply doesn’t take off into the banger it wants to be. It’s also a perfect example of the album’s lackluster features. I usually like when bigger rappers try to spotlight the underground, but the majority of the indie rappers on The Big Day lack personality and don’t offer any noteworthy lyricism.
The following tracks aren’t nearly as bad as “Hot Shower,” but the album only climbs up to a mostly middling level of quality. “We Go High” is as saccharin Christian rap track (“We give the glory to You, God/One livin’ true God, He make us booyah”) that’s as lame as the HRC catchphrase it shares a name with, while “I Got You” sounds like a dime-a-dozen ’90s R&B radio smash. Then, we’re treated to the first of many extremely unfunny skits, all with an awkward wedding reception theme. Of all my least favorite hip-hop tropes, I would be most gratified to see the skit discontinued genre-wide.
The actual music don’t get much better, with several average trap songs that are fairly well-produced but not especially memorable. However, the album does end with a couple of high notes. “Ballin Flossin” is a fun, extremely catchy pop song with sultry vocals from Shawn Mendes, while “Get a Bag” cleverly employs a vocal-sample heavy beat with a tropical vibe.
It’s unclear what exactly caused Chance to lose focus on The Big Day. He’s proven himself fully capable of crafting leaner, higher-quality projects, so seeing him release such an overblown mismatch of tracks for his debut album is puzzling. At his best, Chance is a fresh voice in hip-hop who brings together albums full of fantastic production and features defined by endless energy, positivity, and creativity. At his worst, he’s essentially a youth minister trying way too hard to relate to the teens at his church. Unfortunately, The Big Day often feels more in line with the latter than the former.
Jacob Collier – Djesse Vol. 2
If you’re somehow still unaware of who Jacob Collier is, you must be living under some sort of sound proof rock. Collier has come far from his days of YouTube stardom, collaborating far and wide with artists from varied genres. To each he has brought his unique ear for compositions which seem, at first, simple and familiar but, upon further consideration, reveal intricate and non-standard choices. This year, he plans on releasing no less than four albums and we are here to discuss volume two of that insane undertaking. With Djesse Vol. 1, Collier showed the world that he was not about to compromise on his unique vision or execution style. What does Vol.2 hold for us?
Vol.2 is a much more restrained take on Collier’s sound. It still draws from folk, jazz, hip-hop, R&B, blues, and more but it presents these influences in moodier, more drawn out, and low-simmering tracks. The unique Collier take is still there though; whether the overwhelming melodies of “Moon River”, the exquisite harmonies of “Sky Above” or simply the brilliant collaboration with one Lianna La Havas on “Feel”, this album is Collier through and through. His unique sounds are still resplendent and lush but their palette is aimed a shade bluer now, communicating not sadness but a sort of introspective melancholy that focuses on the intimate and personal.
Which is not to say that the album is not without its romps.”Dun Dun Ba Ba (Interlude)” and the following “Nebaluyo” present Collier’s continuing fascination with the ill-dubbed “world” music, especially drawing on various influences from the African continent. The album even has a Steve Vai guest spot on the indulgent “Do You Feel Love”, which is perfectly built for the guitar virtuoso to show off his unique tone and skills. Whether it’s in the moodier modes or with the rarer flash of joie de vivre, Collier is an expert in weaving his various collaborators into one breathing, ticking whole, amplified, embellished, and set alight by his writing and his voice. Djesse Vol.2 is only further solidification of these facts and an album which makes us very excited for the two to come.
Day Morales w/ Pilar Cabrera – “Todar Sirve Pa’Crecer”
Every once in awhile I catch wind of something that’s distinctly not metal or punk but it is entirely moving. That’s the case with this song by Costa Rican (by way of Guatemala) chanteuse, Day Morales, and her Colombian counterpart, Pilar Cabrera. One of the things that particularly stands out on this sparse arrangement is the production. That’s because, much like most of the music out of Latin American countries right now, it has a stunning DIY production value that rivals anything else out there.
The acoustic guitar trembles with frail yet dynamic melodies that carry the lofty vocal performance of the artists. It is subtle in its updating of traditional Latin acoustic music without falling prey to any sort of overreaching or melodrama that the form sometimes suffers from. The track itself lilts in a way that belies the song’s message which is, essentially, that everything serves growth especially life’s ups and downs. Morales and Cabrera fuse elements of their particular styles rooted in the folk music they’ve grown up with to update the sound to include hints of indie and the sounds of icons like Mercedes Sosa.
The below video is a ukulele version of the song which differs from the full studio version that recently dropped on Spotify (for those who have the service) and I highly recommend hearing how it all came together. For those not familiar with much music from Latin America this is a delightfully palatable introduction. If you have a deeper well of experience of the songs from the region you’ll recognize certain elements on first listen. Either way, Morales is someone whose voice is well worth paying attention to as she grows further into her own distinctive interpretation of the form.
Project E.A.R. w/ Ray Toro (My Chemical Romance) and The Get Up Kids – “Destination Nowhere”
Another international song grabbed my attention this week. Mainly from the “wait, what is this collab involving the Get Up Kids?” It’s no secret that I absolutely loved their newest album so it wasn’t much of a stretch for me to latch onto this song but there was a surprise twist upon first listen. The hook, while solid and kindofmaybesomewhat reminiscent of the New Radicals hit “Get What You Give” to my ears anyway, it’s the layers of production and the hip hop verses that kept me interested.
Yes, this is a hip hop collaboration featuring two of the more well-known emo acts of our time. The artist you might not know here is Jamir Garcia who is the frontman for Filipino metal band, Slapshock. And if you are someone looking to scratch that Linkin Park type itch, give them a look. But yes, a metal band, rap metal but still. Here he is throwing down some verses over Toro’s guitars and the Kids’ backing music replete with said hook. So, on its surface it absolutely 1000% sounds like something that shouldn’t work and yet here we are with an absolute earworm of a song.
Anyway, Project E.A.R. is a supergroup of bands and acts from within Southeast Asia that first came on the scene over 10 years ago. This song, though, is the first single off the project’s upcoming double EP Conflicts & Resolutions which will be out on September 9.