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:
Sturgill Simpson – “Sing Along”
It would be practically impossible to make the argument that Sturgill Simpson has followed a traditional path to country music stardom. After all, songs about interstellar turtles, LSD, and marijuana are not typical fair for the genre, and Simpson’s got more than a few of those peppering his peerless discography. Despite the man’s gleefully idiosyncratic nature, his has become a pivotal voice in the development of modern country music. Which may come across as labeling him as an oddball one trick pony. Thankfully, Simpson’s particular genius doesn’t lie exclusively in his outlandish, novel lyrical content, but can also be just as firmly attributed to his noteworthy and artistically progressive songwriting prowess and genre-bending tendencies. Melding country, rock, funk, folk, orchestral, and psychedelic influences into a mesmerizing cosmic stew that sounds like no one else, Simpson has made a distinct name for himself among country music’s best and brightest, sitting easily alongside the likes of Jason Isbell, Jamey Johnson, Chris Stapleton, Kacey Musgrave, and Tyler Childers as a primary shaper of country music to come. Three albums into a stellar career, Simpson looks poised to take yet another stylistic left turn, this time into Black Keys territory with new track “Sing Along” from his upcoming and wildly anticipated fourth full-length Sound & Fury. Which is also accompanied by, I shit you not, an anime film which will be released in conjunction with the record.
He’s a madman and cannot be stopped. I love him so.
The track itself is unlike anything else in Simpson’s catalog, which honestly could be said about any of his releases up to this point when compared to one another. Undergirded by a funk-heavy stomp in the rhythm section, guitars, synths, and bass gallop and slide through a track that feels equal parts ‘70s sci-fi B-movie soundtrack, psych-infused freak-fest, and grungy garage rock anthem. In short, it’s kind of the best and I haven’t stopped shaking my booty to it since it dropped (which has made trips to the grocery store a bit awkward, but hey…). As a teaser to the new record, it’s hard to imagine a track getting me more hyped for the awesomeness that’s sure to come. Watching the video released with the track only gets me more excited, and I highly encourage you to give both a whirl prior to the record’s release in September. You won’t regret that you did.
The Tea Club – If/When
Nothing is safe from climate change. That’s one of the first characteristics of hyperobjects, that their borders are so fuzzy as to give them a constant presence in/over everything. And so, even a flowery, folk-y progressive band like The Tea Club find their often-bright music drifting towards the future, looking forward at the various dead ends that await us. On If/When, the album and the somewhat title track “If I Mean When”, The Tea Club offer a much needed kind of hopeful resignation; while the aforementioned kinda title track includes the lines “I’m just being realistic / I’m not hoping for a cure / Soon there’ll be no time to laugh away our sorrows anymore / There’ll be nothing else to live for if we’re fighting to survive / I say if, I mean when”, the rest of the album also includes their more colorful and upbeat style, drawing influence directly from acts like Yes, King Crimson, and the such.
These influences are important to understand the album. We remember a lot of those bands as being unimaginably happy and optimistic and, to an extent, we’re right; the hippie movement and the progressive movement shared many common points of egress. But Yes also wrote Relayer and King Crimson wrote “Epitaph”. This kind of somber hope, a dogged optimism that recognizes its own futileness, runs at the depth of progressive rock. On If/When, The Tea Club channel these emotions like they never have before. And that’s how you get tracks like the opening “The Way You Call”, all colorful charm and fantasy, alongside dark works like “Rivermen” (the track most disposed towards King Crimson with its dark psychedelic edge) and the intricate closer, “Creature”.
That closer is the most ambitious and complicated The Tea Club have been and it’s a downright joy. Possessed of sprawling, progressive, instrumental passages, clever callbacks to previous passages, and a great sense for contrast and dynamics, it’s an effort which belongs up there with extended tracks like “Gates of Delirium” and its class. The entire album oozes everything that The Tea Club are great for, namely true-to-source progressive rock. More than that, by feeding their sound through this more sober view of the future, the ghost of both hope and defeat haunting the tone throughout, The Tea Club have created the most nuanced and subtle album of their career, infinitely bolstering the already excellent musical content contained therein.
J.R. – “Pal”
We’re living in an era where a lot of guitar-driven rock is manifesting itself in the form of ‘90s alternative throwback or manipulations of a former sound. The interesting part of it, though, is that nothing that manages to break through right now sounds so deliberate or derivative to classify as simple worship of college rock and indie radio darlings of a bygone era. Instead, much of it feels like the logical extension or evolution of a lineage worth being mined for new strains of originality. It’s also remarkable that many of the leading voices in this renewal are women.
J.R. out of Southern Ontario continues the wave of music to be excited about with this new single from an upcoming debut EP. “Pal” feels a lot like a high school reunion for bands like the Lemonheads, Liz Phair, or early Flaming Lips. Or, perhaps more appropriately, ditching said reunion to drink and smoke down by the railroad tracks. That’s not a bad thing at all. The song seemingly floats on a cloud of flanged out guitar and the beautiful voice of our eponymous artist.
More than anything else, though, is that this is yet another new, up and coming artist to add to your arsenal of not-necessarily-heavy-metal music which is the whole point of this exercise in the first place. Give it a chance and it won’t take long to grow on you. My main question is when is the full-length going to arrive? Because, I don’t know about you but, I could certainly use another dozen or so songs like these in my earholes yesterday.