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:
FKA Twigs – Magdalene
The effective expression of emotion in our social media-saturated culture is a minefield of epic proportions. We all have those friends who love to vague-book, posting about their struggles without any specifics, leading to nothing but questions from the uninformed and annoyance for people who could not give less of a shit. Then there are those who spill far too much about their personal lives, to a point that their friends and family become numb to their constant travails and stream-of-consciousness observations. Our culture has fostered a pit of unfiltered expression that often holds very little short- or long-term value for consumers. Definitely an “old man yells at cloud” moment, I know, but here we are. Thankfully we have artists like FKA Twigs to teach us all how to tear open our chests with class.
FKA Twigs has always been a vulnerable artist, wearing her life, thoughts, and emotions on her elaborate sleeves with grace and clarity. But her sophomore record, Magdalene, is a new beast entirely. Her utterly bold expressions of sadness, anger, sexual frustration and depression are the type of raw and vulnerable communication that causes listeners to feel like they are reading private entries in someone’s private diary. It’s invasive, uncomfortable, and honest to a fault. But like the best writing, regardless of the pain submerged in the content, one simply cannot look away. Thus is Magdalene, Twigs’ best and most meaningful release to date.
Being that this is an FKA Twigs project, there are a few expectations that can be laid at its feet. Firstly, that it will sound incredible. Big fat check on this one. Magdalene is overstuffed with subdued, rich, and always fitting production, instrumental, and engineering work from the likes of Arca, Koreless, Daniel Lopatin, Nicolas Jaar, Jack Antonoff, and Benny Blanco. It’s a veritable who’s-who of artists joining forces with Twigs to fulfill her dark and lush sonic vision, and without exception the record sounds fantastic. But it’s the unique vocal and lyrical stylings of Twigs that sells the record. Tracks like the edgy “home with you” introduce an angry side of Twigs that has yet to manifest itself with this level of intensity, while “mary magdalene” displays Twigs at her most longing-filled and raw. But the emotional components of Twigs’ delivery are not the only stand-outs on Magdalene. Bjork’s very obvious influence can be heard in “fallen alien”, which brings a glitchy, sci-fi quality to her music, while “daybed” brings back the delightfully artsy obscurity of LP1, showing clearly that Twigs has not lost what made her special in the first place. But when viewing Twigs’ progression as an artist as a whole, album closer and absolute stunner “cellophane” is as simple and straightforward a song as she has yet written, culminating in a devastatingly vulnerable expression of love and loss that ties the album’s themes together in tear-jerking fashion.
Some people have the capacity to share their pain in a way that is not only knowable, but is impactful in a manner that keeps you coming back to it to better understand the human feeling it, as well as our own adjacent experiences to their suffering. Magdalene is one of the more stunning examples of effective and devastating emotional expression I have heard, and is in total one of the best-sounding and thoroughly mesmerizing records I have heard in a good while. Magdalene is going to end up on a lot of year-end lists, and will most certainly be on mine. If you are looking for a journey into the darkest, most devastated corners of the human heart, let FKA Twigs guide you on a journey unlike anything else you’ll hear this year. Brilliant.
Lucy Dacus – 2019
Even before she collaborated with them directly via the excellent Boygenius, Lucy Dacus was often compared to luminaries Julien Baker and Phoebe Bridgers. Seemingly ushering in a new era of indie singer-songwriters, “new” in the sense that it revitalized the obsession with retro that the genre has always be inundated with, those two names sometimes outshone that of Dacus, perhaps because their stories and geographies seems more glittering and “narrative ready”. With 2019, however, Dacus proves that not only does she belong firmly alongside the biggest names in the genre but that there’s a quality to her music that’s mysterious, alluring, hard to define, and, at the same time, wholly pleasing.
On 2019, Dacus also taps into the kind of americana that’s become a by-word for this current wave of singer-songwriters. However, where the music of Baker and Bridges admixes this interest with deeply personal aesthetics, Dacus marries it to kitsch and camp. One look at the album’s cover, but also a careful listen to tracks like “Dancing in the Dark”, reveals the artist’s use of these styles to great affect. Musically, this comes through the music through its rock n’ roll edge, channeling Bruce Springsteen (whose “Dancing in the Dark” is covered on the EP as well) to evoke that feeling of the “great American rock song”. Naturally, however, this sound comes with a dark, melancholic edge; on tracks like “Forever Half Mast” or the cover of Phil Collins’ “In the Air Tonight”, the somber notes are either hinted at (with the former) or wholly embraced (on the latter).
The result is an intricate album which can also be playful and “straight-forward”, channeling what often makes indie rock great, namely the genre’s ability to mix a certain emotional vulnerability and earnest talk with more aesthetically rich language and music. Dacus, in a way that sets her apart from the milieu within which she has been operating for years now, deftly weaves this language into a great release. It’s also one which fits the times, as we plunge deeper into the mix of lies, half-truths, forgotten remembrances, and haunted timelines we call “the future”, where meaning, intent, and signal are constantly in flux. On 2019, Lucy Dacus channels all of that into what beguilingly seems a “simple” album at first but slowly reveals its layers the more you listen. If you need more proof of the EP’s versatility, the last track is a cover of “Last Christmas” with screams and a punk edge that wouldn’t shame any metal cover of the track.