Playlist Swap – 1/2/2020

Look at that date baby. Hell yeah. Here we go. Even a cursory glance of our biweekly playlist updates will reveal that there is a great deal of variety among our staff’s musical tastes. Due to this, we brainstormed the idea of Playlist Swap, where two of our contributors pick their favorite track from each of the nine albums in their grid and then send the list over to the other person to listen to and comment on. Within these commentaries occurs praise, criticism and discovery, and we hope that you experience a few instances of this last point as well. This week’s post brought Mighty Warrior From Beyond Space and Time Simon Handmaker and Wretched Overlord of All He Surveys Eden Kupermintz head to head in a battle of the eclectic, the heavy, and the just plain great. Here we go:

Simon’s Picks and Eden’s Thoughts

Discordance Axis – “Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said” (Jouhou, 1997)

Simon: Let’s fucking go. Both The Inalienable Dreamless and Jouhou were among my most-listened albums of 2019, and for good reason: Discordance Axis kicks mega ass. Every track is riff city and completely unhinged, without ever disconnecting from the surreal melodies and total weirdness that characterize their approach to grindcore. “Flow My Tears” is a perfect example of that, no ifs ands or buts.

Eden: Oh, it’s going to be like that, is it? Right out the gate, we get a reference to Philip K. Dick’s best book (fight me) and one of grindcore’s best bands. Jouhou is, admittedly, not the album I’ve sent the most time with and that seems to be a major fuck up on my part. This track has everything which makes Discordance Axis so good: a mean first riff which quickly dissolves into hardcore-tinged madness, wrapped around with the fuzz of production executed “poorly” to perfection. The vocals are eviscerating as usual. Long story short, I need to get off my ass and listen to Jouhou properly; long live Discordance Axis.

Full of Hell – “Silmaril” (Weeping Choir, 2019)

Simon: Another hot slab of grind coming up. Sandwiched between the aforementioned Discordance Axis records in my listens this year was Weeping Choir, Full of Hell’s most death metal-esque and truly metal record yet. They wed some truly choice riffs to a unique aesthetic presentation, and it’s this seamless blend of all of the aspects of the end result – the artwork, the lyrics, the choices for guests, and the music – that makes them one of my favorite active bands right now.

Eden: Out into the frying pan and into the boiling fire. Is there a band more worthy to follow up Discordance Axis than Full of Hell? I can’t think of any. And don’t think I didn’t notice the Tolkien reference on the second track either. Where Discordance Axis wrap their sound in filth and feedback viscera, Full of Hell take a more rounded and pronounced approach to their sound. The vocals follow suit, gaining that thick, absolutely effective, deep growl tone all through this blistering track while the end features abrasive, disgusting, high pitch screeches. Add in some of those massive chords which break up the breakneck pace of the main riff and drums and you have yourself a monster of a track from a monster of an album.

Playboi Carti – “Shoota ft. Lil Uzi Vert” (Die Lit, 2018)

Simon: I just don’t really know what to say other than that Playboi Carti kicks ass. Die Lit is a perfect apotheosis of the current trend of mixing the rolling drums and aggressive bass of trap with the cold, ethereal synths and samples of cloud rap. It’s just a phenomenal pop rap album, and if you don’t agree then you’re wrong.

Eden: This is Simon we’re talking about so if you were thinking this list was not going to jump genres like crazy, you’ve got another thing coming. Neither Playboi Carti nor Lil Uzi Vert are exactly frequent names on my lists but to be honest, this track is great. Unlike some of the other stuff further down on this list, the production doesn’t really bother that much and the core beat of the track is obviously great. The piano sample which works throughout it is also cool; the way it’s used a bit differently in the back of Vert’s verse is also a great touch, adding some much needed variety to the track’s progression. All in all, a ball from left field but one which I’m happy to catch; good stuff.

TTNG – “It’s Not True Rufus, Don’t Listen to the Hat” (This Town Needs Guns, 2008)

Simon: The thing about TTNG is that, as the modern math rock and emo scenes have evolved and grown in strange directions, I find This Town Needs Guns becoming more and more essential. It’s everything that makes the genre good without any of the bells and whistles that newcomers have brought to the table. It’s simple, direct, distilled, but still has plenty of personality and more than enough moments to justify its place at the top of the genre’s heap for me. The last minute of “It’s Not True Rufus” specifically – the last minute of the album, actually – is so beautiful and emotionally poignant and climactic that I get chills every time I listen to this track.

Eden: TTNG is just one of those bands that I never got around to. I listen to a lot of math-rock so obviously a lot of the bands and releases I like owe them a debt of gratitude, both in sound and in aesthetic. This track actually solidifies both my decision not to check them out so far and how important they are; you can hear so much of contemporary math-rock (and emo, to be honest) on this track. However, I don’t myself gravitating to it too much. I tended to let my attention drift while listening to the track, nothing really reached out and grabbed me. So, while I recognize how seminal this sound is, I also feel like the genre has surpassed one of its originators and is doing more interesting things today.

Lumpy And The Dumpers – “Attention” (Those Pickled Fuckers, 2017)

Simon: Lumpy and the fuckin’ Dumpers, baby! Just listen to it.

Eden: Sometimes, you just need some punk, god damn it, and if that hour strikes you, you could do much worse than Lumpy and the Dumpers. I mean, listen to the electronic mess that makes up one of the main lines on this track. Hear those furious vocals blasting over that thick bass tone. This is the real deal and I’m not going to waste too many words on it because it’s fucking punk baby. Play it loud.

Gotsu Totsu Kotsu – “飢餓ノ恐怖 〜Creeping Starvation” (兵ドモガ夢ノ跡 〜Where Warriors Once Dreamed a Dream, 2016)

Simon: I discovered Gotsu Totsu Kotsu a month or so ago through Spotify, and wow! These guys are something of a legend in Japan, and I cannot believe it took me this long to find out about them. I don’t really think they need much description, but to offer something brief anyway: they play thrash-inflected death metal with some awesome technical flair and they possess a potent ability of how to structure songs, which leads to some amazing moments. Where Warriors Once Dreamed A Dream is not the album I would say is my personal favorite, based on my exploration – that would be the weirder and more exploratory Legend of Shadow – but it’s an incredible slice of death metal nonetheless.

Eden: OK, don’t think I didn’t see what you did there Simon; building off of the thick bass of the previous track, Gotsu-Totsu-Kotsu blow the low end into the roof. These guys, whom Simon recommended to me for the first time a few weeks ago and with which I’ve been obsessed ever since, play a kind of muscular, bass-heavy, uncompromising assault of death metal. The entire album just goes, wasting very little time in pummeling you with massive riffs and even more momentous vocals. But don’t make the mistake of thinking that this is a one cut samurai (see what I did there?): listen to those multiple solos going off and try to keep with their excellent composition and execution, hinting at times at traditional Japanese folk music. This is the real deal folks: this album is the powerful, fast, aggressive kind of death metal you’ve been looking for.

harunemuri – “sekaiwotorikaeshiteokure” (harutosyura, 2018)

Simon: I don’t really have much to say about this one, actually. It’s just fun, and good. harunemuri‘s weird, glitchy, experimental pop is a very fun breath of fresh air, given that I am… less than enamored with a lot of the pop music ruling the charts right now, and the tinges of rap and pop rock add a ton of flavor to her already great songs.

Eden: We’re staying in Japan but taking a wildly difference approach. harunemuri is not usually an artist I’d be well versed in but I actually love her music. Her effortless blend of rap, chunkier guitars, and just the overall pop energy that flows from everything she does is so good. It’s some of my favorite music to play to people who think there’s nothing to be gained from branching out into aesthetic territory that doesn’t fit your “brand”. Nothing about harunemuri fits in with anything else on this list (except, maybe, how much emotion she throws into the last verse on the track), not really, but I fucking dare you to listen to this track and not have it stuck in your head for days. You can’t do it; stop trying.

Thaiboy Digital, Bladee – “Bentley” (Legendary Member, 2019)

Simon: I like Bladee‘s music a lot, but Thaiboy Digital‘s new album didn’t hit the mark for me as much. He’s a member of the same collective – drain gang – but where Bladee expresses far less of an overt hip hop influence in his music, Thaiboy feels a lot more connected to that territory. I’ve been listening to it, hoping it’ll grow on me – Bladee certainly has – but yeah, this album was somewhat of a swing and a miss for me. “Bentley” is probably the best track on here because it feels like the one where Thaiboy is most in tune with the rest of the drain gang sound, but even then I would much rather listen to Bladee’s solo stuff.

Eden: A’ight, imma head out here. This kind of hip-hop just does nothing for me; I’m not an auto-tune purist, I think it’s an instrument just like any other and can add a lot of expressiveness and color to a voice. But this kind of heavy usages of it just kills the music for me. I do like some of what the instruments are doing, that kind of trumpet-y, sad sound in the background is cool, but everything else is too paint by numbers to carry those vocals. Just not my thing.

The New Pornographers – “It’s Only Divine Right” (Electric Vision, 2003)

Simon: The New Pornographers are a band I’ve been hip to for a while – my dad has been a fan of them since 2005, and he and I have both followed them in the 15 years since – and out of their excellent catalog, I would say Electric Version is my favorite album of theirs. It hits all the perfect notes for their style of raucous, energetic power-pop, and they have a sort of eclecticism to their choice of sounds that I don’t think any other indie bands out of this scene ever really hit on. There’s such a breadth of sounds across Electric Version, something I think “It’s Only Divine Right” is exemplary of. Even though they don’t really sound much alike at all, my love of The New Pornographers is motivated by the same fundamental element as my love of Steely Dan: everything feels perfectly considered and is in exactly the spot it should be, and every sound and performance sounds confident and clear. It’s an amazing album from an amazing band.

Eden: What a great way to round out this excellent list! This is the first I’ve heard of The New Pornographers but, based on this track, it seems like I ought to pay more attention. While definitely versed in the indie-rock which was exploding in 2003, this track also has some sweet 70’s style Hammond synths, great use of vocal harmony, and an overall vibe that speaks of something like The Beach Boys in its saccharine effectiveness. I found myself humming this tune over the past few weeks to myself and I’m definitely going to make this album a priority over the next ones. Great stuff!

Eden’s Picks and Simon’s Thoughts

Cheeto’s Magazine – “Ready to Rumble” (Amazingous, 2019)

Eden: I bought this album based on cover art alone (as I used to do with CDs) and haven’t regretted it for a second ever since. This band is seriously underrated, producing amazing, hopeful, wonderfully creative, and often silly progressive rock.

Simon: I am very confused by Cheeto’s Magazine (phenomenal band name, by the way). Everything these guys are doing on “Ready to Rumble” makes sense and seems like it should coalesce into something that I really like; I love progressive rock, I love synthesizers, and I especially love bands that don’t take themselves too seriously even though they’re clearly not amateurs. It just doesn’t ever really come together in a way that satisfies me. I couldn’t tell you what Cheeto’s Magazine are missing, but there’s some secret sauce that just isn’t present here to bind everything into a package I feel particularly compelled to explore further. I could definitely see myself recommending Amazingous to people I know who want something that is interesting without being uncomfortable or challenging, but I think I have to table them for now. Would not be surprised by them putting out a fantastic album a couple years down the line, though: all the parts are there, there’s just a little more assembly required.

Micronode – “LAN Party” (Personal Computer, 2019)

Eden: As I wrote in my year in review, 2019 was a year when I reconnected with synthwave and this album is a huge part of that. The direct, effective, creative, and sample-filled synthwave of Micronode is a joyous, refreshing sound in the sea of dross that the genre has become which proves there is a lot more to be done with the sound.

Simon: Hey, alright! My forays into the synthwave genre were pretty much completely ended by sheer exhaustion with the amount of uninspired crap that started to come in waves at some point in 2017. Micronode takes an approach to the sound that I find refreshing: the really simple lead synthesizers and bitcrushed drums here remind me of arcade games and old DOS titles, and that excites me far more than the typical “listens to John Carpenter and Vangelis once” approach. I doubt I’ll be diving deep back into synthwave at any time soon, but I foresee Personal Computer getting a lot of mileage in the near future.

Atlantean Kodex – “Chariots – Descending from Zagros” (The Course of Empire, 2019)

Eden: Voted Most Likely To Be Simon’s Favorite Track From This Playlist. If you haven’t heard this album, you’re doing yourself a massive disservice; it is epic doom as epic doom was always meant to be. “Chariots” also has what is probably the chorus of the year. This track just oozes epic awesomeness and metal greatness.

Simon: This is my favorite track from this playlist. I gave The Course of Empire a glowing review earlier this year. It carried me through a somewhat rocky September, where I moved into an unfamiliar part of Chicago after living in the same area of the city for three years and started my first office job. The unshakable, completely self-assured and self-righteous traditional metal of Atlantean Kodex gave me a powerful anchor in those times. It’s not their best album – that’s still The White Goddess – but man, these guys just fucking crush it on every track. Sweeping choruses, enormous riffs, voluminous swells of choral vocals: “Chariots” has it all in spades. If you can hear this song without getting goosebumps, metal probably just isn’t for you.

Voyager – “Saccharine Dream” (Colours in the Sun, 2019)

Eden: I could have chosen “Entropia” from this album (featuring Einar Solberg) but I chose this one because it’s my favorite from it, rather than the lead single. It’s just filled with the personality, optimism, and power that I love about Voyager and showcases what this album does so well: make impactful, sweeping, and catchy metal.

Simon: Saccharine indeed. I’ve been meaning to check out Colours in the Sun for a while now; it’s my younger brother’s favorite metal album of 2019 and he has been singing its praises quite a lot. Lev and Eden, I am sorry, but I am not really a fan. Djent is just not what gets me going anymore outside of Meshuggah and Sikth. I can appreciate their talent and the poppy element and the more optimistic approach they’re bringing to the genre, but if I wanted something this effervescent in this sphere of music, I would really rather just go back to Guiding Lights by Skyharbor or something.

Phoebe Bridgers – “Funeral” (Stranger in the Alps, 2017)

Eden: This is probably the saddest song I know. That’s it, I can’t write anything else about it because I start tearing up. We don’t deserve Phoebe Bridgers.

Simon: Those opening swells of feedback are gorgeous. I know that’s not the point of the song, and even pointing that out is missing the forest for the trees, but I really appreciate it. Anyway: wow. I’ve never really been blown away by Phoebe Bridgers; I mostly know her from her role in Boygenius, where she gets very much outshone by both Lucy Dacus and Julien Baker. But – hearing her on her own, hearing her given the space and quiet that she clearly needs to flourish – I am very impressed by this song. Her cadence touches on something almost transcendent in its mournfulness, and the slow, burning violin in the background really elevates it all. Definitely going to go visit this album very soon.

Jambinai – “Sun. Tears. Red” (ONDA, 2019)

Eden: I didn’t give this album too much attention when it came out, despite many in my circles raving about it, and I have to say that now that I have, it’s pretty damn cool! It does some super interesting things with its “basic”, epic progressive formula, like adding in Korean folk instruments. These little touches, and in general just how well composed it is, really set it above the crop and make it into a thoroughly interesting and enjoyable album.

Simon: I was very unsure what to expect from Jambinai but this is pretty far from anything I thought it would be. The same quiet-but-overwhelming, self-sure intensity as Tool‘s “Wings For Marie” or contemporary Russian Circles is an amazing first step forward. The way it explodes into something that manages to straddle that razor-thin line between gorgeous and menacing throughout is awesome. “Sun.Tears.Red” also does one of my favorite things in music, something extremely hard to accomplish: it establishes a simple, unremarkable, and easy-to-follow idea, and then builds on it until it’s all but unrecognizable. This is post-metal par excellence, and I cannot wait to give ONDA my full attention in the near future.

Wilderun – “Far From Where Dreams Unfurl” (Veil of Imagination, 2019)

Eden: Voted Second Most Likely To Be Simon’s Favorite Track From This Playlist. Wilderun baby; it doesn’t get much better than this. This track really showcases what the band do best, namely taking death metal and turning up the “opera” knob to eleven. Who even put that knob there? No one knows but Wilderun are going to town, making death metal as big, epic, and flowery as it can possibly be and doing a damn fine job of it.

Simon: Fellow Genius Of Death Metal and Invisible Oranges writer Langdon Hickman recently described Wilderun as “like if early Opeth had Devin Townsend as a songwriting partner and they also had access to a full orchestra.” He’s right, and it’s weird how much I like this album given that I don’t actually really like either Opeth or Devin Townsend that much. Wait, let me explain: I like Strapping Young Lad, I like Deconstruction, and I like Devin Townsend Presents: Ziltoid the Omniscient. I don’t really like Opeth at all though. I find a lot of Devy’s music to be a little bit too poppy for my tastes; that sort of song structure isn’t something I usually enjoy much in metal, and with his stuff specifically it often feels more like a crutch than anything else. As for Opeth, I think their stuff lacks pretty much any oomph whatsoever, which is fine if you’re making a genre other than death metal (I actually would much rather listen to their progressive rock stuff – it’s totally retrogressive, navel-gazing Camel worship, but at least they’re not writing stuff that’s supposed to be heavy). Veil of Imagination‘s strengths as an album, I think, are in exactly the areas where both Devy and Opeth falter: it’s just as bombastic and explosive as Devin at his best but without any of the more simplified song structures, and as sunny as it can be it also has moments that are undeniably heavy. This album has a lot to give, and man, if you’re willing to just let Wilderun do their thing, it’s one of the best metal experiences of the past year.

VOLNA – “He’d Flown Before, but Never in a Glider” (DRMWLKR, 2019)

Eden: VOLNA really blew me away with their little EP this year, making the kind of electronic, concise, and expressive post-rock that gives me hope for the continued resurgence of the genre. This EP is jam-packed with great tracks, moving titles, and an overall atmosphere which channels Australia’s greatest and best post-rock bands (one of them mentioned below).

Simon: This is the sort of very pleasant post-rock that Eden loves deeply and I have fallen out of love with to a degree. It pains me to say that VOLNA are just not really doing anything for me here, because if I had discovered this album a few years ago I would have been on it like white on rice. Who knows, maybe one day my love for post-rock will hit me again and I’ll be ready to give this EP the attention it so clearly deserves. Eden is right, DRMWLKR is absolutely a labor of love. Bonus points for that amazing cover art.

sleepmakeswaves – “The Stars Are Stigmata” (Love of Cartography, 2014)

Eden: Love of Cartography is probably my album of the decade on my most emotional days. I literally whoop out loud when tracks from it play on shuffle; I go back to it every few weeks and just cry and laugh and dance. It’s the height of what post-rock is capable of for me, a perfect album through and through.

Simon: Love of Cartography is an amazing album, and, just like I said about VOLNA, I wish it did more for me. The ground here is far more fertile, though; Love came out when I was at the height of my love of post-rock and there is some strong sinew tying me to this album. Shit, I have to revisit this now, don’t I? Just when I thought I was out, they pull me right back in…

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Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.