Hello, friends! Welcome to our first installment of Unmetal Monthly. Well, sort of. For the last few years we have been collecting some of our favorite records released outside of the metal world and highlighting them in our bi-weekly Unmetal Monday column. As we are moving into a whole new world for Heavy Blog, we figured that a re-evaluation of how our columns worked was in order. Thus, there will be a few notable changes and (we hope) improvements to our coverage of music that spans beyond the realm of the extreme. These changes will include:

  1. Monthly in-depth analysis of current trends and stories
  2. Interviews with artists (coming soon!)
  3. Wider selection of releases to check out 

We are incredibly excited to bring more intensive coverage of music outside of the metal world to you. As anyone who has followed the blog for any amount of time knows, the tastes of our writers are wide ranging, and we assume those of most of our readers are as well. We look forward to sharing many more discoveries with you as we continue to listen and enjoy great music in the time of the ‘rona. 

Kicking off our in-depth musical analysis for the month is our resident Swifty Josh, who has more than a few things to say about arguably the most important release in pop music not only of the past month, but potentially the year. Folklore is without question an essential listen for fans of pop music, but how does it fare in the grand scheme of independent rock/pop and her own back catalogue? Read on, friends. 

-Jonathan Adams


The Bead

When Taylor Swift first announced folklore I posted in our slack channel that it would “probably sound like the last Chelsea Wolfe album or whatever”. Since then, comparisons between its greyscale cover art and that of Ihsahn’s earlier Telemark EP (remember that?) have run rampant, with the progressive black metal pioneer himself even drawing attention to the similarities. Never mind that the album owes as much of its “earthy” aesthetic to previous “down to earth” pop-swerves such as Justin Timberlake’s recent Man of the Woods (2018) as any prog metal stopgap. Nor is it even unique within Swift’s own catalogue (see 2012’s “Safe & Sound” below). Nevertheless, the album has received near-universal praise, ushering a new era of critical credibility for the world’s most successful pop star (seriously, it’s not even close). The album’s more “mature” and “serious” aesthetic has played a big part in its rabid reception. Upon closer inspection, however, it’s hardly anything she hasn’t done before.

Folklore was widely received as a revelation by critics (including our own unmental overlord). The record is her best-reviewed on Metacritic by an entire order of magnitude, with a score of 88, towering over modern classics like 2014’s 1989 (76) and 2012’s Red (77). Rolling Stone were particularly slathering, declaring it “Her greatest album … so far”: “a total goth-folk album”, “full of story-telling depth she’s never come close to before”—“the debut album of a whole new Swift”. Pop Matters similarly praised “Its muted country-folk and chamber-pop edges” as “a significant swerve away from the frantic and flamboyant bangers of yore”. The Guardian declared it “her most experimental” album yet. The A.V. Club called it “a different album from what we’ve heard from Swift before”, while spin proclaimed it Spin “a kaleidoscopic stream of consciousness unlike anything remotely resembling Swift’s past work” (italics added). Yet, while folklore certainly has its own identity within Swift’s catalogue, nothing on it is without precedent.

Although visually stark in contrast to its rainbow-laden predecessor, Lover (2019), folklore’s sonic palate follows on almost directly from more minimalist cuts like the album’s title-track, “The Archer,” “Cornelia Street”, “Soon You’ll Get Better”, “Afterglow”, “It’s Nice to Have a Friend”, which make up a full third of its bloated track-listing. Prior to that, Swift’s albums have been populated by sullen highlights like “Clean”, “Back to December”, and “All Too Well”. Hell, even Reputation (2017) had tracks like “Call it What You Want” and “New Year’s Day” which pointed pretty heavily toward where Swift would go on folklore.

Some of the allusions/precedents are more direct. Lead single “cardigan” takes the most affecting lines from “All Too Well”—“Left my scarf there at your sister’s house

And you still got it in your drawer even now” … “You keep my old scarf from that very first week / Because it reminds you of innocence and it smells like me / You can’t get rid of it, ‘cause you remember it all too well”—and milks it for an entire song, while, as some reviewers have pointed out, the upbeat climax of “betty” is essentially a rehash of Swift’s breakout hit “Love Song”. Almost all reviews of folklore have heaped particular praise upon her collaboration with Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon for “exile”, remarking at how well their supposedly mismatched styles and voiced meld together. Yet even that alleged highlight is a pale imitation of her previous collaboration with Snow Patrol’s Gary Lightbody for “The Last Time” and even the surprisingly solid Ed Sheeran collaboration “Everything Has Changed” (both from Red). Although newcomers might prefer Swift’s later outings, they are hardly original.

While precedents for folklore have been noted here and there, only Variety’s Chris Willman seems to have drawn attention to the album’s abundance of antecedents. He writes that “The best comparison might be to take ‘Clean’ … and… imagine a whole album of that”, and that “For fans that relished these undertones of Swift’s in the past, it will come as a side of her they know and love all too well” (italics added and pun surely intended?). Yet even he positions the record as some kind of unrivalled epiphany, writing “Really, it’s hard to remember any pop star in our lifetimes that has indulged in a more serious act of sonic palette cleansing.” Of course, Madonna has made a career of reinventing herself, going from power-pop superstar to ambient, new-age guru and back again with 1998’s Ray of Light. If you were born later than that there’s Justin Timberlake’s aforementioned (and entirely embarrassing) Man of the Woods, not to mention Lady Gaga’s transformation from 2013’s alien “Artpop” messiah to 2016’s grounded country girl-cum-born-again-superstar (2018), by way of a Tony Bennett collaboration (2014)—a trajectory, let’s not pretend, wasn’t propelled by Swift’s own encroachment onto the pop landscape. Swift isn’t even the first popstar in recent memory to stage such a drastic reinvention.

Another recurring theme within folklore’s response has been the assertion of a newfound “maturity”. Consequence of Sound claim that “Swift has come of age, emotionally and sonically” with folklore, while Pitchfork, who acknowledge the album’s tonal similarities to both “Clean” and “Lover”, credit her with finally showing “real signs of maturity”. After a decade of dance-pop anthems, it’s perhaps easy to forget that Swift began her career as a story-telling country-pop starlet, wielding guitar and piano instead of an army of producers. In fact, Swift has exclusive writing credits for almost all of the material on her first three albums at least, with the remainder only largely shared with regular collaborator Liz Rose. Yet only by embracing desaturation and collaboration with The National has Swift been deemed worthy of coverage by more serious and alternative outlets even if the quality and sonic similarities have been there all along.

Sure, folklore sounds mature coming off the back of Lover and Reputation—anything would. Yet it’s hardly the first time she’s shown “maturity” in her songwriting. 1989 was a “mature” album and, while predominantly remembered for its more infantile (although no less-refined) content, so was the majority of Red. Another thing those albums are is far more dynamic. Regardless of quality, folklore is, by far, Swift’s most monotonous outing. The disparity from “cardigan” to “betty” hardly holds a candle to that between “Lover” and “ME!”, “…Ready for It?” and “New Year’s Day”, “Shake it Off” and “Clean”, “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” and “All Too Well”, even “Sparks Fly” and “Last Kiss” (another of folklore’s long-forgotten ancestors). Nor is folklore Swift’s most “experimental” release. Although arguably less-successful, that would have to be either Lover or Reputation, while 1989’s headfirst dive into dance-pop is far more daring, being precedented only by a handful of songs from her previous record, rather than a career’s worth of preparation.

Despite the adage, there’s often a lot of merit in judging an album by its cover—especially when it comes to carefully cultivated pop stars—although it’s important to look beyond the surface as well. Ironically, folklore’s greyscale cover seems to have “coloured” its reception more than any of Swift’s other albums. Yet, while the album’s hyperbolic reception is perhaps not fully deserved, I want to take a note out of the “betty”/”Love Story” playbook and end on a positive note. The point is not that folklore is a bad album, actually, but rather that there’s a plethora of similar (and arguably superior) music buried within Swift’s catalogue for fans of folklore to discover and enjoy as well. If you’re someone who has been put off by the past decade’s slew of power-pop singles but won over by Swift’s sullen return, you might want to check out (in particular) the back halves of both Red and Speak Now. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

Joshua Bulleid


Records we loved in August

Bright Eyes Down in the Weeds, Where the World Once Was

I distinctly remember sitting at the summit of Crystal Peak one summer morning in Colorado, 13,900 ft. above sea level, watching clouds roll over the jagged landscape with otherworldly grandeur. I had an iPod with me, and needed to pick a song to fit my mood. Out of thousands of tracks, I chose “Lua” from Bright Eyes’ indie folk opus I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning. That was almost a decade ago, and I still remember it like it was yesterday. It should also give an idea of how important this band is to me. But after the mediocre Cassadaga and the utter failure of The People’s Key, I’ll say I wasn’t particularly optimistic about the chances of the band’s ninth full-length effort, Down in the Weeds, Where the World Once Was, being a bona fide banger. Sometimes it’s good to be wrong. 

Conor Oberst has had an interesting evolution as a musician since his seminal work in Bright Eyes. Branching out into a fully developed solo career (that contains some damn good records) and into more collaborative work with bands like Monsters of Folk (also featuring Jim James of My Morning Jacket, M. Ward, and Mike Mogis) and his project with Phoebe Bridgers, Better Oblivion Community Center, many were doubtful that Oberst would ever return to the project that made his name. But Down in the Weeds, thankfully, presents much more than another album from Oberst with an old moniker slapped on it. Instead, it’s a rich, widescreen musical statement that shows Oberst reinvigorated and as vital as he’s ever been. 

Musically, there are notes from most all of Bright Eyes’ previous work present here. There’s the warm, country pop sounds of Cassadaga in tracks like “Forced Convalescence”, the acoustic charm of I’m Wide Awake in “Tilt-A-Whirl”, and a more sparse instrumental compositional bent akin to albums like Mirror Fever or Digital Ash in a Digital Urn in Tracks like “Hot Car in the Sun” and “To Death’s Heart (In Three Parts)”. But despite its obvious and effective callbacks to the band’s previous output, Down in the Weeds succeeds on its own merit, and feels very much like a sonic evolution for the band. “Persona Non Grata”, “Mariana Trench”, and the aforementioned “To Death’s Heart” are among the best songs the band have yet written, elevating this record from a greatest hits retread and into independently excellent territory. For nearly an hour, Bright Eyes drop consistently their best music in 15 years, and it’s hard to imagine a more enjoyable return. 

If you, like myself, have found significant artistic and emotional value in the work of Bright Eyes, Down in the Weeds, Where the World Once Was is a welcome and energetic return to form for one of the most important bands in the development of indie rock and folk of the past few decades. Sonically diverse, properly nostalgic, and 100% Bright Eyes, it’s a record that will show up on more than a few year-end lists. 

JA

Fontaines D.C.A Hero’s Death

Yeah, yeah I know. This record technically came out on the last day of July. But given its late release and our ever-looming deadlines we weren’t able to get to it. So here we are, rectifying that unfortunate mistake. In the world of post-punk, it’s hard to think of another band that has reached this level of immediate hype. Working on the same level of recognition as current post-punk kings Protomartyr and IDLES just based on a debut record creates some tough shoes to fill, which is more than part of what makes the band’s sophomore record A Hero’s Death so admirable. It’s an effort that expands on the quality of their debut in every way while also taking a somewhat unexpected approach to the genre than many might have anticipated. It’s a triumph through and through. 

Whereas the band’s debut Dogrel was a raucous, often bawdy showcase of the band’s seemingly relentless energy and talent, A Hero’s Death shows up and immediately turns down the volume. “I Don’t Belong” saunters out the gate with the energy of a cigarette-lit night walk through the empty, rain-soaked late night streets of Dublin. It’s a confident track that allows the band’s songwriting abilities to take center stage over the manic energy of some of their contemporaries in the scene. It sets the mood for the album brilliantly, which builds on these elements with a graceful and efficient intensity throughout. “A Lucid Dream” and “Living In America” increase the tempo and energy without giving up the record’s more somber tone, while tracks like “You Said” could fit beautifully on Interpol’s Turn On the Bright Lights. It’s a brilliant mix of familiar yet bold sounds that keep A Hero’s Death propulsive and interesting from start to finish, and culminates in a more mature and substantive album than its predecessor. 

Post-punk’s revival over the past few decades continues to rage sullenly onward, and bands like Fontaines D.C. represent some of its most talented new arbiters. If you enjoy the most modern manifestations of the genre, A Hero’s Death is definitely worthy of your time and attention. Far from a sophomore slump, this record presents an even more exciting future for one of post-punk’s brightest young collectives. 

JA

Glass AnimalsDreamland

British psych-pop stalwarts Glass Animals are back again with another installment of lush vibes hot off the quarantine presses. For those unfamiliar, Glass Animals are most famously known for their steamy, dreamy 2014 hit “Gooey”, which has been featured in a million TV shows and movies as the backing track to trippy slomo party montages and love scenes alike. Following a near fatal accident involving their drummer in 2018, the band took time off from touring and writing while he recovered. Band leader and vocalist Dave Bayley spent a lot of this time writing for other artists, and drawing inspiration from their themes and processes, started formulating the basis for Dreamland over the course of 2019.

Written almost single handedly by Bayley, this 16-track barn-burner is largely autobiographical, drawing heavily from childhood influences growing up in Texas during the ’90s and early 2000s. The album tracks a progression from those earliest of memories through the rest of his life until now, each song touching an important developmental moment – even including a handful of interludes ripped straight from old family home movies. Musically, the sounds of the millennium are very present, often oscillating between their trademark hazy, xylophone-synth led melodies to beats reminiscent of Timbaland and Dr. Dre – one of which, “Tokyo Drifting”, includes a feature from the beloved Denzel Curry himself.

Dreamland is an absolute menagerie, both an earnest love letter to ’90s-kid pop culture and a deeply personal audio memoir. It’s fun, playful, dirty, pensive, and an all around joy to listen to. Each track gets right to the point, and Bayley varies the moods and tempos enough throughout to keep it interesting, even dropping the pseudo-house track “It’s All So Incredibly Loud” as the album’s second single. If you’re in need of a new palate cleanser to guiltily jam to, Dreamland is a Ninja Turtle bubblegum bomb pop on a sweaty summer day. Give it a lick.

Calder Dougherty

Rope Sect The Great Flood

Death and goth rock were never genres of music that I listened to growing up, and until recently never showed up on my radar in any fashion that encouraged a change in my willful ignorance. Then Idle Hands dropped Mana a few years ago and my world was flipped upside down. I’ve probably listened to that record front to back 50 times, and as time goes on it slowly crawls up my list of best albums of the last decade. Such a stirring introduction has almost certainly opened my mind to exploring these sounds with more intention, which led me to Rope Sect’s utterly fantastic debut record The Great Flood, which is without question one of my favorite non-metal releases of the year so far. 

Fans of the aforementioned Idle Hands, as well the propulsive post-punk of Algiers and Iceage and the darkened edge of Grave Pleasures and Creeper, will eat up The Great Flood. There’s little about this album that isn’t thoroughly engaging and interesting. Not attempting to reinvent the genre wheel, Rope Sect couple their fuzzed-out, jangle-intensive instrumentals with songs of sadness and loss that should numb the hearts of the most sullen punks. But while the music in tracks like opener “Divide Et Impera” or “Rope of the Just” should provide fans of this music with all the sonic propulsive was they require, their greatest assets are the vocals, which meander with a baritone grace that keeps the at times raucous proceedings grounded in whiskey-soaked darkness throughout. It’s an utterly impressive collection that places the band immediately on the same shelf as the King Dudes of the scene. 

One of the most impressive debuts I’ve heard this year, there’s no way that this record doesn’t end up on my year-end list. Assured, varies, skillfully executed and dripping with atmosphere, Rope Sect have elevated themselves to essential status on their first try. That alone is worthy of consideration and celebration. 

JA

Skullcrusher Self-titled

There are records that make an impact on first listen that sets the heart pounding. It’s that feeling that you’ve stumbled upon something that will make a significant impact on your life from that point onward. Phoebe Bridgers’ Stranger in the Alps was one of those records for me, as was Radiohead’s Kid A. I could point to maybe a dozen records in my life that gave me that distinct feeling of importance. Skullcrusher’s self-titled debut EP gave me that same feeling, which should suggest right off the bat how I feel about it. 

Peddling the acoustic indie folk vibe currently undergoing a true renaissance through the works of songwriters like Bridgers, Lucy Dacus, Julien Baker, Bedouine, and a host of others, there’s little on the surface of Skullcrusher that feels like it should stick out. But Hellen Ballentine’s ambient, atmospheric approach to these quickly popularized sounds sets her apart from her contemporaries with a lush, subtle sound that drowns listeners in a sea of hopeful melancholy that feels both at its base familiar and appropriately fresh. “Places/Plans” is one of the best songs in this sonic space to be released this year, followed closely by the EP’s final track “Day of Snow”, which both set Skullcrusher up as a distinct and powerful voice in this space. There isn’t a dull or pointless moment in these four tracks, and if they are any indication of where Skullcrusher is headed for her full-length debut, the world better prepare itself for something special. 

One of the best singer-songwriter releases I’ve heard this year, there’s no ceiling for where this project could go. Mixing ambient and atmospheric textures with deeply affecting indie folk, Skullcrusher is honing a sound tailor-made for late-night listening sessions, staring at a gently swaying ceiling fan and wondering where everything went so wrong. A thrilling, near-perfect debut release. 

JA

Disclosure – Energy

Full disclosure: this won’t be as positive as some of the other entries this month. But even putting aside my criticisms of Energy, I’m just glad we have a new Disclosure album that’s worth celebrating. If you’re new to the duo, brothers Howard and Guy Lawrence have churned out supremely danceable UK house tunes over the last decade, growing progressively more pop-oriented since their excellent debut album Settle (2013). While the four-on-the-floor approach on their early EPs produced some excellent bangers, Settle saw the duo flirt with the likes of Daft Punk in their ability to produce a complete album. Club cuts like “When a Fire Starts to Burn” co-existed perfectly with pop radio anthems like “Latch,” colored in with blends of these two worlds that fit in equally well. 

Unfortunately, the Lawrence brothers became a bit too comfortable with their newfound fame, perhaps sparked by their relationship with UK crooner Sam Smith (who ironically came to prominence thanks to his appearance on “Latch,” which received a resurgence in popularity after Smith’s profile began to grow). Settle benefitted from a group of relatively unknown but talented singers that elevated the tracks they appeared on without stealing the spotlight. Yet, on the duo’s sophomore album Caracal (2015), those kinds of features were overtaken by a star-studded guest list, including Smith alongside The Weeknd, Lorde, and Miguel. While most of the featured artists perform well, the Lawrece brothers catered to their guests’ unique styles and struggled to maintain a consistent voice throughout the album, focusing more on pop than their house roots and occasionally dipping into alternative, danceable r&b — with mixed results. The duo also made the odd choice of dropping the first seven tracks (yes, literally tracks 1-7) as pre-release singles, leaving only four truly “new” songs for listeners to dive into. Unfortunately, they’re arguably the weakest tracks on the album. 

In the following five years, Disclosure’s output has somehow both improved and grown more frustrating. A series of EPs — Moog for Love (2016), Moonlight (2018), and Ecstasy (2020) — have featured a much appreciated return to the band’s house roots. Moonlight in particular was a varied, excellent collection of tracks, which whet my appetite for a new full-length and a potential return to form. And yet, Ecstasy arrived as a slightly less enjoyable version of Moonlight, and before they announced Energy, my frustration began to mount. Why were they churning out house music at a high level but then dumping it on EPs, which simply isn’t a format that can offer the kind of cohesive experience that Settle provided? Even when they announced Energy, it was difficult not to raise an eyebrow at a relatively terse 11-track album with two interludes and a bonus disc made up almost exclusively by Ecstasy

But thankfully, the music on those nine proper songs includes some of their all-time best work. “Miy High” is in the running for banger of the year, with a simple but addictive beat enhanced by a killer hook and verses from Aminé and Slowthai. The duo’s longtime affinity for hip-hop shines brightly elsewhere on the album as well, with a quality appearance from Mick Jenkins on “Who Knew?” and a great verse from Common to close out the album on “Reverie.” 

Those who joined me in calling for a return to their peak house days also have plenty of tracks to celebrate. “Watch Your Step” and “Lavender” open the album with a one-two punch of dance-inducing grooves and infectious hooks. Fatoumata Diawara and Eric Thomas reprise their collaborations with the duo on “Douha (Mali Mali)” and the title track, respectively. The former is perhaps the duo’s finest attempt at creating world music inspired house, while the latter is another banger that geniusly incorporates motivational samples from Thomas. And while I actually prefer the dancier remixes of “Birthday,” the original track is a sweet, catchy pop track with nice vocals from Kehlani and Syd. 

BUT (and you knew there was a “but” coming), Energy still falls short of capturing the magic Disclosure realized on Settle. In reading the previous paragraphs, you might have wondered the same thing I did when I saw the tracklist: how is all that going to fit together on the same record? Thankfully, none of the tracks clash with one another, but that’s mainly due to the overall disjointed, playlist-type feel the album maintains throughout. While I always appreciate variety on an album, Energy takes that a step further by offering a collection of songs that could have easily passed as a new UK dance compilation. Other than the title track, few of the songs on Energy truly “feel“ like a Disclosure song in the same way Settle did throughout. Again, this isn’t to discount the quality of the songs on the album; there truly isn’t a bad or even mediocre song on here, which I wouldn’t say applies to Caracal. But rather than being a sum of its parts, Energy feels more like a scattered collection, and by the time I finished with each listen, I struggled to pinpoint the distinct vibe or theme that the album had to offer. 

I may have spent a good chunk of time discussing releases not named Energy, and at the end of the day, I still highly recommend the album to anyone who loves well-written dance music. But as an OG fan of the duo, Energy serves as the closing remark on a case study about the potential effects of crossover appeal. Settle received far more attention than your average house album, and the newfound acclaim clearly prompted the duo to take the “star-studded sophomore album because we’re famous now” approach. While the cause of the duo’s current trajectory is a bit less clear, the absence of their distinct identity has only been further proven with Energy. I won’t grumble too loudly if they continue churning out songs with this level of quality, but I’ll remain disappointed that Settle continues to feel like a perfect storm that’s now subsided. 

Scott Murphy

Son Lux – Tomorrows I

Son Lux fall in a fairly indescribable place in the modern musical landscape. What started out for years as a solo vehicle for singer/songwriter Ryan Lott as a quasi-bedroom quirkily sad electro-pop project took on a completely new form in 2015. Lott would combine his talents with two brilliant and idiosyncratic musicians – jazz guitarist Rafiq Bhatia and experimental drummer Ian Chang. The results of their early collaborations would form Bones, which (and I’m going to tip my hand here a bit and show my biases) I firmly believe is one of the most underrated and underappreciated indie rock masterpieces of the 2010s. It is both a deeply triumphant and freeing album, full of ecstatic and righteous works like “Change Is Everything” and “You Don’t Know Me.” The writing is exceedingly tight, the musicianship is astounding – just listen to Bhatia show a glimmer of his chops at the end of “This Time” – and it would elevate Lott’s own unique voice as a writer and singer in ways few could. Bones is not a happy album, but even in its explorations of deep anxiety, anger, resentment, and letting go, there is something inherently uplifting that carries through the album and turns it into a perfect piece to blast out the car windows.

I fully expected the band to continue in this direction moving forward, but given the constantly searching and experimental nature of this group, it shouldn’t have surprised me that they had other plans. 2018’s Brighter Wounds possessed some of that oft-kilter elation, but overall was a much more subdued and downtrodden affair. It wasn’t a bad album at all, but it also wasn’t an album that I found myself actively reaching for often in the same way Bones was. It was far thornier and subtle. And now the band have announced a three-part release, the first of which dropped this past month. Tomorrows I still isn’t a return to the poppier sounds of Bones, and it is still a deeply searching album, but that searching feels far more focused and engaging than before.

Perhaps it’s due to the tightened run length and number of tracks (10 at 34 minutes), but the experimental art rock/pop of Tomorrows I is beguiling in a way that feels far more captivating and deserving of repeat listens than much of Brighter Wounds. Ryan Lott’s distinctive warble is as emotionally brittle as ever. On “Only” he cries, “Maybe there’s nothing I can do. Maybe there’s nothing I can do. I’m getting nowhere close to you. You’re just a mirage. You’ll only love me from afar, only.” As the music literally sounds like it’s disintegrating, he whispers “Only,” and you can truly feel all of the emotional weight of the piece falling apart.

Perhaps what really feels different about Tomorrows though is that it’s overall a much looser album overall and truly features all three musicians pushing themselves and each other. Where Brighter Wounds could have the feeling of another Ryan Lott solo album with some accompaniment from Bhatia and Chang, Tomorrows really gives the dynamic duo plenty of chances to stretch and shine. “Honesty” gives Bhatia an honest-to-god jazz solo, playing bop-like licks over a form and style that seems like should be incongruous but somehow just absolutely works. “Last Light” and “Undertow” are absolute percussive tours de force for Chang, who has proven to be one of the most fascinating and innovative drummers out there. There are also more short tracks that play out like instrumental sketches but in ways that augment the mood of the entire album without bogging it down.

In the end what it might be is that Tomorrows is successful because it drops all pretense of being a “pop” album and instead makes it known throughout that it’s an experimental one. Every track is trying something that feels new for the group, and though it could have been a directionless mess, it somehow manages to stick together, bound by that same musical and emotional searching. Given that there are two more of these planned to come out over the next year, I am back to being on the hype train for the group and will eagerly report back when the time comes.

Nick Cusworth

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