It’s finally spring, and the music world is starting to hop into action. Not saying that the releases of the early months of the year were of low quality (categorically untrue), but there’s something about the turn of a season that just makes music pop that much more. But for every delicious pop masterpiece comes a blast of post-rock romanticism or a post-punk dirge, and this month was no exception to that general rule. There’s plenty to enjoy from the month of April, and we hope you find value in our small sampling of some of our favorite non-metal releases of the month.
Stay safe out there.
The Armed – Ultrapop
I don’t really know how to approach this band. Frankly, I’m not even sure that they belong in this column to begin with. Are they metal? Yes… also no. Are they extreme? I think so, but not in the way that most think about “extreme” in its colloquial definition. The Armed are a bit of an enigma, as well as one of the more polarizing acts in the music world today. But regardless of your feelings toward the band, it’s hard to deny that their trajectory from the now iconic Untitled to Ultrapop has been nothing short of spectacular. Their sound is more diverse and robust, their songwriting more adventurous and experimental, and their musicianship increasingly superb. If following a band’s path from one thing to another is up your alley, you’ll find few more impressive pinnacles than Ultrapop.
The synths and heavy bass that greet the ear on the opening and title track should give listeners plenty of context for where the album is heading. Glistening, bright sounds cover over a throbbing, nearly-violent bass line that feels equal parts HEALTH, Beach House, and the noise-heavy vibes of early Denzel Curry/soundcloud rap production. It’s discombobulating and thoroughly captivating all at once, and provides massive hints at the lush production and sound design to come. But the indie pop vibes take a backseat to the Fucked Up, IDLES aggression of “All Futures”, which while maintaining an almost Dan Deacon-like brightness moves the proceedings into more hardcore territory. This trend toward the more aggressive only grows in following track “Masunga Vapors”, which melds The Armed’s signature audio violence with the fast-moving yet hopeful aggression of Astronoid. If all of these sounds like an absolute hodge-podge, you’re right. But the genius of Ultrapop is its ability to be frenetic and at times completely bat-shit without ever losing its sense of cohesion. This is an album that I would recognize if you played me any random track from it, and that signature style that The Armed have cultivated lifts the album beyond a smattering of good ideas and into a fully realized punch to the face (followed by a real ass hug).
It took me a few listens to get a grip on what The Armed were trying to accomplish here, and to be honest I’m not sure if I’ve fully cracked that code. But it doesn’t really matter, because each new listen to Ultrapop brings new layers of enjoyment, and new subtexts to explore and revel in. The album is equal parts fun, abrasive, complex, and diverse, and it’s hard to deny its animal magnetism. If you are willing to let “extreme” music take you to some fairly sonically diverse territory, you won’t find a more enticing and repeatable experience than Ultrapop. A very high recommendation.
Godspeed You! Black Emperor – G_d’s Pee at State’s End!
It’s been a good while since I felt genuinely moved by a Godspeed You! Black Emperor record. To go even further, it’s been a minute since any post-rock record really picked me up and hurled me into the sonic stratosphere. Long gone are the days where I’d lay in bed and stare up at the ceiling to the epic, emotionally draining sounds of Sigur Ros or Explosions in the Sky. It’s not that there isn’t good post-rock currently being released. There most certainly is. It’s more that the genre hasn’t done much for me on the whole since the bands I grew up loving have mostly disbanded, headed off in new sonic directions, or essentially gone dormant. Godspeed’s reunion in 2013 lit the candle a bit with Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend!, but even that work paled in comparison to their masterpieces Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven and F#A# ∞. So to hear an album that instantaneously brought me back to that place of wonder and enjoyment is certainly and unexpected and welcome development in my relationship with post-rock. By nearly every possible standard, G_d’s Pee at State’s End! is the band’s best post-reunion record, and one of my favorites of the year.
“Military Alphabet” kicks things off in exactly the type of fashion that I prefer in my post-rock. Aloof, mysterious, and beautiful. The disembodied voices weaving in and out of frame add an eerie, ethereal vibe that immediately engages my attention. The slow building guitars and drums of “Job’s Lament” kick in not long into the proceedings, bringing with them that traditional post-rock fire that Godspeed is renowned for. The synths are weird, the melodies cyclical and triumphant, and the execution superb. Which can basically be said about the entire record. “First of the Last Glaciers” builds on the musical themes preceding it and adds a good amount of aggression into the mix, which eventually melts into a swaying, delightfully meandering section that allows the band to once again stretch their more experimental wings and bring in sounds that feel both fresh and familiar. The remainder of the record builds on these musical themes and concepts into an utterly stunning finale that is to my ear some of the most emotionally impactful music the band has yet written. It’s a fitting end to a cathartic sonic journey.
G_d’s Pee at State’s End! Is a masterclass in post-rock proficiency. It’s the band’s best release post-breakup, and one of the best examples of what the genre has to offer in 2021. But even more valuable to me is its ability to transport me back to a time where this music made a deep impact both on my overall taste in genre and the way that I emotionally approached music. It’s powerful, demanding, vulnerable, and filled with a conviction that often feels forced in this type of music. Can’t get enough, and strongly recommend you give it a listen if post-rock, the band’s previous work, or emotionally engaging and intellectually stimulating music is up your alley.
Manchester Orchestra – The Million Masks of God
Manchester Orchestra has quietly become one of the most consistently spellbinding and thoroughly excellent indie rock bands in the world. Melding an emotional vulnerability akin to that found in the music of Fleet Foxes with the sheer confidence in style of Titus Andronicus, there are few bands that are operating on this level of clarity regarding vision and execution. Their breakthrough record Mean Everything to Nothing was an emotional roller coaster of a record that I still listen to regularly, and while Simple Math and Cope both had their fantastic moments, it wasn’t until A Black Mile to the Surface in 2017 that the band recaptured the staggering heights of Mean Everything. With their sixth full-length record The Million Masks of God, the band have shed their skin once again to ascend to heights once unimaginable. It’s a fresh, powerful, and infinitely listenable record that stands among their most impressive work.
Those looking for the staples that make Manchester Orchestra’s music what it is will find little in the way of disappointment in their latest. Andy Hull’s lyrics and vocal delivery are as potent as ever, reflecting his newfound joy in fatherhood and being a husband with emotional vulnerability and relatability. Given that these themes were so prescient in A Black Mile, it wouldn’t be out of line to consider this record a spiritual sequel of sorts, both sonically and lyrically. But to my ear, The Million Masks of God feels a bit more sonically adventurous, incorporating a more diverse palette of sounds and textures that take the themes present in both records and crank them to a whole new stratosphere of production and melody. “Keel Timing”, “Bed Head”, and “The Internet” highlight these new sonic explorations well, feeling both comfortable within and unique additions to the band’s discography. If you’ve liked anything Manchester Orchestra has done in the past, there’s very little chance that you don’t love this.
Manchester Orchestra have already cemented themselves as one of indie rock’s premier voices, and The Million Masks of God only builds on that sterling reputation. There isn’t a dud in the tracklist, and thus far repeat listens have been greatly rewarded. It’s a grower that only improves with exposure, but has enough immediacy to satisfy even the casual listener. One of my standout releases of 2021.
Catch Prichard – I Still Miss Theresea Benoit
It’s interesting to note the extent to which the realms of orchestral music and folk have been moving closer in the last few years. From Honey Harper’s release of last year to Phoebe Bridgers’ Punisher, there’s this growing movement of dulcet voiced singers expanding the range of their instrumentation into the grandiose and the operatic. Catch Prichard is one such example. While they’re a band, their sound is very much centered around Sawyer Gebauer’s deep, mellifluous voice. Which is not to say that that’s the only appeal of I Still Miss Theresea Benoit, the group’s debut. Otherwise, the first few sentences of this paragraph wouldn’t make sense, right?
Instead, the album draws on many of the same tones and timbers that Honey Harper did last year, embellishing the foundational guitar and piano lines on the album with plenty of strings. Gebauer’s voice, singing style, and down-to-earth lyrics firmly connect this sound to the tradition of melancholic American folk, drawing a line back to artists like Nick Cave and Townes van Zandt. Just listen to “Iamaml”; the lilt of the piano, Gebauer deep voice but also his lazy, drawling pronunciation of the words drips with the sort of dejected Americana that has long informed this slice of the musical world.
There’s a lot more to explore on this release, which is perhaps deceptively simple and barbones. Even “Iamaml” itself, one of the more straight-forward tracks on the album, has that bit of strings near its end, interacting brilliantly with the rest of the instruments before “Commander”ת which adds brilliantly morose horns, perhaps the best and most effective track on the album, hits. Those brass instruments will recurr throughout the rest of the release and perhaps add a tinge of Cake into the mix, even if the album reamins less groovy and pop-y and more morose. There are many more such moments and little musical ideas on I Still Miss Theresea Benoit, interjecting a fair bit of magic into the formula. It’s a great album for driving at night, watching the sunset, or thinking about all of the things you might have forgotten.