Welcome back to Unmetal Monthly, where we unplug the pedal board, give the screaming a break, and just vibe. This month we have artists at the forefront of modern funk and symphonic indie rock to tickle our hearts and make us tap our toes. Given this is the last entry in the Missive format and the future remains uncertain (insofar as the frequency of this column) I’d like to truly, sincerely thank you, beautiful readers, for sticking with us through different permutations and column contributors. We’ve touched on everything from weird, dreamy lofi to jangly folk to bleeding-edge k-pop and everything in between in this column, and we couldn’t do it without your endless curiosity for the music that inspires us. Keep that flame alive. Never let it die.
We’ll see you around, whether it’s monthly, quarterly, or just whenever the mood strikes to turn the distortion down and bring you along for the ride. Love you, mean it.
Top of the Pops
Tank and The Bangas – Red Balloon (prog funk, nu-jazz)
Following up 2019’s Green Balloon, New Orleans-based Tank and The Bangas are back with a funky, tongue-in-cheek record chock full of the lively spirit that makes them so infectious in the first place. Known best for winning the NPR Tiny Desk Contest in 2017, Tarriona “Tank” Ball and compatriots have come a long way from spoken word poetry set to dancy, ephemeral jazz. While that remains the foundational root of their sound, Tank and The Bangas have spent the past handful of years settling into professional musicianship, drawing comfortable influences like modern hip-hop and classic disco-tinged R&B into the fold. While their early work could be said to border on pretention by straddling the line dividing slam poetry and conscious rap, Red Balloon delivers the perfect marriage of all aforementioned styles in a way that doesn’t take itself too seriously while slapping to high heaven.
Take for instance the intro delivered by Wayne Brady himself, welcoming us listeners to the conceit outlining the record: we are listening to TATB, a radio station broadcasting the album live. Starting off lighthearted with a familiar voice to lead us into the extremely cheeky, upbeat “Mr. Bluebell” that takes shots at Capitol insurgents and casual white supremacy in American culture is disarming and right up Tank’s alley. We’re then led through the “Anxiety” of late capitalism creeping up our spines and how we deal with it, into earnest love songs like “Oak Tree” and silly, joy-affirming bops like “Who’s in Charge” and “Big” ft. Big Freedia.
Not to alienate their original fanbase, soulful, serious tracks like “Stolen Fruit” and finale “Where Do We All Go” featuring Lalah Hathaway and savant Jacob Collier center you back at the crux of what makes Tank and The Bangas so special. Tackling intergenerational trauma and The Big Questions that we all face with poise, hope, and love remains the gravitational force that draws people to Tank and makes them lifelong fans. If you’ve never given The Bangas a listen, it’s time to dance along with some of the realest, down-to-earth musicians performing today.
Best of the Rest
The Family Crest – The War: Act II (indie rock)
A few years ago, The Family Crest reached out and captured my heart with their earnest and heartfelt The War: Act I. Through their grandiose version of indie rock, replete with the symphonic embellishments that have drawn understandable comparison to The Dear Hunter, The Family Crest channel wonder, love, community, and a narrative that is both sweeping and conceptual while still staying personal and engaging. It’s very funny to me then that The War: Act II completely flew under my radar and I basically learned that it was coming when it was released. Now that I think about it, maybe that fact has contributed to my enjoyment of this release; suddenly, there was another marvellous, cheerful, melancholic, and endearing release from these guys and it swept me off my feet.
You see, The War: Act II doesn’t change much about The Family Crest formula but what it does change makes the album even more pleasing than its predecessor. The minute you turn on the album with “I Sleep With the Windows Open” (so do I!), you can tell that The Family Crest are very much sticking to their guns. Massive, joyful strings, pronounced pianos, the explosive vocals, everything from the previous album has been maintained. But everything also feels even more put together, with the production doing a bit more justice to the wide canvas been drawn here.
Check out “In Your Arms Tonight”, the following track, for an even better example. There is so much happening in the background of this track, with percussion instruments, strings, choirs, whistles, and more adding to the voluminous, emotional range of the track. And you can hear it all! On the previous album, things would sometimes blend together, overwhelmingly you both emotionally and musically with their excess. But here, everything rests more in its place and can be better appreciated as a result.
Is the change in the production itself? In the composition of the music? In my own emotional states? If you’ve been reading my writing for a while, you know I see no difference or importance in these questions. What matters is that Act II is a fantastic next step in The Family Crest’s career and will hopefully see them go even further and wider among listeners. Open up your heart and let this delightful, intimate, and impactful epic into your heart. You will not regret it.