Unmetal Monthly // April 2023

Turn down the distortion with new albums from boygenius, Nickel Creek, and Brìghde Chaimbeul!

Do you ache? Do you yearn? Good. Welcome back to Unmetal Monthly, friends. Take a break from all the buzzsaw riffs and breakdowns with us as we explore all the other wonderful music the world has to offer. As always, thanks for being here. We love you.

-Calder Dougherty

Top of the Pops

boygenius - the record (indie folk, singer-songwriter)

Do you like music that makes you sad? Or perhaps acts as a support beam for those bubbling blues you’ve been trying to bury, allowing them time to climb and burst from your tear ducts without shame? Five full years after their inaugural EP, the reigning supergroup of the MZ generation has blessed us with their first full length and it’s just as sad as you’d expect. Of course, by “sad”, I mean just as pensive, poignant, heartbreaking, joyous, and intimate as you’d expect from the likes of a Lucy Dacus, Julien Baker, and Phoebe Bridgers collaboration.

The trio are in love. They’ve stated this in interviews, and to the queer eye, it’s obvious. Just watching the three of them together is a magical healing salve to the weary gay heart. In a world that is increasingly hostile to queers, seeing true, unabashed affection between women is just as powerful as their commitment to uplift marginalized communities and make really fucking good music.

Their individual quirks and charms are all accounted for. From Lucy’s grounding, twangy ‘50s mid-Atlantic alto acting as the tentpole to the whole endeavor, to Phoebe’s breathy verses and backing howls and Julien’s cool-but-doesn’t-know-it emo drawl and soprano lilt. Each takes on a solo track or two with their counterparts providing harmonies, exploring personal grievances and traumas with their best friends behind them. Much of the record, however, centers around their relationships with each other and the joy of being known and loved and supported by people who know you better than you know yourself.

While the quiet magic of unbreakable interpersonal bonds informs a lot of the music, the three are still very much makers of sad indie, and songs like “Cool About It” (co-written by Paul Simon), where each takes a verse to address a person or relationship that is falling apart in their lives, reminds us what hooked us about these three women in the first place. Their earnest vulnerability, high emotional intelligence, and relatable awkward millennial bent make boygenius a representative force for millions of anxious, depressed young adults trying to navigate relationships in an increasingly fractured society – and we love them for it.


Brìghde Chaimbeul - Carry Them With Us (smallpipes, drone)

Greetings consumers of Unmetal! I come to you this month with something completely different! No, more different than that. No, no, just a bit more. There we go. I come to you today from the rain-battered, fog-haunted, mountain-dripping isles of Scotland with the sounds of one Brìghde Chaimbeul and the sadly-forgotten, now-reviving instrument of the smallpipes. This is an instrument akin to the bagpipes which dates back to the 15th century in  Scotland and which, as hinted at above, has been enjoying more attention in the last few years, in great part thanks to Chaimbeul's own efforts.

A native of Scotland and an expert in both the composition and execution of smallpipes music, Chaimbeul's music is something that I've come across before but only at a glance; I couldn't find much to hook me into it back then. But this has all changed with the masterfully elusive, delightfully engrossing, and wholly unique Carry Them With Us, the fruit of Chaimbeul's collaboration with none other than the illustrious Colin Stetson. If you want to know what the album sounds like, let me just say that if I hadn't just told you that Stetson was involved, you'd probably just guess that he was; that's what happened to me, before I dug deeper into the making of the album.

As Chaimbeul herself says, drones are at the basis of this album, just like they are at the basis of a lot of Stetson's work with the saxophone. But on Carry Them With Us, these drones carry the wistful, mournful, and deep-cutting timbre of all of the Celtic wind instruments. The result is that, instead of Stetson's often metallic, modern, and overwhelming atmosphere (although it is of course present and often utilized on this collaboration), Carry Them With Us beguiles the listener with layers of articulation, catching you unaware with emotional daggers that hide within these musical "folds". For me at least, the dagger that cuts deepest is "Crònan (i)", a decidedly dirge-like track that slices me to the core with its robust, echoing pipes.

In short, if you're looking to get lost in a sound that's not quite like anything you have heard before but which explores many of the ambient, drone-like spaces we've explored on the blog before, this is the album for you. It's not an easy listen by any definition of the term, as a lot of it needs to be parsed from amongst the sheer thickness of the composition and instruments, but once deciphered, it is extremely effective at what it sets out to do. Let the smallpipes into your heart; you won't regret it.

-Eden Kupermintz

Best of the Rest

Nickel Creek - Celebrants (progressive bluegrass, acoustic)

Another super-talented trio that haven't released music in years, Nickel Creek are back with their first album since 2014's A Dotted Line. While the brother-sister duo of Sara and Sean Watkins and mandolinist/band leader Chris Thile have always offered up a fairly progressive portrait of roots music, Celebrants may be their most complex collection of tunes after over two decades together – and their longest at 18 tracks.

Nickel Creek border on psychedelia throughout Celebrants, spinning up delirious dueling runs between their strings or by conjuring vocal melodies that twist and dip through dissonance like on standout "The Meadow", where dream and reality collide in mundane coffeeshop fantasies. Thile's mandolin runs are legendary, being arguably one of (if not the) best players in the world for many years. His technical prowess is on full display as usual, though Sara's raucous, refined fiddling does not play second to it. Her musicianship (and voice) have continued to improve and expand over the years, becoming a force of nature all her own to complement Thile while Sean's guitar and stable baritone round out the sound.

With Celebrants, Nickel Creek remind us once again that if you're the best at what you do, you only need to release an album once a decade – though we'd all love a little more consistency if it means more artisanally crafted bluegrass for us to enjoy over sweet tea and sweeter company.


Calder Dougherty

Published a year ago