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Unmetal Monthly // February 2024

We’re baaaaack! After going on hiatus for the latter half of 2023, Unmetal Monthly is returning to full-time column status to share the not-so-heavy side of Heavy Blog.

a month ago

We’re baaaaack! After going on hiatus for the latter half of 2023, Unmetal Monthly is returning to full-time column status to share the not-so-heavy side of Heavy Blog. Just like before, this little digital space will share our favorite finds from across the musical universe, giving your ears a break from the blunt force trauma of metal and a glimpse into our other fandoms. 

Personally, I’m lucky to live in a hotbed of post-punk, indie pop, shoegaze, and dream pop in San Francisco. No matter what else can be said about the Bay Area, it’s hard to argue with the next generation of artists rising from our foggy shores. Beautiful, blissful, and bittersweet, these non-metal genres are just as close to my heart as brutal death metal, slam, and doom. Whatever 2024 has in store, I’m excited to share this delightful corner of the internet with y’all to nerd out over the electrifying living history that is music. Welcome back to Unmetal Monthly. 

- Bridget Hughes

Eden's note: this is going up a bit late because time is an illusion. We'll be back towards the end of March with another entry. Why? Who knows (it's because we've committed to staying sane while doing the blog, remember?)

Enjoy. 

J. Robbins - Basilisk (alternative rock/post-hardcore)

J. Robbins was the main man behind the legendary and highly influential post-hardcore outfit Jawbox, as well as the vocalist and guitarist of a slew of other bands (Burning Airlines, Office of Future Plans, and Channels just to name a few). Robbins has always had a knack for writing music that effortlessly straddles the line between melody and dissonance. In every one of his projects, his predilection for discovering angular yet memorable melodies within the music’s muscular post-hardcore foundation is at the heart of so much of his work. Basilisk, Robbins’ second full-length as a solo artist, continues this expert balancing act.

Over time, however, Robbins’ more melodic tendencies have risen to the top and much of that post-hardcore muscularity has been reduced to the point that his solo work, including the music on Basilisk, is arguably pop music under the guise of post-hardcore. Much of the off-kilter guitar flourishes he employed with bands such as Burning Airlines have fallen by the wayside. Rather, the songs on Basilisk come off as succinct and intuitively-written pop songs that are given space to breathe.

But fear not! These songs are not written with your basic pop music chord progressions. While most of the tracks are written in a standard verse-chorus-verse structure, it’s what occurs within that structure that deviates from what most listeners would expect to hear in an average pop-oriented rock song. In opener “Automaticity”, for example, Robbins deftly uses chromatically descending arpeggios and chords outside of the song’s key to introduce unexpected twists and turns. The following track, “Exquisite Corpse”, is a particular highlight of the album and another one that displays Robbins’ ability to strategically integrate dissonance and chords outside of a song’s key while still maintaining an accessible tunefulness.

While many of the tracks stylistically fulfill what fans expect from Robbins, albeit with stronger pop overtones, there are several parts of the album in which he steps outside of his comfort zone altogether. Tracks “Sonder” and “Open Mind” dip into more ethereal waters, removing the immediacy and biting style of earlier tracks. The most prominent sound on “Sonder” is what sounds like a hypnotic ambient guitar loop played over a shuffling drumbeat. Toward the end of the song, additional layers of guitar are introduced that bend in and out of tune, causing a minor sense of unease. Similarly, “Open Mind” uses a vibrato arm to the same effect that many shoegaze bands do, in which the chords they play warble in and out of tune. As a result of that technique, as well as the song’s steady tempo, “Open Mind” is breezy and wistful, very much unlike the mood of earlier tracks on Basilisk.

While so many musicians, especially of the punk and metal variety, struggle to maintain their creative voice after the fire of their youth has gone out, J. Robbins continues to stay musically connected to his post-hardcore roots while being unafraid to grow in new directions. The collection of succinct and angular pop songs on Basilisk is a testament to that.

-JD

Patricia Taxxon - Bicycle

What gives an album “character”? The attribute seems to denote a sort of feeling you get for an album’s (or a musician’s) personality, tied closely to ideas of themes and concept. This can, of course, stem both from lyrics and music but also album art, a choice of label, merch, track names and many other things besides. We probably won’t answer this question here but we can give a fine example of it - eclectic electronic artist Patricia Taxxon’s Bicycle is overflowing with character. On it, Taxxon showcases her absolute refusal to be tied down, moving in between spaces of techno, dub, chillwave, vaporwave, plunderphonics and more besides.

Bicycle is a lovely album that is equal parts soothing, weird, and surprising. It’s all about contrast. For example, opening track “Furry” is dreamy and expansive, working well with the introspective and carefree figure on the album’s cover. But it then transitions into the far more energetic “Boys”, a track which is all energy, groove, and forward momentum. In turn, that track slams right into the fever pitch, frenetic forces of what is probably my favorite track on the album, “Cavalry”. This track also has otherworldly and dream-like lyrics, which really well with the different tones and timbres used on it. 

Taken together, these tracks seem really far apart, but they are, in fact, approaching some distant destination from opposite angles. And there are many more such roads and paths on this release, a rewarding exploration of the storytelling power of electronics and production. Give it a try; I promise you won’t regret it. It’s grown to be one of my favorite, and most intimate, discoveries of the last few months.

-Eden Kupermintz

Yama Uba - Silhouettes (darkwave, post-punk) 

Is it possible to be nostalgic for a decade that you never experienced? Can having the best of music, media, and moments from almost any era bridge the gap of time? It’s an increasingly interesting question as digital media simultaneously flattens and widens generational gaps. While music tastes have been traditionally shaped by era-specific sounds, these chronological silos are virtually meaningless when one can fall down a 1960s/70s/80s/90s/00s rabbit hole with a few taps. The long-term cultural impact is yet to be realized, but in the meantime, we’re treated to a wave of reverential-yet-relevant hybrids that renew musical movements of the past for today. Case in point: Yama Uba’s evocative modern darkwave debut, Silhouettes

Comprised of vocalist/bassist/synthesizer wizard Akiko Sampson and vocalist/guitarist/saxophonist Winter Zora, Yama Uba embrace the tenets of 1970s/1980s darkwave while executing their own creative twist with the infusion of synthpop, post-punk, and perfectly timed hits of saxophone.  The softly pulsing “Disappear” combines unapologetic disappointment with hushed, unwilling longing for a lost love. It’s a soundtrack for dancing away heartbreak, illuminating the full crush of emotions that come with losing oneself to what could have been. Disappointment soon morphs into laser-sharp anger on “Shatter,” a creeping, synth-laden track that cuts to the bone with pointed beats and enunciated vocals. The juxtaposition of Sampson’s melodic singing mixing with the pseudo-spoken chants of “Facade” give voice to the beauty and tragedy of doomed love, mourning and condemning a kiss from a narcissist who would never love you anyway. The contrast captures the musical and emotional depth of Silhouettes, which blends together the many feelings that can be stirred by a single memory as we grow and evolve with experience.  

Yama Uba’s modern-yet-nostalgic sound plays beautifully into the emotional cadences of Silhouettes, reflecting on personal growth and transformation with the cutting insight of the hard-won wisdom that can only come with age. The band’s nods to earlier darkwave movements evoke past eras and distant memories, but Sampson’s powerful lyrics and no-holds-barred delivery remind us that some wounds don’t heal with time, even as they make us stronger. 

-BH

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