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Unmetal Monthly // February 2024

From the revival of a 2000s cult rock band to magical realism to decomposing noise rock, February was studded with hidden gems across genres.

20 days ago

So, uh….something big recently happened in the music world. Unless you’ve been living under a rock (no judgment, if that’s the case), you probably noticed that a small town superstar known as Beyoncé dropped a new album last week. As a purely musical endeavor, the album is a certified banger that pays thoughtful tribute to the history of country while putting Beyoncé’s emphatic stamp on the genre. As a cultural contribution, Cowboy Carter is nothing less than a bonafide phenomenon. From fashion to politics to everything, we’re living in yet another moment shaped by music. For us music nerds, that’s pretty damn exciting.

Outside Beyonce’s rhinestone-studded orbit, more artists are finding ways to make their mark in music and beyond. From a cult 2000’s experimental band unveiling their revival after a decade of silence, to an emerging singer-songwriter embracing magical realism, to warped decomposing rock exploring the edges of noise, we’re drowning in incredible art clawing its way to the forefront of our minds. What a time to be alive and listening. 

- Bridget Hughes

P.S. - you’ll notice that this column no longer features our Top of the Pops pick. This is mostly because comparing the range of genres of styles we cover is very very hard, and also because we’re not choosing a favorite child.

Sleepytime Gorilla Museum - of the Last Human Being (avant-garde/experimental/progressive rock/metal)

Throughout their initial 12-year run, Sleepytime Gorilla Museum produced three critically acclaimed albums that built them a loyal but small fanbase. They were just one of those bands that fans fawned over in hushed tones with others in the know, but their music was arguably always too odd, complex, and unsettling to gain broader traction. Their cult-like status only seemed to grow after they initially broke up in 2011, but the band made their epic return this year with their first album in 15 years, of the Last Human Being

Of the Last Human Being largely continues where the band left off with the sound they cultivated over three full-length albums from 1999 to 2011. In fact, many of the recordings on the new album were started before the band’s untimely demise. Many of the oddball characteristics that made the band highly regarded within experimental and avant-garde circles are still present, including the band’s homemade and “found” instruments and a campy theatricality verging on vaudevillian. 

Sonically, Sleepytime Gorilla Museum shares several similarities with Rock in Opposition (RIO) and Zeuhl bands, such as Thinking Plague and Univers Zero. However, within that framework, the band integrates a unique mix of 20th-century classical and chamber music, klezmer music, avant-garde/experimental rock, and funk that allows the band to stand apart even from the rock outsiders that influenced them. 

Album highlight “El Evil” is a quintessential Sleepytime Gorilla Museum song, featuring guitarist and primary vocalist Nils Frykdahl’s boisterous baritone that ranges from theatric to demonic. The composition quickly cycles through highly polyrhythmic and syncopated sections that often feature phrasing from the guitars and violin that are well outside any traditionally “Western” major or minor scales. “Silverfish” and “Hush, Hush”, the only two tracks featuring violinist Carla Kihlstedt as the lead vocalist, offer slow, unfolding buildups that eventually build to mystical and visceral climaxes, respectively. “Silverfish” is especially noteworthy for how minimalist it is compared to the rest of the album. It begins with three minutes of a droning interval with various ambient noises popping in and out in the background. All the while Kihlstedt’s light, quavering voice adds yet another unsettling element to the track’s solemn and haunting otherworldliness. On the other hand, the squelching atonal funk of “Save It!” is a song that relishes in band’s musical playfulness and irreverent sense of humor. The highly syncopated instrumentation in “Save It!” sounds as if a roomful of electronic devices are failing in unison. Toward the end of the track, various voices repeat the song’s title in increasingly absurd intonations.

Sleepytime Gorilla Museum hasn’t updated their sound significantly since their initial run (which is unsurprising since, again, a majority of the songs on of the Last Human Being were started before they broke up). However, when a band has a sound as indefinable and flexible as Sleepytime Gorilla Museum’s, there will always be plenty of sonic space to explore. 

It is rare that bands reunite and produce material as worthy as their earlier work. But, as a longtime fan of Sleepytime Gorilla Museum, it is safe to say that they have returned in true form in order to bring back the apocalypse with the arrival of of the Last Human Being

- JD 

Andrea von Kampen - Sister Moon (singer-songwriter, indie folk)

As the singer/songwriter phenomena continues to unfold, I find myself drawn more and more to “smaller” artists. This is not about recognition or number of views, but rather their approach to their music: more intimate, more personal, more humble in reach and scope. To put it shortly, I’m a hipster who thinks Stranger in the Alps is better than boygenius. Alright? Cool, in that mindset we can approach Andrea von Kampen’s Sister Moon. Building on the excellent That Spell, which I have covered for the blog before, Kampen deepens her emphasis on the magical realism of American nature, preferring to explore trees, animals, and the eponymous celestial bodies. The result is an enchanting and deeply moving album, using nothing more than Kampen’s deep timbre, guitar, and the occasional piano and strings to get things done.

Listening to the self-titled and opening track of the album is probably your best bet to get started. It’s hard to overstate how much the main thing that makes this album is Kampen’s excellent voice. Beyond all of the analysis and adjectives, it all comes down to the fact that Kampen not only has a great timbre but also great control of her voice, channeling a wider range of emotions than you might expect on a release like this. “Sister Moon”, the aforementioned opening track, does a great job of showcasing this voice, placing it right in the center of the track with an unassuming guitar track and piano to accompany it. Elsewhere the music is more dominant but here at the outset, Kampen’s voice shines brightly alongside the lyrics, capturing our heart from the get go.

You know how the rest of this goes. In that regard, Sister Moon has no surprises or overarching ambitions - it is a singer/songwriter, American folk album through and through. But you know what? That’s what I want from this genre. There is something powerful in its simplicity, in its emphasis on the lived experiences and perspectives of the person writing and making it. And, at the end of the day, that’s what Sister Moon is here to do, as belied by its cover art, to give you a glimpse into Kampen’s life and her outlook on the world. Whatever you think of the content, you cannot deny that the storyteller’s voice, Kampen’s own, is immensely appealing.

-Eden Kupermintz

Receive - New Abrasions (heavy art rock)

My current favorite way to listen to music has been experimenting with unexpected pairings, exploring the hidden connections between genres and styles in an effort to develop a new appreciation for them all. Think of it like mixtapes, but with entire albums instead of single songs. What musical journey can take us from medieval prog rockers Gryphon to the experimental dissonance of Owl? The answer lies along a path laid by the heavy blues-plus-Krautrock stylings of Hijss, to melodeath thrashers MOLTEN, to the sci-fi adventures of Imperialist, who take us to the latest black metal-influenced offering from Owl. An unorthodox setlist, but one united by melodic moments, ambitious songwriting, and riffs. Despite being reborn multiple times before issuing their first album, heavy art rock crew Receive similarly embrace unseen connections throughout New Abrasions

New Abrasions embraces everything from metallic screams to languid trip hop beats, swirling in delicate vocals and bursts of noise. It’s a blissfully, abrasively dynamic experience that equally complements the harsh brutality of Resin Tomb and the reverb-drenched jangle of Beachglass. There’s moments of sheer aggression, moments of tumbling through a haze, and moments of utter stillness, all existing in perfect harmony.

New Abrasions opens with a blistering scream overlaid with shimmery melodic beats, quickly flinging itself through alternately transcendent and discordant bursts before settling into ethereal singing. Muscular guitars rise from the ether, drenched in grungy reverb then retreating into lightly bouncy percussion. The whiplash shift from maximalist art rock to minimalist soundscapes should feel disconnected, but Receive expertly grounds their work in deliciously reverby guitars and delicate melody, creating a distinct juxtaposition that carries New Abrasions to stunning heights. Whether they’re guiding us through lush shoegaze, soothing trip hop, or caustic noise, Receive rises from the ashes to give us an engaging journey through sound and genre. 

-Bridget Hughes

Thee Alcoholics - Feedback (no wave/noise rock)

Like Receive, London noise rockers Thee Alcoholics throw a myriad of genres in a blender and splatter the wild results with unpredictable chaos. The heart of Feedback is old school rock’n’roll swagger…but warped with the aggression of punk, dissonance of noise, and surreal synths. This is a jagged groove attack from the future. 

Thee Alcoholics’ brand of angry noise rock finds comfort in the filthy and confidence in the profoundly odd. Industrial grime can be found under their fingernails as they bust out grooves stained by reverb and feedback. Their lyrics are barely intelligible, as if spat out through gritted teeth. An unbalanced edge channeling the atonality and nihilism of no wave weaves its way into headbanging rock beats. You’ll want to dance as swinging grooves punch their way into your ears, but it won’t be a joyful moment of relief. Instead, you’re dancing your way to the darkest corners of London in the middle of haunted nights. 

It’s impossible to tell if the bands resents performing their art, or deliver Feedback standing in utter defiance of God, society, and common decency. Either way, Thee Alcoholics have created a beautiful abomination that brings both punishment and catharsis.

-BH

Bridget Hughes

Published 20 days ago