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Unmetal Monthly // June 2024

Folk, hip-hop, vaoperwave, alt pop, and bubblegum pop shine in this summery roundup of not-so-heavy bangers.

16 days ago

Here we are again, friends. Another month chock full of standout releases across a smorgasbord of genres, and another column celebrating the diverse tastes of this delightful internet community. This column is already a beast, so I’ll just say enjoy! 

-Bridget Hughes

Billie Eilish - Hit Me Hard And Soft (alt pop)

When announcing her highly anticipated third full-length, international pop icon Billie Eilish made it clear she was not interested in playing the singles game when it came to the album launch and release cycle. “This is an album-ass album,” Eilish said, encouraging fans to listen to it as a singular, curated album experience upon release rather than put focus on one or two singles. Hit Me Hard And Soft may not be pound-for-pound Billie’s best collection of tracks, but it is her most consistent. 

Wish some notable exceptions throughout, Eilish largely stays within her comfort zone through much of the record, with her low-key and often sultry vocal style accentuated by production from her brother and writing partner Finneas O’Connel. Finneas is arguably the MVP of the record, with moments such as the filthy beat switch on the sexuality-exploring “LUNCH” and the winding and climactic “CHIHIRO” offering some easy highlights. There are indie-folk style lulls in the center with “WILDFLOWER” and “THE GREATEST” before the latter explodes in a The Beatles like grandeur. “THE DINER,” which sees Billie take the perspective of a real-life experience with a stalker, is dark and disorienting, and so very much in the wheelhouse of Gorillaz that I can’t seem to shake the idea that a Finneas-produced Gorillaz album would be incredible. There’s a variety of sounds explored here, but their flow from beginning to end just makes sense. 

Hit Me Hard And Soft is certainly an “album-ass album,” but to make a statement about how the album has no singles and then immediately pivot to “LUNCH” when the album drops seems like a thinly veiled ploy to move album units; to have her cake and eat it too. Though, I can’t be too mad when the world’s biggest artists are writing albums when thinkpieces left and right for the better part of a decade have been beating horses over the idea that streaming killed the album when artists like Eilish - and whether you like it or not, Taylor Swift - are proving that wrong. Music thinkpieces recently have also saying we’re in a new golden era of pop fueled largely by folks like Chappel Roan and Charli XCX, and at least that feels true, and Eilish is certainly doing her part to elevate the art of mainstream pop. 

-Jimmy Rowe

Homeboy Sandman - Rich II (hip-hop)

I’ll be honest with you - I don’t want to like Homeboy Sandman’s music as much as I do. His attitude often pisses me off, he’s sort of anti-vaxx in a nebulous way, religious in an aloof way, and insistent on his idea that racial injustice doesn’t exist or that race doesn’t exist period, maybe “I don’t believe in no white people or black people / Start believing in that people attack people / Stop believing in that people attract people”? Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately) for me, Homeboy Sandman just makes some of the best hip-hop/rap out there. On his latest release, he is joined by the all-powerful Mono En Stereo, who lends Rich II a sepia-tinged plunderphonics vibe that is impossible to resist. Couple that with the fact that Sandman’s chameleon like flow works pristinely with this sound and you get one of his best releases to date.

Which is saying something because, again, Sandman is just too good. Whether he’s bragging as he loves to do on “Leave Me Alone”, preaching dubious life wisdom on “Every Day” or waxing lyrical on “The Place I Want To Be”, Sandman is in rare form on this release. The flows and rhymes feel tighter than ever before, as he works with sparse words and sentence structures, all the more punctual for being short and direct, to once again show us his unique point of view on life. Mono doesn’t blink, moving between extremely groovy bass lines (check out “Need A Woman” for one of the best bass lines I’ve heard in a while), bright, sun-tinged synth lines, choirs, drums, and more to always fit Sandman’s pace, theme, and color. 

It all comes together into an excellent release. Fortunately (or maybe unfortunately) for me, Sandman is still just doing his thing, building one of the more consistent voices in hip-hop today. Even if you don’t like what the voice is saying, and oftentimes I love what he’s saying because he’s damn funny, you have to hand it to Sandman - the man knows his rap.

-Eden Kupermintz

Jessica Pratt - Here in the Pitch (folk)

Of the many things I have forgotten from my college experience, mostly because of my prodigious alcohol consumption, a particular quote from my history professor has never eluded me. He began a lecture by warning us that he was under the influence of opioids to manage the pain from his shingles, and he felt as though he had just “drunk six martinis and could just float away.” 

His quote keeps popping into my head while I listen to Here in the Pitch. From start to finish, Jessica Pratt’s first album in five years maintains a blissful spectrality reminiscent of highly-reverbed 1960s pop and bossa nova recordings. The collection of songs on Here in the Pitch evokes vivid images of insouciant summer beach days when the only concern is getting an even tan. Emphasizing this imagery, Pratt proudly proclaims “I want to be the sunlight of the century, I want to be a vestige of our senses free” in “World on a String”. At the same time, there is a ghostly undertone and understated presence to much of the music that seems to nod toward the the bygone days represented in the album’s influences. “Better Hate” has a bouncing major-chord progression punctuated by the occasional bassoon and timpani as Pratt’s multilayered vocal tracks engage in a graceful dance with breezy if not slightly phantasmal “la la la’s” and “ooo’s”. “Get Your Head Out” and “By Hook or By Crook” both have jazzy, shuffling guitar chords buoyed by a barely-there electric organ.   

The songs described above offer an interesting juxtaposition to those found on Pratt’s previous album, 2019’s Quiet Signs. The songs on that album were more somber and pensive, serving as the perfect soundtrack for a rainy day spent indoors in wistful reflection. While Pratt has always preferred relatively sparse compositions, she captured the aforementioned mood by making Quiet Signs her sparsest album to date. Here in the Pitch is only slightly less sparse than Quiet Signs, but that sparseness serves a different purpose altogether in the former by providing a breezy lightness and ghostliness that allow the compositions to float rather than be weighed down by overcomplications.

Despite the sparseness of Quiet Signs, its compositions did have weight. And that weight was represented in emotional gravitas. On the other hand, Here in the Pitch seems to represent a release of the emotional weight that was holding down the mood of Quiet Signs. What results is a blissful release into the ether of summers past and present.

-JD

Joey Valence & Brae - NO HANDS (hip-hop)

After going viral on Tiktok last year with “Punk Tactics,” hip-hop duo Joey Valence & Brae wasted no time in following up with their new LP NO HANDS, which has seen the duo blow up in wider music circles for their nostalgic Beastie Boys inspired flow, old school East Coast boom bap production, and generally fun and lighthearted nerdcore lyrics. It sounds corny, because it is. But NO HANDS is genuinely such a great and incredibly engaging record that it makes up for some of the lame bars within. 

The elephant in the room here is that Valence & Brae are very overtly ripping the Beastie Boys style, but it’s not as if many folks are doing that right now anyway, least of all the surviving Beasties. Hearing the style as it’s delivered on NO HANDS just feels right, especially when the production is so incredible; if you told me Wu Tang’s RZA had a hand in beats like the title track, I’d believe you. It’s so infectious; when two white rappers are gliding over EDM-infused bars about how they’re the baddest bitches in the club, you just believe it. It’s just a goofy silly fun time for rap fans, and features a must-hear spot from Danny Brown himself on “Packapunch.” I swear, it’s a better spin than it looks. 

-JR

Soshi Takeda - Same Place, Another Time (post-vaporwave/ambient/Balearic beat)

To quote the Stone Temple Pilots, I find that “so much depends on the weather.” This includes not only my moods but also my listening habits, which are often very dependent on the seasons. While I tend to listen to black metal and dark post-punk in the winter more than any other time of year, the spring and summer often bring grindcore and deep house into my headphones. And few artists capture the feelings of rejuvenation I feel in the spring and summer quite as well as Soshi Takeda.

Takeda’s last release, 2021’s Floating Mountains, has easily been one of my favorite electronic releases of the 2020s thus far. That album’s interpretation of deep house was to bring it out of the club and into a 90s new age spa with the addition of a healthy dose of Balearic bliss. This is not totally surprising considering that Takeda purportedly used 90s synthesizers and hardware exclusively to create his dreamy compositions. While this may sound alarmingly anachronistic if not downright cheesy, there is unbidden comfort in the hazy, crystalline textures produced with that equipment. 

Same Place, Another Time generally continues the sound of Floating Mountains, but the four-on-the-floor punctuations of deep house have been almost entirely removed. Instead, what is left are slowly building meditations on the embrace of nostalgia. According to the album’s Bandcamp page, Same Place, Another Time “explores feelings conjured by images in photographs and magazines of locations that have been lost with the passage of time. A nostalgia for a place we can never be.” That description might imply darker undertones, but tracks such as “Blue Dress” and “Peninsula” offer breezy, tranquil reflections on what one can imagine to be the photographic subjects referenced in the Bandcamp description. But, despite the music’s calming effect, a palpable sense of romanticized loss permeates the album, especially on the title track and “Flower”.

Nostalgia is hardly a novel subject in music, but Takeda’s take on it is more convincing than most – not just because of his use of 90s equipment but also because he so expertly balances the bitter with the sweet in his exploration of the theme.

-JD

Lunchbox - Pop and Circumstance (bubblegum indie pop) 

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: San Francisco is an epicenter of modern pop and indie. It seems like there’s a new gem dropping every month from a local icon on their way to becoming a global phenomenon, whether it’s beloved folk/slowcore project The Reds, Pinks, and Purples, jangly jammers The Umbrellas, or foggy lo-fi romancers Flowertown. Hazy or sparkly, experimental or nostalgic, there’s a musician creating something beautiful in this doom loopy place.

Oakland power pop mod quad Lunchbox added their bubblegum blend to the mix with Pop and Circumstance, a nostalgia-fueled blend of classic California pop laced with British indie pop. The album is a winding journey through pop’s myriad heydays as well as an adventure through the many lives of Lunchbox - the band has existed in some form since the 90’s and produced everything from dub-influenced psychedelia to indie to bubblegum pop. Pop and Circumstance sees the group back to their full power pop roots with delightful purpose.

“Dinner for Two” burst with 60’s bubblegum sunshine, shamelessly evoking the brightly colored rise of pop music, gliding into the catchy swoon of “I”m Yours, You’re Mine”. Echoes of Please Please Me-era The Beatles reverberate across Pop and Circumstance in a critical reminder that pop, for all its sugar and sunshine, has always been a radical act in the face of hate and upheaval. Pastel-soaked bops have often been the face of protest as well as a testament to the cultural and economic power of women and the LGBTQIA+ community. Being shamelessly ourselves is both fiercely empowering and resolutely brave. Lunchbox proves, yet again, that these pop sounds have stood the test of time because they put the ‘power’ in power pop. 

“Don’t Wait Too Long” introduces a jaunty groove backed by upbeat horns, walking the delicate line between energetic and relaxed. It’s vibrant without being urgent, joyful without being exuberant; the perfect song for an afternoon stroll with bubble tea. Joy is radical, joy is claiming space, joy is existing in the face of hatred. Joy is the sweet strains of Pop and Circumstance. 

-BH


Bridget Hughes

Published 16 days ago