If the past few years are any indication, the album format has been on the rise in electronic music. This wasn’t always the case, as EPs had long dominated the landscapes of all its subgenres at least tangentially related to the dance floor. That still holds true today, but there’s definitely been a recent tendency of artists turning to the LP as a means of branching out and experimenting with their sound, and 2017 has been no exception. As a result, these past three months have already provided us with an array of stellar electronic albums. Below, I’ll cover some of my personal favorites.
Known internationally for his work with Shearwater, Smog/Bill Callahan, the Angels of Light, Swans, and Devendra Banhart, Thor Harris is also a legendary craftsman whose woodworking skills are apparent in the handcrafted percussive instruments he employs – Monofonus Press. Our latest piece in this series on protest music and art is an interview with Thor Harris, he of the crushing soothing percussive sounds behind Blog faves, Swans, and lately more notorious for having been banned from Twitter for either a video on how to punch a Nazi (don’t do it unless you have to) or for images used on his profile. YMMV.
In their down time from story-boarding episodes of Rick and Morty and Mr. Pickles for Adult Swim, the team at Williams Street Productions has been an odd source of quality underground music compilations and albums. Not only does their catalog feature works from the likes of Captain Murphy (a.k.a Flying Lotus) and Destruction Unit alongside annual, multi-genre compilations, nearly all of these albums are entirely free to stream and download. If you’re searching for a negative here, there isn’t one, a point the company proved yet again last month with their most avant-garde offering to date. The appropriately blunt title for NOISE should point to the abrasiveness of this collection of tracks; an eclectic range of compositions from an equally broad roster of artists, all of whom approach “noise” as a malleable concept meant to be stretched to its limit.
With our general list for 2016 out of the way, we can now shift the focus from our aggregate opinion to individual ones. Both outlooks have their own merit; the former provides us with an overview of our year in music. However, the latter shines a light on something we’re extremely proud of and that’s the varied and eclectic nature of our staff these days. We used to have a very certain type of music associated with Heavy Blog and while we still have a long way to go, we feel like we’ve done a good job at expanding our palettes and the representation of different kinds of music and metal in our staff. The lists below reflect that; you’ll find black metal, avant-garde, technical thrash metal, hip hop, rap, noise, ambiance, post metal and rock, melodic death metal and much more throughout these lists.
We wrote a pretty big check to ourselves when we closed off 2015. Publishing not only a list which proclaimed the triumph of 2015 but also a whole editorial dedicated to the idea of “The Golden Age of Metal”, we set ourselves up for disappointment. Like the rest of the music establishment which, in numerous places implicit and explicit, was apparently ready to join in the social lynching of 2016, we were well positioned to find it a sobering, dreadful, faith shattering year for music in general and metal specifically. Except it was nothing of the sort and we cannot stress our amazement at metal/music journalism’s reaction so far. 2016 was an absolutely fantastic year, building on the trend of solid and often groundbreaking releases from established acts and simply astounding, out of left field releases from virtually nameless bands. Sure, it had its disappointments for us from huge bands we had expected more from (although signs of their demise were certainly forthcoming) but, overall, it was a year which will surely be remembered in our circles as one of the best years for music in general.
While it’s unfair to call the “electroacoustic” tag unhelpful, the meaning of it’s name is far more self-explanatory than the works it labels. For those unfamiliar with the genre, the underlying concept is relatively straight forward: electroacoustic music applies any number of digital effects to acoustic (or more accurately, non-electronic) recordings, whether it be instruments, found sounds or field recordings. This method creates a certain detached tangibility – a recognition of the deliberate, musical purpose of sounds which you often times can’t quite link to a specific source. Such an odd bricolage may cause some to question the musicality of these works, but to the contrary, it’s precisely this careful crafting of disparate sounds which established the genre as a unique art form all its own. The process experimental music veteran David Toop used to create Entities Inertias Faint Beings illuminates precisely why this is:
For those who missed our last installment, We post biweekly updates covering what the staff at Heavy Blog have been spinning. Given the amount of time we spend on the site telling you about music that does not fall neatly into the confines of conventional “metal,” it should come as no surprise that many of us on staff have pretty eclectic tastes that range far outside of metal and heavy things. We can’t post about all of them at length here, but we can at least let you know what we’re actually listening to. For those that would like to participate as well (and please do) can drop a 3X3 in the comments, which can be made with tapmusic.net through your last.fm account, or create it manually with topsters.net. Also, consider these posts open threads to talk about pretty much anything music-related. We love hearing all of your thoughts on this stuff and love being able to nerd out along with all of you.
Saying any particular genre is dead has to be one of the lazies things a (supposed) music fan can do. Punk bears the brunt of these types of claims, but I’ve seen virtually every genre from hip-hop to black metal to jazz receive some variation of this critique over the years. Saying this is an indication of laziness more than anything else; given the intersection of genre proliferation and the ease of music discovery, there’s really no excuse for missing the multitude of bands who either pay homage to or actively progress virtually every genre in existence. Post-punk is a solid example of this – so many people are content rocking their Unknown Pleasures shirts and remaining oblivious to the fact that the genre didn’t start and end with Joy Division. There are notable installments made in the genre each year, and with their debut album Lovers Blessings, NYC-based duo Lowlands makes a compelling case for why they’re the post-punk act of the year.
Currently at the unlikely crossroads of doom metal and alt-country rests singer-songwriter David Eugene Edwards, a pioneer in the fringe genre of Gothic Americana. With roots in more sonically-traditional folk outfit 16 Horsepower in the 90’s, Edwards’ penchant for minor-key melodies and somber, washed-out aesthetic lead the musician to adopt sounds that were truly “heavy” within the context of country/western music. Throughout the years, Edwards would have a turn in legendary Australian post-punk outfit Crime & The City Solution, 16 Horsepower would dissolve, and Edwards would pursue a new full-time passion project, Wovenhand.
A collective in both genres amassed and sheer body count, Wrekmeister Harmonies has made good on its multifarious ethos. Founder and principal member JR Robinson has enlisted a slew of metal and experimental musicians over his past three records, including Jef Whitehead of Leviathan; Lee Buford and Chip King of The Body; members of Indian, Corrections House and Twilight; and Marissa Nadler, among several others. Robinson’s fourth album under the Wrek-Harm name – Light Falls – arguably contains his most high-profile ensemble yet, as he’s joined by three members from seminal post-rock pioneers Godspeed You! Black Emperor (Thierry Amar on bass and contrabass; Sophie Trudeau on piano, violin and vocals; and Timothy Herzog on drums). Yet, despite the notability of this trio’s inclusion, it’s not the most striking feature of Light Falls, an album which changes a crucial aspect of Wrek-Harm’s compositional approach up until this point.