Most of July was spent in transit, so my tastes might be skewed towards albums that sound good turned up loud while flying down the freeway, but that’s not to say there wasn’t variety in my roadtrip soundtrack. The past month might have been heavy on metal, but it also saw exciting releases in hip-hop, rock and synthpop. And as much as I hate grouping these albums into posts like this, other aspects of life are getting in the way of individual recommendations. So, these types of posts will have to serve as ‘better than nothing’ for the time being.
Evoken – Atra Mors
(Profound Lore, 2012)
Those who follow this blog would be blind not to notice my slow decline into the dark recesses of underground music, but this is the first time I have presented such music as my album of the month. Evoken’s Atra Mors is not to be taken lightly. This is a document of such dense gravity that many will be scared away within the first few minutes of the opening title track. Literally translated as ‘terrible death’ (or ‘dark death’), Atra Mors delves deep into a genre reserved for only a select few. Underground metal might be rearing its ugly head among the living more now than ever before, but ‘funeral doom’ will probably never find a place in the sun. This sub- sub-genre requires a strong stomach and extreme patience. Usually this type of music doesn’t find its way into steady rotation until the short, frigid days of winter, but in this summer of so many tragedies, Evoken’s fifth album (and the 100th release for Profound Lore) could not have come at a better time. I’m sure there are those who prefer uplifting music in the aftermath of painful events, but I find ‘shiny happy’ music insulting in times when the world seems to have gone so wrong. I realize that some of you will bypass this recommendation before giving it a chance, but if you have any curiosity as to what ‘funeral doom’ can sound like in the hands of modern masters, Atra Mors is the album to begin (and possibly end) with.
Agalloch – Faustian Echoes
Portland’s Agalloch are probably my favorite working band right now. In fact, earlier this month I took a roadtrip to catch a them live for the first time. Faustian Echoes is a single, two-part, 21-min. track based on Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s Faust. Continuing down their path toward the black, this track highlights Agalloch as strong as they’ve ever been. That’s not to say it compares with masterpieces such as The Mantle or Marrow of the Spirit, as no single song ever could, but with the addition of Aesop Dekker on drums (since Marrow), Agalloch have become one of the strongest bands in extreme music. Hopefully this EP is just a teaser of more new material to come.
Azealia Banks – Fantasea
Azealia Banks first caught my attention (and everyone else with youtube access) with her debut singe “212″. Dirty, sexy, raw…it was pure crack. I was instantly addicted. But then months went by without anything else of substance surfacing from this new face in hip-hop. The EP, 1991, finally dropped, but it landed without a sound. Azealia Banks became one of my biggest disappointments of the first half of this year. I almost didn’t even bother downloading Fantasea when it became available. But as it turns out, Azealia is more than just a dirty mouth with a black-and-white video. Like so many others in the game today, the mixtape seems to be the right format for this young artist — allowing her the freedom to keep it real, and more importantly, show more of that rawness she exposed on “212″. Azealia has a legitimate future as long as she continues to do it her way.
Baroness – Yellow & Green
It would be easy to say Baroness took a gigantic gamble by releasing Yellow & Green. First of all, a double album is always a risk in an itunes/singles driven music economy, and second, to continue with the ‘colors’ titles when nothing on these albums come close to resembling anything on either the Red Album or the Blue Record could be seen as misleading. Then there’s the music itself. Baroness are commonly referred to as ‘southern sludge’ — Yellow & Green would not be described as such. This is hard rock at best, alternative rock at worst. But by ‘worst’, I don’t mean ‘bad’. In fact, I love everything about these albums. Usually when metal bands start to mellow out, it means their demise. Most of the time this isn’t due to the mellowing out itself, it’s because the band has nothing left to say — they have hit their peak and there is nowhere left to go. Or they just get old and can’t rock that hard, so they trade heaviness for ‘songwriting’, and the songwriting usually sucks. Baroness are different. They didn’t go this direction because they ran out of steam. They are still a young band with incredible talent. They went this way because they wanted to. And you know what? It fucking works for them! Maybe someday they will record another Red Album. Maybe not. I am happy either way. My friends might not agree (most of them hate these albums with a passion), but as long as they keep putting out quality tracks, I don’t care how heavy they are.
Chrome Waves – Chrome Waves
Supergroup side-projects are always a scary thing. With so many cooks in the kitchen, sometimes the meal ends up tasting like a big pile of shit. This is not the case with Chrome Waves. Comprised of members from The Atlas Moth, Nachtmystium, Wolvhammer and The Gates of Slumber, this is a big, hairy, and yes, scary group of individuals. But believe it or not, they play nice together on their debut release. All contributors carry their own weight, but it’s the Nachtmystium sound like bleeds through the most. Think early Nachtmystium fronted by Stavros Giannopoulos. And as if there just wasn’t enough talent already, Jef Whitehead has been added to line-up. Here’s to hoping these guys find their way to Denver!
Nachtmystium – Silencing Machine
Nachtmystium have taken some slack over the past few years (and couple albums) for getting a little too progressive. The black metal purists found it a little blasphemous to incorporate Pink Floyd into their scene. Well, whatever, I actually really liked both Black Meddle albums, but I’m not going to complain that Nachtmystium have essentially released Instinct: Decay Part II with Silencing Machine. It’s still got that progressive Nachtmystium sound (you’ll never mistake this album for anyone else), but they have gone back to their black metal roots. Blake Judd is not the type to bend to pressure, so my guess is this move was based on the direction he wanted to go, but I’m guessing he won’t complain if the older fans come back around — although, the Stereogum recommendation and Best Buy marketing campaign might kill that…
Nas – Life Is Good
(Def Jam, 2012)
Nas has always been one of my favorite lyricists. I just always felt he wasn’t trying to be smooth or cool or gangster — he didn’t have to try, because he just was that smooth, that cool, that gangster. I probably also liked him because he was the underdog, never quite gaining the status he deserved. Like almost all hip hop artists, he has not been immune to a few awful albums, but it’s my opinion that he’s been on a late career high since 2006′s Hip Hop Is Dead. Life Is Good is his first release since his highly publicized divorce and there are some very personal moments on it, but it’s not a diss on Kelis. In fact, he makes it very clear that there are no regrets when it comes to his short lived marriage. Honesty has always been a trait that sets Nas apart from his peers, and Life Is Good is filled with it. Whether he is owning up to being a less-than-perfect husband and parent, or admitting that ‘the street’ has been in his rear-view for quite some time, it all seem legit. But it’s not just the lyrics and flow, No I.D. also provides the beats that make this a strong addition to an already impressive discography.
Nile – At The Gate Of Sethu
(Nuclear Blast, 2012)
When I got back into metal a few years ago, death metal was my least favorite subgenre. Having gone another way in the 90′s, it was hard to just throw myself into it with no primer. As the years have gone by, I’ve lost my bias against death, but there are still very few bands I can really get into, especially when it comes to technical death metal. But there’s something about Nile that pulls me in and won’t let go. At The Gate Of Sethu doesn’t stray far from any other Nile release — it’s ‘heavy as hell’ death metal with an extremely well researched Egyptian theme. Honestly, I prefer Those Whom the Gods Detest, but that hasn’t kept me from having At The Gate on steady rotation all month.
Purity Ring – Shrines
It’s hard to believe Purity Ring only just released their first album. I feel like I’ve been listening to them for years. That might be because I’m confusing them with their previous band, Gobble Gobble (now Born Gold), but nevertheless, it’s nice to finally have a full length where “Belispeak” can live among its siblings. Part Beach House, part Grimes, but all their own, Purity Ring are a Canadian synthpop duo based out of Montreal, and they are the light to counter all the darkness I’ve been listening to this month. Megan James is actually related to a friend of mine and I’ve been meaning to catch a performance ever since Fun Fun Fun last year and it’s never worked out. I’m hoping to remedy that when they come through Denver with Evian Christ on August 29th.
Slug Guts – Playin’ In Time With the Deadbeat
(Sacred Bones, 2012)
Sacred Bones has become the label for deranged garage rock and Slug Guts fit right in. Coming straight out of Brisbane, Australia, you can’t help but wonder if these guys spent a little too much time in the outback. I spent some time in Brisbane, and I hung out with some pretty rough people there, but I didn’t see anything that would incite the type of madness found on Playin’ In Time With the Deadbeat. Now, the crazy, wide-eyed folk I came across in the outback, they seem the type that would come up with this kind of crazy shit. Whatever got into these four dudes from down under, it doesn’t matter, because their insanity is their gift to us.
The Gaslight Anthem – Handwritten
The Gaslight Anthem are one of the few bands that make me sing and dance by myself. On more than one occasion I’ve had The ’59 Sound on blast while my poor dogs try to cover their ears to the awful sounds of my voice. So it’s no wonder that Handwritten became the worst nightmare of the people in the hotel room next to me in Chicago a couple weeks ago. After a baseball game and some heavy drinking, I stumbled back to my room and decided it was time to get things organized for my early departure. I put Handwritten on the headphones and proceeded to pack. I don’t know what it is about this band, but before I knew it, I was singing and dancing and generally causing a scene in a hotel room at 3am. In my drunken state, Handwritten was the BEST ALBUM EVER! The next morning, while nursing my hangover on the plane home, it was reduced to merely another damn good album by a damn good band — an album I highly, highly recommend listening to while intoxicated!
The Howling Wind – Of Babalon
(Profound Lore, 2012)
Sometimes black metal albums can start to sound alike, especially to those who don’t follow the genre, but most of these albums are about more than just a collection of songs. They are about creating a reality unto themselves. The artwork, the lyrics (even though you usually have to look them up), the instrumental interludes — all of these elements make or break my experience with any given release. The Howling Wind deliver on all of these with their latest, Of Babalon. The artwork and lyrical content revolve around Aleister Crowley’s Scarlet Woman, but the music itself is a black metal blast with a dark undercurrent that carries you along this particular journey in a state of unexplainable comfort. Rarely has a album this extreme also been so inviting.
Twin Shadow – Confess
I don’t really want to like Twin Shadow. The whole 80′s throwback scene has grown tired and George Lewis Jr. freaks me out more than just a little. And although I will never deny the appeal of “Castles in the Snow”, I found Forget to be completely forgettable. Confess is something completely different though. Every track here is 100% 80′s and 100% addictive. Some of these tracks were so good on the first listen that I was sure they would eventually reveal themselves to be nothing more than what Johnathan Franzen would call ‘winter-green Chiclets’ — sure to lose their flavor after a few listens. Yet these songs continue to stick with me long after the album ends. So much so, that I’m actually going to see Mr. Lewis Jr. live…even though he still creeps me out!
Rewind: (pre-July albums on heavy rotation)
Bosse-de-Nage – III (Profound Lore, 2012)
Burning Love – Rotten Thing To Say (Southern Lord, 2012)
Kreator – Phantom Antichrist (Nuclear Blast, 2012)
Metric – Synthetica (Mom & Pop, 2012)
Patti Smith – Banga (Columbia, 2012)
Wymond Miles – Under the Pale Moon (Sacred Bones, 2012)