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Wait A Minute! This Isn't Metal! - November 2021


Written by: RaduP, musclassia, nikarg, X-Ray Rod, ScreamingSteelUS
Published: 12.12.2021


Wait A Minute! This Isn't Metal! - November 2021
Metal Storm's outlet for nonmetal album reviews



The place where we'll talk about music without growls or blast beats
unless they still have those but still aren't metal


We here at Metal Storm pride ourselves on our thousands of metal reviews and interviews and article; metal is our collective soul and passion, which is why we bother with this junk. That being said, we'd be lying if we stuck to our trve-kvlt guns and claimed that metal is the only thing we ever listen to. Whether we want to admit it or not, we do check out some other stuff from time to time; some of us are more poptimistic than others, but there's a whole world out there aside from Satan-worshiping black metal and dragon-slaying power metal. We do already feature some nonmetal artists on our website and have a few reviews to back them up, but we prefer to limit that aspect of the site to those artists who have been a strong influence on the metal scene or who are in some way connected to it. This article series is the place for those artists who don't matter to metal in the slightest but still warrant some conversation - after all, good music, is good music, and we all know metal isn't the only thing on this planet for any of us.

Down below, you might find some obscure Bandcamp bedroom projects or some Billboard-topping superstar; as long as it ain't metal and the album itself isn't a best-of compilation, it fits. Obviously, we're certain that not everything will be for everybody (you guys can be viciously territorial even when metal is the only thing on the menu, and we're all supposed to like the same things), but we do hope you find at least one thing that you can enjoy, instead of just pointing and screaming in horror "Not metal!" as if that would be an insult.

Here are our previous features:

October 2021
September 2021
August 2021

And now to the music...






Temple Fang - Fang Temple
[Space Rock | Psychedelic Rock]

musclassia's pick


The debut record of Dutch psychedelic rock band Temple Fang had a rather uncomfortable path to existence. The band’s drummer left during the pre-production process, resulting in the project going on a potential permanent hiatus with nothing but a solitary live record as proof of their existence; however, the unearthing of a rough mix of a series of live shows they played in between lockdowns inspired a move towards releasing them, initially as another live record, but ultimately instead using them as a basis to record a studio album. From the album’s Bandcamp page, it seems that it took the persuasion of forces outside the band for Fang Temple to see the light of day, and even in its released state it is portrayed as a ‘lost’ record for the diehards, the closing of an finished chapter before they could focus on new projects with their new drummer. It’s a good thing those individuals encouraged Temple Fang to finish and release this record, as it’s a really impressive odyssey of psychedelic/space rock.

Running for around 80 minutes and comprised of only 4 songs, one would assume that this was a meandering jam-based record. However, it’s not one that feels directionless or excessive; there is real heartfelt emotion in this music. There’s a long, hushed, slow-building introduction to “Let It Go/When We Pray”, and even after it moves into the kind of jam one would anticipate, the touching vocals keep everything feel grounded and meaningful. There are two vocalists on this record, and although I don’t know which ones to ascribe to each credited musician, one of them gives me slight Mother Love Bone vibes, and when these vocals come to the fore later on in the track, the grungy vibes bring a relatively distinct dimension to the well-trodden territory of the psychedelic jam. Fang Temple doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but by both bringing their A-game with how they comprise these lengthy songs and also adding in moments that add a bit of a different feel and some extra emotionality, it stands out as a strong example of this type of album. It may have had a tortured birth, but the world is better for Fang Temple seeing the light of day.

Bandcamp

by musclassia





Sunset Images - Traumatismo Nacional
[Noise Rock | Drone]


Traumatismo Nacional is a sharp and deep wound represented in sound... a deeply racist, misogynistic, violent and dark nation.” So say Sunset Images, a Mexican project driven by Samuel Osorio with the help of his drummer friends. You’ll struggle to hear this message in the lyrics, which are sparse and often buried in the mix; this is first and foremost an instrumental-driven record, comprised of droning, noisy post-rock soundscapes. The sonic representation of Osorio/Mexico’s pain is one of expansive, noisy walls of guitar distortion, punctuated with more defined riffs and grooves.

This record can get quite heavy at times; opening track “Monumento” doesn’t feel too far away from material by Dark Buddha Rising or Ufomammut as it gradually intensifies. Other songs range from driven and rocky (“Prohibición”) to languid and spacious (“Túnel Hacia El Abismo”, which gives me Earth vibes). Osorio knows how to combine and layer guitars to create musical vistas that engulf listeners, making Traumatismo Nacional an intense listening experience.

Bandcamp | Apple Music | Spotify

by musclassia





Idles - Crawler
[Post-Punk | Art Punk]


Post-punk! The new revival from the 2010s! Idles! I have covered enough of the bands in this specific movement that I no longer feel the need to reiterate, since I'll probably have a bunch of similar writeups to write about whatever new releases will come from it in the future. But Crawler did feel like it came quite close after last year's Ultra Mono, but that's only because the break between Ultra Mono and Joy As An Act Of Resistance was the longest between Idles album, so getting one every year again felt weird. Regardless, neither of these have really hit me as hard as Brutalism did back in 2017, but that doesn't mean that I haven't been extremely excited for everything the band have did since, and it would be hard to name a post-punk band from the past decade that could dethrone them from my favs.

Crawler is a bit of a change of pace, but in different directions. On one hand it finds Idles continuing to branch out in different directions, adding more noise rock, ambient (with the opening track being among the most atmospheric pieces they did), and just generally seeming willing to try new twists on their sound. But also ironically this also makes this album their most focused on repetition. A lot of it seems the most straight-forwardly post-punk that Idles have been, so some of the curve-balls are actually just following the post-punk standard, whereas the others do make this a pretty interesting record. The band seem pretty keen on not making the exact same album twice, and Crawler still keeps them among the most exciting of the bunch.

Bandcamp | Apple Music | Spotify

by RaduP





Actors - Acts Of Worship
[Gothic Rock | Coldwave]


Actors from Canada are yet another band to embrace the darkwave / post-punk / synthpop sound of the ‘80s. Formed in 2012, they released their debut LP, It Will Come To You, in 2018, which made waves among those who like their dancefloor to be shrouded with a bit of gloom and emotional heaviness. Listening to the band, the music feels very familiar, being a mix of The Cure, New Order, and Depeche Mode, with a more contemporary approach. This way, they please both the nostalgic hearts but also those who enjoy more modern movements.

Acts Of Worship is instantaneously loveable but it also grows on you even more with each subsequent listen. Compared to its predecessor, it gives more room to the synths and less to the guitars. The band’s melodies are catchy and bittersweet, the tempo is mostly upbeat, and the ethereal synths arrangements blend beautifully with the carved-with-pain guitars and the gothic bass lines. The male and female vocals narrate a shared experience, each from their own point of view, and the songs come straight from the heart. Throughout its runtime, Acts Of Worship does not steer away from its set course and offers little variation, but it has uninterrupted flow and the compositions are so enjoyable that they overcompensate for the lack of surprises. The middle of the album seems to be less captivating than the beginning and the end of it, but it is unlikely that you’ll be bored at any moment of its 37 minutes. More importantly, Actors is a band that can make you both feel and dance at the same time, which is something that is not that easy to find these days.

Bandcamp | Apple Music | Spotify

by nikarg





Kælan Mikla - Undir Köldum Norðurljósum
[Darkwave]

musclassia's pick


Undir Köldum Norðurljósum (translation: Under The Northern Lights) is the fourth album from Icelandic post-punk trio Kælan Mikla, and it seems to be something of a minor breakthrough for them. Having been handpicked by Robert Smith to open The Cure’s 40th anniversary show in 2019, they were already somewhat established, but between collaborations with Alcest, tours with Birds In Row and bookings for Roadburn 2022, this darkwave collective are making a name for themselves in the sphere of alternative heavy music. Press play on Undir Köldum Norðurljósum and it becomes clear why; with a mixture of post-punk danceability, art-pop peculiarity and dark gothic atmosphere, Kælan Mikla are onto something that is eerie yet insidiously captivating.

The repetitive pounding programmed drum beats on opener “Svört Augu” offer that danceability, but the off-kilter ethereal layers woven into the track and sinister half-sung/half-spoken vocals give an unsettling quality to this track. Some songs are more conventional than others, such as the subdued synthpop of “Sólstöður” (aside from the children’s screams scattered across the song) or the straightforward post-punk of “Örlögin”. I’m personally a bit more taken by the more melancholic tracks, including “Sírenur” and its sad ethereal singing or that Alcest collaboration on “Hvítir Sandar”. However, Undir Köldum Norðurljósum is a really distinctive and alluring spin on the post-punk style; with so many modern post-punk bands rehashing the 80s, it’s great to hear a group come along to take it into new and interesting places.

Bandcamp | Apple Music | Spotify

by musclassia





Lindy-Fay Hella & Dei Farne - Hildring
[Neofolk | Darkwave]


Lindy-Fay Hella is perhaps best known as the co-lead singer of Wardruna, a band that she's been part of for almost 20 years. And even though she had other projects and had contributed with her vocals as a few guest spots, it wasn't until 2019 that she materialized an output outside of that group. Initially supposed to be an acapella record, Seafarer saw more and more contributions until it morphed in its own darkwave neofolk thing. Now, Lindy-Fay Hella has assembled a more cohesive band in the form of Dei Farne, leading Hildring to be more of a band record than a free-for all collaborative effort. And you can tell that there's a lot more focus here.

Lindy-Fay's vocals are the obvious highlight, which makes sense since she's the main name on the record, but Hildring isn't as reliant on them as Seafarer was, thus leaving a lot more space for the instrumentals to develop and carry the soundscapes. This does lead to more interesting soundscapes, a lot of them pretty electronic in nature, with influences from darkjazz to krautrock to synthpop, but keeping a fairly consistent neofolk inspired darkwave sound. It is a pretty good change of pace hearing Lindy-Fay's vocals with a different sound palette than the traditional instrumentation of Wardruna, but it also feels different in terms of scale and grandeur, with Hildring being more grounded and subdued rather than purely in terms of the sounds used. Dei Farne's status as a band is still questionable, but only time will tell how they and Lindy-Fay's solo career will develop.

Bandcamp | Apple Music | Spotify

by RaduP





Robert Plant & Alison Krauss - Raise The Roof
[Americana | Folk]


Robert Plant is best known for fronting that one massive 70s rock band, but the solo career he started in the 80s didn't really bring much fanfare, but then again neither of his former bandmates' careers were anywhere close to the original band's. However the one exception that really blew up was his 2007 collaboration with bluegrass singer Alison Krauss. Raising Sand was a critics' darling, and also won a bunch of awards. And granted it is a very good album, but I still find it weird how it was the only Robert Plant to receive that much attention, especially since both Raising Sand and this Raise The Roof album are both cover albums.

Robert Plant's music since the 2000s had already capitalized on the folk leanings in his voice, something that was already part of his previous band's sound, but as his voice aged, it seemed to fit folk music more and more. There's more than a decade between the two collab records with Alison Krauss, and both of their voices have aged pretty gracefully. But yet I can't help but feel like Raise The Roof is more uninteresting of the pair. While Raising Sand did have its novelty as a factor, it also had arrangements that resonated a bit more with me and had more emotional appeal, whereas Raise The Roof kinda betrays the fact that it's a glorified cover record. But as far as cover records go, I can see the two decided to work together again.

Apple Music | Spotify

by RaduP





Me And That Man - New Man, New Songs, Same Shit, Vol. 2
[Gothic Country | Blues Rock]


When I first saw the guest list on New Man, New Songs, Same Shit, Vol. 2, I was wondering who the hell Me And That Man was to get so many big names; turns out it’s Nergal from Behemoth, which makes the presence of names as illustrious as Abbath, Garm, Randy Blythe, Devin Townsend and many more far more understandable. This is the third album released under the moniker Nergal uses for his solo project, which sees him attempt a gothic-tinged country sound mixed with bluesy rock; the output is enjoyable enough, if what I would pretty much call ‘country for the Download Festival crowd’ (which is only a useful description if you’re familiar with Download Festival, I guess).

Some of the highlights of the album include “Under The Spell”, an up-tempo Spaghetti western rock track featuring Ghost’s Tobias Forge, the moody stripped-down country singalong “Year Of The Snake”, and Myrkur’s appearance on the bluesy “Angel Of Light”. Some may be more keen than I on the hard-rocking “Losing My Blues” (I don’t think Abbath’s Lemmy impression is that convincing) or “Coldest Day In Hell”, which sounds like so many other mediocre 90s/00s mainstream hard rock songs that opt for an acoustic Southern rock slant. Ultimately, New Man, New Songs, Same Shit, Vol. 2 is perfectly fine, but as far as merging western/country with rock is concerned, I would recommend Trophy ScarsAstral Pariah from earlier this year over Me And That Man.

Apple Music | Spotify

by musclassia





Völur & Arif Mirbaghi - Zwischen Den Wäldern
[Ambient Folk]


I'm not sure if ambient folk is a genre, but if it were, this would be it. I mean a lot of folk, from Wardruna to Natural Snow Buildings to Rome to The Microphones have threaded the line between the two. Also should probably make sense that a lot of atmospheric black metal takes cues from both folk and ambient. But what Völur and their collaborator, Arif Mirbaghi (previously of Protest The Hero), are doing here seems more than just threading the line between the two, but more of a cohesive blend of ambient's intensions and folk's means.

This is the third in Völur's die Sprachen der Vögel (The Languages of Birds) series, in which the band collaborates with different musicians for short projects. Here, they're joined by Arif Mirbaghi on the tambur (a Persian/Turkic string instrument). The brand of folk is thus having a Middle Eastern tinge, but without losing its universal feeling. Though the folk comes to fruiting in the traditional instrumentation, its blend with the spoken monologues and the drawn-out songwriting makes Zwischen Den Wäldern more of a meditation on nature in a way that feels pretty unusual for folk music.

Bandcamp | Apple Music | Spotify

by RaduP





Richard Dawson & Circle - Henki
[Progressive Rock | Art Rock]

RaduP's pick


Do you happen to enjoy both progressive rock and incredible falsettos? You're in luck! Henki is the collaboration between English avant-folk singer Richard Dawson and Finnish psychedelic rock band Circle. Two genres whose overlap isn't that far off from progressive rock, but it's not like either artists were far from the genre anyway. I covered Dawson's previous record previously, and though I found that it was a bit less folky, or at least not as out-there in terms of how the art-rock is integrated in the art rock sound. Now combining his style with an even more progressive backdrop courtesy of Circle, it's a record that is perhaps even easier to digest, and all the better for it.

But then again Dawson's vocals will always have that avant-folk timbre to it, a falsetto that is quite hard to grow used to, even if OG prog rockers were no strangers to similar voices in music. In a way, his vocals make even more sense along with the psychedelic prog, into something mystical and geeky. Fuzz and folk and ever-shifting intricate soundscapes serve as an intriguing backdrop to Dawson's stories full of campy dramatism. And while it definitely harkens back to a lot of prog music of the 70s, it doesn't feel like it specifically tries to recreate that era. Instead Henki is probably the most original retro-prog album I've heard in a long while.

Bandcamp | Apple Music | Spotify

by RaduP





Agusa - En Annan Värld
[Progressive Rock | Psychedelic Rock]


En Annan Värld means “Another world”, summing up the identity of Agusa’s latest opus perfectly. Unlike my lazy attempt at writing metaphors, there is absolutely nothing lazy in the music of Agusa. In fact, it is rich, playful and extremely ambitious. The album consists of two tracks of over 20 minutes each and it’s fully instrumental. Trust me on this though: You don’t need a singer when the instruments sing this way and you will be amazed at how smooth the progressions are and how well the band keeps up the momentum with such long compositions. These odes to the 70s era of progressive/psychedelic rock feel really fresh despite its genre. This could be due to the band’s two big selling characteristics: The flute and keyboards.

The delicate and warm sound of the flute adds a mysterious folk influence that grabs your attention as soon as the album starts. Meanwhile, the keyboards drive the songs forward with a vast array of melodies. Some of them are very funky and catchy, while others are of the more solemn and serious types like the organ. I don’t want to take away credit from the rhythm section and guitars though. While not the first elements that pop in my mind when I listen to this album, they are most certainly a vital part. The guitars usually follow the path of the rhythm section as well as the melodies planted by the keyboards and are for the most part low in the mix except for the solos that soar with emotion. The drums are also a bit quiet in the mix, especially once the songs reach bombastic climaxes filled with melody. But when you listen carefully you’ll notice just how intricate the drumming is at times and the clean, hypnotic bass perfectly complements it. You can really tell the production has been carefully chosen as to elevate all the instruments at the precise time.

As the first part of the album is brighter and richer in folk influences, the second part is more foreboding and darker with ritualistic atmosphere to boot. This makes En Annan Värld feel like a very complete album and instantly engulfs you in its beautiful world.

Bandcamp | Apple Music | Spotify

by X-Ray Rod





Pond - 9
[Neo-Psychedelia | Psychedelic Pop]


It feels like I closed my eyes for a bit, and now Pond is already on their 9th album. Which is rich coming from a band whose debut came out in 2009. So a little over an year for each album, for slightly more than a decade. That's pretty prolific, not to mention consistent. Not to mention how they're more Pond albums out there, mostly because they're not the first band of the name, sharing it with an Oregon indie rock and a Berlin progressive electronic one. I got to know the Australian psych Pond through their previous album, 2019's Tasmania, and even if I wasn't able to dive that much in the rest of their discog, I was already able to tell that they're not exactly churning out the same album over and over. Highly prolific and diverse Australian psych rock? Where have I heard that before?

Now I can't say that 9 is leagues ahead of or vastly different than the rest of Pond's music, first because I haven't listened to all of the latter, but also because neo-psychedelia is generally a pretty consistent sound. What is different this time around is that there's some sizeable chunks that have a clear prog pop and alternative dance influence, so imagine if Flaming Lips had a big LCD Soundsystem and Peter Gabriel phase. For such a psychedelic record to be this reliant on synths and intricate percussive rhythms rather than just jammy riffs, that's already a nice change of pace, but one that also requires loads of crafting great and memorable songs. Given that I missed the album in October, but decided to include it now, that should be a testament that some of it at least can endure. I do hope the band will hone this blend further in *checks calendar* roughly one year.

Apple Music | Spotify

by RaduP





Maybeshewill - No Feeling Is Final
[Post-Rock]

musclassia's pick


No Feeling Is Final: that evidently includes the feeling that Maybeshewill needed to disband, as following their 2016 break-up, they first played a one-off show at an event curated by Robert Smith from The Cure, and subsequently properly reunited in 2020 (with a first post-reunion performance that I would’ve seen at ArcTanGent 2020, if it had not been cancelled). If you can’t tell by the band name with every word merged together, Maybeshewill are a post-rock band: an instrumental post-rock band, specifically, and one with an emphasis on using electronics and cinematic arrangements to create sweeping and rousing compositions, which are punctuated by samples that highlight the band’s world views (for example, “Zarah” samples a speech on the economics underlying the climate struggle from Labour MP Zarah Sultana).

That’s a fairly succinct description of No Feeling Is Final; keyboards, strings, electronics, energetic drumming and loud/soft guitar work coalesce to stir the soul on songs such as “We’ve Arrived At The Burning Building” and “Complicity”, with “Refuturing” elevated further by saxophone courtesy of guest Marcus Joseph. In a world of incredibly similar post-rock bands, the dramatic flair and grandeur of Maybeshewill sets them apart from the crowd; it’s hard not to be moved by the emotional strings arrangements and deft use of dynamic shifts on the record. There’s an effortlessness to the best songs on No Feeling Is Final that makes it clear why Maybeshewill moved towards the front of the post-rock pack to begin with, and now they’re back and ready to reclaim their place.

Bandcamp | Apple Music | Spotify

by musclassia





Slow Crush - Hush
[Shoegaze | Dream Pop]


Shoegaze has become more and more entrenched into metal in the past decade. Not only do we have an entire metalgaze subgenre for all blends of metal and shoegaze, whether that's blackgaze or doomgaze (or whatever else I haven't yet discovered), but some of the moments on Hush seem heavy enough that they wouldn't be out of place on a post-metal record. Except that those heavy moments are very far in between, and I feel like I'm almost specifically waiting for those, when the essence of Hush is just completely different. Even by shoegaze standards, Hush is pretty distinct, while also being able to take cues from outside of the usual gaze.

I already mentioned the occasional heavy moments, and when I say heavy, I don't mean massive riffs and growls heavy anyway, but there's also a bunch of cues taken from post-rock in some guitar melodies and in some crescendo-core structures, as well as from dream pop and ambient pop in just how subdued and ethereal the vocals are. A lot of Hush' strengths lie in just how it sounds, how thick, otherworldly, and just alien it sounds, in ways that I only wish I had the technical expertise to describe. Compared to Aurora, the band's debut, Hush feels more concerned with sounding beyond life. This does lead to a hazey sound, in which the songs themselves kind of blend into each other, but a sound that is truly mesmerizing nonetheless.

Bandcamp | Apple Music | Spotify

by RaduP





Portico Quartet - Monument
[Nu Jazz]


It was only back in June of this year that I covered Terrain, Portico Quartet’s attempt at combining their soothing modern jazz with a more ambient/minimalist approach. With Monument, Portico Quartet return to the terrain that one would have expected from hearing their previous record, Memory Streams, with more direct and compact compositions; however, it has its own surprises in stores, chiefly an expanded use of electronics. Representing two extremes of Portico Quartet’s musical spectrum, Terrain and Monument are terrific companion pieces, and Monument in particular is a lovely example of the virtues of this project.

The electronics aren’t a dominating feature on Monument; the core of the sound remains the same as it was before, with piano, hang, saxophone and percussion making the greatest contributions. However, between the pulses on “Impressions”, the repeating motif on “A.O.E.” and the organ sounds on “Ultraviolet”, in addition to ambient background layers on a few other tracks, they do make their presence felt in a positive manner alongside the smooth piano, soulful saxophone and slick percussion that define Portico Quartet’s sound. That core sound is as strong as ever here; if you enjoy jazz with a restrained and melancholic touch, you should find a lot to enjoy in Monument.

Bandcamp | Apple Music | Spotify

by musclassia





Jon Hopkins - Music For Psychedelic Therapy
[Ambient Electronic]


The title Music For Psychedelic Therapy fairly succinctly summarises the intentions of British electronic producer Jon Hopkins on his sixth studio album; Hopkins undertook a mission to conjure up music specifically designed to assist with psychedelic-assisted therapy, ultimately ending up in a cave in Ecuador. Field recordings captured in this cave served as the conceptual basis to this ambient exploration of enhanced consciousness, and can actually be heard on the “Tayos Caves, Ecuador” trilogy of tracks. Hopkins has explored ambient music on his previous albums, but whilst the likes of Immunity and Singularity featured lengthy ambient compositions, they were placed alongside more active IDM and electronic compositions such as “Open Eye Signal” (my introduction to the artist); in contrast, Music For Psychedelic Therapy is purely ambient.

In truth, I’ve usually found the ambient music on the previous albums I’ve heard by Hopkins to be the challenging sections that I either endure or skip over to get to the material more in line with my tastes, so a record entirely committed to this aspect of his work was an intimidating prospect. However, there’s a serenity to the likes of the “Tayos Caves” trio and the twinkling “Love Flows Over Us In Prismatic Waves” that seemingly make this approach more compelling in isolation. There’s not much more that can be said about Music For Psychedelic Therapy; it is tranquility personified in music, serene ambient sheens infused with peaceful sounds of nature. As far as its purpose is concerned, I could imagine this acting as a beneficial adjunct to a therapeutic psychedelic experience, but I’ll have to wait to see a peer-reviewed study into it.

Apple Music | Spotify

by musclassia





Kuggur - Harmkvæði
[Dark Ambient]


Kuggur is both the musical and visual art moniker of Guðmundur Óli Pálmason, most well known as the drummer for Katla. and previously of Sólstafir and Potentiam. Gummi is someone with a couple of decades experience in making music, but as someone who is primarily a drummer, it's interesting to hear him perform all the instruments on a project, especially when most of them are not drums, though it's not the first time it happened, and there have been quite a few releases under this name since I covered its debut a couple of months ago.

I'd call Harmkvæði dark ambient because it's dark and it's ambient, but it doesn't really follow the conventions of dark ambient, being less focused on textured synth melodies evoking darkness, but sprinkles of other instruments from guitars to pianos to a myriad of others in addition to synths make this feel somewhat more in line with darkwave, albeit more ambient-focused and completely instrumental. The pace is a bit more dynamic, even by ambient standards, making this somewhat of a lively album, despite still working in a dark ambient framework. In a way, it's simple and effective, and I can see it being a simple and effective soundtrack to "emotional ups and downswings of grief, loss and tragedy".

Bandcamp | Apple Music | Spotify

by RaduP





Hollywood Burns - The Age Of The Saucers
[Synthwave]


I don’t follow the genre nearly enough to know why, but France seems to be something of a hub for synthwave. In addition to leading figures such as Perturbator and Carpenter Brut, you have artists such as Hollywood Burns coming through. The Age Of The Saucers is the second full-length from this project, and it veers on the heavier end of the genre’s spectrum, resulting in something energetic and exciting, and not too derivative.

The screeching synths and pounding pulses of the title track make an immediate early impression, as do the stirring piano and symphonic arrangements. “Abomination From Planet X” is similarly brash; Hollywood Burns plays with mixing up the intensity of the album with the quiet brief interlude “A Moment Of Bliss”, but it feels a bit underdeveloped, and listeners will be relieved when the record gets back to full-energy action. The Age Of The Saucers is short and sharp, leaving little opportunity to drag and throwing in the odd experiment with vocals (“Silent Fortress”) and guitars (“Skylords”, “The Heist Of Area 51”) before swiftly making a departure. It’s easily one of the most fun synthwave records I’ve covered for this article series, and well worth a listen for those that enjoy the style.

Bandcamp | Apple Music | Spotify

by musclassia





Aesop Rock x Blockhead - Garbology
[Abstract Hip-Hop]


It's already the third Aesop Rock album that I review since starting this series. Which is weird for an artist who used to space his albums by 3-4 years. First it was the Malibu Ken collab (reviewed here, in an edition that ironically also features a write-up on a Blockhead album). Then Spirit World Field Guide was a proper Aesop Rock album (reviewed here). Garbology comes as somewhat of a surprise, because it finds Aesop Rock once again collaborating with Blockhead, who used to do production for a bunch of songs on the rapper's older albums, so to see them collaborating for a full album after Aesop had handled most of the production on his newer albums himself, is cause for interest.

So the first interesting thing about Garbology is hearing Blockhead's production alongside Aesop Rock's rapping again. I don't mean to say that neither of them evolved as artists since the early 2000s, but them working again on Garbology does feel like a return to the roots, something not as left-field, at least not by the abstract hip-hop standards that the two of them helped set. And the second interesting thing is that this is the first Aesop Rock album actually written during the pandemic, and you can kinda tell that loneliness has a bigger hold of the lyrical side of the record, despite the album not sounding overtly depressing, but more in the comically dark tone that Aesop has mastered. Aesop has yet to miss, but nothing he has released since The Impossible Kid filled me with as much excitement as that did, even if that might not be his fault.

Bandcamp | Apple Music | Spotify

by RaduP





Snail Mail - Valentine
[Indie Rock | Indie Pop]


Snail Mail is a teenage indie pop rock act, or at least they were teenage back when their debut, 2018's Lush came out. It felt like an album that aptly captured the bittersweet anxiety of the late teenage years, and even if I didn't revisit it as much as I should, it did make Snail Mail a name I knew to watch out for, as much as I did mistake them for Soccer Mommy for a while. And I swear there's gotta be a reason than both being f-fronted S-starting two-word indie bands. So when Valentine came around, seeing a 30 minute record of indie bangers right in front of me, I was pretty excited. Having spent some time with the record, I am a bit conflicted. It's neither a "completely dropped it", but nor a "knew how to capitalize on the success" of the debut.

I tried to make sense of it, but I think Valentine is a more mature record than Lush, but it's a kind of maturity that feels like it came too early and doesn't really properly capture the feelings of Lush this soon after it. I get it, Lindsey is not a teenager anymore, but even for young adulthood, which is something I should be relating to even more strongly, it feels like the album is spending too much time in a zone that feels uninteresting. It starts off so strongly with the title track, but the flow of the album takes it to a bunch of songs that feel more like mid-record tracks, making it lose most of the steam up until it gets interesting again staring with "c. et al.", ironically a song even softer than what came before it, and "Glory", which finally feels like it delivers the potential. I can't really name any of the songs as bad, even if their fatal flaw is feeling somewhat undercooked, but in how the album pushes all of it in one place too early.

Bandcamp | Apple Music | Spotify

by RaduP





The War On Drugs - I Don’t Live Here Anymore
[Heartland Rock]


I love The War On Drugs, and for a rock band in the 2010s, they were one of the best examples of music that felt both nostalgic and forward-thinking in a pretty specific way. And as far as bands taking the Bruce Springsteen mantle (as in pretty much all heartland rock bands), you'd be hard pressed to find any better example than The War On Drugs's Lost In The Dream. And the last decade or so has seen some indie acts also taking a similar path, whether Arcade Fire or The Killers, but what was most interesting about The War On Drugs is first that they felt very honest-to-God in how they approached the warmth of the sound, but in how they were able to mix it with bits of indie psychedelia.

And as each The War On Drugs album shifted the sound's focus from indie to heartland rock more and more, I Don’t Live Here Anymore feels like it definitely put the "indie rock" part as an afterthought, leaving the warm Springsteen worship front-and-center, also increasing the vocal presence in the mix, and using some new wave to contrast. There's bits where it works and bits where it doesn't. Part of the reason being that the production doesn't fit all the moments that well, cutting away some of the emotional impact, but it would have worked even less if the band wasn't already adept at the heartland sound. When it hits, it hits. When it doesn't, it's still pretty soothing. But I can't pretend like this isn't my least favorite of their albums, and for a band whose output is getting sparser, that's not a conclusion I'm proud of.

Apple Music | Spotify

by RaduP





Adele - 30
[Pop Soul]


I remember 10 years ago when 21 came out, Adele was kind of seen as "the pop star who isn't as shallow as other pop stars". Obviously that came from people who barely dived in the surface of the music of the era and the "born in the wrong generation" crown, but it still feels like Adele's 21 really stood out in that musical landscape. Her output in the meantime was very sparse, with 25 having that massive "Hello" single, but the other singles not leaving as big of a cultural mark as the bunch from 21. And that's the case with 30 as well, which only has two singles released so far. "Easy On Me" charting to number 1, but "Oh My God" trailing a bit behind. And yet, both albums felt like massive moments, all of them charting to number 1. And as much as I hate to talk about chart numbers, I still relate a bit to the "the pop star who isn't as shallow as other pop stars" sentiment, so when the number 1 charting album is Adele instead of Maroon 5, I can't help but be glad.

I was a bit surprised that, even though the album is called "30", Adele is already 33, but those album names seem to be more indicative of when an album's creative process started. I'm a bit disappointed that we didn't get a "27", or at least one more album that isn't a break-up album. 21's break-up themes felt a bit more universal, and I guess that's why they had such a massive appeal, whereas 30 is a divorce album, with themes of motherhood and struggling to come to terms, and something that feels less universally appealing and more specifically personal for Adele. There are moments here that feel more therapeutic than actually musical ("My Little Love"), as well as an odd-one-out pop song produced by the usual Swedish producers ("Can I Get It"), but the album is at its strongest when it focuses on Adele's voice and its ability to channel out those strong emotions.

Apple Music | Spotify

by RaduP





ABBA - Voyage
[Disco | Pop]


It does not require particularly generous imagination to recognize that ABBA’s return to the studio after 40 years is very likely the most widely anticipated album ever covered on this entire website. It will also come as no greater shock that responsibility for this write-up was handed off to me because of my deep affection for power metal, the cheesiest (and therefore most closely related) form of metal there is. Despite the fact that I obliquely paid tribute to ABBA in Part I of my power metal series, I don’t actually listen to ABBA; I find them at best a listenable backdrop of blithe dance music and at worst a forgettable backdrop of blithe dance music. But I have to accept the gauntlet that was thrown at me and recognize that listening to Avantasia means I had to review an ABBA album sooner or later.

Voyage opens with a gentle overture that eases the listener back into the arms of Sweden’s most beloved quartet; “I Still Have Faith In You” is a warm and mellow reintroduction, a humble ballad that slowly builds into a more heavily orchestrated romance in which all 40 of those years are wiped away. Each song is loaded with instrumentation and the album has a deep, soothing production that caresses the listener through the softest tracks without suffocating the more upbeat ones, of which there are several. Voyage sounds more heavily produced than the ABBA of albums past, but not in a way that you might fear – not in an artificial or cloying way, but rather in a way reflecting growth and sophistication in writing. The members are all in their 70s now, and so Voyage often reflects a preference for humbler compositions; the slow tempo and delicate instrumentation exhibited best by “Little Things” make Voyage sound like an album of lullabies, a calming voyage into memory by a warm hearth. Yet Agnetha Fältskog and Frida Lyngstad retain the characteristic shimmer in their voices, and this is still an album you can dance to. Tracks like “When You Danced With Me” and “Don’t Shut Me Down” easily recapitulate the classic ABBA sound: their relaxed marching tempos and gently funky backings can move you to your feet in between those sweetly relaxing ditties. “Just A Notion” complements them with a more upbeat swing, airy and light, and “Keep An Eye On Dan” is my favorite – a dark and dramatic tune dominated by twitching keys that generate tension.

Voyage features a wide variety of moods and sounds, all flush with small details and many layers of instrumentation. It’s sometimes intimate, but never unadorned, and sometimes energetic, but never raucous. I can only imagine that this is the kind of album an ABBA fan would have waited for and wanted to receive after so many years away, and I even find myself enjoying it more with each listen despite my general ambivalence toward their classic material. If nothing else, it outsold every other album in this article within 24 hours after its announcement, so it hardly needs my opinion, but… it’s nice.

Apple Music | Spotify

by SSUS





Agnes - Magic Still Exists
[Dance-Pop | Electro-Disco]


Look. I had no idea who Agnes was, and I generally have a slight aversion to artists who only use their first name, especially since I can name at least one "Agnes" I care about more. Further research has shown that Agnes won some Swedish singing contest in 2005, had one "you know it but have no idea who sings it" hit, and hasn't had an album since 2012. But then again none of her albums seemed to have made much of a stride, even if pop is far from an album-centric medium. But when I saw the cover art from Magic Still Exists, I knew. I didn't know what but I knew. I had to go in.

There's been a lot of great disco albums in the past couple of years, and whereas those took either some synthpop or house, or just generally sounding closer to the original sound, the disco in Magic Still Exists only acts as an ornament over Agnes' usual dance-pop sound, thus still sounding pretty modern. But it is that disco ornament and the general sharpness of it that just makes Magic Still Exists sound so sophisticated by pop standards, and at 33 minutes of runtime, it wastes little feeding the listen with blissful and glittery dance anthems. Even if it rides a bit of a nostalgic wave that's been happening in pop lately, what matters is that it sounds good, and it feels good, and magic still exists.

Apple Music | Spotify

by RaduP





Silk Sonic - An Evening With Silk Sonic
[Smooth Soul | Funk]

RaduP's pick


Ok, fellas, it's time to wrap up the year, because the only release that really matters dropped. I'm exaggerating obviously, but the truth is that An Evening With Silk Sonic was the one release I was hyped for more than any other release in recent memory. And that's not only because "Leave The Door" open was the smoothest song I've heard in a long long time. But also because the duo of Anderson Paak and Bruno Mars, a neo-soul artist with a lot of cred, and a pop star who brought the biggest soul funk resurgence of the century, had the potential to be either incredibly artificial or to work tremendously well. The reality isn't completely perfect, but much more on the latter side.

As ironic as it is for me, since my criticism of most albums is that they're too long and would work better as shorter edited versions of themselves. And then An Evening With Silk Sonic comes along, and its 31 minutes feel like too short of a runtime. So I'm left wondering if it's because creative fumes aren't as productive as they should be, or because there's more to come (you already know what I'm hoping for). And whereas I'm starting to get a bit tired of revivalist genres like synthpop or post-punk, funk and soul are genres I didn't dive in as deep, and I think it would be hard to make a revival album as grand as the two biggest names associated being here, not to mention contributions by Bootsy Collins (basically the most important bassist in the history of funk) and Thundercat (the biggest funk bassist of recent years) ensure even more star power. But An Evening With Silk Sonic has more than mere star power. Every arrangement feels so pristine. The production is pretty much perfect. The duo's voices work magically in tandem. And even if it's a bit (maybe more than a bit) pastiche, I can't imagine a funk album in the current year sounding more exciting than this.

Apple Music | Spotify

by RaduP





Arca - KICK ii | KicK iii | kick iiii | kiCK iiiii
[Latin Electronic | Deconstructed Club |
Ambient Pop | Ambient]

RaduP's pick (kick iiii)


I did find myself covering an Arca record in the past and I was already a fan of her music previously. So when KiCk i was dropped I did kind of wonder what that "i" meant, whether this would imply this being the beginning of a series. I did later find out that that was indeed the case, but what I did not expect was to find that four different Arca albums would drop on the same day. And each of them showcasing a different side of Arca's sound. I was pretty thankful that each of them were around 30-40 minutes in runtime, so I didn't have to spend endless hours trying to wrap my head around Arca once more. I could barely put one album into words, let alone four, basically as many as she had released before. So I decided to kind of merge everything in a single review.

Even if each album has its own personality, the lines kind of blur the deeper you dive. It seems more like Arca made a bunch of songs with different approaches and then grouped them together rather than specifically aiming to make songs that are more reggaetón for one album and songs that are more ambient pop for another. So a lot of the really vocal and Latin influences stuff ended up on KICK ii, making the album seem the closest to KiCk i of the bunch. In a way, it's also the most accessible, which isn't surprising considering that it has a Sia feature that somehow does work. But hear the vocal incorporations, whether of the Latin variety or not, and whether performed by Arca or not, do seem more polished.

KicK iii is the hardest of the bunch. It's still pretty vocal, but in a more hard-hitting hip-hop direction than a pop one, and thus the wilder sound palettes that take from trap, glitch, deconstructed club, and post-industrial make this one an adrenaline injection. It's rowdy, upfront, piercing, and unapologetic. The combination of Arca's usual avant-garde leanings and IDM injections with music this hard creates such a disorienting and intense experience. It's not just intense for intenseness' sake, and it clearly shows that it can pull back and focus on atmosphere, rhythm and texture, but that is precisely because it oozes so much of it.

The polar opposite of KicK iii is the low-key kick iiii. It is pretty mood focused, even if the framework is still closer to pop music with the numerous features, but only as far as a more ambient take on Arca's sound allows that. Obviously it's more electronica than anything else, but more of the dreamy kind like downtempo and witch house. It's dreamy, ethereal, and soothing, all in a somewhat futuristic-feeling way, due to the electronic soundscape and the heavy vocal processing. And in some way, it also feels like the most formless and abstract of the bunch.

kick iiii ambient approach is contrasted with something even more understated in kiCK iiiii, which breaks free from the pop framework of all previous albums into something purely ambient. And surprisingly, it doesn't sound more formless than kick iiii as a result. What it is, is that it is the most minimal of the bunch. A lot of the ambient textures seem informed by modern classical music, especially the keys, so the soundscape generated, when mixed with the usual electronic ones, creates a pretty beautiful and melancholic experience.

So, other than the baffling capitalization and numeration in the titles, these four albums are a pretty big power move and artistic statement.

Apple Music | Spotify
Apple Music | Spotify
Apple Music | Spotify
Apple Music | Spotify




And that was it. You've made it through still alive. Congrats. See ya next month. Here's a Spotify playlist we compiled out of stuff featured here:







Comments

Comments: 12   Visited by: 102 users
12.12.2021 - 17:14
Bad English
Tage Westerlund
No jingle bells, it's food Xmas time. Some are cool, some are not, but Abba is to big name, it should be last in the list.
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Life is to short for LOVE, there is many great things to do online !!!

Stormtroopers of Death - ''Speak English or Die''

I better die, because I never will learn speek english, so I choose dieing
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12.12.2021 - 21:14
ScreamingSteelUS
Editor-in-Chief
There are so many collaborations in this one. it's ridiculous. I quite liked the first album that Robert Plant and Alison Krauss did together; the write-up tempers my expectations, but I'm sure I'll still enjoy it.

Most importantly, I've now fulfilled my obligation to review an ABBA album.
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"Earth is small and I hate it" - Lum Invader

I'm the Agent of Steel.
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13.12.2021 - 06:00
Lord Slothrop

I really liked Adele's last two albums (her first one I couldn't get into), and I've given the new one a listen but it didn't grab me. I need to give it some more time, but I struggled to get through it. Maybe I just wasn't in the mood.

And I forgot Idles put a new one out. Recently got into that band and love them. I'm off to buy it right... now.
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13.12.2021 - 19:20
Nejde
Green Devil
I prefer old ABBA so my picks this month is Hollywood Burns and Adele. It doesn't matter that 30 is weaker than both 21 and 25 because her voice is so beautiful and emotional. She's in a league of her own.
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"When you are dead, you do not know you are dead. It's only painful for others. The same applies when you are stupid." - Ricky Gervais
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14.12.2021 - 18:33
Blackcrowe

Great Job, I love this section
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Six stars of the northern cross In mourning for their sister's loss In a final flash of glory, Nevermore to grace the night….
Neil Peart
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27.12.2021 - 11:17
Milena
gloom cookie
"Despite the fact that I obliquely paid tribute to ABBA in Part I of my power metal series, I don’t actually listen to ABBA; I find them at best a listenable backdrop of blithe dance music and at worst a forgettable backdrop of blithe dance music."
I'm not even an ABBA superfan but you should probably rectify this! They are literally as big of an influence on power metal as Iron Maiden. They should have been first on the list in the power metal article
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7.0 means the album is good
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27.12.2021 - 15:00
AndyMetalFreak
The Nice Guy
I'm not doubting that ABBA had some kind of influence on power metal, although I struggle to believe it, proberbly because I despise them that much that I truly don't want to believe it, but I have always thought of Queen and Rainbow as being the main influences, and Deep Purple to some extent.
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30.12.2021 - 23:56
KindaKinks

Really enjoying this section. Listening to Agusa as I type, a great recommendation.
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01.01.2022 - 07:20
Linak
I Own You Bitch
I don't know how I ended up here but here I am, and I'm glad I did too cause I've been listening to Idles CRAWLER for days on end and I needed confirmation that this is beyooond good I can't even.
Thanks for writing this, i didn't read the whole post though cause I'm pressed for time but I'll give it a read later.
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Stick this up your fucking pee-aitch-dee.
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01.01.2022 - 18:46
musclassia

The songs from the Lindy-Fay Hella album in the playlist are both really nice, will have to give that a whole listen. I liked the instrumentation on Henki, but the vocals got in the way of me enjoying it more.
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01.01.2022 - 18:55
Bad English
Tage Westerlund
Written by musclassia on 01.01.2022 at 18:46

The songs from the Lindy-Fay Hella album in the playlist are both really nice, will have to give that a whole listen. I liked the instrumentation on Henki, but the vocals got in the way of me enjoying it more.

I like those, feels like home, classic scandinavian winter fire wood fairy tail from a childhood
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Life is to short for LOVE, there is many great things to do online !!!

Stormtroopers of Death - ''Speak English or Die''

I better die, because I never will learn speek english, so I choose dieing
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03.01.2022 - 10:08
RaduP
CertifiedHipster
Written by musclassia on 01.01.2022 at 18:46

I liked the instrumentation on Henki, but the vocals got in the way of me enjoying it more.

You wouldn't last an entire week in the 70s.
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Do you think if the heart keeps on shrinking
One day there will be no heart at all?
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