The Best Albums I Discovered Not From 2018. Part Two.
Ambleside — Shape Me (2016)
Shape Me sounds like a record recorded somewhere between 2010–2013 when Pianos Become the Teeth were still screaming and Touche Amore was still dropping new tunes, and La Dispute was somewhere between the good songs they wrote for EPs and then the disappointing ones they wrote for “Darling!”. There are shouted/screamed/sung choruses that are rooted in the hardcore scene, but like their aforementioned contemporaries, the guitars float in more uplifting scales never really built around raging adrenaline but more upbeat and artistic design. There are some cool moments that feel massive with a take somewhere along the lines of an early Circa Survive, dipping their toes into more of an energetic dreamscape. I love the way that the Australian accent comes out so thickly, especially on Dear Mother. There are some super cool tracks on here and the EP kicks off wildly. They dropped a new track a couple of months ago this year and I’m stoked to see more from them. I’m assuming we’ll see a new one from them in 2019!
Check Out: Wash Away
Racquet Club — Racquet Club (2017)
Saw these guys open up for The Get Up Kids this past summer. Upon them opening couldn’t really get a feeling for their sound, but there was a guy in front of me who was really belting the lyrics out and getting deeply into their songs. I got more engaged once I noticed that. It’s amazing how the live experience can really jumpstart a band’s vision. I left there knowing that their songs were strongly emotional tunes, that the singer had deep connections to their lyrics. When I left the venue, I walked back to the car listening to their record, and I ultimately didn’t get as invested as I did with the live performance. I was hoping it wasn’t going to be another dredg el cielo type of experience. But the more I heard their songs and layered the front man’s emotive singing, it started to click for me. I did some research beyond that and found that these guys are made up of dudes from Knapsack and The Jealous Sound which is a hell of a pedigree. Their songs sound a bit like a tamer Hey Mercedes, with a lot further introspection. Great album that sinks in slowly and deeply. The line “suffering is suffering” is such a killer. It comes from the “check out” track Head Full of Bees. So great. The album has gotten better over time the more I dig into the lyrics, something I don’t often (read: ever) do.
Check Out: Head Full of Bees
Drab Majesty — The Demonstration (2017)
This record sounds straight out of a different era. There are some brilliant new wave/”dream pop” tracks here, but their twitter bio tells the straight tale by dubbing themselves “tragic wave”. Such a good genrefication. The tunes are synth heavy and slowly roll out the sadness like a deep violet smoke machine. If you want to dance and be sad, this is that jam. Sway your shoulders, twist your hips slowly and stare at the ground. I know Cold Cave is another band worth checking out that has taken on this icy visage, a trek back into the grainy music video days of the 1980s alongside Depeche Mode and Duran Duran, full blown sadboys expressing themselves through slowed down, beautiful pop tracks. This record even has some cassette level warbling and warping to match the retro experience. Overall just a fantastic slow and sad record.
Check Out: Dot In the Sky
Wayne Shorter — Native Dancer (1975)
So this year while reading the Southern Reach Trilogy, I would sit outside in my backyard porch area and listen to a jazz playlist and get a little distanced from everything. But of course, I’m easily distracted, especially by particularly good music and for whatever reason, a track on this Wayne Shorter record came up and really caught my attention. I’m a little myopic and typical when it comes to jazz music, listening mostly to the well known guys. Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Thelonious Monk, Kamasi Washington. It’s tough to dig into new genres you know nothing about, especially in a genre as widespread and daunting as jazz music. This record has a little latin influence to it, but again, who knows if this is just the way this guy’s discography has always sounded. I have to put way more time in the lab to get a sense of where this sits in Shorter’s deck. But I found this to be a nice blend of nice lean back copasetic jazz (“Tarde”) but also in ways reminded me of some more uptempo rock, almost reminding me of Anathallo in the song “Ponta de Areia”. Some of it can sound a little samey and backgroundy, which I think is something that I have to personally hone in a little bit on while trying to experience this non-active genre a bit more, but giving attention to the saxophone on certain moments, knowing that most of these bits were ad-libbed and written thematically and not necessarily note for note is something beautiful and I’m able to appreciate far more once I allow myself into its headspace instead of the other way around.
Check Out: Ponte de Areia
This Will Destroy You — Tunnel Blanket (2011)
I picked up a used copy of this record up at my local shop this year. I’ve been a fan of TWDY for a long time, starting with Young Mountain and then bouncing around all of their albums since, loving their style and incredible ability to create god sized scale. Listening to this record was a beautiful surprise, as it could simply be the matter in which I came upon the record, but just how great the sparse to acidic tracks were. For a track like “Glass Realms”, a haunted and pristine work of clarity to exist directly after a track like “Little Smoke”, a track that builds into an abrasive act of possession shows the breadth that this band is able to embody. This record isn’t one to actively listen to, one that I recommend you put on next time you hop in the car. This one has done me well in pitch black rooms, in moments when I’ve needed to have my mind completely defragged and reformatted. This provides a simple center in the universe to breathe into and out of, one that cries out the brilliance of the title of this record.
Check Out: Reprise
Nine Inch Nails — The Fragile (1999)
I was far too caught up in my bullshit to really get into this when it came out, and even when friends of mine who love NIN tried to get me on board with it. I remember coming to terms with it and deciding I was going to take a deep dive and it ended up not sinking in so I gave up for years. I liked Downward Spiral, I liked Broken. I liked Pretty Hate Machine. But all of these records, I realize I’d only ever gotten into them in the most surface, Bro’d out ways that one can possibly like these records. I liked the aggression of them, the filth. I liked the image of them. I never got into the nuance that was there in every track, in every layer. I’ve had to revisit a lot of artists and albums again since I’ve had a lot of years and awakenings under my belt. This record was one of the most benefited from the new ears that I have strapped on, finally helping me devour every single production and song writing choice that made its way onto this record. Those strange, oceanic swelling guitars and then plunging plucks in “The Wretched”, I used to sort of wonder why they just wouldn’t let the sound explode into angry torrents. I think that’s the main thing that stands out here for me. Not necessarily the songs themselves as they stand individually like windows on a home, but moreso the choices on each of these tracks as they stand like composition in a film. There is so much more going on here than a guy writing a bunch of tracks to give to a label to release. This feels like an installation. There’s a sense of post-rock expanse at work, but with a far more busy and populated density. There are a couple of different ways to listen to this record, and I’m not overly sure that all of the songs necessarily “fit” every mindset. You can find genius in the various shifts, almost the way moods and behaviors change with the phases of the moon.
Check Out: Even Deeper
Axis — Show Your Greed (2015)
Direct and straight forward metalcore. This sounds like it was heavily inspired by peak Poison the Well records. There are more punishing breakdowns and a bit less in terms of artful display, but they are no less vicious. I remember the night that I discovered this album, I was doing a late night shift at the store, staying after hours to move some such thing or rearrange some section or what not, and as song after song blew me away, I had to stop and hit up the usual suspect with copied Spotfiy links immediately. I barely had words to describe something so exact. It was like uncovering a perfect diamond and wanting to sit back and marvel at its perfection. It wasn’t new, it wasn’t changing the way I approached this style in any way, but it was doing this genre a service by being part of it. Perfect mosh parts, beautiful and punishing breakdowns. This never feels like they’re reaching to be noticed or to stand out from the crowd for anything other than their prowess within the hardcore genre. Absolutely love this record. So many amazing songs, hard to pick one to recommend.
Check Out: Burn (Eradicate)
Outkast — ATLiens (1996)
It’s tough to really appreciate hip hop from the proper standpoint. For me, lyrics never sink in. I hear people speaking, I hear people singing, I hear people rapping and I just don’t have those words build up into emotions or stories. One of the main pillars of this genre is, in fact, the lyricism of the artist in question. But also, overall, there’s something about this music that flows together to create a bigger picture for the music that we’re hearing. Production that sets a specific mood or tone, flow that melds with that atmosphere. It almost gets me in the same kind of trance as listening to chanting. I can still digest the music without having to listen to the words that they’re saying as if I’m listening to an audiobook. This record has so many unique aspects to it, like the way it incorporates psychedelia in its production style, how it doesn’t lean on beats and harvests the strength of practical instrumentation to accentuate their off kilter style. I think when you listen to and love hip-hop in this particular style, I can easily see how when you hear where the game has gone and look at it with negativity. It feels like a completely different style, a whole different thought process. It almost feels like rap/hip-hop is in its nu-metal phase and you just have to see it through. It all seems to be so self-referential, not making any impact in designs or styles around it, competing with itself while still sounding explicitly exactly like itself and nothing else. When you go back to hear a record like this, you can see what a massive influence it has on the game around it as well as the careers of the artists who created it.
Check Out: Wailin’
Blis — No One Loves You (2017)
There’s something hidden within this band’s style that I can’t quite place. There’s a beautiful heaviness to the style, the way the guitars crunch and the drums smack have a distorted and acid washed quality to it. Behind all of the surface distress, there’s an angelic vision, most clearly shown on something like ‘Servant’ but also throughout the record as well. The vocal range is something that loosens up expectations and allows many of the band’s twists and turns to continuously surprise. The vocalist has such a unique sound as well, its higher pitch being used for a prettier singing style in many of the songs, but also sounds incredible being scraped and grated in some of the more aggressive moments. The songs aren’t very densely packed and often breathe freely with ethereal shooting star guitar flourishes that pop in the slumbering moments between chunky deeper dives. There are certain times here that I feel like there’s an older Sparta vibe to these guys as well, namely in ‘Chrisitan Girls’.
Check Out: Ugly
King Geedorah — Take Me To Your Leader (2003)
This record is wild. Truly a throwback hip hop bar of gold, MF DOOM is legitimately making an album entirely conceptualized about and/or inspired by a villain from Godzilla. There are lots of other MCs on this recording so it doesn’t feel entirely like a Doom record, but I believe he produced the entire piece under yet another moniker, Metal Fingered Villain. There’s some weird shit on there, like ‘Krazy World’ which feels a bit too underground of a flow to me, but even still the beat is flawless. I can’t quantify ‘coolness’, but this record represents a lightness that music should strive for. It has ego only as far as a pride of being chosen to appear on it. It feels like a dope comic book you’ve found while digging through a used book store. You need no scale, no scope, no reference point. This is just a chill record. I’m a bonafide rookie, total neophyte when it comes to hip-hop, and I feel just based on culture and the broad library I’d have to dig through to get to my next level, I’ll always feel like I’m ages behind where I have to be to truly be able to break down these records to a degree I’d feel comfortable with. But suffice to say, this is an album I want to own in as many formats as I can, a collection of tracks that echoes deep into legend.
Check Out: Monster Zero