As I settle down to write about the albums I enjoyed this month, I need to be honest: I’m a little nervous.
Allow me to explain.
I’m not very familiar with the heavy/hardcore/metal scene. It wasn’t until recently that I’ve started getting into this world, and since I’m so new the genre, it’s hard for me to talk intelligently about it. There are so many branches off the “heavy music” tree, and I can barely tell a difference between most. I think metal and hardcore are two different things, but I’ve never been able to get a straight answer on what that difference is. One blog assured me the main thing is that you’re more likely to get beat up at a hardcore show, but that seems like an awful steep price to pay just to figure out how to classify a band.
In addition to the heavy music tree’s overwhelming number of branches, it seems like the Genre Police are most active in this corner of the music world. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen a comment online where someone refers to a band as “post-hardcore,” only to receive a reply along the lines of “OMG THEY’RE POST-APOCALYPTIC-FUSION-FUNK-MATH-APPLE-CORE YOU PHILISTINE!!!”
So now, when I tell you I have three albums to write about today that prominently feature screaming, shouting, and vocalists generally not using their inside voices, maybe you can understand why I’m a little nervous.
TL;DR: Please be patient with me today, fans of metal/hardcore/djentronica. I will need it.
Attalus – Into the Sea
This is a massive album. At sixteen songs long, and with only one clocking in at under three minutes, it takes a decent amount of time to get through. Attalus’s Facedown Records debut, however, is totally worth the time. A blend of hardcore, modern rock, and spoken word poetry, Into the Sea is a rich, varied listen. The project is a concept album, telling the story of a man coming to Christ through the use of sea and sailing metaphors. What’s especially impressive to me is how well the band integrates piano into their work. Even as the songs hit their heaviest strides, the piano is still audible over the chaos. It adds to the song instead of simply making it noisy.
Buy Into the Sea on iTunes here
mewithoutYou – Pale Horses
mewithoutYou is the type of band that makes me wish I was better at analyzing poetry. And more well-read. And just smarter in general. Over the years, frontman Aaron Weiss has made a name for himself as a thought-provoking, complex lyricist. Drawing on imagery from Christianity, Middle Eastern folklore, and a variety of other sources that I can’t even identify, Weiss writes simultaneously raw and whimsical meditations on doubt, sexuality, and social issues, all through a spiritual lense. He avoids easy answers and open-and-shut debates, which means I end up disagreeing with him here and there. To be honest, though, it’s refreshing to disagree with an artist who comes from a Christian background. It’s great to have guys who take all the “high-percentage shots” with their lyrics, but I appreciate the way mewithoutYou always makes me think and reevaluate the way I approach my faith.
Sound-wise, this album is classic mewithoutYou. There’s the just-a-step-off-center indie folk instrumentation, the chaotic layers of distorted guitars, the shouted poetry, and of course a healthy dose of Weiss’s unique singing voice. As a whole, this feels like a blend of each of the band’s earlier albums. This is truly a difficult project to describe. Just listen to the song below and glory in its awesomeness.
Buy Pale Horses on iTunes here
Son Lux – Bones
As I understand it, this is the first album from Son Lux that features a full band instead of the work of a single man. Son Lux has been the project of Ryan Lott since 2008, and if I was more familiar with his previous work, I could tell you what kind of difference the full-band approach has made. I’ll probably end up digging into the Son Lux back catalog after listening to Bones roughly a bazillion times back to back, though. The easiest thing to compare this album to is OK Computer/Kid A-era Radiohead, because this is electronic-based music with a composer who has a strong sense of melody, but who doesn’t always go for the easily digestible vocal lines. Lott’s voice works really well with the music, dripping with passion in every note in perfect contrast to the sparse, electronic instrumentation.
This is not a wordy album. Most of the songs feature only a few sentences of lyrics repeated over and over. The effect is that the listener is invited to find himself inside each song and find a meaning of his own. Of course, as a Christian, when I hear haunting lines like You drink your wine from my heart / You don’t know me at all / I see you down on your knees / You don’t know me at all, it’s hard not to think of Jesus’ warning in Matthew 7.
Buy Bones on iTunes here
The Ongoing Concept – Handmade
One of the most memorable compliments I’ve received was from my high school art teacher. After I turned in a self-portrait in which I had yellow eyes, green hair, and hot pink skin, she informed me that I was “delightfully off-beat.” I’m going to assume that was a compliment and not just secret teacher code for “I wish you would take this class more seriously.” Anyway, “delightfully off-beat” is quite possibly the best way to describe The Ongoing Concept. Their 2013 release Saloon was a weirdly compelling blend of bluegrass and hardcore, and is also one of the first heavy albums I genuinely enjoyed. Their new album Handmade is similar in places, with its throat-rending screams, passionate clean vocals, and heavy guitars, but the band has evolved in their sound. They’ve traded out the banjos and honky-tonk pianos of Saloon for horns, synthesizers, and blazing southern rock guitar riffs. It’s weird, it’s noisy, and it works ridiculously well.
If that wasn’t enough, the band built the instruments used on this album from scratch. Like, chopped-down-the-tree-and-everything, from scratch.
Buy Handmade on iTunes here
Songs of Water – Stars and Dust
When one uber-hip worship leader posts on Facebook about a band you’ve never heard of, you can chalk it up to someone doing a favor for a friend. When two uber-hip worship leaders post about this band, it’s about time you paid attention. That’s exactly what I did after seeing posts from Jonathan David Helser and John Mark McMillan about Songs of Water. Stars and Dust is a lush, ethereal indie folk album that took three years to record. All that work really shows on the project. Airy vocals, a wide variety of interesting instruments and textures, and beautiful, imagery-laden lyrics make this an album you want to sit down with and digest in a quiet room with a pair of nice headphones.
Buy Stars and Dust on iTunes here
And that’s all I’ve got for you this month. What were your favorite albums? Remember you can find more artists and songs I’ve been enjoying in this year’s Spotify playlist.