(Our old friend Leperkahn finally gets around to doing something he forecast he would do in early February, with a selection of music that includes not-metal as well as metal.)
I mentioned at the end of my overlong 2015 EOTY list about a month ago that there would be an addendum to said list.
Since the end of September of last year, I’ve been an intern at Thrill Jockey Records, assembling and packing all of your beloved records, among other things (if you’re looking to steal my fingerprints so as to implicate me in a crime later in life, now’s probably gonna be your best opportunity). The job has introduced me to a ton of new music, some of it of the metallic variety, some not, though I would contend that the non-metallic stuff that’s appealed to me might appeal to some of you, as open-minded music listeners who come from a primarily metal background, such as myself.
In a move of unprecedented cronyism and self-promotion, I’m going to use this post to take you through a tour of some recent TJ output, some of it metal, some not. Admittedly, this isn’t a perfect addendum to a 2015 best-of list, since some of what’s featured came out in the first few months of this year, and some came out before 2015. But truly, good music need not consider age; so let’s get on with it.
We’ll start with the timeliest band on this list, since these dudes just released a phenomenal record on Friday. Many of you have probably heard of The Body, since they have a storied and extensive discography that stretches back twelve years, and collaborations with pretty much everyone at this point. They’ve been on Thrill Jockey since Christs, Redeemers, and released their collaborations with Thou on TJ as well (those collaborations introduced me to both The Body and the label, as a longtime Thou fan), yet their new solo album is entitled No One Deserves Happiness, a fitting title if you’re familiar with The Body’s band of bleak, nihilistic, noisy doominess.
However, the band has been describing this oeuvre as “the grossest pop album of all time”, and there’s certainly a lot of truth to that. This record, to my ears, is massively different from anything else they’ve done, while still sounding unmistakably like the band. As heavy as it is, it’s also massively catchy, and almost has a strange darkwave thing to it; my mom was a huge fan of The Smiths and The Cure back in the day, and there are pieces of this record she could really get into.
Among my favorite parts has to be the opening one-two punch of “Wanderings” and “Shelter Is Illusory”: The former opens with the haunting, soulfully sung vocals of Chrissy Wolpert (of the Assembly of Light choir; she and Maralie Armstrong make frequent appearances across the album, and knock it out of the park every time), repeating “go it alone” for almost the entirety of the track as it builds up to, and then recedes from, a fuzzed-out climax; while the latter flows perfectly from the last beat of its predecessor, and feels like the dance track that must be played in whatever circle of Hell contains Bakersfield’s grimiest nightclub.
Like The Body, Wrekmeister Harmonies have been featured a bit around these parts. The project is the work of Portland-via-Chicago musician J.R. Robinson, who normally enlists a wide range of collaborators in manifesting his sprawling visions. He’s put out three releases on Thrill Jockey, most recently Night of Your Ascension, which came out in November of last year. It features two tracks, one 32 minutes long, the other 17 minutes long (the band’s other two releases have both been one-track albums, of 38 and 34 minutes in length, respectively).
Understandably, WH’s releases develop gradually – there’s nothing terribly metallic about NOYA’s opening title track until about 15 minutes in. The album comes out as a mix between somber violin, choral arrangements, and evocative, almost post metal-y doom, with guests such as Dylan O’Toole of Indian and Lord Mantis, Lee Buford and Chip King of The Body, Bruce Lamont of Yakuza, and Sanford Parker making appearances over the course of the two tracks.
WH is currently on the second of two announced tours with Bell Witch, and that band’s harrowing funeral doom is a great complement to the kind of thing that J.R. is doing in Wrekmeister Harmonies. Night of Your Ascension was criminally overlooked last year in my opinion; don’t starve yourself of this any longer.
Of all the bands I’m going to cover in this little piece, this one’s level of coverage here surprises me the most. I remember seeing them on some year-end lists a few years back -– Alain Mower’s and D.S. Grover’s -– and I’ve mentioned them here once before, but beyond that they’ve gotten surprisingly little coverage.
I’d generally consider their fare to be stoner thrash – they have the guitar tone of the former, and generally can go into Oranssi Pazuzu-like jams when they have the inclination – yet they certainly have some quick, fast bangers that take just as much inspiration from the latter term as from the former.
As of yet they’ve released two albums – Retrash and 2014’s Earth Suck – and a split with Black Pus, though the band plan to release a new album sometime later this year (they played a good portion of their new material a couple weeks back at drummer Kyle Reynolds’ farewell show, and it sounds KILLER). Though I highly recommend going through both of their albums, those strapped for time should try the opening track of Retrash, “Everyone I Hate Should Be Killed”, as well as “Call Your Guy” and “Going Through The Motions Til I Die”, and the title track from Earth Suck. As far as I know they’re still looking for a drummer, too, if you’re a Chicago-area skinsman with the chops and temperament for the gig.
While Golden Void may not necessarily be a household name in these parts, I’d venture to guess that the San Diego instrumental psychedelic rock trio Earthless is. Golden Void features guitarist Isaiah Mitchell of the aforementioned Earthless, who also contributes vocals (Fun fact: he’s actually from almost the same part of San Diego that I am. Our alma maters are in the same school district, though I’m pretty sure my school didn’t exist when he graduated).
Golden Void isn’t terribly different from Earthless – Mitchell’s singular soloing still comes out from time to time – but the presence of vocals and more traditional song structures help to draw a noticeable distinction. Mitchell and the rest of the band – Aaron Morgan on bass, Justin Pinkerton on drums, and Mitchell’s wife Camilla Saufly-Mitchell on keyboards and vocals – write some truly undeniable hooks that bring you immediately into a sun-baked ‘70s haze. With summer approaching, you’re going to need a new summer windows-down driving album – I submit Golden Void and Berkana for your consideration.
SUMAC / HELEN MONEY
I throw in these two briefly and together, since both just signed to Thrill Jockey to release new records. Sumac, for those unaware, consists of Aaron Turner of Isis/Old Man Gloom/Mamiffer, Nick Yacyshyn of Baptists, and Brian Cook of Russian Circles/Botch/These Arms Are Snakes. Their 2015 debut The Deal came out on Profound Lore Records, and made my personal list for the best 2015 had to offer. I’ve been lucky enough to hear the whole new record (What One Becomes) in full once in the office, and I must say it might be even better than the debut. There’s a trailer/track available for the new record now, as well as a new song (“Rigid Man”) that debuted yesterday; trust me when I say this will be one of 2016’s best records.
Helen Money also released her most recent record on Profound Lore, yet has made the move to Thrill Jockey for her as-yet-untitled record due out in the fall. I’ve not yet heard any of this myself, but I will say that it’s likely to be just as good or better than Arriving Angels was. She’s currently on tour with Magma – get dates below.
THE SOFT PINK TRUTH
The next few artists we’ll call “metal-adjacent” – while certainly not metal per se, they have a close enough relation to it that it feels right to cover them here.
We start with an album you may have heard tell of, and gotten angry at, a little while back – a collection of black metal dance covers by The Soft Pink Truth, the solo project of Drew Daniel of Matmos. At this point, you’ve either started listening out of curiousity, or gotten mad enough at me to either leave this tab or leave me an angry comment, so I’ll just use the rest of this space to say that Matmos have also just released a one-track concept album entitled Ultimate Care II that was made using sounds from their Whirlpool washing machine of the same name. If you can get behind experimental electronic music, this is an interesting listen – and fascinating to watch, if you get to see the Whirlpool in action as I did just about a week ago.
I would imagine most regular visitors to the site would have at least a passing familiarity with Scheidt’s work in YOB as guitarist/vocalist, and in Vhöl as vocalist. Scheidt has also done some acoustic solo work in the vein of Townes Van Zandt, however (surprising probably no one), and released his first solo album of such work (Stay Awake) on TJ back in 2012. If you’re a fan of the aforementioned Van Zandt, or albums in a similar vein from Scott Kelly and Steve Von Till, I’d definitely recommend this one for a nice, calming detour and decompression from the constant barrage of metallic walls of sound.
While this duo probably isn’t metal, I can pretty easily see their newest offering and first for Thrill Jockey, 2015’s Fantasy Empire, appealing to this crowd. They come from the basements of Providence, Rhode Island, and still continue to play in about as DIY a fashion as they can manage (when I saw them play at Thalia Hall, a decently large concert hall here in Chicago, last weekend, they insisted on playing in a corner on the floor next to the stage). They consist of two Brians – Gibson on bass, and Chippendale on drums, with the former straddling the line between guitar and bass as many two-pieces of this kind do, and the latter backing the head-spinning riffs with a groundswell of monolithic power.
Their music taps into a primal sort of manic sludginess that reminds me of times of Black Cobra, though the vocals of Brian Chippendale, when present, sit much further back in the mix. It must also be said that Chippendale might be one of the most impressive drummers I’ve ever heard, seamlessly blending extreme speed and silky fluidity in a manner achieved by skinsmen such as Brann Dailor and Nick Yacyshyn (to name but a few that are likely to be familiar). I found myself unable to believe what I was seeing and hearing as he blazed through jazzy tempos at a grindcore pace in that corner of Thalia Hall’s floor.
That’s not to say Brian Gibson doesn’t also drop jaws – his riffs, despite often being off-kilter, manage to put one into a trance, at least until that trance is broken by the kind of lick that calls for seismically-registering mosh pits. While I encourage you to check out Fantasy Empire, or at least the acid trip of a music video that is “The Metal East”, I implore you to check out a show of theirs if you ever get the chance, though you’ll probably want a stretcher handy if you’re lucky enough to catch them.
We now move into the decidedly non-metal portion of this little piece. However, I like to think that we have an open-minded crowd here, and these next three artists certainly converted this staunch metalhead, so I’m sure I should have some success.
Tortoise has been a mainstay of the Chicago music scene for over 25 years, yet this TJ gig was my personal introduction to the band. The Catastrophist, the band’s first album in seven years, was released back around the end of January. It was conceived initially on the back of a commission the band received from the City of Chicago to honor the city’s jazz and improvisational music scenes. “Improvisational” might be one of the few definitive tags I can put on Tortoise, as the members seem to ooze out their compositions in the moment, with ideas flowing smoothly into each other.
Upon catching them live without much background or context, I was massively impressed to see them shuffling and trading around instruments throughout the set, with three of the five members playing drums at different times (and in one instance, two at once), and guitar, bass, and synthesizer duties passing around to nearly every member. It should also be mentioned that the group is almost entirely instrumental, with the two instances of vocals on this album being the first in the band’s history – Todd Rittmann of U.S. Maple sings on the band’s cover of David Essex’s “Rock On”, and Georgia Hubley of Yo La Tengo sings on the original composition “Yonder Blue”.
I won’t waste any more words trying to explain their rather indescribable musical concoctions – dive in with a patient mind and see where they take you. It should also be mentioned that the band’s previous six albums have all been re-pressed in conjunction with this new release, and are available for any who wish to procure them.
Glenn Jones specializes in American Primitive Guitar, a style that immediately transports my mind to a wooded cabin tucked deep into a cavernous forest somewhere between Maine and the Appalachians. His compositions evoke a sense of undisturbed wildlife, and of a cup of coffee enjoyed on the porch on a misty Sunday morning. There’s a sense of peacefulness and calmness that comes with his instrumental fare. The album was apparently recorded in a house on the banks of the Rancocas Creek in Mount Holly, New Jersey, with no attempts made to soundproof the house from the natural sounds that surrounded it.
Based on the outpouring of support I’ve seen for albums such as the Dorthia Cottrell solo effort here, I know that many NCS readers tend to reach for this very bare-bones style of acoustic, country-like guitar playing when seeking a brief reprieve from the onslaught of brutality and blast beats that is extreme metal. Fleeting, Glenn Jones’ most recent offering, just came out on Friday – be sure to dive into it, and if you like what you’re hearing, be sure to check out The Wanting and My Garden State as well (both were re-pressed in conjunction with the release of Fleeting).
CIRCUIT DES YEUX
Circuit Des Yeux is the brainchild of Chicago musician Haley Fohr. The first thing to make its mark on you in her music will likely be her powerful, deep voice (I hesitate to call it a baritone, only because I’m completely uneducated as to the delineations between different vocal ranges). The music around it, played by various members of the Chicago music scene, including a few members of the psychedelic outfit Bitchin Bajas, serves to entrance listeners, leaving them enthralled by Fohr’s commanding vocal presence and impressive range. There are times when her voice seems somewhat operatic (though not in the sense of a soprano, as that term may normally convey), and times when it’s imbued with the kind of soulful passion that bores deep down into your very core. Her set at Chicago’s Levitation fest this past weekend had me fending off goosebumps for all 40 minutes or so that she and her backing band played.
Get in on the ground floor with In Plain Speech, her criminally underappreciated album that came out last year; word has it that Fohr will reappear with new music sometime very soon. The final video in this collection came from her release show at Rockefeller Chapel on the campus of my higher learning institution, The University of Chicago; I’m still kicking myself for not getting into CDY soon enough to check this show out.