By Alan Ke
This week’s album reviews span everything from tranquil space ambient to crushing doom metal. Last week, we featured a review of Valium Aggelein’s Black Moon, a precursor to the slowcore legends Duster. This time around, we have the brand new album from Helvetia, which is one of the member’s solo projects. This past week was also the passing of the monumental bassist Vern Rumsey of Unwound fame. In his memory, we’ve included a review of their album The Future of What, for a band that made music that defied all labels and trends. Lastly, huge thanks to our beloved DJ Taylor (who you can hear on his weekly metal hellfest, Touch of Evil, Fridays 10pm-midnight PST) for contributing the reviews for Dasher and Overlake.
36 & zakè – Stasis Sounds For Long-Distance Space Travel
Stasis Sounds For Long-Distance Space Travel is likely one of the most aptly titled ambient albums I’ve ever come across. It’s subtle, never overpowering, and perfectly suited for long meditative listens. There’s ample space in these drones, and rarely do they overstay their welcome. The ambience is entirely calm and always soothing, making for something you can easily zone out to or gaze intently into. The experience you get from it is entirely dictated by how you approach it. Like waves by the beach, you can either plant your feet into the ground and let these songs wash over you, or you can lie down and let them carry you away into their open arms. The drones sound quite like Celer but more prominently attuned to melody rather than empty space and field recordings.
Cloud Nothings – The Black Hole Understands
Though they’re not exactly the most spectacular band out there, Cloud Nothings will always hold a special place in my heart. Their Beijing show was the first gig I worked backstage at, and one where I met a bunch of good friends at. Back then, they were just beginning to dip their toes into a poppier sound with Life Without Sound. They were the perfect band for college nerds and rowdy high school kids to bond over. Now, with The Black Hole Understands, they’ve come to fully embrace that side of the band.
The way these songs are paced, they’re all fairly upbeat and steady on their own. I can imagine holding onto a couple of these songs, especially the more upbeat ones to match the heartbeat of life in some urban setting. Beyond that, Cloud Nothings repeat their missteps on Life Without Sound just with less memorability and more cleanness. There’s no trace of their former punk leanings here, instead everything’s been replaced with a spotless, melodic shine. Cloud Nothings used to sound like they practiced and performed in ratty basements – and that was their draw. Here, they’ve grown up and not necessarily for the better.
Dasher – Sodium
This raucous mixture of post-punk chaos and bashing industrial ambiance won’t appeal to everybody, but those with a soft spot for hard rock will find a whole lot of great ideas here. Chief architect Kylee Kimbrough may prefer dark soundscapes that make Chelsea Wolfe’s sound cheery by comparison, but she does not share Wolfe’s fondness for angelic vocals—the passages here are barked and screamed and howled, which fits perfectly given that the soundscapes themselves frequently evoke a jackhammer going to work on your temples. I mean that in the best way possible, of course. Musically, most of Dasher’s material will remind modern listeners of Idles et all (which more accurately means that they sound like The Jesus Lizard), but Kimbrough is clearly more intent on being aggressive than clever, and when she careens into pure punk territory, the results are as ferocious as the strongest Stooges cuts. “Go Rambo” hints at an appealing Yeah Yeah Yeahs-style tunefulness, but it’s just an appealing anomaly. Dasher’s assault is otherwise relentless. Not to mention impressive and exciting when everything coalesces, which happens more often than not on this record.
Helvetia – This Devastating Map
While it’s easy to hear elements of Duster seeping through on this album, it’s also an entity that seems to abide to no rules but its own. The album’s laidback feel and lo-fi but warm-sounding guitars can no doubt be traced back to Jason Albertini’s slowcore roots, Helvetia feels different. The odd ways in which these songs are shaped and the unexpected, amusing turns they each take make for a release that sounds like it could’ve been recorded twenty years ago for some offshoot Elephant 6 project.
Helvetia doesn’t try and replicate some trite slowcore songs with their sound, but take it into a weird, exploratory direction full of optimism and whimsy. Many of the songs are built off of innocuous, fun riffs and taking an idea and toying with it briefly. This doesn’t stymie creativity for the group, however. They end up with a melange of material, served in bite-sized samples. These songs don’t necessarily feel unfinished, but instead end up feeling marred by untapped potential. The most satisfying moments are when Helvetia take their time to fully flesh out an idea like on the warbly “Inverted.” They don’t even need to be particularly long, as “Reaktor” and “Love Me” prove that they can still craft an endearing product under the two-minute mark. Pleasant, but nowhere near groundbreaking.
Komuso – Luck Will Be On Your Side This Week
Komuso’s debut EP was full of sharp, quick-witted screamo tunes that were immediate and didn’t mope around whatsoever. This EP from them is quite the change of pace, exploring the more patient side of their sound, leaning heavily into post-hardcore influences. The first two tracks feel like they’re searching for a place to settle, not agitated but not at ease either. The only song with proper screaming on it is the last, “Extension.” Even then, it is used more as a tool for emphasis than to express urgency. Its emphasis on noisy, discordant chords evokes a bit of Drive Like Jehu at times and Envy at others. If you’re just looking for a quick shot of heaviness, Komuso does the job just fine.
Overlake – Fall
I am so happy this record is in the library. Overlake isn’t out to reinvent indie rock, but they picked only the choicest ingredients for their recipe: a dash of Yo La Tengo, mix well with Starflyer 59, then add a pinch of Built To Spill. The male/female harmonies on the choruses are sublime, but what really makes this band special is the frequently stunning guitar playing, which infuses every track with moments of transcendent sorcery that demand repeated listens to soak in the bounty of textured riffs. Way more people need to hear this band, immediately—you mind helping me out with that?
Unwound – The Future of What
There’s no doubt that Unwound were one of the premier post-hardcore groups in the genre’s history. Unwound’s early hits Fake Train and New Plastic Ideas set the blueprint for their sound, whereas The Future of What was their first turn in a more experimental approach that would later come to full bloom on their boldest musical statements. Here, Unwound bind their sensibilities for loudness and energy with a sense of restraint. Though songs like “Demolished” and “Natural Disasters” can certainly be classified as jams, Unwound aren’t quick to pull out all their tricks on one song. They save their more crushing, powerful ideas for tracks like the cavernous “Descension” and let out their reserves on the momentous closer “Swan.” For those more interested in the aggression of their earlier sound, songs like “New Energy” and “Here Come The Dogs” do better than most to satisfy that craving.
While credit must be given to Justin Trospers knack for inventing odd riffs and cryptic lyrics, Vern Rumsey’s edible basslines and Sara Lund’s dynamic percussion are the backbone to the Unwound sound. The Future of What is simply a testament to that.
Vile Creature – Glory, Glory! Apathy Took Helm!
For those who gatekeep metal as a majority straight male scene, Vile Creature take that notion and smashes it into pieces. Glory, Glory! Apathy Took Helm! the duo confront their struggle navigating the trans experience by doing what they do best, kicking ass. Its execution is bleak and menacing, leaving crushingly heavy craters of sheer doom. However, the lyrics look inward towards the members’ own identities, clouded in mysticism and appropriately gruesome imagery. This makes for a real behemoth of a listen, with each track dragging you further down into its glut of awfully contorted, bleak sounds. For Vile Creature, overpowering doesn’t cut it. They know nothing but domination.
The opener “Harbinger of Nothing” cuts straight to the chase with destructive, monolithic riffs and a breakdown worthy of praise for both doom and post-metal fans alike. The following “When The Path Is Unclear” forcefully takes you through brutal, barbed passageways, leaving you broken at best, more likely begging for mercy. The closer “Apathy Took Helm!” is a nice follow-up to the choral lead-in of “Glory! Glory!,” a track that feels absolutely covered in grime but simultaneously sacred. This album defines what Vile Creature should be, bold and unforgiving. They defile your ears with wretched sound and sanctify them all the same.