So this post is slightly off from the normal postings, as usually they will appear on Sundays after I have listened to my final album for the week. However, this delay was to time it with the unveiling of my brand new website! In addition to all Wordpress posts being relocated here, there is a variety of content all centralized in one fantastic looking template! Alright, enough about the site, you can check it out at your leisure after reading this post.
This week was interesting in terms of choices, as I let a lot of external sources influence my listening choices. TesseracT and Scale the Summit both released their new album on the same day, however I have very different opinions about both bands. I let a podcast interview dictate one listening experience, the anticipation of hearing another artist's music live influence another album choice, and I chose an EP from a band I will be meeting and performing with next Saturday. It was a very organic song choice, rather than scrolling through album reviews or taking the opinion from a friend. I chose to dive in to most of these albums, even if the results were varying and the experiences not always positive. I welcome you to this definitely different week in listening, feel free to draw your own conclusions as always suggested.
In Another Life by Bilal
I was first introduced to Bilal through Black Radio, a Grammy winning album from the Robert Glasper Experiment (that I continue to draw inspiration from). His voice was striking, and had a character that stood out from the rest of the talent hired to do that album (Lalah Hathaway, Erykah Badu, Lupe Fiasco, etc). I then heard him on Black Radio 2 and was reminded of his collaborative spirit earlier this year on Kendrick Lamar’s “To Pimp a Butterfly” release. After this album dropped, I found out about “In Another Life” coming out this year, and I kept it on the back of my head as something to check out.
It’s such a cool album, so many different moods grounded in creative song writing. Grooving throughout, it keeps me as a listener engaged with its expression through soulful singing, tasteful instrumentation, and an attention to detail. There were drums that were laid back and tight in the pocket, guitar tones that reminded me of the Beck tune “Nicotine & Gravy” off of the album “Midnight Vultures,” and there was a good amount of vocal variety from Bilal’s expressive range to hip hop verses from Big K.R.I.T and Kendrick Lamar. It’s a cool album, and it’s just another great release from this artist, I’m glad I finally got to listen to a full album from his catalog.
Polaris by TesseracT
What can I say about TesseracT that hasn’t already been said by any modern metal fan? This group has captured my attention from my first time hearing their debut album “One.” Since that album release, they have put out the “Perspective” EP with Elliot Coleman on vocals, “Altered State” and “Odyssey/Scala” with Ashe O’Hara fronting the band. Even their debut EP “Concealing Fate” had a different vocalist, Julien Perier.
This band formed from the disbanding ashes of the early 2000’s hit band “FellSilent,” a group known for their progressive sound, groove-based riff construction, and tight musicianship with a killer live experience. The split basically saw members forming Monuments and Heart of a Coward in addition to TesseracT. Each album has been a progressive, but “Polaris” marks the return of their debut album vocalist, Daniel Tompkins, who has been involved in plenty of great projects during his years away from the band.
This album is right away a punch to the get, with deeply grooving riffs, tight production, and some great lyricism winding overtop. It hits you hard with each syncopation and eases you in and out of sections with some great atmospheric sound and vocal harmonization. I have been waiting for this release for months, and I’m glad that it comes out tomorrow for everyone to enjoy. Seriously, if you enjoy creative, rhythmic metal writing and some powerful, present vocals, “Polaris” is going to get you grooving no matter where you are. I myself enjoyed this album while on break at my high school job! The video above is a great example of moving forward in not only music but in how they put together music videos beyond the standard, well-shot full band playthrough videos we as listeners tend to see on YouTube.
Absolute Garbage by Garbage
This album was a pick at random from listening to Chris Hardwick interview the group’s lead singer, a delightful Scottish woman named Shirley Manson. Their conversation about life, struggles through fully realizing their potential in their craft, and just joking about their profession in general really got me interested to hear the music behind musician.
The group’s general label is “alternative rock” from Scotland, but it carries a variety of styles that makes up their sound. Part industrial rock, part trip hop, part electronic rock, we hear rock as a basis but with so many extra elements layered overtop. Personally, while it was interesting to see their take on pop rock structures, their grunge-styled vocals and mood didn’t resonate strongly with me. I was not comparing them to mainstays like Nirvana in terms of the style, but rather I couldn’t place myself in the mood of their songs. I can see why they have a strong following, and I can hear the years of refinement in their sound and songwriting, but I personally feel the experience of their album is best when it is live. I would say go sample the album if you’re interested in material that feels very early 2000’s alt rock (which works because the album is from that time period). The track above also makes it feel like something from the 90’s that you’d find in a movie sound track too.
Three Books by Those Willows
Next weekend, specifically on September 26th, I was invited to join the group M.O.T.H. to perform a show with a variety of acts from Grand Rapids, Detroit, and Portland. This particular group hails from Oregon, bred in Detroit, and they bring with them a folk spirit creatively expressed through the music language of jazz. There is a form that grounds each track, but each tune has such a distinct clarity in direction. Dynamics vary, educated choices are made in expressive moments, and the instrumentation allows for a lot of variety in arrangement. Each track on the EP invites you to relax and settle into a comfortable groove. Some moments you’ll find yourself being still and taking in the sounds, and others you’ll move to the beat with genuine enthusiasm. I’m very excited to be able to perform with them this Saturday at New Church! Details can be found here:
No One to Know One by Andy Akiho
In anticipation of hearing a full set of this composer’s music, I listened to this album in full. Before, I had only ever really heard the title track, as it was my first introduction to his style and truly masterfully use of jazz, varying instrumentation (including his personal performing instrument, the steelpan), and very distinct moments of unique timbres and colors. I was fortunate to meet him at this past summer’s “Bang on a Can Marathon” in North Adams, Massachusetts, where I drove with a friend to see current and past members of the GVSU New Music Ensemble perform.
Andy Akiho is a friendly spirit, bashfully acknowledging praise and dozens of prestigious awards while delighting in performing and sharing his compositions for an audience. He performed with members of New Music Detroit at this past weekend’s “Strange Beautiful Music Festival” at the Max M. Fisher Center in Detroit. He captivated audiences with his distinct blend of jazz, contemporary classical, and even metal set to a theme mainly of synesthetic project pieces (based on color) and energetic ensemble performances. So much has been said about this man that I don’t do this review of his music justice, he’s such a force to be reckoned with in the contemporary music world today.
Go listen to his album, you will be treated to some of the best music currently out there, period. It’s music I am desperately wanting to perform and constantly get inspiration from.
Isometric by Jake Bowen
This one was interesting because normally I hear this guy playing one of three guitar and vocal roles in the metal band Periphery, but I had always heard some of his electronic compositions from previously released singles and interspersed within Periphery’s albums. This debut release features a variety of electronic tunes in a very ambient, trip hop style. It shows a side of Jake Bowen rarely heard, and fans of Periphery wanting to expand their knowledge on various solo/side projects in the group will want to take a listen. Plus, it’s a great album to zone into, letting its droning pulse and atmospheric textures relax your mind and take a breather for just a few minutes.
V by Scale the Summit
I’ll preface this by saying two things: I never really got into Scale the Summit and every time I’ve had the chance to see them in a concert lineup I’ve left. So not being the strongest fan of their music, I decided to give their new album a try to see what might have been learned in the 2 year gap from their last release.
For those unfamiliar, they are a popular instrumental metal act that incorporates elements of progressive metal and jazz in their style. Lacking the exciting display of musicianship that Animals As Leaders has and just coming short of the lyrical guitar playing abilities of Plini, this group is peculiar to me. I want to like them along with so many of my friends that enjoy their music, but it feels all too familiar every time a “new” album comes along by them. You get broken, varying lead playing that does little to differentiate between soloing material and actual melodies. I come off sounding harsh, but I just expected more from them after they replaced their bassist (who arguably should be writing more lead lines based on his soloing, which was a highlight for me in the album) and their guitarist’s dedication to practicing and honing their craft, which is often shared through social media outlets.
Maybe someday I can get past their similar sounding grooves, indistinguishable song structures, and empty feeling song arrangements and gain some sort of appreciation for their music. It lacks personality, but it is the perfect band to study for guitar geeks and theory nerds if you are looking to dissect a band trying to emulate their influences through their song writing. Each song starts off great and ends decently, but the longer track times should imply some sort of development, but the meat of each tune tends to drag out past enjoyment for me. The track above is a highlight for me, but it’s still not enough for me to actively seek them if the full lineup isn’t good. This also isn’t me hating their success, more power to them for being able to live out their dreams and have music as a full time profession. Maybe I’ll try and get a lesson with their guitarist next time they happen to be around and gain some perspective. The video above also shows that they are having a bit more fun with the presentation of their music, so hopefully that spills into the live experience beyond just costume changes.