back to back. #newtunes

Counterparts / Private Room

Metal is going through an interesting revival where industrial soundscapes and death metal from the 1990’s and the metalcore renaissance of the early to mid 2000’s are soldering into abrasive sonic murals that bands like Code Orange, Turnstiles, and Knocked Loose are simultaneously resurrecting and reanimating into (even mainstream) popularity. The latter of those styles are worn on Counterparts’ sleeve like a badge of honor that tips hats to the Trustkill and Ferret Records roster that includes Terror, Poison the Well, and Misery Signals. Cultivating turn of the millenia melodic hardcore roots, Private Room is another bullet in the chamber that Counterparts have locked and loaded as some of their best work to date.

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Private Room EP – Out now on Pure Noise Records

It’s kind of funny to see the hyperbole in YouTube comments that read things like, “Lol, these throw away songs are other band’s best ones!” Lead singer, Brendan Murphy, foreshadowed this EP in a podcast with Tim Cayem, saying that at the time of You’re Not You Anymore’s release, they were negotiating a 7-inch release of these songs with Pure Noise Records (their current California based label) because he said these songs were good, but still warranted being benched from the final track listing on YNYA. This under seven minute affair packs enough punches that would hit as hard as an EP near double in length with melodically technical riffs, thickset bass tones, relentless percussion, and Brendan Murphy’s unforgiving vocal performance. Also, they wrote a song in a major key… that’s pretty neat.

 

Bon Iver / Blood Bank

If you’ve ever seen House M.D. you know that Hugh Laurie fits like a glove playing a narcissistic genius and that the show touts a high caliber soundtrack. On it, is re:stacks, one of Bon Iver’s most emotionally devastating and beautiful songs that ends his debut, For Emma Forever Ago in a melancholic lullaby about loss. Upon discovering this album, I was immediately hooked on its rainy day couch cushion vibes and organic production. To this day, I herald Bon Ever as one of my favorite folk acts for the way that Vernon’s deft song writing skills have an unparalleled ability to sing you to happiness in one breath and then tears in the next. One year later upon For Emma’s release came, Blood Bank. A step forward from its predecessor, Blood bank simultaneously finds Justin Vernon in rare form and sonically surveys new territory that would foreshadow his second record, Bon Iver, Bon Iver. Electronic and auto-tune flourishes on Woods, Vernon’s hushed falsetto and the dobro parts on Beach Baby, the multilayered vocal and instrumental catharsis on the title track, and lush piano parts on Babys all coalesce into a musical kaleidoscope that wraps around you like a warm blanket in the middle of winter.

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Justin Vernon performing live.

 

fit for a king – dark skies // review

I remember the ominous droning interlude fading into a blaring siren that signaled impending chaos as the house lights shifted and the floor around us all circled in fury. As I jumped in the pit, I was realizing the excitement of getting to see Fit For a King open for August Burns Red a few years back. While I slipped on spilled beer over the hardwood floors of the venue and accidentally crashed into a kid in front of me, the band’s live performance of Slave to Nothing was otherwise ferocious.

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“I know these words won’t hold any weight, but please don’t turn away from me…” FFAK performing Skin & Bones on tour with In Heart’s Wake

Since then (2014), I’ve gotten to see FFAK live a few times, each show representing significant mile markers in sobriety, celebrations of friendship, and opportunities where I’ve seen the love of Jesus show up and be expressed through prayers lifted in the pit between sets. With the band’s new album released on Solid State Records, my excitement is spilling over in type form, hoping this review serves as a sampler for what the band represents, has become, and how they occupy an all -time favorite in my arsenal of metal.

As previously inferred, I hopped on board the FFAK train on Slave to Nothing. The record’s thematic ode to sobriety resonated with me at a time in life where I needed that encouragement, but it also helped that the songwriting was sharp and that it boasted so many banging riffs. Even though the production felt tame and the clean vocals were a bit underdeveloped, these were easily compensated by the band’s burgeoning strengths. When I was living in Winona, those same roommates brought me backwards in the timeline to the band’s genesis, Creation/Destruction – showcasing bone crushing guitar tones and every bit of promise. But, as they progressed to Slave to Nothing, it was by no means a step backwards, but that forward motion lacked a full measure of confidence when heel hit the pavement.

Their response was Deathgrip. The singles, Dead Memory and Cold Room, were high watermarks as they brought a musical palate that harkened back to their origins, showcased Will Putney’s signature tones, and even stepped into new territories of style, but if I’m honest, I had some reservations. Despite the impel of moments like Cold Room’s lead riff and the last breakdown in Pissed Off, I felt like Deathgrip was a compositional regression that traded the power of the whole for the curation of well executed parts put together in a 36-minute runaway freight train. Despite the critique, this album does have its well executed moments that are worth highlighting. These songs were enveloped well with gross sounding guitar and bass tones, the integration of electronic soundscapes and glitch editing in the breakdowns accented the sonic drubbing that these songs deliver, and the clean vocals sounded the best they ever have. All the aforementioned were glimmers and flashes in the pan that proved FFAK still had gusto. Deathgrip was like a favorite student unexpectedly underperforming to their natural abilities, so if it sounds like I am hard on this record, it’s because FFAK were and are capable of A list material.

Seeing this band live a few times during the touring cycle of Deathgrip still left me sore and winded every time as they crawled across the continent in between studio sessions. I had a lot of hope, because as they continued getting on stage they were only getting tighter, heavier, better balanced, and more confident, so I was excited to see how the effort in their off season would translate to their next record. Their first sampling was Tower of Pain. The rumbling tone and pacing of this song, the technical death metal influenced songwriting, infectious chorus, and even greater vocal improvement made this feel like a rabid beast foaming at the mouth waiting for its break off the chain. I had this thought that perhaps this record would be the tour de force I have been waiting for, because not only did their musicianship demonstrate maturity, but the proof in the pudding showed behind the scenes in the shrewd tactics in promotion of this album. Rather than letting a couple singles on a ten-track album do the manpower in the deep breath in before the record release, Solid State progressively released half this album in singles, letting streams on platforms like Spotify, bandcamp, and Apple Music generate the excitement amongst the fan base, and give a stylistic sampler of what would be FFAK’s fifth album, Dark Skies. In a world where traditional release cycles have been trojan horsed by the evolving landscape of music streaming and unfiltered accessibility of the internet, FFAK’s strategy worked to their advantage. Tower of Pain was one cog in a wheel that proved to be well oiled and juiced up in a lineup with other singles, The Price of Agony, Backbreaker, When Everything Means Nothing, and Oblivion.

If this reads like a long-winded exposition of background before the actual review, it’s because there’s a lot of landscape to survey before exploring this new territory. So, with that said, I’m stoked to write that Dark Skies is the calling card for this band’s collective ability across the board. They’ve truly captured the distinct personalities of their previous records and pulled them inwards, anchoring their identity as a band. Dark Skies boasts the best sound/production to date; their sharpest, most avant-garde songwriting; the most improved and compelling vocal performances; and their most thematically compelling record since, Slave to Nothing. In addition, the unreleased tracks that made their reveal upon release make the experience of Dark Skies, a rout of all killer, no filler.

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Dark Skies. Out on Solid State Records

I want to begin examining the details, by emphasizing the aforementioned point of songwriting on Dark Skies. As I said earlier, Tower of Pain harnesses an energy that feels like an echo of Deathgrip’s finer moments with Slave to Nothing’s composition and the flourishes of more technical minded influences (The Black Dahlia Murder meets Fit For an Autopsy). The Price of Agony has probably one of the catchiest riffs that is described by the band as the most mainstream they’ve stylistically ventured; Youth|Division takes a creative bend with interesting vocal editing in the introduction and then drifting left in a key change at the bridge; Shattered Glass is a crowbar, touting some of the heaviest stop/start rhythms, blast beats, and Ryan Kirby’s nastiest sounding vocals to date; The Debts of Life is a callback to Skin and Bones on Creation/Destruction that pedestals some of the best executed melody the band has offered and coalesces it into Oblivion. Oblivion is wholesale one of the most important moments for the band. The curtain closes with a song that lyrically chronicles the most honest reflections of their Christianity, ballasting the melodic and aggressive into an emotional portrait.

According to the band’s studio updates, the construction of Deathgrip’s structure was penultimate to aesthetic. During this recording cycle, choruses and song structures were autopsied, studied, and reanimated as a group, laying concrete foundations that give Dark Skies solid ground to build these songs on. Producer, Drew Fulk, has an impressive catalog of recently done records for bands that are catching second winds in their sails that include new records released from Emmure, Chelsea Grin, The Plot in You, and As I Lay Dying. The same energy harnessed through those bands latest albums translates to Dark Skies in the best way possible, as Fulk has played a heavy hand in realizing and bringing out Fit For a King’s aptitude.

Towards the beginning of this review, I touched on Slave to Nothing’s lyrical prowess. The thematic underpinnings of that record deeply resonated as a soundtrack to sobriety and they continue to be. Every time they play Slave to Nothing live, it feels like every bit of a war cry that it was three years ago when I scream along. The rest of FFAK’s discography has their moments of cogent lyricism, particularly on songs like Skin and Bones, Deathgrip’s title track, and Dead Memory, but even the band says Dark Skies pulls from the deepest inwards parts that personify the intimacy of their struggles, like on Tower of Pain…  I hear the whisper of death in my ear, hell awaits for those who still fear, twenty six years, being told I’m a slave, trading desire away. But, I think the most compelling moments belong to lines on Backbreaker that narrate Ryan Kirby’s struggle with anxiety… I can’t find the strength within myself, The weight of life has pushed me to a living hell,Endless misery, lack of sympathy, I don’t trust the voice inside of me (inside of me),I always put myself out there, But it always ends the same. Oblivion takes on some of the most spiritually vulnerable lyrics that narrate the forgiveness of God, centered around a fan story, and is the best way to close this record – with an abundance of heavy and heart…

I look into the sky, I’m crying out your name, I’ve made my mistakes and I’m the only one to blame, Help me, I need to feel your grace, And I’ve been, waiting, waiting in the darkest place! 

I look into the sky, I’m crying out your name, I made my mistakes but you forgave me! You forgave me!

Bringing this to conclusion, FFAK is already a prominent band that are sizeable, influential, and Dark Skies has all the sparks that can make them torchbearers and a flagship collective for this scene going forward. Regardless of the band’s trajectory, the college kid in me will always feel that simultaneous spike in my pulse and heartstrings pulled when I play their records. Furthermore, I will always remember that Fit For A King are a band that propels me to be a participant in the scene as an ambassador of the Gospel.

 

take a listen.

The Lumineers – Cleopatra

I was sitting at Culver’s with my roommate one night and I told him that I have this habit of hopping on the bandwagon of good music, late. As a result, I kick myself for a moment, thinking, “What have I been missing out on??” I say this, because I am catching onto The Lumineers kind of late… what have I been missing out on??! They’ve been a functioning band for the better part of a decade, using personal tragedy to write affectionate vingiettes that culminate in their debut self-titled album. Though I didn’t get too much into it aside form songs like Slow It Down, I appreciated The Lumineers knack for artful folk music. I heard a lot of buzz about their forthcoming sophomore LP, Cleopatra, so after hearing singles like Ophelia and the title track at my favorite coffee shop in Winona played on repeat, I intentionally sought this one out upon release.

Cleopatra is an effluent indie affair, buoyed by a sort of timeless soul that brings you back to smoky bars and rootsy Americana imagery strapped to leather boots, rumbling piano registers, and Wesley Schultz’ throaty vocals. This is a fun record and its accessibility gives a lot of replay value. I can’t stop nodding my head or wanting to belt out the chorus to Angela, bounce along to the dizzying piano arpeggio in Ophelia, and clap along to the stomp of the title track.12654337_10153292167941332_5061469366406380348_n Other songs like Gale Song, My Eyes, and Long Way From Home express a more musically stoic side to the band, settling for hollowed out lo-fi guitar tones that draw you into an intimate experience. Patience gently closes the record with a piano instrumental that fades into soft keys. I can best describe The Lumineers as an emotional storm in a teacup. Though, their songs have a lot of musical build up and strong lyrical imagery, it never reaches the point of being melodramatic. Overall, I feel this album is more subdued in its presentation than its predecessor and therefore makes it a more convincing and enjoyable listen for me. All of this is bolstered by effective production that captures the heart and soul of a sound that the band is aiming for. The echo chamber sounding vocals, subtle string accompaniments, and organic guitar tones make this record shine.

Though Cleopatra retreads recycled lyrical themes of young love, women, and relationships, the band finds a refreshingly innocent twist to such subject matter. They weave really dark narratives in between them, like on the title track. It’s almost like I’m watching film noir at the Sundance Film Festival.

Bottom line, go listen to this album if you need to feed the softer side to our musical soul. It’s an easy listen that I’m still sinking my teeth into.

 

Invent Animate – Stillworld

Modern, progressive metal is running out of original ideas. I hate saying it, but evidence of this is quantified by the new wave of records released from this subgenre this year. Though many of those albums are enjoyable and I actually like a lot of them, I’ve come to this conclusion that most of it is beginning to live in a shadow cast by its forerunners from the late 2000’s. But, if there is any sort of dying artistic breath from this renegade platoon of metal bands (other than Architects or Shokran), Invent, Animate does not go gentle into that goodnight.

I reviewed their debut album from Tragic Hero Records, Everchanger, last year. I especially liked how that album soldered ambient overtures from the likes of Helios with a Singularity era Northlane vibe and I still enjoy that album a lot. The good news is that their anticipated and well-received sophomore record, Stillworld, expands on a familiar formula from Everchanger that is further honed and perfected.13240590_1291634440857984_1190591693122597874_n Many, if not all of the same elements from Everchanger carry over to Stillworld, making this like a software update with a few tweaks to an already solid platform. Indigo kicks off this record…. absolutely insane! It touts some of the catchiest riffing, flows well between the soft and harsh passages, and in my opinion does the best job of stratifying Invent, Animate’s mission statement. Other tracks like Darkbloom and Soul Sleep showcase this juxtaposition from the insanely heavy to the suddenly calm and atmospheric, and White Wolf has by far the catchiest and most forward chorus/clean singing the band has written yet.

Lyrically, this album muses familiar territory from Everchanger – abstract allegories of faith, doubt, finding purpose, etc, but with that said, they’re written well and have some legitimately awesome lines to scream along to. Furthermore, I think this is a very well produced record and balanced record. The bass rumbles behind chugging guitars, the clean chromatic tapping comfortably coalesces with the rhythm, the drums are crisp, and the vocals are well placed.

I’m still head banging and power stomping my way through breakdowns and sweeping passages on this album and don’t anticipate putting it down any time soon!

 

King’s Kaleidoscope – Beyond Control

In my musical mind, King’s Kaleidoscope fit comfortably into a category of Contemporary Christian that follows in the lineage of Michael & Lisa Gungor, Rivers & Robots, Citizens & Saints, and Dustin Kensrue of Thrice – artists positioning themselves on the fringe of their own genre who craft honest, thoughtful, and transparent music reflective of their trials and triumphs in faith. If you’ve read this blog before, you might understand the stance I have on “Christian” music, but for the purpose of a good album like this, I don’t feel like that commentary is warranted.

Enter Kings Kaleidoscope.

I really didn’t have a lot of knowledge of this band outside of their former affiliation with Mars Hill Church in Seattle and (what I’m going to term as) their “dope-tastic” cover of In Christ Alone, but that was until I was tipped off to their new record, Beyond Control. My shotgun consensus…

Weird, but really good.

Upon first impression, this album feels like a B-side of experimental mastered material tossed into obscure cloud files and then sold as an extended play, but when you pay attention to the subtleties, Beyond Control is decorated with textured layers of soundscapes and shifts in style that still fit within a cohesive musical narrative. This album gives itself a lot of room to take some risks and because it doesn’t take itself too seriously, 13344507_1278219798878738_7414307795631577230_nthe band pulls off every stunt well. Out of the gate, A Resting Place sounds like organized orchestral chaos that I would find on the local classical station, but transitions into Enchanted, which sounds a bit like A Head Full of Dreams era Coldplay coalesced with the eccentric funk of John Mark McMillan’s Borderlands. Other songs like Lost? Strip away layers for a more simplified experience with acoustic guitars and orchestral synthesizers filling out the sound. Dust is a neo-jazz banger with an accompanying choir arrangement behind the chorus that captures the soul of traditional gospel music. In This Ocean Part 1 follows suit but has what I think are the catchiest melodies on this entire record. I think that speaks to the production of Beyond Control, because it is dense but not bloated. Even when this album reaches these bombastic moments in the arrangements, there’s enough variety and creativity in it all to make it justified.

Surprisingly, Friendship, is my highlight on Beyond Control. It’s a near three-minute instrumental interlude that’s led by piano, drums, and a French horn that swing you back and forth in a jazzy daze. Not only is the instrumental awesome, but throughout the track you hear members of the band commenting on cool licks made by the horn player, cracking jokes, laughing, and casually singing along with the melody. It’s playful. It’s a fun break in between what is otherwise a lyrically powerful (albeit vulgar at one point on A Prayer) sojourn through doubt, triumph and even social dejection from social media as discussed on Enchanted.

If you want to look up some wildly creative worship tunes that you can have some fun to, look no further… to quote the band from a moment in Friendship, “Whoah! That was sick!”

 

Explosions In the Sky – The Wilderness

People who know me best understand the love I have for this band and their ability to create moving, emotional oceans of nimble guitars, cathartically executed kettle drums, and crecendos reminiscent of classical movements that take you on a musical journey. If you’ve read this blog, then you’ve probably figured out why a record like The Earth Is Not a Cold Dead Place really needs no introduction. It will forever be a musical triumph that sits on my catalog’s throne. Now, their last full length album before The Wilderness was shockingly disappointing to me and in such a way that made me not even give that album a full listen. Maybe I’m being too hard on it and maybe it has to do with the fact that I place some of their earlier work with such high esteem, but it sounded like they were exhausting ideas and trying to pull you inwards to a more intimate atmosphere than before. In between albums, they have since written a few soundtracks, all of which showcased Explosions branching off into different soundscapes and experimentation all while still signing and sealing them with signature and familiar elements I know and love. I reviewed the first single, Disintegration Anxiety that showed off a distorted flurry of warped guitar tones and electronic sampling that caught me off guard at first, but was something I warmed up to over time. It felt like a breath of fresh air that I haven’t heard from a band in this genre in a while… and that’s the best way I can describe The Wilderness.

Fresh, but familiar.

Disintegration Anxiety is an appropriate sounding appetizer for an album laced with electronic filigrees, glitchy percussion, and a palate of different soundscapes. One of the best features of The Wilderness is that the band released a collection of still images captured by members and crew over the course of 17 years worth of writing, recording, and touring that inspired each of the nine tracks. Listening to these songs and pairing them with the images gives a more intimate view into the band’s imagination. For example, the opening track, Wilderness, is drawn from an image taken late night at an airport concourse in Europe with a focus on the gate sign reading, Austin. The band wrote about how it was a reminder that after being on tour, they were almost home. You can almost hear that sense of longing to return to their 12509094_10150599760549987_5072979378544854382_nroots when you reach the end of the track and hear a twinkling guitar loop that fades out to the end, reminiscent of their early work. Rather than crafting something with the flow of a classical piece like the rest of their discography, they wrote something more straightforward and spliced that still retains the same musical meta-narrative – much like different scenes in a film. Logic of a Dream reaches the most cathartic heights with these orchestral crecendos that sound like something off Hans Zimmer’s work in Interstellar, and Landing Cliffs ends the record hushed and spacey with atmospheric synths cradling gentle guitar chords.

This album had to grow on me, because it’s a sonic departure from albums that I’ve loved from the band. However, this new style they’ve embraced is in some ways even more emotional than other work. I don’t know how else to describe this, but I’ll end with a quote from Pitchfork writer, Brandon Stousy, about his thoughts on The Wilderness…

Because the group has done so much soundtracking, it’s difficult when listening to The Wilderness not to think of images that could go with these songs. Instead of making music for dramatic moments in football games, we’re getting sunsets you’ll remember a decade later, stumbling first kisses, half-heard car alarms during a comforting dream, that horribly unreal and frozen moment when you first hear a friend has died, walks alone at dusk, laying on your back and watching the constellations with the person you want to grow old with, the calm of seeing a loved one sleep. These songs feel personal. They tug at important moments.”