MOLESOME, Tom & Tiger (Rothhandle, 2019)
Call it “ethereal.” Call it “otherworldly.” Call it “spacious.” But whatever you do, do NOT call it “therapy.” Multi-instrumentalist Mattias Olsson had a rough spring of 2019 on a personal level. Events surrounding his daughter and a dear friend sent him to a place where the production of music was all but impossible. After yet another unproductive day, Olsson powered his gear down and put on his coat to leave the studio, passing his piano as he did. He stopped in front of the keyboard, where something led him to play a few tentative notes. One thing led to another, and Olsson had suddenly powered the studio back up to record his efforts. Within a week, he had four new pieces, each improvised in real time. Eventually, a few overdubs and contributions from friends were added, bringing forth a gracious collection of ambient tracks left open to personal interpretation. This is a recording meant to be experienced rather than talked about.
HAKEN, Virus (InsideOut, 2020)
No, England’s Haken did not release a new album about the current world pandemic. Rather, they have released an album with the most unfortunately-timed title in the history of music (maybe). Don’t let that put you off … Virus is one of the strongest progressive metal statements so far this year. Released as a companion piece to their previous album, Vector, Haken uses its trademark heavy riffs, driving drumbeats, and soaring vocals to continue a story said to date back to much earlier albums, like The Mountain. Rarely is metal deemed so melodic, as Richard Hershall and Charlie Griffiths fire off simultaneous and interwoven guitar riffs while bassist Conner Green and drummer Raymond Hearnes provide stutter-step, split-second grooves for keyboardist Diego Tejeida and vocalist Ross Jennings, who shape the melodies. This is no mere head-banging affair. Haken offers up well-thought out processes in tunes like “Prosthetic,” “The Strain,” and the multi-part “Messiah Complex.” Fans of deep, muscular, skill-driven metal will most certainly find a new home here.
VOYAGER, Colours in the Sun (2019)
Australian rockers Voyager have successfully answered the question, “What if Tears for Fears decided to go metal, with help from Leprous?” Colours in the Sun makes the most of electronic soundscapes and pop-driven vocals that have no chance to fly away under the weight of their metallic riffs. Songs like “Colours,” “Brightstar,” and “Entropy” come off as completely hummable even while banging one’s head. There is some outstanding music coming out of The Land Down Under these days. Add Voyager to that growing list.
NEWLY DISCOVERED OLDIE BUT GOODIE
PHIL FRANCE, Circle (Gondwana, 2018)
Bassist Phil France gave me an album of gorgeous electronic, low-end driven, atmospheric post-rock I didn’t know I was looking for. The music was the perfect antidote for a rough morning that led me to take a long walk. The sound was lush, ambient (in the right places) and minimalist, with France leaving more than enough room for each element of his sound to breathe fully. Artists like Phillip Glass and Colin Stetson are name-checked as inspirations, and this tracks perfectly. Like the best post-rock or ambient recordings, Circle works beautifully in both the foreground and the background, depending on listening desires.
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