The life of the unpaid, independent music blogger is a surprisingly stressful and self-destructive one. Committing oneself to an unsalaried endeavour that demands as much time and effort as a standard paid job is a bold and, one may argue, foolish pursuit, yet my ambitious past self of early January this year nevertheless dove head first into the world of gonzo music journalism, pumping out a minimum of two reviews a day from the onset. However, as other commitments began to impede my work time, I began neglecting my already unstable sleep schedule to ensure that I could still meet my own self-imposed deadlines. As my writing style began to improve, however — I had never written a full-length review before starting this website, so I have essentially picked up new techniques and changed my approach to writing as I’ve gone along — my reviews took slightly longer to write, but for good reason, as the added time I put into them yielded an overall higher quality in the final product. This, however, led to my output diminishing to one review per day, although this had little effect on my work schedule, as by this point, writing a single review took me the same amount of time as writing two or three reviews had taken just a few months prior. Despite having dropped out of university just before starting this website, I still found myself routinely driving between home and uni to play in the two bands that I had joined during my one and only term there, meaning that I found myself with slightly more time on my hands over the summer whilst said two bands were unable to meet due to their members being scattered across the country and occupied with their own personal lives. The extra time permitted to me by the coming of this sunny season led to me attempting to reclaim my previous two-reviews-a-day roster, but this ultimately failed, with further changes to my writing style leading to an even longer writing process. One ramification of this, however, was that my sleep schedule eventually shifted to an entirely nocturnal existence from which I struggled escaping for months. The commencement of the new term at university essentially forced me to abruptly change my sleeping pattern, as my bands were organising to meet up again, meaning that I needed to be awake enough to drive for three hours and practice for another two-to-four hours, at such unreasonable hours as two in the afternoon. That was earlier this month, which is when I should have been working on finishing up my reviews for September and finalising the latest instalment of my Albums I Love segment, hence why September’s segment is dropping at the end of October. The toll of suddenly shifting my sleep schedule to accommodate for diurnal activity has greatly impacted my work, to the point that, instead of having met my average of 31 reviews for the month of October, I’ve only managed to complete a measly seven. Even after becoming more settled into this new sleep schedule, the realisation that I was so behind on my usual work timetable completely drained me of motivation, to the point that I began to avoid even checking the stats for my website, let alone writing reviews for it. Given that I’m now also committing myself to a Diamond in the Groove radio show with two friends from one of my bands, I can’t necessarily guarantee that I’ll fall back into a rhythmic writing routine imminently, but I remain hopeful that publishing anything on my website will begin to replenish my motivation for resuming my independent journalistic undertakings. On that overly-serious bombshell, and if you’re still with me, it’s finally time for me to list the records released over the course of September that stood out to me and that I would recommend above the other hundreds of albums I heard last month.
‘Left Hand Pass’ by Cannabis Corpse
If you like death metal, weed and, most importantly, puns, then Cannabis Corpse are the band for you. For over a decade now, the ganja-themed supergroup have been tailoring their brand of brutal death metal towards metalheads and potheads alike, with all of their album and track titles being marijuana-based parodies of other famous death metal records and songs. On their latest album, Left Hand Pass (derived from Entombed’s Left Hand Path), Cannabis Corpse prove, once again, that there is a lot more to their stoner stylings than light-hearted humour, as the group pulls through with another selection of tightly-knit, hook-heavy, groove-driven stompers. Through a crisp, deep and full production sound, each member of the trio brandishes some spectacular sparks of musicianship that show up across brief licks, phrases and fills, breaking up the sturdy grooves featured throughout much of the tracklisting with striking bursts of musical energy, in a way that demands that the listener revisits the album to pick up on all the flashes of frenzied technical skill that they likely missed upon first listen. From the infectious interplay between Landphil’s guttural growls and sharp shrieks to the sporadic barrages of blistering bass work that intertwine elegantly with the tangles of guitar tapestry, Cannabis Corpse shake off the shackles associated with the ‘parody band’ label thanks to both their dexterity as musicians and their airtight compositional chops. If anything, Left Hand Pass proves not that Cannabis Corpse are a parody band who happen to be great musicians and songwriters, but that they are a top-tier death metal outfit who also have a great sense of humour.
‘Outrage! Is Now’ by Death From Above
Death From Above’s ability to blend body-moving grooves with hard-nosed punk aggression comes as naturally as ever on their newest record, Outrage! Is Now. Using the Canadian dance-rock duo’s debut and magnum opus, You’re A Woman, I’m A Machine, as a barometer to measure the successes of their latest album may seem unfair, but in many ways, Outrage! Is Now lives up to the apex of Death From Above’s achievements on their first full-length effort. At the best of times, its rhythms boast just as hypnotic a balance of funkiness and freneticism, its melodies are just as winding and rewarding when they reach their peak during the well-worked hooks, it sounds just as punchy and throttling, and ultimately, it brandishes the same impressive nuances between the worlds of punk and dance music. Meanwhile, Death From Above work in a distinct hard rock angle that is integrated into their usual stylings surprisingly smoothly, with both members accommodating for this slight change of pace in their playing, in such a way as to channel their influences without drowning in them. Indeed, Death From Above sound as much like Death From Above as ever before on Outrage! Is Now, in the best way possible, whilst still managing to ever so slightly push their artistry into new territory without ever losing sight of the singular identity that made them such a strong force in the rock world to begin with.
‘Awaken’ by Fleshkiller
Like most metalheads, I’m no Christian, but I’m also not one to recoil at the pairing of the words ‘Christian’ and ‘metal’ like many of my fellow metal fans do. Of course, there are plenty of Christian metal acts who live up to the stereotype set by some of the subgenre’s most cringeworthy artists, but if anything, I’ve heard far more metal bands whose superficial Satanism or red-pill politics were equally worthy of derision. Essentially, the metal umbrella now covers so many subsidiary styles and philosophies that I see no reason to get caught up in discrediting bands who push particular ideologies through their music, as I’ve always been more interested in how these ideas are presented and, of course, whether or not the music is any good. Should anyone still shut themselves off to Christian metal music, the collective discography of the members of the newly-formed supergroup, Fleshkiller, makes a compelling case as to why this is a mistake, as does the band’s debut album, Awaken, which may just be the most multifaceted metal record I’ve heard all year. Fleshkiller roll so many of my favourite things into their debut album that it was sure to be an instant hit with me; the theatrical, heavily-harmonised clean vocals of a band like Ghost, the tortuous yet seamless song progressions of a band like Yes, the diverse and dynamic stylings of a band like Opeth, and so much more, in the form of influences drawn from all over the metal map. Indeed, few metal stones are left unturned across the course of Awaken, but none of these stylistic underpinnings feel as if they were forced into Fleshkiller’s sound at all clumsily. Instead, the group does an outstanding job of capturing and maintaining a defined sense of nuance between all of their influences, with their overall sound coming together like a puzzle, in that all of these styles are clearly distinguishable from one another, despite forming a fully realised whole. Despite its album cover being as dark and grim as one would expect from any metal band, Fleshkiller’s Awaken is perhaps one of the most colourful metal records of the year thus far, as if the band’s uplifting lyrics of salvation shine through their putrefied, progressive death metal stylings, making for a sound that, despite displaying obvious influences, is uniquely and definitively vibrant.
‘Brick Body Kids Still Daydream’ by Open Mike Eagle
Known for his razor-sharp wit and heartbreaking honesty, Open Mike Eagle turns his attention towards a public housing project on the South Side of Chicago, called Robert Taylor Homes, on his latest project, Brick Body Kids Still Daydream. With the art rapper’s visions of comic book heroes rising from the rubble of these now demolished high-rises to defend the stories of those who once lived there, Brick Body Kids Still Daydream contains Eagle’s most ambitious and abstract conceptual undertaking to date, which is certainly saying something. Yet, despite the MC’s lyricism typically being tailored more towards caustic comedy and biting satire than laser-focussed political commentary, Eagle pulls through with an impressively detailed narrative, complete with a comprehensive character arc of his younger self and points of genuinely dramatic internal conflict, which makes for a story so compelling that I almost feel as if talking about it too much could potentially spoil it for those who are yet to hear it. As such, I’ll keep my discussion of the lyrics here to a minimum, as there’s always my full review should anyone be looking for a more in-depth take on the tales presented across the album, but in short, Brick Body Kids Still Daydream essentially enhances all the best aspects of Eagle’s previous lyrical endeavours, from his nerdy, referential humour to his sardonic sociopolitical quips, accumulating all of his skills into the pinnacle of his dexterity as a wordsmith. The slightly more serious tone of the production across Brick Body Kids Still Daydream fortifies the rapper’s lyrical angle across the album, with the music often balancing the offbeat, glitchy quality of previous Open Mike Eagle projects with a more refined sound. The more intense moments in Eagle’s storytelling, however, don’t see the beats shy away from getting that bit more aggressive, just as some of the more hectic textures in the instrumentation seem to mimic the MC’s state of mind during the points of internal conflict within his lyrics. With Open Mike Eagle’s bars being at their most thematically and narratively cohesive, the fact that the music across Brick Body Kids Still Daydream works to enhance this makes for what is surely his most consistent and well-rounded full-length project thus far, to the point that it borders on cinematic at times, whilst multiple listens have proven to be continuously rewarding, as new layers to the rapper’s lyrics continue to reveal themselves.
‘Derevaun Seraun’ by Kiran Leonard
I was first introduced to singer-songwriter Kiran Leonard last year upon the release of his sophomore album, Grapefruit, after seeing the record covered on a handful of online music publications. Upon my first listen to the album, I was enamoured by Leonard’s colourful and progressive take on folk and baroque pop, which I found to explode with even more vibrancy when I checked out his debut project, Bowler Hat Soup. I bring this up because, if I weren’t already a follower of Leonard and his music, it unfortunately would have been very likely that his latest full-length effort, Derevaun Seraun, would never have come onto my radar. Despite his first two albums receiving widespread critical acclaim, I’m not sure I’ve seen a single professional publication talk about his new record. Perhaps it’s because this new release isn’t necessarily stamped with the same animated abstractions that defined the artist’s stylings on Bowler Hat Soup and Grapefruit, with the monochrome, pencil-drawn cover art for Derevaun Seraun being a fitting reflection of the more refined and nuanced approach that Leonard employs to writing and orchestrating the songs for this album, which he actually classifies as one piece divided into five movements, each inspired by a work of literature that influenced the singer in some way. Despite Derevaun Seraun only employing a trio of vocals, piano and strings, however, whilst Leonard’s songwriting, although still rather progressive, is more orthodox for a traditional singer-songwriter set-up, the album nevertheless captures the creativity and colour of his previous work, with the singer even coming through with some of his most potent melodies, strongest songwriting skills and most heartfelt performances to date. If anything, with Derevaun Seraun stripping back many of the luxuries of Leonard’s past projects, the musician comes across as perhaps his most sincere here, in such a way as to forcefully translate his palpable reverence for the five works of literature that inspired each of the album’s movements, making it easy for the listener to tap into his brainwaves and understand how he views these stories. Undoubtedly, Derevaun Seraun is a record that should not slip past fans of folk and baroque pop, and I would extend this recommendation to include Leonard’s first two albums as well, as I’m sure hearing them will help shine a light on the new dimension to the artist’s stylings that becomes apparent on this album.
‘…BECAUSE I’M YOUNG ARROGANT AND HATE EVERYTHING YOU STAND FOR’ by Machine Girl
In a complete and merciless embrace of cyberpunk, Machine Girl’s latest full-length project, …BECAUSE I’M YOUNG ARROGANT AND HATE EVERYTHING YOU STAND FOR, smashes together various sounds from the underground electronic landscape, such as drum and bass, breakcore, footwork and hardvapour, with the political aggression of hardcore punk. Machine Girl’s stylings have long since flickered with the influences of all manner of subgenres from across the map of Internet-based electronic music, but his newest album represents his most diverse endeavour to date, with so many styles being thrown into an industrial-grade blender that it’s only natural that …BECAUSE I’M YOUNG ARROGANT AND HATE EVERYTHING YOU STAND FOR would prove to be the producer’s most colourful and vigorous work thus far. Soundscapes of industrial grime are illuminated with the neon green glow of rancid, hardcore techno beats, whilst the added ferocity of Machine Girl’s pure punk shrieks shatters this world of digitised fire and brimstone into a million pieces. Although the album’s brutality undoubtedly contributes to a large portion of its appeal, the dashes of danceability and catchiness that are worked into these torrents of electronic obscurity and punk fury make for an esoteric release that is nevertheless stamped with the shards of pop sensibility that often seep their way into the aesthetic of underground electronic music. Although Machine Girl conveys a clear influence from the likes of Death Grips, as well as perhaps Atari Teenage Riot or Street Sects, the sound he carves out of the carnage of styles on …BECAUSE I’M YOUNG ARROGANT AND HATE EVERYTHING YOU STAND FOR isn’t quite like anything else, to the point that, if this album hooks you on your first listen, it may just be hard to give it up for a while.
‘Hiss Spun’ by Chelsea Wolfe
The back-catalogue of singer-songwriter Chelsea Wolfe has followed a rather natural progression from the weathered mahogany of lo-fi folk music to the discoloured steel of doom metal, with the artist’s neofolk stylings on such records as The Grime And The Glow and Ἀποκάλυψις (or Apokalypsis in English) being as brooding and ominous as one would expect from the brand of excessively dark and punishing sludge metal that she later pursued on her previous album, Abyss, and now, to an even greater extent, on her newest endeavour, Hiss Spun. In fact, with production handled by Converge’s Kurt Ballou, and with instrumental and vocal contributions from Queens of the Stone Age‘s Troy Van Leeuwen and Isis’ Aaron Turner respectively, Hiss Spun may seem on the surface like a statement of redefinition from Wolfe. However, truth be told, the same singer-songwriter to have made a name for herself as the prime mover of “doom-folk” on Ἀποκάλυψις is little different from the one whose seraphic cries resonate across Hiss Spun. Despite their stylistic differences, each Chelsea Wolfe album has continuously contributed to building up the artist’s image as the demonic anti-priestess of the traditional singer-songwriter set-up, with the themes of the musician’s stylings arguably crystallising on Abyss. In this sense, although Hiss Spun is plastered with walls of blaring guitars, pained crooning and thunderous drumming, the record nonetheless continues the legacy of folk’s infernal sorceress logically and naturally, with these new pieces, although booming and intense, being wound by the same nuances and motifs that have guided Wolfe’s artistry across her discography. As such, even in spite of its shift in style, the overall tone of Wolfe’s music stays firmly on track on her latest effort, with the singer’s evolution continuing to test the dimensions of her artistry to great success.
‘The Spark’ by Enter Shikari
Typically, it’s the potent thematic underpinnings of an Enter Shikari album that really gets me invested in the band’s stylings. The way in which they pair their digitised, futuristic take on post-hardcore with constant allusions to scientific advancement, whilst tying these themes in with the political purpose of their art, has made for some projects that are impeccably strong from a conceptual perspective. For this reason, at the time of the release of their fourth studio album, The Mindsweep, it felt as if the group had improved upon each release, with this record being practically airtight in its themes, whilst the band also came through with some of their most dynamic and diverse songwriting, with exceptionally colourful production to boot. Due to their track record, I had high hopes for their newest release, The Spark. Ultimately, Enter Shikari’s latest effort may not meet the high bar set by its predecessor, but it’s a strong release for many of the same reasons, which is all the more impressive given the stylistic change of pace it marks for the band. Compared to their past output, The Spark is a genuinely poppy album from Enter Shikari, with some of their catchiest hooks and some of their brightest instrumentation and production. Of course, the elements from post-hardcore, drum and bass and progressive rock remain integral to the songwriting and overall sound of the record, but now with this overt pop sensibility being blended in amongst the group’s usual affairs, and in an impressively nuanced fashion. As such, I personally don’t see The Spark scaring away many fans of Enter Shikari’s typically more abrasive sound, as the newfound dimension of pop appeal slots naturally alongside the group’s usual stylings, making for some electrifying moments of textural depth.
‘The Barn’ by IDYLLS
I’m sure most of us have heard a particularly spectacular guitar solo described as ‘face-melting’ at some point or another — in fact, I’m pretty sure it was a line of dialogue from Jack Black’s character in School of Rock that popularised the phrase. Given that it’s somewhat of a cliché, it’s not a phrase that I see used often, if at all, by music journalists, but if there’s any album worthy of such an extreme description, it would be The Barn, the new record from Brisbane-based grindcore band IDYLLS. The group’s unforgiving fusion of raucous jazz rhythms, screaming saxophones and the high horsepower of the most brutal of extreme metal and hardcore punk bands acts as the appropriate auditory equivalent to having the skin ripped off one’s torso, after having been launched into space at too high a speed for the human body to remain intact. For fans of IDYLLS, this sensation isn’t necessarily anything new for the band’s brand of battering punk music, but The Barn is a particularly effective example when compared to the somewhat more orthodox grindcore stylings of the group’s first two records. Whilst IDYLLS’s previous album, Prayer For Terrene, saw the inclusion of a saxophone, the band’s stylistic underpinnings remained largely the same, whereas The Barn genuinely sees some influences from jazz creep into their sound, specifically from a rhythmic point of view. Although substituting relentless blast beats for more complex and mind-bending rhythmic patterns may seem as if it would rein in the brutality of the band’s sound a bit, quite the opposite is true. Instead, the gnarled and tortuous rhythms of The Barn buffet the listener from every direction, allowing IDYLLS’s usual, serpentine songwriting style to wrap itself around the listener in an even more gripping manner. Essentially, The Barn is exactly the record for those looking for an even more intense and dense take on grindcore.
‘Neō Wax Bloom’ by Iglooghost
I was recently reminded of Iglooghost as I was watching an art anime called 18if. To be frank, the show, as a whole, was quite bad, but with the vast majority of its story taking place inside of various dreams, there was one setting, specifically the scenery outside the protagonist’s bedroom, that was so reminiscent of Iglooghost’s visual aesthetic that I ended up pausing the show to do a side-by-side comparison between this panning shot of a landscape packed with all sorts of colours, patterns and shapes and the artwork used to promote much of the producer’s material. More importantly, with much of Iglooghost’s work inspired by anime, as well as other forms of esoteric and experimental visual media, I was reminded that it’s perhaps best to view the artist’s music through the lens of a lucid dreamworld. With Seamus Mallagh — the mastermind behind both Iglooghost’s music and visual art — pairing surrealist stories, such as an epic fight between a monk named Yomi and a bug boy in a cloak called Uso taking place on a battlefield of floating fruit, with the songs from his debut full-length project, Neō Wax Bloom, such abstruse tales are oddly useful in understanding the musician’s unique compound of such diverse electronic, dance and hip hop subgenres as wonky, crunk, glitch, juke and vapourwave. Such a concoction is as colourful as it sounds, with all of these styles swirling together in a technicolour tornado, whilst the fruity kick drums, rubbery bass lines and scintillating synthesizers practically paint the stories that Mallagh marries to each of these songs. To say that Iglooghost fashions a world of his own on Neō Wax Bloom is no exaggeration, with the musician’s instantly recognisable sound delving deep into the human imagination to pull out some of the most vivid, lively and mind-altering electronic music of the year thus far.