The Good Bits: April 2016

As you can see, April was a month for music above all else. These six albums are the ones I’ve gone back to over and over during a month full of travel (six flights in two weeks, ugh). There’s a nice variety here too, and while metal still takes up the majority of spots, there are entries on here that are like to appeal to a wider audience. Given the way May has gone so far, you can expect a bigger focus on film with the next edition.


Ra Ra Riot, Need Your Light (Barsuk)

ra ra riot

Ra Ra Riot are one of the first bands I genuinely fell in love with when I first started a college radio in 2010. In the six years since, the band has had a few lineup and sound changes that even out in terms of pros and cons. While the band was initially focused on upbeat, string-heavy baroque pop, Beta Love marked the start of a more electronic pop sound with strings taking a much more minimal role. Need Your Light continues this same sound and, as a result, my feelings about it are similar to its predecessor: it’s catchy, Wes, Miles still shines as a fantastic vocalist, and it’s welcoming to new fans and old (assuming you liked Beta Love). “Foreign Lovers” stands out in particular as a seamless meld of the band’s old and new styles, starting with an bass-driven upbeat into before moving to a synth-heavy chorus. My only real criticism is the same one I held for Beta Love in that I really miss the strings being the at forefront of the music. Sure, they’re still there and I applaud the band for successful experimentation, but I do miss the atmosphere of cheery melancholy from the first two albums.


Cult of Luna & Julie Christmas, Mariner (Indie)


Vertikal was one of my favorite albums in 2013 and it helped open my ears to the post-metal subgenre. After a year of touring, the band announced they’d be taking a break for the foreseeable future, so I naturally assumed it would be a while before we heard any new music from the group. And while three years may sound like a long time for some people, I’m just thankful it’s here at all. Admittedly, the fact that it was billed as a collaborative album put me into doubt not because of Julie Christmas’s musical ability, but because I’m usually mixed when it comes to collaborative efforts. It’s sort of like not wanting the food on your plate to touch so you can enjoy flavors individually (though truthfully I’m not a stickler in that department).

But surprise surprise: the album is great. While Vertikal possessed sprawling emotion and was grand in scale, Mariner makes you feel like finding a quiet corner of space to put yourself away for awhile, and sometimes we need that more. It takes you aboard a space frigate floating through the galaxy with an exceptional coat of atmosphere and plenty of heavy bits to tug you along. And holy hell can Julie Christmas scream; her performance only gets more intense as the album progresses. Like most Cult of Luna albums, this is best experienced as a whole, so I won’t recommend one particular track over another. Just find a stretch of time to put this on and forget about Earth for a bit.


Deftones, Gore (Reprise)


One of the most anticipated albums of the year following up its critically acclaimed predecessor. Sound familiar? That’s because Deftones always seem to face that challenge, offering up one of the most consistently solid discographies in rock/metal as a result. So how well does Gore stack up following 2012’s exemplary Koi No Yokan? If you were hoping for more of the same, you might be disappointed. If you enjoy Deftones’s constant bushing of sonic boundaries, you’ll be pleased. While Deftones are no strangers to ambience, previous albums featured enough structure to pick out hooky hits that even the most casual rock fan would enjoy (seriously, I’ve yet to meet anyone who outright hates “Diamond Eyes”). But on Gore, the band loosens its grip a bit more, resulting in a nonlinear structure may challenge your expectations.

You can certainly pick out tracks like “Prayers/Triangles” or “Phantom Bride” (my favorite track) and enjoy them for their own merit, but this is yet another album I feel is better taken as a whole. It certainly doesn’t sound the same as Koi No Yokan or Diamond Eyes, and that may disappoint some. It admittedly threw me off a tad when I first put it on, but with each subsequent listen, my appreciation has grown, and that’s one of the best things an album can achieve. It’s like there’re levels to this album that cannot be unlocked in a single session. I guarantee that even if your initial reaction to this album is unfavorable you’ll feel compelled to come back to it, and that’s the kind of charm you can only find on a Deftones record.


Ninja Sex Party, Under The Covers (Self-Released)


If you’ve never experienced the Youtube channel Game Grumps or previous works of Ninja Sex Party, you might be missing a spark of joy in your life. Unless you don’t care for video games or songs laden with innuendo, in which case you are missing a slightly bigger spark of joy. While NSP are normally known for synth heavy rock songs about boners, sex, and dragons (among other things), this is a covers album borne of Danny Sexbang and Ninja Brian’s love of the 80’s. The comedy duo display their musical flexability with delightful covers of “Take On Me” and “Everybody Wants To Rule The World”. I personally appreciated the cover of Rush’s “Subdivisions” and the album closer “Wish You Were Here”. As you can see, the band certainly cover a lot of ground and there’s something for everyone here. Admittedly, I think people unfamiliar with GG or NSP might not think this is all that special, but I do think the covers are good enough that non-fans might consider checking out more from Dan, Brian, and their other projects. Side note: this is a self-released album that reached #17 on the Billboard 200. That’s impressive for a covers album from Youtube celebrities!


Haken, Affinity (Inside Out)


Haken turned some heads in 2013 with their third album The Mountain, and with good reason; it was a breath of fresh air for prog rock/metal, reminiscent of genre greats like Dream Theater or Porcupine Tree without being derivative. With Affinity, Haken has continued that trend by offering up another album that is a refined blend of heaviness, melody, technical skill, and songwriting. Personally, I sometimes get turned off when newer prog bands record big bloated noodlefests and then stitch them together into an album. It not that such bands are bad, it just gets tiring when prog becomes synonymous with said noodlefests. Perhaps this is why Haken is so refreshing because there’s life to their music and not just cold musicianship. This is particularly evident on Affinity, sporting diversity from the catchy synth driven “1985” to the nearly sixteen minute centerpiece that is “The Architect” all the while moving cohesively from track to track. This is easily one of my favorites of the year so far both in the prog genre and in general.


Ihsahn, Arktis (Candlelight)


Most metal fans know Ihsahn for his time in Emperor, but the man has done so much since the band’s final release in 2001. I was introduced to Ihsahn’s solo work in 2012 with the release of Eremita. I can’t speak for Ihsahn’s first three solo albums, but Eremita and Das Seelenbrechen took some time for me to get into, especially the former. I’m all for weird, experimental avant-garde kind of stuff, but some of the stuff I heard on these albums were pretty out there. Enter Akris, which is a bit most structured than Ihsahn’s previous albums but still roams into different sounds. “Until I Too Dissolve”, which starts with a very Jake E. Lee era Ozzy riff, and the grand closer “Celestial Violence” are excellent tracks that make solid starting points for new fans. Some of the stylisic and tonal shifts may throw you off on the first go-around (it did for me), but I can’t knock the album for it since I expect the unexpected when comes to Ihsahn by now. Once again, I’ve yet to check out all of Ihsahn’s solo work, but of his three most recent works, Arktis stands as the best of them.


Currently Reading:

Dune by Frank Herbert


I’m almost done with this one, so I’ll have my thoughts out in a month. Perhaps I’ll end up watching the infamous David Lynch film between now and then as well.


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