The solo project of Josh Graham, IIVII (pronounced “ivy”) have returned from 2015’s outer-space ambient fiction of Colony, with further tales from beyond our world. But whereas Colony told a tale of loneliness that emphasized the void between the stars, new album Invasion draws its fear not from being alone, but from learning that there is some kind of intelligence out there, and it does not come in peace. Though it is more immediate than its predecessor, and its narrative is more obvious, neither of these elements are to the detriment of Invasion, which is a strong continuation for IIVII.
Sometimes, there is comfort in the darkness. There are records out there whose content speaks of pain and misery, and wants you, the listener, to know that you’re not alone; to know that things will get better.
How We Lived isn’t one of those albums.
On their second full-length together, the duo of Heinali and Matt Finney have crafted something that may move with a damaged grace and sense of warped beauty; and there may be sounds that shimmer and dance in the haze; but more than that, How We Lived is an album heavy with the sounds of deep-seated sorrow, rooted in the everyday experiences that slowly build up until the burden feels insurmountable. It is a challenging listen, intense in a more emotional rather than musical sense, but it is also a deeply rewarding one, where the void in your soul may stare back at you, but if you’re strong enough to avoid looking away, How We Lived makes for one hell of an experience.
If you’re in the market for something to get sad to, then Vases is just what you’re after. The collaboration between dark electronics musician Wet Nurse. and Matt Finney is bleak, depressing, and possessed of a certain beauty. This is music for staying up late, wondering where it all went wrong and feeling powerless to do anything about it. And yet, as unappealing as that may make it sound, there’s something about Vases that makes it easy to listen to for hours at a time, sinking in to its dark, melancholy embrace.
2016 has been the year that saw me listen to, and review, more music than ever before. For every release that gets reviewed, there’s several that I don’t have the time to write something on; or that I listen to, but simply don’t get excited over. It’s also worth bearing in mind the purposes of this blog – exploring the underground. With the odd exception (such as the new Darkthrone), I have no interest in writing in the “big” releases; I want to help give some exposure and coverage to the small and underground, not go chasing whatever review or feature will get me the most hits. I’d also point out that it’s easy to lose sense of what actually is mainstream and underground when you spend so much time immersed in music. Sure, everyone may have access to Bandcamp and Youtube and a legion of Spotify recommendations, but it’s easy to overestimate just how big our favourite bands are.
That said, there’s still some mainstream releases I’ve really enjoyed this year and want to share some thoughts on in another post. But here, I want to take the time to give shout-outs to those more underground releases which didn’t quite make the cut for my list of 25 favourites of the year.
And so here we are, fast approaching the end of 2016, and what a year it has been. Leaving aside all that has happened in the world at large, there have been plenty of worthwhile releases in the world of underground music (and even some decent mainstream ones, too). Over these posts, I’ll be picking out some of my favourites – albums, EPs, and demos that kept me coming back for more, and which have shaped my impression of 2016 in a musical sense. The first few posts will go through records in alphabetical order; it’s only once we reach the end that I’ll assign a ‘top 5’, and also give a brief overview of some releases that didn’t quite make the cut, and even a handful of mainstream highlights. Just because you can buy something in a HMV, it doesn’t always mean it’s shit.
The usual disclaimer applies – these are my favourites, which means they are not necessarily the best records of the year. There’s far more released than I can keep track of, and to hold even 25 records up and say “these are the best” feels dishonest. And, as you might expect, there is some cross-over with my summer ‘best of 2016 so far‘ list. But, whatever. Enough of this. On to the first part of the list.
Apathy isn’t really an album to be enjoyed. Whilst there are lots of elements I like about the first full-length from Shrug, it is a bleak, harrowing listen, dealing as it does with issues of depression, illness, and suicide. It doesn’t shy away from any of its themes, confronting them with a straightforward approach that can be quite uncomfortable, and is remarkably honest. There’s no suicide idolatry here, no veneration of depression as artistic inspiration. Instead, there are elements of harsh noise, experimental electronics, and goth rock, resulting in something quite unusual, but very convincing and brave.
So, October has been pretty busy. There’s been quite a few big, exciting releases – not least of which are the new albums from Darkthrone and Planes Mistaken For Stars – and I spent a few days travelling around the country to see SubRosa on their first UK tour. Their shows were every bit as incredible as I hoped, and if you get the chance, I recommend you go see them.
For this month’s short review, there’s eclectic hardcore from Death By Fungi on In Dearth Of; psychedelic doom by Cities Of Mars with Celestial Mistress; discordant post-black metal by Simulacro on Echi Dall’Abisso; harsh soundscapes of Perennial Disappointment byConcrete Mascara, which is anything but disappointing; raw death/doom with black and folk elements onSangreal by Cóndor; and one of the most uncomfortable pieces of sludge/hardcore I’ve heard by Cowards on Still. Enjoy!