Bandwagon Selects: Recent Record Reviews #17

We have to admit we've been slacking off writing record reviews for a while but all these new releases are too enticing not to write about. This round, we write about Pallbearer's newest doom metal masterpiece, arresting emo/indie-rock from Empire! Empire! (I Was a Lonely Estate), the seductive arty R&B of FKA Twigs and the grimiest and exhilarating electronic music we've heard all year courtesy of The Bug. If you yourself have been slacking off listening to newer music, we've got you covered here.

Listen to the tracks on our Bandwagon Mondays Playlist:

Pallbearer - Foundations of Burden

No other style in metal is as understated as doom metal. Innovated by rock gods Black Sabbath, doom metal often features thick brooding guitars coupled with bleak lyrics and grim but mostly melodic vocals. While it did enjoy its time through the late 80s and early 90s, it had a bigger evolution by aggressively spreading to manifest itself through various hybrid metal styles: stoner doom, sludge doom, funeral doom, drone doom. The list goes on. But while doom metal itself found its feet on the ground with the formations of bands like Pentagram, Saint Vitus and Candlemass, it never got to enjoy the same amount of critical adoration and artistic validity outside of its staunchly devoted following compared to death metal or even black metal. Enter Pallbearer.

The US band received huge acclaim and considerable attention outside the metal scene in 2012 with Sorrow and Extinction. While obvious doom apologists, they exhibited a fascinating sense of melody and captivating songwriting that struck a chord with those unfamiliar with the genre itself. Now back two years later with Foundations of Burden, Pallbearer took whatever made that album successful and refined every aspect to present an end result that’s every bit as superior but never flashy or too ambitious. Production’s cleaner but the guitars still retain every bit of heaviness; the range of melodies even more precise and exquisite. Even the vocals have considerably improved.

Similar to how Deafheaven injected black metal with a dose of disparate styles in Sunbather last year, Pallbearer obviously takes a lot of influence from other genres but they clearly know how emotionally affective doom can be and takes advantage of it. Bands like My Dying Bride and Type O Negative mastered it but instead turned to strong gothic and fantasy imagery for lyricism, which sadly limited their appeal. Pallbearer isn’t afraid to take a starkly personal approach and that’s what makes them stand out from the pack. 

Standout tracks:

Worlds Apart, The Ghost I Used to Be, Watcher in the Dark, Vanished

FKA Twigs - LP1

British R&B singer FKA Twigs has been making waves recently, generating massive amounts of hype due in part to her singularly fascinating image in a pool of hip new R&B songstresses and left-field experimentation in her music. While the new wave of R&B acts have already been bold in working with various producers across a wide spectrum of electronic music styles, while driving lyricism away from its outrightly confident and sexualized nature, FKA Twigs turns it up a notch with a heavier sense of eccentricity while never eradicating the subtle lusciousness and atmospheric sensuality that has permeated the scene.

With two EPs and a growing fan base on her back, she still makes a huge impression with her first full-length album. Without relying on strong singles or pulling out old songs from her EPs to fill up gaps in the tracklist, FKA Twigs crafts a record that pulls you in with her enchanting vocal range and excellent postmodern production, not to mention very well-written pop songs. FKA Twigs is able to switch from operatic to sultriness to absolute naked fragility within a single song, with lyrics that are deeply intimate and sensual. The single ‘Pendulum’ is a prime example that not only showcases that but it's coupled with classy vocal manipulation that recalls James Blake’s head-spinning debut. The production follows a similar route that’s expected from new R&B acts these days but with an added avant-garde sensibility. Lush, gloomy, atmospheric while borrowing elements from other genres like hip-hop, post-dubstep, art pop and trip-hop. 

Some may argue that we’ve already reached a point of saturation when it comes to R&B (or PBR&B as it’s termed now) but with artists like FKA Twigs coming out of the fold, we’d say they’re only getting better. 

Standout tracks:

Pendulum, Two Weeks, Closer, Kicks

Empire! Empire! (I Was a Lonely Estate) - You Will Be Forgotten

We’ve written about the so-called ‘emo revival’ that has happened for the past 2 to 3 years; basically from 2010 onwards. However, long before there was any talk of some kind of revival, a guy based in Fenton, Michigan formed a little band in 2006 that stood by the introspection of emo in their music. With an odd band name that would make only Efrim Menuck proud, they’ve released one record in 2009 and a few EPs which sadly became sidelined by other acts that ended up being the torchbearers of the revival. All of this while they’ve actually been working on a second record, releasing at such an opportune time where emo has been revitalised for a new audience. 

Unlike most of their recent peers, Empire! Empire! (I Was a Lonely Estate) is more tender in instrumentation while still being pretty damn potent emotionally. As if the album title isn’t already any indication. The lyrics however pose the biggest difference (and challenge) for the band and its audience. Written in a semi-stream of consciousness style, it features literal storytelling rather than distinct choruses or creatively rhyming sentences. Another album that featured this in the past few months was Sun Kil Moon’s Benji, definitely one of our favourites this year. It’s not a bad feature but not everyone will get into it. The songs read like journal entries; with stories that, although not as outrightly devastating as any of those on Benji, are quite engrossing with some of them just very sad. 

While instrumentally it avoids the longer post-rock buildups from their first albums, resulting in shorter songs and greater accessibility, some musical ideas could’ve been better developed. Despite this, You Will Be Forgotten is still a moving record; one that’ll leave you sad for a while. 

Standout tracks:

If It's Bad News It Can Wait, A Keepsake, Ribbon

The Bug - Angels & Devils

While British musician Kevin Martin has been at it for over two decades, it was his 2008 release London Zoo under the moniker The Bug that made the biggest impact on his career. The album, a colossal collision of the grubby underground sounds of dancehall with disorientating dubstep and grime, made a big impact if not for its originality then for its bold and politically-frustrated spin on modern electronic music. While artists like The Bug may not care, the kind of anticipation that would follow an album like that would be incredibly daunting. Six years later, The Bug delivers once again.

If London Zoo was an unrelenting onslaught of bass and vicious mid-range beats, Angels & Devils is a record that’s more dynamic and well-rounded. The duality suggested by the album title sets the tone for the album: the first six tracks, ethereal and heavily textured in nature, introduces a restrained side of The Bug not seen before. Something that could be credited to the years he spent under the ambient dub project King Midas Sound in-between both albums. Starting off with the unassuming wordless vocals of Liz Harris aka Grouper, the first six songs set the lighter tone before descending into familiar chaotic grimy territory by track seven with ‘The One’. 

Despite the luxurious list of talented guest musicians on the album, from Gonjasufi to Inga Copeland and even the now-defunct Death Grips, it’s not a Bug album without his arsenal of energetic urban MCs. Flowdan changes pace with his narration of a militarist dystopian city on ‘Fat Mac’, a song at parts cinematic and unsettling thanks to Godflesh’s Justin Broadrick while ‘Fuck You’ leans closer to the glorious catchiness of London Zoo, with Warrior Queen sounding at her most exasperated. The Bug exercises an incredible amount of careful arrangement in presenting the myriad of songs into an enjoyable record as a whole. The fact that’s he able to feature both Grouper and Death Grips on the same album while still employing both their strengths and flexibility as artists, well it speaks volumes on his capability not only as a musician but also as a producer. The end result is a bracing and exhilarating ride.

Standout tracks:

Rise (feat. copeland), Ascension, Fuck a Bitch (feat. Death Grips), Fat Mac (feat. Flowdan & Justin Broadrick)