Dethklok is the fictional band in the animated Adult Swim show, Metalocalypse, one of the funniest and most metal shows on TV. It also makes death metal accessible to a vast audience, most of whom would likely anticipate finding the genre frightening and unappealing. The album has already become the highest charting death metal album of all time (overtaking Dethalbum II). Though I honestly have never given the genre a decent shot, I would probably not actively seek out death metal to listen to. It’s rather intense music, and I don’t often feel like I’m in a “death metal mindset,” whatever that would be. This album, though not as laugh-out-loud funny as the show it comes from, is far from the frightening, Satan-worshipping image that death metal is often, fairly or unfairly, associated with. Though fictionalized in Metalocalypse, Dethklok is also a real band made up of some very talented musicians, including Mike Keneally, the “stunt guitarist” in Frank Zappa‘s touring band. The songs are highly melodic and quite catchy, if you don’t mind screaming. It also doesn’t hurt that songs have titles like “I Ejaculate Fire” and “Impeach God.” Though it can get a little repetitive, this album presents an excellent opportunity to check out a genre you might have otherwise ignored.
Try #1 (“I Ejaculate Fire”)
Titus Andronicus’ last album, 2010’s epic The Monitor is almost impossible to top. It was a concept album about the Civil War with some of the greatest punk (or for that matter, regardless of genre) songs of the past decade on it. After witnessing their outstanding live show at Eclectic (which was unfortunately marred by an incident detailed here) two years back, they solidified their position as one of my favorite bands around. On first listen, this does seem like a slight let-up from The Monitor, but that doesn’t mean that this isn’t an excellent album in its own right. Titus has abandoned the lofty, conceptual thematics of that album, but they can still make some killer music.
Try #s1 & 5 (“Ecce Homo” & “My Eating Disorder”)
ZZ Ward (birth name, Zsuzsanna Eva Ward) is a young singer from Oregon, who grew up loving the blues, discovered hip-hop, and decided to combine the two. The approach works well, since she has a great soulful, bluesy voice, and good ear for arrangements and collaborators. Two of the best rappers around, Kendrick Lamar and Freddie Gibbs, appear on this record, giving it credibility and making her one of the few young, female blues/soul singers to collaborate with the cream of the new hip-hop generation. She has also gotten production from hip-hop legends Pete Rock, DJ Premier and Ali Shaheed Muhammad. Til The Casket Drops is distributed by Hollywood Records, a subsidiary of Disney, and the title track has been featured in a promo for ABC Family’s Pretty Little Liars. So she’s riding a line between mainstream accessibility and underground cred, but there is nothing exploitative or overtly commercial about this album. It is simply a well-made, classy blues/soul album with some well-placed hip-hop influences.
Try #s 5, 6 & 10 (“Cryin’ Wolf (ft. Kendrick Lamar)”, “Save My Life” & “Criminal (ft. Freddie Gibbs)”)
Ultraísta is a new project for Radiohead-producer Nigel Godrich and Beck drummer Joey Waronker, along with vocals by the young, sweet-voiced Laura Bettinson (AKA Femme). These are some smart, talented people, and they have created a dreamy, beautiful record. The band took its name from the Ultraists, a group of minimalist Spanish writers of the early 20th century (including Jorge Luis Borges).
Try #s 1 & 8 (“Bad Insect” & “Party Line”)
Black Moth Super Rainbow is a mysterious psychedelic synthpop group from Pittsburgh, who have now released their fifth album since 2003. They raised money for this one of Kickstarter and it sounds like they put it to good use, as the sound here is very detailed and immaculately produced. I’m a newcomer to the group, but I dig this one a lot. The sound reminds me of Daft Punk and Justice at their best, i.e. very fun dance music that isn’t obnoxious or abrasive.
Try #s 1 & 3 (“Windshield Smasher” & “Hairspray Heart”)