Welp, we’re back at it again. This train doesn’t stop. All aboard the EIN Express heading toward Review Rundown Station where we’ll drop off ten awesome reviews for you to peruse. As is common of our genre-agnostic selves, there’s something for everyone here. Among the bands covered here: Altin Gün, Otoboke Beaver, Un, Club Kuru, Trade Wind, Arch Echo, Encoffinized, Rhiannon Giddens, Snow Ghosts, and Deceptic. Take a read for yourself!
If you’re interested in past volumes, use this link to easily find them.
2018 saw the release of one of the biggest video games in history when Rockstar dropped the Old West mega-hit, Red Dead Redemption 2. One of the major contributors to the soundtrack is the incredibly versatile and talented Rhiannon Giddens. I’ve been familiar with her for quite a while, most notably from her time with The Carolina Chocolate Drops and previous solo outings, and have checked in on her music from time to time over the years. When I saw that she was collaborating with a jazz artist, I knew that I was in for a treat as her voice is aptly suited for this genre as well.
There Is No Other is an album that dives into a variety of genre approaches, but all having the same minimalist approach; two or three instruments and Giddens‘ angelic vocals. From the American folk classic “Wayfaring Stranger” to the piano-driven ballad “Trees On The Mountain”, each track has its own wrinkle or identity that sets it apart and makes the record incredibly well-rounded. There have been fewer albums this year that have made such an impact on me as this one. The vocals, pacing, song choices, and diversity make it without a doubt the strongest folk record that I’ve heard this year.
Encoffinized – Chambers of Desolation
Okay, so this is a wild swerve into another direction from the above album. Sometimes though, you just have to go with your gut and talk about something that you love for an entirely different set of reasons than artistic merit and beauty. In fact, to call this album beautiful would be a bit of an insult to Encoffinized. Superlatives for death metal are usually on the opposite end of what we normally use. Filthy, dirty, disgusting, etc., are all terms of endearment for this genre and by extension, this band. Oh, and by the way, this album is all of that list and more. Down-tempo riffing, pig squeals, completely unintelligible vocals, and a snare that sounds like a wooden 2×4 smacking the pavement.
From grindy start to grimy finish, Chambers of Desolation is an album that will please any fan of knuckle-dragging, throat-gurgling death metal. Remember the aforementioned descriptors are high praise. “Rotting Away” is incredibly atmospheric for a band that plays ‘caveman shit’ and ‘parking lot death metal’ (their words, not mine), and the song is actually… catchy? Sometimes, I just need a little wind-down music, and honestly, this is the most fun I’ve had listening to pure death metal in a while. A great sense of humor, big riffs, and a concrete image of who they and what they do makes Encoffinized more than entertaining.
Snow Ghosts – A Quiet Ritual
Featuring some of the coolest album art I’ve seen in some time, the third album from UK trio Snow Ghosts is a truly magnificent exercise in distillation of the composite parts of a band into one matured machine. Slowly coalescing over the past two years, A Quiet Ritual is anything but quiet. From the ominous traditional boar horns that open the record in “Keening” into the violently immediate “Rip” that injects aspects of noise as vocalist Hannah Cartwright’s darkly soulful vocal soars above the raucous instrumentation to find that clarity within a storm.
What A Quiet Ritual does so well is focus on memorable composition whilst saturating the record with British mythologies in such a human way without ever becoming forced or convoluted. “Ribcage” in particular is the perfect example of this with its hauntingly stark lyrics – ‘Wrap yourself inside my ribcage/shelter from the tempest and rage/and use my heart.’ These words are palpable, the emotive delivery and otherworldly electronics that underpin the melodies become incredibly arresting.
A Quiet Ritual is an album of rare quality in which every aspect is carefully considered before a single note is recorded. It’s that attention to detail that could make this offering one of the best of the year!
Turkish music is at its finest a well-struck equilibrium. The combination of Eastern and Western musical sensibilities serve as a playground for composers to let imagination run wild with unique genre mixes more commonplace than almost anywhere else. The combination of metal and arabesque brought to life by the likes of Şebnem Ferah is a prime example of this. But until the discovery of Altin Gün, the combination of synthpop, traditional Turkish folk, and psychedelic rock is to be heard to be believed.
Gece or ‘Night’ for those English speakers marks the band’s second full-length and with that comes a greater sonic exploration than ever before. From the hazy quasi-70s soundtrack “Leyla” with its fuzzy guitar flutter and pulsating electronic bubbles right through to the sun-soaked surf rock vibe of “Kolbasti”. Gece is a veritable smörgåsbord of genre-spanning retro-tinged delights. Whilst many often feel that music in a foreign language loses something in translation, Altin Gün have gone to incredible lengths to inject vibrancy into the compositions on offer. The exuberance in which this album is approached is something special. Gece may be called ‘Night’ but this is a bright, breezy summer album if ever I’ve heard one!
One of my favorite instrumental albums ever is Sithu Aye’s Senpai EP. The reason behind this – outside of being a weeb – is how much absolute, unabashed fun it is. Arch Echo have hit the same vein with You Won’t Believe What Happens Next!, but have found a treasure all their own.
The talent that exists within this group is phenomenal. With ingenuity and maturity to spare, each song is nothing less than excellent. While some tracks can feel a bit samey and simple, sometimes that is all it needs. “Stella” sounds like many other songs from a plethora of other artists, yet it can still distinguish itself. The star of the show has to be the keyboards and synths. Instead of using it to accent the album, it is an integral part of it. While it is the longest on the record, “Iris” is a wonderful ending to this album that concludes it and leaves you feeling content.
Whenever I hear a new instrumental group, I always go in hoping for the best, but preparing for the most ‘Look at the solos I can sweep out!’ style of songwriting. It is relieving that an album can hit all the good parts and have me feeling good about what I just heard. It may not go down as one of my favorites, but that’s not going to stop me from keeping this album on repeat.
It can be hard to strike out and carve your own path nowadays in this djent era, yet many bands still attempt to create an identity regardless of that fact. While it can be basic and predictable at times, I continually find myself enjoying this album much more than I expected to. “Lost in Plain Sight” has a nice background harmony topped with a smooth vocal pattern that I found quite pleasant, even if was only for a moment. One missed opportunity that I found can be found in Continuum Unknown’s interlude, “Förnekelsesekvensen”. The piano parts combined with the aggressiveness found later in the track really flesh out the song and provide depth that is hard to find in the rest of the album.
I know that djent music is becoming oversaturated in this day and age, but it is nice hear something that still jams as well as Continuum Unknown. Even with just a few playthroughs, I found myself bumping to near every song and just having a good time with this record. Deceptic have managed to stand their ground amongst their plentiful competition and really define themselves as a group. Here’s hoping we see even more growth from them in future!
Club Kuru keep it nice and slow in their second studio album, Meet Your Maker, which draws heavily from the vintage prog rock birthing pool. In fact, it’s so vintage, you might be forgiven for thinking it was actually recorded somewhere in the 70s.
And that, of course, is to the band’s credit. That spacey, psychedelic soundscape reinforced by dreamy vocals, a gentle tempo, and an almost iconic Gilmour strat guitar sound is engineered to a fault. You’ll hear how effortlessly locked-in these musicians are the moment you hit play. And there are a lot of places you can take this album. It has suitable ambient presence to serve as pleasant background noise, or you can dive in head-first, filter out all surrounding stimulus and drink in Meet Your Maker on a molecular level. It just happens to be layered that way.
It’s also fair to say that the songwriting takes some rather unpredictable turns. In Club Kuru‘s mission to hazily serenade listeners, you get a profound sense of clarity, which furthers the suggestion that this album was made in a heightened out-of-time burst of creativity. Perhaps the band underwent some rigourous soul-searching to make this record, or maybe it just came intuitively. Either way, it works.
Un – 1st-Ego
Masterminded by Chinese composer Huajie Chen, 1st-Ego may on first listen be considered vintage djent by numbers. But there is a little more happening with this. Speckled throughout the record are some unique and pleasurable traits which draw from traditional Chinese music, and ultimately help to place the album in a box of its own. And, you know what? When all put together, it ain’t half bad. The musicianship is tight and the commonly-used conventions it does draw from are pretty damn meaty. Vocals are also very impressive, and sung entirely in Chinese. All in all, there’s quite a lot to be unearthed beneath the standard metal surface.
By large, 1st-Ego exudes positivity, drawing from the merrier moments of your favourite TesseracT, Periphery, or Devin Townsend catalogue. You can tell, almost to the exact album, which prog metal bands have been on Un’s playlist, But adding a higher level of musical interest has also been on the cards with Un’s composition. Play the record from start to finish and you’ll hear it. The melodic segments and intriguing background vocals are a substantial way to bulk out the content and often ring out to be the most interesting moments.
This also makes it a more engaging experience for the listener. Think of 1st-Ego as the djent-based uplift to your journey into work.
Trade Wind deal in dreamy post-rock that isn’t typically my thing, but hey, when it’s good, it’s good. Their new album, Certain Freedoms, is a breath of fresh air between all the heavy stuff I’ve been drowning in even though it isn’t without its weighty atmosphere.
Having never heard of this band before, it was a good way to go into this experience: no expectations. It allowed their wispy soundscapes to take me away, much like the hot air balloon on the album cover would. The hazy pink sky that “Close Encounters (of the 3rd Floor)” paints as delay-heavy guitars sweep through your head is a thing of beauty. This is something that’s bolstered by impassioned vocal performances. Powerful singing, melodic and somber musings, and a lot in between – it’s all here. It has a personal feeling to it and it’s something you can relate to even if you’re not fully invested in the lyrics like I am. My favorite examples of this are the title track and “I Can’t Believe You’re Gone”, but you could easily point to nearly any other track as they all embody the same lovely, if a little forlorn, atmosphere.
This is what I like to call sunset music. While Certain Freedoms is surely a great sonic companion any time of the day, it captures the natural allure and intimacy that a nice sunset would display. It feels profoundly human; aware of its smallness in the world, not afraid to speak of the incomprehensible splendor of the world around.
Ever since Japan decided to dump all their cultural skills points into being as eclectic as possible, we’ve been steadily getting groups like Otoboke Beaver. They’re quite the hyperactive quartet, just as willing to keep things speeding high on the rails as they are to derail into certain chaos with their brand of punky garage rock. It’s a beautiful thing to witness!
You’ll have to forgive me since I’m not able to adequately interpret Japanese lyrics or themes, but there’s so much you can get just from the instrumentation and the vibe. That’s what has carried me as a Rammstein fan for two decades, but I digress. What you get here is relatively clean and powerful garage rock with a lot of character. All four ladies in the group share vocal duties – solo performances are rare as they all harmonize, play off and finish each other’s lines, and more. Each member is wildly invested in the sound of this album. Guitars are gritty and plucky like a 90s cartoon protagonist, bass comfortably hums deeply in the back of tracks, drums are very dramatic and energetic with their rapid stop-and-go progressions. Good production does everyone a favor here, ensuring things never get confusing or overbearing.
Itekoma Hits is a frantic, aggressively sunny good time. It’s hard not to have a smile on your face when Otoboke Beaver tear through my personal favorites like “datsu, hikago no onna” (groovy) or “Don’t light my fire” (a vigorous rush of energy). Highly recommended for those looking for something a little different.