Best of 2017: Non-metal records

Julie Byrne (Photo by Jonathan Bouknight)

We’re a metal site. In case you hadn’t noticed. We write about it all year long, and we’re about to launch into the rest of the month celebrating the best the genre had to offer us. But we’re not barbarians. Or I’m not. I don’t know why I always use we. Anyway, there’s lot more to what makes up a week of music other than heavy metal.

I did that silly Spotify thing where it shows you your most listened-to artists and gives you the top 100 songs you listened to all year long. My top 5 artists contain zero metal bands. Pretty sure my top 100 has only one metal song. That’s because I retreat to Spotify to get away from the metallic world and immerse myself in other sounds. I love all types of bands, and since I don’t have an outlet to explore those, here are some of my favorite non-metal releases of 2017.

JULIE BYRNE, “Not Even Happiness” (Ba Da Bing): Something weird happened this year with Julie Byrne’s excellent second record “Not Even Happiness,” in that a lot of folks I follow on Twitter who also are metal fans happened to sing her praises. The music is dark, lonely, and sensitive, and despite the hard-outer armor we often try to show, we’re vulnerable at heart. And that’s OK because we’re not afraid to explore that side. Byrne’s haunting voice and tender expressions get inside of you and take you along her rustic, quiet folk journey. This record peaks on opener “Follow My Voice,” “Sleepwalker,” and gorgeous “Natural Blue.” This is a perfect companion for a cold winter night. (Jan. 13)

For more on the band, go here: http://juliemariebyrne.com/

To buy the album, go here: https://grapefruitrecordclub.com/t/ba-da-bing-records

For more on the label, go here: http://www.badabingrecords.com/

CHELSEA WOLFE, “Hiss Spun” (Sargent House): This is almost cheating as this is a borderline metal album. This is the heaviest material of Wolfe’s rich career, and while it initially took some time to warm up fully to the material, I’m now deliriously hooked. Wolfe has a way of mixing metallic edges, haunting passages, and stuff out of fever dream nightmares as she teases you on “16 Psyche,” “The Culling,” “Twin Fawn,” and “Static Hum.” I’ll never not be enraptured by Wolfe’s music and playing, and she keeps getting better as her career progresses. (Sept. 22)

For more on the band, go here: http://www.chelseawolfe.net/

To buy the album, go here: https://www.hellomerch.com/collections/chelsea-wolfe

For more on the label, go here: https://sargenthouse.com/

ULVER, “The Assassination of Julius Caesar”/“Sic Transit Gloria Mundi” (self-released): It’s pretty strange putting Ulver on a non-metal list, but this band has long since pushed past those boundaries. This year, they put out two captivating releases that are Euro-flavored pop records, and they are awfully good. “The Assassination of Julius Caesar” arrived back in the spring, and it delivered songs that felt like they were meant to be enjoyed after a hazy late night when your brain is cloudy, and you want release. It also mixes the parallels of the death of Princess Diana and the myth of Greek goddess Artemis, to add even more wonder. Then, a few weeks ago, they delivered the “Sic Transit Gloria Mundi” EP, consisting of songs developed during the same sessions, including a disarming cover of Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s “The Power of Love.” (April 7/Nov. 11)

For more on the band, go here: http://www.jester-records.com/ulver/

To buy the album, go here: https://ulver.bandcamp.com/

CHERRY GLAZERR, “Apocalipstick” (Secretly Canadian): Good pop records are timeless, and Cherry Glazerr certainly feel like a group that could have arrived at any time the past 20 years. With Clementine Creevy out front (you also may have seen her on Amazon series “Transparent”) and absolutely ruling, the band puts together punk-fueled, noisy, alluring, psychedelic-tinged rock that gets inside your head and never, ever leaves. Songs such as “Nuclear Bomb,” “Lucid Dreams,” “Trash People,” and abrasive “Sip O’ Poison” are so much fun and absolutely melt your ears and brain with their exuberant energy and sugary madness. Go get this and bliss the fuck out. (Jan. 20)

For more on the band, go here: http://cherry-glazerr.com/

To buy the album, go here: https://www.secretlystore.com/

For more on the label, go here: http://www.secretlycanadian.com/

HARVESTMAN, “Music for Monoliths” (Neurot): Steve Von Till’s influence on metal is unquestionable, considering his work with the mighty Neurosis. But on the side, he delves more toward folk regions with some of his work, including his Harvestman banner. This seven-track effort returned to nature and what’s pure about humankind, as he pays homage to his roots on these songs. This is music that is perfect for a campfire, even if you’re alone with some trusted spirits and your thoughts. Gaze into the cosmos and get in touch with your emotions while visiting “The Forest Is Our Temple,” “Ring of Sentinels,” “Levitation,” and “Sundown.” Von Till can devastate with you decibels or his spiritual journeys. (May 19)

For more on the band, go here: http://www.vontill.org/

To buy the album, go here: https://neurotrecordings.merchtable.com/

For more on the label, go here: https://www.neurotrecordings.com/

LAND OF TALK, “Life After Youth” (Saddle Creek): I missed Elizabeth Powell so hard. Land of Talk is a band that was criminally underappreciated during their first run that ended seven years ago. I wasn’t even expecting Powell to return, but when she did, I just hoped for a decent record from Land of Talk. Instead, we got an amazing album that picked right up where “Cloak & Cipher” left off and even pushed further. Powell is in great voice here, and songs such as “Loving,” “This Time,” “Heartcore,” and “What Was I Thinking?” are vintage Land of Talk material. This album gives hope that this is just the beginning of Powell’s second wind. (May 19)

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/landoftalk/

To buy the album, go here: https://saddle-creek.com/collections/all

For more on the label, go here: https://saddle-creek.com/

BIG THIEF, “Capacity” (Saddle Creek): I’m saving the best for last, because this is one of my favorite records of the year. That Spotify algorithm? It found a ton of Big Thief’s music, fueled by Adrianne Lenker’s amazing songwriting, emotive singing, and from-the-heart storytelling that tells you that she’s has seen some harrowing things (“Mythological Beauty” is a gem and a heart ripper). I’ve seen the band twice this year (neither time were they a full four piece and still owned the room), and they’re one of the best bands playing any type of music anywhere. Take on “Shark Smile” (that song is a disguised crusher), heart-destroying “Coma,” infectious “Haley,” and show-stopper “Mary,” where Lenker delivers some of the best vocal phrasing of the entire year. This band is a leviathan. (June 9)

For more on the band, go here: http://www.bigthief.net/

To buy the album, go here: https://saddle-creek.com/collections/all

For more on the label, go here: https://saddle-creek.com/

Advertisements