Wow, it really has been a while since I’ve visited this column, huh? Things got really busy really fast over here, and it’s kinda hard to sit and write two articles a week when life is finally starting to pick up. However, the tunes did not stop this year, and some of my favorite and most anticipated releases this year were from more than just the metal world. It’s my pleasure to bring you another year of the best of all things metal-adjacent and non-metal. Any of these albums can stand up to the world of buzzsaw guitars, blast beats and screamed vocals. Maybe not in terms of sheer force, but in terms of emotional depth and good times, absolutely. Without further ado, here we go:
Cremation Lily – Dreams Drenched in Static
I’ve already waxed poetic about this album in multiple places, but it always bears repeating that there is nobody, nobody else out there who sounds like Cremation Lily. Field recordings meet homemade and home-broken instruments, unique takes on screamo, ambient, folk, a little black metal and a whole lot of experimental noise; all of it come together in an expansive investigation of death, dying and vulnerability in a way that is truly immersive.
I didn’t write as many Rainbows pieces this year as I normally do, but this was one of them!
Drowse – Wane Into It
Similarly, Wane Into It is also a very specific meditation on death and dying, and between the two albums mentioned so far, it’s hard to tell which foundational experience is more emotionally troubling, but the other binding factor between Dreams Drenched and Wane Into It is that this exploration touches on feelings of loss and despair, yes, but also hope and courage and calculated introspection, as well as being, again, totally unique in terms of crafting a gorgeous and haunting musical landscape.
Hey, I wrote this up too! Neat!
Heilung – Drif
A new Heilung album is always cause for celebration. Does Drif do much that is appreciably different that any of their other releases? Not to my ears, no, although the spoken word historical passages seem a nice touch, if a little long in the tooth. No, Drif is a Heilung album, so you know exactly what you are getting when you put it on, but I’ll tell you this much: “Asja” gets me pumped up and ready to punch a hole in a wall just as much as any circle pit anthem put out this year. Maybe more.
John Moreland – Birds in the Ceiling
John Moreland is one of the finest examples of singer-songwriters today. Not just because of his brutally, heartbreakingly honest lyrics and plaintive voice, but because of his unorthodox use of electronics, trip-hop beats (almost Casio-like in spots) and synth washes behind the traditional folksy strumming that backs his soulful crooning. There is no folk out there that captures the feelings that Moreland captures, and if you haven’t gotten acquainted, I suggest you fix that, and soon.
Blood Incantation – Timewave Zero
Have you ever been the Stargate? I have. It’s pretty cool. Do you want to know how to become the Stargate? Listen to Timewave Zero. It is absolutely glorious, it is unabashedly Blood Incantation (never mind that it’s not, you know, a death metal album), it is deeply immersive and meditative in a way that requires no hobbies at all to appreciate (although they certainly don’t hurt). So many people were hoping and praying that this album was a joke, but I don’t think Blood Incantation have ever been more serious about anything in their lives and I couldn’t be happier that this album is exactly what it is.
Vince took the mantle on this one, as he should have, and you can read more, better thoughts right here.
Orville Peck – Bronco
On paper, there is almost nothing I should like about Bronco. As a general rule, I don’t like modern country, especially the slick, overproduced modern country you find on the radio. And (with a few exceptions, see below) I don’t like pop music either. So why does Bronco captivate me so? It’s honest. These are not songs about how great the USA is, they’re not about getting drunk in a cornfield or meaningless platitudes about how great being “country” is. They’re love songs, done extremely well, sung from the heart. You owe it to yourself to experience them.
Regina Spektor – Home, Before and After
Believe it or not, Home, Before and After was one of my most anticipated albums for this year. Yes, I don’t normally jive with pop music, but I give it its fair shot, and the first time I gave Regina Spektor a shot, I fell in love with her peerless take on quirky songwriting. Cut to a six year absence, and I found myself dying for new music from her. Home, Before and After does not disappoint. It feels like she picked up right where she left off, this time a mother and a wife, but still the same talent she’s always been. Plus, we finally got a “proper” release of “Raindrops,” one of my favorite tunes of hers for a long time now.
40 Watt Sun – Perfect Light
How do you accurately describe an album like Perfect Light? It is everything that you know a 40 Watt Sun album is going to be: spare musically, dense emotionally, full of some of the best lyrics you’ve ever heard in your life, sung by a man who just truly gets it, whatever “it” is. Patrick Walker is someone who truly understands the human condition in a way that very, very, very few other people do, and he also happens to be just talented enough to make an incredible album touching on every facet of love the light touches.
The Mountain Goats – Bleed Out
Come on. Did you really think there could be anything else taking the number one spot here? If you don’t know by now, it’s gotta be because you’re actively trying not to know. Yes, Bleed Out is a new Mountain Goats album, but that doesn’t mean you know what to expect. This is the most vital, the most intense and the most exciting the band has sounded in years (and, keep in mind, I have loved the past few releases from them, so this is saying something). It’s all bangers, and it absolutely delivers on everything that makes the quartet the greatest band in the world, all tied together within the theme of Italian crime movies from the 70s and 80s.
Katheryn Mohr – Holly
As always, I’m including an EP for good measure, and I’m so thankful that Vince once again took a Rainbows to write about, because I would have never found Holly if it wasn’t for that piece. Holly is the lo-fi guitar and synthesizer EP that I dream about making myself, and now I know I could never do it quite the justice that Mohr does, so I shouldn’t even try. “Stranger” is a song that has been on almost non-stop repeat in my head since I first heard it, and that alone is enough to seal this EP’s spot on my list.
Want that aforementioned review sent straight to your brain? Here you go!
Well, there you have it: my picks for the best of all things non-metal. It’s been a wild year, but these songs, just as much as anything with copious amounts of distortion, kept me company in the best and worst times of it all. I hope you check them out, I hope you keep checking the site out, because we will keep bringing you the best of it all in the coming year, and years.