Here’s what The Culture Tsar has been listening to for the past week. Check out highlights from each album on The Culture Tsar’s Weekly Highlights playlist on Spotify to listen for yourself.
If you’re reading this after the Spotify list has updated, check out The Culture Tsar’s 2018 Highlights playlist to find the selections below.
1: The Horrors: V (2017)
The Culture Tsar has a bit of history with The Horrors. They were one of the first bands he stumbled upon during his initial Spotify explorations several years ago. Both 2011’s Skying and 2009’s Primary Colours are excellent, but The Culture Tsar hasn’t really kept up with what the band’s been doing since then. V continues many of the trends present in Skying, moving the music beyond the more straightforward 80s goth sound of their early work. Although definitely a rock band, The Horrors never quite sound like one. They have good pop sensibilities and bring in a lot of interesting ambient electronic elements to break up the structure of conventional rock music. Above all, The Horrors seem intent upon combining every alternative music trend of the last thirty years into a single album. Their music has a bit of a timeless quality that’s difficult to pin down in a particular era. You could have told me this album was from 2007, 1997, or 1987 and every one of those dates would have made sense. Odds are you’ll find at least a few tracks you enjoy on this album as a result, but you might find the entire package somewhat unsatisfying.
2: Cloud Nothings: Life Without Sound (2017)
This is a tough album to review. Life Without Sound is easy to classify, of course. It’s a rock album that incorporates a lot of pop punk sensibility with more mature songwriting inspired by classic 60s era British rock. The songs are catchy, the vocals eager, and the whole thing moves along at a nice, steady clip. It’s fine. Perfectly enjoyable. The problem is that The Culture Tsar remembered literally nothing about the album when he sat down to write about it. This highlights one of the difficulties with this musical discovery endeavor, namely that it can be hard to say something insightful about an album you listened to once several days ago. Still, this hasn’t been a big issue in previous weeks. This album is just a little on the bland side. Again, it’s fine. If you like more modern pop punk type music, you’ll probably really like it. The Culture Tsar didn’t hear anything special, though. Nothing offensive, but just nothing worth getting excited about.
3: Kylesa: Exhausting Fire (2015)
Let’s cut to the heart of the matter straight away: Kylesa sounds awesome. The opening track tells you everything you need to know about this band. Heavy distorted, fuzz effect drenched guitars slogging over a bone crunching, mid tempo rhythm section with muted vocals fighting to cut through the mix. Listening to Kylesa is like going to see Black Sabbath in 1972 with a wet towel wrapped around your head…and you’re drunk. Kylesa is a particularly good example of the “stoner metal” genre, which is a descriptor that’s both unfortunate and perfect all at the same time. This band can crank out the riffs, but they have a good ear for a hook. Most of the songs are pretty catchy, and they’re one of the few bands that mixes female and male vocals effectively. On the down side, this album includes a rather subpar cover of Black Sabbath’s “Paranoid.” Don’t let that deter you, though. The rest of the album is stellar. Highly recommended for any metalhead.
4: Tamaryn: Cranekiss (2015)
The Culture Tsar was fairly indifferent about this album upon the initial listen, but found it more enjoyable when he went back to it to select tracks for the playlist. Probably best slotted in the “dream pop” genre, Cranekiss is a pretty good album overall. It doesn’t have many tracks that stand out as great, but there aren’t any duds either. The album features a lot of swirling synths and echo-laden vocals that blend together in a pleasant wave of sound. It’s the kind of music that can very easily sink into the background if you’re not focusing on it, which is probably why The Culture Tsar’s initial impressions were rather muted. At its best moments, Cranekiss sounds a bit like a modernized version of Souxsie and the Banshees, but it never quite reaches the same level of confident swagger. The most standout track, “Hands All Over Me”, feels a bit atypical from the rest of the album, featuring a bit more pep and enthusiasm. Cranekiss strikes me as the sort of album you pick a few tracks from to put on your playlist and then set the rest of the songs aside. Good, but nothing you haven’t heard before.
5: Vallenfyre: Fear Those Who Fear Him (2017)
And now for some really intense music. Vallenfyre is a side project by Greg Mackintosh, the lead guitar player of Paradise Lost, which you may know is The Culture Tsar’s favorite band. But while Paradise Lost is very much a doom metal band, Vallenfyre is straight up black metal. The songs here are heavy, nasty, and sound like they were recorded inside a metal garbage can. If you’re into that sort of thing, it’s great, although this album is probably a bit on the slow side for some black metal fans. If you’re not a metal fan, Vallenfyre will probably strike you as unlistenable (and possibly offensive) noise. In the latter case, you’ll just have to take The Culture Tsar’s word for it that this is what good black metal is supposed to sound like. The drumming is fantastic, the guitars are savage, and the vocals are brutal without being incomprehensible. While The Culture Tsar appreciates Vallenfyre artistically, it’s not something he would listen to on a regular basis. The songs here are a little more melodic than the more extreme strands of black metal (Mackintosh is too good of a songwriter to lose that sensibility completely), but they’re definitely not trying to make their way onto the singles charts. Good stuff, but listen at your own risk…
That’s it for the Culture Tsar’s musical offerings this week. Here’s a sneak peak at next week’s albums:
1: End of the Dream: Until You Break (2017)
2: Minus the Bear: VOIDS (2017)
3: Hanging Garden: I Am Become (2017)
4: Emma Ruth Rundle: Marked for Death (2016)
5: In the Silence: A Fair Dream Gone Mad (2013)