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: Junius: Eternal Rituals for the Accretion of Light (2017)
Junius has been on The Culture Tsar’s “to listen” list for a long while now and he’s happy to report the band was absolutely worth the wait. They have a great, crushingly heavy sound that never quite reaches abrasive levels. Aside from a few screaming portions, most of the vocals are clean, with a bit of a muted, dreamlike quality about them. They sound a bit like a cross between Mastodon’s more cerebral work (think 2009’s Crack the Skye) and melodic post rock bands like God is an Astronaut. It feels inaccurate to label them as a metal band, although they very clearly are one. Their lyrics and song titles are deeply wrapped up in metaphysical themes drawn from the more eccentric corners of western philosophy. One gets the impression that somebody in the band was a philosophy major who studied a lot of pre-Enlightenment scientific theory, the sort of “quasi-science” that produced a host of delightfully weird ideas about the laws of the universe. Like a lot of metal bands, it’s hard to identify a standout hit on this album. The songs are all quite good, but Junius isn’t in the business of crafting a catchy tune. This album is best experienced as a whole because it feels like a journey through an alternate dimension that you might fall into if you concentrated on the patterns of the stars long enough. Highly recommended, especially if you’re looking for a little more IQ in your metal bands.
2: We Are Scientists: Helter Seltzer (2016)
Let’s get the good news and the bad news out of the way right up front: the first half of this album is absolutely brilliant, but the second half drops off significantly. We Are Scientists have a great pop rock sound and their songwriting is tight and peppy without being cheesy or annoying. Imagine if Weezer and Oasis got together to record an album that didn’t feature any of the pretentious self-importance that makes those bands annoying and you’d have something that sounds kinda like Helter Seltzer. The first three tracks are shockingly good, the kind of songs that make you wonder why this band isn’t a household name. Things begin to trail off after that, though. Somewhere around the fourth or fifth track, the album downshifts into a more predictable indie rock sound. It’s still good, but the bar was set so high by the opening songs that The Culture Tsar couldn’t help but feel disappointed by the end. The whole thing is still worth a listen, though, and whatever you do, you should absolutely check out those first few songs.
3: Client: Authority (2014)
This one’s easy to describe: Ladytron fronted by ABBA. Featuring heavy electronic dance beats with layered synthesizers to keep things moving, Client tries to strike a balance between catchy pop and house music. They do a reasonably good job, but the songs lean a bit closer to the house music side of the equation. As pop tunes, none of the tracks are particularly memorable. You’ll probably enjoy hearing Client when they’re playing in the background, but a more focused listen will leave you feeling like there’s just not much “there” there. The Culture Tsar had a hard time ignoring just how much they sound like Ladytron. While the ABBA-style vocals are a nice touch and sound very good, the fact remains that Ladytron is a much better version of the same music. Client just isn’t different enough to not make The Culture Tsar wish he was listening to Ladytron instead.
4: The Eden House: Songs for the Broken Ones (2017)
Along with Helter Seltzer, this album was the other big surprise of the week. It’s fantastic. Dark and vaguely gothic, it sounds like a less ambient version of groups like Delerium or Dead Can Dance. The first track isn’t great, but the album gains momentum after that and never really lets up. It has an ethereal sound backed up by a substantial rock punch. While sonically and emotionally heavy, the music never crosses the line into metal territory, and rarely even approach what you’d characterize as hard rock. Both the production and arrangement are stellar, making it possible to make out every last note from the multilayered instruments. The female vocalist showcases quite a bit of versatility, shifting from breathy, spoken word sections to more haunting melodic work on several songs. She’s not a siren by any means, but her airy voice is perfect for the dark tone of the material. Overall, a superb album that The Culture Tsar highly recommends.
5: Elysian Fields: For House Cats and Sea Fans (2014)
Alas, not everything can be good news, which brings us to The Culture Tsar’s big disappointment of the week. To be fair, this one is a victim of expectations. The Culture Tsar loves Elysian Fields’s 1996 debut album Bleed Your Cedar, but hasn’t had a chance to hear much of their subsequent material. Elysian Fields has a rather troubled history with record labels, which made it difficult to find a lot of their music over the years (although all of their albums are available on iTunes, only a few are available on Spotify). For House Cats and Sea Fans doesn’t have much in common with Bleed Your Cedar. It has kind of a stripped down, coffeehouse indie sound that occasionally ventures into more of a jazz vibe. A few tracks have a hint of the nastier edge Elysian Fields has shown in the past, but most of the tracks play it pretty safe. None of these songs would sound out of place playing over the speakers at the local hipster coffee shop. Which is fine, I guess. Jennifer Charles has a beautiful voice and she gives a great performance on this album. Again, The Culture Tsar is a victim of his own expectations here. Bleed Your Cedar is a delightfully strange and dangerous album, but For House Cats and Sea Fans is the very definition of safe and nonthreatening. After hearing the other standout albums from this week, it just felt a little flat.
That’s it for the Culture Tsar’s musical offerings this week. Here’s a sneak peak at next week’s albums:
1: Marilyn Manson: The Pale Emperor (2015)
2: Hungry Lucy: Pulse of the Earth (2017)
3: If These Trees Could Talk: The Bones of a Dying World (2016)
4: White Lies: Friends (2017)
5: Memoryhouse: Soft Hate (2016)