I know this is a metal focussed site and I like it that way but I’m not just a fan of metal, although it is my favorite genre and takes up most of my listening time, but I also enjoy music as a whole, whether I keep up with other genres as much or not.
I do feel like this year metal dominated everything for me and I neglected a lot of great music, some of which I’m just now getting caught up on, but I did keep my eyes and ears out for things I typically respond to: musicians I’ve been a fan of forever, punk, good country, folk, and singer/songwriter type stuff.
So here’s my list of my favorite non-metal music, presented in no order.
Marissa Nadler – Strangers
I couldn’t really get into her last album, sans a few songs but I liked those enough to have my interest peaked by samples of her new album. Good for me that I checked it out because it’s a bleak, dismal, heart-wrenchingly, beautiful album. It’s still very “post” and ethereal but she and accompanying band have filled out the sound a bit with more instrumentation and some experimental stylings such as the soft country flair that appears on the album. The fuller sound doesn’t detract from the bleak, sparse feeling of her music but just makes it all the more intriguing.
Brian Fallon – Painkillers
This was the album I wished the last Gaslight Anthem album should have been. I think Fallon has mastered that punk infused, americana style that Gaslight is known for and I do prefer the Bruce Springsteen anthem-esque, role down the windows and drive songs, but this one has a more folk tinged, classic rock vibe going on that is pretty awesome. Not to say that working class vibe isn’t here, it’s just subdued more. His lyrics, of course, carry the album but the music compliments the story driven lyrics amazingly. Fallon is a great songwriter and this solo album is a perfect example of that. Now if only he can bring this magic back to Gaslight for the more rock driven sweet spot that that band hits.
Descendents – Hypercaffium Spazzinate
My affection for this band knows no bounds and you might say that makes my opinion biased but I don’t care. The Descendents are amazing in all that they do and this one is the band firing on all cylinders. Nothing can top Everything Sucks but god damn if they aren’t trying their best. The Descendents pop punk still feels vital and necessary and after so many years of existence, it holds up with the best of their work.
Lydia Loveless – Real
One of my favorite non-metal discovers of the past couple years, Lydia Loveless’s combination of indie song writing, down to earth lyrics, and that country tinged voice hit all my singer/songwriter love buttons. She’s gone a bit more “rock” on this one which fits her exceedingly well. Great songwriter, great songs. Great album.
G.L.O.S.S. – Trans Day of Revenge
If ever there was a band that burned up rather than fade away, it’s G.L.O.S.S. Making waves with their no bullshit, in your face, DIY punk rock ferocity, they released one demo last year and this EP, both together totally about 16 minutes worth of music. After they declined an offer from Epitaph Records, the band decided to call it quits and leave us with these scant few minutes of punk rock glory.
Planes Mistaken for Stars – Prey
Not my usual cup of tea as I don’t spend much time in the post hardcore/post punk side of the pool, but I recall seeing these guys around town a lot like 10 years ago or so and thinking they were pretty good. Well, they’re reunited and it still sounds good to me. Punk at the core but “post” everything to be sure. Just straight up emotion, drive, and well crafted “punk” songs with some unique vocal stylings. Pleasantly surprised by this and slightly addicted to it.
Dust Moth – Scale
A bit different for me but I liked their EP so I was curious about their first full-length. This is like an atmospheric/shoe gazey/sludge sort of thing, which is me trying to grasp the eclectic nature of this album. It’s not metal, in fact it’s not heavy really, it’s more dreamy, airy and flowing with beautiful echoing, vocals provided by Irene Barber. There’s great moments of beauty on this one.
Miserable – Uncontrollable
I’ve been a fan of vocalist Kristina Esfandiari’s throaty crooning since I stumbled on to the King Woman EP from last year. Her other project, Miserable, is more of a shoegaze, droning, example of, well, misery. I’ve read comparisons to PJ Harvey and I’m not saying there aren’t some similar elements but I find Kristina to be more palatable for my tastes, then again this isn’t something I typically enjoy but with her, I find it captivating.
White Lung – Paradise
I came up on punk rock but aside from some of my standard favorites I don’t really delve much into new punk, unless it really catches my ear. White Lung catches my ear. Their electronic infused, hyper punk is fucking awesome and the band is killer. Short, too the point songs with a tremendous vocalist and some new wave, keyboard elements sets this band apart for sure. This second album finds the band expanding the sound a bit and trying some new stuff but doesn’t compromise any of the attitude or force. Fucking killer.
Sturgill Simpson – A Sailor’s Guide to Earth
I was expecting some down and dirty outlaw country like his first album, but instead Simpsons delivers a amalgam of country, soul, and rock n’ roll excesses the late era King would be proud of. Not that it’s bad, quite the contrary but I had to readjust my expectations a bit. There’s still his country charm though and it holds the whole thing together. The “In Bloom” cover is fucking horrendous but don’t let that distract you from the rest which is sheer songwriting gold.
Green Day – Revolution Radio
The admirable thing about Green Day is that with each album they change their sound while still maintaining the catchy, punk drive that made them so famous. Gone are the weird, experimental, genre explorations of the Uno, Dos, Tre, albums and back are the straight-forward rock anthems Green Day does best, but with some old 60’s garage band vibes and some 80’s pop aesthetics. You may not like them, but I do and this is another good album from a consistently good band.
Chuck Ragan – The Flame in the Flood
I’m sitting here wondering when Chuck Ragan is going to put out a new album and low and behold he did, albeit under the guise of a video game soundtrack. I guess there was Little did I know video games have soundtracks. Typically, it’s fucking awesome. It’s more bluegrass-ish and country than he typically is, similar to his work with Bristle Ridge, sans Austin Lucas (although John Snodgrass is on one of the songs). I’m just going to go ahead an consider this another Chuck Ragan album because it’s awesome and full of all the amazing magic that makes his songs so captivating.
Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Skeleton Tree
There’s no real reason to explain Nick Cave. He’s been doing his mournful singer/songwriter thing for decades and he’s amazing at it. This one is back to the darker side of things having recently lost his son it makes sense it would be reflected in his music. If you like Nick Cave this’ll be what you want from him, amazing, gut-punching, masterfully crafted music.
Leonard Cohen – You Want it Darker
I can’t say I was surprised by Cohen’s passing but goddamn did we lose a magnificent artist with his passing. The way the media and pop culture appropriated his song “Hallelujah” after his passing for political and self motivated gains was disgusting and exploitive at best and it made his leaving that much harder. However, he did leave us with one last work of art. Smarter people than me will surely write in-depth articles about this album, it’s place in our current climate, and how it’s a statement from a dying artist, but it won’t be me. I’ll just say it’s an amazing piece of music from an amazing man and the world is less bright without him in it.
40 Watt Sun – Wider Than the Sky
After making doom magic with his original band Warning, Patrick Walker was off to form 40 Watt Sun, a more introspective expansion on the sound of Warning. This is the second album as 40 Watt Sun and while it’s heavy, I think labeling it a doom album is shortsighted (I’m not convinced it’s even a metal album, which is how it ended up here). It’s an emotional rollercoaster set to slow paced, rhythmic, subtle instrumentations without much bombast, in a traditional manner. It’s full of crushing stylings and atmosphere, morose and great beauty. I think this album is amazing. It’s something unique and exhilarating. It’s just awesome.