Felix Martin: The Scenic Album
No, you’re not seeing double…you’re hearing double as well. Venezuelan guitarist Felix Martin is responsible for a multitude of double-takes thanks to his instrument of choice: a self-designed 14-string guitar (essentially, two guitar necks in one).
With virtuosic talent, he has taken the finger-tapping YouTube community by storm, performing progressive rock and metal with jazz-fusion overtones and elements of funk, world music, and even tinges of video-game and circus music. The Scenic Album, Martin’s second album and first for Prosthetic, is another diverse affair yet still a contemporary to Animals as Leaders and other finger-tapping prog-metal bands.
Speaking of the tapping, it’s nothing short of phenomenal. (Watch Martin’s many play-through videos if you haven’t.) He plays the über-wide-neck instrument like a piano, with one hand handling a bass line and the other handling a higher melody. But Martin also can simultaneously play chords on both necks, slap one and tap the other, or use them both for one mega-riff.
Accompanying Martin this time are rhythmic bass lines from fellow Berklee alumnus Nathan Navarro and bad-ass beats from industry vet Marco Minneman, who can drum for artists as different as Necrophagist and Joe Satriani. Their efforts make The Scenic Album more than a one-man show — even if Martin’s uncanny skills steal that show.
-- Scott Morrow
The eighth full-length album from Converge is every bit the frenetic, neck-snapping metalcore monster that two decades of precedent could have promised. Yet even when sticking to some of its shortest, most explosive hardcore throw-downs, the Salem-based quartet maintains a dedication to craft and perfection.
All We Love We Leave Behind begins with “Aimless Arrow,” easily the most melodic Converge album opener to date, with post-hardcore riffs underscoring an impassioned vocal performance. And it closes with “Predatory Glow,” a more slowly moving sludge beast that stands in stark contrast to where the record begins. In the remaining 12 tracks, the group explores the space between these poles, reflecting the members’ mix of influences.
Though expectations are best left wide open when approaching a new Converge album, two things remain constant: it’ll never be half-assed, and it most certainly won’t be boring.
- Jeff Terich
"Great Round Burn"
After an auspicious start as a finger-tapping virtuoso and a transformation to singer-songwriter, guitarist Kaki King returns to her instrumental roots with Glow, her first vocal-free LP since 2004. It’s much more than a rehash or a collection of melodies; Glow marries the best of her developed songcraft with melodic beauty and multi-layered accents.
From the sonorous, swirling strings and ukulele timbres of opener “Great Round Burn” to the Eastern tinge of “Bowen Island,” the album is full of pleasant surprises. Glow comes on the heels of King’s self-professed “existential crisis,” and whether or not a return to singing and full-band performances follows it, the album reveals her to be the same magnificent songwriter.
- Scott Morrow
On last year’s Goodbye Bread, garage-rock singer-songwriter Ty Segall displayed a newfound sense of maturity — most notably on “Comfortable Home (A True Story),” in which he announced the rather adult decision to invest in some real estate. Now the San Francisco wunderkind prematurely grapples with his own mortality on his newest solo release. “Took 22 years to die / 22 years to lose to my mind,” he laments amid the grinding guitars of “Ghost,” imagining himself as a specter who haunts the California coast. It’s heavy stuff — musically and lyrically — especially from a guy who used to sing about girlfriends and Coca-Cola.
These morbid sentiments don’t pervade the entirety of Twins, the rest of which casts Segall as a young lover awash in Beatles-indebted melodies filtered through thick, grimy distortions a là Big Business or Lightning Bolt. And he hasn’t entirely abandoned lean, fist-pumping rockers like “You’re the Doctor,” but either way, Segall truly shines when he embraces his gifts as a singer-songwriter. Paired with a female vocalist on the John Lennon-esque “The Hill” or harmonizing atop the gentle acoustic strum of “Gold on the Shore,” his song-craft is as adept as ever, even when it’s not blowing out speakers. A fitting finale to his trifecta of releases this year, Twins finds Segall not so much settling down as settling in.
– Zach Long
Old-school Why? listeners are familiar with the group's first transformation — from Yoni Wolf’s solo releases of weird, short-form, vocal-driven "hip hop" to the formation of Why? as indie-rap outfit with brother Josiah Wolf and Doug McDiarmid.
Now Why? keeps rewriting its own story, transforming yet again with an expanse of orchestrated accents and the addition of Josiah's wife, Liz Wolf. After the Sod in the Seed EP gave a glimpse in August, Mumps, Etc. unveils the whole shebang, pairing Yoni's tangled wordplay and chorus melodies with piano, strings, woodwinds, harp, marimba, whistling, and much more.
Liz's backing vocals add another harmonizing force that (no offense) the Wolf bros. and co. couldn't quite create on their own. She and the new timbres are welcome additions, ensuring that the group's winding-path nature remains as twisted as ever.
- Scott Morrow
It's been a remarkable journey for Between the Buried and Me, the extreme metalcore quintet that has come to craft progressive metal of the highest order. Drawing from prog forefathers such as Mahavishnu Orchestra as well as cinematic and chamber sounds, The Parallax II: Future Sequence picks up from last year's The Parallax: Hypersleep Dialogues EP and expands its experimentation.
At its core, The Parallax II remains a technical riff bonanza. Now, however, the speed riffs, polyrhythmic chugging, and guttural growls are rounded by even stronger dynamics and all manner of guest instrumentation.
On "Astral Body," a harpsichord dances note for note with a slithering guitar lead before a glockenspiel-guided outro. A dazzling symphonic breakdown highlights "Extremophile Elite," "Melting City" has a spacy flute solo, and the first half of "Telos" sounds like a drum line walked into a power-metal concert. "Bloom," one of the shorter cuts, is a masterful sort of circus-/burlesque-metal offering.
Wisely, the short tracks and interludes provide the atmospheric breaks necessary for such a lengthy, punishing concept album to breathe. Whether or not there's a sequel, The Parallax II reflects a band at its creative apex.
- Scott Morrow
"Exile on Broadway"
California-based hardcore act Trash Talk continues its career-long path of destruction in the form of this 14-track assault titled 119. Straight out of the gate, listeners are met with the same attitude at high speeds in “Eat the Cycle.” “Blossom & Burn” continues the group’s unconventional behavior, with a guest spot from controversial rap group Odd Future’s Tyler, The Creator and Hodgy Beats.
Early singles “FEBN” and “Exile on Broadway” feature a more mid-tempo pace, with over-the-top intensity via fuzz-driven bass and doubled vocals. With the thrash factor cranked to 10, 119 is sure to be an end-of-the-year pick for hardcore enthusiasts.
- Bobby Markos
Western Ontario rock trio Metz has been a well-kept secret of the Great White North for a few years now, and with a recent “sign on the dotted line” with Sub Pop, those in the dark may finally see the light.
From the opening tom hits of “Headache,” listeners will notice the larger-than-life production of this 11-song battering ram. The guitar and bass tones are thick and reminiscent of a time in the ’90s when Big Muff pedals were essential. And though it’s one upbeat tune after another, the album is packed with heavy riffs that show just how powerful the trio can sound, shaking the ground loose beneath the listener. On top of that demolished earth, vocals are distant and frantic, adding to the already-panicked urgency that’s set by the instruments.
More than 25 years after it launched, Sub Pop appears to be reaching back to its roots by adding this present-day post-punk phenomenon.
– Bobby Markos
Black Moth Super Rainbow: Cobra Juicy
Chrome Canyon: Elemental Themes (Stones Throw)
Coheed and Cambria: The Afterman: Ascension (Xenon)
Enslaved: RIITIIR (Nuclear Blast)
Hidden Orchestra: Archipelago (Tru Thoughts)
Lecherous Gaze: On the Skids (Tee Pee)
AC Newman: Shut Down the Streets (Matador)
Undercroft: Ruins of Gomorrah (Season of Mist)
Weapon: Embers and Revelations (Relapse)