New Music: Friday Roll Out! HESS, Body Language, ZAO, Soultru, METZ,

Is it Friday already? Well, it doesn’t seem to matter much considering not much really does, as each day seems to continue to roll right into the next. It’s another day where I have nothing for you; no quips, no soundbites, nada.

Odd how some groups seem to perform throughout the decades, shifting visions, and somehow withstanding the test of time. None have done more so than ZAO, the metalcore outfit originally out of West Virginia but now calls Pittsburgh home. The band has gone through an array of shifting band members but releasing 11 albums since 1995. Truth be told, 2004’s The Funeral Of God (Ferret) was one album that I found more interesting considering the group posed the question regarding the death of God. An interesting concept. While many thought it was the end of the band after 2009’s Awake?, the band surprised listeners reemerging with 2016’s The Well Intentioned Virus.

ZAO has returned with its first release in 4 years with Preface: Early Recordings 1995-1996 as well as re-releasing the band’s first album, 1995’s All Else Failed (Steadfast Records) for its 25th anniversary.   The tracks on the Preface are demo recordings with a couple of previously released tracks on 7”. It’s great to hear the progression of the band from its earliest days but of course, my own fandom remains nestled somewhere in the middle of the group’s history. The standout here though is “Deep,” lingering in the opening guitar repetition, changing its dynamics with the incendiary volume level again playing with that guitar repetition. This is necessary listening for the discerning hard core fan.

So I’m not sure what’s going on here…or maybe I do. I’m a bit confused but then again, I wasn’t sure what to expect when I first received this. HESS is apparently the principal songwriter/vocalist for NY’s Mail The Horse. I’m not sure if that makes a difference here after listening to his solo debut release Lamplight Motel (Baby Robot Records). One thing is for certain here though, the release, probably in its entirety reeks of 80s adult contemporary pop. One can take that however they decide, bad or good, but the music on the album could have been found nestled in between Mr. Mister and Howard Jones. Most of the tracks seem to be propelled by 80s-like drum machine patterns along with drifting keyboards (“I’ll Drive”). Or you might find the pop-sensibilities along the lines of lite-FM Christopher Cross like song structures (“Rented Rooms”). I’m not at all certain if what’s in front of me is tongue-in-cheek or completely clever.

I’ve found my way around mind-melting tracks for some time now and there are a number of groups that I’ve been drawn to throughout the years. It isn’t just because it’s loud for the sake of being loud, but both because the music created, dismantles the unwitting consciousness of the uninitiated and also, well, the music is just that fucking good.

We’ve championed Canada’s METZ for years now and by the looks of the trio’s latest album, Atlas Vending, we’re probably going to continue to do so for at least another decade. Made up of guitarist Alex Edkins, bassist Chris Slorach, and drummer Hayden Menzies, the band has openly expressed the goal of allowing itself to remain in flux – constantly change – in order to grow artistically. With the band’s new release, they’re exploring a much more sonically diverse landscape.

Given, the band’s last release, 2017’s Strange Peace (Sub Pop) is a full-frontal assault on the senses but with Atlas Vending, METZ takes thing up a notch. Or two. Or three. I keep revisiting “Sugar Pill” and with levels set to 12, the band is as explosive as one would expect. It’s those brief pauses through the song where guitars rage with dissonant-like effectiveness, leaving nothing scattershot, instead, bludgeoning listeners into oblivion. But I’m getting ahead of myself. The ring of the opening “Pulse,” with Menzies and Slorach leading the way, leaves room for Edkins’ stormy wall of guitar dissonance that’s fitted in for good measure.

There’s no simple answer to what METZ has accomplished here because on one hand, the angular guitar work and explosiveness from track to track leaves nothing in its wake. “The Mirror” for example, revolves around a rhythm that’s comparable to earthquakes, as drums rumble with enough force to topple buildings while guitars shatter windows. There’s a melody that eventually rises and slinks back underneath before surfacing again. It’s thick and dirty but appealing. “Hail Taxi” is direct and forceful but there’s something pretty about it and its melody the band culls from the muck beneath it.  The closing 7+ minutes of “A Boat To Drown In” is apropos considering the rhythm smashes over you like roaring waves. It’s a singular rhythm that’s controlled in every aspect from guitars, to drums, to bass. There’s no space in between it for 3 minutes until the guitar is left alone and the band eventually rolls through again with it. It becomes repetitive without being repetitious as the band revels in its musical glory.

Atlas Vending is on constant rotation here. The band takes obvious nods to influences and although you may not know of them, METZ can show you the way. This is the soundtrack for 2020: confusing, dangerous, and unknown. The future is looking bright but regardless of the outcome, we can definitely take this album with us. We all need a bit of danger in our lives.

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Running in different circles, there comes a point when you never know what you’re going to come across. Sometimes it’s a scary thought and at others, pleasantly surprised by what’s in store. This time around it looks like it’s the latter.

Soultru is the moniker used by one Terrence Banks out of Davenport, Iowa. He’s been writing and recording music under the name for the better part of 4 years, to my knowledge anyway. He just released The Truth: An Acoustic EP. Yeah, it’s exactly that, as he straps on his acoustic guitar used as the backdrop to offer up sweet melodies. It is, after all, his soulful vocal delivery that draws listeners in time and time again. Soultru has provided backing vocals for others and here with The Truth, he’s bareboned and naked, allowing his voice to take prominence.

His voice is rooted in Soul and Gospel, which is clear from the very first note of “Black Eyed Peas,” a son with a country edge. But Soultru’s raspy soulfulness is what rises to the surface here. The song is an ode to his family, more specifically his grandmother. He weaves his story through words effortlessly and the imagery is surreal and close. There aren’t many that are able to work that magic like Damien Jurado, but Soultru does. “Come And Gone” does the same, as he wraps his words around the music, drawing on the past again that allows listeners to draw in close to the imagery of his story. I initially thought this release would be just vocals and guitar but damn if the man doesn’t change things up unexpectedly! As soon as the piano notes hit on “Must Be” I know he’s offering up something quite different. Yeah, really different. I took “acoustic” much too literal because for all intent and purpose, a piano is an acoustic instrument, as are drums, and acoustic/upright bass(?) But I digress. The song is masterful with its melody and inclusion of backing harmonies. Yes, comparisons are lazy and cheap but I keep thinking Soultru is reminiscent of the Screaming Eagle of Soul. A younger soul singer but with much more vibrancy in his voice, and that’s far from a stab at the Eagle. But the song, yes, it’s magic. This is everything anyone would want to hear, regardless of genre. It’s just that good.

I wasn’t sure what to expect here but The Truth: An Acoustic EP really is what it claims to be: open and direct, nothing flashy, only rawness. When was the last time you heard something like that? I’m sure you’d be hard-pressed trying to think of that but this IS the truth!

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Music is a beautiful art form when done right. We can find a number of recordings in any given genre and label it as a “classic.” That’s because it’s met every expectation. That feeling may come and go but it’s great when it sticks around.

Body Language has been releasing material for over a decade now and just released its third full-length release Travel Guide (Om Records). The music the band has recorded here is as unpretentious as it gets. For an electronic dance, R&B group, the irony doesn’t escape me. The Brooklyn-based outfit isn’t playing with attitude around its compositions here that are as free-flowing as jam sessions but mindful and cleverly pieced together.

I might be getting ahead of myself, without mentioning anything about the band itself. The band is made up of Grant Wheeler, Matt Young, Angelica Bess, and Ian Chang. Now while I’m not familiar with membership contributions, I do know that English-born Angelica Bess handles vocals and her delivery is beyond amazing, it’s beautifully ethereal (“Perfection”). But there is another familiar name here as well in Ian Chang. He’s no stranger to music outside of Body Language, with solo releases as well as being a member of Son Lux. But this is about Body Language after all, and I’m all in here as the beats draw in with laid back hand claps, sweet harmonies, rolling around lazy urban afternoons (“Living”). Like I said, I’m all in.

The quartet is obviously familiar with dance/club culture and allows the beat to completely hypnotize (“Thursday Vibes”) for 6 and a half minutes. This instrumental joint is well worth the listen as it constantly crescendos. We’re always looking for that theme song to listen to strutting down city streets and I think I’ve found mine here (“Start It Up”) as Bess’ vocals sound looped together over a beat that won’t let up. It’s repetitive without being repetitious and that’s what it’s all about.

Body Language pieces together a few different styles from track to track but the band’s music is always cohesive and tracks gel well with one another. Whether it’s that deep house bass the band revolves around (“We Can Freak”) or a love song with a chill yet quick-stepped vibe they piece together (“Whenever I Think Of You”), it all works well on Travel Guide. Have I found a new favorite band? Hell Yes!

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