Artist Spotlight: Ulver

Chameleonic, unpredictable and bizarre are just a few common buzzwords tossed around in discussions about Norway’s Ulver and not without good reason. The band’s 1995 debut Bergtatt has reached cult classic status with black metal fans worldwide, bolstered by adventurous songwriting and the angelic vocals of Kristoffer Rygg. Since then, though, the band has opted for an “anything goes” approach to songwriting – literally, anything.

From avant-rock to downtempo trip-hop to dreary ambient soundscapes, Ulver has thoroughly abandoned its blackened roots to pursue god knows what god knows when, and the stylistic guessing game has been nothing if not exciting. 2007’s Shadows of the Sun found the band at an artistic peak with its surreal atmospherics and heavy vocal focus, playing like a nine-part hymnal for the departed. Since then, classical compositions have met electronica on Messe I.X-VI.X, and the history of psychedelic rock has been explored on Childhood’s End.

Next year, however, promises a new frontier for the Norwegian four-piece.

The band’s next album, ATGCLVLSSCAP, hits shelves January 22nd, 2016. According to the group’s new label, House of Mythology, the record will feature “mostly improvisational” “rock and electronic soundscapes” in the double album format. If history is anything to go by, Ulver’s upcoming record should be another event worthy of your time and attention. Keep your ears peeled.

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Artist Spotlight: A. A. Bondy

The transition from post-grunge rocker to indie-folk troubadour might seem like a bizarre shift, but Auguste Arthur Bondy has pulled it better than you’d think. It’s difficult to say whether fans of his previous outfit, Verbena, were eager to jump on the bandwagon, but those who did found themselves with one of the 2000’s most underrated folk albums – the stunning American Hearts.

Tracks like “Black Rain, Black Rain” sport an aching beauty vividly personal to Bondy, but it’s distinctly intrinsic to the listener, too. It’s an ode to sadness that pierces both author and audience. Digging in deep, Bondy goes for the emotional kill more often than not. That’s never changed from album to album, though his stylistic tendencies have.

2011’s Believers may have ditched acoustic guitars for electrics, but Bondy stayed the same. His music, regardless of shade and style, is always poignant, always clever and deserves your attention. Whether it’s the brief, acoustic stomp of “Vice Rag” or the militaristic, dirge-like march of “The Heart is Willing,” A. A. Bondy is an artist to keep an eye on.

Artist Spotlight: Dungen

Despite an appearance on Late Night with Conan O’Brien and a performance at Bonaroo, Dungen can’t claim much of a profile. Swedish psychedelia has yet to break mainstream, but that hasn’t stopped the band from releasing a number of fantastic releases over its 16-year career. From  Ta Det Lungt‘s hazed-out indie psych to the pastoral, summery vibes of Skit I Allt, Dungen has maintained an enviable consistency. The band’s latest record, Allas Sak, keeps that tradition alive.

Tracks like the phenomenal “Franks Kaktus” showcase the band’s instrumental ingenuity with a solid percussive backbone anchoring airy flute passages. Beneath, Reine Fiske retains his ever-tasteful guitar tone and seals the deal for a truly gorgeous instrumental jam. Elsewhere, “Flickor Och Pojkar” ebbs and flows like a gentle stream, soothing the listener with its lapping melodic waves. It’s more than just a gorgeous track: it’s a perfect excuse to daze out of reality. Really, that just might be Dungen in a nutshell. Whether playing peaceful psychedelia or indie rock through a kaleidoscopic lens, the band remains uniformly excellent – as does Allas Sak

You can find more information about the band via its official website.

Artist Spotlight: Hisstracts

I can’t fault anyone for not having heard of Hisstracts. With only one album under their belt playing the least marketable style of music imaginable, they’re not really arena fodder. Ambient, noise and electronica are the names of the game, and the band plays it like grizzled veterans. Together, David Bryant of Canada’s Godspeed You! Black Emperor and Kevin Doria of Growing manufacture David Lynchian soundscapes channeled through radio static, menacing washes of distortion and just about every other permutation of modern soundscapes imaginable.

In other words, Hisstracts debut LP Shortwave Nights just might be one of the least musical music recommendation you’ll get this year. Tracks like “…shortwave nights” work through a distinct post-rock ethos via monochromatic drones and echoed guitars. It’s the type of sound you’d expect to permeate abandoned cities in a ruined, post-disaster world. Moreover, it’s expertly constructed. Subtleties reveal themselves throughout, keeping Hisstracts’ debut an engaging listen that doesn’t wane on repeat. Together, Bryant and Doria nail both their sound to tape and their audience to the speakers. If you’re a fan of Ulver, Grouper, Sun 0))) or just a fan of noise that sounds like the end of the world, give Hisstracts a go. You’re sure to fall in love.

Artist Spotlight: Noah Gundersen

Noah Gundersen may not be a household name in the indie folk scene, but it sure should be. Last year’s phenomenal “Ledges” crawled its way up into many album of the year lists. It deserved every accolade, laying bare the heart of a man in ways so straight and honest it might sound like a deposition set to acoustic guitars. That may not sound endearing, but it is. Lines such as “you remind me of cigarettes, the way I hold you in my chest, the way you kiss me, with your filter breath, I keep thinking, I’m getting over this” are delivered with a poignancy that’s rare even in this diluted genre.

It’s not all somber strumming, though. Gundersen ups the tempo for tracks like “Ledges,” which carries a strong Allison Krauss vibes in its energetic, sweeping chorus and rustic instrumentation. Counterbalancing tracks like this with slow heartbreakers sets Gundersen up with a winning formula. Whether or not he’s set to repeat this remains to be seen, but whatever route he pursues will likely be an exciting one.

Noah Gundersen’s new album “Carry the Ghost” is now available for preorder at the artist’s official website. The album releases August 21 on Dualtone Records.

Artist Spotlight: Failure

Nineteen years is a long time to build up a fan base. Failure was a cult band back in the day, and they’re a cult band now. Though often credited as kings of the 90’s rock movement, they’ve never received the limelight like their peers. It’s a shame, too, because Failure’s second and third records stand heads and shoulders above the competition. “Magnified” proved the band could rock with heavy champions Soundgarden and Alice in Chains while “Fantastic Planet” proved they could be just as elusive as Pearl Jam’s weirder excursions (and leagues more successful to boot).

“The Heart is a Monster” finds the band picking up right where 1996’s “Fantastic Planet” left off with “Segue 4,’ a nod to the band’s in-album continuity. Lead single “Hot Traveler” kicks the album into high gear with sinister, snaking grooves and a lyrical menace straight out of the grunge era. High octane doesn’t do it justice. Of course, I’d be remiss to neglect “Counterfeit Sky,” one of the band’s best songs to date. Part alternative prog rock, part spaced-out ballad, it’s the perfect snapshot of a band rising from the ashes. This isn’t just a worn-out throwback to a time when rock reclaimed its backbone – its the sound of veterans waking up from a decades-long slumber and setting fire to expectations and amplifiers.

You can find more information regarding the artist via the band’s official website.

Artist Spotlight: Monolord

Those harboring a love of all things heavy and massive are bound to fall head over heels for Monolord. The Swedish three-piece has been destroying amplifiers and caving in ceilings for just two years now, but their sound carries the confidence of the genre’s toughest veterans. Look no further than the sinister surge of “Empress Rising” off the band’s debut album. It’s a nasty piece of doom metal that conjures the dreariest images. The band’s sound plays out like a slow motion bludgeoning, a prospect sure to please any extreme metal fanatics.

“Vaenir,” the band’s sophomore album, only cements Monolord’s position as one of the best doom metal acts going today. Bigger and better than its predecessor, “Vaenir” is equal parts consolidation and expansion of the band’s talents. Look no further than the title track — a mammoth sixteen minute closer that swarms and surges with a sickening primordial stomp. It’s my personal metal album of the year so far, and likely to be a favorite of many others as well. So give it a shot. You won’t be wanting for a heavy riff.

More information regarding the artist can be found at the band’s official website.

Artist Spotlight: Steve Von Till

Though he’s best known for his work in the monolithic post metal group Neurosis, Steve Von Till has crafted a successful solo career as well. His debut, 2000’s stark “As The Crow Flies” served as a statement of intent: there’s more to Von Till than just that tribal, sweltering sound. The primal, savage fury of Neurosis’s “Times of Grace” had given way to melancholy acoustics and soft, plaintive rasps. Morose? Sure, but Von Till’s expert songcraft kept listener’s engaged. That hasn’t changed with 2015’s “A Life Unto Itself.”

Following 2008’s excellent “A Grave is a Grim Horse” was never going to be easy, but Von Till has met, perhaps exceeded, expectations. Tracks like the sprawling “A Language of Blood” cement Von Till’s mastery of soft-strummed melancholy while eerie cascades of synthesizer warp around the ethereal atmospherics and gravelly vocals in “Night of the Moon.” Whether he’s revisiting old ground or paving new paths, the Neurosis veteran shows that he’s still got it thirty years into his career; his new album “A Life Unto Itself” is sure to stand as one of the year’s most solid folk recordings.

More information regarding the artist can be found via his official website.

Artist Spotlight: The Tallest Man on Earth

When the Tallest Man on Earth released “There’s No Leaving Now,” change was clearly in the air. Drums, bass, and a myriad of other stylistic advancements crept into Kristian Matsson’s signature acoustic-folk sound. Much as Bob Dylan struck out beyond his bare-bones aesthetic, so has Matsson — diving headfirst into full band territory on his new album, “Dark Bird is Home.”

Whereas Matsson seemed perfectly content to ride his acoustic guitar talent to the end of times, that content has all but fully evaporated. Keyboards, horns, and even synthesizers dominate alongside both electric and acoustic sounds. Matsson’s also taken a leap in songwriting, bringing a keenly adventurous attitude into the fold. The backing vocals of “Little Nowhere Towns,” for instance, stand out as one of his boldest and least expected turns to date. On album number four, The Tallest Man on Earth has never been so ambitious.

More information regarding the artist can be found at his official webiste, and the new album can be purchased here.

Artist Spotlight: Built to Spill

If someone had told me that Built to Spill would release one of their best albums in 2015, I would’ve laughed it off. Sure, the band has been competent lately, but none of their recent releases have come close to the heights of 1997’s “Perfect From Now On” or 1999’s “Keep It Like a Secret.” 2009’s “There is No Enemy” was a solid, but relatively uninteresting entry into the band’s canon — and still a better record than the two that preceded it. But, here we are in the last days of April with “Untethered Moon,” a stunning revival if there ever was one.

The band’s latest album finds them roaring back to life, louder and leaner. Album opener “All Our Songs” carries a distinct garage vibe as it rolls onwards, guitars set to blaze against the minimalist production. It’s a clear statement of intent: we’re back. Indeed they are. The album continues to churn out catchy tune after catchy tune before culminating in the final, exasperating rush of “When I’m Blind,” a fiery eight-minute jam that leads to one of the band’s most triumphant closings. It may not be album of the year in a year of monumental releases, but it’s surely earned a spot on any respectable list.

More information regarding Built to Spill can be found at their official website.