Oceans Ate Alaska – Hikari

Ladies and djentleman, I present to you…Hikari—a viable candidate album of the year. No, I do not say that lightly. Oceans Ate Alaska perfect their highly feral yet incredibly polished progressive metalcore sound on Hikari. It is on this album that this band reaches its pinnacle in creativity, quality, and uniqueness.

Few bands can juggle heaviness and melody as well as Oceans Ate Alaska, and Hikari is a prime example of how to do it. On previous releases, the melodic moments seemed somewhat out of place in some moments. Yet Oceans Ate Alaska was able to coalesce the softer elements of their sound with their heavier ones with such smoothness (the perfect culmination of this heavy/soft blend being their track “Hansha”). This is a huge highlight of Hikari because OAA has a heavily jarring sound on the surface. I remember when I first listened to their previous album that I was constantly scratching my head, wondering how I was supposed to head bang to any of it (this is not a knock on the band; they are just really good with being technical). So I know from experience that this band can be hard to sonically digest. However, Oceans Ate Alaska crafted Hikari with such prowess and awareness that the album doesn’t play out as a tough listen. It’s polished and pristine, all while maintaining its blistering progressive sound.

A vital factor in this album being so phenomenal and polished is the new vocalist Jake Noakes. Like the previous vocalist, Noakes handles both the clean and unclean vocals; however, Noakes is essential for OAA’s polished sound. A talented vocalist overall, Noakes’ clean vocals are what allow the band to reach new heights. Noakes hits notes with a smooth deliciousness that was absent on previous releases. And to witness him balancing both clean and unclean vocals with apparent ease is admirable.

The Japanese theme imbues the album with positive results. The Japanese instrumentation serves not only as a testament to the band’s uniqueness but their willingness to experiment with different sounds. “Veridical” is the poster child for OAA’s implementation of Japanese instruments.

Apart from the additional Japanese instrumentation, Oceans Ate Alaska continued to bring the technical heaviness fans have come to expect. From frenetic riffs to dissonant chords and complex chugging, OAA creatively wanders the sonic spectrum, crafting memorable tracks each distinct from the next. “Benzaiten” is the first track on the album, and it introduces the Japanese vibe and the ridiculous technicality that diffuses throughout the entire album. The constant tempo changes are unbelievable (2:24 on “Benzaiten”, for example), but are not unique to just this track. Each song has phenomenal sections where time signatures and tempo shift in the most fluid way possible.

This album was literal perfection and will serve as legit evidence as to why Oceans Ate Alaska is one of the best bands currently in the scene. Hikari is a masterpiece that fluctuates along the sonic spectrum with technical grace and clear purpose, further cementing Oceans Ate Alaska’s signature sound.

10/10

Top vybes: “Hansha”, “Deadweight”, “Birth-Marked”, “Escapist”

For those who vybe to: Veil of Maya, Erra

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A$AP Mob, Terror Jr., Currents

“Wrong” – A$AP Mob

A$AP Mob dropped a music video for “Wrong”, which means that Cozy Tapes Vol. II is on its way. A$AP Mob had one of the best albums of 2016, so “Wrong” and “RAF”, the two singles they have dropped so far, have certainly gotten me hyped. “Wrong” in particular is features only A$AP Rocky and A$AP Ferg, but that does not take away from the track. In fact, those two are the best A$AP members and they prove it on this track that serves to be less hype and more chill. Rocky effortlessly croons a wavy hook that is easy to vybe with. It carries the song very well, and when Ferg echoes the end of the hook before his verses the song truly coalesces. Ferg kills his verses, discussing his thoughts about how his infidelity leaves his girl with deep scars. With lyrics that actually have an impressive message on top of a soothing beat, Rocky and Ferg deliver an amazing track that showcases their growth and maturity.

“Appreciation” – Terror Jr.

The mysterious and innovative pop trio Terror Jr. have knocked the ball out of the park on each of their three singles. Their most recent one “Appreciation” is phenomenal. The production is terrific as usual; Felix Snow can do no wrong. The track is a sweet treat with lead singer Lisa’s vocals as airy and gripping as ever. However, the track doesn’t stray to far from their hit single “Come First”. Yet I have no problem with it because I view this track as a continuation of “Come First”, but from the a different perspective. In “Come First”, Lisa reminds her lover that she deserves to be cherished above all; in “Appreciation”, she puts her lover first as a way of showing her appreciation. Infectious from start to end, I eagerly wait for Terror Jr. to stop teasing with the singles and drop their album Bop City 2: TerroRising, out June 16. And mark my words: Terror Jr. and their innovative, candy pop sound will get them on the minds and tongues of the masses.

“Withered” – Currents

This is first song I have ever heard from the metalcore band Currents, and it has made me a fan. “Withered” is a heavy-hitter from a band that is heavily reminiscent of Chelsea Grin. Yet they distance themselves from that band with their solid cleans. The fresh vocals complement the unclean vocals. The song structure is varied and keeps things interesting. The riffs, however, are what indubitably carry this song. From the riffs in the atmospheric verses to the sexy breakdowns (especially the djenty one a minute in), “Withered” is a great track that should give this band more attention. Moreover, they are signed to SharpTone Records, a label that has a ton of amazing bands, both new and old. Thus, being a part of SharpTone means that Currents is the real deal.

 

3 Albums I Slept On

There are some albums out there that take more than one or two listens in order for me to fully realize how glorious they truly are. At first, I’m extremely underwhelmed by the artist’s efforts to deliver a great album. I disregard the album for some time until I oddly decide to give it another chance. And that’s when it clicks. The album that I had written off as dull and disappointing has become an album that is remarkable in every facet. It is then that I find myself beating myself up over not noticing the record’s true beauty earlier. Here are a three albums I wholly regret sleeping on.

Sylvan Esso – What Now

With the three singles that this electropop duo released prior to their latest album “What Now”, I must admit I had high expectations coming into it. It was my mistake to expect every song to be as blissfully frenetic as “Kick Jump Twist” and as upbeat as “Radio”. It turned out that most of the album was quite passive and insipid on the first listen. So I quickly cast off the album, only listening to the handful of tracks that were worth playing over again. However, I felt guilty that I had given up on the album so soon. After a second listen, I found myself scooping my jaw up off the floor. The beauty of the album is found in its passive moments. They are perfectly crafted in a fresh way that makes you feel different when listening to it. Not each song is wild like “Kick Jump Twist” and that’s okay. It’s the idyllic moments on “Sound” and “Slack Jaw” that turn heads. It’s the softly rhythmic tracks like “Song” and “Die Young” that balance out the much more rapturous songs on the album. Balance turned out to be the key on this record. The calm tracks made the raucous tracks even more intense and vice versa. This gorgeous album by Sylvan Esso is an eye-opener from start to finish, and I regret rolling my eyes to it the first time around.

Top Vybes: “Sound”, “Die Young”, “Kick Jump Twist”, “Slack Jaw”

Vybes like: Chairlift, Little Dragon

Architects – All Our Gods Have Abandoned Us

The metalcore giants Architects dropped an album that honestly was quite disappointing at first. Each song blended together, sounding like mere imitations of both each other and the previous album. Each followed practically the same formula: spacey atmospherics followed by Sam Carter firing off a few memorable lines before screaming his signature “Blegh!” to usher in the same rapid riff tweaked only slightly. This is what put me off. I found it unoriginal and lazy on the bands part. However, after a second listen, I found myself enjoying this album more than ever. All Our Gods Have Abandoned Us is in no way revolutionary. It’s not Architects adding radical elements to their music. It’s Architects refining their sound and creating an album that is memorable in its intricate details found both in its soft and heavy moments. It is a very cohesive album that really comes to life if you let it.

Top Vybes: “Nihilist”, “Gone With The Wind”, “Phantom Fear”, “Gravity”

Vybes like: Northlane, While She Sleeps

Madeintyo – Thank You, Mr. Tokyo

I gave this album a chance after hearing Madeintyo’s “Uber Everywhere” practically everywhere. It was a breakthrough hit for the young rapper, and I was curious to see how he would follow it up. When I listened to it, it just never caught my attention. I knew tracks like “Skateboard P” and “Mr. Tokyo” were phenomenal, but apart from those two I was left scratching my head. It turned out that all I needed was another couple listens before it grew on me. Each song was great, from the production to his flow. Yea, he may sound the same on every track, but so does Future and he’s one of the top artists in the game as of now. The lighthearted, playful sound of Madeintyo is novel and original in the trap/hip-hop scene. The way he crafts catchy songs on top of K. Swisha’s phenomenal production is infectious and capable of getting anyone singing along.

Top Vybes: “Mr. Tokyo”, “Gucci Polo”, “Skateboard P”, “Untitled”

Vybes like: Ugly God, Nebu Kiniza

Vince Staples, Sworn In, Mura Masa

“Big Fish” – Vince Staples

From production to the lyrics, Vince Staples is reasserting himself into the discussions on the best new school rappers. With “Big Fish” as his second single off the upcoming album Big Fish Theory, Vince demonstrates slick flow that he effortlessly meanders through. He displays his exceptional lyricism that groups him with highly-esteemed artists like Kendrick Lamara and Earl Sweatshirt. The production on the track does not smack you in the face with lots of bells and whistles, but through its sleek subtlety it perfectly accompanies Vince Staple’s smooth rapping.

“Make It Hurt” – Sworn In

As if Sworn In couldn’t get anymore raw and gritty in terms of lyrics, vocals, and instrumentation, they really button-smash the unbridled aggression that they have become known for. Yet they deliver above and beyond with a chorus that is as catchy as it is unsettling. The disjointed instrumentation keeps it heavy and raw. In fact, most of the song is jumbled and would seem as if a flight of ideas from the band. However, the abrupt nature of the different sections of the song adds an extra punch to a song that is both disquieting and head-turning.

“All Around The World” – Mura Masa ft. Desiigner

I had to double-take when I saw that Mura Masa, an artist I adore, had a track with Desiigner, an artist I could care less about. However, the collaboration gets a shocking thumbs-up. Both artists triumph on the track. Mura Masa kills it on the production, crafting a wavy, flute-filled trap song. My fear was that Mura Masa would produce a track that Desiigner would come up flat on, yet Desiigner delivers a catchy hook and does a sufficient job on the verses. And thanks to his clear enunciation on this track, I can definitely see people singing the whole song at the top of their lungs this summer.

“Empty Throne” – ALAZKA

With a new name and new label comes the single “Empty Throne” from ALAZKA. And it doesn’t disapppoint.

The song smoothly juggles between raspy, passionate clean vocals and harsh unclean vocals. Atop solid, melodic instrumentals, “Empty Throne” comes together quite well, striking at the heartstrings in a catchy enough way that should capture the intrigue of many listeners. Imagine a far better version of Slaves, and you have ALAZKA. They exude passionate emotion with the lyrics and vocals much like Johnny Craig, but the instrumentals and overall result is way better. With rising label SharpTone Records and a solid single in “Empty Throne”, ALAZKA is primed to make waves.

Vybes like: Being As An Ocean, SLAVES

Northlane – Mesmer

I had been sleeping on Northlane for most of their existence, and I am forever ashamed of that. It wasn’t until the progressive metalcore outfit released their single “Intuition” that I was hooked. They followed that song with a teaser, cryptic messages through Facebook Messenger, and ultimately another solid single called “Citizen”. However, on March 23rd they dropped their album Mesmer to the surprise of many. Yet I am more surprised at how good it is.

Mesmer is a polished adventure of an album that bears few weaknesses. It’s progressive in a milder sense, coupled with thought-inducing lyrics crooned by vocalist Marcus Bridge. The result is a cohesive album that shows depth and progression.

The album has eleven tracks. Melody is a fundamental aspect of Northlane, and so is the heavy-hitting djent that seeps through their music. Northlane perfectly blends the melody and progressive heaviness on Mesmer, delivering an album that doesn’t come off as too abrasive for new listeners or too soft for old ones. Melody serves as the foundation for tracks like “Solar” and “Heartmachine”, the former sounding a lot like something Of Mice & Men would create. On the other hand, Northlane’s brutality is not forgotten on tracks like “Intuition” and “Render”, which are two tracks where I find Northlane to be in their best form yet. These tracks hit hard, all while maintaining meaningful lyrics that require further probing. “Paragon” is fuego, commencing with its ambient moodiness and shifting into a heavy-hitter to close out an album that quite honestly is unforgettable. The only weakness I can spot is that Northlane’s album is back-loaded with a ton of amazing songs. The first five tracks excluding “Citizen” pale in comparison to the tremendously crafted songs from that point on.

Overall, Northlane dropped a perfect album that propels them into a more prominent position in the scene.

Top vybes: “Render”, “Intuition”, “Zero-One”

Vybes like: Erra, Volumes

“X” – Counterfeit Culture

There’s a ton of bands that spring up every day. The struggle to stand out and bring something new to table is a challenge, one that many bands fail to overcome. However, New Jersey four-piece outfit Counterfeit Culture rose to the occasion and delivered with their new single “X”. They do everything right on this track, setting themselves apart from the crowded scene and setting in sight a bright future.

“X” is a bop from start to finish. The instrumentation is top-notch, ranging from the atmospheric guitar to the powerful bass and drums that perfectly carry the track. The song juggles melody and heaviness with immense skill and precision, each section flowing smoothly into each other and not feeling abrupt or forced. The chill vibe that imbues the verses feeds right into the epic heavy parts that are destined to cause chaos in the pits.

Two factors that ought to spotlighted are the vocals and more importantly the lyrics. Vocalist Nick Broglio shifts between clean and unclean vocals with ease, which helps to bolster the powerful lyrics. Focusing on drug addiction and how it can haunt you like a nightmare, the lyrics are straightforward and poignant, easily resonant with anyone who has dealt with it or knows someone who has. It’s always great to hear young bands with substance and messages to share.

All in all, Counterfeit Culture is certainly a band to keep your eyes on. They prime you with the melody and deliver with the heavy on a catchy track that ought to be on repeat for a while. Their EP Deathwish is on the way, so peep the pre-order bundles on their Big Cartel.

For those who vybe to: We Came As Romans, Northlane