The definition of a Rabbit Hole is similar to this: Used to refer to a bizarre, confusing, or nonsensical situation or environment, typically one from which it is difficult to extricate oneself.
While listening to music doesn’t seem like something bizarre or confusing, what I do can often be nonsensical and difficult to get myself out of, so I think it fits many of the treks I do through the Tidal streaming service. This series should be no different.
What I’m simply planning on doing with this series is having someone recommend a starting record, listening to that on Tidal and then using the “Similar Artists” algorithm to go down the rabbit hole and see what records it leads me to. The trek will continue until I hit an album that is either A) so great that there’s no reason to move forward, B) so bad that it derails me or C) feels like a natural end point. In the end, we’ll see how the records hold up and how solid the connections are.
So, to begin:
- An Autumn For Crippled Children – Try Not To Destroy Everything You Love
I’ve been really getting back into post-(black)metal and post-rock lately and the latest release from one of the leaders in post-black metal, An Autumn for Crippled Children, really got me wanted to dive back in. And so the last three or four AAFCC albums have been very similar but it’s this record, their 4th from back in 2013, that’s widely considered on the peak moments in the genre and I haven’t listened to it for years to see if it’s held up, until now. And it has and it truly is a great record.
For those not familiar with the genre – you’re looking at typical black metal vocals – grim, indecipherable and basically the sound of someone strangling you while singing. Musically, dark, repetitive cold riffs but with mellow passages mixed in, sometimes with an electric guitar, sometimes with acoustic guitar but mostly with pianos/keyboards. That’s the shoegaze part of the music. Shoegaze itself was made to almost be a depressing type sound (hence the label, where you walk around with your head down all the time) and then the black metal elements kind of twist the knife in deeper. And while I’m listening to these records while on our stay-at-home Covid-19 orders making them all the more depressing, the elements described above work just perfectly here. The combination of memorable riffs and somber passages make this one a must listen if you like the genre at all.
- Alcest – Spiritual Instinct
Another leader in the post-black metal genre is France’s Alcest – who were black metal at first, then moved to ambient/shoegaze and now fall somewhere in between the two of them. I chose this record from 2019 as for some reason I never bothered to listen to it when I have heard all their other albums. This is also a pretty great record – the perfect combination of their styles and personally I’m happy to see them get back to the metal again. There’s an interesting track on here that stands out to me from the rest – “Sapphire” which is most post-rock than metal, with clean vocals and quite different from everything else on the album.
- Pelican – The Fire In Our Throats Will Beckon the Thaw
I knew I would always get to Pelican and somewhere down the line Isis will show up as well – I mean you can’t have any sort of post-whatever without these guys but I didn’t think I was going to get there so soon. The Tidal “similar artist” algorithm admittedly isn’t too strong with post-metal. I mean the service encompasses all types of music but let’s face it, this is still and R&B and Hip-hop focused streaming service. I mean, one of the recommendations to go to next was Metallica for heaven’s sake. I feel like they just get tagged with all metal because, well, they are Metallica. So instead, I chose the Pelican path now, which likely means I’m off the black metal portion of this trip.
This is supposedly one of the best Pelican records and it still doesn’t do much for me. In this genre, I either need fierce riffs of which this record has good rock riffs but more mellower shoegaze passages than I would like or needs some killer vocals and Pelican are an instrumental group. This was decent background music while I worked but didn’t interest me beyond that point.
- Isis – Celestial
And just like that we go from Pelican to Isis. The similar artist algorithm is going in two directions – metal bands that have very little to do with post-rock or the obvious choices in post-metal. So I’m sticking with the post-metal direction and going to the most well known band in the genre, Isis. I went back to their first full album in 2000 because “Celestial (the Tower)” is one of my favorite songs in the genre. When I mention above that I need fierce riffs, this track and the album in general has it in spades. But it’s really not as good as an album as I remember it being – maybe that track in particular made me thing the album is better than it really is but the mellower passages simply aren’t as mesmerizing as some of their later work and really just plod along without direction.
- Jesu – Silver
Similar artists to Isis could have taken me down an alt-rock path or down a sludgier route – so I took the latter choice and went with Justin Broderick’s project – Jesu, which is the sludgey/doomy/shoegazy companion to Godflesh’s industrial aural torment. And I went back to 2006 for the Silver EP. You might ask why choose a four song EP and the answer is two fold. It’s only four tracks but nearly a half-hour long so it’s not like I get five minutes of music and secondly, Jesu’s sound changed over time but if you go back to the beginning – anywhere between 2004 and 2008 or so, you get the sound that fits here. Later you get drone, rock, instrumental ambient but this little EP is the top of the line of early Jesu material. A masterful blend of beautiful melodies and clean singing and Broderick is the king of effects and loops and getting the most out of individual riffs before moving on to something different. The four tracks are easy to get lost in and mark the more subdued side of the genre.
- Envy – Recitation
From there, there were only two choices, get on the shoegaze train and hit up My Bloody Valentine or stay on the post-something-something track with Envy and since I love these Japanese masters of post-hardcore, I went their with their record from 2010. Envy started out as a punk band and gradually evolved into post-hardcore and shoegaze with screamed vocals, clean singing and spoken word. This is the only album with no clean singing on it though and what they do is kind of different than most bands in the style. They do play shoegaze and post-hardcore in almost every song but they keep them separate. The post-hardcore material contains the screaming, the shoegaze contains the spoken word (and on other records, the clean singing). Most other bands layer the two on top of each other at points but these guys simply move from mellow and dreamy to screamo without missing a beat. It’s a style that’s tough for a lot of people to get into and all the words are in Japanese so I can’t understand a word of it but the melodies are out of this world. I fell in love with the band a while back when they were an opening band for the huge post-xx band, Deafheaven. Go to one of their shows – it’s fucking life changing.
- Heaven in Her Arms – 白暈 / White Halo
Well, never back an animal into a corner, right? But here I am in the corner of the rabbit hole with only three choices to choose from – Mono (Japanese instrumental post-rock), Hot Cross (post-hardcore) and Heaven in Her Arms (Japanese post-hardcore/screamo). Heaven in Her Arms was the only band I hadn’t heard of here and the genre made it sound like they would be most like Envy, so what the fuck, right? And sound like Envy they do. Or maybe Envy sounds like them? Or maybe all Asian post-hardcore has a similar vibe – I don’t really know and Tidal won’t take me down a very specific Asian post-hardcore rabbit hole, so I might have to hunt things down on my own but if this is what the genre brings overall, I’m sold. 100%.
And from here, I have to stop. Not because I want to, nor have I met my criteria to stop that I talked about in the introduction but because Tidal has ZERO recommendations of similar artists. And staying true to the purpose here, this becomes the first rabbit hole that has stopped because I’ve hit a dead end.