Beyond Metal Friday: Mountains, Duke Spirit, Okkervil River

This weekend should be a good one when it comes to test driving some new metal releases that have dropped in my lap the past week.

A few hours ago, I got the new Dark Castle and Tombs albums, both of which were toward the top of my most anticipated discs for 2011. In addition, I have some magazine assignments that’ll take me through the Agoraphobic Nosebleed/Despise You split, the Prosthetic reissue of Black September’s debut full-length, and Relapse’s re-release of the debut from Southern sludgers Black Tusk, whose second album “Taste the Sin” was on constant rotation around last year at this time. I remember that because last year at this time, I was getting ready to get married, and I was doing a lot of scurrying around, and usually Black Tusk was powering me through. I’m also planning to do some light record shopping over the weekend, with hopes of landing physical copies of the Horseback reissue and the new Liturgy. Yes, I have digital promos, but if it’s something I really like, I need a finished copy. I’m a dork like that.

Anyhow, as I mentioned during this site’s early days, and as we’ve followed up on a bit in our existence, I do want to devote some space to non-metal records. While the bulk of what I listen to on a regular basis is metal, I have plenty of other musical interests that go beyond that, and maybe you do too. So we’ll finish off this week — the most widely read week in MMM history, so thank you! — discussing a few non-metal releases that are ready to hit store shelves.

Thrill Jockey got a mention last week when we dissected the excellent new Liturgy record, and now they have something for the ambient/drone fans out there by way of the new effort “Air Museum” from Brooklyn-based duo Mountains. Their music is built on soundscapes, and while it’s a gentle, easy listen, it’s also quite intellectually stimulating. It’s their most electronic-sounding record, though the bio info contained with the record said they used and concentrated more on acoustic instruments and tried to keep the production of those sounds as organic as possible. Mission accomplished, and even the synth and drone has a sense of humanity to them and they make you feel like you’re getting ready for a long, lonely sojourn into space. I’ve been reading Peter Bergen’s “The Osama bin Laden I Know” recently, and I usually put on “Air Museum” when I’m doing so because it provides a soothing background but always keeps my mind on what I’m reading.

For more on the band, go here: http://www.thrilljockey.com/artists/index.html?id=11985

For more on the label, go here: http://www.thrilljockey.com/

I’m usually sweet on any female-fronted rock band that exudes attitude, and The Duke Spirit are that in spades. Leila Moss is one of my favorite singers, and her brassy, smoky delivery is one of the primary reasons to listen to this band. Their shoegazey, bluesy-hinting, straight-ahead songs help, too. Their third album “Bruiser” is getting ready to drop on Shangri-La, and the cover makes the album look like it could be a death metal assault instead of an indie-rock pleaser. It’s a pretty good disc, though I don’t like it quite as much as their sophomore effort “Neptune,” but if anything, it should help to further elevate their profile in America. There are 12 tracks on “Bruiser,” running about 45 minutes, and if they’d have trimmed two songs off this thing (I vote off “Victory” and “Surrender”), it would be damn formidable. Opener “Cherry Tree” is a lot of fun, with Moss wondering, “I don’t look back, why would you?” and other highlights arrive on “Everybody’s Under Your Spell,” “Villain” “Northbound” and “Glorious,” the punchiest cut on here.

For more on the band, go here: http://www.thedukespirit.com/

For more on the label, go here: http://shangrilamusic.com/

A couple of years ago, I went to see The New Pornographers and ended up being floored by the opener so forcefully, I almost didn’t care when the headliners hit the stage (which is quite a statement any time the main band involves Neko Case). That opener was Okkervil River, and while I already was a fan of their music and albums, this took my admiration for them to a new level. Bandleader Will Sheff is a true troubadour, with a commanding presence, a dry wit, and total command over the music. Their new record “I Am Very Far” (Jagjaguwar Records) is a bit of a departure for them, as Sheff isn’t as wrapped up in literary-worthy love tales of rock and roll idols who have crashed and burned. Instead he makes this thing a little more personal. One drawback is there aren’t as many sure-fire crowd pleasers (I’ve read that was by design), but there are some seriously strong songs such as “Rider,” “We Need a Myth,” old-style ballad “Hanging From a Hit” and “Show Yourself,” which is as different an Okkervil River song as you’re going to find. I know some people get snooty about this band and accuse them of being hipster fodder. I really don’t give a shit about people who write off bands in that way (even if there’s a modicum of truth to it), because if the music is good, then it’s good. Okkervil River is damn good, and I’m not ashamed to wear my Amon Amarth shirt while listening.

For more on the band, go here: http://www.okkervilriver.com/

For more on the label, go here: http://www.jagjaguwar.com/

Next week, we’ll have a look at the dual releases from Japanese powerhouse Boris, the somewhat surprising new Book of Black Earth, the new Infestus record, and another exciting new find from Flenser Records.