The Pulse: February-March 2020

Welcome back to The Pulse, here on BPM Pod. This month, there’s not much to report to be honest, given that I’ve not had a huge amount of time to review things. But it’s about quality, not quantity, as you’re about to see.

This month, we look at music from Heavy Heavy, Jason Isbell, Sharon Van Etten and Jon Hopkins.

Heavy Heavy – Dead Weight and Broken Dreams

Look, I love these guys. When Heavy Heavy were on the podcast a while back, not only did I dig their music, but their vibe, their enthusiasm, and the element of fun they bring to all they do. But cool guys ain’t nothing without a cool track.

So I’ve been waiting, anticipating, their debut single. And, of course, my judgement matters. Here it is.

I’m pleased to report Heavy Heavy are indeed cool (whatever that means, especially from me, the definition of uncool).

This groovy four-minute riff-heavy rocker effortlessly blends a tight bassline, rocking guitar riffs, and deafening drums into a hard-rock anthem reminiscent of the latest Queens of the Stone Age ventures, via a refuelling stop at Royal Blood.

It only took the first few bars for me to fall in love with this track. With my ass-shaking, air-guitaring wandering around my apartment, it was pretty tough to hide my love for it. But do you know how many tracks make me do this each year? Not many, I assure you (at least not when I am sober). And that, regardless of the horrible mental image this creates, says a lot.

It connected with me right away, and has stuck in my mind since. It’s a track I look forward to listening to again and again.

Solid effort, guys. Cannot wait for more. (Also available here on Spotify.)

Sharon Van Etten – Beaten Down

The artist who, as far as recent releases go, can do absolutely no wrong.

This track – which certainly dives deep into the brooding, dark atmosphere heard on recent tracks like Jupiter 4 – is another stunner that could have (should have?) slipped superbly into the Remind Me Tomorrow mix. (An album I reviewed on BPM Pod too. Spoiler: I freaking loved it.)

SVE has this unique ability to make me feel sad, uplifted, melancholy and hopeful all in one mix. It’s quite the talent, and is something I notice when listening, perhaps surprisingly, to someone like Bruce Springsteen.

Does that mean I effectively compared SVE to Springsteen? Yes. Is their music completely different in terms of structure, style, and genre? Yes.

But is this latest SVE track evidence of a superb songwriter in their element – a songwriter who, I am convinced, will be considered a great once her legacy is settled? Yes.

And do I give a fuck if you hate the comparison? I think you know the answer to that one.

Jason Isbell – Be Afraid

‘The mix is off’ said one comment.

‘It doesn’t sound very Isbell’ said another.

‘I like Isbell and respect his opinion, but I cannot support this political stuff’ said yet another.

When apparently ‘true’ Isbell fans are triggered, you know you’re onto something good.

And Be Afraid is something good indeed – not great, but good.

More The War on Drugs than perhaps it should be, and certainly less country-sounding than Isbell fans are used to, Be Afraid is a battle cry for artists to stand up for what they believe in, regardless of the backlash.

It’s a compelling call to arms for an industry which, pretty damn often, avoids direct confrontation for fear of damaging music sales. Not Isbell and co.

We don’t take requests / We won’t shut up and sing
Tell the truth enough you’ll find it rhymes with everything.”

It’s pretty predictable, and perhaps not the most surprising rock song you’ll hear all year, but it’s more than enough to whet your appetite for the upcoming Isbell album Reunions – one which Isbell himself claims is the best he’s released. Bold words, but a bold song to back it up for now.

PS – Stay tuned for a Jason Isbell top 10 soon!

Jon Hopkins – Scene Suspended

I’ll be straight with you: Jon Hopkins is someone I’ve heard a lot about, but not someone I know much about.

I remember being lectured for a solid 20 minutes by a woman in my German class about how out of touch I was for not listening to Hopkins. (Again, uncool personified.)

I recall seeing posters back in 2018 when his album Singularity came out and thinking: ‘Cool album art, and I have heard good things, I’ll check it out.’

I never did.

So hearing Scene Suspended was kind of an awakening for me. A wonderful, warm awakening.

Of course I then dug deep into his previous releases and was shocked to find this latest release is pretty damn different. It’s bare. Brutal. Beautiful. It’s like a film soundtrack to a film I didn’t know existed.

Imagine Sigur Ros but without the nonsense-cum-Icelandic gibberish, and you’re getting close. As a Hopkins newbie, I’d love more of this. Interested to see what is next.