Stavros Giannopoulos of The Atlas Moth on Their New Record, Metal Diversity, and Cults

Chicago has had a long history of significant heavy bands. The underground death metallers Macabre and the now Czech-based Master have both been local staples of the genre for over 30 years. Al Jourgensen’s nonstop list of industrial titans doesn’t stop at just Ministry; the current Texas native also helped concoct other Wax Trax! Records alumni like Revolting Cocks and 1000 Homo DJs. In a corner of the city lies some of the most out-there doom and sludge metal bands that have come through in the last decade. Mixed in with post-metal all-stars Russian Circles, avant-garde wizards Yakuza, and the bone-crushing riffs of Indian lies The Atlas Moth, who are currently wrapping up their first studio full-length in three years.

I sat down with guitarist, vocalist and songwriter Stavros Giannopoulos in his humble Logan Square apartment, alongside his dogs Dahlia and Estelle and his shelves full of wrestling action figures which he’s been collecting on and offline for years.

“I got a knack for that eBay shit. I got a good eye. I’ll go into Target and buy whole cases of whatever the latest figures are, keep two, maybe three for myself, and throw the rest up online. Those things increase in price pretty quickly after release, so I’ve got it all sorted it out.”

Other than finessing his collections of toys, records, movies and comics, Giannopoulos leads a mostly laid back lifestyle and does various freelance work outside of his metal frontman duties. “I do a lot of artwork for bands. Mostly just regular life. Hanging with friends at bars. I’ve been a hustler for a long time so I’ve gotten pretty good at it.” When asked about making The Atlas Moth a permanent livable position, Giannopoulos says, “That would be the ideal. A blue collar worker. I don’t do anything too backbreaking, but I would love to not have to do anything besides play music. I don’t wanna tour for one month out of the year and sit around for the other eleven, I want to work, and I want to go out on tour.”

Giannopoulos and company are working hard putting the finishing touches on their upcoming record, which will be delivered via the Prosthetic Records label, a new home for the band. “We’re 75% done,” Giannopoulos updates. “Right now I have maybe four or five songs to do vocals for. We just have to fine tune a couple things and we’ll be golden.” The band has tapped in legendary Chicago metal musician Sanford Parker to produce the album, who has had a longstanding relationship with Giannopoulos throughout his career. “We worked on the Twilight albums together [which had members of The Atlas Moth, Leviathan, Nachtmystium, Krieg, Isis, and Sonic Youth] as well as scoring a short film called Sacred Mass Of The Nunja by Ryan Oliver, who’s directed all of our music videos. There hasn’t been a better record for us to do with him than this one.”

This will be the first Atlas Moth album to not be produced by guitarist Andrew Ragin. On the change, Giannopoulos reflects, “We knew we wanted someone else other than Andrew. He’s done great in the past, but I believe an outside ear is something we’ve been missing over three records.”

During playbacks of some of the demos from the record, Giannopoulos talks about a few musical changes that the album holds. “There’s a little bit more of a rock and roll thing going on, but there’s also some Meshuggah parts which is a plus in my book. There’s plenty of hooks too,” Giannopoulos admits, “but I never saw what the problem was in having hooks in metal songs.” A contributing factor to The Atlas Moth’s evolved sound this time around comes from the addition of drummer Mike Miczek who has been playing with Chicago death metal stalwarts Broken Hope since 2012. “He’s a young dude, and we’re all in our thirties so having him around has really breathed some new life into us. We’ve been doing this for so long and [The Atlas Moth’s previous album] The Old Believer really took it out of us. We toured for two years. We literally went cross-country three times in three months, back to back.” In addition to Parker and Miczek, Giannopoulos reveals that there are “a few people that will be in town who we have been huge fans of that I’m really hoping we can work with for guest spots on this record.”

Though The Atlas Moth to me has undoubtedly been a metal band, Giannopoulos says people outside of the genre’s following haven’t treated them the same way. “I think people see us as ‘diet metal’,” he jokes. “We’re the metal band for the dude who doesn’t like metal.” Giannopoulos, however, is no stranger to the genre and is excited that his band’s forthcoming album should have no problem being mistaken for anything but a metal album. “I’m the metal guy. I grew up listening to metal, I’ve always been the metal dude. [The Atlas Moth guitarists] Dave Kush and Andrew Ragin grew up playing symphony orchestra together in high school. This kid brought the metal aspect. There’s double kick all over this record, which is really exciting. For once I feel like I’m in a real metal band. The psychedelic parts are real out there, so it’s also the most Pink Floyd we’ve ever been.”

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Alongside changing drummers and producers, Giannopoulos has pulled back some of his guitar playing on the album to give the songs a new vibe as opposed to some of their previous output. He explains, “My life’s been crazy the last two years, so I haven’t always been there to jam or demo. These guys go, ‘Hey! We have this song, what do you think? What do you wanna play guitar on?’ And I just went, ‘I don’t think I need to.’ I don’t wanna force it. If it sounds like a song, it sounds like a song.”

The Atlas Moth have always had extremely vivd imagery in their music, thanks to the lyricism of Giannopoulos and Kush. On his personal approach to songwriting, Giannopoulos details, “I always try to go from the inside out. I hate it when a guy writes a song and someone connects to it, and then you find out it’s actually about his cat, or about this blowjob he got in Idaho. That sucks. The more abstract you can be, the better. I’d rather have people find their own connection to the words.”

For the band’s fourth album, Giannpoulos has delved into new territory that will be heard throughout the tracklisting. “I’ve been very obsessed with cults the last couple of years. On this record, I really tried to have my voice as the cult leader. They spout shit that can make sense, and can drive people to do better. Some people need a moral compass if they can’t do it on their own. I find it interesting that there are these people out there who will talk to you, and make you feel like you’re doing good. I think that’s cool. The human mind is very interesting.”

Giannopoulos reveals the album’s working title as Coma Noir, and speaks about its title track. “That was my idea of what my cult would be called. It’s very antagonistic. It’s the idea of, ‘You can do better! But, maybe I’m fucked up.’”

After being in a band for a ten years, Giannopoulos reflects on Chicago’s metal scene and the attitude of fans across the country. “I think when we started ten years ago, the doom scene was really open-minded. There was a lot of variation; you had so many different kinds of bands like Rwake and Indian. When we’ve gone out with more progressive bands, those fans seem way more into what we’re doing than the fans in the doom scene now.” Giannopoulos isn’t concerned at all about staying the same and pleasing metal fans who only want one type of thing. “I’ve talked to people about the new record and they go, ‘Well, does it sound like The Atlas Moth?’ Anything we do sounds like The Atlas Moth. That’s our band. Predictable bands are going to go the way of the dinosaurs soon.”

Despite how he feels about the scene as a whole, Giannopoulos gives praise to some of the newer bands from his city. “Something Is Waiting is killer, and they’re all fans of ours. Without Waves just signed to Prosthetic as well, and those guys are doing a lot of different shit.”

Though things are progressing well in the way of the upcoming Atlas Moth album, Giannopoulos is aware that he doesn’t want to rush it in any way. He states, “We’re not going to put a stop time on us, but I also realize that’s insane. I have to keep two feet on the ground. I know it’s ridiculous to think we’re gonna work on this album for the rest of our lives. If I finish vocals, it’ll be done. I’m thinking end of April, this will be wrapped up, and then we’ll track it. I want this record out this year, no later than October. Even if it comes out then and we don’t tour until the following Spring, that’s fine.”

Hopefully, the band will not be forgotten and when Coma Noir is released, they’ll garner an even larger fanbase. Giannopoulos explains, “People are asking me if I’m still in a band. We’ve only been gone a couple years. In reality, it’s not that long of a time. Yeah sure, this is the longest we’ve taken between albums, but where’s the new Tool record, asshole? You guys don’t ask about whether or not they’re still together.”

Written by L. Mounts

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First Impressions of DAMN.

Just three days after the release of DAMN., Preston sat down with Gilad Jaffe and Eli Odinga (the former has written for Yr Album, and the latter has been written about) to discuss their initial reactions, where this record fits into Kendrick’s discography, and where the acclaimed rapper is headed next. This is Kendrick’s first full length release since his sprawling, momentous To Pimp a Butterfly. Find the discussion below via our Soundcloud.

Lineup Discussion: Lollapalooza 2017

Lollapalooza recently announced its 2017 lineup, and we here at Yr Album’s a Sucker felt the need for an in-depth discussion of this music industry behemoth. Preston Fulks sat down with Nick Mastri to go through the artists day by day, including their (mostly dismal) thoughts on the headliners, and the sleeper sets that you could be enjoying while your friends are at Perry’s. As always, they eventually come to the price point, i.e. weighing the benefits of trying to hop the fence versus shelling out $335. Find the discussion via our Soundcloud, and the lineup below.

lolla 2k17 full lineup

Run the Jewels: A Beginner’s Guide

With the Lollapalooza lineup finally coming out, it’s time to do some analysis. I don’t need to tell you to see big acts like Chance, Arcade Fire, and Blink (although without Tom DeLonge it’s hard to call this Blink), but I’d like to argue that you shouldn’t pass on what will likely be one of the best acts at the festival, Run the Jewels. 

Run the Jewels is currently hip-hop’s best duo, bar none – there are few modern rap acts who can rival their remarkable track record. What started as a passion project between two unlikely partners has transformed into a global fascination, combining visceral energy and undeniable chemistry for a result of critical and cultural acclaim.

I could talk all day about how much I love Run the Jewels and what they mean to me, but this isn’t a retrospective. This is a beginner’s guide to Run the Jewels, and a limited analysis of three of the best rap albums of the past decade. I’m going to summarize the records first, then provide some superlatives that might make the duo’s body of work less intimidating. If you’re looking for someone new to see, see Run the Jewels. Let’s begin.

Run the Jewels – 2013

The first project from the group is what you would expect a debut mixtape to be: a bunch of individually great songs that lack cohesion. But honestly, sometimes an album doesn’t need a theme or overall message to be great, and that’s what makes Run the Jewels flourish. While not as politically charged as their later two projects, the wordplay and flows on this album give us a taste of the full potential that they will soon reach. The beats are handled by the god El-P himself, a violent reminder of why he’s such a legendary producer. The style isn’t quite perfected here, but it’s a good precursor for what’s to come. Whether you think Killer Mike or El-P is the better lyricist is up to you, as they’re both incredibly capable. A great introduction album that quickly became one of underground hip-hop’s best projects.

Essential Tracks: “36” Chain,” “DDFH,” “Get It,” “Sea Legs,” “No Come Down”

Run the Jewels 2 – 2014

I remember eagerly anticipating this one. After discovering Run the Jewels and exhausting the first album, I needed more. When it finally dropped, I loved it, but didn’t make it much farther than the first few listens. It’s nothing against the album at all, because Run the Jewels 2 is a clear upgrade from the first album. The lyrics are much, much angrier and politically charged, tackling issues from police brutality to drug abuse, and along with the atmospheric production, it’s undeniable that Run the Jewels 2 is much more cohesive in both its messages and themes. In my opinion, however, Run the Jewels 2 track list is far less versatile than those of its predecessor and successor, making it my least favorite Run the Jewels album. But even with that being said, Run the Jewels 2 is still a fantastic project.

Essential Tracks: “Jeopardy,” “Blockbuster Night Part 1,” “Close Your Eyes (And Count to Fuck),” “Early,” “Crown,” “Love Again (Akinyele Back)”

Run the Jewels 3 – 2016

RTJ fans got an early Christmas miracle when Run the Jewels 3 was released a month earlier than expected, leaving myself and other fans ecstatic. I won’t keep it a secret; RTJ3 is their best project to date. To me, it’s a mix of what makes both the first and second albums so great in their own rights: the tracks are playable at any moment, but the album maintains an overall cohesion. Each track seamlessly transitions to the next, but even so, you can enjoy the singles outside of their intended context. The production is probably the most unique of the three albums, with El-P sampling just about anything he could think of. (This album also gets bonus points for including the phrases “Excusez-moi bitches” and “Kumbaya, bitch”). The wordplay is both hilarious and socially conscious, calling out everyone from Donald Trump to racists to fucking Don Lemon of all people. There really isn’t a bad thing to say about RTJ3, you just need to listen to it.

Essential Tracks: “Talk to Me,” “Legend Has It,” “Stay Gold,” “Call Ticketron,” “Thieves! (Screamed the Ghost),” “Everybody Stay Calm,” “Hey Kids [Bumaye]”

~~~

Best Opening Track: “Jeopardy” – RTJ2

Without a doubt the best opening track out of the three projects, “Jeopardy” is the anthem of Run the Jewels’ return. The beat is absolutely filthy, starting off barren and progressively layering instruments to create a lush and jazzy beat. The lyrics are furious, letting people know not to mess with El-P and Killer Mike. The abrupt ending to the track is the cherry on top.

Best Feature: Zack De La Rocha, “Close Your Eyes (And Count to Fuck)” – RTJ2

Run the Jewels make liberal use of instrumental features throughout their discography (BOOTS, Travis Barker, and Kamasi Washington), but their lyrical counterparts are just as capable. While Big Boi on “Banana Clipper” or Danny Brown on “Hey Kids (Bumaye)” could have taken this spot, there really was no other person I could give it to than Rage Against the Machine frontman Zack De La Rocha, whose charged snarl can be heard both over the beat and within it. His chaotic, frantic energy is perfect for Mike and El, who can be tough to match in that category. That’s one way to do a feature.

Most Consistent Album: RTJ3

The most recent Run the Jewels easily takes this spot, simply because each song is amazing in its own right without undermining the album as a whole. The way I look at it is this: RTJ has some great classic tracks but the shortcomings of the album (and brevity) outweigh the good, while RTJ2 has the most cohesive atmosphere of the three, but it sort of falls apart in the second half. With RTJ3, again, you get the best of both worlds, even though the lesser tracks  bring it down a bit (and “Down” is definitely the worst opening track of the three projects). Luckily, the stretch of “Talk to Me” through “Everybody Stay Calm” is so good it doesn’t even matter.

Best Beat:

  • RTJ – “Get It”: The catchiest beat off of the first Run the Jewels album. “Get It” is a RTJ song that never gets old to me, and that is thanks in large part to the simple but excellent beat.
  • RTJ 2 – “Crown”: Even with this comparatively bare beat, the guitar work from Diane Coffee is one of the album’s instrumental highlights.
  • RTJ 3 – “Legend Has It”: “And the crowd goes: RTJ. This beat is all over the place, which is what makes it so great. The variation on each part of the track is fantastic, and how can you not love a Nature Boy Ric Flair sample?

Most Underrated Track:

  • RTJ – “No Come Down”: With all the single power of the first record, this song can get lost in the mix. Consider this a gentle reminder that both verses from Killer Mike and El-P are great, and the beat is also eerie and fantastic.
  • RTJ 2 – “Early”: One of RTJ2’s darker tracks, “Early” talks about police brutality and is more of a story than a song. Nevertheless, the haunting chorus from BOOTS on this track cements it as one of the album’s best tracks.
  • RTJ 3 – “Thieves! (Screamed the Ghost)”: With a beat that sounds straight out of an old school Mario game, “Thieves! (Screamed the Ghost)” is going to be overlooked in the plethora of great tracks on RTJ3. But even with the weird rhyme schemes on every verse, this song remains a favorite of mine for the Don Lemon callout I mentioned. 

Best Track:

  • RTJ –  “Get It”: This is one of my favorite RTJ songs period, so its place as RTJ’s best track is rightfully earned. Some of the best lines in their entire discography are on here, and the second half of the song is just fantastic. A classic.
  • RTJ 2 – “Close Your Eyes (And Count to Fuck)”: I can’t get enough of this song, and it’s one of the only songs from RTJ2 that I’ll play anytime. The beat is just too great, and not one verse on the song is a slouch. A modern day Zack De La Rocha verse was also something I was anticipating, and I already discussed his feature, so just scroll back up and listen to the song if you skipped it.
  • RTJ 3 – “Everybody Stay Calm”: I don’t know what it is, but this beat belongs in a secret agent video game. I love the techno vibe that El-P puts on this track; it’s just so eerie and haunting. Even though I put “Call Ticketron” as my favorite track from this album in my Top 25 Albums of 2016, that was just after a quick reaction as the album came out literally the day I wrote it. “Everybody Stay Calm” doesn’t have a single bad verse, and some of the samples on it are just outstanding, making it my favorite song off of RTJ3.

Hopefully after reading this you do yourself a favor and listen to some of the RTJ discography. They truly are one of hip-hop’s best currently, and have been killing every live show they’ve done on their “Run the World” Tour. If you do go and see them at Lollapalooza or any of the other multitude of festivals they are at, be prepared to be blown away.

Written by Max Borushek

Review: Nü Religion: Hyena – THEY.

Jesus, did February 24th have to drop this many albums?

Obviously with this much music being released, it would be a disservice not to give my opinion on something. It could have been the new Stormzy album Gang Signs and Prayers, it could have been the new Oddisee album The Iceberg, or literally any of the 20 albums that came out last Friday. But, fortunately for me, it was the debut LP from LA duo THEY. And why was that fortunate? Because Nü Religion: Hyena is banging, and everyone should do themselves a favor and listen to this album ASAP.

You may be thinking to yourself right now, “Well, this album can’t be that good, he’s just overhyping it.” But no, I’m not.

This album is fire for a multitude of reasons. First off, THEY. know how to put out a smooth listen. From the wordplay to the production, Nü Religion: Hyena is blissful. Straight vibes only. I thought this was going to be a strict hip-hop album, but to my surprise, Nü Religion: Hyena is more of a mix between R&B and hip-hop. According to their website, THEY. call it “Grunge&B”, which I can definitely get behind.

With this seemingly new genre being thrown at us, what can we expect? Well, really it’s just a mixture of bangers and soothing R&B. Even with the disjointed nature of the album, and the variation of dynamics, it maintains consistency. The first three tracks (not counting the introduction) are proof of this: we get a laid-back crooner, a banger, and a fluid pop-trap number, respectively. They’re linked by punchy rhythms juxtaposed with airy, ethereal melodies. 

This consistency relies heavily on production. Producer Dante Jones excels at creating an atmosphere that makes the album shine distinct. The grimy, dark beats that are present on every track are incredible while avoiding repetition. From the blaring horns on “U-RITE” to the gritty guitar on “What You Want”, Nü Religion: Hyena is in your face from beginning to end and doesn’t hold back.

This new wave of a genre that seemingly didn’t have life past the mid-2000’s has its definite hiccups and diamonds. When it comes down to it, the beats are great, but on an R&B album, the vocals need to be great too. Fortunately, the sensual voice of Drew Love can calm all those fears. I got some serious Anderson .Paak vibes on some of these tracks, even without the gospel influence – both singers have a natural sense of melody that actively plays with the production. 

In what could be dubbed as “SexPop,” artists like dvsn, 6LACK, and the king himself The Weeknd are trying to bring back grime and vice to the Billboard Top 100. Although THEY. are not outright part of this movement, Nü Religion: Hyena certainly draws inspiration from modern records like House of Balloons. THEY. certainly don’t break the trends of “SexPop”, but that isn’t a bad thing. There are actually some creative lines on this record, like “Check my cerebellum I can tell ‘em”, or “Tryna call the shots but you ain’t even got the gun/ Tryna play with fire/ ended up just gettin’ burned.” All of the hooks are fantastically catchy, too.

I seriously haven’t been able to stop listening to this record since its release. Even with a couple of filler songs that are OK at best, the whole album is so catchy that they are only a minor blemish by comparison. It hooks you in straight from the beginning and has staying power through its versatility. Don’t be surprised if you start hearing “U-RITE” played at every club in existence. THEY. are about to blow up, and it’s all going to be thanks to Nü Religion: Hyena’s polish and catchiness.

9/10

Written by Max Borushek 

Standout: “The Struggle” – Ajani NaNaBuluku

“This is what is real that them rappers never rap about”, Ajani NaNaBuluku spits, as the penultimate line of “The Struggle’s” second verse. The final line is a reiteration: “This is what is real that them rappers never rap about”. The song details an unglamorous struggle, not the fetishized narrative of drug dealing or imprisonment that record labels exploit for marketing strategies. Instead, NaNaBuluku opts for a more human, and decidedly more difficult approach. He evokes the familiar imagery of student loan debt (“Graduated to a fuckin’ world so cold and cruel though”) alongside cries of compassion and unfettered empathy for those around him. “Ever had to visit jail to see your uncle down and out?/ Ever been so broke you couldn’t even help your daddy out?” Ajani is willing to admit helplessness in a way that few other rappers are – and in facing it head on, he’s able to contain the urge to blame himself, or at least acknowledge it.

His cathartic plea (if it may be called that) is strung out over a beat produced by NaNaBuluku himself. At first the only element is a soothing keyboard progression, panned between channels, allowing a false sense of security before the kick drum makes a pointed entrance. The genre-blending is dizzying; neo-soul, trap, future bass, and more make their way into the mix. By the time the first verse hits most will have given up trying to suppose influences, because Ajani’s presence warrants full attention. His flow is somehow both biting and slurred; each syllable cuts through the mix before sliding effortlessly into the next. The drums dismantle themselves under his command in an effort not to divert focus, providing a thick foundation, popping in and out where needed. They come into full form with the chorus, their rhythmic pops and hisses balanced by NaNaBuluku’s fluid delivery. It’s catchy as fuck, too.

Support Ajani’s The Self-Love Tape via Bandcamp. 

Written by Preston Fulks 

Review: Life Without Sound – Cloud Nothings

In a modern age filled with so many great indie rock bands, it’s easy for a group to get lost in the noise; which is exactly what Cloud Nothings are trying to avoid. A band that started out as a solo project by Cleveland native Dylan Baldi, they quickly grew into one of the most catchy and melodic bands in the area, but with a heavy edge. Cloud Nothings began as just another indie band, and soon after their first EP and album, they merged into a group more characteristic of garage rock, with Baldi’s signature shrieks becoming the defining element of 2012’s Attack on Memory. They’ve only released one album since, 2014’s Here and Nowhere Else, and now they are returning with one of 2017’s earliest releases, Life Without Sound.

Life Without Sound’s opening is not dissimilar to Attack on Memory’s, with a piano intro leading into opener “Up To The Surface”, which sets a good tone for the album. Baldi talks about going through changes in his life and dealing with his own personal woes – “In darkness I’ve evolved again” – and how it’s okay to forget the past. The following track, “Things Are Right With You”, continues the upbeat feel started by the first track, with some of the catchiest melodies on the whole album. As always Baldi is self-deprecating, taking solace in the hope that “things are right with you”. Life Without Sound matches its return to musical form with Baldi’s tried-and-true muses, including loneliness, self-loathing, and existential crisis. This album is perhaps different in Baldi’s total commitment to these themes, and he pours every drop of angst into his lyrics. This is especially apparent on highlight and single “Modern Act”, with the chorus lyric “I want a life that’s all I need lately/ I am alive but all alone”. The song comes on very strong but lacks a solid bridge, and thus relies on the chorus line way too frequently.

An important thing to note is that this record is Cloud Nothings’ first release as a four piece, with the addition of lead guitarist Chris Brown. This is less of a total game changer, and more of a subtle improvement. Baldi still maintains massive control over the song structures and guitar lines, but Brown makes some key contributions, like his harmony part on “Internal World”. This track precedes “Enter Entirely”, perhaps the album’s best song, certainly with the strongest bridge: “Moving on but I still feel it/ you’re just a light in me now”.  This form stands as a template for how every great Cloud Nothings song should progress: it has a proper build-up with a purposeful first verse, followed by a chorus that perfectly illustrates the track’s subject matter  (in this case, Baldi’s warnings about idealizing the past).

It’s nice to see how well this album developed considering the flop joint release between Cloud Nothings and Wavves, titled No Life For Me, from 2015. Where that album lacked consistency and polish, this one was able to find its tone and stick with it (at least for the most part). With an album as consistent as this it’s a shame that the ending is so weak. “Strange Year” takes us into the dark part of this record with no apology, clear and pointed in its raucousness. While I was see what Baldi was trying to do here – that is, surprise and shock listeners by completely diverting from the tonal center of the album – the result is a mangled mess of screaming and unnatural dissonance that leaves a bad taste in my mouth. The closing track, “Realize my Fate”, attempts epic proportions but falls flat through all its repetition. It feels just on the verge of exploding and taking off into something bigger, but this never happens, and the hook is recycled to little effect. Thankfully, the track closes with a solo guitar section that left me with at least some semblance of proper conclusion.

Life Without Sound is proof that Cloud Nothings still have a purpose for being around, despite the purported homogeneity of their catalogue. This record is enough of a departure from their previous work that it can function as a proper reintroduction to the band for anyone who doubted their relevance and ability to release a definitive album.

7/10

Written by Owen Cubitt