Culture Feature

The Official 2020 Apocalypse Gift Guide

Because not even the end times can interfere with consumerism.

The holidays can be a stressful time.

What with the travel, the family drama, the global pandemic, and the militia groups threatening to upend our democracy, it might start to seem like the world is about to fall apart around you. Also, the world might really be about to fall apart around you. Suddenly the "preppers" who spend all their time getting ready for some imagined doomsday don't seem so crazy.

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BTS at the American Music Awards

By Featureflash Photo Agency

Congratulations–you've survived 2019

We've been through haunting commercials, traumatically bad movies, and the fall of a favorite childhood author. But through it all, there's been Spotify, judging our music tastes like a disapproving boomer. And yet, we persisted. In alphabetical order, these are the top 50 musical lifelines of the 2010s. In the top 25 are the likes of BTS, Bon Iver, Kendrick Lamar, and Childish Gambino. Among the bottom 25 are FKA twigs, Tayor Swift, Julien Baker, and Charli XCX. Notably absent is anything by Ed Sheeran or Justin Bieber, because we don't believe bad listening habits should be encouraged. Happy listening in 2020!

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The holidays aren't for everybody.

Known in the media world as the "Christmas Creep," Christmas advertisements emerge quietly in October and are sometimes in full force by the time Halloween costumes are tucked away. The music industry is no different. "The straight answer is the physical market," RCA Records co-president John Fleckenstein told Billboard. "Christmas albums tend to be multigenerational, and thus, they skew very heavily on the physical side." If big market stores like Target and Walmart want the albums to take off in time for the Holidays, October is the month to stock up.

But thanks to streaming, the demand for Christmas music has exploded even more, breeding some shuddering renditions as a result. It began this year with John Legend and Kelly Clarkson's gauche attempt to revitalize "Baby, It's Cold Outside" for the MeToo era. "It's your body and your choice," Legend sings.

While Christmas music may be well-intentioned, the era of streaming has produced some uncomfortable and unnecessary Christmas music. Here are the strangest holiday albums to emerge so far in 2019.

Rob Halford, Celestial

"And when I look up to the sky and let my soul release," Halford croons passionately over synth and acoustic guitar. "A warm embrace comes gently down and fills this heart with peace." Who knew Christmas could rock so hard! The British "Metal God" released Celestial this October, and its gravitas is abrasive. But maybe that's the point? Maybe some people just wanna break sh*t on Christmas instead of sipping sissy eggnog.


Baroness Reinvents the Color Wheel with "Gold & Grey"

The prog-metal band issues the last of their color-themed albums.

Baroness is a rare band in the metal genre, in that they are constantly recreating themselves and redefining their sound.

Baroness is no stranger to blending disparate metal archetypes into new and vibrant sonic vistas. Although their early work relied on a denser, more purely metal sound, the Savannah, Georgia outfit reached a pinnacle of critical acclaim in the early aughts–making a name for themselves with an innovative combination of prog and noise rock, while still remaining firmly rooted in the sludge metal sound of their origins.

Their last album, 2015's Purple, brought the band into mainstream rock consciousness, catapulting them far beyond their status as the underground kings of progressive metal. Purple was adored by rock/metal critics and longtime fans alike; it even landed them a Grammy nomination. Anyone who follows the world of metal closely knows well that this is an extremely difficult line to walk–to make music that is heavy, loud, and honest enough to excite the metalheads while also being polished and commercial enough to be considered for a Grammy.

With nearly four years and a significant lineup change between the band and Purple, their latest release, Gold & Grey, has been one of the most highly anticipated prog rock albums in recent years. This record marks both the end of the band's color-themed records, seeing as—alongside Red, Blue, Green & Yellow, and Purple—Baroness has officially covered the full spectrum of the color wheel. Well, kind of. Orange would have technically been the final color, but as the band's front-man (as well as the artist responsible for all of Baroness' album covers), John Baizley explains to Revolver's Sammi Chichester, "[Orange is] the most gaudy hue that is available […] It's 100 percent why we haven't done that color yet. We kind of saved it for last."

However, Baizley goes on to hint that perhaps the combination of gold and gray could somehow imply the color orange, or perhaps strip it of its so-called gaudiness. "I was going out to see a show, brushing my teeth in my bathroom before I went out […] The walls of my bathroom are this sort of warm, neutral gray. I had a pack of Trident—like an orange, mint-flavored gum. As I lifted the package out of my pocket, I saw that package with the walls behind it. The color combination was so intriguing. It just hit me like a ton of bricks. I said, 'This is the way to do it. There's a gray element.'"

Synesthetic interpretations aside, Gold & Grey is yet another departure for a band that seems to be constantly departing. In fact, with each new release since Red, Baroness has been gradually inching away from their sludge metal roots, one small step at a time. 2012's Yellow & Green marked the band's first significant turn from a more firmly metal-oriented sound, allowing themselves to more fully explore the ambient and sonically experimental realms of progressive music. And since then, each new release seemed to leave the metal further and further in the past. Gold & Grey, however, marks the first time Baroness has come close to nearly abandoning that heavy sound all together.

The moments when that classic Baroness heaviness can be heard on Gold & Grey are fleeting—more like an allusion to their metal roots than a full-on embrace of them. The heavy metal purists are likely to skip through much of this album in search of something to bang their heads to. There is still some solid riffage, though, particularly on tracks like "Front Toward Enemy," "Borderlines," "Throw me an Anchor," and "Tourniquet."

The majority of Gold & Grey, however, sees Baroness reveling in ambiance, synth-driven prog rock, and, perhaps most uncharacteristically, acoustic songs with more traditional structures and chord progressions than fans have come to expect from the band. Songs like the piano-led, vulnerable ballad, "I'd Do Anything;" the mellow, twinkling, and lonely sound of "Emmet – Radiating Light;" and the indie-inspired instrumental interlude, "Blankets of Ash," all see Baroness moving toward more emotionally wrought and stripped-down places than they have ever gone before.

Gina Gleeson, in addition to providing stellar guitar work, has lent Baroness some new dimensions. Not only does she shred, but it sounds as if she may have been responsible for pushing the band into some very interesting and unexpected places. Another element, for example, that stands out about Gold & Grey, is how solid and, for lack of a better word, sturdy the vocals sound when compared to previous Baroness projects. This is, in part, due to Gleeson's expert backup vocal work. She lends many rich yet understated harmonies to Baizley's singing, adding a new heightened level of musicality and emotional depth to the band.

Gold & Grey is not your typical Baroness album. But, then again, there really is no such thing as a typical Baroness album. This album, though, definitely does mark the end of an era for Baroness, and it is a perfectly colorful sendoff–an album as sonically and vibrantly solid as it is authentic and dark–equal parts gold and grey.

Popdust Presents

Popdust Presents | Sister Sparrow

The singer-songwriter is promoting her new album, Gold.

Sister Sparrow

Sister Sparrow promotes her new album.

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PREMIERE | I Am The Polish Army Brings 'Gold'

DeCorsey's voice is five-by-five lethal

Photo Credit: Dave Rubin

I Am The Polish Army isn't your run-of-the-mill alt-rock band.

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