Album Of The Week: Envy Atheist’s Cornea
Not gonna lie: This is a weird week for Album Of The Week. It’s weird (1) because Tom is on vacation, and this is usually his space, so instead of getting the guy you’re used to, you’ve got me. It’s weird (2) because this is the week in which Global Release Day takes effect. You might not be aware of this, but till now, we published AOTW on Tuesday, because till now, in the United States, albums came out on Tuesday. IT WAS A DIFFERENT TIME AND THAT WAS JUST THE WAY THINGS WERE DONE! Now, though, by decree of the International Music Cabal, albums are coming out on Friday in every country (with the exception of, y’know, a whole bunch of countries, including countries in Asia, where people actually still buy CDs). So now, we’re running this feature on Friday. FWIW, Noel Gallagher thinks Global Release Day is dumb, and — as is often the case — I agree with Noel. And like Noel, I don’t really understand Global Release Day but that’s not gonna stop me from having an opinion based on stubborn contrarianism, old-school common sense, and arbitrary selfishness. What I mean to say is, I really liked reading AOTW every Tuesday! Maybe I’ll get used to this new schedule, but right now, it sucks! Right, Noel?
You said it! Anyway, weird week. It’s weird (3) because the new-release calendar is unusually bare. I don’t mean this as a slight against any of the albums on that calendar, but when you look at that list top to bottom, nothing jumps out as an obvious choice for AOTW honors. Between you and me, the aforementioned points (2) and (3) are at least partially related. It’s gonna take a little while for the industry to figure out how to roll out Friday releases, and no label wants to fuck up a high-priority record by dropping it into this uncharted wilderness. That’s presumably why two of the week’s bigger records — Adrian Younge & Ghostface Killah’s Twelve Reasons To Die II and Veruca Salt’s Ghost Notes — weren’t handled by labels at all, but were self-released by those respective artists. Meanwhile, Four Tet’s Morning?/?Evening got its digital release two weeks ago, even though the physical product will hit stores today. The huge-in-England duo Sleaford Mods were supposed to release their third album, Key Markets, today, but apparently it was pushed back two weeks, to 7/24, due to “a backlog at vinyl pressing plants caused by Record Store Day.” Uh huh. Look, it’s understandable. Send some other canary into that coalmine. Thank you for your dedication to the cause, Owl City; when the oral history of Global Release Day is written, you won’t go unmentioned.
Anyway, this unlikely collusion of events has created a vortex that allows me to spotlight a record that deserves a spotlight, a record that would otherwise be buried among the Other Albums Of Note. It’s the new one from Envy — a two-decade-old, Tokyo-based, Japanese-language swooning, arty screamo band — and it’s called Atheist’s Cornea, and … wait, come back! I’m being serious!
For a few thousand people, Envy need no introduction. For everyone else, though … I mean, you don’t really need to know a single detail about Envy’s history to be blown away by Atheist’s Cornea, but understanding how they got here might deepen your love for the album (and encourage you to seek out more) so here’s the elevator pitch: Envy were formed in 1992, and released their first LP, From Here To Eternity, in 1998, offering a spastic, pealing, incendiary derivation of hardcore. Over time, they expanded their approach to include elements of shoegaze, metal, and post-rock. They toured with bands like Mogwai and Isis, and released splits with bands like Jesu and Thursday. They achieved peak Envy on their third album — the 2003 double-LP A Dead Sinking Story — and continued down that path, to lesser degrees of success, on 2006’s Insomniac Doze and 2010’s Recitation. Atheist’s Cornea is Envy’s first album in five years, and while they’re not adding new elements to the formula, they’ve found ways to improve upon it: making the songs more economical, but expanding further within those tighter arrangements. At its base, the music made by Envy has a lot in common with the music made by Godspeed You! Black Emperor or Explosions In The Sky, but with a prominent vocal presence. It’s a sound that blends soaring, searching, mountainous wonder with tormented, howling urgency, resulting in songs that produce an uncontrollable endorphin flood in the listener. These things hit your emotional buttons so hard that you can feel it in your muscle tissue.
For me, the most useful (and universal) reference point when talking about Envy is Deafheaven: a nail I hammered pretty hard in my writeup of Atheist’s Cornea’s lead single, “Blue Moonlight.” The comparison is reductive — and for that, I apologize to both bands — but it’s not just convenient shorthand; it’s an essential evolutionary link. Listen to “Blue Moonlight” and tell me you can’t see a father-son resemblance. (Following that analogy, the French band Alcest is Deafheaven’s mother.)
You can hear a lot of Envy in other American black metal-based bands, too; bands like Ghost Bath and Bosse-de-Nage and A Pregnant Light. (Oddly, there’s almost no evidence of any black metal in Envy’s DNA.) But where most of Envy’s descendants tend toward something a bit more singleminded, Envy’s sound is almost vastly inclusive: further-reaching, more vulnerable, more diverse. Nowhere is that more evident than on Atheist’s Cornea’s longest (and maybe best) track, “Shining Finger”: Vocalist Tetsuya Fukagawa shifts from gentle spoken word to violent scream to plaintive clean singing, while behind him, the instrumental tones change like the seasons — from “new-age spa music” to “hang-gliding playlist,” incorporating organ, strings, and chimes. More impressive than Envy’s sense of daring, though, is their sense of composition. This doesn’t sound like a 16-part suite; it sounds like a song, and when I listen to it, I don’t notice a single seam.
The bio sent out along with Atheist’s Cornea advances was peppered with fawning decontextualized blurbs not from press outlets but artists: some of Envy’s better-known peers and collaborators, scene spokespeople such as Stuart Braithwaite, Geoff Rickley, and Aaron Turner. It reminded me a lot of another press release I got earlier this year, regarding the return of Planes Mistaken For Stars: a godlike (but almost universally unknown) post-hardcore band from Colorado whose initial run lasted from 1997 – 2007. That PMFS announcement came with video testimonials from Coliseum’s Ryan Patterson, Converge’s Nate Newton, and Touche Amore’s Jeremy Bolm, among others. Like Envy, PMFS aren’t quite a critic’s band or even a band’s band, but something more seminal still: an utterly singular band that influenced the band’s bands that eventually became the critic’s bands that influenced the bands that real people actually listen to. It’s a smart way to present Envy to an American media that might not be aware of the band, and might not know what to make of:
“A two-decade-old, Tokyo-based, Japanese-language swooning, arty screamo band.” –Stereogum
It’s fitting that Envy and Planes Mistaken For Stars are making their respective returns in the same year, and especially fitting because they’re coming back alongside a handful of similarly gone-too-long artists with similar visions: Brand New, Mike Vennart from Oceansize, Refused … These are bands that make ambitious, complicated, loud music with big emotions and bigger dynamics. They’re also bands who have been name-checked more during their respective times away than they did during their most recent periods of activity. Maybe this is their moment?
It’s a moment, at least: this very precise, finite, unique span of time; this weird week that feels like both a transition and a void. There’s a pretty cool metaphor for Envy in there, but fuck a metaphor — just be glad the universe cracked open long enough for this thing to rush in and find you.
Atheist’s Cornea is out now via Temporary Residence.
Other albums of note out this week:
- Nervosas’ beautiful and ferocious self-titled LP.
- The indie-packed Paper Towns soundtrack.
- Veruca Salt’s unexpected but awesome reunion Ghost Notes.
- Lauryn Hill’s Nina Simone Tribute record Nina Revisited.
- Alison Mosshart & The Forest Rangers’s bluesy Land Ho!.
- Ghostface Killah & Adrian Younge’s sequel to 2013’s Twelve Reasons To Die, Twelve Reasons To Die II.
- The physical release of Four Tet’s two-track/40-minute-plus Morning/Evening.
- The-Dream’s display of his songwriting force Crown Jewel.
- EZTV’s gently jangly debut Calling Out.
- Heather Woods Broderick’s pristine, sprawling Glider.
- Years & Years’ electro-pop debut album Communion.
- Spraynard’s yearning Mable.
- Undergang’s next-level death metal Døden Læger Alle Sår.
- Lee Bannon’s sticky, ominous, weirdly discomfiting Pattern Of Excel.
- Prefuse 73’s final part of his album triptych Every Color Of Darkness.
- Nap Eyes’ thoughtful, complicated debut Whine Of The Mystic.
- Little Boots’ nostalgic computer-pop production Working Girl.
- Ezra Furman’s doo-wop and rockabilly throwback Perpetual Motion People.
- Cradle Of Filth’s arena black-metal LP Hammer Of the Witches.
- Owl City’s physically discomforting Mobile Orchestra.
- R5’s bubbly sophomore album Sometime Last Night.
- Team Sleep’s Woodstock Sessions Vol. 4.
- Tyrese’s supposedly last album Black Rose.