Dustin Wong | Fluid World Building 101 With Shaman Bambu | Hausu Mountain

Dustin Wong
Fluid World Building 101 With Shaman Bambu

Hausu Mountain
Street: 09.14
Dustin Wong = Joe Zawinul’s Dialects + Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith

The latest from Chicago-based experimentalists Hausu Mountain finds avant-rock musician Dustin Wong shifting his sound to fold into the label’s typical stylings. Unlike his work in the blistering prog outfit Ponytail or the chilled-out funk of his collaborations with Takako Minekawa, the music here takes on a colorful, sugar-coated sheen. Fluid World Building 101 With Shaman Bambu is nothing if not flashy. It often praises chaos over order and more over less, pushing nearly all of Wong’s ideas to their manic breaking point.

On most of the tracks, Wong forgoes easily discernable structure in favor of a stream-of-consciousness rush through layers of improvisations and disorienting loops. From the first track, “Nite Drive With Shaman Bambu,” Wong makes clear his love for vertical stacks of sounds instead of horizontal spatializing. Based around an ever-evolving, quasi-tropical groove, Wong piles on pitch-shifted guitars, electronic percussion, warped vocals and other sounds for a shapeshifting seven minutes. Often, this mass of instrumentation combines all at once, and the task becomes trying to pull any one focal point out of the crowded picture.

Because of how overwhelming the clutter can be, the most successful tracks are more spaced out and feature more economically arranged instruments. “Village Made of Zephyr,” in particular, has a welcome airiness. All of the elements that showed up in “Nite Drive” are here as well, but used more sparingly and with more apparent attention to interplay. There are languid melodies here, as well as dramatic chord changes—something that can get lost in the muck elsewhere.

When the air clears, the twisted fusion roots of much of the music on Fluid World Building shows themselves. If you’ve ever listened to Wong’s work with Ponytail, you’d know that he’s a highly skilled musician with a knack for merging memorable melodies with mind-bending guitar workouts. Here, that technicality is present, but it’s often combatted by a goofy electronic line or a kitschy video game aesthetic. “Dawn Thru the Marble Parthenon” pits clanking percussion samples and shimmery synths against rich guitar harmonies, making for a moment that sounds like the offspring of Bill Frisell and Super Mario Sunshine.

All this madness makes the album’s centerpiece and immediate standout, “はずかしがらないで (Don’t Be Ashamed),” feel like even more of a shock. The winding guitar solos and disorienting rhythms fall away, and a bonified pop tune emerges. The combination of plucked string counterpoint, Wong’s intimate delivery and a cosmic synthesizer solo to round the whole thing out make “はずかしがらないで (Don’t Be Ashamed)” a moment of truly ecstatic music.

Wong lives up to his promise of constructing his own reality in that it seems to have little reference to or patience for the outside world. The best way to digest the music, then, is to meet it on its own terms. Following the advice of the final track, titled “New Societies Interacting, Let’s Zoom In,” the music works best when it’s studied like a set of data. If you hyperfocus on “World Builder Imagines a City,” what seemed like the musical equivalent of rainbow vomit turns into a densely interlocking puzzle of seemingly at-odds ideas and gestures. Lean back, and everything muddles. Though it sounds cheery on the surface, the reality of Fluid World Building is some deeply complex and difficult music. –Connor Lockie

IDLES | Joy as an Act of Resistance | Partisan Records

Joy as an Act of Resistance

Partisan Records
Street: 08.31
IDLES = Metz + Protomartyr + Future of the Left

Last year, Bristol-born quintet IDLES kicked in the front door of the underground punk scene with their debut album, BRUTALISM. The record’s furious energy and politically charged lyrics made for an irresistible listen that felt ready to take on the current socio-political era with gritted teeth and clenched fists. A little more than a year after the release of BRUTALISM, IDLES return with the same energy, wit and charisma of their debut with a new emphasis on vulnerability, sincerity, joy and togetherness.

Joy as an Act of Resistance feels exactly like its title would lead you to believe. Lyrically, the album confronts the prevalent issues of toxic masculinity, immigration, nationalism and social and economic inequality, all the while being an album that will leave you tired from dancing and sincerely smiling from the unity and vulnerability preached throughout.

It’s in addressing these relevant political issues with biting and witty lyrics where the album shines, offering some of the best lyrical moments of 2018. During the second act of the opener “Colossus”—a hardcore punk explosion that erupts from the ashes of a brooding Swans-like first act—frontman Joe Talbot offers the incredible lines “I’m like Stone Cold Steve Austin / I put homophobes in coffins / I’m like Fred Astaire / I dance like I don’t care / I’m on my best behavior / like Jesus Christ our savior.” The track “Never Fight a Man With a Perm” is an early instance of the group tackling toxic masculinity as Talbot paints the picture of a stereotypical beefed-up male that’s “one big neck with sausage hands” and ends with an offer to just “hug it out.”

Directly after “Never Fight a Man With a Perm,” the band shows their politics and begins to tackle nationalism, political differences and class inequality on “I’m Scum” as Talbot sings, “I’ll sing at fascists till my hair comes off / I’m lefty. I’m soft. I’m minimum-wage job,” and “This snowflake’s an avalanche!”

As Joy as an Act of Resistance moves forward, listeners dance and thrash to songs that continue to discuss important and recent topics like Brexit and immigration, to ponder the societal expectations of masculinity, and to delve deep into some of the most vulnerable moments of Talbot’s life. “June,” the emotional centerpiece of the album and the most emotionally affecting song in the entire IDLES catalogue, features pulsing synths heightening the strikes of the bass drum as Talbot grieves the loss of his daughter with heartbreaking lyrics like “Baby shoes: for sale. Never worn.” 

All in all, Joy as an Act of Resistance feels like a more fulfilled, more mature vision than Brutalism. IDLES have corrected some of the pacing issues from their debut, evolved their sound, and made their message more concise. The heart of this message can be found in the lyrics of “Danny Nedelko,” a song about Talbot’s love and appreciation of immigrants. Talbot sings, “He’s made of bones / he’s made of blood / he’s made of flesh / he’s made of love / he’s made of you / he’s made of me, unity!”

Joy as an Act of Resistance is ultimately a celebration of people in the face of collapse. If you search through their social media, you’ll find that IDLES and their fans have found a motto of strength in the poetry of Dylan Thomas. IDLES have decided to resist the powers that be by using love and sincerity, admitting their vulnerability in hope that others might admit theirs and join them in not going gently into the seemingly pitch-black night. –Evan Welsh

Alkaline Trio | Is This Thing Cursed? | Epitaph

Alkaline Trio
Is This Thing Cursed?

Street: 08.31
Epitaph Records
Alkaline Trio = Nimrod-era Green Day + The Lawrence Arms

It feels as if Alkaline Trio are sending longtime fans reminders of why they love them. The first track, “Is This Thing Cursed?” starts off sweet and welcoming, then progresses into everything you’d expect from an innovative, modern-day punk band: punk-beats in a 1980s vein, crashing symbols with interesting, hypnotic riffs, a sturdy bassline and, of course, Matt Skiba’s dark vocals.

“Little Help” is probably the most fun and humorous track on the album. It’s the one song that isn’t super poetic or very emotional, but it’s high energy, entertaining and the embodiment of a punk boy matured. Hell, it’s even admitted in the lyrics: “Can anybody here buy this old fool a drink?” and, “Can anybody here give this old fool a lift?” While it may be a funny, filler piece for Is This Thing Cursed?, the boyish charm embedded into this track gives it that lovable trait.

While there may be some points that lose my attention—specifically: “Sweet Vampires,” “Pale Blue Ribbon” and “Heart Attacks”—there are a ton of other songs that stand out from the rest. “Goodbye Fire Island,” is filled to the brim with poetic lyrics, scenic descriptions and reminds me a lot of The Lawrence Arms in their Cocktails and Dreams era. It’s easy to listen to, beautiful and offers enough room for the lyrics to shine through the instrumentals.

“Demon and Division” is easily one of my favorite tracks on the album— it’s punky, it’s sweet and it doesn’t hold back emotionally. Within the first few seconds of the song, the wistful guitar lick in the chorus sweeps me away. Not to mention that Skiba’s voice blends perfectly into the noodling melodies, and it’s enough to melt my heart. This song has easily earned a spot in the “Play 20 More Times Club.”

They chose a perfect song to close out the album: “Kristilline.” It’s one of my favorites of the bunch because the toned-down acoustic guitar and vocals that open the track contrast rampantness of the rest of the album. It’s more relaxed sonically, but while it may be dressed-down, the passion continues to swell up to the chorus when Skiba shouts, “I want you, Kristilline.” His voice expresses desperation and longing—a perfect pairing to the airiness of this track. It’s a straightforward song that isn’t complex as far as construction goes, but it’s simple enough to sing along to, and the emotional heaviness of the track lingers long after the lyrics finish, into the outro. 

On their ninth studio LP, it’s evident that Alkaline Trio have matured along with their fanbase. Compared to their first release in 1999, Goddamnit, you can hear that their foundation is fixed in the fundamentals of ’90s punk—they’re just as edgy as the early days, but with a little more refinement. While overall, the tone of this collection doesn’t scream ’90s-punk revival and leans more toward alternative-radio punk—there’s a lingering presence of the Goddamnit days on Is This Thing Cursed? This progression reminds me a lot of what Blink-182 did, dare I say it. The only difference is that I think Alkaline Trio, while polished up, still haven’t (completely) uprooted their foundations in punk. They recognize their origins, and instead of rebranding themselves for a new audience, they grow alongside the one they already have. While there’s a bit more radio-friendliness throughout this album, there’s no denying that it’s still jammable. Even at their most mainstream moments on this album—such as “I Can’t Believe,” and the title track—Alkaline Trio still put their original, untampered-with signature on them. –Zaina Abujebarah

Spiritualized | And Nothing Hurt | Fat Possum Records

And Nothing Hurt

Fat Possum Records
Street: 09.07
Spiritualized = John Cale/Lou Reed Velvet Underground + unbridled John Coltrane

Jason Pierce has always made music that is different than anything else being done. Spiritualized have always been his vehicle, or spacecraft, and he has always been the spaceman on a mission to bring something interesting home for anyone willing to listen. Even when his albums fell short of what fans and critics were expecting, they were still better than most everything else, especially anything not pushing boundaries.

With Spiritualized’s eighth studio album, And Nothing Hurt, Pierce has bitten off an awful lot to chew—particularly if one considers having to follow his last album, 2012’s panned Sweet Heart, Sweet Light. This time around, he recorded almost everything himself in a room in his London home. Not using a full recording studio and all of its accompanying resources sounds a little crazy—maybe not so much for a generation of DIY musicians. But, for Pierce, who generally incorporates complex sounds and layered subtleties as well as full choirs and large ensembles using non-rock instruments, it was a change, something he isn’t unfamiliar with.

Well, he did it, and painstakingly so. Not having a ton of experience in digital recording, Pierce taught himself on a laptop, bit by bit and recorded And Nothing Hurt alone. I think it came out beautifully.

Nothing in the world sounds like Spiritualized’s 1997 masterpiece, Ladies and Gentlemen…We Are Floating in Space, but I was instantly brought back to that album with And Nothing Hurt’s opening track, “Perfect Miracle.” It’s a wonderful song—complex, heartfelt and a perfect tone-setter to begin a Spiritualized album. That’s just the beginning of the beginning. The following two songs, “I’m Your Man” and “Here It Comes (The Road) Let’s Go,” are the leading singles released earlier this summer to tease and satisfy those awaiting the full album’s eventual arrival.

Pierce’s lyrical prowess is also on parade here, as usual. He gives listeners a truthful glimpse into his reasoning and the things in his life that he is trying to address with each song, all while not coming off as pretentious or overly philosophical. Pierce is ordinarily straightforward, which is a large part of his appeal. His songs are easy to identify with. Most tracks are packed with enlightened gems of wisdom that people can put in their back pocket. One of my favorites from this album is from the song “On The Sunshine.” It says, “If youth is wasted on the young then wisdom on the old”—perfect. And in another yet, this time from “Let’s Dance,” he says to someone he is trying to convince to forget that it’s closing time and dance with him instead. “We’ve got the rest of our lives till the coming dawn/ Hold my hand a while—we’ll go out in style and dance.” Again, perfect, relevant.

I could just rant on about every song on this album—they’re all good, most are fantastic and some absolute classics. But it isn’t truly an examination of a Spiritualized record unless one allows themselves to be immersed under the entire thing. I’ve always loved the wall-of-sound style of production found throughout a lot of Spiritualized’s stuff, and many tracks here are blended in a way that makes it hard, maybe even overpowering, to focus on just one aspect of it all. When I let go of those attempts, however, I am rewarded by something so dense with sound, emotion and joy. It really only works as one, magnificent whole anyway.

On the album’s cover, Pierce is alone, surrounded by a moonlike environment in a spacesuit—a man by himself, somewhere unfamiliar. It’s a fitting visual, which complements a deep album done by the one guy who could actually pull it off. –Billy Swartzfager

Booyah Moon | Landing

Booyah Moon

Street: 01.04
Booyah Moon = Sonic Youth + Dinosaur Jr.

Recently formed, coed quintet, Booyah Moon are unpolished and honest. Early this year, they released their debut album Landing, just slightly past the EP threshold at a sparse seven tracks. Landing opens with “Fraidy Cat,” a roughshod and rapid snapshot on paranoia and emotional paralysis, which seems imbued with interesting meta-messages about the modern rationale for avoidance and chronic anxiety. Booyah Moon practices a melodic sensibility that offsets their punky, sometimes screamo-esque vocals which seem to reflect intent and self-awareness. 

Landing is straightforward and stripped down, tracks are brief and direct and Booyah’s overall sound is austere. “Away for a Long Time” turns ever so slightly bluesy and folk in the spirit of Built to Spill, a method that is repeated on a few tunes in differing fashions. A disillusioned, comedic attitude takes over in track four, unravelling broken dreams and the commodification of resignation in “1-800-55D-REAM.” It’s unclear if this tune is a manifesto on capitalism and loss of identity, or a statement of resistance to abandoning one’s vision even in the face of economic and identity odds—Perhaps it is both. Either way, this track is the punkiest of the entire album and one for the slightly abashed Johhny Rotten fan in all of us. “Tin Man” detours to nearly a reggae vibe, with a juxtaposed positivity and stolid optimism, evoking a hippie-era lovefest. The inclusion of this track feels bewildering, yet clever. “Ghost” concludes Landing, with a return to the slightly dour sentiment of its sibling songs—yet with the longest runtime, an appropriate endpoint for a short, overall offering.

Lyrically, Landing is rich with sharp imagery and a variety of wounding metaphors. There’s a rusted, chrome-bumper feel to the album that manifests in most tracks via rough and prickly narrative and growling guitars with equally gravelly vocals. Landing is a slightly sophomoric, and fun selection of indie-rock sounds that seem to indicate that this local group have interesting places to go as they grow. –Paige Zuckerman

Encouraging the crowd to sing along. Photo: Colton Marsala

On another hot summer night, crowds flocked to the Ogden Twilight Amphitheater for Madge, Jai Wolf and Big Wild. The summer sun beat down over the venue as the usual crowd of vendors, sponsors and concert-goers filled the arena. Madge, a self-proclaimed “DIY punch-pop producer” started the night off, with fans sitting on the grass enjoying the afternoon filled with music and friends. People grabbed whole Lucky Slice pizzas and cold Squatters beer, listening to the pop tunes of Madge, waiting for Jai Wolf and Big Wild.

Kicking off the mini Foreign Family Collective, Jai Wolf came to the stage, highlighted by a bright screen filled with visual complexities. Started by ODESZA, Foreign Family Collective helped release “Indian Summer,” Jai Wolf’s debut single. This helped explode Jai Wolf’s career and ultimately bring him to the Ogden Amphitheater. As the sun began to fall down in the sky, the eager artist played his hits including “Indian Summer” and “Starlight.” He also played a new song for an excited crowd, fans from all over delighted by the opportunity to hear his upcoming release.

With darkness falling on the Ogden Valley, Big Wild came onstage, bringing fans to their feet to dance the night away. Foreign Family Collective, helped release his first EP, The Invincible. Big Wild played a mix of remixes and personal songs, such as “Say My Name” and “I Just Wanna”. The vibrant sunset lit up the night sky as the psychedelic, fractal visuals played behind Big Wild. The crowd danced and moved with the electronic music that floated across the venue, enjoying the pleasant cooled summer night before dancing off to continue the fun in Ogden’s up-and-coming nightlife.

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Cuddy Corekt | Odin 05 | Milkshake Backpack

Cuddy Corekt
Odin 05

Milkshake Backpack
Street: 07.13
Cuddy Correkt = Pouya + Shakewell + Chris Travis

Local rapper Cuddy Correkt is back with another collection of tracks entitled Odin 05, drawing from other artists and his contemporaries while exploring his own sound in the process.

The album shows that Corekt is both relevant and well versed in creating modern-day rap music. His flows are modern, obviously influenced by South Florida rappers like Pouya and Wifisfuneral.

“Who got the money?” particularly seems to borrow from the fast-paced South Floridaian lyricism and style. Corekt raps, “Who got the money and who got the dough,” repeatedly over a quick beat, sporting booming, bass sounds and quick samples.

Though Correkt does well with emulating certain rappers and styles, some of Odin 05 feels a little too familiar and lacks a certain originality, or a desire to be new. Corekt has proved himself worthy as an emcee and artist, and he should be able to trust his personal artistic instincts. “Boat Load” is one of the strongest songs on the album because it seems to be a genuine, innovative track made by Corekt, where he isn’t coming across as sounding like a specific artist or style. “All I want is all I want, and all I want is what I want, with me myself and I, because it’s all I need and all I got,” Corekt raps on the track with an original cadence and flow.

As with his earlier works, Corekt’s music is well-engineered and has a high production quality. Despite that Corekt seems to take cues from other artists, he does so well. “Who got the money?” is well-mixed, mastered and sounds professionally produced. Many up-and-coming SoundCloud rappers would pay a pretty penny for the beats that are used on Odin 05, and Corekt does not disappoint, matching the quality of the rest of his project with his flows. Check out Cuddy Corekt’s newest work on Spotify or Soundcloud, and be on the lookout for other releases in the future. –Taylor Hartman

Dawnlit | True North

True North

Street: 07.06
Dawnlit = Dream Theater x Tycho

When I think of progressive metal, I usually think of dark riffs that chug unpredictably as drums hammer out polyrhythms and vocals scream with rage. This was the mindset I approached True North with, so I was caught completely off guard by Dawnlit’s undeniably cheerful style. This EP is a ray of sunlight in a genre dominated by darkness. While it still has intense rhythms and heavy riffing, an emphasis on major chords and a skillful use of breathing room give True North a lighthearted mood. If you’re looking for sounds that make you want to bang your head and at the same time bring a joyful smile to your face, then I recommend picking up Dawnlit’s latest release.

True North is the wind rushing past your face as you’re driving top speed down country roads just before sunrise. Bass and guitar riffs whiz by in an air of anticipation—piano melodies whisper soothingly as the scenery rushes past, and the whole scene is completed by a rhythm that swerves between crunchy headbanging and calm wandering. Take “Lithic Space” for example: It starts with calm guitar plucking before exploding with energy, kicking on the distortion and riffing out for a bit before opening back up and relying on rhythmic kicks for a tight finish. “We Are Creating It, We Are Conjuring It” keeps things a bit heavier, starting with catchy rhythmic riffing and cleverly mixing in a soft piano melody to relax the band’s vibe. All of the songs off this EP are both serene and badass.

There’s a little bit of everything I want in an EP on True North. The ride is short and sweet, keeps things upbeat and covers a generous amount of sonic territory. I was pleased that Dawnlit chose to keep things instrumental, relying on subtle guitar and keyboard melodies to lead each song. As their sixth release, I can say that Dawnlit have made a lot of progress toward optimizing their style with True North—everything fits together smoothly, with a clean mix and a thrumming energy. Simply put, I can’t wait to hear what comes out of the band next. –Alex Blackburn

Daniel Murtaugh | Daze of Irie | Ninja-San Records

Daniel Murtaugh
The Daze Of Irie

Ninja-San Records
Street: 08.01
Daniel Murtaugh = Jason Mraz + Sublime

Daniel Murtaugh began his musical maturation upon acquiring his first “real” guitar at age nine. Before he could drive he was performing his songwriting live. His The Daze of Irie is a chimeric collection of 15 tracks that surprise and aspire to inspire, with a resounding hopefulness and, as the title would transparently suggest, an island-reggae positivity.

The album opens with glistening electronics, strummed guitar and a radio voice preaching the universality and connecting potential of music, setting the stage for the overall tone of the LP. The eclecticism of the album is often impressive, showcasing ambient, reggae, folk and new age. Murtaugh is sometimes tough to pin down, yet his melodic skill and lyrical lovefest are just as tough not to enjoy. Tracks like “#3” are sweet and simple without being candied and cloying. The piano work on the album is impressive, especially when it’s met with glinting moments of electronics and programmed drums. “Little Things” is a lovely combination of poppy personality, folksy influences and clever sound engineering, with almost a mid-career U2 vibe. Throughout, it becomes apparent how Murtaugh transitioned from being a rock-folk artist into a more produced and polished persona.

Into the second half of the album, Murtaugh takes his stand in West Coast ska and dub that carries though to the end as performed unmistakably in “Black Flag” and “California.” Track 10 even treats listeners to the obligatory steel drum break. The island vibes hold steady to the end, to the extent that perhaps Murtaugh’s apparent perseveration on the Pacific lifestyle become a tad culturally problematic and a bit hard to connect with for local landlubbers. The Daze of Irie is something like your favorite icy. fruity mixed drink on a beach: sweet, tart, tasty and a little much if consumed too quickly or in excess. –Paige Zuckerman

Picnics at Soap Rock | Garden Tempo

Picnics At Soap Rock
Garden Tempo

Street: 06.20
Picnics at Soap Rock = Squirrel Bait + Slint

Garden Tempo is the debut EP from local band Picnics At Soap Rock. The duo, consisting of musicians who simply go by Ethan (drums) and Chazz (guitar/vocals), make music that calls back to the high point of lo-fi emo with enough rage and turmoil in their lyrics to justify the appropriation of this style. Far from wallowing in adolescent angst and pity, the high points of Garden Tempo offer abstract portraits of the complicated nature of mental health with some raucous, borderline psychedelic rock music behind them.

At this point, anyone with access to a smartphone and enough patience can make what was considered a hi-fi record 50 years ago. The fuzzy, lo-fi quality of Garden Tempo is then a specific choice, one that gives the EP an anachronistic feeling. On “The Inside Of Your Wristwatch,” the blaring guitars melt into a wall of distortion, and the brittle cymbal lines are a perfect match for the strained, fading vocals. The screamed lyrics detail feelings of solitary anger and social disillusion before the narrator hits a talking deer—who might be the voice of Satan.

The opener, “Waste,” displays a knack for marrying a lyrical message with musical backing, one of Picnics’ strongest traits, the final vocal delivers a call for increased faith in life. After dealing in depression, suicide and familiar strife, the assertion that “every weekend from now on is a celebration of what you didn’t waste” offers an empowering conclusion as the music launches into a grandiose instrumental coda. This does lead the title track, the sole instrumental cut, to feel a little lackluster. The slinking guitar lines don’t feel nearly as potent as the riffs elsewhere, and the lack of lyrics leave the track feeling unfinished.

While Garden Tempo doesn’t necessarily end on a positive note, it does show signs of progress. Its lyrics deal with making changes, cutting away toxic parts of your life and admitting your errors. What sells the feeling even more than these words, though, is the triumphant music. Towards the end of the track, atop anthemic guitar riffs, the duo begin an off-key, off-rhythm harmony. The effect is that of Ethan and Chazz drunkenly swaying, arms around each other, finding a necessary moment of kinship and empathy after a slew of emotional distress. –Connor Lockie