Photo courtesy of Lucre Films.

Dead things have a way of getting in my head. Seeing them splashed up in front of you in Creative Guild Studio’s completely cozy environment is an oddly suiting contradiction. Director/Actor Oscar Sanchez is sitting to the right of me, but in front of me, on screen, he’s a mess of bloody circumstance. Creative Guild Studio’s premiere of Lucre Films’ productions, F.U.B.A.R. and Criminals,  was everything an enjoyable evening viewing should be; funny, scandalous and full of potential abandonment and dead things.  

Creative Guild Studio wheels in theater chairs attached in long rows for this event. The rows are stadium style, and rise as they proceed back. This is notable, because the skeleton-like construction of these rows leaves my feet dangling a foot from the floor as I sit. I don’t know if you’ve ever watched a film while swinging your legs like a kid on a swing, but it’s fantastic. The youthful indulgence is magnified when you consider the studio also had treats to offer, as well. As my legs were swinging, I had a snack and beverage in hand. This is a proper way to enjoy film—I was cozy, fed and ready.

Films are generally taken in separately. Being this was a double feature, I’d like to take a moment to consider these two films in the same breath. Though these films feature some crossover in both themes and actors, they really couldn’t be any different tonally, and that’s what’s make the pairing so effective. It was a one-two punch, featuring desperate men in two varying positions, but where one leaves you haunted and wondering, the other leaves you chuckling with its tongue-and-check presentation. Humor rings well after horror and this was excellent film pairing.

The desperate men in Friday night’s first film, F.U.B.A.R., are stranded in non-descript military attire, out of touch with HQ and trying to survive in a crumbling circumstance. The film is at it’s strongest when all of the actors are working together, and you get to feel the camaraderie these performers developed working together over the three-day shoot. This also works to a fault, because, at times, the actors perform dialogue so casually that their firearms moved as if they were talking with their hands. This act undermined the situational intensity at times, but also made the audience smile. So, it’s a soft criticism at best. The sound in the film was used to great effect and drew me into the focal points. The look of the film (Ursa Mini Pro) seemed to have two different personalities. The initial feel catered to the abandonment situation, with its focus on environment and situation, but as the film progresses, the camera work becomes more intimate and the focus shifts from the environment to the characters with it’s dark, silhouetted close-ups. Speaking more about the details would compromise the film, just know it is rather haunting and you will wonder about F.U.B.A.R. afterward.

In Criminals,  these men are a different lot all together. Somewhere in the production process, you almost wonder if someone said, “What would Quentin Tarantino’s take be on Pineapple Express?” and the answer was this film. Criminals  is a bit more nuanced than that idea, and the humor is uniquely cheeky, which compliments  Director Casey William Walker’s presentation of the narrative. I could almost hear the laughter between takes. The film sits around two characters in an impossible situation involving a death of a lover. With a clean resolution to the film being thrown out in the first minutes, (think: Shaggy finding out Scooby Doo was in a relationship with Fred and killed Fred for dating Daphne as well), we accept the madness of the situation because there is no other recourse. We accept the absurdity which makes Sanchez (returning to act) ability to chew up the screen with offbeat, stoner antics so much more enjoyable. While the film displays a difficult situation, it doesn’t transition that burden to the audience—making the film light hearted and ultimately fun.

One of the more potent moments of the evening came during a Q+A session, where Sanchez was asked why he worked on these films. He answered, “I wanted to be reminded of why I did it,” which I found brilliant. Art comes from any source but ultimately, it’s function can be, via Gertrude Stein, “to induce hope.” What’s missed in that statement is that hope doesn’t always come from the person perceiving the art, sometimes, that hope is for the artist themselves. There’s a genuine feeling that comes from art made for yourself and great fictions come from genuine hearts. Criminals and F.U.B.A.R. were incredibly genuine films and hold up well in the lofty ranks of Utah film.

Meat missiles were firing on all cylinders Saturday, March 9, at the 19th Annual SLUG Games: Winter Wizardry rail jam at Brighton Resort. There’s no better way to ring in the start of spring ski season than with a competition made possible by all our sponsors: Arbor Snowboards, Izm, Pit Viper Sunglasses, Saga Outerwear, Graywhale Entertainment, Chaos Headwear and Brighton Resort.

Fonnzy was keeping the stoke high as the contestants warmed up on this years course and kept the crowd moving and warm all day. Featuring a flat down box, an S-rail, a waterfall rail to a shed jib, a cannon tube and a bunch of cardboard wizards, the setup made by Brighton’s park crew allowed contestants plenty of variety to show off their best tricks. The day followed traditional rail-jam format of 20-minute heats for the 17-&-Under crowd, then Open Ski and Open Snow, followed by finals for those who qualify in the same order of categories.

The MC and head wizard of the day, Rad Brad, kept the event moving and vibes high all day long while giving the riders the shout-outs they deserved and explaining to the crowd what they’re seeing.

The 17-&-Under category kicked off the jam, and these kids didn’t hold back. There were one-foot board slides down the flat-down box, there was a huge daffy and Luke Mullan threw a 2 off the waterfall rail to gap the whole shed jib that had the crowd going crazy. Garrett Calaway won the award for “Best Crash” of the day, giving the crowd the daily dose of carnage they desired. Watching the next generation of skiers and riders throwing down this hard was inspirational and an ego check at the same time. Between the heats, you could find a lot of the 17-&-Under crowd shot-gunning Red Bull and eating whole bananas over with our friends at Pit Viper, further proving the sendy nature of these kids.

The Open Ski crowd that followed, though it was small, didn’t lack talent.  Isabel Parada was representing the girls out there and holding her own, ripping the flat-down box. Tucker Fitzsimons was hot, lapping the park and sending all day. 

Finally, the Open Snow category ended the day. The field of contestants were huge, and they all seemed to be feeding off of each other’s stoke. The Best Trick of the day went to Jeff Hopkins for a back slide on the “S” rail, but he certainly wasn’t the only one getting after it out there. The boys were jibbing their hearts out and getting creative on the “S” rail.  Flips are always a crowd pleaser and were thrown off the cannon tube. Paxton Alexander was spinning to win out there, and the crowd was loving it. The girls showed up in a big way too. Small but mighty Gwynnie Park was giving the course her all and charging every feature she hit.

A huge shoutout to everyone that competed. The top spots of the day went to:

Men’s 17-&-Under Ski: 1st Place Luke Mallen, 2nd Place Alex Mallen, 3rd Place Jaxon Lewis

Women’s 17-&-Under Snow: 1st Place Scarlett Park, 2nd Place Jaida Davis

Men’s 17-&-Under Snow: 1st Place Isaac Harkness, 2nd Place Greyson Hawkins, 3rd Place Noah Singer

Women’s Open Ski: 1st Place Isabel Parada

Men’s Open Ski: 1st Place Tucker Fitzsimons, 2nd Place Bagesol Baker, and 3rd Place Hayden Gellesen

Women’s Open Snow: 1st Place Gwynnie Park, 2nd Place Lexis Bryner,  3rd Place Jess Kelley, Honorable Mention Chizv Maeda

Men’s Open Snow: 1st Place: Bryan Watson, 2nd Place Paxon Alexander, 3rd Place Evan Thomas

Best Trick: Jeff Hopkins, Best Crash: Garrett Calaway

Thanks again to the Brighton park crew, Line Skies, Hovland Snowskates and all of our sponsors. We can’t wait to do it all again next year! Bring on the spring slush.

 

 

***More photos will be added soon!


Logan Sorenson

 


Ceza Dzawala


Brendan O’leary


Jessica Bundy

Photo: Giles Clement

 There is a connection between punk rock and roots music, I know that’s not a new or original notion, but the fact that some how Merle Haggard leads us to Black Flag, in some way, intrigues me to no end. What could it be that links these two seemingly disparate forms of music? I can and have spent hours going on about this, so I’ll cut to the chase, and tell you it all boils down to sincerity. Both of these genres live and die by sincerity. It’s not surprising at all that a few punk rockers end up playing country and americana music. J.P. Harris was not only been entrenched in the Bay Area punk rock scene, and has gone on an interesting journey to become a stalwart of country music—especially when it comes to honky tonk. J.P.’s life has taken him to some unusual turns, and it all seems to have been building towards him becoming one of the dos genuine singer/songwriters working today.

I got the chance to talk with J.P. about his journey and how he became a singer-songwriter that brings the past and present together in a concoction all his own.


SLUG: I heard that you were in the East Bay punk rock scene in the ’90s. What was that experience like?
Harris: I was there for about a year when I was 14, and I had gotten into punk rock a year or two earlier from getting into skate boarding and, you know, just generally being a bad kid. I got turned onto the legendary bay area scene, and I picked that out as a mecca of west coast punk rock,moved there, and squatted in few places around Oakland. We’d get chased out by the cops—this gang of punk kids that had all runaway from home.

I got a job at 924 Gilman St., which was already a legendary all-ages punk rock venue to us. I worked there for about nine months and at the age of 14, I was the youngest “key-holder” to ever work there, which to me and a very elect few, is a badge of honor. I was what they called ‘the clean-up coordinator’ which actually meant I was the trash kid. I look back on that time and I’m really grateful the the people running the place for putting up with me and steering me in the right direction. I still, to this day, take a lot of the lessons I learned in punk rock and put them into what I’m doing now, I may not put on punk records as much as I used to, but I definitely have a DIY ethic and put that attitude into everything I do.

SLUG: When did you make the transition into country and roots music?
Harris: Well, the punk scene I was a part of was very political and there was a lot of talk about self sustainability, creating alternative economies, and I just didn’t see anyone doing that and I just felt like I had to get out and do something to advance my life in some way and do something useful. So, I ended up living on and off of the Navajo reservation for about year in northeast Arizona, helping these elderly ladies, hoarding sheep, chopping wood and helping out some folks who were in a tough political situation. Then, after traveling around the country for two or three years, I landed in Vermont where I just kind of dug in to learning a bunch of different trades like carpentry, metal working, farming, and living in the woods where I didn’t have any power or running water for a damned 13 years of my life, and it all lined up with not needing material things or comforts. So, at first when I transitioned into living in mostly rural areas, I learned that punk rock sounds like shit on an acoustic guitar. I had heard my grandparents play country music and hearing the ’90s stuff on the radio, and by default, country and folk music became the soundtrack to that lifestyle and I started to see those correlations to the way I was living.

SLUG: How did living in these rural areas without power and running water affect you as songwriter?
Harris: I think experiencing that crazy life and experiencing things that most people never have, gave me a different point of view. It also brought me closer to the origins of the people that created this music, like how Merle Haggard grew up in an old box car or how the Carter Family came from Clinch mountain. It helped me identify with everyday peoples’ stories, I was ultimately exposed to the human condition more. Maybe it made me more compassionate to other peoples lives. They may not have my problems, but I can appreciate their struggles. Being able to take my stories and distill them down to something that’s a little more identifiable for everyone else is the fine art of good writing and good story telling.     

SLUG: Fans of old country will veraciously defend it and they will travel many miles to see it live. Why do you think this music resonates so deeply with people?
Harris: There are a lot of factors to that question and I, being 35-years old, now, was born at the tail end of living a certain way. I’m apart of the last generation that knows a little bit of life without cellphones and the internet as well as the fast paced world would come from those things. I think when we see artists who are still in touch with that world—reaching back to something older and simpler—it allows them to have a breather from a the non-stop movement we’re all experiencing. The word “nostalgia” was developed to describe a condition that people suffered from, where they were yearning for a time they never lived in. Nowadays, the simplicity of the early days of country music makes people long for some aspects of the past that we should’ve held onto before we went barreling into the future. I definitely think our brand of country music tempers that feeling of sadness for a bygone time. Country music has a simple message that’s much simpler than the world we live in now.

SLUG: You seem to have a special talent for writing drinking songs. Where does that come from, and what makes a good drinking song?
Harris: You definitely have to have a good sense of humor. There’s an old Leadbelly line that says “If you see me laughin’ baby, it’s just to keep from crying, ” so, there’s kind of a sour, jaded sense of humor that you have to apply to a good drinking song. The other approach is just understanding and experiencing the ultimate lows that come with life, scrape the bottom and turn that into a song. It makes people feel so good, and helps them get through their own tough times. To be in a room with other folks and listen to really sad country songs is a cathartic experience. I’ve had lots of ups and downs with drinking, real rough periods and derailed parts of my life, and luckily, I haven’t in the past few years, but the songs allow people to laugh at drunken behavior and step outside of their own life for minute.

SLUG: With festivals and labels popping up all over to support more varieties of artists, it’s starting to feel like there’s a substantial movement to support roots music artists like yourself. Are we seeing a changing-of-the-guard, so to speak?
Harris: I hope so, but I feel like there’s a ceiling to what we’re doing. I used to rant and rave about pop-country and how its ruining the music I love, but the truth is that there’s a lot of people that like mindless, dog shit music. You’re not going to convince them that it’s dog shit, it’s not how that works. Luckily, right now, there is enough attention on artists like Sturgill Simpson and Jason Isbell that it hopefully leads to more artists being discovered by people, but it will never be what it was in the ’60s. I don’t think I’ll ever play to ten-thousand people, and that’s okay, I don’t need that to survive. If I can pull in six or seven-hundred people every night, then I’ll have a great career. I’ll tell you, most days I’m not on tour, I’m swinging a hammer. If I could just play music, that would be enough success for me.


J.P. sees himself as a tradesman and approaches his music career the same way he approached working as a carpenter. He works hard and gives his work all that he has. He’s not concerned with stardom—he’s more focused on the show he’s playing that night, the people he’s singing to and the sincerity of his message. He only knows his way of doing things, and that’s to be direct and thoughtful about what he’s trying to accomplish. (The State Room: 04.01)

While some of the best experimental music feels untethered from any tradition or idiom, there’s equal greatness in that which approaches storied music styles as a means for expansion. Pop music, in particular, has a long history of artists taking emotional relatability and hook-driven structures and turning them on their heads for interesting results. Here are five albums (four new releases, one older) that show the different ways that musicians have approached this challenge. From warped synth-pop to therapeutic trap, these releases show that experimental pop is, has been and will be alive and well.


HOTT MT
Earth On Heaven

Doom Trip
Street: 02.26
HOTT MT = Com Truise + Fringe Class

After paring down their instrumental forces to a core duo, HOTT MT (Nick Logie and Ashleigh Allard) delivered an album that suggests intimacy but finds cosmic expansiveness in the results. Their new songs are heavily committed to succinctness, never burying the earworm melodies while never allowing the music to stagnate. “California Sunset” is uncomplicated, and the better for it: It’s simplicity drives its cheeriness. The track reaches a meeting point of nostalgia and hopefulness, relishing in the contradiction of the concurrent presentation of these two feelings. The pastel purples and blues that adorn the cover offer a synesthetic representation of the coolness that drapes this album, and Earth On Heaven is a perfect album for front porch coffee in the early spring mornings to come.

Lucrecia Dalt
Presents Pli

Self-Released
Street: 01.04
Lucrecia Dalt = Postmodern music history

Last year, Lucrecia Dalt’s Anticlines mixed surreal poetry with minimal electronics, resulting in one of the years most spell-binding and intruiging albums. To ring in 2019, Dalt dumped 15 hours of mixes, interviews and rare material onto Soundcloud. The Pli series is a vast, experientially infinite look into Dalt’s mind, piecing together disparate parts and constantly upending an easy sense of cohesion. Even the strangest music presented is treated like a pop ditty, with classic soul bumping up against atonal string fantasies; Velvet Underground tracks against electronic noise. Vague concepts—“Questions,” “Holes,” “Names”—tied the mixes together, and Dalt’s playground of heady sounds is a treat for fans looking to parse out some sense in her mysterious music.

SB the Moor
SPIRIT REALM.FINAL

Deathbomb Arc
Street: 02.07
SB the Moor = Chance the Rapper + Sympathy Pain

Earlier this decade, SB the Moor sounded in a league of their own. The fusion of emo with rap and experimental production sounded outlandish and often awkward, though their commitment to the strangeness was laudable. Now that emo-rap has been shoved into the mainstream by artists like Lil Peep and Lil Uzi Vert, SB’s music isn’t nearly as shocking. Still, no one does this sound quite this well. SPIRIT REALM.FINAL is an emotive, powerful album that finds SB erasing the line between these two styles and unashamedly taking a vulnerable narrative stance. A standout track like “Feelns 4” offers existential cries, while short oddities like “nihilist t.party (stravinsky flip)” and both versions of “Thru the Portal” show the intricacies of SB’s production experiments. Along with the relative popularity of this emo-rap style, SPIRIT REALM.FINAL’s cohesiveness and conceptual nature should garner SB the Moor a horde of new followers.

Vorhees
Tracks For Movement

Styles Upon Styles
Street: 02.01
Vorhees = Pep Llopis + Suzanne Ciani

Upon first listen, there’s little about Vorhees’ (Dana Wachs) new compilation that feels related to the dream pop found on her last album, Black Horse Pike. These nine compositions, originally written for films and modern dance commissions, are loose, droning chunks of minimalism. Still, the general tone resembles that of Wachs’ breeziest tracks. Even the sparsest works, like “Visions of Beauty,” contained a levity. The composition’s sweeping harp lines foil the underlying drone, while the arpeggiated melodies on “Sacred Heart” are nearly catchy despite their fragmented presentation. Without the visual element, the narratives of these works are forced to speak for themselves. Wachs’ approach is direct, consonant and spare. It feels like the perfect music to accompany movement in that it leaves space open for the extramusical counterpoint to playfully interact with the steady rhythms and motifs.

Yellow Magic Orchestra
Yellow Magic Orchestra

Alfa
Street: 11.25.78
Yellow Magic Orchestra = James Ferraro + Koji Kondo

Yellow Magic Orchestra’s self-titled debut is one of the great synth-pop albums of the era’s initial boom. Importantly, it also looks past the rudimentary textures that defined the style’s early days. The dark, faceless harmonies found on early Kraftwerk records—a group frequently compared to YMO—are replaced by cheery, passionate appeals to jazz and lounge music. Decades before teenagers ironically rehashed these styles through vaporwave, the trio of Haruomi Hosono, Yukihiro Takahashi and Ryuichi Sakamoto were winking along with their self-consciously corny approach to electronica. Tracks like “Simoon” and “Yellow Magic (Tong Poo)” are rich with Debussy-indebted harmonies, and both the melodies are perfectly constructed. YMO (and affiliated solo projects) went on to write bigger hits and more adventurous music, but their debut is a singular moment of electronic pop that draws together a multitude of global electronic trends into an endlessly addictive album.

Photo: Jeff Forney

Muse’s rise to popularity in North America was rather unique. Their first record, 1999’s Showbiz, was an amicable release that showed promise, but was swallowed up in a landscape that also featured high-profile releases from Beck, Nine Inch Nails, The Foo Fighters, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Fiona Apple, Tori Amos, Blur and Moby.Due to creative differences, 2001’s Origin of Symmetry wasn’t released in America until 2005. While group’s star was rising throughout Europe and the UK, its presence in the U.S. was evaporating.

2003’s Absolution changed everything. Coming off massively successful European and Australian tours and propelled by the singles “Time Is Running Out” and “Hysteria,” Muse landed a main stage slot at 2004’s Cochella Music Festival.

Leading into Cochaella, the band did a small tour of intimate venues including the Bowery Ballroom in New York City, the Metro in Chicago, Top Cats in Cincinnati and Club Sound in Salt Lake City. April 29, 2004, was one of those packed-to-the-rafters evenings as a few hundred bodies crammed into the tiny, tucked-away corner of In The Venue to watch guitarist/vocalist Matt Bellamy, bassist Chris Wolstenholme and drummer Dominic Howard put forth a convincing argument that they were the best live act in the world.

Three days later, I caught their Cochella set and when they returned to Salt Lake City at the end of September and played the big room at In The Venue, I was there too. That night the band taught a friend and I how to play snooker while two girls tried to chat up Bellamy, who did his best to not appear bored by their flattery and opening act The Flash Express held court across the dingy venue basement. I’d see them when they returned in 2006 to play Saltair in support of Black Holes and Revelations (“Map of Problematique” is one my favorite songs of all time) and their E Center show in 2010. The larger the venue, the more elaborate the stage show. The intimacy was lost, but the performances never disappointed.

I’d miss them in 2013 at EnergySolutions Arena, and 2017 at USANA. I regretted that. So, almost nine years to the day since I last saw them, I found myself sitting in the Vivint Smart Home Arena on a Thursday night, filled with an unusual amount of anxious energy.

First, I’d have to make it through Walk the Moon, a Cincinnati act with a penchant for slick, pop songs laced with ’80s influences. I’m unconvinced, but the crowd warms to them rather quickly. For reasons I can’t exactly explain, I start to think about how I’d like to be watching the Scissor Sisters, wonder how Imagine Dragons vocalist Dan Reynolds is doing and reassess the Panic! At The Disco concert at Vivint from last year.

The break between bands is a journey through the Stranger Things soundtrack, a moodsetter for the futuristic, revisionist trip through ’80s culture that we’re about to embark on.A small marching band takes the stage as the sounds of “Algorithm” signal the start of Muse’s set. The group walks from the mainstage, down the catwalk that splits the arena floor into a u-shaped space. There, at the end of the catwalk, Bellamy rises from a trapdoor as his bandmates appear on the mainstage.

Throughout the night, the background characters appear in various costumes ranging from hazmat suits, uniforms inspired by the Judge Dredd comics and skeletal robots. They’re never given individual identity, just a band of Star Wars stormtroopers asking the show to move along.  “Algorithm” is just a short tease as Bellamy leads the band into “Pressure,” the most recent single from the group’s new album Simulation Theory.

Attention shifts to the large screen hanging at the back of the mainstage. A robotic creature, a mix of HR Giger’s Alien designs and the metal endoskeleton of James Cameron’s original Terminator, barks out the drill sergeant introduction to “Psycho,” from 2015’s Drones.

We’re only ten or so minutes into the show and there’s already an atmosphere of sensory overload. It feels like a scene from Ready Player One, every inch of the screen containing an Easter egg. There’s so much going on in every moment that you can’t possibly see everything.

This is only the fourth show of the tour and while the majority of the show comes off as a slick production, it is the few false starts and minor technical glitches that give the show a sense of chaos and humanity that it eventually might lose when the ritual of the stage production becomes second nature. I love a little chaos—the threat of the wheels coming off at any moment.

“Psycho” is followed by the recent track, “Break It to Me.” I wasn’t enamored with the album version, but hearing the song might change my mind. It’s neo-funk, but cut from a different cloth than their classic single “Supermassive Black Hole.”

“Uprising,” a stomping sci-fi track culled from The Resistance, fits perfectly into the show’s neon atmosphere. This sense of paranoia and rebellion bleeds into “Propaganda,” a recent single and the only track of the night that feels like a misstep. This single, a collaboration with Timbaland with a hip-hop groove, feels a step out of character. However, I’m also a firm believer that artists should be free to explore and expand their style. “Propaganda” just feels a little overproduced and a bit too gimmicky for me.

This is where the performance shifts into overdrive as the band dive into “Plug In Baby,” the adrenaline dipped single from Origin of Symmetry, and surge onward with “The Dark Side,” an instant rock-romp classic from Simulation Theory. “Supermassive Black Hole” opens with a nod to the musical sequence in Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

Some might complain that Muse are a little too on the nose when it comes to their pop culture references on this tour, but I find it a bit endearing to seeing the numerous nods to films like Tron, Back to the Future and The Last Starfighter. I grew up on those films, as did the members of the band who are essentially my same age (Bellamy and I share a birthday).

The sense of paranoia returns with “Thought Contagion” and a pair of Absolution tracks, “Interlude” and “Hysteria.” This portion of the set winds down with “The 2nd Law: Unsustainable.”

For an acoustic version of “Dig Down,” a track that debuted on the group’s 2017 tour, the band gathers at the second stage at the end of the catwalk. This is but the calm before another storming run that begins with “Madness” from The 2nd Law, “Mercy” from Drones and “Time is Running Out” from Absolution. I’d forgotten how much I love “Time is Running Out,” it feels more relevant to me now than it did fifteen years ago.

Bellamy exits for a moment leaving Wolstenholme and Howard on stage to perform what has been christened the “Houston Jam” (where it was first played a few nights ago). The concert moves into its final act with Black Holes and Revelations tracks “Take a Bow” and “Starlight” with “Prelude” from The 2nd Law placed in between.

For the encore, we circle back to where we began with a full performance of “Algorithm.”Then, things get crazy as the band tears through a medley of their heavier tracks “Stockholm,” “Assassin,” “Reapers,” “The Handler” and “New Born” while a massive skeleton puppet in Starship Trooper armor looms over the stage, spitting light from its mouth and swaying its arms.

I’ve been to more concerts than I could ever possibly remember. I’ve seen my share of elaborate stage shows from the likes of Kylie Minogue, Pet Shop Boys, Erasure, U2, Sarah Brightman, Soft Cell, Depeche Mode and numerous others and this moment might be my absolute favorite. It’s just something you have to see. Following the medley, the giant fiend simply disappeared back into whatever dimension he had originally been summoned from and the night ends with Black Holes and Revelation’s “Knights of Cydonia.”

We had cinema-worthy videos, confetti and glitter, a plethora of sci-fi film references, robots, hazmat teams, day-glow drummers, neon lights, a flaming “poor Yorick” skull and an embarrassing amount of epic songs. It’s the sort of experience that many bands strive for, but few achieve. Would I prefer the opportunity to see Muse play in a tiny venue without all the pomp and circumstance? Yes, but Muse were always destined to play large venues. I was just lucky enough to see them as they were on the rise.

 

 

If you’re not familiar with basketball, you may not know the significance of the “starting five.” Each basketball team can only field five players at any given time on the court, and the first five players that the coach selects to start the game are usually the best the team has to offer. Being a part of the starting five is something that any player who strives for greatness wants to be a part of (at the very least). In other words, a Stockton, Malone or Donovan Mitchell would never be happy with a bench role, Jazz fans.

Mass Appeal, the recording agency out of New York that started from a popular zine, is promoting a quintet of talented artists. Their stop in Salt Lake City at Metro Music Hall was the perfect opportunity for SLUG to ask the artists of Mass Appeal about their “top fives” in various categories: musicians, movies, Hollywood stars, Nas songs, and NBA players. One-by-one, the artists came downstairs from the green room to meet me at a black [high]table by the bar, Fashawn, Ezri, Cantrell, Stro and 070 Phi.  Here’s what they had to say about their chosen fives:


SLUG: Fashawn selected his starting five in the form of a band.
Fashawn:
My five would be … I would have Barry White on baritone, at the bottom, and I’ll have El Debarge on the falsetto. I’d probably have like Carole King on background vocals. James Taylor on guitar and vocals. Stevie Wonder, He’d be the guru of the whole camp, he’d be the writer and he’d be sprinkling keys on everything. He and James Taylor together? Crazy group—crazy band…

Fashawn: Smoke weed everyday.

SLUG: Ezri chose to speak about his favorite films (with actors & directors mixed in).

Ezri: Top 5 Movies, and this is no particular order: Django Unchained (I like Quintin Tarantino). I like movies like Interstellar and Inception (written and directed by Christopher Nolan). I like American Gangster (Denzel Washington) a lot. I like Good Will Hunting (I like Robin Williams and Matt Damon). My old school classic would be Menace to Society. So yeah …

Ezri: Starting 5 Tour, came to settle the score …

SLUG: After some deliberation, Cantrell chose to discuss his favorite thespians.

Cantrell: Jim Carey, that’s my top guy. To go along with his humor, he’s such an intellectual. He cares about people. I love his insight, too. Health Ledger … because of Dark Knight. That’s probably my favorite on-screen performance, ever (that I can think of). Eva Mendez, ’cause I had a crush on her. That was my celebrity crush growing up. Will Smith because He’s the next GOAT after Denzel Washington. [After some thought] I’ma go with Regina King. For one, she’s been around for the longest—her longevity is crazy. Doing the voice acting —that’s legendary!

Cantrell: To have a gift is to have a responsibility.

SLUG: These are Stro’s top 5 Nas songs of the moment.

Stro: I’m a student of Nas. Of course, I’ma say (in no particular order) “Take it in Blood.” I’ma definitely go “Life’s a B*tch.” I’ma definitely go with “If I Ruled the World,” “Black Girl Lost” and “2nd Childhood.”

Stro: “Thank you.”

SLUG: O7O Phi (pronounced “0h-7-0h Fee”) chose his favorite ballers.

O7O PHI: I got Kyrie at point. I’ma put Klay Thompson at shooting guard. Then, I’ma put Kevin Durant at small forward. I’ma put Lebron [James] at power forward. Then, for center I’ma go with Demarcus Cousins. That’s my starting five, right there.

SLUG: Why is Lebron James your top player?

O7O PHI: Lebron is not only my top player because of how good he is at basketball, but I think no other player has stood up for what he’s stood up for so out there in the open. He started a schoolthat’s different. You can start businesses, you can make as much money as you can, but when you’re actually doing something for the culture, it means something, you know?

O7O PHI: We some Storm Troopers.

Each artist was cordial, thoughtful, articulate and unique in their own right. Who knows what the tour has brought them between Salt Lake and where they are at press time, but on their chosen career arch, I know they’ll be coming out with new material individually soon. In the meantime, you can check out their collaborative effort, The Starting 5 Tour Vol. 1 on all major music platforms.


Mass Appeal Top 5’s (In No Particular Order)

Fashawn (Band)

  1. Barry White
  2. El Debarge
  3. Carol King
  4. James Taylor
  5. Stevie Wonder

Ezri (Movies)

  1. Menace to Society
  2. Interstellar
  3. Inception
  4. Goodwill Hunting
  5. Django

Cantrell (Thespians)

  1. Jim Carey
  2. Eva Mendez
  3. Will Smith
  4. Heath Ledger
  5. Regina King

Coach: Denzel Washington

Stro  (Nas songs *of the moment)

  1. Take it in Blood
  2. Life’s a Bitch
  3. 2nd Childhood
  4. If I Rued the World
  5. Black Girl Lost

070 Phi (NBA Players)

  1. Kyrie Irving
  2. Klay Thompson
  3. Kevin Durant
  4. Lebron James
  5. Demarcus Cousins
Talos | Far Out Dust | BMG

Talos
Far Out Dust

BMG
Street: 02.08
Talos = James Blake + Bon Iver

 

Cork, Ireland, native Eoin French’s 2017 debut LP, Wild Alee, was a soaring success and one of my favorites from the past two years. French has enjoyed a gradual but notable upward momentum in the last two years, with increasing accolades for his expansive, shimmering tracks that span the indie, electronic, R&B, experimental, Celtic and ethereal. The results of French’s first endeavor have afforded him exodus from his architecture day job to focus on his artistry, which Far Out Dust indicates is French’s true calling.

The Talos sound is marked with a wanderer’s soul and a lovely sense of bewilderment and discovery. Recorded in New York City, Los Angeles, London, Dublin, Cork and Reykjavik, Far Out Dust reflects the journey French made in life and process since his debut. The full result is his most ambitious, sophisticated studio production, both narratively and sonically. French and tenured production collaborator Ross Dowling carried the instrumental burden on the album, while working alongside producers Doug Schadt (Maggie Rogers, Wet), Valgeir Sigurðsson (Sigur Ros, Feist) and Damian Taylor (Björk, Arcade Fire), who added to several of the mixes. Emily Lazar (Coldplay, Angel Olsen) was granted mastering privileges on the final cut, and the outcome is a dozen tracks that wring out the prismatic array of nearly every distinguishable emotion.

Far Out Dust opens with “Boy Was I Wrong,” French’s flawless falsetto leading the way as usual, met by a grandeur of sound like an ancient henge erupting from the mossy ground. Second track and recent single “The Light Upon Us” snags the ear instantly and tells a story of facing the glimmering and dark angles of an end.  A lovely piano interlude wraps the track into the adjacent “To Each His Own,” where French’s entreating vocals cry forth with a new emotionality and quiet desperation as he addresses a stinging goodbye via terrestrial allegory “I’ll take the desert, you take the coast, but to each his own.” The utilization of landforms and nature are a throughput from Wild Alee, an apparent reflection on French’s home territory and his comprehension of human experience as inextricable from earthly events. 

First single “See Me” is a decidedly more pop track, albeit with the intelligence with which French is adept. At the halfway point of the album, “The Flood” veers into a cosmic wormhole with piano and maddening prog-rock, electronic echoes that end as subtly as they open. “2AM” stands even further out with an aural intensity a propos of its lyrical encapsulation of a late-night romantic encounter. The emotionality of French’s sound translates beautifully throughout every track, a pleasingly familiar standard set by his debut album. Nothing of the Talos sound is frivolous, making his music always moving and often fully ecstatic. Title and closing track “Far Out Dust” is a sadly sweet farewell with a gorgeous and gated reverb percussion with intense lyrics such as “You needed love; I needed water.” French’s signature grand synth crescendo and a waltz-like snare drum seal the album and leave a haunting impression. His watermark climaxes evoke tidal forces on alabaster coastlines or the synchronizing bodies of lovers in late-night interface. Intermixed with slow, bittersweet ballads, the track list is an emotional waveform that calls the listeners’ attention for the entirety of the collection.

Far Out Dust contains a developed maturity of themes and sound that serves as a fully satisfying second album for an artist that may be one of the most talented of his ilk. French is clearly in his element and interested to explore an elevated array of his experience. There are no disappointments or disenchantments in Far Out Dust, a signpost for a towering up and coming indie talent. –Paige Zuckerman

 

Amid the fun of year-end lists, it’s easy to get lost in the press. There’s a frustratingly homogenous appearance to a lot of publications’ picks for top releases, as time and again, albums backed by big-budget PR teams and well-known labels control the conversation. In an effort to give voice to some undeservedly unsung releases, this feature highlights 11 great albums from across the experimental underground. Admittedly, the alphabetical list presented here barely delves into the wealth of material that each artist, label and style delivers, but such is the unique advantage of independent music: Once you open the box, an endless stream of wicked pleasures pours out.


Bonaventure Mentor (Planet Mu)
bonaventurept.bandcamp.com/album/mentor

While Soraya Lutangu’s new Bonaventure EP doesn’t have the same collage-style oddity found on last year’s FREE LUTANGU, the synthesizers and angular percussion on Mentor are more than a welcome replacement. Even with Lutangu’s increased abstraction, the radical politics that made her music so vital haven’t vanished. Militant snare patterns and breathy vocal samples give the music urgency, while features from Debbie Friday and Hannah Black bring the release closer to tangibility. “Both apocalypse and utopia are already here,” Black robotically repeats atop a futurist mix of ceremonial percussion and digital harmonization on “Both.” The proclamation, that we’re already living through what we hoped was far off, occupies ever corner of these anxious, energizing sounds. Positioned directly in between the club, the rally and outer space, Mentor is a fantastic leap forward for Lutangu. Hopefully, it’s also a signal of a long, fruitful career to come.

 

Crazy BreadVocoder Divorce (Astral Spirits)
astralcrazybread.bandcamp.com/album/vocoder-divorce

Of the numerous projects that Ryley Walker (Deafman Glance, The Lilywhite Sessions, a collaboration with Running) and Maxwell Allison (Good Willsmith, Mukqs, Pepper Mill Rondo) released this year, their collaborative improv tape as Crazy Bread is easily one of the more deranged. Vocoder Divorce offers five tracks of mangled electronics and electric guitar, and while the barrage of conflicting styles and ideas don’t always match up, the absurd illogic of the clashes defines this rewarding listen. Extended guitar techniques, chopped-up hard rock riffs, breezy ambient excursions—there seems to be no limit to Walker and Allison’s creative wanderings. It’s a wonder in itself that two minds alone could make the madness of Crazy Bread, saying nothing of the fact that the album represents only a slice of the duo’s constantly expanding output. 

 

Forest Management Rotating Angle (Unifactor)
unifactor.bandcamp.com/album/rotating-angle-2

Released alongside tapes from Brett Naucke and Dominic Coppola in Unifactor’s fifth batch, Forest Management’s Rotating Angle is a standout in its sparsity and clarity. Each track is barely present, consisting mostly of single blocks of synthesizers that shift in the subtlest, nearly imperceptible ways. John Daniel foregrounded the background and buried the melodies in order promote an atmosphere of room-filling bliss. Each sound is wholly complete, never ceding to anything other than holistic harmony. Picking one track over another is somewhat moot, as the music is more about cycles and stasis than it is single moments or progressions. Turn the album on loop and let the sounds hang in the air, repeating over the hours without ever growing stale.

 

GrexElectric Ghost Parade (Geomancy)
grex.bandcamp.com/album/electric-ghost-parade

Following 2017’s full-album cover of A Love Supreme, Grex’s return to original material resulted in a near hour-long thrill-ride of a record. In the vein of Zorn, Frith, etc., the duo of M. Rei Scampavia and Karl A.D. Evangelista take the sounds of jazz, punk, rock and funk and explode them into a gleefully absurd menagerie. Unlike Henry Cow or Naked City, however, Grex hold onto a more sustainable pop sensibility. Amid the odd time shifts, extended solos and unpredictable structures, there are sticky melodies and often gorgeous songs. Especially when Scampavia takes lead vocal duties, as on standouts “TM26” and “Round Trip,” the pull of catchiness is undeniable. This is not to disregard the album’s sustained abandon. The start-stop opening of “Mal & Luma” and the skronking intro and outro of “Mango Mango” lay out the experimental tendencies of the band, but the true greatness comes in how seamlessly Grex slide between their far-off poles.

 

HooflessMouth Feel (Self-Released)
hoofless.bandcamp.com/album/mouth-feel

At long last, Hoofless released a record. After years of cultivating their incredible live show, the trio of David Payne, Halee Jean and Michael Nebeker finally tracked four of their songs and assembled them into a cohesive, emotionally-stunning whole. While the in-the-moment bombast and catharsis of a live Hoofless show can never truly make it onto a recording, Mouth Feel presents a different approach to the group’s sound. The playing was more reserved, the counterpoint swifter and the vocals clearer—it was all the extraneous additions stripped away, leaving only the core compositions. More than anything, this revealed the beautiful songs at the core of Hoofless’ music. Despite the often noisy extremes their music can reach, it all stems from melody and feeling.

 

JingAdularescence (Fatcat)
jing6d.bandcamp.com/album/adularescence

The narrative of Jing’s newest album comes fully into focus during the “3mm” skit: A pitch-shifted voice bargains for its life, asking “is flesh currency?” against tinny walls of noise. One of many spoken-word interludes throughout Adularescence, these surreal, dark texts highlight the album’s conflict between organicism and stark chrome sheen. “I was a human without half of his body,” the voice later shouts between the spacious drum clatter of “Go” and the slinking synths on “Meaning of he Pupil.” Jing’s limited set of sounds favored smooth timbres and crisp production, giving the album a passive, almost listless vibe. Contrast this with the constant unrest of the compositions and Jing’s penchant for fractured melodies, and you have one of the most unnerving and captivating releases of the year.

 

Long Distance Poison – Knock Magh (Hausu Mountain)
hausumountain.bandcamp.com/album/knock-magh

In this midst of a banner year for Hausu Mountain, the label released Knock Magh, a heady collection of zonked-out synthesizer jams from Nathan Cearley and Erica Bradbury. “Crop Circle K” is kosmische at its finest, “Qllow” a dreamy, spaced-out ambient track. It’s the side-long closer, “Ooch Nuch,” though, that solidified the album’s greatness. It’s a noisier, more intricately layered composition, but the album’s defining sci-fi goofiness is still present. If anything, the combination of white noise, analog synthesizer beeps and a general disregard of form makes it feel all the more alien. Knock Magh may not be the wackiest Hausu Mountain release this year—look towards Fire-Toolz or Dustin Wong for that—but it’s one of the subtlest, sliest and strongest.

 

Nima Aghiani Backscatter (Self-Released)
9tantiope.bandcamp.com/album/backscatter

Backscatter is a complete one-eighty from Aghiani’s work as one half of 9T Antiope. The duo’s watery, string-laden chamber pop is replaced by two sides of colorful noise, but the intense attention to contrast and mixing gives the music a vibrancy reminiscent of Antiope’s swelling songs. Instead of delivering walls of barely distinguishable harsh static, Aghiani explores every combination and iteration of typically nonmusical sounds. “Surface A,” the more chaotic of the two, flits between sections of onslaught and respite, the final few minutes offering the eeriest, most tense drones here. “Surface B” is more of an exercise in patience and hesitance, going so far as to include the carcass of a high-pitched melody in the track’s middle section. Aghiani—and by association 9T Antiope, are a shining example of Iran’s stunning electronic scene, the likes of which are receiving due documentation through compilations like Girih.

 

ObnoxBang Messiah (Smog Veil)
smogveil.com/products/obnox-bang-messiah-lp

Lamont Thomas’s Templo Del Sonido is one of the musician’s most ambitious and out-there Obnox releases yet, but Bang Messiah is its unpredictably accessible foil—a trait which only highlights the endless well of wide-reaching ideas in Thomas’s arsenal. Huge, chunky riffs and Parliament-style group vocals mix with a fuck-it-all punk aesthetic that gives the half-hour album an unstoppable vivaciousness. Few rock songs this year dug as deep as “I Hate Everything” or “Enter the Hater,” few got as strange as “Baby Godmother” or “Off Ya Ass.” Thomas’ voice was as versatile as ever, moving between deep, raspy flows and nasally melodic runs seemingly at will. While the construction and sequencing of the brief album feels rushed and scattered, it’s more because of its legitimately manic origins than because of an artistic misstep.

 

Various Artists – Together (Oxtail Recordings)
oxtailrecordings.bandcamp.com/album/together

One of multiple releases to assemble a massive horde of artists for a charity compilation, Together is one of the biggest and best. Across 28 tracks and roughly two-and-a-half hours, artists from Oxtail and co. come together for a double cassette to benefit the survivors of the violence in Charlottesville that—not coincidentally—contains some of the most wide-ranging and successful electronic music of the year. The magnitude of the compilation only strengthens the untethered approach with which the label regularly approaches music. Airy ambient techno on Ellen O’s “Interlude,” anarchist sound collage on Winterweeds’ “used w.o. permission;” slow, fat beats on Andreas Brandal’s “Soft Doctrine,” atonal harp solos on Matthew D. Gantt’s “Elegy.” Picking it all apart takes time and patience, but each step of the road is as rewarding as the last.

 

Wizard Apprentice“I Am Invisible” (Ratskin Records)
ratskinrecords.bandcamp.com/album/i-am-invisible

Tieraney Carter has embarked on a uniquely thrilling musical trajectory across the decade. The goofy synths and confessional lyrics of 2013’s Keep It In, Keep It Out barely set the stage for her latest, “I Am Invisible”, an unprecedented advance in narrative scope and musical intentionality. Carter’s a cappella vocals littered throughout the album lay bare the album’s themes on personhood and identity, and her characteristically lopsided synthesizers took on a darker, more intricate style. The two-part “A Debt” is one of the most memorable moments in Carter’s discography, the first half a series of undulating stanza over breathy flutes and the second a knotty keyboard coda. Closer “As If” uses MIDI guitars and layered vocals to develop something near a pop song before dissembling into an avant-garde electronic choral. Music this delicately balanced takes courage and a careful compositional hand, two qualities Carter has showcased in excess on “I Am Invisible.”

Waterdeep: Dungeon of the Mad Mage

Wizards of the Coast
Street: 11.20

Waterdeep: Dungeon of the Mad Mage is the latest official adventure from the maniacal minds over at Wizards of the Coast. This tome guides players down over 20 dungeon floors beneath the eponymous city’s western mountain to thwart the titular mage. It also serves as something of a sequel to the September release of Waterdeep: Dragon Heist, progressing characters from levels 5-20. In fact, part of what makes DotMM unique is that it’s the first officially published adventure with content intended for the level band above 15, known as “tier four”—that’s fifteen character levels of content jam-packed into 319 pages! To those of you adventurers whose curiosity is piqued by the phrase “mega-dungeon,” I will simply say: Get this for your group’s dungeon master, pronto, and that I highly recommend that you don’t read beyond this paragraph. There are minor spoilers contained within my review intended only for those entertaining the idea of running the adventure.

The premise is straightforward enough—an immortal, crackpot wizard went and turned the backside of a nearby mountain into a sadistic amusement park. Don’t mistake the “amusement” as necessarily intended as your own; Halaster Blackcloak, the aforementioned, arcane looney, has gone to great lengths in order to play with the playthings that wander his halls in search of wealth and fame. As such, DMs have a glut of monsters, traps and magical malefactions to inflict upon unsuspecting opportunists. Disembodied voices that provide play-by-play commentary as heroes suffer through obstacle courses? Check. Warring factions which vie for underhanded assistance in order to thwart nearby rivals? Massive check. Underground castles housing serial killers? You bet your dragon-scaled ass. The adventure as written is thrilling and eerie, with plenty of opportunity for an unexpected twist to surface.

All that said, my main criticism with this book is the columns and columns of text that start to blur together. Each chapter follows a near-identical format, making it difficult to differentiate which floor had what trap or if that cave actually contained a giant centipede or interplanar frog people. Each dungeon level features a contextual header to complement its contents, a full-page map, and occasionally something smaller to represent a magical artifact or creepy-crawly. This has a bit of a knock-on effect to the art department. While still present, the usually prominent and evocative illustrations that adorn each Fifth-Edition book thus far feel somewhat sparse in DotMM. I cannot say whether that is simply because the ratio of text is higher here than other books, but my suspicion is that the art had to bear the brunt of the editor’s knife in order for the page count to remain within reason. It’s certainly nothing damning, but my favorite palate cleanser to word walls was just a little bit drier on this adventure.

The running recommendation of most adventures is for the DM to read the whole adventure, beginning to finish, before starting. While I usually agree with that input, my advice here to you is to only read one or two chapters at a time: the floor your party explores and the one below it. You may do yourself a disservice otherwise, trying to keep track of which floor had what nooks and crannies. The world needs more dungeon masters, and the last thing I would want for new DMs is to take one flip through the book, hastily scoop up their jaw from the ground, and run away screaming in terror.

There is an embarrassment of riches in Dungeon of the Mad Mage. Honestly, even if you had no intention of running the entirety of the campaign within the mega-dungeon itself, each chapter is a dungeon easily weaved into anyone’s campaign, whether you find yourself behind the screen for the first time or the hundredth time. You aren’t alone if you feel even mildly intimidated when undertaking this adventure, but with the variety and mischief in spades on offer, this makes an excellent Christmas gift for that special dungeon master in your life.