Guides

Guides
Abstract Mind

Self-Released
Street: 09.25
Guides = The Cure x Modest Mouse + Minus The Bear

I’ll be completely honest: I threw this CD in the player right after The Alan Parsons Project and forgot I’d made the change for a couple of tracks. It’s not because Guides don’t have their own sound—they do, and it’s great—but rather because their new EP feels nostalgic, akin to not-so-dead favorites like Depeche Mode. Abstract Mind EP is a synth-heavy revisit to the ’80s that combines strong vocal melodies with tried-and-true pads and effects. This is a solid listen that’s especially great for having on in the background. Under a microscope, though, there are sounds I’m not so fond of—sort of soupy, effect-heavy walls of noise—but the majority of what is done here is done well. Overall, the melodies are crisp, and many of the guitar licks got stuck in my head and kept bringing me back for more. –Alex Blackburn

Your Meteor – Byzantium

Your Meteor
Byzantium

Self-Released
Street: 01.15
Your Meteor = Minus the Bear x Toe

Laying back, staring up at the vast night sky and thinking about the mysteries of life—that’s where I find myself every time I put this album on. Music works best when it’s treated like a rollercoaster of emotions, and that’s exactly the kind of ride that Your Meteor have constructed with their latest LP. Syncopated rhythms, interweaving guitar lines, playful melodic vocals—Byzantium is full of it all and much more.

From the clean, acoustic “Gordian Knot” to the riff-heavy, almost hardcore “Pacify,” this album moves through a lot of territory. What’s so impressive is how seamlessly the mood weaves between extremes. In each song, the orchestration morphs between levels of acoustic and distorted electric, always subtly introducing piano, more vocals or any number of other interesting voices. The energy flows effortlessly from the first song through last, thanks to clever transitions that perfectly meld together the end of one track with the beginning of the next. Each song is incredibly dynamic, featuring many tempo shifts and time signature changes, but it’s all done in such a clean, natural manner that it’s sometimes difficult to notice when exactly these changes have occurred.

Most songs build from clean riffs into soupier jam sections, which often carried me away in a river of chords, licks and kicks. Harmonizing vocals thicken and magnify important sections, and additional instruments join in when things get heavy. The guitar lines in every song are ridiculous. The chords often give off a long, stringy, dramatic My Morning Jacket vibe while the licks are fast and precise. Vocals take up a melodic role and fit as a lead for the mix. Instruments fade in and out of the foreground constantly, in a way that feels like Your Meteor were craftily showing me right where all the good bits were. Every instrument just seems to know exactly what its role is at every moment of the song, and as a listener it’s utterly blissful.

From clean and tight riffs to loose, crazy explosions of flavor in jam format—Byzantium masterfully weaves together so much variety that I’m amazed it all fits into one album. (Urban Lounge: 03.20; The Acoustic Space: 03.25) –Alex Blackburn

ABACU5 | A Long Way To Begin | Self-Released

ABACU5
A Long Way To Begin

Self-Released
Street: 04.21
ABACU5 = Black Keys / 30 Seconds To Mars

I didn’t know exactly what to expect when I picked up A Long Way To Begin. I certainly wasn’t expecting what I got, though! Abacu5 bridge the gaps between country, hard rock, and ’80s flair. Their songs have a driving backbone that’s exciting and promise surprises beyond every horizon. There’s something truly epic about the sound Abacu5 have developed, and A Long Way To Begin is exemplary of the band’s talent and style.

There’s a lot of emotion in songs like “Dark Rain” as Randy White’s voice floats between thick vocal choruses and screaming guitar lines. Abacu5 know how to build just the right amount, and their quick releases are perfect counterpoint to the heavy churning of guitar chords and bass kicks. Each song tells a new story, sung out through rays of melody, over simple yet potent drumbeats and the warm fuzz of guitar and bass.

The guitar solos on A Long Way To Begin are full of personality and really are the icing on top of the cake — a cake baked entirely from rock and groove. The solo in “Tightrope” made it the highlight of the album, reminding me as much of Led Zeppelin as of Minus the Bear. This is a diverse collection of songs, especially considering that they run 55 minutes long. The album balancing guitar riffing, thick vocal tracks and just enough head-banging groove to satisfy. The result is an appropriate amount of instrumental sections and great lyrical melodies in-between.

When I first read over the song titles on A Long Way To Begin, I thought they all seemed generic. I swear that I’ve seen other bands with songs named “Pretty Lady” and “Love of My Life,” but when I noticed that the latter had a running time of exactly 4 minutes and 20 seconds, I began suspecting a deeper motive behind how Abacu5 names their tracks. Regardless, their music is strong enough to back up whatever they want to call it, and that’s what matters.

I feel like I’m listening to a rock opera when I play Abacu5 except that I can take the music seriously. The album is a journey, a novel—complete with love story, quick-paced action and all. The band is based out of Dallas, Texas, so you’ll have to keep your eyes open for local dates, but A Long Way To Begin will satisfy me until then. –Alex Blackburn

Talia Keys Fools Gold

Talia Keys
Fool’s Gold

Self-Released
Street: 07.31
Talia Keys = Tower of Power x Jimi Hendrix / Radiohead

Not to be confused with that dreadful movie of the same name starring Matthew McConaughey, this new album from Talia Keys is funky, soulful and solid. Keys has put together a skillful solo album that perfectly highlights her talent and versatility. Full of poignant lyrics attacking problems I could easily relate to, ecstatic guitar solos, and appropriate backup vocals, every song had something that kept me listening. “Help Me” is a perfect opener, full of funky organ and bass and complemented by a rich instrumental jam that had me hooked right away. Paired with later tracks like “Politics,” the album has its fair share of Keys’ expressive voice. My favorite sections of Fool’s Gold, however, were the passionate guitar solos that appear in almost every song. If you want to see Keys destroy this set, I’m with you, but you’ll have to wait till she finishes touring! –Alex Blackburn

Cha Wa
Funk’n’Feathers

UPT Music
Street: 04.01
Cha Wa = Snarky Puppy + Galactic / John Patton 

When I spin Funk’n’Feathers, my room is instantly transformed into a festival procession. I’m marching down a busy street, full of drummers, dancers, singing and shouting. A trumpet hollers out from the crowd, and the heavy pulse of a steady bass drum is fortified by the fall of everyone’s feet as they continue hooting, hollering and hopping around. The energy is so contagious that back in my small apartment room, I’m jumping all over the place as well. Cha Wa’s debut full-length record is a teleportation device—a transmission straight from Mardi Gras—and it has enough colorful spunk to turn the whole room into a party.

There are a lot of names on this release and a lot of voices in the band. Drums and auxiliary percussion build the foundation for pianos, guitars and a chorus of singers. Horns round the group off into a fusion of funk and festival. Cha Wa do a great job of bringing the music to life, and a huge part of that comes from the crowd atmosphere that the band manages to create—a crowd inviting me in to hoot and holler. It’s not a style of music that I hear often around Salt Lake, but this fresh fix of ragtime and rhythmic chanting is exactly what I’ve been looking for.

I had to watch some videos of Cha Wa after I’d listened through the album a couple of times. The record is full of funk, but due to the limitations of digital audio recordings, it’s —understandably—a little light on feathers. Every year, the Mardi Gras Indians come out in their fabulously bright, feathered suits to spread a little culture. With an intense focus on bouncing, driving rhythms and fresh and funky solos, Cha Wa are a talented example of this neon tradition.

Amid lots of call-and-response–type singing, there are skillful, soulful fills from guitar or piano. All in all, Funk’n’Feathers is a mix of the trancelike energy of a drum circle and exactly what I think of when someone says, “New Orleans.” It’s exactly the kind of music I’d want to be dancing to during a Mardi Gras festival—full of energy and jazzy solos. Killer guitar licks are the highlight of this release. An especially screamin’ solo in “Tootie Ma” and soulful, stringy fills in “Ooh Na Nay” have kept playing in my head since I first spun the album.

Where the record starts to lack, however, is in terms of variety. Take, for instance, “Ooh Na Nay” and “UPT.” I spent a few minutes cutting back and forth between the two songs, and it just sounded like different parts of the same song. The percussive panoply also starts to sound like it’s repeating itself by the end of the album, but the energy that it creates is so powerful that I’m still held in the groove all the way to the end.

Cha Wa have captured the Mardi Gras scene in Funk’n’Feathers. A lineup of crazy solos in “Cha Wa Got Fiya” makes it my favorite song, perfectly closing out this fresh culture fusion. Listening to Cha Wa puts a smile on my face and more than a few catchy riffs in my ears. Without a doubt, check out this fresh serving of Mardi Gras spirit for something new, something fun and something definitely covered in feathers. –Alex Blackburn

ALIENWOLF | Self-titled | Self-Released

ALIENWOLF
Self-titled

Self-Released
Street: 07.08.16
ALIENWOLF = Late Miles Davis x Wild Nothing

ALIENWOLF is a painter—each song is another landscape, spacescape, soundscape. From the dark, iridescent corners of “ALIENPLANET” to the flashy, jazzy chords on “Clouds of Marz,” ALIENWOLF creates scenes with his music. Melodies that sprawl ancient ruins of bass and rhythm amid clouds of cosmic guitar chords are the style for this album. ALIENWOLF is the solo project of one very talented, trumpet-wielding, New Orleans native turned Salt Lake City performer. Terrific trumpet solos and tearin’ guitar licks highlight this album, distinguishing ALIENWOLF as a skilled musician.

For a man who dresses like it’s Halloween all of the time, ALIENWOLF’s music is actually quite relaxed. There’s a sense that his sounds are ongoing, regardless of whether you’re tuned in and listening. It’s like each song is the soundtrack you’d hear sitting on an alien planet dreamed up in the musical fancies of ALIENWOLF. “ALIENPLANET,” un-ironically, is an excellent example of this, as sound effects and atmosphere replace guitar melodies and cosmic fuzz to help bring the album to a close.

Some of ALIENWOLF’s songs could use a little work with the equalizer, as the lead can get lost within the current mix. Take “March of the Skeletons,” for example—the guitar is throwing down a fresh lead, but it’s too hard to hear it through the mix, and the song comes off a little muddy as a result. ALIENWOLF wields each instrument deftly, but his skill is occasionally undermined by the number of sounds going on in his music.

ALIENWOLF will show off his craft on June 7 at Jazz at the 90, where his solo work becomes group cooperation. You’ll also see him playing with the Will Baxter Band around town, and, almost certainly, he will have his face painted. Seriously, check out this guy’s website, alienwolf.com, for free streaming of the whole album plus a plethora of supernaturally themed photos of the man himself. ALIENWOLF is a worthy set of compositions that evoke a world of their own—alien in nature, spooky in presentation and groovy all around. –Alex Blackburn

Dawnlit | True North

Dawnlit
True North

Self-Released
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

Le Butcherettes

Le Butcherettes – A Raw Youth

Le Butcherettes
A Raw Youth

Ipecac Recordings
Street: 09.18
Le Butcherettes = Tame Impala x Yeah Yeah Yeahs + Jack White

I’ve had many friends who didn’t recognize what a bass guitar can add to a band, and I wish I’d had A Raw Youth to show them. This driving album owes a lot to its bassist, Jamie Aux, whose playing is dance-y and rock-solid, and totally lays the foundation for a catchy record. Listeners will probably recognize a couple of big guest artists who appear throughout a raw youth, but the strongest material is absolutely what Le Butcherettes do on their own. The powerful opener, “Shave the Pride” sets a high-energy mood for the rest of the record. “Reason to Die Young” reminds me of a less doped-up Beach House, with strong vocals from Teri Gender Bender—who sounds a lot like Emma Ruth Rundle out of Marriages. A Raw Youth does a lot of things right, and it’s a great listen as an accessible punk album. –Alex Blackburn

Not Blood Paint
Believing is Believing

Lou’s Tooth Unlimited
Street: 06.17
Not Blood Paint = The Killers x Thirty Seconds to Mars

Not Blood Paint show off a slew of new, great ideas in their latest release. Shocking jump cuts, a ridiculous number of distinct riffs and the most dynamic pulse I’ve yet encountered make every song on Believing is Believing an adventure. This record is full of things I’ve never heard before, pulled off in a style that’s as competent as it is creative, and it certainly has me believing!

Not Blood Paint produce a fierce sound with strong guitar lines and heavy bass riffs. In between badass eruptions of groove, the band keeps thing sly with crisp cutoffs and phenomenal builds. Vocals drive the sonic exploration and turn rapturous as backup vocalists thicken and accent just the right chords at just the right times. Each song is full of surprises: riffs I never expected, interjected where I never expected them, each so apropos yet so distinct that I’m often amazed that I’m listening to the same song from one section to the next.

Every song on this album maintains a shockingly dynamic pulse. Sections transition unexpectedly, often changing tempo and orchestration. It’s music that I’m forced to bang my head to because of how deep the energy is, yet it’s music that is inherently difficult to bang one’s head to—the groove keeps changing so dramatically and so often that I end up looking like I’m having a hard time trying to sneeze as I shake my head back and forth. Many riffs appear only once before being lost in the sea of catchy guitar licks, which leaves me with the impression that the band simply doesn’t like repeating itself!

Not Blood Paint’s music demands attention and usually keeps things flavorful enough to hold that attention. I felt a little lost when the mix got too bare, like in “The French Song,” but every song features a massive build into something that is invariably groovy. The band is great at going from sneaky, palm-muted riffs to full-throttle explosions of chaos in the blink of an eye. Rhythmic kicks and jump cuts meld each song into a journey that consistently takes me further than I’m expecting. Some songs begin slow and somber, while others get right up into your face—every song, though, climaxes into something epic, unexpected and extraordinary.

Not Blood Paint write songs that don’t fit any of the conventional song structures. As a result, they aren’t stuck replaying a verse or coming back to a familiar chorus. Instead, each transition brings new riffs—new flares in a colorful flow of groove. Every verse is catchy, every chorus is better than the last and there’s always something new happening. The band keeps it flush tight between choppy transitions, keeping the pulse alive and pumping no matter how extreme the shift is between sections.

From mathy fills to head pounding builds, Not Blood Paint make it all sound smooth and natural. Believing is Believing is a feat of style—a style I’d never even imagined possible. These catchy songs got stuck in my head quickly, and I haven’t been able to stop listening to the album since. If you’re looking for a new take on the rock album, this is where to find it—full of chaos, full of groove, full of flavor. –Alex Blackburn

Super Bubble | Self-Titled | Self-Released

Super Bubble
Self-Titled

Self-Released
Street: 05.20
Super Bubble = Lettuce x Tower of Power

A thin layer of mist covers the floor of the club as Brandon ‘Simply B’ Barker speaks his sultry magic into the microphone. A trumpet flairs into life as Dave Terran puts his whole soul into a solo, and the lights dim behind the eight-piece band. “Holy Shit!” I exclaim, as Tim Ouburg’s organ chords descend from outer space and the guitar rips up a jazzy scale. Super Bubble are one of the biggest surprises I have encountered this year, with one of the most solid debuts I’ve heard out of the Salt Lake scene. This album is a fleshed funk fest of jam, jive and jazz, with a couple of the strongest instrumental tracks I’ve heard for years. If you’re unfamiliar with any of the names I mentioned above, or if you just want a short, sweet sample of superb musicianship, I strongly suggest that you avail yourself of Super Bubble.

Super Bubble gets right down to business with an opener that combines math, jazz and funk in just the right ratio. “Hype Squad” is the best song I’ve heard this year, and it’s going to take some serious groove for any other song to upset that position. Piano lines that waterfall over themselves, guitar rhythms that take off into space, and a slew of soulful licks from each instrument remind me of a tossed salad joining Squash and “Squib Cakes.” Super Bubble has a style that takes me back a few years to the days when funky rhythms and screaming trumpets ruled the music scene. Guitar licks that soar in “Sound of March” and the lyrically driven “Coming Home Today” showcase Super Bubble’s sound in style.

If you’re as unlucky as I am, you probably missed the release show for this bad boy, but don’t let that discourage you. You can get a taste of the band’s style and watch for any upcoming shows on the band’s Facebook (facebook.com/superbubbleband) to get yourself hyped. Funky vocals and guitar, flashy piano fills and rhythms that force my feet to dance make Super Bubble a superb example of why Salt Lake is such a great place in which to live and listen. Local talent sure doesn’t disappoint on this album! (Hog Wallow, 07.01) –Alex Blackburn