Author: Ali Shimkus

Stealing Sheep
Not Real
Heavenly Records
Street: 04.13
Stealing Sheep = Santigold + Tennis + Lykke Li

Not Real is one of the most creative and satisfying albums I have heard in a long time, and the feminist in me is super stoked so see such a talented, all-female band going in such an avant-garde direction. In the song “Not Real,” percussionist/singer Lucy Mercer sounds almost child-like when she chants, “Don’t let their daylight fool you that you’re not real” before an infectious chorus of candied keyboard melodies. Each one of their songs is complete with a catchy hook, yet the album is completely versatile, from the silliness of “Not Real” to the crooning, dissonant power of “Greed.” The eccentricities are refreshing but never overwhelming, and even though the lyrics make no sense for the most part, I am more than happy singing along with them. –Ali Shimkus

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Class Actress

Class Actress
Movies

Casablanca Records / Republic Records
Street: 06.23
Class Actress = Phantogram + Banks + Tove Lo

A former aspiring actress, Class Actress vocalist Elizabeth Harper favors ’80s-style synths as a tribute to that decade in cinema to back up her haunting vocals. However, it is the tracks that stray away from said ’80s-pop aesthetic that seem to be her strongest. “More Than You” is the most memorable piece on the EP. Unfortunately, everything else seems lackluster in comparison, even “GFE,” a collaboration with Neon Indian, which is pleasing, but lacks any depth. Title-track “Movies” is beautifully trance-like, but I can’t ignore the fact that it seems like a direct emulation of Lana Del Rey. Class Actress clearly has a niche for the dark pop audience, but influences from other artists are a little too obvious in her work. –Ali Shimkus

Palana

Charlie Hilton
Palana

Captured Tracks
Street: 01.22
Charlie Hilton = Nico x (Tamaryn + Craft Spells)

Charlie Hilton, known as the frontwoman for Blouse, changed her name from her given Sanskrit name, Palana, in favor of the more androgynous Charlie, after leaving high school. The fact that she acknowledges both names as a solo artist is revealin, as she sings in the title track, “Palana,” “I needed to go somewhere / I needed to become somebody else.” This signals both a departure from a prior life while at the same time making light of it. Though there is nothing autobiographical about it, Palana is an honest display of Hilton’s life and love, giving a stark, honest look at her inner thoughts and interspersing quirky pieces like “Let’s Go To A Party” and “The Young.” The album follows in the same theme of dual personality and self-discovery: The first half of the album has a melancholic, electronic undertone that resembles Blouse material, but the second half of the album has a folksy, whimsical aspect to it. It’s the work of someone who doesn’t take themselves too seriously but still has something important to say.

The consistent quality that permeates the album is strength of the songwriting and the simple yet effective lyrics. Hilton’s verses are straightforward and seldom allegorical as she sings, “Get off my back / I’m not your pony” in “Pony,” and “Let’s Go To A party / We don’t have to talk” before leading into a chorus of “I’m only happy when I’m dancing / when I’m dancing for you” in “Let’s go to a Party.” The simple poetry of Hilton’s lyrics seems to mirror her work in Blouse, where songs such as “They Always Fly Away” have a nursery-rhyme quality that Hilton’s wistful, somewhat haunting voice enhances. Love songs, such as “No One Will” and “100 Million” (a collaboration with Mac DeMarco), are definitely a deviation from the electronic darkwave genre in which we’re more used to hearing Hilton’s voice, utilizing light strings and piano to create a sound that is both bittersweet and nostalgic. “100 Million” even offers a less sardonic version of DeMarco, who complements Hilton’s voice perfectly. This softer, sentimental side of Hilton is certainly a departure from Blouse, but it highlights the poetic, artistic quality of Palana that sets her solo work apart from other solo artists breaking away from their bands.

Palana is a brave album for Hilton, as it certainly exposes more of her own personality and her own experiences, whereas Blouse’s discography usually deals with more abstract themes and a more consistently darker sound. Unfortunately, some of the songs, such as “WHY,” venture dangerously close to dragging or being too repetitive, lacking some of the force behind them that is never lacking in Blouse. Hilton’s solo act in general seems to want to take on a more indie/ folk Bright Eyes quality that has certainly been done before, but the quirkier songs of the album such as “The Young” avoid pigeonholes by stretching time and sound with uninhibited saxophone noises, crashing cymbals and a lack of adherence to a single time signature. The avant-garde nature of Palana is something that Blouse fans are not used to, and it’s something that Blouse fans need to hear. Palana shows a more folksy, personal and intimate side to Charlie Hilton that was previously unheard, resulting in a different take on Blouse’s more psychedelic sound.

Fur Foxen | Night Sun | Self-Released

Fur Foxen
Night Sun

Self-Released
Street: 08.04
Fur Foxen = Okkervil River + Iron & Wine + I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning–era Bright Eyes

From the opening notes of “Darkseid,” with a simple strumming guitar paired with the dark, sweet notes of the cello, I became hooked on Fur Foxen (formerly known as Harold Henry). Night Sun is an exposé of the power in bare-bones folk, creating fully engrossing stories behind each song, with drums that are never overpowering and harmonica peppered in where needed to give a bluesy effect. What I particularly enjoy is that the cello and guitar work aren’t particularly technical—the focus is placed on making the dynamics swell and subside to really draw out the deep-rooted emotions in each piece. It’s something that reminds me of classical music, particularly chamber music, which is augmented by the cello support, especially in songs like “Darkseid” and “Been Waiting.” There’s something unique about the way this classical sensibility mixes with the folk of the guitar/vocals and the blues of the harmonica.

The simple but well-executed melodies, interwoven with the more complex lyrical themes of each song, make every song in Night Sun attention-grabbing. “Long Goodbye” has the bittersweet feel of a funeral hymn, while “Throwing Stones” really gives the feeling of facing obstacles much bigger than oneself with the words, “I know that I’m a peasant / I’m throwing rocks at giants / I haven’t figured out yet / exactly how to stand.” Ironically enough, “Hard Love” has the most upbeat melody of Night Sun and is a straightforward ballad about a man shooting his woman down after an episode of infidelity and the cycle of violence that this incident breeds, with a chorus of “Hard love, damn that hard love.” The mix of genres and elements in Fur Foxen is curious and complex, but more importantly, each song is played with emotive conviction; Fur Foxen have really tapped into something powerfully moving with Night Sun. –Ali Shimkus

Cheatahs
Murasaki
Wichita Recordings
Street: 05.04
Cheatahs = Drop Nineteens + Swervedriver
 
It seems as though Cheatahs created Murasaki simply to showcase the opening track with the same name—a hypnotic, shoegaze dreamscape complete with Japanese/ English lyrics and a memorable hook in the form of a wailing synthesizer. The rest of the EP follows in a similar fashion, though none of the tracks have the same driving force and dramatic build as “Murasaki.” Murasaki sounds like a water-damaged cassette tape, in a good way, (if that is even possible), giving it a sound reminiscent of Drop Nineteens but much more surreal. There are times where I wish the build ups would lead up to something heavier, but the intricacies of Murasaki are captivating and the EP is thoroughly enjoyable. –Ali Shimkus 
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Meat Wave

Meat Wave
Delusion Moon

SideOneDummy Records
Street: 09.18
Meat Wave = Saves the Day + New Politics

Listening to tracks like “Sinkhole,” I had to double-check to make sure that Meat Wave’s singer Chris Sutter wasn’t somehow the same person as Saves the Day’s Chris Conley (he’s not). That being said, Meat Wave have a very similar garage-punk sound but have something intrinsically grittier and more sardonic than Saves the Day, giving them an edge that I always felt Saves the Day lacked. “Delusion Moon” is infectious, but somewhat short for being the title-track, and “Witchcraft” epitomizes the sarcastically quirky tone of the whole album. If you were drawn in by the awesome name, you certainly won’t be disappointed with the music. –Ali Shimkus

BassMint Pros - BMP Pirate Radio Take-Over Show

BassMint Pros – BMP Pirate Radio Take-Over Show

BassMint Pros
BMP Pirate Radio Take-Over Show

IBP Records
Street: 10.23.15
Bass Mint Pros = (Beastie Boys + Gorillaz) x Free Radio Santa Cruz

Let me start by saying that BMP Pirate Radio Take-Over Show is something you definitely can’t just listen to as background music. Immediately, the stage is set with a smooth jazz DJ being assailed mid-sentence by Bass Mint Pros, who shout “It’s BMP, mofo!” before all chaos ensues. The album continues in a similar manner, with BMP traveling through the airwaves, rapping over tracks referencing Black Sabbath, The Smiths and Johnny Cash (to name a few) as they gradually take over various stations in “real time” with plenty of static and satirical commercials in between. It’s the kind of concept album that I personally find difficult to swallow, partially due to the sheer length of it all (about 75 minutes), and partially due to the fact that one of the overarching themes of the album is unpacking terms like “hip-hop is dead” and bringing listeners “real hip-hop,” just to use up a lot of time with repetitive choruses and comedy sketches. On the surface, there is a lot of clutter to sift through before reaching the heart of what BMP stands for, which is representing the Ogden hip-hop scene to the rest of Utah, and representing Utah hiphop to the rest of the world. This is all while poking fun of the unique lifestyle of the 801 through faux weather reports, foul-mouthed religious programming, and sound bytes of interviews with Mike Tyson. Tracks like “Way Back When” and “Sunn of 801” have some really solid rhymes and lyrics that definitely shine, and the sheer amount of artists that lent their talents to the making of this album is something to be applauded. Ultimately, BMP have set out to define hip-hop out of the Mountain West, and with their socially conscious comedy and hip-hop, they definitely have achieved a trademark style. –Ali Shimkus

Valentine and the Regard
Girlfriends

Feral Cat Records
Street: 06.14
Valentine and the Regard = Eels + Seahaven

Some of the more prolific artists on the Utah scene, Brigham City artists Valentine and the Regard have created a release for almost every month of this current year, playing with themes of lycanthropy, heartache and the melancholy of driving around in the early hours of the morning. Lyricist, vocalist and guitarist Mike Maurer possesses the coveted ability of weaving real life into song and doesn’t waste time on inauthentic semantics: The longest song on Girlfriends is “Must I Become,” which clocks in at just under two minutes and 30 seconds. This works to leave a little bit to the imagination, as the fragmented song titles only hint at what we will get in the song. However, there are certain titles—“September Rain,” in particular—that feel a verse or two short of a complete story.

“Brittle Candy” and “Market War” are cheeky, pop punk oddities that mix up the lineup of the album and lend Girlfriends an upbeat twist. Vocalist Julie Maurer’s half-sung/half–spoken word lyrics in “Brittle Candy” are somewhat playful and somewhat biting as she sings: “A total immature, silly boy / I roll my eyes, he’s just a toy,” hearkening to a Kathleen Hanna sound with less instrumentation and a little less vitriol. “Market War” follows suit in the same upbeat fashion, though it’s followed on the album with “Bottles,” which features heavily distorted guitar, a slower tempo and Mike’s saccharine lyrics. It’s the stark contrast between pop punk and lo-fi indie that is a little jarring, though each song has a shining quality on its own. On the one hand, it’s evident that Valentine and the Regard have the talent to dabble in many different genres. On the other hand, there are many varying moods in Girlfriends, and Mike’s storytelling and bare-bones instrumentation lend unique views on the Utah local music scene that I wish could be drawn out just a little bit more. –Ali Shimkus

Run Into the Sun| The Spark | Archive Recordings

Run Into the Sun
The Spark

Archive Recordings
Streets: 11.10
Run Into the Sun = Dangers + Modern Life is War + Have Heart

As if the timing couldn’t be more pertinent, The Spark was released right around the 2016 election, and the stance that Run Into the Sun has about the matter is glaringly obvious. Each song in The Spark is its own protest, and while some tracks like “Your Badge Is a Burning Cross” contain a very clear message, others like “Vines,” featuring Jordon Strang, are more complex and tricky. They address the fact that creativity and uniqueness are often suppressed as children grow older in order to transition them to the grind and harsh reality of adulthood. No topic is really off limits for Run Into the Sun, whether it be police brutality, the unethical treatment of prisoners, teen suicide or the right to love whomever you want. They handle each topic with a weight of personal involvement, making The Spark all the more believable and never preachy. Each of these themes is released fully within a corresponding song, while a cohesive, overarching theme of resistance to oppression unifies the entire album. And while each song brings up a different issue that Americans are facing, the message of each song takes precedence over the actual musicality of the album. It is still very enjoyable on a visceral level. The Spark certainly has enough guitar distortion and gritty vocals to be considered hardcore, yet there is something a little more melodic about the guitar and vocals — especially in opening song “You’re Not Alone” — which make it difficult to categorize. The addition of the acoustic, “Soul on Fire” gives an extra emotive dimension to the album, crafting a strong, melancholic view of America’s prison system. All the energy and intensity you would expect from a band called Run Into the Sun is present through each song, giving an extra credence to the messages that permeate through The Spark. –Ali Shimkus

Magda-Vega | Destroyer | Galaxy 420 Records

Magda-Vega
Destroyer

Galaxy 420 Records
Street: 10.20
Magda-Vega = (Joan Jett + Black Sabbath) x Savages

Magda-Vega’s album Destroyer is certainly not lacking in gritty, in-your-face antics backed up by solid rock with metal and punk influences. It’s clear from the first few lines of “Junkie” that lead singer Robin Brown, described in the band’s own bio as a “fiery hellcat,” is just that. Her voice is as brash and unapologetic as the lyrics she’s singing. The aggression is consistent throughout the entirety of Destroyer and presents itself in cheeky way in songs “X Ray Eyes” with Brown crooning “I’m gonna be your girlfriend” and again in “Goodbye Kitty” with “I’m just a bitch / And you’re on my list / I’m just a bitch / Seal it with a kiss.”

Brown’s gravelly voice is one of the strongest features that Magda-Vega have to offer, but the guitar solos by guitarist Bill Frost add an extra dimension of heavier, old-school rock n’ roll to each song. Each song in Destroyer maintains the same chaotic energy of the one before, with a break of slower intensity in “Blackhole” that builds into one of Frost’s best solos on the record (though the guitar solo in title track “Destroyer” is equally face-melting). For me—while Brown shines in songs with more of the punk-inspired, abrasive lyrics—the band takes the front seat in “Blackhole” and “Destroyer” and benefits from the ability to develop a dramatic buildup throughout these songs.

My critique of Destroyer—if it can even be considered a real critique and not actually a compliment—is that the guitar solos, the vocals and the rhythm section are almost always turned up to 11. While Magda-Vega don’t seem to incorporate the most diverse range in dynamics, it actually does work for them, giving them an almost ’80s punk/hair metal vibe with a new, meaner attitude. Listen to Destroyer at magdavegaslc.bandcamp.com. –Ali Shimkus