Myrkur = Enya + Mayhem
I should begin this review by stating that I am not, by any stretch, well versed in the world of black metal. However, what Myrkur bring to the table seems by all accounts to be a fresh take on the genre itself and thus allows for those of us operating outside of this circle to be able to critique it as something other than simply a black metal album. Classically trained multi-instrumentalist and composer Amalie Bruun is the witch behind the spellbinding Mareridt. In this work, she has taken her polarizing debut into the realm of the dark arts and the emotional effect it had on her, and she’s channeled it into a record that could hold the attention of metal elitists as well as those not accustomed to the genre.
Myrkur’s last album, M, was to many a step in a very promising direction, but nevertheless, it presented an artist whose intent was not fully developed yet. Bruun lays that matter to rest on Mareridt. Here we find Myrkur still holding steadfast to a folksy, atmospheric and heavy aesthetic but set to pieces that are fully fleshed out. The tracks all bring their own contributions to the album yet the collection maintains a constant thread/theme. Bruun mentions in her trailer for the album, how the amount of backlash that she received when she brought Myrkur to the public affected her so much that she began having “nightmares,” Mareridt is Danish for nightmare and the album displays how Bruun was able to take all of this negative energy and put it to good use. Throughout the album, there are pieces that are solely folk songs, employing strings (non-vibrato), folk percussion, stagnant harmonic progressions and even a jaw harp. Other pieces are wholly black metal, setting forth heavily distorted guitars, metal-style drumming and screaming vocals. The genius comes when Myrkur bring both of these worlds together and then continue to stir in other techniques that further murk the waters of what we’ve come to expect from the artist.
Songs such as “Elleskudt” and “De Tre Piker” use guitar in a way that comes very close to shoegaze yet maintains the heavy and folksy affinity that is constant throughout the entirety of the album. One more thing to note is how Bruun is using the drums throughout most of this record. The drums are most often playing a supporting role and are rarely there simply to keep time. Most of the time, they are used to support the other musical lines in each track and to continue to move each song forward. This is also reconciled with the fact that the drums are usually pretty far back in the mix compared to what one might expect from a metal album. The album is ripe with lush string orchestrations and thick choral passages. The strings usually reside in a lower register, with a marked affinity for the sound of a bowed double bass while the choral passages usually reside in the higher register soaked in reverb.
Mareridt provides a great entry album for the uninitiated without sacrificing any sort of artistic integrity. Songs are thoughtfully composed and carefully orchestrated which provides the listener with plenty to focus on. The textures, while abundant and thick, are still clear. Each line is well represented and the direction of each song is easy to follow. It is surprising how much I liked this album even though it would not be something I would pick out myself from a record bin.
Cool Kids Never Cry
American Coast = LCD Soundsystem + The Microphones + The Calling
Provo rock band American Coast released their first EP, Cool Kids Never Cry, and they’ve got some songs on there that only cool kids could write. The opening track, “Stars In Your Eyes,” is a good introduction into the world within which American Coast are trying to operate. Lead singer Dante Rhymes’ voice is intriguing right from the get-go. Without exerting much force, he is able to draw the listener in simply because of the timbral quality of his voice, which lies somewhere between raspy and warm. The second song, “June Wedding,” begins with a pretty prominent and fuzzy bass line à la Kim Deal. This bass line eventually builds up to what is likely the loudest section of the EP, when the band begins to get into some anthem rock territory. The third song is “Hush,” which dips the band’s feet into the emo domain. The comparison is simple when lyrics such as “I don’t need you anymore / But I guess I need you more than ever before” are taken into account.
The EP is lo-fi, and for the most part, it works in the band’s best interest, giving its songs a more live feel that some might find endearing. However, at certain times, the low production value really detracts from the music. In some songs, the overdubbed guitars do not line up with the drums. Thankfully, the musical potential is there, and these issues are ones that are not only encountered by many bands just starting out but are also not difficult to address and rectify. Hopefully American Coast have the ability to invest in the production of their next endeavor and turn these songs into the best versions of themselves. You can buy and download Cool Kids Never Cry over at americancoastie.bandcamp.com. –Arcadio Rodriguez
I Tell A Fly
Benjamin Clementine = Nina Simone + Moses Sumney + Aphex Twin + David Bowie
Benjamin Clementine. Remember the name. Clementine’s influence on music will be apparent to all of us sooner or later, but for now, let us enjoy the journey of what has all of the characteristics of becoming a cultural paradigm shift. In I Tell A Fly, Clementine continues to explore and develop the burlesque troubadour sound he left us with on his critically acclaimed debut album, At Least For Now. The title is almost prophetic, listening to his new record now—Clementine still had and continues to have much more left to give.
I Tell A Fly can be divided into two main parts. The first half offers pieces that are much more avant-garde and theatrical than the second half. With the first half culminating in “Phantom Of Aleppoville,” Clementine explores some undeniably personal subject matter. In the track he uses his experience of being bullied as a kid as the main concern. The piece is completely through-composed, and Clementine stacks sections on top of sections without returning to any of them once he has left them behind. The last section of this song is easily the peak moment of this album.
The second half of I Tell A Fly feels more like a collection of isolated portraits rather than one big cohesive picture. The songs are mostly shorter and less abstract. They have steady beats and less drastic contrasts between sections. The sixth track on the album, “Jupiter,” is likely the most pop piece in the collection, almost sounding like something out of John Legend’s Love In The Future. The songs on this last half also feel more uplifting than the ones on the first half, due to more use of synthesizers and simpler chord progressions and structures.
Clementine’s piano playing is splattered all over the album. His style is rooted in classical training, which often makes his music sound a lot like Nina Simone’s. On “Paris Flies By,” we begin with some fast arpeggios in the upper register. At the end of this piece we hear what sounds like Clementine playing a modified version of Claude Debussy’s “Claire de Lune” over a muffled electronic drum beat. On “Quintessence,” the piano part sounds much like a Chopin Nocturne. Clementine also employs the harpsichord through the majority of this record, and it is this, combined with synthesizer bass and pads, that creates the sci-fi baroque palette that is so endemic to his music as heard on songs like “Ode From Joyce” and “Awkward Fish.” Add to all of this a powerful, skillful and emotional vocal delivery as well as poetic language full of depth and wit, and you’ve got yourself a fantastic record.
Clementine exudes musical prodigy through every song he makes, and his eccentric personality only makes it easier for us to romanticize his artistry. He is an artist draped in mystery and enigma, but one that still proposes interesting and challenging work to his audience. Clementine’s music will soon have a deep cultural impact on music—
listening to his music and watching his live performances has had a deep impact on me.– Arcadio Rodriguez @rkdo93
Love is Love
WOODS = The Delfonics + Thievery Corporation + The Decemberists
Brooklyn-based psych-folk rockers WOODS have begun to prove the theory that many began to hold once a Trump presidency shifted from farfetched satire to glum verisimilitude. They proved that such a presidency would give rise to not only great art but also great politically charged art. WOODS wrote and recorded Love is Love in the immediate aftermath of the 2017 presidential election. The album—along with its political and sociocultural connotations—does not feel forced, nor does it seem like WOODS want to cash in on the instability of our current political climate by putting out a clearly political record. Their intentions, as well as their emphasis on love, come across as genuine, and the record is all the more effective because of it.
The album begins with the title track, which showcases a sonic interpretation of the United States. The song is filled with so many different styles and techniques, and they all mix well together. The drum pattern evinces some Afro-Cuban rhythmic influences, the guitar tone is traditional ‘60s soul, the basslines are classic rock–ish, and the trumpet part has some mariachi as well as spaghetti western connotations. The harmonic content is one that feels intentionally ambiguous—the same progression could fit any of the previously mentioned styles, depending on what rhythm you decide to fixate on. Floating above this are Jeremy Earl’s vocals, spouting, “Say that love is love.” The track represents what many of us would consider an almost utopic musical depiction of the society we would like to live in. The second song, “Bleeding Blue,” continues to build off of the communal emphasis of “Love is Love” but begins to transition into a more clearly political commentary. Said commentary can be found on the third track, “Lost In A Crowd.” The lyrical content seems to reference the bleak realization of the outcome of our last presidential election. However, the musical background suggests a cheerful and blissful mood. WOODS employ delayed electric pianos, flutes and higher female vocal harmonies over a major key to uphold the nightmare that we awake from as the darkness descends upon us. If one were to interpret the lyrics and instrumental setting as the cynicism that many feel toward the current state of our government, then the song makes complete sense.
“Spring Is In The Air” is the fourth track on the album and makes an interesting transition from the previous piece. It begins with an organ drone with heavy tremolo and a pulsating panning that at first sounds hopeful. Once the bassline comes in, the songs turn toward the dark. The song continues for nearly 10 minutes, showcasing various solos interrupted by a refrain from the wind section. The fifth song is called “I Hit That Drum” and is the only song on the album where the band does not play a drum. Hopefully you find that to be as cool as I do. The album closes out full circle with “Love Is Love (Sun On Time).” The song is a variation on the first one but with a faster tempo and has done away with the brass parts. The line “Say that love is love” is repeated even more often and with more intensity in their last effort to communicate to the listener the importance of this sentiment. It also conveys the notion that we will be OK because “The sun’s on time—the sun will rise,” but only if we stand up and “say that love is love.” –Arcadio Rodriguez
Fleet Foxes = Steve Reich + Simon and Garfunkel
You can all sleep soundly tonight knowing that the wait is over. Fleet Foxes’ long and painful hiatus has finally come to an end with the release of their third studio album, Crack-Up. The new album quite literally picks up where the previous one left off with its beginning muted notes, played on an acoustic guitar, in the same key and similar tempo as the vocal harmonies that ended Helplessness Blues. The band has managed to maintain the soul of their signature sound, but as the album progresses, one can appreciate just how much their palette has matured. The first single off the record is “Third of May / Ōdaigahara,” which sets the tone for what audiences can expect from this album. This track is the longest song ever released by the band—clocking in at almost nine minutes—and it is truly an epic piece of art. It also does a fine job of tying the previous album to the current one, considering that Helplessness Blues was released on May 3 of 2011.
Musically, Crack-Up is the band’s most ambitious work to date. The diversity of instruments used and the complexity of the textures created are leaps beyond what we have heard from Fleet Foxes before. One element that stands out is just how minimalist some of these textures sound. The fourth song on the album, “Kept Woman,” opens up with a repetitive piano part that resembles a Philip Glass piano étude. The opening of the seventh track, “Mearcstapa,” has more of a Steve Reich feel—although not as rhythmically complicated, it has enough syncopation and odd timbres put together to make the comparison appropriate. In this song, the use of electric guitar and electric bass is more linear and less grandiose than it is on some of the rest of the album, making it reminiscent of “Music for 18 Musicians.” Another factor contributing to the superb musicality shown by the band throughout this album is how a majority of the songs on the album do not fit into standard pop form and structure. The use of differing sections, modulations of both harmony and time signature, as well as a heavy and effective use of drastic dynamic shifts ring true the notion that the band has presented a cohesive and meticulously crafted work. Songs like “I Am All That I Need / Arroyo Seco / Thumbprint Scar” and “Third of May / Ōdaigahara” perfectly exemplify this. Their skill and style of through-composed songs is similar to that used by Punch Brothers in The Phosphorescent Blues. The album ends with another heroic piece, which bears the same name as the record. In this track, the orchestral strings are more heavily relied on, but the most interesting component is the wind instruments—more specifically, the brass section. Toward the end of the song, they begin to create slow yet thick and rich chords that almost verge on spectralism. The orchestration here is one that would make Sufjan Stevens proud.
Fleet Foxes have already begun releasing future tour dates, and while nothing has been announced for Utah specifically, they will be playing next door in Colorado at Red Rocks Amphitheatre in September of this year. If you have never been to this venue, this concert would be a great excuse to make your way over there. The monumental, anthemic folk-rock that the band expounds would resonate magically in between those spectacular red boulders. –Arcadio Rodriguez
Beach Fossils = Toro y Moi + Temples
It took about four years for Beach Fossils to embark on another creative endeavor after the release of their last album, Clash The Truth, in 2013. Their upcoming album makes a compelling case for those four years well spent on growing and maturing as a group. With their latest release, Somersault, the Brooklyn indie-rockers set out to conquer new sonic territory that stems quite far from their original aesthetic. Employing unusual instrumentation and richer, more complex harmonic content, the band has managed to present a work that is both novel and familiar.
The first song on the album, “This Year”—which is also the first single off the album—maintains a lot of Beach Fossils’ characteristic chorus-drenched guitars and reverb-soaked vocals, held up by a thin bass line and low-intensity drums. However, throughout this track, the band begins to employ some chords and chord progressions that are a bit more sophisticated than those found on some of the band’s earlier works. Enter the second song on the album, “Tangerine,” where any effort to ease their fanbase into their new sound is halted. Jazzy, extended chords are at the forefront of this track, and while the electric guitars retain their chorus effect, they have been gifted an additional layer of a pretty heavy phaser effect. One of the best moments in the entire album is on this song, when the first verse transitions into the chorus. These two sections are starkly different, with the first section being a pretty straightforward, indie-psych rock jam, and the second being an ethereal, bossa nova–style groove. What is truly spectacular about these two contrasting sections is how the first one goes directly into the second one with no assistance from a setup or transition. Once the second section comes in, it provides an internal release to the tension that you didn’t even realize was there.
Although the band is definitely looking to expand their aural toolbox, they do manage to maintain their signature sound through a few songs on the album. Tracks like “May 1st” and “Down The Line” would feel at home on some of the band’s previous releases. While the band utilizes instruments outside of the standard indie-rock ensemble—strings, flute and harpsichord, for example—they do maintain certain practices that are endemic to their earlier repertoire. The overall form and structure of the album is pretty straightforward. The album also generates a pretty limited dynamic range, with most songs relying instead on timbral changes and harmonic shifts to keep their momentum going. There is really only one place in the album where a dynamic build-up is used (“Be Nothing”).
Through this album, Beach Fossils have shown that they are definitely doing something different from their earlier albums. Lead singer Dustin Payseur has mentioned that this time around, the entire band was part of the recording process, as opposed to just him writing and recording everything by himself. The band also made a point to get out of the city in order to write and record the album. I contend that those two elements are what set this record apart from their earlier releases. Putting themselves in an unfamiliar environment and taking a more collaborative writing approach has led to a new direction for the band, one that I hope they continue to explore. –Arcadio Rodriguez
Hoops = Nick Drake + Pierre Schaeffer
Local avant-garde act Hoops brings something new and fresh to our local community with his musique concrète affinity. There’s not much of this music being produced anymore, let alone in our immediate surroundings, but Hoops keeps trekking on, and that alone should be commended. His latest release, Honeysuckles, continues this thread by presenting timbral anomalies with each track, but never steps too far outside of the realm of the experimental palette that he enjoys.
The opening track sets the tone for the rest of the album by presenting the theme that runs throughout the record. On this piece, Hoops narrates a story about children eating an old man’s honeysuckles. However, the running theme is how the story is assisted and magnified by his use of field recordings and electronic manipulation, while the more traditional instrument (acoustic guitar) simply serves to set the scene for the story that is unfolding. This “tone painting” technique is exhausted on “No Shelter for a Kitty Cat.” On this song, the use of manipulated field recordings and electronics is more brazen than in any other track on the album. The lo-fi rain and sirens samples are reminiscent of Edgard Varèse and Iannis Xenakis, but the vocal technique and the acoustic guitar ambiance are what set Hoops apart from these electronic music pioneers.
The final track on the album, “On the Sleepy Side of Things,” is the most obviously avant-garde work on this collection. The song begins with a lullaby-ish vocal melody, accompanied by an electric guitar, bass and electronic drumbeat. The song then ends with a minute of yawning and two minutes of snoring while the drumbeat continues on. This leads me to believe that a live Hoops show should be something to make an effort to attend in order to get a different musical experience that will surely verge on performance art. You can download Honeysuckles free of charge over at hoops23.bandcamp.com and continue to support our local avant-garde/experimental scene, which, due to lack of representation, could use some support from all of us. –Arcadio Rodriguez
Indigo Plateau = Explosions in the Sky + Interpol + Shout Out Louds
On June 28, local art rock outfit Indigo Plateau treated many eager fans to a full live set of their new EP, The Heights. The band premiered their latest work in its entirety to a sold out crowd at Kilby Court and delivered an electrifying performance that left all in attendance in awe. This was in great part due to the incredible musicianship exhibited by each member of the band that night as well as the high caliber of compositional maturity on display for all to take in.
The EP opens with the slow pace “Intro” which introduces running thematic elements that are present throughout the rest of The Heights. These are suicidal and existential angst subject matter along with the bit crusher delay used on guitars and a drum sample pad. The next two tracks “Avion” and “ Girl Portraits” are the most instantly likeable songs on the EP. With upbeat drums, catchy guitar riffs and memorable vocal melodies the band makes it easy to dance along and not pay any mind to the gravity of the lyrics. Which could very well be the point, to make the music such that it distracts from the darkness of the perspective presented in the text in order to give the author a platform to express him/herself while maintaining a safe distance from the listener’s full comprehension. Fourth on this collection is “The Doctor’s Grip” which is easily the most disturbing song in The Heights. The song seems to speak from the perspective of someone who has been admitted to a medical facility due to his or her suicidal tendencies. The song closes out with guitarist/vocalist Michael Paulsen begging “lay me down” in a guttural and upsetting showcase of his vocal range. At the end of this voyage we find “Harbor”, a six-minute epic that seems to suggest our main character’s arrival at a place where he/she feels safe yet still not completely at ease. The treads new timbral territory by using an ebow on a severely effected guitar signal that anchors Indigo Plateau’s musical ship “in the harbor.”
Indigo Plateau have put forward a true work of art, one that is cohesive, thought provoking and high in production value. You can download The Heights at indigoplateauslc.bandcamp.com or find it in stock at Graywhale and/or Diabolical Records. –Arcadio Rodriguez
Cat Ghost Formerly Known As Ghost Cat
I’m not sad…
Cat Ghost Formerly Known As Ghost Cat = Campo-Formio + PJ Harvey
With a band name as long as theirs, Cat Ghost Formerly Known As Ghost Cat (CGFKAGC) should have a lot to offer in order to get audiences on board with them. Here’s the thing: They do not offer a lot, but what they have created with their new I’m not sad… EP is something that I found to be special. When I say they don’t have a lot to offer, I simply mean that their songs and their sound are pretty stripped-down. With only three members and all their instruments always running clean out of their amps, there are no bells and whistles to take attention away from the immediacy of the songs. The entirety of the work sounds like you’re listening to it live, and the rawness of the production is clearly intentional and contributes to how the songs are received.
The reason CGFKAGC can get away with discarding effects and recording tricks is because the writing is just that good. Ashleigh Bassett’s vocal melodies twist and turn over her intricate chord progressions while Austin Ryan-Mas’ bass refuses to be cornered into traditional bass-playing for too long. The bass lines are often playing off of the guitar parts in some voice exchanges and rarely play strictly root notes. On the intro for “I Only See One,” we can hear this interplay between guitar and bass. This song also showcases Bassett’s vocal abilities. The opening track, “Shut In,” begins with a fairly dark texture and continues to move to other darker sections. These sections are distinct from one another, but the way the band transitions in and out of them is what initially caught my interest. The other thing the group is gifted at doing is establishing dynamic contrast within their songs and using that as a way to push the songs forward. On “Eggshells,” we find one of the more extreme examples of them employing dynamic shifts as part of the structure of the song, with the band weaving in-and-out of whisper-soft textures to more bombastic tutti hits.
To wrap it up, this collection of songs is incredible and inspiring. Every person in SLC who cares about fostering local musicians should make sure they do their best to support this group, as they are one of our local gems. You can download I’m not sad… over at catghost.bandcamp.com. –Arcadio Rodriguez