Soft Touch = Prince + Shy Girls
Soft Touch’s self-titled sophomore release continues its lo-fi trajectory through the same R&B territory established by their debut album, Touch, in 2015, but with one major difference: From start to finish, this album is much, much more musically cohesive than Touch, and ultimately, much more accessible.
The opening track, “Thirsty Heart,” introduces brisk, melodic synths that move (with purposeful designation) back and forth between sounding like the melodic underpinnings of the song to suddenly becoming the song structure’s sole focus and musical commander in chief. But it doesn’t stop there: Jake Burch’s high-pitched, funk-infused vocals dip, dive and roll as the track introduces sharp, chilly-sounding synths and the occasional low-key, manipulated sample to the mix. It’s a lot to process and a bit of a risky move, but it pays off. I continued to find new layers to the track with each subsequent listen, which ultimately made for an unexpected (albeit welcome!) interactive listening experience.
The following song, “To Your Arms,” undeniably evokes R&B, Prince-inspired vibes supported by the dual vocals of both Burch and Cam Sackett. It’s a down-tuned, funky track with the shake and rattle of an early ’60s rhythm and blues band. The next couple of tracks, “PTD” and “Tell Me,” don’t emit the same R&B intensity that “To Your Arms” does, but they’re dynamic enough in their own regard to be equally as enjoyable. “To Your Arms” embraces a fully unapologetic—and in true Prince fashion—dramatic keyboard introduction juxtaposed by an array of sweeping synths carefully choreographed to enter and exit the song for optimal emotional catharsis. Burch and Sackett add the finishing touches to the track, asking almost incredulously, “Tell me / Tell me / Where is your heart?” as the song reaches full instrumentation and comes to a close.
“I Felt Your Voice” concludes the album, falling along a similar musical path as the previous two tracks, while incorporating larger synth waves and slightly more tenacious subject matter. Ultimately, this self-titled release from Soft Touch is an enjoyable, at times danceable and fully memorable album to keep queued up for your fall music playlist. –Kristin Porter
Black Marble = New Order + Cold Showers
It’s Immaterial, the sophomore release from electro pop group Black Marble, retains the lo-fi grit of the band’s debut album, A Different Arrangement, while simultaneously steering the band (both physically and musically) from East Coast territory into fresher, more exploratory West Coast vibes. Singer/songwriter Chris Stewart retains his position at the helm of the project since splitting with bandmate Ty Kube amid Stewart’s move to the West Coast. Yet, despite his change in locale, Stewart keeps the band’s Brooklyn, New York–synth roots alive, resulting in a collection of songs with amplified vocals, pastel-colored synths and a hint of modern-day deference, which is evocatively scored by Stewart’s personal, nostalgic touch coupled with every happy-sad, Ian Curtis–garage dance party you’ve never been to.
The album opens with the quixotic track “Interdiction,” sampling a muffled human scream over an interjection of ephemeral sound effects and samples. Clocking in at just over a minute, the track evaporates as quickly as it appears—like the opening credits of an ’80s sci-fi film based loosely on the works of William S. Burroughs.
The second track on the album, “Iron Lung,” presents with an effectively upbeat—and slightly irreligious-sounding—bassline that climbs and traverses faithfully through the unexplored backroads of Stewart’s emotionally cool vocals. Infused with a well-written balance between melodic homesickness and a low, dark reverb on par with singer/songwriter Daughn Gibson, Stewart’s vocals carry just as much—if not more—of the track’s melody than the Tilt-A-Whirl synthesizers propelling the vehicle of the song forward. The song’s structure, particularly the bassline, may have been an extension of the band’s 2013 “MSQ No-Extra,” a track from A Different Arrangement.
“It’s Conditional” is a multi-layered epitaph seemingly lifted directly from the veins of a DMT-induced coma. Stewart’s serene vocals are carried downstream by a melancholic timbre only kept afloat by the unimposing, soft and directionless synths. Stewart’s dispirited vocals fully evade the four-and-a-half minute track—although it seems much, much shorter.
“Woods,” the fourth track on the album (and also my favorite), revels in a deeply buoyant tempo that is seemingly dissatisfied with a predictable trajectory of synth electro pop melodies. It rebelliously imbues each sombre synth with a small auger of hope, represented by Stewart’s overarching, borderline saccharine vocals that veer close to an emotional catharsis. However, the song ends abruptly before full emotional insight is revealed. Stewart lures us close, almost lets us glimpse the center and then shuts the door abruptly. It’s a perfectly eschewed, honest and frail emotional mess that had me pressing “repeat” for close to an hour.
The second half of the album picks up speed from a melodic standpoint, ushering in slightly more up-tempo, albeit not quite danceable, tracks such as “Golden Heart” and “Self Guided Tours.” Stewart’s vocals are still at the forefront of each song, providing a delicate juxtaposition between what might have otherwise been an overwhelming combination of frenetic synth harmonies and New Order–heavy vocals.
Yet, It’s Immaterial is neither overbearing nor chaotic. On the contrary, it exists within a self-professed industrial musical landscape that leaves room for listeners to not only experience the finished product but to become acquainted with the creative process as well. Ultimately, It’s Immaterial leaves a door open for listeners, inviting them inside the vivid, scintillating electropop mind of Stewart while hovering effortlessly above Black Marble’s short discography. –Kristin Porter
The Wasatch Fault
Super Wasatch Fault
The Wasatch Fault = Modest Mouse + Doug Martsch
Super Wasatch Fault, the most recent release from local quartet The Wasatch Fault, opens with the eclectic, dramatic track “I Hate Hospitals,” a song that delves into garage rock territory offset by the steady, straightforward drumming style of Aaron McCuistion. The undeniably emo-rock track is stylized by a slight (and I mean slight) jam-band guitar melody layered beneath lead singer Tyler Gilvarry’s raucous, unpredictable and searing red-hot vocals that smolder with faint and inconsolable timbres. “And we stayed up all night / Because we knew that we were not quite ready / Not just yet, to say our goodbyes,” sings Gilvarry. It’s an unusual mixture of musical styles and song structures, and while it borders on the bizarre, The Wasatch Fault have never given me the impression that they crave widespread approval—or even validation—from the mainstream media.
Super Wasatch Fault tells the not-so-classic story of when the disparate genres of punk, indie rock, garage rock and math rock collide to create an angsty, temperamental album with the melodic underpinnings of early Modest Mouse (circa their 1996 album, This Is a Long Drive for Someone With Nothing to Think About). There are even some subtle musical references to ’90s cult-indie band Built to Spill, as exemplified on the third track, “Pep Talk.” Lead guitarist Benjamin Finley channels Built to Spill’s guitarist/vocalist Doug Martsch with his opening indie-pop power guitar hooks and a slightly aloof, asymmetrical song structure pervading the track. But it’s bassist Erich Newey’s signature, syncopated playing style that truly propels the song forward, carrying the track to fruition as Gilvarry sings in true ’90s, noncommittal indie-punk fashion, “Well you may disappear for now / But when you finally come around / We’ll hang out and I’ll tell you what I think about you.”
Although The Wasatch Fault sticks to indie/math-rock roots of their 2013 self-titled debut throughout the album, they also fearlessly incorporate new genres (noticeably garage rock and punk) into the fold. The Wasatch Fault brings a new type of musical genre (perhaps a “non-genre”) to the local music scene here in Salt Lake City with Super Wasatch Fault, presenting an album that certainly shouldn’t be overlooked by fans of the band. –Kristin Porter
Linden = The Elected + Kurt Vile
Recorded in an old fisherman’s croft off the shores of Loch Fyne, Rest And Be Thankful has an unmistakable, laid-back seaside quality about it that becomes more and more irresistible with each listen. With a vocal style that is eerily reminiscent of Blake Bennett, Linden layers saccharine storylines over straightforward, beachy guitar harmonies to create a pleasant album that moves seamlessly from start to finish. The track “Broken Glass” is a poppy, ear-pleasing melody that quickly became one of my favorite tracks on the album. Completely nonchalant and dreamy, Rest And Be Thankful is the ideal addition to any lazy summer day spent lakeside. –Kristyn Porter
Heart Beat Breaks Glass
Starmy = Red Bennies + Grand Funk Railroad
Local outfit Starmy’s sixth release, Heart Beat Breaks Glass, opens with a steady ruckus of thick guitar harmonies layered with Mike Sartain’s tense vocal style. The opening track, “Heart Beat Breaks Glass,” is a tightly refined song that weaves cohesively around an organ solo reminiscent of Red Bennies’ 2004 album, Adult Sophisticates. With grunge guitar work that emits a pervasive intensiveness, “Heart Beat Breaks Glass” sets the precedent for an album that is Starmy’s most uniform work to date.
With consistent juxtaposition between straightforward, dirty rock songs against slightly more somber tracks, the album lends itself to an introspection that Starmy tightly and confidently execute. The track “Live Today Like This Is Your Last” showcases Sartain’s well-placed vocal harmonies and exudes the nostalgia of a late-’70s rock ballad. The track that immediately follows, “Highs and Lows,” features gritty, jostling guitar melodies that blend into buried organ vibrations, building with a latent and unadulterated ferocity the vein of Deep Purple’s Jon Lord.
“Despite the Pixels On the Sun” sounds like it could be a continuation of “Live Today Like This Is Your Last.” The track revolves around a melancholic, space rock–infused melody that plays with Sartain’s slightly distorted vocals and Dave Payne’s cathartic drumming style. The track builds with empathetic suspense, perpetually creating a tension that hinges between fantastical space rock and more grounded rock n’ roll vibes. One of the following tracks, “Turn to Knots,” finds Sartain rendering powerful and evocative vocals over a familiar bed of grunge guitar harmonies, which are only interrupted by a slightly sporadic albeit tasteful organ solo reminiscent of keyboardist Ray Manzarek’s work on The Doors’ 1971 album, L.A. Woman.
As a self-proclaimed final album, Heart Beat Breaks Glass feels more unadulterated than any of the band’s previous work (particularly their cacophonous 2011 release, Blue Skies Abound). As a whole, Heart Beat Breaks Glass is a cohesive, willfully written album that wraps up any loose ends within the band’s 15-year discography. Although it’s bittersweet to see these guys go, they’ve graciously left us with an album that is perhaps their most solid and cohesive work to date. –Kristyn Porter
Accidente = Form of Rocket + Loom
Exotic Payday, the debut album from local math-rock quartet Accidente, emerges from the ashes of singer Peter Makowski and bass player Ben Dodds’ previous band, Form of Rocket; however, the two projects are uniquely identifiable as completely separate musical endeavors. Although Accidente retain the unnerving, icy tonality that made Form of Rocket a staple in the Salt Lake music scene, the addition of Kevin Iver’s (former drummer for local group Novelists) wildly mind-bending, esoteric drumming style, paired with Josh Asher’s time signature–challenging guitar riffs, effectively catapults Exotic Payday into its own experimental musical arena—and deservedly so.
The album kicks off with the track “Barbarous,” a song so multi-dimensional that it demands to be dissected from all angles. Makowski’s vocals screech, scorn and scrape their way through Asher’s unapologetic, razor-sharp guitar riffs as they steer the song down a devastatingly destructive path of musical entropy, offset with an overarching mentality that casually seems to propose an anthem of zero-fucks given. It’s the ideal opening song for the album: unpredictable, systematic when convenient and ultimately governed by its own set of musical rules.
The sixth track (and also one of my favorites), “Crackwhore,” brings Iver’s dynamic, tsunami-inspired drumming style to the forefront of the album. “Crackwhore” manages to somehow span several different time signatures without muddling the melody, a feat made more impressive when combined with Dodds’ bristling bass lines and the seamless, complementary layers of Asher’s tonally impeccable, occasionally grungy guitar riffs.
The album rests spontaneously on the heels of its final track, “Sexy Space Bitches,” an appropriately irreverent track supplemented by a more direct, straightforward drumming style on Iver’s end and humorously offset by the caricature of Makowski’s flailing (and at one point, literally coughing and spitting) vocals. Noticeably more emotionally charged than some of the previous tracks, “Sexy Space Bitches” is the ideal ending to an enthralling, all-around dynamic album from a group of not only talented, but decidedly innovative musicians in the Salt Lake music scene. –Kristin Porter
Mikal Cronin = Ty Segall + King Tuff
Cronin returns with his release, MCIII, an explosive garage rock album packed with nostalgic pop harmonies and emotionally driven horn and string arrangements. On the track “Turn Around,” Cronin croons, “If this is just a moment in a flow / Be here with me until that moment goes,” over several layers of well executed, garage rock melodies and sublime string compositions. Cronin is a talented multi-instrumentalist, which manifests itself completely on this clean, well-crafted album. MCIII doesn’t skip a beat from start to finish, creating one of the most pleasing garage rock albums I’ve heard this year. –Kristyn Porter