Eichlers = Sparklehorse + Weezer
Bedroom Communities is Eichlers’ sixth independent release. Stripped-back indie apartment rock makes up this wholly homegrown EP. An acoustic guitar and a Casio KA-20 comprise the sonic tools utilized in the collection, to a sometimes comical effect. I half-expected a mint-condition Speak and Spell to provide the backing vocals for several of the songs on this bare EP. Eichler’s lyricism is pessimistic, clever and visually rich, translated via punky, mostly spoken-word methodology. “Intro the Unknown” plays slightly off-time in reflections of relational distress and disconnect. A melodic ode to a (possibly metaphorical) busted ceiling fan set to a lilting vintage-sounding piano tells a strangely simplistic story in “Big Fan.” Weirdly rambling reviews of post-college-dropout regret and listlessness last a fleeting 55 seconds and leave the listener wanting for some resolution of the narrator’s existential angst via the track “Fabulous Hotel.” At this juncture, it’s apparent that a core conceit of the EP is the distressing banality of normal life, appropriately translated with minimalism.
“The Couch” is a playful and slightly distracted ode to social isolation and avoidance wrapped with layered vocals and what sounds to be a thrift store keyboard. Charmingly awkward afternoons of teenage rebellion and fumbling sexual adoration tell the story in “Who’s Afraid of Sarah Little?” with nothing more than a guitar and a tinge of righteous indignance. Closing track “Don’t Drive Angry (Ironchic)” offers a pretty, melodically catchy, yet slightly shouty Oasis-esque ballad about doubt and desperation.
As its title suggests, Bedroom Communities is a living room recording of post-collegiate self-examination and subsequent resignation. The music seems to be the perfect ambience for a Saturday evening campus party or a cobbled-together coffee shop open mic night. Eichlers’ music is honest to the marrow, with nearly no polished veneer or pretense. The tracks are bold and scattered yet seem strategic and almost painfully self-aware. Bedroom Communities is worth a listen at the very least for its honesty and stark simplicity.
if this is the way
Larusso = Angels & Airwaves + The Used
Larusso is Utah’s powerhouse pop-punk alternative foursome born in 2014 via their debut LP, Life In Static. Larusso’s mainstream appeal lies in their light use of electronica amidst what could now be coined “classic” early 2000’s alt-rock a la’ Sum 41 and Simple Plan. Supporting act sets with national genre artists and several industry accolades have lifted Larusso to the ranks of one of the local ilk’s larger success stories.
if this is the way is the band’s fourth full-length album and a solid manifestation of a viable post-punk and electropop marriage. “Never Better” opens with that sonic yin-yang and an overall excellent, energetic startup. Notably, Larusso are masters of the bridge, bringing their chimeric sound to the forefront in that particular body of their song structure.
Slower tunes “Felt This” and “Hazel” are syrupy and a bit deflated when intermixed with their uptempo, mellow-moshpit neighboring tracks. Their use of vocal distortion makes for an interesting tactical decision, perhaps affording a bit more interest in these more languid moments. Larusso’s lyrics are fairly canned and standard for the genre, albeit with glimpses of extra lucidity and contemplation, notable on the eighth track, “All of Me That’s Left.” Arguably, their messages are accessible all around, lending to their likeability.
In the second half of the album, the compositional complexity of Larusso’s sound comes forward with the increasing use of backdropped sampling and subtle synths with strong guitar work. Track 10, “It’s Always Sunny in Salt Lake,” is a comical, nihilistic ditty in the Green Day ethos, sounding something of a skater-punk Mr. Rogers satire with clever lyricism. “Gulls” ends the album with a decided statement of intent to place their electronic influences upfront—it is possibly one of the strongest tracks on the entirety of the album, especially for appreciators of Larusso’s eclecticism. This album and its foursome creators offer a competent product of alt-rock revival and a contemporary twist on a genre that could use just that kind of creative boost to retain its modernity. –Paige Zuckerman
Michael Barrow & the Tourists
Michael Barrow & the Tourists = Rufus Wainwright + John Mayer
Provo-grown indie folk rock band Michael Barrow & the Tourists are a five-man melodic group meandering into nature and humanity. Reminiscent of weary road trips strapped with heaving luggage, Juneau is a lovely set of soulful stories. Lyrical richness, evoking melancholic freedom and bold exploration, slow burns its way through every song. Juneau is beautifully produced, with clean simplicity and sonic richness, a testament to the band’s methodical approach. Opening track “Sing Me Something New” starts soft and folksy and then suddenly picks up tempo and floods the listener with upbeat blues and soaring vocals. A contemporary Celtic feel imbues “The Mountain & The Sea” with images of a gaggle of idealistic youths swinging and swilling steins of Guinness while singing triumphantly in a crowded pub. It’s wrapped with a pleasing harmonica bridge. A contemplated counterpoint, “The List” is a mournful admission of masculine shame and fragility via strikingly vulnerable statements, such as “I ask myself if I’m good enough for love.” I find myself affectionately attached to this track and its open honesty, inclusive of its slightly syrupy pop romanticism. “Hey Hey Hey” winds around a lovely melody reminiscent of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.” This particular track stands out in its beauty, a curious juxtaposition to its spartan and somewhat misleading title. The listener is not lead astray with the track “Sad Song,” a tale of the emotional violence of unkind relationships and their inevitable heartbreaks. The sentiment of “shallow waters still can make you drown” flows freely through this bluesy, brooding track. With melodic beauty and narrative complexity, Juneau feels like a perfect crisp autumn canyon drive, reflecting on the beauty of change and the disappointment at the end of something mercurial yet weighty. –Paige Zuckerman
The National Parks
Street: 09.15.17 (Deluxe Album 02.09.18)
The National Parks = The Lumineers + Avicii
The National Parks are a coed pop-folk fivesome hailing collectively from Provo. The band officially formed in 2013 via a Battle of the Bands stint at locally famed Velour. Their debut album Young gained a significant following on the back of charting in the top-20 in the iTunes singer-songwriter category upon its release. Since their establishment, The National Parks have produced two studio albums and played packed gigs in New York, Los Angeles, and Washington, D.C.
Places is notably more poppy than previous albums, with a focus on blending the classic folk acoustic guitar, piano and violin with electronic landscapes. Title and opening track “Places” begins as big and melodic, leaving no question about the grandeur of the album. Powerful chords and sudden synth flourishes mark many of the expansive 16 tracks on the LP, which veers close to the gravity of produced indie and electro-pop, and a touch further away from the indie-folk galaxy. Devotees of the folk genre won’t be disappointed, however, as tracks such as “A Beautiful Night” and “Penny” hold true to the spirit both sonically and narratively. “Costa Rica” is an especially enjoyable track, with classical guitar and orchestral ornaments strung beautifully throughout. “1953” is a touching piano ballad cut with vintage vocal recordings, weaving powerful images of the end of the line—a tune sure to evince more than a few tears.
The second half of the album tinkers with brief, borderline hip-hop beats in “The Fire” and “Come Closer.” Spacious, wild and natural imagery abounds in “Currents,” which closes with a soaring, electric-guitar-driven bridge. The multi-vocal mixes in the album add a dynamic that helps prevent tracks from excessively bleeding together. However, the use of the occasional click track and over-digested pop percussion sometimes feel shoved into songs to a more distracting than enhancing effect. The inclusion of a few acoustic and remixed tracks at the tail end of Places is an interesting addition, albeit perhaps adding an over-abundance of runtime to this already extended offering. A remixed “At The Heart” is an interesting offering even in its slightly predictable dubstep format, evoking the radio-friendly dance-folk especially popular in the past decade.
For its very slight foibles, Places is a highly potable concoction of sweetness, a touch of bitters and a little heat on the back end. The mix of folksy spirits with accessibly tasty pop punctuations makes the lengthy album an all-around tasteful, auditory treat. —Paige Zuckerman
Depeche Mode = Fad Gadget + Red Flag + NIN + themselves
Depeche Mode’s 14th studio album is a stark return to the beseeching sociopolitical narratives of the “People are People” era, blended with a pointed and seething frustration that creeps across its consciousness. This comes via tracks like “Scum” and debut single “Where’s The Revolution?” This is unmistakably Mode’s thinly veiled call to action thrown through a valve of conspicuous consternation, which, at times, feels more like tomato tossing than listener empowerment. The tone of Spirit is pontifical and finger-wagging intertwined with moments of humorous cynicism and brassy resignation. In contrast to the exalting frontline single “Heaven” of their last album, “Where’s the Revolution” blasts the listener with pseudo-motivating reproach and morally decisive messaging. Married with a music video chock-full of socialist iconography and tongue-in-cheek Marxian facial hair, it’s apparent that the boys from Basildon have had enough with mincing words. Legendary lead songwriter Martin Gore crooning the F-bomb in the closing track might be deemed a high watermark of this the band’s canonical career.
Contrary to its decidedly Depeche title, Spirit is sparse of the traditional internal devotional contemplations. Clearly, this current moniker hearkens to an unavoidably loud contemporary cultural zeitgeist more than any intimately personal spiritual notions. The album is comprised of a tensely balanced synth-pop sensibility with a blues influence while remaining transparently true to the Gore songwriting style, inclusive of the integration of several collaborations à la frontman Dave Gahan and members of the longstanding touring band. For all its politically macro meditations, Spirit still manages to maintain a delicious intermixing of choice tracks such as “You Move,” which momentarily revisit Depeche’s more indulgent and lascivious side.
Spirit’s track list is punctuated with lumbering and dense moments of curiously placed distortion and oddly crafted dissonance. Aligning with the standard Depeche machinations, the listener is maneuvered through thick electronic beats that march alongside entreating lyrics to somnolent, brooding ballads. “The Worst Crime” and “Eternal” are tracks that tend to feel heavy-handed and drippy, furthered by Gore’s gorgeous albeit melodramatic vibrato. Track 9, “So Much Love,” hangs on laborious, mangled, detuned synths in clunky juxtaposition to a lyrical insistence that “there is so much love in me.” The sentiments of Spirit ring sincere yet are prone to feeling fatiguing and overwrought, as though the didactic imperative of one of the world’s most successful bands pressurized until it burst at the seams. After three-and-a-half decades of global, gargantuan pop presence, it appears Depeche Mode are returning to their mid-’80s narrative roots with a grander fervor than ever before.
Inclusive of its minor follies, Spirit abundantly provides hefty, sonically fat electronic sounds to wrap around its weighty social messages. Even when they play their cards brashly and boldly, Depeche Mode never let us down again. –Paige Zuckerman
Patrick Robinson = Sun Kil Moon + Butthole Surfers
Salt Lake native Patrick Robinson is somewhat of a sonic enigma. The central conceit of Untitled is as undefined as its title. Is this album a study on culture, region or individual experience? A twice-over listen provides little clarity. Ostensibly meaningful messages, experiences and locations are conveyed with flat affect and blunted regard. Sentiments as hyperbolic as “You’re my only sun” are expressed with the passion of a scratchy electronic voice at the shoddy fast-food drive-up window. Gritty, often droning vocals are mostly spoken, imparting an apparent punk aesthetic juxtaposed with skillful blues guitar. Robinson fixates on the colors and textures of the surrounding world, yet translates that fascination with incongruently flat affect, crafting something of a Robert Frost poem set to stripped-back guitar riffs. Untitled may make the best background soundtrack for your favorite dive bar or indie record shop, as evidenced via tracks like “WestCliff” and “Le Mer.” One moment you have contemplative acoustic tunes with “Les Marais” and “Kelly Green,” and the next, you’re handed some properly lazy Saturday surf rock and reggae vibes with “Liberty.” Suffice to say, sonically and narratively, the stories of the album are sometimes disjointed, perhaps consciously reflected in the mixed European regional references in several songs, including “Trevi Fountain.” Unexpected and slightly shoehorned French comes into frame in “La Rue,” mixed with drawling English verses. I’m led to wonder if Robinson is meaning to meander as a means to bring the listener along in a sense of languid detachment. I am, after several spins, truly unable to decide if I love or loathe this album, which perhaps speaks volumes. Untitled may simply be a listless set of pseudo-demos or one of the most brilliantly meta and subversive collections of songs to come across my desk this year. –Paige Zuckerman
Sub Pop/Bella Union
Beach House = Alvvays + Slowdive
Baltimore-born Beach House bring dream pop and shoegaze aficionados a toothsome treat in their aptly titled and significantly anticipated seventh studio album. Victoria Legrand and Alex Scally make up the Beach House team, yet their musical soundscapes seem at times shockingly opulent for the work of a dynamic duo, especially considering the non-traditional production process of this particular album. 7 is the polished product of Legrand and Scally’s creative catharsis after the release of B-Sides & Rarities in 2017, wherein they flushed the remnants of their 13-year body of work to make room for renovations. 7 seems more authentic to the artists themselves and less constrained by outside collaborations, perhaps the result of significant tenure and a desire to shed the subsequent accumulated calluses and pursuing a mostly self-produced album. Legrand and Scally elected to include their touring drummer James Barone on the whole of the album, with the added minimalist influence of producer Peter Kember, aka Sonic Boom, who supported their mission to keep the songs clean yet organic.
7 begins energetically with “Dark Spring,” a dramatic and brooding track with the astral vocals axiomatic to the Beach House sound that serves as one of the earliest singles alongside “Dive” and “Lemon Glow.” A languid electronic interference overlays many of the tracks on 7 to an appealing effect, as evidenced on “Pay No Mind.” The use of expansive ambience imbues the album, punctuated with ear-snagging synth tricks and sensual, pulsing beats. “Lemon Glow” offers up the psychedelic history of the dream pop genre with upbeat sounds, creepy lyrics and squirming imagery, a fantastic choice for a single and matched with a vexingly hypnotic black-and-white video clip. A personal favorite, “Black Car” stands solidly on bleeping electronic notes and stripped-back programmed drums, making it the type of song to “tune in, turn on and drop-out” to on a rainy afternoon. 7 closes on mellow and perhaps resigned notes with the softened, palliative pitch of “Girl of the Year.” An ethereal Japanese koto-evoking loop opens the cleverly titled closing track, “Last Ride,” which wanders through multiple soundscapes until suspending in the air for an equally clever seven minutes.
7 is rich with reflections on acceptance of the collective chaos and growth that bursts forth from trauma and loss of stability. The album rather unabashedly muses on the current temperature of social and cultural tumult both on the broader and more personal stage, especially for the status and daily experience of women. Although 7’s lyrics are sometimes vague and imagery-dense, a smoldering feminist message seems to lurk beneath their surface in several songs alongside an undercurrent of frustration and ferocity. Beach House are not crass or heavy-handed in their narrative, and their sound balances their words beautifully. 7 feels natural and thoughtful, yet it never over- or underwhelms, containing just enough clever sonic adornment and intelligent wordplay. Beach House appear to have done it again and done it differently, crafting a sonic tapestry that awes the ear yet holds steady tension with accessibility and experimentation. 7 may be the strongest dream pop/shoegaze opus to land this year, and a lovely way to accompany the warmer months of a continuously complicated cultural era. –Paige Zuckerman
The Death Of
Fur Foxen = Elliot Smith + The Swampers
Amber Pearson and Stephan Darland’s new, dark and dour Fur Foxen album is a funky funeral pyre of oddities that span an acoustic soundspace. Their sound pleases, featuring organic folk interlaced with lovely, mournful cello, glinting xylophone and violin solos to strike the heart. Their curious genre descriptions seem spot on, as Fur Foxen are inescapably folksy.
“Better Death” and “Come Moonshine,” as the great majority of their tuneful cohort, offers a simple guitar tracks with female vocal collaboration from Pearson. Lyrically speaking, Fur Foxen is evocative and antiquated with the traditional nature references and Southern, bluesy cultural vibrations alongside morbid imagery and an undercurrent of solemn resignation, especially notable in “Fault Inside,” “Murders and Metaphors” and “Mr. Brown’s Funeral.” One might imagine Fur Foxen being an apt fit for the patio set at a coffee and beignet café just off Bourbon Street on a cool night.
“Huckleberry Wisdom” takes string instrumentation to new heights with a dissonant opening and strange sliding notes. Second-to-last track “Until The Moon Hides” brings a clean electric guitar, displaying Person and Darland’s skills for the classic and the unusual intermingling. Darland’s vocals are clean and crisp with moments of impassioned growls and gravelly intensity. The backing vocalist is, at times, annoyingly off pace and unrefined, though it’s unsurprising in their raw and natural sonic style.
The Death Of is a collection of existential songs perfect for a cracking fireside and the frosty air of the season. As with nature’s inevitable and ancient wintery transition, Fur Foxen provide a songbook for a solemn nod to all things that must come to an end. –Paige Zuckerman
TelePathiQ = Rival Consoles + Massive Attack + VCMG
Hailing from Logan, originator Darrick Riggs along with live act–collaborator Kurt Aslett creates a classical-piano-and-professional-percussion powerhouse, crafting hypnotic contemporary electronic, ’90s trip-hop and ’80s British new wave vocals. Opening tracks “Unfinished Story” and “Truth” set a pleasantly complex stage for the wealth of ambience, highly danceable grooves and delicious, spiraling synth sequences this album has to offer. Layered and varied vocals and dark, brooding baselines befit Transformation’s contemplative lyrics as displayed on tracks like “Generation.” Electric organ and dissonant orchestral sounds open “Once in a Lifetime,” matched with a dramatic, somewhat pleading narrative. I discovered my body bobbing to the beats and feeling compelled to close my eyes and bliss out. There are gorgeous ghosts in this machine, the same machinations of predecessors Depeche Mode and Moby. I am curious if the second-to-last track “Devotion” was intended to be a nod to fellow Depeche devotees, because of its arrangements and exalting, spiritualistic lyrics on display. I strongly suspect Martin Gore would nod in approval were he to get his legendary hands on a copy of Transformation, and I would love to be a fly on that particular wall. Riggs’ classical training comes forward beautifully in “Undivided” and closing track “Introspection,” evoking images of a robotic Beethoven droid pounding away passionately on a Minimoog. This juxtaposition is met again in the plaintive and powerful “Breathe,” with melancholy violin joining the mix. The sophisticated musicality of Transformation is evident, as is the mastery of multiple electronic influences by its makers. In a landscape of electronica that often bleeds together and becomes indistinguishable, TelePathiQ have carved out complex sonic geography, creating a much-appreciated mark on the map. Explorers of the electronic, as well as lovers of contemporary classical music, would do themselves a favor by giving Transformation its due time. –Paige Zuckerman
OSITO = The Weeknd + 4FRNT
Electronic artist OSITO has been a master collaborator for some time, having seen significant streaming success in his work with the likes of Double V, Roman Meeser and DJ Xquizit. Osito’s collabs have landed him badges of honor, charting on dance playlists internationally and being featured on Spotify highlights. Singles “Unison” and “Monster” have displayed OSITO’s dark yet strangely playful EDM, which handles the bitterness of love and life. OSITO is no slouch, having trained classically on the keys and studied at the Salt Lake School for the Performing Arts in music production and audio engineering. OSITO has lent to numerous other artists, and Sal is the debut solo project proving his auditory acumen.
Sal, Spanish for salt, opens with “Jealousy,” a world music–influenced track with subtly autotuned vocals and a nearly pop vibe. Rhythmically, “Jealousy” is engaging and unusual, with dour lyrics but an upbeat feel. That same sensibility veers into “Twenty Four,” a reflection in disappointment and disenchantment as one ages into young adulthood. “Senseless” takes a slightly differing tonality, playing in warped R&B territory with clever and spontaneous sampling. The vocoder becomes heavy-handed in this track, a common trouble with the genre in which OSITO is supposedly dabbling with in Sal. Closing track “Monster” redeems Sal with a watery, roiling electronic energy matched by an appropriately grueling dubstep drop. Though the sounds of “Monster” can be grating, they convey the message of the song effectively, making it a standout track and a strong yet unsettling conclusion.
OSITO has indicated that a second EP will come on the heels of Sal, one which serves brighter, more summery vibes in time for the warmth of festival season. Until then, Sal offers listeners a lightly lamenting, rave-ready set of tracks certain to add a brooding edginess to your Saturday-night dance binge. –Paige Zuckerman