Sammy Brue | I Am Nice | New West

Sammy Brue
I Am Nice

New West
Street: 06.17

Sammy Brue = Bob Dylan + Woody Guthrie

Sammy Brue is a soulful teenage troubadour with the depth of Emerson and the emotionality of Dylan. A Utah native, Brue’s lyrical intensity and narrative maturity defy his fledgling fifteen years of age. Brue speaks to themes that one might assume would elude such a youthful conscience, yet he does so genuinely and without pretense. Deep, pensive tracks intermingle with proper knee-slapping tempos in I Am Nice, a 12-track Americana travelogue. Produced by Ben Tanner of Alabama Shakes and John Paul White of The Civil Wars, I Am Nice is professional and clean to a unique extent for a debut indie-folk album. A joyfully retro journey into the anthems of the hippie era are reflected in “Was I The Only One” and “Lay Me Down.” “I Never Said” and “I’m Not Your Man” provide soft and lovely violin orchestration, lending all the lilting, maudlin vibes expected of a proper folk album. Rough-hewn tracks like “Covered In Blood” and “Control Freak” add a pleasant rockabilly counterpoint, including cool guitar riffs and vintage organ backing. Brue’s lyrical acumen is almost alarming, with the reflective disillusionment of a weathered old soul at the end of its leathery rope. “Once a Lover” wanders sadly as the second to last track, nearly evincing tears in the listener yet restraining them with blunted resignation. I Am Nice closes with “Salty Times,” an appropriately titled and pretty anthem to struggle and suffering. Sammy Brue speaks of the universal in human nature with a wit and wisdom that can easily connect with listeners across a wide variance of age and experience. –Paige Zuckerman

Psychology
Self-titled

Self-Released
Street: 02.27
Psychology = Sigur Rós + The 1975 + Tycho

Psychology is the brainchild of Utah-transplanted Brit singer/songwriter Colin Rivera. Hailing solidly from the alt-pop movement, Rivera nested in London to craft Psychology, preceded by several stunning career collaborations, with artists Chvrches and Mark Ronson and producers Daryl Bamonte of Depeche Mode. Rivera’s Psychology project is more than mere fruits of a brilliant resume. It is timely, taut and transformational. Opening with a riffy yet ambient “Insomnia,” this 10-track album is atmospheric and anticipation-building with strong pop melodies and hooks.

“Freak” picks up the pace and delights with subtle tinges of Rivera’s accent creeping through and speaking to the shared liberation of being “a freak like me.” The expansion and contraction of each track evokes images of fluorescing sea creatures fluttering through the blue with sudden bursts of glittery propulsion. One moment the listener is energized, the next lulled gently into a soft meditation. “Whispers” offers that same electronically influenced vibration with a rock edge, even verging on a post-punk sound. “Heart” is a track somewhat lost amid its cohorts, feeling vaguely fatigued and something of an afterthought B-side. Psychology ends competently with the rhythmic and slightly shimmery soundscapes of “Hope” and “Sleep,” proving that Rivera’s mind is effective machinery for the vision of the album.

The narrative of Psychology is perplexing, especially considering Rivera’s ostensible personal history. Internal conflict and spiritual rumination seem rife in the album, with some tracks being more transparent than others. Lyrically, Psychology feels a bit pompous at times, yet that energy is wholly congruent with the modern, more intellectual Brit-pop mentality, which bleeds boastfully on the reg. The vocals on Psychology can tire the ear a tad, with the occasional obdurate tone and slight shoutiness. In whole, Psychology is a standout in the local music scene and a solid spin for lovers of the ambient, eclectic pop territory. –Paige Zuckerman

Booyah Moon | Landing

Booyah Moon
Landing

Self-Released
Street: 01.04
Booyah Moon = Sonic Youth + Dinosaur Jr.

Recently formed, coed quintet, Booyah Moon are unpolished and honest. Early this year, they released their debut album Landing, just slightly past the EP threshold at a sparse seven tracks. Landing opens with “Fraidy Cat,” a roughshod and rapid snapshot on paranoia and emotional paralysis, which seems imbued with interesting meta-messages about the modern rationale for avoidance and chronic anxiety. Booyah Moon practices a melodic sensibility that offsets their punky, sometimes screamo-esque vocals which seem to reflect intent and self-awareness. 

Landing is straightforward and stripped down, tracks are brief and direct and Booyah’s overall sound is austere. “Away for a Long Time” turns ever so slightly bluesy and folk in the spirit of Built to Spill, a method that is repeated on a few tunes in differing fashions. A disillusioned, comedic attitude takes over in track four, unravelling broken dreams and the commodification of resignation in “1-800-55D-REAM.” It’s unclear if this tune is a manifesto on capitalism and loss of identity, or a statement of resistance to abandoning one’s vision even in the face of economic and identity odds—Perhaps it is both. Either way, this track is the punkiest of the entire album and one for the slightly abashed Johhny Rotten fan in all of us. “Tin Man” detours to nearly a reggae vibe, with a juxtaposed positivity and stolid optimism, evoking a hippie-era lovefest. The inclusion of this track feels bewildering, yet clever. “Ghost” concludes Landing, with a return to the slightly dour sentiment of its sibling songs—yet with the longest runtime, an appropriate endpoint for a short, overall offering.

Lyrically, Landing is rich with sharp imagery and a variety of wounding metaphors. There’s a rusted, chrome-bumper feel to the album that manifests in most tracks via rough and prickly narrative and growling guitars with equally gravelly vocals. Landing is a slightly sophomoric, and fun selection of indie-rock sounds that seem to indicate that this local group have interesting places to go as they grow. –Paige Zuckerman

Nick Passey | Just Working Thru Some Shit | Self-released

Nick Passey
Just Working Thru Some Shit

Self-released
Street: 04.21
Nick Passey = Tom Waits + Johnny Cash + Folk Hogan

Nick Passey establishes his deep yet occasionally comical and crass EP with sparse acoustics, surprising sonic twists and vulnerable themes. The collection was inspired by the insight of his therapist that his life struggles would at least make for clever songwriting. From the first track, the album hits with a nouveau Johnny Cash cogitation with drawling Michael Stipe vocals. Title track “Just Working Through Some Shit” and its surrounding songs walk the line between thoughtful hipster folk and “my wife left me and my dog died” classic country. Passey transparently attempts to unpack the proverbial baggage rather than merely wallow in it.

The track list upholds a cerebral indie mentality yet remains firmly rooted in the country formula. Passey’s lyrics occasionally feel shoehorned and goofy, yet it’s apparently intended to be playful execution of even the heaviest of topics. “Non Believer” is a deep, existential meditation with quiet, marching snare drums in the background.

“Afterglow” and “Building Up My Tolerance” are an ode to heartbreak and love addiction supported with classic blues guitar and pleasantly staccato spoons for percussion. “Tears Me Up” is a lovely and melancholy tune with haunting echoes as if sung across a canyon during a desperate stop on a lonely road trip. Just Working Thru Some Shit is folk for Millennials, veering from acerbic wit to emotional weightiness. Passey is a skilled storyteller whose music never interrupts his narrative and cleverly accompanies it with a solid dose of heart. –Paige Zuckerman

Daniel Murtaugh | Daze of Irie | Ninja-San Records

Daniel Murtaugh
The Daze Of Irie

Ninja-San Records
Street: 08.01
Daniel Murtaugh = Jason Mraz + Sublime

Daniel Murtaugh began his musical maturation upon acquiring his first “real” guitar at age nine. Before he could drive he was performing his songwriting live. His The Daze of Irie is a chimeric collection of 15 tracks that surprise and aspire to inspire, with a resounding hopefulness and, as the title would transparently suggest, an island-reggae positivity.

The album opens with glistening electronics, strummed guitar and a radio voice preaching the universality and connecting potential of music, setting the stage for the overall tone of the LP. The eclecticism of the album is often impressive, showcasing ambient, reggae, folk and new age. Murtaugh is sometimes tough to pin down, yet his melodic skill and lyrical lovefest are just as tough not to enjoy. Tracks like “#3” are sweet and simple without being candied and cloying. The piano work on the album is impressive, especially when it’s met with glinting moments of electronics and programmed drums. “Little Things” is a lovely combination of poppy personality, folksy influences and clever sound engineering, with almost a mid-career U2 vibe. Throughout, it becomes apparent how Murtaugh transitioned from being a rock-folk artist into a more produced and polished persona.

Into the second half of the album, Murtaugh takes his stand in West Coast ska and dub that carries though to the end as performed unmistakably in “Black Flag” and “California.” Track 10 even treats listeners to the obligatory steel drum break. The island vibes hold steady to the end, to the extent that perhaps Murtaugh’s apparent perseveration on the Pacific lifestyle become a tad culturally problematic and a bit hard to connect with for local landlubbers. The Daze of Irie is something like your favorite icy. fruity mixed drink on a beach: sweet, tart, tasty and a little much if consumed too quickly or in excess. –Paige Zuckerman

The Signal Sound | Broken Homes | Self-Released

The Signal Sound
Broken Homes

Self-Released
Street: 07.14
The Signal Sound = Green Day + The All-American Rejects + Yellowcard 

From the first track, The Signal Sound’s Broken Homes is like a warm dose of early-2000s high school nostalgia. Anthemic and jaded yet pretty alt—pop punk and classic aughts-rock are the stylings of this album from start to end. It’s perhaps an apt offering in light of the cyclical return of ‘90s popular culture and Gen X fashion sense. Listening to the album, there are heaps of visual imagery of skate parks, summer music festivals and wide-leg denim. The lyrics are evocative; the smart syncopation indicates that the band’s percussionist is an apparent pro; the vocals are clean; and the execution of their genre feels expert. As the album’s title would suggest, Broken Homes is a defensive ode to intimate relationship strife, and tracks like “Broken Homes and Stolen Hearts” and “Get Close reflect a resignation and retaliation by their spurned storyteller. A common challenge of this genre is a tendency toward redundant and formulaic songs, furthered by the sheer volume of tracks on offer. However, “Running In Circles,” “Be Still and “Seen A Ghost offer pleasant and acoustically rich respites from the driving tone of surrounding tunes. “Long Goodbyessmacks of a possible alternative radio hit via a solid and dynamic melody. Broken Homes is well-produced, likable, energetic, displaced heartbreak rock. Grab your skate shoes and your first-gen iPod and you’ll most surely enjoy this album.  –Paige Zuckerman

Sulane | Ad Astra

Sulane
Ad Astra

Self-Released
Street: 6.5.18
Sulane  = Brand New + Modern Lovers + Dinosaur Jr

Salt Lake local JP Krein has been playing and crafting music since age 12. An artist on all fronts, Krein is part of Inkjar, a regional artist collective aimed at fostering bonds between the local arts and music communities.

Starting off the LP, “Beehive” opens with a distant, vintage piano, strangely offset yet making for an engaging beginning. Classic punk vibrations pick up properly in “Circuits” with vocals irrefutably recalling the ethos of Jonathan Richman. “Believe In This/Glisten” is an emo dream track with nihilistic romanticism and a synthy, acoustic guitar tailing in the background. The personality of this album is proto-punk to a T, with slight sonic deviations and an underlying flippancy. Separation takes on a garage-Strokes-cover-band feel, with Krein’s vocals suddenly transforming into a striking and slightly gritty Julian Casablancas simulaid.

Lyrically, Ad Astra is as traditionally punk as them come, perhaps so organic and stripped back to the genre standard that it would struggle to stand out. Several tracks, however, detour into industrial and post-punk arenas, with “The Swift Decline” manifesting classic screamo vocals with a clippy drum machine, mimicking early 2000s Trent Reznor. Klein is ostensibly a master of mimicry, which may be a gift and a burden to his aural individuality. He’s capable of sourcing several brilliant predecessors in a single LP, and would benefit from further sending his sound in and out of the fire to temper it fully.

Ad Astra ends with “To Ashes”, a speak-and-spell-esque track with dour, self-deprecating sentiments and mostly a stark, kiddie keyboard backing. The track transitions intermittently to Krein’s sniffling and shuffling as he picks up into the second half. The naturalism of this closing tune is as odd and interesting as the intro track, leaving the listener just as perplexed as from jump street. Ad Astra is a solid DIY addition the stream of the local scene, and hopefully an opportunity to further refine a sound built from the sparks of several immortal patriarchs of punk. –Paige Zuckerman

The Wicked Notions | I Love You, but I’ll Never Tell You How Much | Self-Released

The Wicked Notions
I Love You, but I’ll Never Tell You How Much

Self-Released
Street: 06.01
The Wicked Notions = Nine Inch Nails + Placebo + The Neighbourhood 

The Wicked Notions struck an alt-rock chord in early 2016.  Long-locked and stoic frontman and songwriter Drew Rindlisbacher fetched an unmistakable Eddie Vedder likeness, and the band’s stripped-back sound was simple and gritty. In the ensuing year and a half, The Wicked Notions have displayed an acoustic transformation. Their freshly dropped EP I Love You, but I’ll Never Tell You How Much is a mix of brooding electro-pop with a tinge of R&B and mid-’90s Goth rock. They deliver hefty, dour and often existential messages  via dark yet accessible and surprisingly danceable tracks in this new conceit. Clean and clever sampling blends with straightforward melodic sophistication and interesting use of vocal and sonic distortion. “Graves” and “Red Lights” are potent electronic tracks with catchy looping synth sequences. Rindlisbacher gives a consistent and smooth vocal performance that rivals any hyper-polished pop act, yet it  maintains a subtle rock sensibility. Tracks like “New Kids” make The Wicked Notions’ contemporary sound slightly difficult to distinguish from major-market cohorts of the currently prospering electronic pop genre, yet their ability to play with the bigger boys may ultimately be one of their strong suits. “Tell Me You Don’t Love Me” and the EP title track embody sometimes frustrating lyrical scarcity and repetition, yet the whole of this collection is well produced and sonically indulgent without being overwrought. The Wicked Notions’ evolution indicates an ability to flex musical muscles and match industry trends yet maintain artistic integrity. As a devotee to electronic music in all its incarnations, upon digesting this new EP, I find myself quietly convinced that The Wicked Notions have found a keyhole in their sound and are headed through the door to bigger, brighter places. –Paige Zuckerman

The Wicked Notions @ Beanstock 07.08

Monsoonal rainfall served a sudden respite from Saturday’s sweltering heat, and The Wicked Notions were an equally wild and refreshing distraction. After a fun, fumbling soundcheck, the band quickly awoke the small crowd at the equally minute local food-bank benefit, Beanstock, with an energetic and all-out rocking set. They played several selections from their recently self-released EP paired with new offerings replete with impressive solos from the five band members. Although their recent offerings lean strongly on dark electronic sounds, their live performance is as pure as any alternative rock band can offer. The humorous stage presence of their charming frontman, Drew Rindlisbacher—especially in interaction with his lovable bandmates—is an absolute treat. Having worked through a recent two-week head cold via the supporting heaps of hot tea and honey, Rindlisbacher’s vocals were unflappably clean and versatile, from brooding depth to pseudo-rapping to screaming on pitch. The band’s confidence is palpable without being excessively grandiose. I find myself curious to see The Wicked Notions more fully explore and unfold their sonic, kinetic and visual identity. Ostensibly, this talented local group has the musical chops, and the package it’s wrapped in could use a bit more ears. The gig was a short set list, and no doubt I would have gladly imbibed a full two-hour show by the band without fatiguing. The Wicked Notions graced a small and humble stage this time, and perhaps grander venues and greater crowds are in their not-so-distant future.

Sister Adolescent | I Am Not So Far | Self-Released

Sister Adolescent
I Am Not So Far

Self-Released
Street: 03.17
Sister Adolescent = Beach House + Unknown Mortal Orchestra

Savannah and Trevor Free, Seth Ringger, Matthew Benfell and Ethan Westover make up the Provo dreampop collective Sister Adolescent. I Am Not So Far is an open letter to relationships in all their complexity and need, in a refreshingly shorter-format album of a concise eight tracks. Lilting, glimmering vocals infuse the album via Savannah, whose voice is wholly on-trend for the current women-lead demand in the sophistipop sphere. Opening track “Sacred Deer” offers effervescent synthesizers and ethereal vocal melody. Nouveau hippie, experimental, new wave and occasional hip-hop vibes fill the multiple tracks, with “Water + Weeds” and “Juniper” on the forefront of strangely beautiful, eclectic artworks on this album. Track titles can be deceiving, with some connoting dark, gruesome themes while being sonically soft and blunted. “Blood/Horror” is a lovely, ambient tune, yet it’s embedded with oddly prickly imagery. “Dilettante,” conversely, takes on a dark, ominous electronic tone with sorrowful guitar and proved to be one of the most complex and ear-catching tracks on the album. Wandering sonic landscapes and layered vocals embody “Better Love,” leading the listener down an ecstatic, glittering rabbit hole to some sort of serene wonderland. Brilliantly placed title and closing track “I Am Not So Far” rings with dramatic sounds like synthetic church bells in the distance. Concluding with a twinkling sense of cessation, it leaves the listener feeling curious yet peaceful and contemplative. The whole of this album is intelligent, evocative and consistent without being tedious or indistinguishable from song to song. I Am Not So Far is indie poetic-pop shoegaze at its cleanest and most translucent. This is without a doubt one of my favorite local collections to come from the ambient-pop pseudo-genre this season, a set of mesmerizing and skillful songcraft. –Paige Zuckerman

No Mañana
Remember Last Night

Self-Released
Street: 4.10.18
No Mañana = Zedd + Calvin Harris

Ogden’s Alexis De Jesus and Brogan Campbell were focused on their own sonic projects when a collaboration transformed into the techno post-punk of No Mañana. With assistance from producer Aaron Sanchez and Blake Hall on percussion, they manifested their debut EP Remember Last Night. Last fall, No Mañana became a two piece after Hall’s passing. However, De Jesus and Campbell keep his memory alive within these tracks, and refer to Hall as their “guardian angel.” “He was our biggest fan, and [wasn’t] just our drummer but our personal manager. He lived the no Mañana lifestyle up ’till his passing,” De Jesus says. “I know he is beyond stoked for us,smiling in heaven.”

The EP opens with “Handle It,” a house extravaganza with semi-screamo vocals, cynical lyrics and dancey beats. “Hero” is a more rhythmically mellow and slightly ambient track, with a hefty heap of vocoder and a more of a vulnerable heart than its predecessor—albeit with equivalent cursing for hyperbole. “Party Animals” is a sudden surprise with a smashing guitar lick and a heightened complexity, deftly melding rock and techno. Lyrically, this track seems superficial and flippant, regarding mindless club culture, yet a subtext of desperation seems to underlie the message. However, this may be merely my desire to seek something deeper in what might be an honestly hedonistic narrative.

Remember Last Night continues with “Pool Table Drop,” a true techno and dubstep-fusion track with the repeating refrain of bitterness, especially about relationships and human interaction. The vocal layers on this track are slightly distracting and discordant in a manner that doesn’t help the trance energy of the track and serves mostly to frustrate, which may have been the intended effect. Just before the fourth minute, the track veers into a strange interlude, then turns silent for the remaining, nearly six-minute duration. This was either a production peccadillo or another intended disruption.

“Promises” continues Remember Last Night with a strange, sweet piano intro that transforms into full-electronic fatness yet retains a sadness and melodic melancholy as it meanders across the techno stage. The through-line synth sequence of the song is lovely, but, at moments, overly masked by trickery and beats. This track is perhaps the most promising of the collection, with a musicality similar to the more classically gifted of electronica such as Zedd.

With heavy electronic music being a more rare breed regionally, No Mañana look to be handling the genre well and with a little more heart, they have good ground to cover. –Paige Zuckerman