Martian Cult | Cheater's Wave | Self-Released

Martian Cult
Cheater’s Wave

Self-Released
Street: 03.09
Martian Cult = Sonic Youth + Gary Numan + David Bowie

Martian Cult’s Cheater’s Wave seamlessly blends post-punk and classic new wave, brashly bucking old school genrefication yet maintaining two distinct and historically tense influences. This quick, crisp EP is a shotgun wedding of no-wave and new-wave birthing unmistakably bold progeny. Ap propos to their moniker, songs like “Till the Grass is Gone” and “Lonely Android” open with retro, spacey synths and Bowie-esque vocals reminiscent of the cosmic glam of the Ziggy Stardust era. Martian Cult’s lyrics in “Dangerous” are nihilistic, confrontational, clever and thick with social alarmism yet counter-pointed with tiny moments of tickling pop melodies and hooks just enough to be accessible to all ears. The juxtaposition of sound influences on the EP feels wholly intentional, as though the five-piece band were intent to bemuse you with tongues planted firmly and consciously in cheek. Tracks such as “Control” offer sudden sonic twists and turns via stark electronic interludes and skillful guitar solos, displaying a deft ability to manage the eclectic methods of their craft. The obvious, urgent punk narrative of the EP occasionally feels trite and redundant, yet a confident musicality remains fresh across each track and helps keep the listener’s interest. Cheater’s Wave is weird, enjoyable noise that feels capable of mingling with multiple environments and audiences like a musical chameleon while maintaining a standout coolness factor that catches and keeps attention.

Able Caine | Doxology | Self-Released

Able Caine
Doxology

Self-Released
Street: 12.01
Able Caine  = Radiohead + Nirvana

Salt Lake’s own Able Caine derives from the music of Thom Yorke, sans big-budget electronic tinkering, and that of Kurt Cobain, without the fragile, swollen ego. Doxology is deeply experimental, marked by occasional sounds of nature and strange studio interludes such as a car ignition and clicking metronome in “Devil’s Range,” a track lasting over a whopping seven minutes. As promised by its title, Doxology is a folk hymnal rich with religious symbolism yet tinged with struggle and genuine dissonance. “When Heroin Feels Like Home” is an honest inspection of the costly comforts of addiction, a smart and strange interruption to the Judeo-Christian themes of its fellow tracks. Chaotic and snarled at times, several songs in this album seem to induce a quiet panic in the listener, as evidenced by “Score.” “Home,” as well as many of the songs in this collection, offer pained lyrics and lonely feelings that are regularly met with a pretty sounding acoustic guitar and sometimes uncomfortable minor chords.  A sudden hopeful, soothing sea of change comes along just in time with Track 10, “Holy Holy,” as though an intentional baptismal catharsis to the tensions of its predecessors. “Sanctuary” switches gears yet again to a fun, grungy acoustic rock tune with an improvised and angry edge, something of an early Green Day demo track. Caine serves up a skeptical and cynical finish to the album with “The Game,” a sour reflection of power struggle and disillusionment with a rebel message at the tail-end, possibly a meditation on current socio-political affairs. Altogether unplugged and undistilled, Doxology is simple and honest with a few sharp and always interesting edges. –Paige Zuckerman

Dirty Projectors | Lamp Lit Prose | Domino

Dirty Projectors
Lamp Lit Prose

Domino
Street: 07.13
Dirty Projectors = David Byrne + Yes + a pinch of Frank Zappa

Brooklyn-based David Longstreth and his brother Jake Longstreth began tinkering in 2002 during David’s time at Yale. The seeds of those earliest explorations would form under the ongoing moniker Dirty Projectors in 2003. For a decade, Dirty Projectors have existed (with more than a few membership changes) under London-based independent label Domino, offering seven LPs and whetting the appetites of post-punk, alternative R&B and indie rock aficionados. Dirty Projectors stump genrefication, with influences from folk and prog rock to experimental and hip-hop. Their sound may be experienced as achingly hipster, the aural equivalent of avocado toast—that dish that no one wants to admit they love on a Sunday brunch and everyone angsts about adoring. As with prior albums, this newest addition may elicit a few stubborn eyerolls at moments, but ultimately leads to a tapping foot and bobbing head of overall approval.

Lamp Lit Prose is the eighth installment in the Projectors’ catalogue, starting funky and fun with “Right Now featuring Syd.” The wackiness amps up on the second track, “Break-Thru,” an ebullient and glitchy ode to the manic pixie dream girl and an undeniably enjoyable early bite of ear candy. Lamp Lit Prose is full of featured artists across the indie roster, including Portland-based Dear Nora and Fleet FoxesRobin Pecknold. The addition of several skilled collaborators is an unsurprising and even compulsory step for a band deep into their career, and in this case, a bit overbaked, occasionally detracting from the music rather than notably enhancing it. This is especially present in the fourth track—R&B funk ditty “I Feel Energy”—and in consideration of the brevity of this 10-track album. So many collaborators feels a bit braggadocios and reflects the bands veteranship and arrival, but it is borderline needless. To its saving grace, the band keeps the featured artists aptly background in most of said tracks, somewhat mitigating the commotion of too many cooks.

Lyrically, Lamp Lit Prose is clever and well-hewn, with linguistic aptitude that is not excessive. Imagery, metaphor and analogy are well integrated into the album, as the title would smartly suggest. An overall tonal narrative is hard to define, which seems appropriate for the eclecticism of the Dirty Projectors’ sound. There are truly no clear containers that the Projectors belong in, only those into which moments and aspects of their music can be crumbled up and sprinkled. Tracks like “Blue Bird” display this otic esoterica expertly. “What Is The Time” hands off a Motown delight with whimsical sampling and funkadelic falsetto, neatly one of the strongest tracks on the album. “You’re The One (feat. Robin Pecknold & Rostam)” and “(I Wanna) Feel It All (feat. Dear Nora)” are the wrapping tracks of Lamp Lit Prose, finishing on a slightly dulcet, acid-jazzy vibe. 

Lamp Lit Prose is a tight collection of tracks that will refresh your summer palate like a crisp, hoppy, hipster craft-brewed IPA. Seekers of funky, chunky and slightly oddball backyard patio tunes will appreciate this album, and listeners attentive to interesting and thoughtful lyricism will catch moments of verbal gold. If you solidly identify with any of these imageries, Dirty Projectors won’t likely disappoint this July. –Paige Zuckerman

Gina Gleason. Photo: ColtonMarsalaPhotography.com

Crucialfest 7 expanded the festival’s breadth of genres, and there was something for everyone. From local heroes to out-of-town music legends, Crucialfest 7 touted a robust lineup. SLUG contributing writer Paige Zuckerman reports on her festival standouts, followed by SLUG photographer Colton Marsala’s photos.


Westing @ Crucialfest 09.03

Local post-hardcore band Westing played the Exigent Stage at Crucialfest 7 on Sunday evening at The Gateway. A passionate performance by ardent and energetic frontman Matt Mascarenas (Heartless Breakers, who recently released a new single) took literal and figurative center stage. It was near impossible not to get pulled into his intensity, especially in moments of brief disclosures regarding the current and past life struggles informing the music. The band was awkwardly smashed into the beautiful but acoustically overwhelming hall at the small indoor stage surrounded by white walls, chandeliers and a black-and-white chessboard marble floor. The contemporary glam of the space was an odd yet pleasing counterpoint to Westing’s post-hardcore/screamo sound. Playing the whole of their recent EP, I Haven’t Been Feeling Myself, meant that the small but enthralled audience received a solid taste of pseudo-grunge, semi-hardcore heartbreak anthems with aggressive vocals and a tender underbelly. Westing’s music is rough and angsty yet sometimes melodic and sweet, a tension that seems to translate well onstage as far as sound goes. With exception to their drummer, Mascarenas’ bandmates are somewhat stiff in comparison to his sweaty yet strangely angry-sexy performance.  I would have preferred to hear more tunes from their 2016 catalog as well, however, their recent work is decidedly a departure from the more acoustic ethos of their former releases, so perhaps old songs would have felt somewhat shoehorned into the set. Though oddly fleeting, their CF7 performance proved that Westing are certainly one of the most adept local and loud rock bands.

 

Minus The Bear @ Crucialfest 09.03

Seattle indie-rock band Minus The Bear regaled the S&S Stage at Crucialfest 7 with their strong concoction of alternative guitar and electronic influences. Sophisticated time signatures matched nicely with sounds reminiscent of Seattle coffee shops before those shops went global and lost their unique cool. Having had nearly no prior exposure to the band, I listened with beginner’s ears and found myself connecting to the music in unanticipated ways. The band themselves displayed youthful energy and a contemporary feel, especially in considering their tenure in the indie scene. A decently sizable crowd seemed to indicate a proper local following, including a myriad of logo tees and cheering voices when lead vocalist Jake Snyder indicated they’d finally play “that one song” everyone was hoping for. As an outsider, I had no clue what this lauded tune entailed, yet by the end of the set, I was solidly on Minus The Bear’s team and properly glad I had stumbled upon their sound.

 

Built To Spill @ CrucialFest 09.03

Idaho natives Built To Spill served up a solid dose of Woodstock-esque indie rock in a classic, jam-sesh-style set. Vocalist and renowned master guitarist Doug Martsch was at his best making his numerous effects pedals nearly weep for mercy. It would have been little surprise if the specter of Jimi Hendrix had manifested mid-stage to offer Martsch a quick, crisp high-five after several of his wild solos.

The band successfully went about evoking a bygone era with both their sound and cracked, faded, vintage Fender amps. From their live performance, it was clear this band has been around the block with a set that validated their eight-album, 25-year timespan that was subtly stunning in its musicianship. They played several popular songs, yet the struggle of the set was a tendency to blur the lines between them, thus making the numerous electric guitar meanderings feel slightly ceaseless and indistinguishable. The crowd was notably deferent and refreshingly diverse, with many excited and even ecstatic faces mouthing the lyrics to every song and swaying with familiarity. The performance contained nearly no showmanship beyond Martsch’s fast fingers flashing across the frets. The three slightly worn band members with their bald heads and trucker caps appeared as though they’d stumbled out of their garage on a Sunday morning with a splitting, middle-aged hangover. There was nothing to show off other than the music. It was obvious that Built To Spill are simple sonic scientists deftly plying their trade with no explanation or unnecessary preamble, including minimal crowd engagement, yet the audience celebrated their craft nonetheless. –Paige Zuckerman


Click images for captions

Them Are Us Too | Amends | Dais

Them Are Us Too
Amends

Dais
Street: 06.29
Them Are Us Too = Kate Bush + Alvvays

Them Are Us Too began with the Bay Area’s Kennedy Ashlyn and Cash Askew in 2012. After a demo and several small-potatoes gigs across the coast, the two curried a cult following. In December 2016, Askew passed away in the shocking Ghost Ship warehouse fire in Oakland, leaving a slew of incomplete demos and broken hearts alongside the deaths of 36 concertgoers that night. Ashlyn eventually revisited the recordings of their project, adding new compositions. The result is the heartrending and lovely Amends, which Ashlyn describes as, “a collection of songs that would have been the second Them Are Us Too record. This release is an amendment to our catalog cut short—a final gift to our family, friends and fans.” Lovers of the sparkling sounds of the former duo’s first release will find Amends all the more lovely and enlightened.

Eighties-inspired pop shoegaze is the brand of Amends, with a touch of the ethereal and tragic. A sparse six tracks makes up the EP, driving home the tense energy of acceptance and wildly altered expectations in the face of loss. “Angelene” opens like a refulgent ray of lonely light, setting the stage for a certain divinity in the sonic persona of Amends. Although the overarching narrative of the collection is appropriately melancholic, the combination of soundscape and lyrics is resoundingly hopeful and spiritual. “Grey Water” delves into the depths of longing grief, with sad and soaring vocals that resonate tuneful wails at their crescendo. A lonesome guitar loop strings through the track, locking the listener into the cyclical sadness of the song, eliciting a wealth of empathy. “Floor” is frenetic and frustrated, like clutching an aching head in clawing hands and grasping to make sense of the senseless. The pitch of Amends detours with this track, followed by “No One,” with a pulsing desperation that acknowledges the inherent desolation of the end of things. The nearly 10-minute track “Could Deepen” returns the listener to the beginning, inviting us into a slow, gentle sleepiness, leading toward a quiet acceptance and stepping closer to solace. The title track closes the narrative with an ambient lullaby, making peace from crisis and completing a sonic simulation of the chaos and beauty of the life cycle.

It’s difficult to absorb Amends without facing one’s own lived experiences with loss and struggling hope. This is an EP that feels particularly salient amid broadening conversations on death, suicide, addiction and numbness. When considered with its creators’ stories and the larger tragedy of their separation, Amends is full of heart and hardship—with an overwhelming seed of hope. The EP’s introspection keeps it from feeling superficial and soulless, remaining accessible on numerous levels. Amends is a loving and complicated epitaph to its lost collaborator, and a sobering reminder of the losses the musical community suffers when one of its own is taken. –Paige Zuckerman

The Aces | When My Heat Felt Volcanic | Red Bull Records

The Aces
When My Heart Felt Volcanic

Red Bull Records
Street: 04.06
The Aces = HAIM + Tegan & Sara + The Go-Go’s

Provo alt-pop quartet The Aces are Utah’s badass sweethearts, having achieved national success for their sparkling, smart guitar and synth-driven tunes. The Aces rose to the larger stage in 2017 with the release of their first EP, I Don’t Like Being Honest. After the attention of several national indie publications and NPR, as well as successful tour stops, The Aces established themselves as artists on the rise. Our ears are graced with their 13-track debut album, When My Heart Felt Volcanic, heaping with pretty and slightly edgy new tracks and including the album version of their EP hit “Stuck.” The album opens with the aptly titled “Volcanic Love,” a cleanly produced track with beautiful indie vocals and ringing guitar riffs. “Just Like That” is a smoldering, melodic “F-you“ with yummy synths and programmed drums. Massively ’80s sounds bombard in “Strong Enough,” evoking Pat Benatar and angular shoulder pads stuffed in loudly colored blazers … in the best kind of way.

As an unabashed fan of electronically hefty pop, I was pleased all the way through this album with its nostalgic influences. “Bad Love” even brings some funk into the mix, displaying The Aces’ ability to play the board. The album closes with “Hurricane,” a soft, sad piano ballad and “Waiting For You,” a smooth, sexy and ultra-cool track that proved to be my favorite of the entire album. The Aces offer acerbic, confrontational lyrics that serve as an interesting pairing with their semi-bubbly sounds. The combination crafts an appealing glimpse into rebellion against the pressures to be sweet, smiling and palatable. Perhaps “girl power” is too outdated a term for these women, yet their sound is full of feminine empowerment nonetheless. As with many successful smart-pop acts of the day, it’s sometimes a bit difficult to discern when and where The Aces are a band and when they are vocalists set to über-produced electronic formulas. Answering the demand for traditional rock-format bands to blend into the pop scenery may be a smart move for the sake of market success, and it appears The Aces are balancing that carefully without losing their identity. They seem to be squarely on the forefront of the current femme-force of indie pop music, a sound and personality not likely to fall from favor any time soon. When My Heart Felt Volcanic is a solid entrance on the global scene, and a local offering worthy of your favorite playlists. –Paige Zuckerman

Eichlers | Bedroom Communities

Eichlers
Bedroom Communities

Self-Released
Street: 07.13
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.
Paige Zuckerman

Larusso | if this is the way | Self-Released

Larusso
if this is the way

Self-Released
Street: 06.03
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 | Juneau | Self-Released

Michael Barrow & the Tourists
Juneau

Self-Released
Street: 05.12
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-Places

The National Parks
Places

Self-Released
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