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
I Am Nice
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 = 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 = 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
Just Working Thru Some Shit
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