yungkong | Phases | Self-Released

yungkong
Phases

Self-Released
Street: 06.02
yungkong = Dean Blunt and Inga Copeland + APO · 

Where Phases stands out is its reliance on its source material as a foundation. It’s a three-track movement through wailing synths, watery ambience and, of all things, samples from various Donkey Kong games. In fact, the first two tracks are almost completely composed using the sounds and music from the SNES Donkey Kong Country series. Honestly, as someone who grew up on that material, Phases feels like an inventive release, embracing the strength of SNES-era music for more than just its nostalgia. On the first track, “F O R E S T,” a robotic voice flatly says as much, calling itself a vaporwave/seapunk revival. To me, vaporwave and its sub-genres often come off as gaudy and overly nostalgic, too ironic for their own good. But Phases finds the elegance within the genre. The melodies are pitched down and have a slushing quality to them, like treading slowly through knee-high water or trying to run in a dream. The second track, “ステッカ B U S T E D が壊れた,” makes a whole song from this technique, using Donkey Kong Country 2’s “Stickerbush Symphony” as a melodic backbone. It’s markedly different from “F O R E S T,” which builds off of another Donkey Kong 2 favorite, “Forest Interlude.”

Maybe I’m in the weeds pointing out the specific songs yungkong is playing with, but I really can’t divorce my childhood enjoyment of them from the way yunkong plumbs the soundscape. “ステッカ B U S T E D が壊れた” accentuates the original synth leads of “Stickerbush” with a slow beat, alternating through the left and right channels while the pitched-down background synths provide the classic backbone melody.

But the third track, “ J O J I ,” brings a completely original sound, no samples—a slow burn and a somber mood. “I don’t want to waste my time if I can’t be by your side,” it drones. Easily the best and most original track, it marinates and plods for a long time. At seven minutes, it can have a Lynch-like quality through its stuttered, robotic vocals and insistent deliberation. Phases has a wild but surprising variety that way—each song is tonally similar but distinct, still as mesmerizing as the material from which it’s built. –Parker Scott Mortensen

Mogwai | KIN (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack | Temporary Residence

Mogwai
KIN (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)

Rock Action Records (UK/EU) / Temporary Residence LTD (US)
Street: 08.31
Mogwai = Aphex Twin + Tycho – Ariel Pink

One summer, I listened to a single Mogwai song, “Auto Rock,” on repeat—almost every day, a couple times a day. It was finals week—just on the cusp of school finishing, and it was one of the only things that could calm me down while working on my thesis paper. I remember lying on a mattress in a spare bedroom after a roommate had moved out, my white, stained laptop and its glow illuminating my face while “Auto Rock” became progressively louder and more intense. I felt comfort as the track moved from quiet into overwhelming, even as I felt overwhelmed at the time. It was a satisfying loop, one that helped me work and stay focused. And as soon as I turned that paper in, I never listened to that song or Mogwai again—not for years.

Now I’m listening to KIN, Mogwai’s score to the movie of the same name. I haven’t seen the movie, but save for a track or two, I would have been surprised to learn, after the fact, that this album is meant as a soundtrack. It makes sense—that space, movements from relaxed to intense, airy to concrete, has always been Mogwai’s bread and butter. “Lo-fi, chill anime beats to study to,” but make it well-produced (I’ve been using the album that way, for what’s it’s worth.) Mogwai are the kind of band you can sit down and listen to attentively if you want to, but they’re equally apt as a  background to whatever your brain is really doing. Mogwai accentuate what you’re already feeling, and if you’re in an ambiguous mood, it might give you a noise to point to, to say, “Yeah, that’s where I’m at right now.”

KIN is a pretty straightforward album in that sense. Some tracks, like “We’re Not Done,” are easy-listening, feel-good anthems that are at best inoffensive. All the ingredients of good Mogwai are here—airy guitar, distant vocals, positive vibes—but in total it just feels merely competent. It’s good, but I can think of several Blood Orange songs I’d personally go to first, and plenty of other Mogwai songs too. “Donuts” is a good example of a song I actually come to Mogwai for: a dreamy buildup of percussion and synths that are completely unobtrusive, lulling your brain into a trance. I’d never really thought of Mogwai as trance, and maybe that’s because their percussion and guitar are always more present than the expectations of what makes something “trance” music,  On the other hand, that’s exactly what’s happening here. It’s music for the womb, still carrying the sense of comfort that “Auto Rock” brought me so many years back.

In other words, if you like Mogwai, you’ll probably get something from first hearing KIN and then seeing KIN when it releases with the album on Aug. 31. Having heard the album a lot now, I may actually go see the movie just to see how it all matches up, and I really doubt I would have otherwise.

SO, I caved and looked up the plot synopsis for the movie. “Armed with a mysterious weapon, an ex-con and his adopted teenage brother go on the run from a vengeful criminal and a gang of otherworldly soldiers.” Sure, I could see it. You could probably put this album on a hundred different things without it feeling dissonant, and honestly, I’m fine calling that a strength. –Parker Scott Mortensen

TOBACCO | Ripe & Majestic | Rad Cult

TOBACCO
Ripe & Majestic

Rad Cult
Street: 08.25
TOBACCO = Jasper Byrne + APO ザ·犬 。

The amount of meat on a beat tape depends on the artist. Some are prolific, like APO ザ·犬 。, and some simply dabble in the space, but TOBACCO’s work is a full-course meal. His newest release, Ripe & Majestic, is both a beat tape and a series of instrumentals from various projects over the last ten years. It’s a more significant release than what I’m used to from beat artists. Some tracks are four minutes long, and others are a simple 30 second bop. It’s exactly as advertised—harsh guitar over calm synths one moment, a banjo on the fritz the next. 

TOBACCO has a fertile style that makes it easy to imagine these tracks propping up other works. “Ming Julio” and “Washed” both could be the foundation of two wildly different songs. “Ming Julio” is begging for someone to lay down vocal work—and that’s the tricky thing about praising music that is more or less off the cutting room floor. “Washed” is a drizzling of synths and banjos whose noise eventually just collapse into a simple, consistent beat. It’s busy. It’s arresting! These tracks do interesting things, but sometimes you can sense that the concept isn’t totally tapped out.

That could come off as a dig, but it’s not. Ripe & Majestic has its own identity as an album despite being the sort of between-jobs, incoherent release that it is, and it’s more impressive still that these have been collecting for 10 years. The vibe is feverish and sweaty overall, sometimes reminiscent of Hotline Miami’s neon malaise. Certain tracks feel distinctly video gamey in different ways. “1-900-900-900” warbles and rests in a synth hook, and I can just feel myself mashing through dialogue. “Lawn Care Service” is gamey too, but more cheerful. “Usual Stallion” has a rough edge to it, like electronic saw blades cutting through digital wood.

And then other tracks feel cut from a different cloth completely. “Moss Mouth” is a slow trance of stray electronic noise that’s barely listenable. Beck makes an appearance on “Grape Areosmith” for a slightly ethereal Grimes-like track that feels like it could live in a good Spotify playlist. Ripe & Majestic is all over the place, but it’s so meaty in its 24 tracks (most of which are at least over two minutes) that there’s always something to chew on.

I have to imagine naming individual tracks in an album like this is a creative challenge because Ripe & Majestic has some winners. You’ve got “Pube Zone,” you’ve got “Awesome Shitty Body,” you’ve got “Wig Blows Off.” To some extent, I admire the brazenness of creating something that’s genuinely good and naming it “Piss Vader,” a track that’s very emblematic of Ripe & Majestic as a whole—it’s funky and shrill, meandering and weird as shit. It’s hard to turn off.

Majestic is the kind of album you explore more than you put on. When I listened to it, I skipped around constantly, almost as though I were tuning a radio, looking for the sweet spot of what I was into at the moment. The album is offered through TOBACCO’s site as a vinyl, cassette or CD, and while I don’t like being prescriptive, I can’t imagine listening to it linearly. Put it on when you’re doing work and be loose with it. Let yourself go down the rabbit hole of whatever catches you, whether it’s “Eye Punch” or “Feels Like Nothing.” You’ll probably find a track or two that sticks oddly with you if you decide to fuck with it. Listen to the release and buy it at tobaxxo.bandcamp.com. –Parker Scott Mortensen

City at World's End | Megatropolis

City at World’s End
Megatropolis

Self-Released
Street: 07.15
City at World’s End = Ben Prunty x Perturbator

City at World’s End describes its music as a “single man sci-fi melodic techstep project made from the fractured dreams of androids, cyber-city frequencies, and pure cyberian dreamscapes.” Cyberian isn’t a word, and if the rest of those words mean nothing to you and you’re busy deciphering it, go ahead and stop. Megatropolis cures any headache you’ll create for yourself by immersing you in the throes of high-strung nightlife.

Bear with me for this touchpoint: The best reference I have for Megatropolis is exactly half the soundtrack to the 2012 masterpiece FTL: Faster Than Light, which was composed by Ben Prunty. I say half because FTL dynamically ratchets up the tension through its music whenever you engage in its space battles, and Metropolis is occupied by this abstract sense of conflict. Half the time in FTL you fly through space against low-tension, relaxing space synths, and then, whenever a hostile ship approaches, new instruments emerge and existing ones gain intensity. It’s an effective way to exacerbate tension. Megatropolis isn’t built for the exact same effect, but like Prunty’s work, it chooses when to foreground restrained tonal shifts. A high-BPM track like “fiberline traveller” can feel overbearing one moment and restrained the next. “magnetro sky” reins in its underlying beats for moments of brief respite. “hoverboarding tripmines” is a synth minefield of moment-to-moment shifts in instrumentation, a kind of whiplash. It’s like taking a night drive in a city you’ve never been to.

All this is accomplished in a way that feels decidedly cyberpunk. “Cyberian” might not be a word, but it’s a more personable stand-in for the essence of cyberpunk—alienation wrought in a world increasingly reliant on technologies that stress class stratification. It’s scrappy, grungy and ethereal, offering a sense of place. And perhaps Megatropolis works because it’s produced by just one person. Words and phrases like “techstep” and “cyberian dreamscape” obfuscate Megatropolis core desperation for that of cyberpunk’s—a sense of connection in a hyper-connected world. Though it indulges a fantasy, it’s not a bright one, and Megatropolis conjures a dystopia to match. Download the album via bandcamp at cityatworldsend.bandcamp.com or listen on Spotify. –Parker Scott Mortensen

Emily Brown | Bee Eater | Song Club Records

Emily Brown
Bee Eater

Song Club Records
Street: 08.31
Emily Brown = Angus & Julia Stone x Gillian Welch – Amanda Palmer

Emily Browns voice is something I never want to turn off. Her songs are so good that I want to sing along with them, but refuse to because then I wouldn’t be hearing her sing. Each song on her newest album, Bee Eater, has its own kind of whimsy that’s made it, for me, a perfect segue into autumn—what I consider a comfort season. This is the “lazy Sunday in October” album, the “I don’t want to do anything this afternoon” album—the “big-sweater” album.

I didn’t know Emily Brown before this album, so one of the first thoughts I had listening to Bee Eater is that Brown has a wide vocal range—she’s undeniably folksy, but sometimes her voice is tinged with the familiar playfulness of Regina Spektor or dreamy, Lana Del Rey vibes. “Giving Up” even exudes Ben Folds melodrama. “Yes, I loved you / But now I’m three years older / And 18 will always play fool to 22.” A lot of names jumped at me initially, and I suppose that’s partly what makes Bee Eater a comfy autumnal album—but I kept it on repeat long enough to let Brown carve out her own voice in my head. It’s earned that space.

“That’s Not Me” starts the album and is what first made me think of Spektor—Brown is assertive in her lyrics and in her talent, musing on her own worries and strengths about who she is. “Can I be trusted? / I worry I can’t / At least I am who I say I am.” It’s a strong lead for the album. My favorite track is “Take Me Up Slowly,” which feels the most vulnerable. “I don’t think you’ll hurt me / I think you’re worthy / I think you’re kind.” It’s the eighth track on the 10-track album, so if you’re like me you’ll have long been disarmed by Brown’s earnest lyrics already, but these are still some of my favorite.

Bee Eater is like the instrumental version of itself, by which I mean to say it would be ridiculous ever to not want to hear Brown singing. Listen to this album on Spotify and buy it at emilybrown.bandcamp.com. –Parker Scott Mortensen

Sally Yoo | Tender | Self-Released

Sally Yoo
Tender

Self Released
Street 07.30
Sally Yoo = Twin Sister + Disasterpiece

Sally Yoo’s Tender is a slow, warm and melancholic album. It feels like massaging a piece of meat. Formerly known for being the bassist of local indie-rock number, Chalk, Yoo has taken a different approach to her solo-release. It’s a good one, and Tender is absolutely good enough not to need a good metaphor.

“Try Again” is a soothingly monotonous song that brings a cool kind of melancholy. The methodical beat is pinned by Yoo’s quiet voice. She becomes loud as the music layers in the chorus, but it’s still laid back and chill. The whole thing crescendos toward the end as the layers build and play loudly—it’s the kind of unassuming song that lulls you, but is over before you’ve even taken time to really consider it. I found myself humming it later.

“Rejoice” is much the same. Simple synths melt onto you and make a comforting cocoon for three minutes or so. Yoo is talented at tying the music together with her voice, the factor that ultimately gives it that mesmerizing feeling. Each of these tracks is incredibly chill in one way other another. If it weren’t the title of the album, tender would absolutely be the word I would reach for first in describing it.

The track “Tender” is absolutely the standout, even as it shares the same qualities as the other tracks. It’s patient, plodding, soothing and comforting, which is all achieved by that melt between melody and voice. If I had to pick a song to show off why this album is worthwhile and Yoo is worth paying attention to, it’d be this one. It certainly feels the most vulnerable against the other two tracks. “You’re making this so much harder than I ever expected / Maybe we should spend some time away / We knew this was coming, baby / Should be no surprise / I had poison deep inside me / smiling in disguise.” The singer stays earnest but culpable. It feels like stretching after a workout, caring for a sore, nursing an overextension.

The album art is a crystal that shares visual similarities to a a piece of meat, which is not a way I’m used to thinking about meat. Raw and tender, it’s the part before it becomes the thing that’s fried or baked or just cooked and eaten. It’s really nice to hear something with that kind of sound and for it to sound so natural, not chewed up or wholly yet prepared. It just is where it’s at. Give Tender  a listen  on Yoo’s Bandcamp page: sallyyoo.bandcamp.com. –Parker Scott Mortensen

Shamir | Revelations | Father/Daughter Records

Shamir
Revelations

Father/Daughter Records
Street: 11.03
Shamir = NAO + Michael Jackson + Janis Joplin + Les Sins

I didn’t give Shamir the kind of first listen he deserved. I did pay attention when I first heard him—that voice! How can you not be curious as to whom it belongs? Shamir signed to XL for his debut album, Ratchet, and he deserved that for the sheer variety he brought to the table—I just never stopped to listen to the whole album. His countertenor voice melds with whatever genre or sound he’s playing with. It’s hard to categorize, and in retrospect it feels so much more deliberate. Ratchet had songs you could play at a house party and songs you’d play at a wake.

It’s a reminder of the talent that was relentlessly asserting itself in 2015. (The best thing about 2017 might be that it gave all those artists time to release new work. It’s been a good year for art.) Thing is, Shamir really stood up to all the new acts, and this album, Revelations, reigns in the energy for a much more pared-down sound that ultimately feels much more expressive and personal than Ratchet. Lead track “Games” is cold and repetitive, anxiety inducing, but it’s Shamir’s heartfelt voice that guides you and grounds you: “I don’t have much to offer you / But my soul, my heart, and everything I’ve been through.” The second track, “You Have a Song,” lays a chunky bass line against a wailing guitar, and he drones, “Your smoke is heavy like your soul / And I pretend like I don’t know, but I know.” The lyrics are always sweet, sometimes saccharine and seldom bitter. There’s a warmth to Revelations that was backgrounded in Ratchet—not only is Shamir still exploring how his voice pairs with different sounds, but his presentation is comforting, and his lyrics are kind. “Blooming,” “Cloudy” and “Float” all are anchored in guitar, expressing a rise, confliction and resolution in lyric and sound. “Blooming” is your carefree, jukebox banger (“You know I’m different, I can’t be the same / But I feel we missed it, and spring finally came / I don’t want the pollen and hay fever to kick in”), while “Cloudy” is moody and weary, Shamir singing, “Through cloudy eyes it’s hard to see / The bright side to everything / We gotta learn to love ourselves / No matter on earth, no matter in hell.” Finally, “Float” feels warm and reaffirming, Shamir slipping into a ballad of determination, always moving toward another day, the sort of song you want playing at last call.

Revelations lacks the theatrics of all of Shamir’s previous work. There’s nothing to dethrone “On The Regular” as a genderless sort of Broke With Expensive Taste with some Toro y Moi sprinkled in. “90’s Kids” feels the most passionately assertive, but it still lacks a danceable beat. Revelations has none of that, and I trust it to be completely deliberate because what’s here is drenched with a loving sound that is disarming at this moment in time. The best track is “Astral Plane.” It feels intimate and warm, like an old scarf in winter. “Beam me up to space,” Shamir sings. “And I know the world will miss me so / But I’ll be working on the astral plane.” There’s a flavor of escapism here you don’t find often, one that acknowledges change and uncertainty but tacitly wraps you into its departure from Earth, knowing that each visit away is another time we must come down. –Parker Scott Mortensen

ASTÉRISME | TERROIR | Self-Released

ASTÉRISME
TERROIR

Self-Released
Street: 05.07
ASTÉRISME = HOME + Pictureplane +Crystal Castles

ASTÉRISME’s debut EP, TERROIR, defies neat categorization. While at times it feels like standard SoundCloud fare, the duo Bill Miller and Micah Johnston have drawn from the internet’s vast repository of influences to create something more than just a SoundCloud beat tape. “SLEET” is reminiscent of HOME’s ambient euphoria, “TUNDRA” carries bits of Crystal Castles in its ethereal sound, and “CAPSIZED” has a mean drone beat you can hear rattling all over the internet—but the EP doesn’t feel defined by any single sound or influence.

TERROIR begins with “SLEET,” its warmest and most thrumming song. It’s built up by what feels like the beat of a heart, an expanding and contracting “ump, whump” repetition with a single synth snare punctuating the buildup. The heart bursts, splashing into a happy bath. It’s easily the most listenable track, and I figured that it was setting the tone for the rest of the EP, but no. What immediately follows in “CAPSIZED” plays off the mellow burn of “SLEET” into something even more droning and cacophonous, more frenetic and hollow, as though the warm bath is long gone behind you. Perhaps “SUBMERGED” is meant to reinforce this feeling, leading with a disparate vocal sample, pleading, “Down, down, down / Pulling me down,” before drowning in its own beat. “TUNDRA” sounds like a straight up blizzard. The end track, “TULIPS,” riffs The Bilinda Butchers’ song of the same name but gives the song’s chillwave melody a harsh snare backbone and yanks the dreamy vocals, solidifying the bizarre range of ASTÉRISME.

Only five songs, 15 minutes long and varied in its soundscape, TERROIR flows more than it lingers. It is a product of the weird and delightfully strange corners of the internet, which foster all sorts of scenes that are simultaneously derivative and innovative. TERROIR is one of those EPs that reconciles this fact for the better. Its album art suggests a vaporwave influence (a low-texture 3D model of a snowy mountain—something out of an N64 game, perhaps) with its title printed as though from a VHS camcorder, displaying a primitive, digital square where the accent aigu on its first “e” should be. This is just what TERROIR is—a seemingly categorizable mishmash of styles founded on chill, droning beats that don’t quite amount to just a mixtape but a proper EP worth listening to, so long as you appreciate the experimental world of SoundCloud artists. –Parker Scott Mortensen

Photo: lmsorenson.net

Walking into the performance space for Other/Self is a little unnerving. Sugar Space Arts Warehouse is a jarringly apt fit for the director, Mark Macey with space to let him and his actors play. It was a one time performance on Feb. 7 that I believe deeply depended on individual experience. So, in an effort to convince you to attend a Macey production, let me tell you how I experienced Other/Self, a confluence of four performances spread across two floors.

As the show begins, the room’s energy starts to take shape. Macey kicks off the performance by performing upbeat electronic music on the bottom floor. Macey’s brother, David Macey, starts opening paint cans, which soon walks up a ladder to pour over a simple, wooden structure draped in gray cloth. I walk upstairs as the space begins to warm with energy. Here, Jessica Graham is spinning on a platform, wearing a red blindfold and spinning a broom coated in paint that spreads a circle surrounding her. Along this circle are mirrors reflecting upward. As she recites a poem about concepts of the self and group identity, a projection of images envelopes her and creates an odd shape on the corner wall she occupies. Watching her, I can hear Macey’s music downstairs, but it’s only when I peer down over the railing that I see the dancers: Nora Lang, Dat Nguyen and Sofia Sant’Anna-Skites.

When David Macey pours a can of paint slowly, it’s nearly the same color as the draped cloth. As Mark’s music becomes more energetic, the dancers spread red paint on each other, but I have no clue from where it came—it appeared suddenly while I was upstairs, and it seems to spread through touch, sparking a conviviality. Meanwhile, a second coat of paint spills over the cloth; it’s a salmon color, and I feel it so much more than the first, bland coat.

As the dancers move and the audience remains on the sidelines, I feel a surge of energy flow through the room and into me. I find myself wanting to jump in and be a part of the performance, to cross the boundary that we were actually expressly permitted to transgress at the top of the performance: Macey had told us to “treat the dancers like stray cats”—and so I did. I walked into their space, the only person to do so, and I felt myself start to move and sway with them ever so slightly. They felt hot, unafraid to touch each other’s bodies or faces, leaning on each other and collapsing on one another. I felt the giddiness of being seen. The next color poured down: a dark blue that eclipses the pink the almost entirely. It drips freely onto the floor and begins to pool.

At this point I walk back upstairs to check on Graham, and before I can I suddenly I hear a shriek. I look over the railing—a dancer has collapsed on the ground—I have no idea what has happened. The red paint that was once a connective tissue now feels like an untreated wound. An ugly yellow now coats the clothed structure, and because of its shape and the precision of David’s pour, the paint now completely covers all previous coats, mixing only at the bottom.

I move back in between the dancers. No one else is taking the opportunity to enter their space, and so I feel an exciting energy as the audience watches me move between them. I feel conscious, and just of myself but as a performer. Another dancer screams out of seemingly nowhere and falls to the ground. Only one dancer remains, and it’s as if they now dance with me alone. I can’t help but smile.

Soon, as the third person collapses, I suddenly feel as though I’m in the in middle of murder scene. Three corpses surround me—each lifeless. And now the only performer left is me.

As the music ends, David continues to pour paint, and upstairs Graham continues to recite their chant. David announces the end of the performance, but I feel as though I am still performing, like I can never return from the boundary I crossed.

Awareness was a key sensation to this piece. Other/Self embraces the idea of opportunity cost, that paying attention to any one performance may cost you a meaningful moment from another. Stare as the paint cascades down the cloth stand and you may miss the dancers collapsing onto each other in a moment of tenderness—at the same time, watching the dancers, you might miss Graham reach a breaking point in her mantra-like cantation. There’s a sense that something important is always going on in each space, and as an audience member your greatest (and only) resource is your own attention.

So what actually constitutes the total performance? I can only tell you my answer. Whatever you choose to emphasize, whatever scraps your perception gathers from the half-hour builds into a unique, cohesive whole where perspective creates a rhythm of awareness. Implicit in my reading is that comprehension, sensation and consciousness itself erupts out of curiosity—that our impulses to understand almost always end up framing the way meaning is constructed.

And what drives that curiosity? A show like Other/Self is a chance to approach these impulses as tiny pieces. What intrigues you in the moment? Do you watch the dancers, do you listen to the music, do you listen to the poem and hear the music and the shrieking downstairs and try to take it all together? What details do you miss then? And most importantly, do you dare to leave the consciousness of the audience—be subsumed into the performance? What becomes of you if you do?

I recommend looking into what Macey does next, and you can see examples of what I’ve described for yourself at www.markmacey.work. 

(L–R) Shalee Cooper and Diane Stewart work together to build Modern West into a fruitful contemporary art resource for the community. Photo: @cezaryna

I met the owner and curator of Modern West, Diane Stewart, and felt how her influencial her presence is. She’s a powerhouse of artistic curation and collection, as she has been on boards for multiple organizations such as The Leonardo and ZAP (Zoo, Arts and Park services), the Utah Symphony and Utah Opera. She and Modert West Gallery Director and Curator Shalee Cooper—an impressive woman in her own right—both have an intense vision for this new space. Stewart has been traveling the world to art fairs, galleries and museums to build this vision, and you can feel the weight of that research when she describes how it’s made her think about the opportunity now in front of her: to expand and shift from being a fine arts gallery to a contemporary one.

In order to reach Modern West’s new location (412 S. 700 West in the historic Salt Lake Engineering Building), you must physically approach it from the west. It’s as though you must meet the gallery on its own terms, as you must reckon with the space itself. When I saw it, the new gallery was unfilled yet already humming with energy. High ceilings, brick walls, space for installations with movable walls to reset and redesign the flow—when you dream of an art gallery, you could easily be dreaming of this space.

“People in the west are different than people in the east. They experience their lives differently—there’s more space around them. We don’t live so vertically here. I talk to people who have lived in both places and ask them, ‘Well, what do you like about life here?’ And they tell me: ‘This!’” Stewart gestures upward and outward, as if to point to the amount of room and space itself. “It’s hard to quantify,” she says, “but it is a sense of openness and friendliness that is very different from an urban experience on the East or the West Coast.” The desire to communicate this is what has fueled the move in venue.

Stewart’s current location on the corner of 200 East and 200 South (closing on March 18) has been a great starting point. As Cooper points out, though, Stewart has evolved as a person and collector. So, too, has the gallery, which will focus more on contemporary art that attempts to excite and engage in ways the new space affords. “I started the gallery just over five years ago,” Stewart says. “I’ve been a longtime collector and always engage with a lot of public art … In my collecting past, I developed a lot of relationships with artists, most of whom did not have representation in Utah.” Now that Stewart is well-established, the time for change in space and attitude has come. Cooper notes that this inherently allows for more kinds of art, such as sculpture and installation pieces.

Stewart’s stable started with about 30 artists, five of whom were Indigenous artists—an important curatorial aim for Stewart. “Modern West is not a ‘cowboy and indian’ gallery—it is really a gallery that reflects the contemporary west … We’re firmly rooted in the west, so all the artists we represent have some connection to the west, either through inspiration or where they live or have lived.” Modern West challenges its artists constantly, making sure they never rest on their laurels and are always growing. Last year, when the legislature voted on changing the liquor laws, Modern West’s artists were all asked to create art on the subject, one piece of which will headline as a video installation when the new gallery space opens. “It’s a uniquely western experience,” Stewart says, and it showcases the move to more conceptual pieces.

Another significant opportunity that Modern West brings is a Taschen bookstore, one of the few locations for the artbook publisher to exist between the coasts. It fits directly into how Stewart envisions that Modern West can be accessible. “We’ll do a curated selection of Taschen books that will include art, architecture and design. We’re really hoping the gallery presents to our patron something at every price point and that everybody can engage with something in the gallery, whether it’s through art, literature, design—something.” It’s by no means meant to be a one-stop shop for artistic curiosity, but Stewart does want to expand what she and the artists can offer as much as possible. Part of what enables this is Stewart’s decision to represent a gender parity of artists, especially tackling the concept of the west, which Stewart points out has often been framed by a masculine and colonialist narrative. Fostering more female and Indigenous artists help combat that.

Perhaps what stands out to me most of all, after talking with Stewart and Cooper, is their commitment not just to art and expressions of the contemporary west but of how they relate to the artists with whom they work and display. Stewart describes them as a family, as people who come to each other for help and support. Seeing the gallery bare, I’m only more excited to see it open and brimming.

The Modern West new space opening is set for April 19, 7–9 p.m. Visit and feel the energy for yourself this spring.

Posted in Art.