PWR BTTM

PWR BTTM
Ugly Cherries

Father/Daughter Records & Miscreant Records
Street: 09.18
PWR BTTM = Midtown + Glen Meadmore

PWR BTTM’s latest release is something as sensual and raw as the title Ugly Cherries might suggest. Working within the queercore genre, Ben Hopkins (vocals, guitar) and Liv Bruce (drums, vocals) provide you, your boyfriend and your boyfriend’s boyfriend with an exciting blend of ’90s-punk-inspired/indie-pop-fueled tunes that end up sounding similar to Weezer’s Blue Album and Pinkerton—covered, of course, in Urban Decay’s Catfight lipstick. Yet, Ugly Cherries isn’t without its surprises. Both Hopkins and Bruce flex their musical muscles, from soaring vocals and exceptional stick-work to touches of ’70s stadium rock and surf rock. Lyrically, PWR BTTM are writing near punk-standard themes: breakups (“C U Around”), relationship near-misses (“West Texas”), future/ideal romances (“I Wanna Boi”), social anxieties (“Nu 1”), and meditations on seemingly insignificant events (“Dairy Queen”). Ultimately, Ugly Cherries is a “gay-mazing” (“House in Virginia”), sonically-diverse and boisterous half-hour ride—worthy of the most elite playlist. –Z. Smith

Charlatan – Nothing to Gain

Charlatan – Nothing to Gain

Charlatan
Nothing to Gain

Self-Released
Street: 03.11
Charlatan = Avenged Sevenfold + Pierce the Veil

Charlatan’s Nothing to Gain is a veritable punch to the throat—it hits fast and hard, leaving one in a state of shock while gasping for air. If you ever find yourself missing the good ol’ work of Chiodos—you know, back when they were swallowing the best of screamo and metal, sloshing the mixture around in their bellies, then hucking the concoction up to make a couple of really solid albums—then Nothing to Gain is the EP for you.

Despite only consisting of six songs, this EP manages to listen more like an album: There is a fine continuity between songs, the tonal shifts are gradual and pleasing and there is enough versatility in the sound, musicianship and vocalization to keep one’s ears precisely tuned in. The production value is high enough to validate even the most experimental moments, and the overall song structure allows the best and catchiest parts to latch on, no matter the level of one’s support, apathy or disdain. One of my favorites is “Bone Dance,” a theatric melding of Danny Elfman’s The Nightmare Before Christmas Soundtrack and the aforementioned references. It contains a certain pomp, playfulness and dusky hue. “Parasite,” which is filled with deep, gurgling vocals and virally catchy choruses, is also the closest Charlatan comes to a Rammstein-esque industrial sound. “Bundle of Queers” is arguably their most straight forward rock song, with every second more surprising than the last—and though I’m not dying to make a PC argument here, the frequent and rather aggressive use of the word “faggot” was a little much for me.

In listening to Nothing to Gain, one gets the distinct impression of a band that truly enjoys doing what they do, are acutely aware of how to make consumable yet stimulating music and don’t terribly mind the sweat and beers that just so happen to come with the life of intrepid metal musicians. Though Charlatan’s sound isn’t necessarily dated, it is at the very least nuanced, with more than a spoonful of nostalgia for the sweet sounds of Warped Tour circa 2009—but hey, it was a good year, so who can blame them? –Z. Smith

ANOHNI
HOPELESSNESS

Secretly Canadian / Rough Trade
Street: 05.06
ANOHNI = Harry Belafonte + Randy Newman + Major Lazer

HOPELESSNESS, the premiere release from ANOHNI (formerly known as Antony Hegarty of Antony and The Johnsons), is an electro-protest album befitting our times. With her force-of-nature voice and musical collaborators, Oneohtrix Point Never and Hudson Mohawke, ANOHNI has taken some of society’s most problematic issues and paraded them through our ears for thorough consumption and thoughtful consideration.

The cover art above, with a background of brooding grey, depicts ANOHNI in a white T-shirt with long, black, scraggly hair and a cut-out face overlapping hers—perhaps addressing the “masks” that society often forces upon transgender individuals;  ANOHNI herself is transgender. This image, ANOHNI’s face, with its beautiful yet unsettling appearance, calls into question the purpose of gender limitations as imposed by society. The artist’s name and album’s title are scrawled in a bold and somewhat rune-like script—speaking to a kind of nonviolent yet fierce and unwavering statement of existence and purpose. The cover, as a whole, compels one toward an unsettled melancholy, hopelessly hopeful—really quite in line with the tone of the album.

HOPELESSNESS opens with the single “Drone Bomb Me.” With a chorus of synths, percussive water-droplet sounds, spatial atmospheric noise and ANOHNI’s incredible range working together, the song explores the issue of drone bombing with the speaker pleading the drone, which has taken so much from them already, to blow their “crystal guts” out of their body. “Watch Me”—definitely my favorite—uses an ’80s prom vibe (read, “Forever Young” by Alphaville) as a means to address the sensual and predatory relationship between the government’s citizen surveillance and the surveyed. ANOHNI croons, “Daddy, I know you love me, because you are always watching me.” Church organs paint the moody and reverent atmosphere of “I Don’t Love You Anymore”—one of the album’s few tracks that isn’t obviously political. It is a slow-burning song that, inexplicably, seems to hold a level of guilt instead of power, as if reluctantly speaking those final though necessary words. It eventually builds into an emotive ecstasy, both vocally and musically, finding that sweet spot between finality and freedom. “Obama” is a minimalist song that speaks to the failings of our beloved POTUS. With no tonal variation to the vamping vocals and droning synths that politely crackle in the background, the song is as wearing as it is bleak—it is the listener’s test, the line that few will cross. Similar to some Postal Service instrumentals, “Crisis” plays out in bittersweet despondency. It is a natural bookend to the album in that it presents the drone’s (or drone controller’s) side of “Drone Bomb Me”—an unmanageable desire to kill intermingled with regret for said desire. The album closes with “Marrow,” which features a light piano, some running synth blips, and ANOHNI exploring the upper parts of her range. For an album that is based around this boisterous presence, pushing back at society’s boundaries and the governmental establishment wherever it can, “Marrow” is something of an underwhelming finale.

If one listens to HOPELESSNESS and its lyrical content through the lens of a protest album that addresses our societal failings, then the poetic beauty is lost, and the songs instead become several blatantly transparent damnations and character perspective monologues—beautiful in its own right, I suppose. If we ignore the political topics, tones and phrases—thereby losing an intrinsic part of the album—we are left with beautifully ambiguous, strikingly poetic language—filled with wonder and intrigue to the last. As ANOHNI’s first “solo” venture, HOPELESSNESS has apparent flaws, but by taking such bold risks sonically and lyrically, it succeeds often and with undeniable style. –Z. Smith

Hoops – Masterpieces

Hoops
Masterpieces

New Visions in Electronic Music
Street: 12.14.15
Hoops = Big City Orchestra + Michael Stearns

Masterpieces by local experimental musician Hoops is an elegant and monstrously captivating affair. Released by homegrown label, New Visions in Electronic Music, both digitally and on cassette, Masterpieces allows one to choose their own aesthetic experience. I chose the alluring cassette—with its minimalist clear casing, sharpie scribbled plastic insert, and white liner notes in devious black script. The first side of the album, “Part 1: For piano, tape and phonograph,” is marked by an incredibly loud hissing sound (presumably from the tape and phonograph) which goes on to create a complex and complementary motion beneath the piano. The sounds of the piano present a dual personality. On one hand, the higher octave keys are played in a riff-based, though nursery-like style—delicate, slow, and questioning. On the other hand, the lower octave keys are mashed down in heavy gothic-reminiscent chords—creating a fearsome and strict backbone for the treble end. “Part 1…” is later shaped by low percussive murmurs (similar to blips from an ultrasound), and eventually breaks down into a feedback-laden undulating beat.

The album’s second side, “Part 2: For 23 strings, tape and phonograph,” has a more homologous tone. The individual instruments are harder to pick out, marked only in between the ringing swells and lulls of sound. “Part 2…,” though certainly more brash in its content, isn’t without an ethereal, meditative quality. When the boisterous feedback, hiss and crackle of the tape and phonograph, and sinuously vamping strings bleed together, one is put into a sublime place, where gongs are echoing and heady incense is creating lace-like patterns in the air. And though “Part 2…” seemingly aims to defy beauty, it does so in undeniably beautiful ways. If you are looking for an album that is at once haunting and entrancing, look no further, for Hoops has created it—take it home, turn off the lights, light a candle and zone out. Or, if sitting at home isn’t quite the accompanying experience you are looking for, I suggest putting Masterpieces into your car’s tape-deck (your car does have a tape-deck, right?) and touring some poorly lit streets at night—carving paths in the darkness to an exquisite soundtrack. –Z. Smith

Ghosts in Pocket

Ghosts in Pocket – Barberton

Ghosts in Pocket
Barberton

Self-Released
Street: 10.09
Ghosts in Pocket = Phoenix + Eyes Lips Eyes

The name Ghosts in Pocket seems to suggest a haunting nostalgia which is willingly carried, perhaps for fear of losing that which was once so dear—or worse, losing those things to someone else. Barberton is pleasingly packed (lyrically and sonically) with such heart-aching notions—and each song seems ready-made to soundtrack scenes like driving down a rain-blown highway, walking the halls of your high school, post-graduation, or watching an ex-lover drunkenly stumble into another’s arms. Musically, Barberton could be aptly described as a mixture between The KillersDay & Age (“Barberton”) and Death Cab for Cutie’s Codes and Keys (“Separated by Ice”), and though not exactly unheard of, the sound is inviting and enlivening—and certainly a step forward from 2013’s Shadow Box. My only complaint is that this EP isn’t an LP, but it succeeds where many EPs fail. It exists in inexhaustible playability—insatiably satisfying. –Z. Smith

 

Monol!th / God Walk – Self-Titled

Monol!th / God Walk – Self-Titled

Monol!th / God Walk
Self-Titled

Gym
Street: 11.21.15
Monol!th / God Walk = Jonn Serrie + Silent Servant

Released digitally and on cassette by local newcomer label, Gym, Monol!th / God Walk is as cinematic as it is peculiar. Ranging greatly in sound, instrumentation and general urgency, the usefulness of the split album is to neatly juxtapose two groups of equal ability, find solidarity in a common goal and combine two different fan-bases—goals this split album no doubt accomplishes, yet not without putting the listener through a rather elaborate listening experience. With each side running very near the 30-minute mark, this split is damn near close enough to warrant an individual album release each.

Yet all formatting concerns aside, the whole has a natural evolution about it: On one side Monol!th provides tidy, elegant, space travel–reminiscent sounds—think Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey—and God Walk embrace a more gritty programming and synonymously dirty percussive tone. The Monol!th side opens up with a rush of deep saw synth, that ebbs and flows with calculated running blips dancing over the hum—an arrangement that inseparably reminds one of certain Daft Punk tracks. The tracks go on to include some daring bass flanges—wiggling wiggling wiggling—and proceeds to heavily border on sounds we may or may not have heard from Floyd’s Wish You Were Here. I found the attention to detail and subtly on the Monol!th side vastly impressive: each sound is handled with enough production know-how to keep the moving parts distinguishable from each other.

The God Walk side takes a more scattered approach, though in a warmly welcomed way. God Walk opens with a grandly expansive synth that devolves into background noise as heavily modulated voices begin to croon and brood over the track—touching here, again, on something bordering Daft Punk. With more straightforward aggression and affinity for percussion, God Walk take us on a journey through African wood lead numbers, tracks backed by hard hitting hip-hop beats and raindrop oriented sounds, and eventually land us in a place where atmospheric jungle sounds meet trance and deep house music—the perfect mixture of everything we knew and didn’t know we needed. Monol!th / God Walk has a wide-eyed wonder about it, as if meeting the uncharted ridge for the first time: This wonder is not lost on a willing and patient audience. –Z. Smith

Various Artists
Industry: Live Electronics

Hel Audio/Diabolical Records
Street: 03.26
Various Artists = Green Velvet + Gravy.Tron + Stars of the Lid

Industry: Live Electronics—sequel to 2014’s Industry—brings together 18 artists, representing newcomers and veterans alike, as a means of documenting the SLC electronic and experimental scenes. Hel Audio and Diabolical Records collaborated to produce this live album—with Diabolical providing the venue, and Hel Audio handling recording and distribution. My attention was immediately piqued by the prospect of a live electronic album, an unequaled documentation unfolding before my ears, but since the album was “recorded straight from the mixing board,” the live antics, audience and atmospheric sounds we’ve come to love from live albums like Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out! by The Rolling Stones and Blink 182’s The Mark, Tom & Travis Show are lost, save for a couple numbers. The choice to value sound quality over organic presentation is one that I feel obligated to question in a live album.

The above criticism aside, when the Hel Audio gang gets together, dark, grooving, idiosyncratic sounds are born, and I’m for it. Industry: Live Electronics opens with “Reptilian Software” by RS2090—a fairly polite song concerned, mainly, with maintaining a level of comfort in its glitches, throbbing beat and space-warp sounds; it does not peak, nor does it feel obligated to. Tracerpop’s “Transit”—working much within the same sonic spectrum as its predecessor—perfectly encapsulates a dancy, hat-and snare-driven pulsation. “Ride,” by UTA Trax, has a slightly unhinged sound rocking—think a creaking rocking chair—over a hypnotic, fun and fast-paced chord progression. The succession of Big Club’s “Bandana On,” Angel Magic’s “Not in Love II” and Witch1990’s “Hong Kong Acclamation” represent my favorite section of the compilation—a little noisy, a little experimental, wholly captivating. The album closes with “Untitled” by Braeyden Jae, which represents, rather neatly, his particular brand of wind and ambient washes—it also contains the harshest noise on the album.

And let me clue you in on some Wizard of Oz / Dark Side of the Moon secrets here: Try listening to this album while watching 1940s The Devil Bat, starring the eternal Bela Lugosi; Ed Wood’s 1959, infamous classic, Night of the Ghouls; or 1961’s The Beast of Yucca Flats on mute. You’re bound to see something peculiar.

Industry: Live Electronics may be a bit too much fun for a neo-goth dance party, but hell!

It couldn’t hurt to try—I think I might –Z. Smith

Protovulcan

Protovulcan – Stakes is Low

Protovulcan
Stakes is Low

Paribus Records & Toy Moon
Street: 10.22
Protovulcan = Zombie Zombie + The Orange Alabaster Mushroom

Nancy Reagan and I certainly do not condone drug use: “Just Say No.” But IF you and your friends had a sheet of acid and some time to kill, you might put Protovulcan’s Stakes is Low on repeat, stare at your glow-in-the-dark ceiling stars, and ride that trip hard. Musically, the album is a compilation of mind-frying surf-punk/acid-rock instrumentals consisting of Deric Criss’s powerfully prodding drumming and Will MacLean’s decadently distorted key-work—but ultimately a compilation lacking in any significant (and thoroughly desired) sonic variation. If there are any stand-out tracks, the playful “Making Eyes,” the fuzz-laden Dracula-styled “What’s Your Flavour,” and The Doors reminiscent “Busting Out at the Starry Roadhouse” would have to be them, yet it doesn’t seem a step-too-far to imagine this album as a jam from Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem coming to physical fruition—in all of its suggestive glory. –Z. Smith

T.E.V. – Études

T.E.V. – Études

T.E.V.
Études

New Visions in Electronic Music
Street: 08.10.15
T.E.V. = Wolf Eyes + Steven Halpern

Études, with its minimalistic black cassette and yellow and green tracer-covered linear notes, gives a fairly unassuming first impression. Yet, upon further inspection—namely placing it in a tape-deck and pressing play—one will find that, first impressions aside, Études is a mystic and entirely varied listening experience. The premiere song, “No. 1,”—lasting a whopping eight minutes—begins with a bubbling static—imagine a salt and pepper static TV being placed in the washing machine with too much soap—and quickly opens up into a type of metallic glitch. The song moves on to further include drones, a resonant screeching, and UFO sound effects, among others. In “No. 1” we find that a bass, an e-bow, and a synth were employed to create the sounds, but I was interested to learn that a kitchen pot made its percussive appearance in such a way so as to not be obviously recognized or create an unruly din. In “No. 2” we have T.E.V. who, instead of creating another noise-oriented piece, decide to lean towards a more ambient, meditative sound. “No. 2” begins with a rotating fan—positioned just so—creating an ocean-like wave sound, then moves to explore the universe-connected sounds of various singing crystal bowls. The song eventually breaks down into sci-fi blips and a low radio-like crackle. The final song, “No. 3 (a poem),” features a lone, low rumbling robotic voice reciting a poem. The poem itself seems consciously and subconsciously concerned with discussing the human condition and the general monotony involved—breaching on a certain kind of nihilism. With a throat microphone, T.E.V. states “… I wake up, I roll over, I stand up, I lie down, I open up my mouth, sound comes out, sound comes out….” Études seems to be skillfully walking a fine line between noisy mischief and tuned-in peace, while at the same time creating a type of conversation about both and neither. T.E.V. has crafted an innovative piece, with enough surprising moments and instrumentation to keep one listening. Yet I am left to wonder with greedy ears where T.E.V. will go on the next release and what precarious household items will make their sonic appearance.  –Z. Smith

RS2090 & UTA Trax
RS2090/UTA Trax Split 

Hel Audio
Street: 05.26
RS2090/UTA Trax = Fluke + Juno Reactor

Here stands yet another fantastic entrant into the Hel Audio catalogue.  RS2090 & UTA Trax have created a split album—available digitally and on cassette—that is positively danceable. In contrast to some of their label mates and many new local noise acts, RS2090& UTA Trax don’t forsake the human element in electronic music, but, in fact, embrace it, inviting us to a world where dancer and dance music are intrinsic and inalienable.

The black and white cover depicts a section of our beloved spaghetti bowl rising high over a small body of water, instantly bringing to mind Simon & Garfunkel’s famous “Bridge Over Troubled Water.” Yet, RS2090/UTA Trax isn’t so much about going over troubled emotional waters, but instead bridging many diverse types of dance music into one highly satisfying mix.

The RS2090 side of the split begins with “It’s Whatever.” A kind of electronic winding sound permeates the track, prepping the audience for the whole, and eventually moves on to explore a trance sound with tremolo and flange modulations over a house beat. “Big Mountain (Feat. UTA Trax)” begins with a sound clip of seagulls and a man seemingly giving a tour of the Great Salt Lake, and then goes on to explore a similar sonic spectrum as its predecessor’s, with the exception of some more percussive additions. “7099FT,” closes out the RS2090 side with a techno stimulation that is somewhat aggressive and fairly reminiscent of recent Blaqk Audio beats.

UTA Trax’s side of the split opens with “Go,” featuring a dribbly, acidic synth rhythm over glitched-out percussion and bell chimes—a song bordering a religious quality. “Float (Feat. Bobo)” contains a jazz-style piano vamp, electronic handclaps and hi-hats acting as the beat, and looped feminine vocals that create a kind of psychedelic dimension to the sound. At nearly eight minutes long, it is both the longest track on the album and my favorite number. “My Life” is, without a doubt, the most upbeat song on the whole album, and in a mirage of treble-based dance beats and ringing R&B-sampled vocals, it calls forth visions of Paris fashion shows and outrageous spending on Rodeo Drive—a perfect way to end the split.

Human, versatile and omnivorous, RS2090/UTA Trax is definitely worth its modest price, and, in my opinion, a whole lot more. –Z. Smith