MCKC | Is OK | Hidden Home

MCKC
Is OK

Hidden Home Records
Street: 04.14
MCKC = Bad Astronaut + Toh Kay + Frank Turner


When I was younger, I thought that someday I would reach a point in life where I would have everything figured out. Now that I’m older, I realize that every single person in the world has no goddamn idea what they’re doing with their life—I think MCKC feels this way too. Is OK is a collection of songs about reaching that realization and being (mostly) okay with it.

“The Grass is Green” sets the mood for this EP with a sunny stomp that embraces the uncertainty of life. An organ quietly swells in the background as Casey Keele’s narration contemplates what his future holds and what he could’ve done differently in the past. Will he have kids? Will they be proud of him? Has he made all of the choices in life he should have? Finally, he resolves, “Sometimes I don’t know / Sometimes I don’t care.” Sometimes, all you need to quell a bout of existential anxiety is a small dose of nihilism.

“Baker” is another highlight, set in the shadow of The World’s Largest Thermometer—an actual tourist trap you can find between Las Vegas and Los Angeles. This time, the narrator feels envious of the passing highway’s sense of purpose and direction and laments the sameness of his life, once again, over a joyous organ joined by trumpets and pop punk “whoa-ohs.” I really like MCKC’s ability to balance his tales of sadness and drudgery over some legitimately upbeat and fun compositions.

The EP closes with “Everybody Dies,” featuring the golden opening line of “Everybody dies / But everybody lives.” Really, if those were the only lyrics of the song, I would be perfectly content, but MCKC keeps going to create a fun song that explores the horror of death but also the beauty of perseverance. There’s a piano melody that would fit right in at an old-west saloon, and some sweet “oohs” and “ahhs” that have a Beach Boys—vibe as MCKC assures the listener that “We are doin’ fine.”

As someone who survived the “punk-singer-buys-a-flannel-shirt-and-mandolin” onslaught of 2008, I really appreciate the variety of instrumentation and song structure here. This is a fun little EP, and I hope to hear more from MCKC soon. –Ricky Vigil

Praises | In This Year: Ten of Swords | Hand Drawn Dracula

Praises
In This Year: Ten of Swords

Hand Drawn Dracula
Street: 12.07
Praises = Robedoor + Tirzah + Boards of Canada

After gaining traction as half of the duo Beliefs with Josh Korody, Jesse Crowe embarks on a solo project under the name Praises. In This Year: Ten of Swords is her first full length under this moniker, and shows clearly that Crowe is searching for a dark, minimal sound. There’s a definite moodiness and subtlety to the album, one brought about and furthered by a consistent musical palette and an overarching focus on Crowe’s steady, resonant voice.

As a whole, the album offers a set of nine almost-pop songs that are riddled with hidden intricacies. There are tuneful hooks here, as well as chord progressions that have the makings of an emotive ballad. However, Crowe seems almost wary of letting these compositions lean too far toward accessibility, as more often than not, the tracks—both musically and lyrically—oscillate around a few key motifs and patterns without concern for swift changes or traditional development. The opener and lead single, “Love Unkind,” is a perfect example of this style. Beginning with a moody piano and synth duet, it slowly builds momentum before the electronic percussion enters and the song reaches an understated climax with a triumphant vocal refrain.

Given this somewhat muted approach, some of the finest moments on In This Year come when Crowe’s music takes a knotty, electronic approach, and when, the core beats are themselves interesting enough to hold a track together. “Anyone’s Anyone” has a deep swing to it, and the distorted bass tone is one of the most memorable sounds here. “Welcome Home” has a warm, grainy texture, with the paper-thin drums playing foil to the washy synths. Crowe’s repeated refrain, alternating between “It’s not your fault” and “Your laughter is contagious,” finds power in its ambiguity. She delivers these reassurances in her typically deadpan delivery, giving the feeling of being almost sincere without ever showing too much of her hand.

The lyrical delivery and themes hover around this mystifying non-place, with slight variations in tone lending the album emotional diversity. Where Crowe’s dry, flat voice reads as endearing on “Welcome Home,” the preceding track, “Prey,” offers a more sinister tone. The jabbing synths and echo already present a darker mood, and the vocals only capitalize on this. “Starving tonight,” Crowe repeats, hiccuping on the “-ing” as if she’s struggling for air in the recording booth before she dips into her low register for one of the album’s snarliest moments.

“Run” is one of the album’s few missteps, as it forgoes the electronics for an alt-rock-leaning composition for guitar and voice. The melody is fine, and Crowe’s airy guitar tone matches the rest of In This Year in texture, but overall, it feels like the track is more of an unfinished demo than a full-fledged track among the rest. So, too, final track “Closer” feels fleeting in its focus on gliding, aimless piano lines. Especially as a finale, it doesn’t live up to the metallic-laced art-pop that so much of the album excelled in.

Crowe has found a lane, and on In This Year, she races down its unifying center. What the album might lack in range, it more than makes up for in atmosphere; where it forgoes bombast, it revels in eeriness. Picking apart some of the muddy lyrical passages might prove a welcome task for listeners willing to dive deep into Crowe’s world otherwise, the album functions well as a forced entry into darkness and an unnamable despair. –Connor Lockie

Jeff Tweedy | Warm | dBpm

Jeff Tweedy
Warm

dBpm Records
Street: 11.30
Jeff Tweedy = Merle Haggard + Paul Westerberg

Jeff Tweedy is one of those legends/icons that drift in and out of my music consciousness—he disappears for stretches of time until I hear one of his songs, and I am quickly reminded how much I adore him. His lyrics range from subtle, silly and mundane to emotional wreckage that comes out of nowhere to sucker-punch you. He’s the dusty, well-traveled, vagabond Midwestern drifter that has set flags down and set up shop in so many stretched out destinations: Loose Fur, Uncle Tupelo, Wilco, Golden Smog, producing an album for the great Mavis Staples and recording a record with his sons. On his new solo album, Warm, Tweedy gives us his gut, heart and whip-smart mind—telling us who we are, what the world gives and where we go.

Tweedy writes like a novelist or a short story artist who understands concise, clean vignettes of time that encapsulate multitudes. “Some birds sit useless like fists,” he writes, “I lean on a wall like a broom confused” and “The countryside is full of suicides,” (“Some Birds.”) He also delivers great lines with a Tweedy kind of optimism: “We all think about dying / Don’t let it kill you” (“Don’t Forget.”) He just leaves the simple wordplay there for you to decide how it matters in the song, as well as to your life. Sometimes it doesn’t matter at all; other times, it’s an ocean of meaning in its simplicity and delivery. I figure it out more with each listening.

The track “Lets Go Rain” is an easily found treasure—it just reaches out and grabs me. Try getting this song out of your head. (You won’t.) It’s a familiar, biblical message of “reset and start over,” delivered by a higher hand. “I think destruction is an act of love,” Tweedy sings. “I think it should happen again.” He tells us let it rain, let the demons drown, and wash the world away. “I think I should build a wooden ark / Wouldn’t you like to live on an ocean of guitars?”  Who wouldn’t?. The track “Having Been Is No Way To Be” is the other emotional end of the album. It’s real, raw, and it quietly rips your insides out. It’s a little bit of an anthem for the addicted and those in recovery. “People say what drugs did you take? / And why don’t you start taking them again?” It’s a question that is always out there, and always asked by those who don’t understand. You were there once, can’t you get it together and be there again? The answer: Having been is no where to be. “I wonder how much freedom you can dream.” Tweedy reflects about a loved one. “And I’m sorry when you wake up to me.” I feel the insecurities. It’s the Noah rain all over again—restart and cleanse every single morning.

The great novelist George Saunders wrote the liner notes for this record. It’s worth the price of the album in itself. Saunders writes about Tweedy, “Jeff is our great, wry, American poet. I don’t mean this abstractedly: to see him play is to find yourself in a crowd of people being actively consoled—being moved, reassured, validated, made to feel like part of a dynamic, aural friendship.” Warm is a great album that delivers just that—a comfortable heat that gets you through your days, all from a man that has found peace with himself. –Russ Holsten

Uvluv | Afterglow| Self-Released

Uvluv
Afterglow

Self-Released
Street: 11.23
Uvluv = Josh Ostrander-Mondo Cozmo

Afterglow is the sophomore follow-up album to Tranquilize from Salt Lake City’s Uvluv. The latest album is where I would like to see—or hear—an outfit take a second album. The band has grown in size as well as direction. The original trio added Christian Lucy on keys, and their sound within the second effort is fuller and better-rounded for their style. The piano play adds depth and stands out from the onset.

Upon first listen, the piano and the vocal delivery reminded me of a gig I saw years ago at Kilby. A band named Lagaurdia opened for Maura Davis, and they stole the show. They blew me away with their energy and atypical indie-band sound. Uvluv shares a lot of those qualities, though they may be a bit more of a pop outlier than the band I am comparing them to.

With tracks like “Prologue” and “Mr. Melody” to start the album, I was easily intrigued to follow along to see what else they had to offer. I wasn’t at all disappointed: Though Afterglow doesn’t pull out all the rock stops that their first album had, this one was definitely more introspective. They did let all of the instruments loose a couple of times, my favorite occurrence of which was at the end of “Grief.” Overall, the album is more subdued and somber, and pretty well-done. It’s thoughtful and poignant, at times, but not pretentious or overwhelming. Derek Harman does well with the vocals and guitar, showcasing a wide range here and there, like on “Totality.” Lucy handles the keys in a stellar fashion throughout, and Kona Ossana lights up percussion while Jake Bills sets a great pace slapping the bass.

Uvluv’s second album is a good listen and totally worth checking out. They also have a show to usher its release at Kilby on Nov 23. Who knows? Maybe they’ll tear it down like Lagardia did all those years ago. –Billy Swartzfager

Repulse | Frail | Self-Released

Repulse
Frail

Self-Released
Street: 09.21
Repulse = His Hero Is Gone + Rotten Sound + Trap Them

I imagine myself trying to tell coworkers what Repulse sound like. What I would want to tell them is that Repulse plays a killer blend of grindcore, hardcore and D-beat that leans dirty, but they make plenty of space for straight-up hardcore, too. Now, I imagine saying that and receiving the inevitable “Say what?” look on their face—culminating in the wildly inadequate explanation, “They play hardcore punk.” At that point, in their minds, Repulse probably sound like the Sex Pistols or something. So, even though this may feel like a style that those who are into the music would recognize, it’s these reminders that this really is something unique, which makes being into all of this worth it.

The micro-categorization within hardcore and punk rock may not be unique to these particular subcultures, but these micro-scenes within an already niche scene are a fascinating phenomenon to me, regardless. If you like the broad spectrum within the ever-expanding umbrella of hardcore, these delineations couldn’t be more clear. But, to an outsider, ha! Good luck.

There is much to recommend about Frail, but what makes it shine are the standout touches that go above and beyond the sum of its lineage. In “Body of Lies” when the impeccably set-up breakdown hits, there is a hi-hat fill playing 16th notes, which drives the momentum—which would be completely lacking with a simple quarter note played on the ride cymbal. No part overstays its welcome on Faith, either. Blast beats and frenetic riffing give way to dirgier rhythms, which are switched up again into faster D-beat passages. The beginning of “Internal Prison” leads with a prominent double-bass roll, one of only a couple on the album, and paired with the plentiful tempo shifts over Faith’s 12-minute running time, they’re noticeable. The vocals trade off throughout between a higher-pitched scream and a lower bark, lending dimension.

Most notable is the breakdowns. The buildups to these breakdowns and their inevitable conclusion are pulled from more straightforward hardcore territory, lending a versatility to Repulse, which opens them up to being enjoyed by a kid wearing all black, a bearded warrior and the Terror fan alike. It still probably isn’t going to make sense to that lady in accounting, though. –Peter Fryer

Heather Grey | While My Girl Was In Hawaii | Self-Released

Heather Grey
While My Girl Was In Hawaii

Self-Released
Streets: 09.18
Heather Grey = Tomppabeats + Kenny Segal

Wavy, minimalistic and with a hint of a tropical sound, Heather Grey continue to produce some of the finest lo-fi hip-hop I have heard this year. Coming off of April’s release of The Starting Lineup, Heather Grey have created another cool and atmospheric album with While My Girl Was in Hawaii, mixing that lo-fi sound with peaceful key riffs and Pan Am World Airways travel-adventure voice clips. These voice clips give these sounds a setting and a feeling before I even hear them—a calm voice talks about landing in Hawaii for a beach getaway with the ease of Pan Am.

While My Girl Was in Hawaii opens with “I Woke Up Like This,a fitting opening with the instructions to play the travel adventure. The song opens slowly and moodily with simple, slightly distorted piano keys over a slow beat. “I Woke Up Like This” ends as quickly as it began with the sound of a plane overhead. As the plane lands in Honolulu, “Who What When Where Why?” kicks off with light percussion and a subtle, smooth trumpet, which lends this track a more jazzy feel than the opener. As the previous track fades into the next, “Kingdom Come” is the first on the album to have vocals. Provided by Shvnghii, their voice complements the cool trumpet playing behind him on the track.

The rest of the album continues on as a cool, tropical vibe and stays consistent in its execution. Heather Grey show off their consistency in production and their ability to mix jazz and hip-hop influences with interesting vocal samples to create a unique atmosphere. I wouldn’t only recommend this album but anything Heather Grey have put out in the past. Check out their Bandcamp at heathergreyy.bandcamp.com. –Connor Brady

Hot House West | Django in Orbit | Self-Released

Hot House West
Django in Orbit

Self-Released
Street: 09.26
Hot House West = Pokey Lafarge + Rhythm Future Quartet + The Fat Babies

The name of our NBA franchise aside, we’ve never really been a hotbed of jazz. Perhaps certain spiritual ideologies never allowed the genre—at times synonymous with smoke-filled lounges and late-night, drug-fueled jam sessions—to gain fertile ground. We are home to the legendary Joe McQueen, and there have been bright spots like Salt Lake finally getting its own jazz festival. Still, we’re playing catch-up, culturally, in the world of jazz. But fret not, hepcats: Our champions have arrived.

Hot House West is a “gypsy-jazz” band, a genre that is exactly what it sounds like. When Romani guitarist Django Reinhardt heard American jazz, he—along with violinist Stephane Grappeli—formed the quintet, Hot Club of France. Since then, every gypsy-jazz artist has worshiped at their altar. I have never seen another genre come close to the love and adoration of its progenitors as gypsy-jazz does. As you can see from this record’s title, Hot House West are no exception. Not to say that this platter isn’t dripping with originality—which it is—but it’s that rarely earned originality that comes from studying the journey of masters. Somewhere in between the failures and successes of trying to emulate that greatness, Hot House West find their own.

Formed in 2011 by students in the University of Utah jazz program, Hot House West (originally named Hot Club of Zion) are a versatile combo that has played all over our great state these past seven years. This record seems to be a product of all that experience and hard work of honing their craft. The first track, “Pyramid,” begins with a roaring, rhythmic guitar riff that becomes entrancing as the first long, drawn-out notes of a violin begin to float over the charging rhythm. The horn section begins to take over the melody, and an interplay of lead guitar and the other elements ensue. The result is a pronouncement of what Hot House West are capable of.

While the obvious influence here is gypsy-jazz, there is a mix of other influences like early swing-jazz greats Fats Waller and Louis Armstrong, and it even has some of Dixieland moments here and there. In a way, these guys are grabbing some the more interesting elements from all over the jazz and roots music palette and landing in their own territory. Even a standard like “Night and Day” becomes a different animal, as cooking solos and red-hot rhythms swirl under lead guitarist, Nathan Royal’s emotive vocals, making this well-tread tune something I’ve never heard before. I don’t know if American-gypsy-jazz is a thing, but Hot House West make it beautifully. –James Orme

PSO / Meth Breath
Split

Safe Inside Records
Street: 11.09
PSO = Dag Nasty + Gorilla Biscuits + Cerebral Ballzy

PSO, a group from Lemon Grove, California, have held themselves together with a cut-and-dry style of hardcore punk. Since the early 2010s, they’ve released a string of EPs, appeared on a few compilations featuring Lemon Grove’s finest and released their full-length LP, My Way Out, in 2016. They are definitely a band that likes to keep busy musically, between touring, skating and members splitting their time with other projects, they managed to lay down two new tracks on a split with their SoCal, straight edge counterparts, Meth Breath.

PSO contributed only two songs to this split, which both amount to a total run time of about six minutes. They’re about what I’d expect from the Prescotts—fast, fun and they never slip on the delivery. “To Whom it May Concern” has a fairly lengthy buildup with punchy guitars layering on top of the grasshopper rhythms from drummer Zak Prescott. It doesn’t take long for the speed to hit as Nate Prescott’s high-velocity bass riff sets the clambering rapidity of the song. The gauntlet of guitar harmonies mixed with abrasive riffs and more drum fills you can (literally) shake a stick at comes through a coarse and unfiltered production style. It adds to that basement sound that adorns classic hardcore, making it feel like it came out of the 1980s.

“Real Recognizes Real” comes in swinging with carefully laid-out dynamics enough to make it a standout track without packing any extra fluff. It comes in fast, says what it needs to say and leaves with an overwhelming need to pull the needle back and listen to it again. It’s a demanding little track which is due mostly in part to SImon Prescott’s aggressive chants in the chorus that accurately sum up the ethos of PSO: “Don’t forget your roots! Don’t forget your friends! Don’t forget your board! Stay young till the end!” It doesn’t get much more real than PSO. I can tell that these guys have a lot of fun with the music they’re creating, and those feelings transcend into their listeners. PSO brings me back to when I was 16 years old—when all I cared about was skateboarding with my friends and slamming myself stupid in the pit. They bring a smile to my face every time I put them on. –Eric U. Norris

Reverend Horton Heat | Whole New Life | Victory

Reverend Horton Heat
Whole New Life

Victory Records
Street: 11.30
Reverend Horton Heat = the Cramps + Flat Duo Jets + Southern Culture On the Skids

I think that Reverend Horton Heat get kind of a bad rep with some people. They’ve been going strong for over 30 years and have always tried to push their limitations and abilities as musicians, but some people won’t look past them as, excuse the pun, a revved up version of rockabilly or some hard rock derivative of the Stray Cats, and I don’t think either of those ideas come even close to encapsulating what the Rev and company have accomplished. Kings of hyphenated and mix mashed genres, they’re often labeled, psychobilly, neo-rockabilly, cow-punk, and myriad of other silly titles when rock n’ roll just says it the best, since the beginning there’s been more here than any one simple formula at work. Among the rockabilly, country, blues and jazz, there’s South American influences, folk, hard rock, and many others that never see mention because the band is so often written off, but when listened to carefully there’s a sophistication at work even amid the most seemingly frivolous song these boys find a way to make it better than it has any right to be.

The band is finding new life after a lineup change that adds new drummer RJ Contreras, and a completely new consistent element in Matt Jordan on piano and organ, along with stalwart mainstay Jimbo Wallace on upright bass all backing the fiery fingers and charismatic vocals of the main man Jim Heath also known as “the Rev.” The aptly titled Whole New Life is a hurricane of fresh air. These songs have a new  momentum that brings a new level of exuberance, the title track is exemplary of what I’m talking about, it kicks off and just hits that groove and starts to boogie along aided heavily by Jordan’s  brilliant banging piano add some jubilant gospel style backing vocals on the chorus, it’s enough to make this atheist convert. Reverend Horton Heat have usually been about a big sound, and there’s plenty of bombast on the record, but a particularly intimate tune is “Hate to See You Cry,” the song still cooks with gas, but feels like you’ve been invited to band rehearsal and they’re playing one of they’re favorites just for you. The one track I’m not sure about is the cover of the Elvis hit “Viva Las Vegas,” it’s played well, but they don’t do anything new with a song we’ve all heard a thousand times, if they’d have given it more of punk rock, crazy, “Psychobilly Freakout” treatment, or possibly turned into a ballad with Jim gently crooning over the bands best jazz-lounge act, just anything different, but if the worst thing I can say about a record is it has a slightly-better-than-mediocre Elvis cover, than that still pretty good.

So it would seem that the band has found a cozy, but unlikely home with Victory Records who usually work with punk and hardcore acts, but with this effort and 2014’s Rev, another strong entry into their catalog, Reverend Horton Heat seem primed to continue this burst of creativity and vibrancy. It’s a little ways away but be sure to mark your calendars because the Rev is stopping in Salt Lake City on February 15th to play The DepotJames Orme

Janie Jones | Deadline | Self-Released

Janie Jones
Deadline

Self-Release
Street: 10.22
Janie Jones = Paul Baribeau + Mischief Brew

Sam Gilchrist is a local singer-songwriter who goes by the name of Janie Jones. His first full-length album as a solo artist,  Deadline is an eight-track folk-punk styled album, comprised of a guitar and vocals combo, and filled with reflective lyrics and simple acoustic instrumentals.

“Don’t Yell at the Denny’s,” is the opening track—one that’s raw and honest. Like most to songs to come, this is a storytelling project, and like most songs to come, this track often looks back while at the same time tying in the feelings of the present moment. He sings about love and temper while strumming in repetitious low-note chords. He subtly speeds up and slows the rhythm with the raise and lower of his voice, as he sings: “I’m sorry for yelling at you / In Denny’s / my short fuses go off / it doesn’t take many.”

The title track, “Deadline,” is lightly played in a high-note chords but falls to a low-note every few strums. This is a slow and sentimental song in which Gilchrist speaks, rather than singing the lyrics. “My mouth is becoming numb / from trying not to speak / your touch will forever be on my skin.” Even when Gilchrist strums a little harder and louder at the seemingly chorus, he still speaks. “And all I can do is apologize / please believe me / look into my eyes,” before quieting the repeating chords throughout majority of the song.

“Quiet (Freeway),” is a happier sounding song, with a more quicken pace, although is similarly somber, characteristic of the folk-punk genre. Like most tracks, the song doesn’t just dive into the lyrics. Instead, the acoustic intro sets up the tone, with a few shifting chords out the gate. This is a unique track, as Girlchrist layers the track to provide some quiet, yet still noticeable, background vocals. While he sings  “I’m left all alone outside / it’s 2 am,” the background vocals say  “I’m sorry / I’m sorry / I’m sorry / for the things I do and say,” as the simultaneous singing continues at a staggered pace for a handful more lines.

Overall, Janie Jones is a relatable and sentimental musician, who captures your heart with his complex musing. For an album filled of solemn songs, Gilchrist still manages to cast a wave of peace and contentment with his simple composition. This is a first solid full-length album and it will be the first of hopefully many projects to come. – Lizz Corrigan