Homecoming Spotlight – Fictionist

It’s that time again to welcome back students and alumni to celebrate being a University of Utah Ute. Homecoming week will run from September 30th to October 9th. During this week, there will be many entertaining festivities from Songfest in the Union to the Crimson Rally on the Union Lawn. Let’s not forget the biggest highlight of Homecoming: the football game against Arizona. With all of the excitement, what better way to start Homecoming week than with the Student Dance featuring native Utah band Fictionist.

Hailing from Provo, Utah, Fictionist consists of singer and bass guitarist Stuart Maxfield, singer and guitarist Robbie Connolly, guitarist and bass guitarist Brandon Kitterman, and drummer Aaron Anderson. With the exception of Anderson, the band had been playing music together since their high school days in Salt Lake City. With their realistic lyrics, energetic melodies, and astonishing guitar solos by Connolly, the band has garnered lots of attention. Their first album Invisible Hand, released in 2009, won an Independent Music Award for Best Pop/Rock Song for their single of the same name. They yet again managed to win the same award in 2011 for their song Blue-Eyed Universe from their second album Lasing Echo.

During that same year, Fictionist received the great honor of being one of sixteens bands to compete in Rolling Stone Magazine’s “Do You Wanna Be a Rock & Roll Star” contest. The winner would land a coveted spot on the magazine’s cover and a record deal with Atlantic Records. Although they were eliminated in the fourth round, they left a positive impression and were still signed to Atlantic. Through their new label, they released a 6-track EP titled Fictionist – EP.

Things seemed to look up for Fictionist as they were working on new music and they even got to tour with Imagine Dragons and Neon Trees. All seemed to be going well, but unfortunately, the relationship with their record company was quickly deteriorating. In an interview with the Daily Herald, Maxfield is quoted saying, “In hindsight, everything about how things came together was wrong.” The band felt as though their label did not understand them as they were asked to rewrite many of their songs and omit many of their signature sounds. In the end, they never released their album and were dropped from the label, but the group was anything from sorrowful. They kept their head high and looked back at the experience with gratitude as it gave them more of an opportunity to rehearse and work on new material they were actually enthusiastic about.

Finally free from Atlantic, Fictionist has been rediscovering what kind of music they wanted to produce with the release of Free Spirit – EP. While being a relatively short EP, only consisting of four songs, it packs enough of a punch to leave the listener wanting more. The opening track Free Spirit sets the tone with an exceptionally cheerful tune that would have anyone jumping around. This song might be their farewell from their old label with the lyrics, “But you don’t have to stick around/if you don’t want to.”  We Can Sleep When We Die is one of the more mellow songs with a slower tempo. However, it never lacks the upbeat theme of the EP. High Society brings the funk with its moody bass and grungy guitar. Fictionist proudly closes with the most spirited track Right Now. Maxfield passionately sings throughout the song with triumphant electric beats wonderfully complimenting him.

Homecoming week kicks off on September 30th with the Student Dance taking place at The Depot at 8:00 p.m.

Motet – Totem

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The Motet’s new album Totem is the self-described ‘future of funk’, and while it’s not a bad album, I would personally just call it ‘more funk’.

The songs on the album are fun and upbeat for the most part, with strong bass lines and a beat that makes you want to dance. My only complaint is that it’s forgettable. I’m coming back to my notes about the album and I can’t remember what half of them are talking about. The tracks sound very similar to each other for the most part and I found myself losing focus on the song even though I was sitting at my desk explicitly to listen to this album. The problem is how repetitive the songs are, which isn’t to say sound bad, but they didn’t manage to keep me engaged.

As far as how the album was mixed I have a few questions. In some of the songs the bass guitar is very muddy, and at first I just assumed it was just to help cover up cheap recording equipment or and inexperienced mixer, but then in other songs like ‘Damn’ the bass was much crisper and easier to listen to. So why not just use that same strong clear bass for every song? I don’t know if they were going for a stylistic choice or something, but whatever the reason is, I’m not a fan. That’s nitpicking though, and to be fair the vocals were always very clean and the singers timbre stood out well. Speaking of the singer, I like him a lot. His name is Lyle Divinsky and I have to say, I could listen to him sing all day. He does the whole ‘funk’ theme very well, while not over performing.

This album is a professional piece of art, don’t get me wrong. If you’re at a party and this album shows up on spotify, there’s no reason not to put it on. But I can’t give you a reason to look for it either. If you want to listen to a solid funk albums with no real issues, this fits bill. I think The Motet should be proud of what they’ve made.

Local Natives – Sunlit Youth

On August 8, 2014, Local Natives took the Twilight Concert Series’ stage and performed to their heart’s content. I remember the day like it was yesterday: the crowd was cheering, the lights on the stage were a calm blue, and my friend and I danced and sang along to all the songs they played. It was a great concert only made better by the announcement that they were already working on new material for their third album. Fast forward two years later and they have finally released what I had been waiting for: Sunlit Youth.

Local Natives got their start in Silver Lake, California. Right out of college, the band wasted no time to start working on their first album. Their debut album Gorilla Manor was well received and set the stage for the potential the group has. From Gorilla Manor to Sunlit Youth, they have significantly matured. This album is not as charismatic as Gorilla Manor, but is much more optimistic than their emotionally driven second album Hummingbird. The lyrics have a more profound impact, addressing issues that are prominent in this day and age, such as telling the younger generation they have a voice (Fountain of Youth) to advising people to live in the moment (Past Lives).

The album opens up with the enthusiastic song Villainy. It is a grand departure from the somber mood of their second album to a livelier, joyous tone. It is immediately evident that they were not afraid to take some risks because of the heavy synths that loop from start to finish. In a way, it feels like they wrote a love letter to their hometown with the lyrics, “Mine is a chrome palace/Lost in Los Angeles/I know that I’ll make it through.”

Midway through the album, we get what is unarguably the most distinct and experimental single the band has ever produced with Coins. While still sounding like a Local Natives song, it veers away from the indie rock feel they usually have to a bluesy vibe. Singer Taylor Rice serenades the listener with a soulful voice while the prominent chords of the guitar play in the background.

Jellyfish has to be one of my favorite tracks on the album. Its hypnotic melody is captivating with its tribal beating drums, elegantly contrasted by gentle chimes. Rice’s soothing voice sings a story of love to the listener as he begins to describe how unexpected falling in love can be, “Took the wrong train and I fell/Head over heels in a moment.” This instantly shifts to the downfall of a relationship and how it equally can catch you off guard. The pain of heartbreak can be relatable to many people, however, the song still has a sense of positivity to it as if to assure people that everything will be okay.

Local Natives are currently on tour and will be performing on September 22nd at The Depot. Doors open at 7 p.m.

 

Grouplove – Big Mess

I am flooded with nostalgia when I hear Grouplove songs. It is one of those bands that brings back happy memories from when I was a freshman or sophomore in college, the year they released their self-titled EP and later their album Never Trust a Happy Song. A few songs you may recognize from that album are “Colours”, “Tongue Tied” and “Itchin’ on a Photograph” which I would hear on the radio and became part of the musical backdrop to my summer breaks.

Spreading Rumours was released a couple of years later with songs like “Ways To Go”, “I’m With You” and “Shark Attack”. I remember blasting these tunes in the car with my friends, windows down and singing out loud. I went to their concert at Red Butte Garden in Salt Lake City a couple of years ago and saw for myself their electric energy on stage. So maybe I’m a little bias but there’s no doubt their multitude of fans agree.

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Grouplove’s new album Big Mess makes me feel like I’m catching up with an old friend because of its familiar vocals and infectious hooks. The album’s opening song is called “Welcome to Your Life” which from the get go kicks things off with an uplifting beat. The lyrics to this song are about embracing the big mess life can be and knowing you can make a change if you want to “make it your best year.” As we’re settling into the new school year it’s a good reminder to make the most of it.

Their alternative rock sound really shows on the song “Traumatized” because it starts off with an energizing drum beat and a nice jolt of electric guitar. The vocals on this track draw you in because of its raw and powerful emotion. You’ll easily get the catchy chorus stuck in your head. The song takes a dip in tempo for emphasis then rages on with the guitar leading the way to pick it back up at the end. “Good Morning” in contrast has more of a synthpop sound. It’s a feel good dance song that introduces the guitar halfway through and has a really cheerful melody. It would fit right into some of the many festival scenes that they have played like Coachella or Lollapalooza.

Grouplove is on the Big Mess World Tour and are performing at The Complex 536 W. 100 S. Salt Lake City on October 17th, doors open at 7 pm. http://www.thecomplexslc.com/event-1178.htm

Tegan and Sara – Love You to Death

Tegan and Sara are identical twin sisters from Alberta, Canada who were once just teenage girls creating demo tapes in their high school’s recording studio. They created their first professional demo the year they graduated high school after being awarded free studio time in a Garage Warz band competition in Calgary. Tegan and Sara released their first album Under Feet Like Ours independently in 1999 before signing with Neil Young’s Vapor Records.

As they continued making music they gained more and more recognition. The White Stripes covered their song “Walking with a Ghost” from their 2004 album So Jealous. Their 2007 album The Con was co-produced by Jason McGerr of Death Cab for Cutie and Matt Sharp of Weezer. Two years later their album Sainthood sold 24,000 copies its first week and in 2012 Closer sold 49,000 copies its first week reaching number three on the Billboard’s Top 200 Albums.

This year they released their new record Love You to Death that is an 80s style pop album with a modern edge and catchy lyrics. Their featured single is called “Boyfriend” about being best friends with a straight girl, catching feelings and not wanting to keep it a secret anymore. Tegan and Sara are both openly lesbian and have made use of the spotlight to become prominent advocates politically and socially for the LGBT community. In 2014 they were even honored in the Outstanding Music Artist category at the 25th GLAAD Media Awards.

Being an indie pop band they have a more carefree vibe, even in a song like “That Girl” about things getting tough and not being enough there is still a sense of positivity. This type of music has a niche audience because of its throwback style and its glam pop feel. Tegan and Sara’s own fashion sense is a bit androgynous and on the album cover their faces are obscured but their dark short hair gives them a 90s Winona Ryder look except for the bright, bold eye makeup which is seemingly an homage to artists like Boy George or David Bowie.

The song “Faint of Heart” has Madonna-esque vocals and the quintessential 80s hand clap that you might be familiar with. In the music video for this song, kids are at a lip sync battle wearing outfits reminiscent of Prince, Madonna, Michael Jackson and Grace Jones. This album pays tribute to the eccentric and talented artists who have paved the way and are an inspiration to the young people who admire their work.

Tegan and Sara are on the Fall 2016 Tour and will perform at In The Venue 219 S. 600 W. Salt Lake City 84101 on September 22 at 6:30 pm.

https://www.saltlakecityconcerts.net/eventx/tegan-sara/

Frank Ocean: Blonde

Blond(e) is the second studio album from vocalist and visionary, Frank Ocean. In the 4 years since the release of his first album, Channel Orange, the hype around this album’s release became too much to handle. Release dates were tossed around the community, but the days passed and Frank Ocean was nowhere to be found. You know the artists that are on your watch list? Frank Ocean is the artist on their watch list. Everybody was waiting at the edge of their seats for that new Frank, and after such a long drought, he delivered.

Nikes, the introductory track was made for those who languished in anticipation of this legendary release for years (myself included). Channel Orange was Frank’s delivery of his stance on the world and its issues, but Blonde is about changing the world’s stance on him. The song starts with luscious cords that sooth the soul, but the vocals are transposed to an almost uncomfortable degree. Interestingly enough, that’s the point. Everyone expected a second Channel Orange, but Frank was already paving way for a new sound that will undoubtedly influence the rest of his genre.  “I’ll let you guys prophesy/We gon’ see the future first/Livin’ so that last night/Feels like a past life.” He makes a point to let his listeners know that to truly experience and understand the new Frank, you have to let go of the past one.

Although he emphasizes moving into the future, Frank Ocean comes back to his artistic roots, incorporating skits such as Be Yourself and Facebook Story, reminiscent of the skits from Channel Orange (Fertilizer and Not Just Money). These tracks may be similar to previous, but instead of existing for the purpose of storytelling , they’re on the album to send important messages. Be Yourself stresses the irony behind the straight edge movement, as Frank’s mom argues for individuality by commanding her child to conform to what society thinks are the right choices. Facebook Story highlights the ludicrous amount of importance placed upon social media, as a man describes how his girlfriend broke up with him because he wouldn’t friend her on Facebook. Blond’s other songs are full of examples of what’s wrong in his world, such as his reference to the death of Trayvon Martin in Nikes, to the struggles of trusting those around you examined in “Nights”.

Godspeed, the second to last track on the album, is one of the most emotionally charged and frankly one of the best songs Frank Ocean has ever produced. The striking piano introduction is chilling, followed by a church Rhodes, and of course harmony from the man himself. Frank expresses how he’ll “always be there for you,” explicitly explaining his loyalty to whomever the song is addressed, and forgiving that person for leaving. The track was produced by Ocean and James Blake. The creative direction, the amount of different sounds just in one song alone is beyond impressive. It shows how much time, effort, and love was put into the production and recording of this album. The amount of star power behind this album is equally as impressive as the sound. Ocean gives credit where it’s due to some amazing musical influences, such as Kendrick Lamar, Beyonce, Mike Dean, James Blake, Pharrell Williams, Andre 3000, and Yeezus himself.

At first listen I was admittedly disappointed by Frank Ocean’s new sound, but I had expected another Channel Orange, instead of expecting another groundbreaking album completely different from anything ever. Blond is a direct reflection of Frank Ocean as an artist and creative, showing that challenging what’s expected and disregarding the status quo can result in something magical.

Photo Credit: Frank Ocean/Def Jam Records

Ivouries – EP

Ivouries is the solo project of singer and multi-instrumentalist Jaxon Garrick. A Sandy native, Garrick has dreamed of being a musician since he was 12 years old. Music plays such a big role in his life he practically considers it a religious feeling. “Music is something that is so much a part of me that I guess I use it cathartically almost,” he said.

With the release of his new EP, Garrick is setting himself apart from other artists by infusing mellow vocals with hypnotic experimental beats. He mainly plays the guitar, but is not afraid to pick up another instrument as long as it can contribute to what he’s working on. Lately, Garrick has been captivated by synthesizers. “The possibilities and sounds you can create with analog and digital synthesizers are endless and I wish they were more appreciated!” During the writing process of his EP, Garrick’s life was changing and he found solace in his music. He said he found inspiration in Bon Iver and the way he isolated himself to make a record.

The EP starts off with the song “I Just Want It”, which chronicles the complicated relationship between two people. He sounds frustrated with the relationship he is in and doesn’t know what to do. The song sounds almost dreamlike through the verses when he ponders the actions of the other person.

Another track that deserves recognition is “Regret It”.  It almost transports you back to the 80s with heavy synths that play throughout the song. Garrick revisits his themes of relationships and heartbreak as he sings about the heavy burden of a breakup. Towards the end of the song, he truly shows off his guitar skills by playing an impressive solo.

Listening to the EP, a song that really stood out to me is “Run Rill” because of the softer, acoustic rhythm it has that differs from the rest of the tracks. The soft ballad tells the story of two people wanting to get away from everything and starting over.  It was refreshing to hear this track because of how stripped down it sounded compared to his other songs.

Ivouries definitely has a unique blend of sound mixing together hip-hop, indie rock, and electronic. It’s no surprise considering Garrick names artists like Lorde, Kanye West, Frank Ocean, and Grimes as his influences to name a few. “I really respect artists who have somewhat of an anxiety to always be thinking about how they can reinvent themselves. Never really settling or zoning in on one sound.”

To check out more of Ivories, visit https://soundcloud.com/ivouries.

Martial Law: Police State

Slamming with controversial issues ranging from police brutality, sexual assault, corrupt pharmaceutical corporations, and war crimes threaded together with metallic guitar riffs that pack a major blow, Police State is one of the best hardcore EPs I’ve heard in the past few years. I’ve had the extreme pleasure of seeing these guys perform in an Elk’s Lodge up in Ogden that my band at the time was playing, and I was immediately hooked—frontman Keyton Daniels had such a demanding stage presence with his vocals and his provocative ranting of all the issues that surrounded the band’s songs.

The EP begins fittingly enough with “Intro” that doesn’t wait for you to get settled, it wallops you in the face with pounding riffs that make you want to slam your head into oblivion. It traverses over into the song “Wake Up” with a rallying chorus in the introduction blatantly stated as “Wake the fuck up! Wake the fuck up now! It’s time for us to stop fucking around! Live for yourself not anyone else, live for yourself not someone else!” The song then continues into the subjects of people blindly agreeing to what they hear on any given media outlet and don’t have the audacity to think for themselves.

“Kill the Greek” expresses extreme hatred for fraternity members who think it’s okay to sexually violate anyone. “Bystander” is a 57 second, rally-inducing number that calls for taking the law in your own hands when you see injustice. My personal favorite “Cancer Inc.” calls out the fractured health industry and how doctors and pharmacists are making a profit off other people’s misery and sickness—there’s a conspiracy theory that doctors have discovered a cure for cancer but won’t distribute it to the masses because “each day you get more wealthy by prolonging death.”

Speaking of profit, “Authority” touches on another instance of Shadenfreude, those who get pleasure from bombing their enemies with clever lyrics like “Put another war on the credit card, the poor will rot until their thoughts are gone” and powerful backing vocals done by Jessica Newby of the band Casket. “Mouthrunner” focuses on the alleged keyboard warriors that use social media for ruining people’s lives. The closing, title track hammers out this EP fittingly enough with imagery of the increasing police brutality in this country with lyrical buildup of “a motherfucker with a gun decides my fate, fuck America the police state!” and charges headstrong into brutality with its breakdown topped off with some extreme guttural vocals from Andrew Hileman of the band I Am.

All summed up, Martial Law’s Police State is a torrential EP—its songs are short and to the point, its music is heavy and keeps you hooked, and its messages intensely blunt. Martial Law has the unfiltered hardline mentality of Slapshot, the politically draped lyricism of Rage Against the Machine, and the towering ferocity Expire. In a time where America is in a state of political duress, this is when political hardcore is looked to for guidance, and Martial Law is a band that needs to be heard.