One of the largest misconceptions about Salt Lake City, UT is that it is entirely run by Mormons (trust me: once I moved out of state, the only question I was asked more than “Are you a Mormon?” was “What’s your name?”). Believe it or not, it’s about a 50/50 split in Utah’s capitol city, and most of the Mormons there are pretty well-adjusted and approachable. The further South you get in Utah, the more dominant Mormon culture becomes, but even back in Salt Lake City, one of the most interesting counter-culture music scenes has emerged, with alternative publications like Salt Lake Underground (a place I used to intern for) showing the fascinating and sometimes downright strange pieces of art that SLC’ers like the great Trent Call make on a daily basis, while hard rock groups like The Animals Know blast their own sun-burnt brand of heavy metal just as the stable of artists signed to local label Pseudo Recordings take conventional pop and rock structures and stretch them out to their very breaking points. Venues like the backwoods-alley Kilby Court and the ever-welcoming Urban Lounge bring like-minded folks together to celebrate the weird and wild that Utah has to offer.
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When Cleveland, Ohio’s own The Lighthouse and the Whaler released their first album in 2009, they arrived with a sound that was very much derived from what “modern indie” had become: buoyant melodies, lots of acoustic work, pointed lyricism, etc. The band, formed by Michael LoPresti and featuring his brother Matthew (as well as current members Mark Porostosky and Ryan Walker), had a live energy which was immediately relatable, but their debut album did what most debut albums did: established the group and their sound, but not much happened in terms of waves.
With a voice like scorched earth and a guitar played as though its strings were ablaze, Benjamin Booker has taken the blues straight to hell. His songs, mini-dramas of sun-bleached rock, trade on the old-time traditions of players like Son House, Lowell Fulson, and Brownie McGhee. Booker’s approach is to push the perimeters of the blues to its most uncomfortable and perilous extremes, affording his music the cautious air of danger. His self-titled debut, released in 2014 on Rough Trade records, is a revelation of pantheon dimensions, a temple of ancestral and present influences which has carried Booker’s collection of work to esteemed heights.
While everyone knows that their iconic 2003 hair-pop confection “I Believe in a Thing Called Love” will outlive most millennials, that overindulgent sophomore disc One Way Ticket to Hell… and Back sank most chances of the group rising above One Hit Wonder status. Frustrated, the group ventured off into other bands, with high-pitched vocalist Justin Hawkins trying his hand with the group Hot Leg, while guitarist Dan Hawkins and bassist Richie Edwards formed Stone Gods, both outfits releasing albums within a year of each other. Yet fate had other plans in store, and in 2012, the band released a long-awaited third disc, Hot Cakes, which contains what is arguably the greatest song they have ever done, “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us”.
With solid sales and a fanbase that never really left them, the band made their way out Valentia Island to record the aptly-titled Last of Our Kind, a disc which spends its time talking about barbarians and ancient conquests while still delivering the roaring riff rockers that have become their signature. As if that wasn’t enough, the group even crowdsourced some group vocals on the soaring title track to their fans, known as The Darkness Army, who were more than happy to comply.
To celebrate the disc’s release, Dan Hawkins took on PopMatters’ 20 Questions and revealed to us a love of Watership Down, Yves Saint Laurent, and why he’d want to take a peek at what’s going on in the year 3000.
Primrose Green is one hell of an insular folk album. It’s a disc less focused on satisfying the writer’s ego or existing purely on the basis of heartfelt confessionals as so many modern “folk” albums are; instead, it focuses on establishing its own universe, one where psychedelic textures mix in with delicately finger-picked guitars, creating something sonically unique but also entirely self-contained. Primrose Green is a universe unto itself, and it’s for that reason that so many people are talking about its creator, Ryley Walker.