It’s been over six years since the last Most Serene Republic album proper, which is the kind of statement that seems to carry the typical critical arc of a band seeking redemption (“Now they’re back and better than ever, guys!”), but when you get right down to it, the six years between the group’s heavily melodic 2009 set ... And the Ever Expanding Universe and this year’s long-overdue Mediac were filled with a strange bit of turmoil.
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Hether Fortune (neé Hether Fedewa) has probably been in your favorite Bay Area rock act at some point or another, whether it be your affinity for Blasted Canyons, Bare Wires, or Hunx & Hix Punx, Fortune has punched her time card with each one of them, to say nothing about her time with Wax Idols. In his 2013 review of Wax Idols’ sophomore set Discipline & Desire, he admired Fortune’s unique attitude and bravery for evolving from snotty garage rock kid to a post-punk craftsman, noting that debut album “No Future was Hether Fortune sounding angry. Discipline & Desire, her follow-up on Slumberland Records, is the sound of Fortune digger deeper into the root causes of this anger. Remarkably, she’s turned a corner on the morbidly engaging Discipline & Desire and exposed that aforementioned trouble that was originally lurking around the corner. Discipline & Desire may be the title of the record, but what’s heard throughout the record is an unabashed sense of desperation.”
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.
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.