- Lauren Smith
Mooninite Returns with Lightworks
Those who appreciate beats and minimal, glossy synth production with an emphasis on looping and sampling will find something to be excited about in a new release from Mooninite's Andrew Aguilera. The local electronica artist has been a staple of the Hel Audio label for years playing as Mooninite, also working with fellow local Lauren Smith on the starry, lo-fi project Angel Magic. His last releases as Mooninite were two EPs in 2016 and 2017—a self-titled and EP3, respectively—and this new one, titled Lightworks, while conveying the same soft and smooth texture with unhurried pacing, is much longer than those two shorter releases. The track listing expands to 29 songs, but those tracks are generally quite short (only a handful scratch the two minute mark) and generally less bodied, for the most part coming and going blearily, like fleeting glances from passing strangers late at night. Even tracks like the middling "Everyday" is, with its bright, lively beat, only 54 seconds long. That brief song stands out as the first departure from the 13 gentle tracks that make up the first half of the album, tracks that evoke underground explorations in cool, damp, perhaps crystal-encrusted environs. "Acid Net" and "Last Backup" follow "Everyday" in their own vivacious ways, before things settle back down with the somewhat woozy "I Know Where Catherine Street Is," which precedes the last stack of songs with their dreamiest synths and snappiest beats. That there is cohesion among these many songs makes more sense than not, as they're all experiments from the past year, representing Aguilera's various projects. In the notes on his Bandcamp, he explains that Lightworks showcases "the development of new ideas coming together," and like fleeting thoughts that are sometimes half-finished but often interwoven into larger relation, these songs all feel like bright, intimate snapshots into a creative process taken at its most immediate. Stream it on Spotify, or buy it on Bandcamp at mooninite.bandcamp.com.
The Season of SLAM
A guitar, keyboard, drum kit or any other instrument does cost a lot more than, say, a baseball mitt, a basketball, a football or a pair of soccer cleats. In both cases, however, they can be tools for self-expression, growth and excitement for youth—both can even be team sports. And while the former isn't as popular a form of socialization for teenagers as high school sports, that doesn't stop local organizations like Salt Lake Academy of Music from fostering a place for musically inclined kids not just to get better at music, but to form bands, record their compositions and perform. Among the many SLAM alumni bands, two new projects have joined their gallery of young talents. Main Street Marigold is a four-piece which just released their EP Spare Change, a concept project that stemmed from the pandemic and which features four songs directed by each of the four members. It stretches from the bluesiness of "Broken Clock" and "See You Soon" to the ambitious, dramatic, metal-ish "Better Days" and the classic rock of "The River"—which, in addition to the kids' talents, definitely benefits from the production hand of long-time local music man Terence Hansen. The other new project that SLAM can take credit for helping build to fruition is Jaxon Brown's Daydream EP, an indie pop endeavor which was helped along by a crew of Brown's friends. Besides assisting with producing and releasing these projects, SLAM works to make music accessible even to those who can't afford it with their sliding scale system, meaning that if music is your kid's sport, SLAM has a place for them to play their best. If you want to see SLAM continue to provide that gift, give a gift yourself by donating to SLAM (and getting some SLAM swag in return) this holiday season at slamslc.org.
- Scooter Cooper
T-James Releases Salty
Local rapper T-James has stayed busy since the release of his last full-length album, 2019's Distant Shapes, and a result is here in his new album Salty—an appropriate title for an album that ruminates on the wariness that seems to stick to the hustle for success. Released Dec. 4, early tracks like "No In Between" set the album's tone of weariness and strength, sounding like a prayer for confidence and perseverance. "Life Goals," meanwhile, opens with classic spitfire rapping that cedes later to T-James's honeyed mantra about his dreams, his pondering over how high he might go; a slow piano-beat winks over and over in the background, providing a golden tone that seems to depict the basis of T-James's state of mind as an ultimately positive one. Around track seven, when among breezy, airy backbeats "Stuck In My Thoughts" shifts towards a lost friend stuck in a world of their own bullshit, it becomes clear that the friend is really just an example of T-James greatest fear—someone he used to trust who's turned their back. It's a fear that comes up elsewhere on the album, as T-James also muses in one of the best lines on the release, "Hardship has a beautiful face, we fall in love with the pain and call it musical taste," though whether he's referring to his past friend's struggles or his own is hard to say. At every turn on the album, T-James rotates between his own sure sense of self and the paranoia that must come from depending on others to help you. And on "Keep 'em Awake," he finds some agreement in that sentiment from the wry voice of fellow local rapper Izzy Davis, a welcome addition to T-James's flows. Even on the smirking (and super catchy) track "Quesadilla," T-James and his feature, Sleezy, fixate on the cheesy pie in the sky. It's only on the closer "Burn Out" that T-James takes his eye off his own prize, shifting his gaze instead towards the wider struggle of movements, like the ones we've seen spring up this summer around Black Lives Matter. It's an abrupt departure, but it's also good to see that T-James's penchant for parsing out the meaning of work, pain and success extends beyond his own personal saltiness. Stream it on Spotify.
- Kate Scott
Andrew Bird Brings Gezelligheid to Live Stream
Andrew Bird is quite the multi-talented man in the music world, and may be known to many for many different reasons. Some might remember first encountering him by way of his quintessential contributions to aughties indie, which were colored by his talents in the folk and jazz ensemble worlds as much as they were by his tendency to experiment with loops, pedals and his trusty violin. Even with 16 albums under his belt and some Grammy nominations, still others may be familiar with his somewhat-annual Gezelligheid performance—a seasonally-minded showcase named after a Dutch word for "cozy"—of Bird's own songs and some covers, all typically performed on a cathedral stage with big Victrola speakers and Bird's even bigger, spirited sound. The performance has traditionally taken place at the 4th Presbyterian Church in Bird's native Chicago, with the first performance taking place back in 2013. Whether folks already know of the series, have been to its real life iterations or are just Bird fans new to this holiday offering, anyone will doubtless be excited that the performance will now be made virtually accessible, with promotion from SLC's own art lovers, Red Butte Gardens and streaming on Performance Now! via Seated. And while it's sad that Bird can't hold his IRL version of the show in the church with all its grand acoustics, it is special that people far and wide, Chicagoans or not, can stop into the church of Gezelligheid during these strange, lonely holidays and share in what only a talent like Andrew Bird can offer. Ticket-buyers also gain access to archival recordings of the first Gezelligheid performance from 2013, viewable in the days leading up to the viewing, or on the viewing day itself, which is Dec. 13. Tickets are $20, and the performance airs at 7 p.m. EST. Visit andrewbird.net for ticketing links and info.
Flavor Notes Brings Food and Music Together
There are two things that are certain in the media world: Music journalism is oversaturated with talent and opinions, and that fact is rivaled only by food writing's own overfull woes. The latter especially is something that local Kia McGinnis Wray has had on her mind, in her ponderings about how to juggle her passion for food with her equal passion for music. "I've been thinking about how to combine the two for a long time, though it's definitely been inspiring to see how many people have put themselves out there during the pandemic!" she says. The way that McGinnis Wray has put herself out there is by re-envisioning her own identity as a music writer and food lover by way of her new blog Flavor Notes—a pun only a true writer could come up with. She has a history as a music reviewer at SLUG Magazine, experience that exists alongside a few of her own music-centric zine projects, but she's also dabbled in the food world, making, growing and posting about food as well as music over the years. "I wanted to be thoughtful about taking up space as a food writer, because it's a saturated (and sometimes problematic) world. As far as music, I've been writing reviews for so long, and wanted to think about what I was hearing in a different way," she says. For any music writer, the formulaic approach to describing sounds and the emotions they do or don't evoke is a familiar one, though it's also a hard skill to learn—which makes the endeavor of listening differently, especially in relation to something as similarly abstract as food, an impressive and inspiring one. So far, Flavor Notes consists of "duets," like a cocktail recipe paired with some sweet words about the late Justin Townes Earle and some of his songs, as well as musings on pie paired with a long, delightfully varied pie-themed playlist. Flavor Notes will also include spotlights on local makers in the food and music arenas, and there's even more to come. Do yourself a favor and follow Flavor Notes at @flavornotes on Instagram, or at flavor-notes.com.