- Michael Woolery
Things are So Far So Good For Amateur Atlas
Amateur Atlas—AKA Sean Woolery—sounds like no amateur on the follow-up EP to his 2020 album Part One. So Far So Good is a breath of fresh air, a relief after days that are spent like mine—combing through music, lots of it bad. Though it clearly recalls a very "done" kind of beachy dream pop, popularized by the likes of Beach Fossils and other Captured Tracks ilk, it's a genre and a sound that's still settling into its position as something kind of passé, but still feel-good—bossa nova for indie kids. And that's not an insult, because bossa nova is damn good, and so is 2010s dream pop, even as it ages into the new work of folks like SLC's own Amateur Atlas. So Far So Good feels like a deep sigh, a cigarette drag, a crisp, sunny spring day. While his 2020 release was altogether more guitar-driven, more scratchily indie-minimal, this release feels brighter in tone. Even the guitar parts feel a little more present, especially on opening tracks like "Believe You Me Landr." Woolery's vocals come and go, always a little bit hidden by effects. The track that follows, "All the Time," feels a bit like early Wild Nothing, and also something that's difficult to place; it's an ethereal track with a hooky, repetitive guitar part that instantly pulls you in. Beachy guitars feel new and freshly enticing on tracks like "Pools of Deep Blue"—there is a lack of pretension, which has become so glued to this kind of music. The gently grooving song tugs at one's mind with something familiar, but it's almost easier to just let the song wash over you with its blue-hued, psychedelic guitar plucks and steady beat. It's a three-minute blur of ease, after all, with enough personality that it seems like it wants to tell a story, but doesn't have the words to. Other highlights on the EP include the title track, which feels like slow-mo running the mall-themed racetrack on one of the Mario Kart games—a soothing quality. So Far So Good is just that for Amateur Atlas, and delivers the reward of a good listening experience for audiences, too. The album releases Friday, Feb. 19 on streaming platforms. Find the singles "Pools of Deep Blue" and the title track up on Spotify now. Follow @amateur_atlas on Instagram for updates and news.
HUM Opens Up Another Season of Artist Submissions
While many had hoped we'd be past the pandemic by now, and that local artists wouldn't be spending yet another year wondering how to put bread on the table while still making their art, unfortunately that's the case. But, as there was last year, there's still the small saving grace that is HUM, the Salt Lake Public Library's local music archive project that City Weekly wrote about in 2020 when they also launched HUM-TV, a visual showcase series on local artists. On Feb. 22, they open up their first open call for submissions of 2021. Utah artists who have made an album or EP in the last five years are welcome to submit to the archive, and if their piece is chosen, they receive payment for that selection. No word yet on whether HUM's budget has been expanded as it was last year, but there is a new curatorial group on board making 2021's HUM selections. Among these new selectors is Meira Bashir, founder and creative director of the local music-art-photography publication Salt Lily Magazine—a distinctive digital mag which always has its thumb on the pulse of young, up-and-coming talent in Utah. There's also Norbert Bueno, a local music producer and musician who also last year helped found and is now president of Social Antidote, a live-stream music project born from the pandemic, with an eye towards professional production and showmanship as good as any real-life show. Bueno's expertise lies in the more professional world of music-making, as he works with music publishing company Warner Chappell to score all sorts of media, from popular television shows to commercials (we also revisit his efforts with Social Antidote in our feature story this week, see p. ??). Joining Bueno as one of the musicians on the panel is Little Moon, a Provo artist who early last year released her magical debut folk album Unphased. Besides making and releasing her music, or winning praise for her NPR Tiny Desk Submission, she also works as the co-founder of the Provo-based art and music collective Camp Creep. Rounding out the group of newcomers is Parker Mortensen, the busy podcaster behind SLUG Magazine's Soundwaves podcast, which highlights local bands of all genres, and on which they tell their own stories with the gentle prodding of Mortensen. Mortensen is also a writer for SLUG, and has been a music contributor here at City Weekly, too. Needless to say, this is a diverse and knowledgeable group with all sorts of ties to the many parts of the Utah music community. Stay tuned for their picks later this year, but in the meantime, if you're an artist, make sure they have good stuff to pick from! Visit hum.slcpl.com/submit for rules and links for submission.
- Julia Jac
City Ghost Releases Gray
Despite album art that depicts a waitress at a diner smoking with gloomy repose, local rockers City Ghost's new EP Gray isn't as downbeat as the title or the album art suggests. It heads further in the same direction as their last release, 2018's EP When the Lights Go Out, showcasing the four-piece's sunnier take on emo aesthetics and their indie rock chops. Recorded two years ago and released on Friday, Feb. 5, each song is melodically tight in a way that suggests that they were all labored over by the members, one of which includes drummer Ken Vallejos of fellow SLC bands Show Me Island and Sunsleeper. Fans of recent indie rock like that of Summer Cannibals, with their classic electric zeal, will enjoy tracks from City Ghost like opener "Forget About It," which is one of the only totally edgy songs on the album with its driving, moody guitar parts. Vallejos' firm drumming keeps that first track and all that follow feeling distinctly emo-ish, and it's the backbone the songs need. Vocalist Sadie O'Neill's voice is a puzzle to me, though. She delivers each song's emotive lyrics with drama and passion, for sure, singing on "Halfway," "what would happen is we misbehaved/ if no one was there to say walk away?/ But we've already made it halfway/ so can we take this to our grave?" She has a tendency to collapse into her own breath at the end of each note, which builds drama at some moments but nullifies it at others the more frequently it happens. It would be interesting to see her surrounded not by the well-honed indie tropes found in City Ghost's music, but by a much larger and louder setting, one where her voice could turn into the more powerful shriek it seems to want to be—like that of Swedish dark indie pop band Makthaverskan, where vocalist Maja Milner thrives. On "Starting Over," she uses raspier, lower tones as the band jams along besides her in the lead-up to the chorus where she goes on rather jubilantly about "No more wondering what you're thinking about, no more asking the questions I can answer myself." This is a solid point in the album, one that feels well-controlled and delivered by all members of the band—who are, after all, a group that's been making music for a long time in SLC and know how to work together. Listen to this solid new addition to City Ghost's repertoire on streaming platforms, or at cityghost.bandcamp.com.
- Leave it to Leavitt Photography
The National Parks Announce First Arena Show
Though The National Parks are one of Utah's most famed bands outside the state, 2021 marks their first-ever arena show, at our own Vivint Arena. And while this is a strange year to be doing one's first arena show, it's also really the band's first big show like this since the pandemic started. They spent the early months of the pandemic doing livestream shows, and the summer doing a soft tour of their big album, 2020's Wildflower, by embarking on a mini Campfire Tour, made up of intimate, early socially-distanced backyard shows presented to very limited audiences. The small, outdoor shows catered to the band's closest fans, and the cozy vibe was in a way representative of half of the spirit of the nature-minded National Parks. Running with the inspiration from their Campfire Tour, they recently re-recorded and released a reworked version of the single "Wildflower," in the acoustic vein in which they were performing it at the time. But as well as The National Parks pull off small-time shows as a folk four-piece, they also thrive on bigger stages, where their sweeping songs can really explode. So, here's your advance notice of their upcoming big-stage gig on March 20—which is, of course, selling at a capacity that allows for social distancing, which also means it's likely to sell out fast! Fans can expect songs from Wildflower, which in addition to being toured out in full, was supposed to be performed at the band's own Superbloom Music Festival. Slated for April 2020, it was of course, doomed to never happen. And though it's not clear when the band will be able to embark on a big tour again, or indeed reschedule their Superbloom fest for real, this is as good an opportunity as any to enjoy the band. They'll be performing with some sparkling L.A. talent for support, in the forms of The Strike and Tishmal. The latter is a rising solo artist-to-watch in the electronic pop world, and her broody brand of pop music will certainly suit the arena environment even if it is a somewhat odd pairing for the all-Americana of The National Parks. However, The Strike will ... strike something of a balance between the two, combining the kind of synth-heavy elements that make the foundation of Tishmal's genre to craft a high-energy, '80s-indebted kind of pop rock that's sounds like the lovechild of Bruce Springsteen and The 1975. The event will include many safety precautions besides the limited capacity—temperature checks, constant mask wearing and enforcement, spaced seating, tickets limited to groups in the same household and plastic barriers plus access to hand sanitizer are all features of the event. Visit thenationalparksband.com for ticket links.
Song of the Week: "Everybody Loves You" by The Chicks
I did not grow up on country music, and as a "black sheep" kid growing up in Utah, I've spent most of my young life determined to flip the genre off, forever—even when it comes to badass artists like The Chicks. Besides an adult peripheral appreciation for country music's own black sheep, based off their iconic comments on the Iraq War and the fact that all my girlfriends love "Goodbye Earl," I haven't ever given them much thought. That is, until a chance run-in with one of the songs off their 2020 album, Gaslighter. Their first musical release since 2006's Taking the Long Way, Gaslighter is full of equal parts scrappy, lightly political country tracks and hooky, pop-leaning numbers that provide a compelling update to The Chicks' legacy of sharp, distinct songwriting. But, the song that happened across my autoplay the other day is like no other song on the album. A simple, yet strikingly honest meditation on the frustrations of a break-up, "Everybody Loves You" finds singer Natalie Maine spending the song trying to square her pain with the fact that the one she hates is still blindly adored by everyone else. Maine starts the song off wearily, singing "I'm so tired, I have to tame my mind before I get too frustrated," before going on to ruminate on injustices done, disrespect still felt. It feels like she's talking to herself, going around and around in her head rather than daring to try to express to anyone on the outside what she's feeling—the kind of inner monologue one develops after a messy ending with someone. She goes on to sing, for most of the song, "It's my body and I'm trying to hate you, 'cause I want to / It's my body and I'm trying to—while everybody loves you." The breathless refrain expresses the way the grief of disrespect can be felt almost physically, and the hurt one feels—or is privy to, or has intimately known—from a person may feel like an entire split reality because, well, everybody else still loves that person. It's the kind of song that hits hard if you've ever been around someone for whom the sun shines, who can do no wrong—except for when they do, to you. Stream this song, and the rest of the very good album wherever you stream.