- Polly Llewellyn
Peachy Fingernail is "Nothing If Not a Silly Girl"
In the Bandcamp page liner notes on her newest album, Peachy Fingernail (AKA Polly Llewellyn) writes, "I wanted to make songs that sounded like water pouring on concrete, nests of noise, etc. And then suddenly I wanted to make pop songs as well. It both sounds a lot sleepier and a lot more like something boiling up than I meant." This is an apt description of this second full-length album by the SLC artist, after her sonically similar early 2020 album Radishes. Released Feb. 22, i'm nothing if not a silly girl is a unique handful, though—of crunched together instrumentals and Llewellyn's brilliant, distinct lyrical style that even makes the song titles a delight to read. Among the rich back-and-forth between uppity pop ("i'm ocean foam, let me die.," "quilt pearls of cum") and loopy, droopy sleepy instrumentals, poetic lyrics read sweet like honey, and sharp like the tiniest bee sting. Llewellyn tries to square introspective obsessions and fear with the desire to connect and do good, singing in her soft murmur of a voice on "garden is a pretty word (commie logic)," "I need to think logically: if I throw myself into my community / I'll think less about my body / and the terror in my heart / I'm scared to start gardening / I can never stay on top of things / I need someone to work with me / to lend me their trowel." As that song winds down, Llewellyn sings in a faltering voice the vivid lines, "If I hadn't braced and been there for me / I'd be chainmail bleeding by the lake / 'cause you killed me with the engine brake." Though often Llewellyn's soft voice is too syrupy—like someone talking off-handedly to themselves—for it to be clear what she's saying, it all contributes to the general soothing lull of i'm nothing. It is a gentle work, but surprising; "praise song" and "paper spider" have the kind of jarring, discordant undertones that make you pause the song to look out the window, suspecting that a big truck is rumbling by. These parts add delicious texture among the crumbly twee of guitar plucks and bubbling synths that are the meat of the work. "You're Sleeping Somewhere, I Know It" concludes the album, a heavy-eyed, jostling track where Llewellyn's glitched out, uncertain voice declares "the album is over now," sounding like my Bluetooth device when it announces in its nasally, robotic voice that my MacBook is "dis-conn-ected." It's hard to not go on and on about all of the songs on i'm nothing if not a silly girl, but that's why you should go spend some time with it yourself. Visit peachyfingernail.bandcamp.com for the album and other Peachy Fingernail works.
Union of Musicians Advances on Spotify Demands
A few months back, City Weekly reported lightly on the advent of the Justice at Spotify campaign, spearheaded by the Union of Musicians and Allied Workers, who were petitioning at the time for a number of demands aimed at Spotify. The streaming behemoth—which has a pretty firm hold on the title of most-used streamer on the internet—has, in the 10-ish years that it's been dominating the ears of listeners the world over, faced many hiccups of its own, which have in turn reflected on how they've been able to pay artists. This was brought to my attention recently in talks with the co-founder of a new local label, who's seen the ways the big labels work from behind the scenes. Held for many years in binding contracts like that with Sony Music—which found the streaming company paying out most of their yearly income outside of ads to Sony, plus providing them with many other perks like free ad-space—the streamer was not actually as powerful as some thought. They were beholden as a growing company to draining contracts with the big labels—who of course, held all the cards by way of popular mainstream artists. However, things are a bit different these days, with the advent of a "two-sided marketplace" that Spotify has just introduced, which finds them hoping to start making money off labels instead of the other way around. It seems that the new program is aimed at the kind of larger labels who have the money to pay for more artist-featured space on the streaming service's homepages and such. But with this new income, Spotify surely has the funds to finally find a way to pay smaller artists on less powerful, indie labels. So, getting back to the Union of Musicians—they've got a global in-person action coming up on March 15. Well-aware of the sway major labels hold over Spotify, the union is not only asking for a promise of one cent per stream, but for public transparency about the deals between big labels and the streamer. The union is also demanding that Spotify cease legal battles against artists gaining more royalties, and that they add more detailed credits, in the vein of streamers like Tidal, and invest in a user-centric streaming model. Musicians, industry workers and allies will gather on Monday, March 15 at Spotify offices all over the world for an in-person, socially distanced action. Though no local offices exist here, it's worth keeping an eye on the news to see how they're met.
- Utah Arts Alliance
Utah Arts Alliance Saves SLC Heritage, Presents New Venue
If you're looking for some good news when it feels like every historic lot in Salt Lake City seems destined for tear-downs and new-builds, then I give you some here. It's no secret that Utah has many ties to the big-time entertainment and music industries, but one that seems to have been forgotten, or perhaps is just lesser known, is that of L.A. East Studios. Housed in a Victorian Gothic revival LDS church built in 1900, L.A. East Studios came about 20 years after the building was no longer home to 15th Ward services in the area. The charming little ex-church was purchased by L.A. East Studios owner Brian Hofheins and his partners in the 1980s, whose business mainly dealt with television music production—they made music for shows, for organizations like the NBA and ABC and for big-budget Disney films. But the studio also hosted the likes of Carol King, Dolly Parton, Elton John, Demi Lovato, the Backstreet Boys and Eminem, among others. In 2020, Hofheins finally put the building up for sale though, ending a decades-long business partnership that involved Universal Music, and opening it up to the likes of developers interested in its position in a prime-development area. You can guess what they wanted to do with the place. A deal that would have seen the building felled for apartment buildings fell through, though, just in time for the Utah Arts Alliance to spy the spot. Advocates and sponsors of much of the great public art that happens in this city, the UAA was obviously of a mind to hold onto the building and its musical legacy by turning it into a community arts space, dubbing it the Art Castle. There's currently a GoFundMe online, created by UAA's Derek Dyer, to support their goal of renovating the building to be used for accessible, affordable artist studio spaces and venue rentals. They also hope to make the Art Castle a general home for public art by way of a sculpture garden, immersive art experiences featuring local artists, and of course, concerts. Plans also include creating an outdoor amphitheater and wheelchair-accessible bathrooms, as well as opening the space up for school-children's field trips during the day. Learn more about the plans at gofundme.com/f/artcastle and if you're excited about the idea of a new arts venue opening up in SLC, hit the donate button.
- SLC Arts Council
Brown Bag Concert Series Opens for Submissions
A young staple of Salt Lake's live music scene, the SLC Arts Council's Brown Bag series was a fun little idea back before the pandemic—it found the council pairing local artists with local businesses, and public parks and plazas for free mini-showcase events. Around this time last year, City Weekly chose one as a live pick, featuring the local artist Night Marcher at the local bar Purgatory. The shows were not only meant to make SLC streets and businesses more vibrant, but to provide support for local artists and opportunity for their professional development. Obviously during the pandemic, that's been a hard relationship to bring back. But, perhaps inspired by others now engaging in the "hybrid" event model, the council is presenting a new round of Brown Bag shows for 2021, which will be both virtual/live-streamed, and performed live and IRL at outdoor locations around SLC. If there's any safe way to view shows, it's outdoors or from home. So as the warm weather rolls around, Salt Lakers can look forward to that, but in the meantime, artists need to apply! The call for entries started on Feb. 23, but runs until March 15 at 5 p.m. While in the past, the springtime series happened all around the city—at lunchtime in large spaces like Exchange Place, The Gateway, City Creek and Library Square—live-streamed events will make use of Salt Lake's many large, currently-empty event spaces, with IRL locations TBD. All performances will take place through April and the beginning of May. This is also a rare opportunity for artists to find some payment these days, with a base rate per artist at $250 that increases $100 per head-in-the-band. So head over to saltlakearts.org/brownbagconcertseries for more info and for interested artists, the submission form.
Song of the Week: "Mannequin," by Wire
A band I return to again and again is Wire, who are, in my decent opinion, one of post-punk's best bands. Most of the people I know in bands today love Wire, whether the person in question makes grungey, slacker rock, psych rock or some reverb-ridden contemporary take on post-punk tradition. While I hedge towards their creepier, spookier stuff, like the songs found on 1978's Chairs Missing or 1979's 154 (on which lives my favorite song by them, the tragically short "Single K.O."), it is their first album, 1977's Pink Flag that is most people's unequivocal favorite, the one on which most of their well-known songs live. I don't spend that much time with it usually, but at 21 songs long, it is an album worth spending time with. It represents what would become classic Wire—a masterful band wonderful at crafting hooky, explosive, inventive songs that at times feel more like art-rock than post-punk, if not for their gritty, unforgettable guitar parts. The song that sticks out, for me though, is "Mannequin." The seventeenth song on the record, it shimmies with a pop rhythm that recalls the kind of punk rock that Wire came up around and out of—like the Ramones, or the Stooges. But on top of its aloof, jammy little guitar lines, the song is flippant about maybe just those kinds of contemporaries, or at least the ones "selling out" and buying into a punk rock that was at the time becoming less about one's social stances and more about looking the punk part. And while others theorize that it could also very well be about simply, in today's terms, the boring normies of society, the lyrics "well, you're an energy void, a black hole to avoid, no style, no heart, you don't even start to interest me," indicate that maybe it's the former. But meaning aside, Wire stood out and still stands out as a band who fused wacky, quick songwriting style with melody, groove and the sheen of outsider genius. If I ever got to see them play live, I would die, even in their aged (but still putting out an album a year) forms. Until then, I will relive memories of putting them on the jukebox at the Twilite Lounge pre-pandemic, letting songs like "Mannequin" wash over the bar rabble—a sound cocktail worth missing.