Posts Tagged ‘Mudbison’

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MUSIC: The Next Best Thing (Part 1)

Written by Scott Manning on . Posted in Local, Music

Thanks to the recent stammering success of Provo-based Neon Trees, our town has gotten a bit more attention. Not much, but a bit.

The Trees have exploded on the national music scene well enough to have scored appearances on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno and Jimmy Kimmel Live, toured with The Killers, 30 Seconds to Mars and Mutemath, and had their single “Animal” placed on Billboard’s Hot 100… and much more. I’m sure there are plenty of fans of theirs that are reading this and are mentally listing all their major accomplishments I’ve missed.

But this article isn’t about Neon Trees.  It’s about what we have coming next.

Because of them, Provo may be getting a different eye from the music industry — and we just so happen to have a couple good things in the mix to surprise them with. As some of you know, several bands based (or at least at one time based) out of Utah County made it into this years SXSW Music Festival in Austin, Texas, one of the biggest annual festivals in the nation. Music from other local bands has been heard on MTV and other network television shows — and if you think we’ve exhausted our resources, you’re simply out of your mind.

At one time I was convinced that our town was one of the weaker music scenes in the States, but compared percentage-wise to other larger cities, we’ve got a pretty good track record so far. So, for your information, I’ve compiled a couple interviews with bands that have dug their feet into the rocky ground of the music industry and are ready to show the world what they’ve got.

More than a couple of these bands have already been featured by Rhombus, of course, but before you complain and post your disdainful commentary below, know that this is not another album or concert review — this is a compendium of some noteworthy acts whose names you’re most likely to see around soon in more magazines than this one.

Their name bound to be bigger than the animal it refers to, Mudbison has made some pretty big leaps recently. Spencer Russell –brother of Columbia-signed folk artist Isaac Russell — has been working his arse off on getting things in line, such as recording/mixing/mastering, pumping out music videos, and trying to get a tour off the ground. All the hard work is paying off though, as is evident by conducting a simple YouTube search and finding that the band’s very newly added videos have already garnered over 5,000 views collectively. It’d be my guess that not all of those are just from Provo either.

Upon being asked what drives him to keep working at his music career, Russell replies, “Maybe it’s teaching people morals I’ve learned through the stories I write. Maybe it’s my love for writing a tune that gives people chills. It’s probably both. Aesthetic pleasure is something I love to give, and this is the best way, I guess.”

Style: Indie pop, singer/songwriter
Sounds like: Badly Drawn Boy meets Sufjan Stevens meets Beck
Likely labels to see them on:
Asthmatic Kitty, XL Recordings, Sub Pop Records
Strongest weapon: A killer album, Russell’s ingenious songwriting ability
Biggest accomplishment: Their unique sound
Network/Connections: With a brother signed to Columbia Records and a father deeply ingrained in the film industry, Russell is likely to get his band’s music into good hands.

Imagine Dragons
I don’t know of any band that has received a quicker hype than these guys. Coming out of a victory at BYU’s Battle of the Bands in late 2009, they had achieved “Provo fame” within a few short months and began packing Velour and other venues/events to the brim shortly thereafter. After a move to Las Vegas and a couple lineup changes, ID is now the fastest growing band in Sin City — but they still aren’t content.

Lately they’ve been hitting areas nearby like L.A., Phoenix and San Francisco, all while maintaining their huge fan base here in Utah. Don’t think for a second that Imagine Dragons will fall by the wayside — you’ll soon be seeing their records everywhere you look.

Style: Indie pop/rock
Sounds like:
The Killers thrown back to a Tears for Fears/Depeche Mode concert.
Likely labels: Warner Music Group, EMI
Strongest weapon: A plethora of involved fans.
Biggest accomplishment: Showcased at SXSW 2010, shared stage with Blue October, Jet, Kelly Clarkson, Presidents of the U.S., and more.
Network/Connections: Friends — and relatives — in high places.

Eyes Lips Eyes
Having just a couple days ago changed their name from ER (which had been changed from Elizabethan Report), Eyes Lips Eyes has been cooking what you’ve been smelling. After playing a couple shows with these guys, I can attest to the level of professionalism and skill they have — things that undoubtedly will help them achieve their goal of making music their sole income. That’s what influenced their decision to move to L.A. last summer, and what continues to push them now as they have raised their marketing to a whole new level.

Spencer, the band’s guitarist, gives this piece of advice to other bands that are trying to make a living out of music: “In the end, the stuff that works the best is the stuff that no one has tried yet. So being willing to venture out and take some risks with promotion ends up paying off in the end. Once people catch up, though, you have to find something new.”

Style: Dance rock, indie/alternative
Sounds like: Interpol gets in a food fight with Red Hot Chili Peppers.
Likely labels: EMI, Warner Bros., Matador Records
Strongest weapon: Their stage energy coupled with their promoting energy.
Biggest accomplishment: Shows with The Raconteurs, Spoon, The Black Keys, Bob Dylan, and releasing two albums.
Network/Connections: Have found good friends while in LA, but no shew-ins — They’ve succeeded through blood, sweat and tears alone.

Stay tuned for some more bands to be featured in this 3-part series.

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MUSIC: Review: Mudbison, "A"

Written by Steve Pierce on . Posted in Music

For fans and devotees of the local music scene, the debut album of indie-eclectic band and Provo mainstays Mudbison has been a long time coming — and, thankfully, it’s finally here with staggering results.

Largely the brainchild of frontman and producer Spencer Russell, A is one of the most inspired and unique discs to drop from a Utah band in quite some time. While the Utah Valley scene has produced some great artists in recent years who’ve found widespread success, it seems fairly safe to say that we always know what they’re going to give us. Joshua James creates brilliantly soulful folk music that transports you to a different time. Neon Trees make you want to dance your face off while singing along at the top of your lungs to their synth-driven dance-rock jams. We love these excellent homegrown artists for what they do — but they are known entities. They just are who they are.

Mudbison is a whole different breed. When the band officially formed in early 2009, their early tunes were generally acoustic guitar-driven folk ditties penned by Russell and then sparsely augmented with keys, bass and drums. More than a year later, the sounds of A could not be more different. Now gleaming with a studio-quality sheen proffered by Russell’s burgeoning production genius, each song brings its own unique flavor while still fitting into a larger, cohesive, and distinctly “Mudbison” feel.

Some tracks, including the simple acoustic opener “The Mailman Song” and the tender piano ballad “Wait for Me,” wouldn’t have felt out of place in the band’s early catalog, while pulsing synths and sampled beats provide a glimpse into a completely different creative vision on album standouts like “Color T.V.” and “Mama Nix.” Similarly, old Russell standbys like “Little Indian” and the ever-popular “Suburbia” get electronica-tinged upgrades that retain the soul of the original recordings while taking the songs to new, more expansive heights. Indeed, to listen to A‘s “Suburbia” (included below) in comparison to the original version off Russell’s self-released 2009 solo disc is to glimpse the possibilities of a band truly reinventing themselves and their sound, while pushing the sonic limits of their creativity.

That’s not to say A is all fun and games. The somber yet expansive “Joy!” shows Russell confronting the untimely passing of his mother through song more directly and powerfully than ever before. By layering his delicate piano melody and guitar picking with profoundly affecting backing harmonies provided by Caitlin Duncan and field recordings of his mother discussing her difficult struggle with cancer, Russell simultaneously creates one of the most devastating and most uplifting pieces of music I’ve ever heard. I challenge any individual with a heart to closely listen to “Joy!” alone in a room and try not to cry your eyes out. (I’m almost certain it can’t be done.)

But, in short, that’s what A and, by extension, the new Mudbison is — a brilliant amalgamation of musical styles and thematic tones that create an even greater whole. Russell and Duncan’s voices blend together effortlessly in any scenario, whether it be an up-tempo dance number or a sparse acoustic ballad, giving the album a shape-shifting versatility that’s sure to please listeners of all kinds. If you like music and have yet to hop on the Mudbison train, now is as good a time as any to walk — no, run — toward the light and receive your tuneful reward.

Listen to: Mudbison, “Suburbia”

Hear more Mudbison and learn about the band at their MySpace page here.

MUSIC: Concert Review: Mudbison, The Devil Whale

Written by Steve Pierce on . Posted in Music


Friday night’s show at Velour showcased the full musical spectrum of the local scene — from the great to the, um, not-so-great, all in one evening on one stage.

The show opened with a spirited performance by now-Los Angeles-based pop-rockers Kid Theodore. I often place this band into a category with Fictionist and the Elizabethan Report — groups whose music I don’t especially connect with on a personal level, but who possess immensely recognizable talent nonetheless. While I may never sit down and pop in a Kid Theodore album for my own personal enjoyment, it is abundantly clear that they do what they do very, very well. If you’re into scruffy, energetic powerpop with lots of multi-part shout-along choruses, you will love these guys. Their Friday set was no different, and they got the crowd moving early and often with a tight set of danceable tunes.

The John Whites have been something of a mystery to me for quite some time — I’d heard about them forever, but had never actually seen or listened to them until they took the stage second on Friday. I was not impressed. I generally found lead singer John White’s (who else?) vocals to be more than a little hard on the ears as he constantly wavered in and out of tune. The songs seemed to lack any sort of discernible structure and seemed to drag on ad nauseum, piling on clumsy guitar solo after clumsy guitar solo to little positive effect.

The band’s cover of Phil Collins’ “In the Air Tonight” started rough, but eventually grew to a fairly nice and respectable apex — before being completely ruined by White’s distracting and misplaced dancing. (To be frank, it was just a bit weird.) I’m not really sure what all that means, nor do I know how to make sense of what The John Whites did on-stage last night — but I’m pretty sure Phil Collins wouldn’t have approved. (Not that anyone would bother to ask for his approval in the first place.)

Thankfully, The Devil Whale took the stage third and calmed my very confused soul with their always excellent folk rock. Band leader Brinton Jones’ tightly written songs are delightfully pleasing to listen to in and of themselves, but also add another layer of texture that subtly enhances the overall experience. Forgive me if I can’t muster a legion of words to describe their performance, because only one comes to mind — solid.

Jones and company are undoubtedly one of the tightest bands in the local scene, boasting impeccable musicianship and group cohesion. Sure, they might not always be the most electrifying or exciting band on the bill, but they always play great songs in a professional manner that is consistently enjoyable. Their Friday performance ran the gamut from spare emotional ballads to up-tempo blues rockers, highlighting the musical ability and versatility of this very, very solid local band.

It’s no secret that Mudbison, the night’s headliners, are one of our favorite bands here at Rhombus. No one writes songs that sound quite like Spencer Russell’s experimentally charged brand of eclectic indie-rock. It’s unfortunate the band has been forced to take so much time off as of late, due primarily to Russell’s work on his younger brother Isaac’s major-label debut album. However, if there was any rust building up over the band’s long layoff, it didn’t show on Friday.

Mudbison came out like a band possessed and tore through an excellent set composed of many old favorites and an ample selection of new material. New songs like the gorgeous piano ballad “Joy!” and the haunting rocker “Vampires” (which I am personally submitting for the next Twilight movie soundtrack) showed Russell’s growth and maturation as a songwriter, broadening his musical horizons even further. His acrobatic vocal range and endearing showmanship were on display in older cuts that still felt shiny and new, like the delicate “Time Machine” (which has never sounded better) and up-tempo stomper “Mama Nix.”

Little unexpected twists and instrumental flourishes kept the discerning listener on the edge of his seat for the entire set — a tribute to not only the band’s effortless collective talent, but also Russell’s unique musical vision. It’s these kind of subtleties (the kind also employed to great effect by Brinton Jones and The Devil Whale) that lend greater nuance to a performance and really take it to a higher level. Should Russell ever decide to let his brother go his own way and focus on Mudbison alone for any serious period of time, there’s no telling what this prodigiously talented band could come up with next. Until then, we’ll keep our fingers crossed.

Steve Pierce is editor and co-founder of Rhombus.

SONG OF THE DAY: September 2nd

Written by Steve Pierce on . Posted in Music

Mudbison, “Suburbia”

We’ve been on a bit of a local kick here at Rhombus the past couple days and there’s no Provo artist we love more than Mudbison. Boasting some of the most innovative songwriting you’ll find here or anywhere, the band’s sound is profoundly eclectic and unlike pretty much anything else. Principle songwriter-vocalist Spencer Russell has a voice that’s alternately soothing and wounded, giving him the unique ability to move effortlessly from a peaceful whisper to a howling scream and end in a wistful falsetto, all in a matter of seconds. Combine one of the local scene’s most dynamic frontmen with a truly exceptional group of musicians and you get the glory that is Mudbison.

Despite a recent month-long hiatus when Russell traveled to Oxford, Miss., to help his brother Isaac (formerly known as RuRu) record his major label debut, the band are now pressing forward with the process of recording their extensive and ever-expanding catalog for an upcoming release. Until that felicitous day, we will just have to make due with the band’s frequent and phenomenal live performances and some rougher, older recordings. We can offer both. The band will play a headlining show at Velour Live Music Gallery in Provo on September 25th and it promises to be a enlightening affair, to say the least. Russell has recently dropped hints about a new, more synth-driven Mudbison sound, which will presumably be debuted at this show. If you like creative, original music (i.e. not the Black-Eyed Peas), you should probably be at Velour on the 25th.

To get you stoked for the performance, please take a listen to the band’s truly addictive “Suburbia,” included below. While this recording is an early recording done primarily by Russell and does not feature live drums or the ethereal backing vocals of keyboardist Caitlin Duncan, you’ll still get the idea. The song is awesome and just think — it will be even better live at Velour on the 25th. Rhombus will certainly be there; We hope to see you too.

Listen to: Mudbison, “Suburbia”

CONCERT REVIEW: The Vibrant Sound (6/27)

Written by Steve Pierce on . Posted in Music

It’s hard to neatly box up the music of the Vibrant Sound into one cut-and-dried genre, but that didn’t matter much to the packed crowd that attended the band’s album release party at Velour Live Music Gallery in Provo on Saturday evening.

Marley and Hayley Hernandez opened the show with their brand of quiet acoustic pop. The duo’s set of original tunes called to mind the music of Colbie Caillat, only with more brains and better harmonies. (What happened to her anyway? Did she die or something?) While both Hernandezes may or may not take issue with such a broad characterization of their music, the fact remains that their catchy melodies and ethereal voices were the perfect way to ease into a night’s worth of great music.

RuRu, the stage name for 17-year-old singer-songwriter Isaac Russell, filled in the middle portion of the bill with a truly stunning performance. Eschewing the drums, pedal steel and electric guitar of his usual full band set-up, Russell took the stage armed with only an acoustic guitar and a remarkably plush-looking armchair. With a sparse backing band, comprised of only a keyboard and bass guitar, the young folk phenom enraptured the audience with a slew of stripped-down versions of tracks from his 2008 album, Elizabeth, as well as some new cuts that showed a possible glimpse of Russell’s future progression as an artist.

While his usual bombast and intensely emotional stagecraft were significantly reined in by the more subdued setting, Russell still managed to wring every last emotional and musical drop from his material. The understated arrangements placed more emphasis on the songs’ beautiful composition and dense lyricism, often delving into poetic discussions of love, loss and death. One of the set’s many highlights came when Russell invited his older brother, Spencer, and Caitlin Duncan (both of local indie-eclectic band Mudbison) onstage to provide backing vocals on the aching ballad, “Excuse.” With the crowd in the palm of his hand, Russell masterfully spun his tale of sickness, heartache and death over a cascade of shimmering “oohs” and “ahhs” from his guests. The moment perfectly encapsulated the talent and potential possessed by the young songwriter, and undoubtedly resulted in a couple sold copies of Elizabeth at the merchandise table.

Following the laid-bare folk of Russell is no easy task, let alone if your music sounds like that of the Vibrant Sound. Mixing a plethora of influences, including hip-hop, soul, R&B, funk and rock, McKay Stevens and Company certainly kicked the show’s energy up a notch from their very first note. From the moment the band launched into bouncy opener “Summertime” with Stevens’ spot-on rendition of Will Smith’s “Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” theme song, the audience was ready to dance and it was immediately clear who they had come to see.

The band tore through a nine song set featuring numerous guests, including Provo’s favorite son, Joshua James, on keys, and comprised mostly of material off their newly released debut album, Downtown. While they also threw in a re-imagined cover or two — including a straight-up filthy (and that’s a good thing) cover of Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On” complete with Stevens laying down original rhymes, and a slow-burning version of the 80s pop classic “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” featuring Scott Shepard of The New Nervous on lead vocals — the Vibrant Sound shined brightest on their original material.

The political overtones of “The Industrial Revolution” and “The Proletariat” were not lost on the ears of the crowd, regardless of their minds’ acceptance (or lack thereof) of the messages. The mostly white audience — this is Provo after all — even responded enthusiastically to the black history anthem “Abolitionist Newspaper,” which prominently features Stevens rapping about African-American liberation over snippets of Martin Luther King speeches.

If there was ever a place to find a cultural disconnect, this would be it — but there was none to be found. It is often said that music can bridge cultures and races, and span creeds and ideologies. It seems the Vibrant Sound have discovered how to do just that — and make you dance and sing along at the same time.

Steve Pierce is the co-founder and editor of Rhombus. He generally thinks hip-hop is dead, but the Vibrant Sound gives him hope. Follow him on Twitter at

CONCERT REVIEW: Mudbison (6/15)

Written by Steve Pierce on . Posted in Music

Indie-eclectic outfit Mudbison rocked Velour Live Music Gallery in Provo on Monday evening, ultimately bringing home the title in night one of the venue’s summer “Battle of the Bands” competition.

Led by frontman Spencer Russell, the new-look Mudbison tore through their five song set with a ferocity not generally associated with Russell’s solo material. The band recently downgraded to four regular players from its original six, and while the band was certainly smaller than in previous incarnations, their sound was definitely not.

The band opened the set with a slow-burning rendition of “Beastmaster,” beginning with Russell plunking out a lonely and simple keyboard riff before growing into a full-band explosion and climaxing in an extended instrumental bridge. Slots two and three of the five song set were occupied by up-tempo stomper “Momma Nix” and the thoughtful, Christian-tinged introspection of “Resurrect.”

The noncommittal crowd oozed apathy throughout the set’s first three songs — an attitude that completely changed beginning with the hard-driving rock of “Suburbia,” featuring a normally acoustic-clad Russell wailing on a hollowbody electric guitar and the gorgeous backing vocals of keyboardist Caitlin Duncan. The more dance-friendly beat of “Suburbia” segued effortlessly into the marching band-style drum cadence that began the band’s final song and the set’s biggest highlight.

With a lone drum solo (prominently featuring the wonders of a woodblock) eventually giving way to a catchy piano riff, Mudbison launched into “Tyranny,” the newest song in the band’s catalogue. Russell’s poignant lyrical pondering of the allures of “Satan’s plan” ultimately surrendered to the set’s best moment: an extended jam session that featured the frontman turning out not only classic rock-style guitar solos, but also a good measure of spirited cowbell banging and tambourine shaking as he barked out the shout-along chorus. Russell’s energy was infectious and the Velour crowd couldn’t help but clap along and smile — presumably in distant memory of Will Ferrell’s SNL Blu Oyster Cult character — when he finally blessed them with “more cowbell.”

Mudbison’s 30 minute set — like many of their songs — was a slow-build: the crowd was only casually interested for the slightly more delicate and nuanced beginning before getting all riled up by Russell and his mates’ contagious melodies and danceable riffs. The payoff was certainly worth the patience on both ends, as the band left victorious and the crowd smiling.

To learn more about Mudbison, visit their official web site. Also, listen to “Suburbia” (included below) and visit their MySpace page to hear more.