Posts Tagged ‘Spencer Russell’

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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.

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 http://www.twitter.com/steve_pierce.

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.