Sunday, 3 March 2013

Utah - ST (album review)

In a way, Utah is the perfect band for this blog.  This is crazy, insane music with varying identities, different voices chattering in the head kind of music.  But their self-titled full-length is also a collection of underground hits too.  So there you have it, the perfect band to be featured on Paranoid Hitsophrenic, Athens, Georgia quartet, Utah.

Utah let loose with their burly sound on "Bisontennial", a toxic waste spill of fast-paced riffery and snare rolling stoner rock and things only get heavier from there.  "Chickamauga" thickens up the affair like sawdust on an oil spill, but there's just no cleaning up that toxic fuzz spill.  It covers the listener, destroying cells, changing DNA, corroding what's on the surface and before long Utah is inside the mental mainframe with no chance of ever getting out.

After the first song or two, the listener thinks they have a bead on this band.  "They're a stoner band with elements of doom".  Tidy.  But, Utah complicate matters with their songwriting wizardry and their sonic explorations.  Utah remind me of the Fantastic Four (but I won't say which member is Invisible Woman), scientifically pushing past perceived boundaries, entering hidden realms, previously undreamt of dimensions and only the most interesting parts of the limitless cosmos.  They explore different worlds and sometimes get lost in those worlds (see the ending of "Black Sandwich").  Sounds and noises flap by low in the mix but are never simply background elements.  They are the small details that stick out in the mind like little cultural differences when travelling, taken for granted by the local populace.

All these different worlds make for an album that needs to be heard with headphones to be fully appreciated.  Is all this to say that the album lacks focus?  That would depend on what you mean.  Most of the individual songs on this album lack what one might call 'polish' or 'seasoning' in terms of focused song structure.  The overall impression the band leaves however is one of a strong and individualistic identity.  If identity equates to focus, then this band has it in spades.  But if focus more accurately equates to polish, then look elsewhere for focus.  This is experimental and exploratory music, only, these guys have hooks, great riffs and they don't shy away from the odd harmony (see the epic and superlative "Traveler"), and so once again it's a hitsophrenic smorgasbord.

This album is quite a departure from their previous effort, 'Here They Come' which offered a rawer but more streamlined, structured and yes, focused set of shorter songs (though most come close, none of the five tracks crack the three minute barrier).  It should be noted that that first offering was the work of a duo whereas 'Utah' is the band's first crack at recording as a quartet.  What 'Utah' accomplishes is a fully developed, fully explored universe, leaving no stone unturned, no possibility unglimpsed and no summit unapproached.  In short, 'Utah' finds the band confidently navigating rare waters, leaving nothing on the table.  In their collective heart, Utah are explorers, just like a certain colorful band of adventurers that was more like a family than a team.  During the course of events we meet many interesting 'characters' that each in their turn make a strong impression and leave the listener wanting more but only discovering further multiple realities along the way.

Utah play a nearly perfect blend of stoner rock and doom metal, welded together along the center by the ubiquity of da fuzz.  The song "Ambian" is a good example of how the band like to paint pictures, slow things down and speed them back up to create many totally different sonic experiences within a single song.  There is a constant experimentation from beginning to end of the disc, trying on different styles and structures, 'sound painting' intros, tempo shifts, mood swings and understated acoustic folk passages floating out of songs like ghosts from cooling bodies.  Don't expect to lay back on the couch, dig into an ass groove and get comfortable with this album, this is edge of the seat stuff.

Highlights include: "Cryogenics" and "Traveler"

Rating: 4.5/5

Total Run Time: 52:28

Wil Smith- Guitar, Vocals
Chris Parry- Bass
Chris Holcombe- Drums
John McNeece- Guitar, Vocals
From: Athens, Georgia

Genre: Stoner, Doom, Experimental, Punk

Reminds me of: Egypt, Fantastic Four (Lee / Kirby era), Ice Dragon

Release Date: January 8, 2013

Suggested listening activity for fellow non-stoners: Pilot your experimental rocketship through the cosmic rays and see what happens

Better Reviews:
Temple of Perdition
Welcome to the Void (in Greek)
Power Metal (in German)

Utah on facebook


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