Otherworldly headless shred, and fresh riffs from one of the most underrated guitarists of his generation: This week's essential guitar tracks

(Image credit: Declan Blackall Photography)

Hello, and welcome to Essential Guitar Tracks. As you may well know, every seven days (or thereabouts), we endeavor to bring you a selection of songs from across the guitar universe, all with one thing in common: our favorite instrument plays a starring role.

Our goal is to give you an overview of the biggest tracks, our editor’s picks and anything you may have missed. We’re pushing horizons and taking you out of your comfort zone – because, as guitarists, that’s something we should all be striving for in our playing. 

So, here are our highlights from the past seven days – now with a Spotify playlist…

Plini – Ember

It’s been three years since we’ve had new music from Australian progressive virtuoso Plini, but the first taster of Plini’s new EP Mirage (due December 1) suggests it will have been worth the wait.

Uniquely airy and yet full of intricately crafted, jaw-droppingly technical (but not pointless) playing, Ember rises and rises, incorporating beautiful, skittering delays, classic rock theatrics and some monolithic polyrhythmic riffing on his trademark headless Strandberg. (MP)

Big Wreck – Bail Out

Despite being a Suhr signature artist and one of the most talented players and singers of his generation, Ian Thornley remains an underrated talent. His producer Nick Raskulinecz has worked with some of the greatest guitarists in heavy – including Alice in Chains, Deftones and Mastodon – and has dubbed Thornley as “a monster writer [and] a monster player”, which gives you some idea of the triple-A talent possessed by the Canadian virtuoso.

Bail Out is the first single from Big Wreck’s eighth studio effort, and while it plays down Thornley’s shred chops, it foregrounds his ear for a killer hook, with a monster chorus and a riff that could have come straight out of Seattle in the ’90s. But that breakneck octave fuzz middle section? Only Thornley could come up with something so precise yet unhinged. (MAB)

Green Day – The American Dream is Killing Me

The lead single from the pop-punk kings’ forthcoming Saviors album doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but – with swaggering rhythm guitar hooks, snide topical lyrics, and one of Billie Joe Armstrong’s trademark singable solos – The American Dream is Killing Me will make any Green Day fan happy, and perhaps win over some new admirers too young to have memories of solemnly watching the rain outside their bedroom window while listening to Boulevard of Broken Dreams. (JM)

Kenny Wayne Shepherd – You Can’t Love Me

A three-chord verse, a catchy double-stop hook, some ridiculously tasty interlude licks and a suitably sized blues solo is the order of business for You Can’t Love Me – the latest single from Stratocaster loyalist Kenny Wayne Shepherd, who is only a few weeks away from releasing his new album, Dirt On My Diamonds. It’s the third pre-release single so far, and dare we say the tastiest – those tones are truly top-notch, and the phrasing is flawless. (MO)

High Vis – Forgot To Grow

UK group High Vis are one of those bands that have been birthed amid the technicolor explosion that has seen the once-insular hardcore scene suddenly turn its gaze outwards over the last decade.

Theirs is a world where the soaring overdrive chorus sounds of The Stone Roses can co-exist in cathartic union with bouncing hardcore beats. Forgot to Grow does this masterfully, but leaves enough grit in the mix – and, rightly so, given its downtrodden message. (MP)

Dance Gavin Dance – War Machine

Will Swan once echoed Liam Neeson when he told us he has “a specific set of skills”, but his six-string abilities hold a stunning assortment of techniques. War Machine is one of DGD’s heavier offerings in recent years, spanning Glassjaw post-hardcore, Dillinger-esque breakdowns and Fall of Troy hyper-mathcore. All the while, the dextrous fretwork of Swan and and co-guitarist Andrew Wells add poise and grace to the high-gain onslaught. (MAB)

Bad Rabbits ft. Tim Henson – Freedom

Through his various albums and EPs with Polyphia, Tim Henson has endeavored to always push the boundaries of his guitar playing, often blurring the line between his progressive metal roots and more contemporary, hip hop-leaning flavors. That Henson has never rested on his laurels was especially clear on recent album Remember That You Will Die, for which the band recruited a range of rappers and R&B stars.

This new collaboration with alt rock outfit Bad Rabbits is yet more evidence of Henson’s evergreen versatility – Freedom pairs the Ibanez artist’s virtuosic chops (heard in that mind-boggling outro solo) with warbling, heavily produced electronic bass lines. Where will Henson take his playing next? (MO)

Charly Bliss – I Need A New Boyfriend

You’d be hard pressed to find better hooksmiths in the Big Apple than Charly Bliss, and I Need A New Boyfriend slots in comfortably with the best of the band’s catalog in that way. Bubbly synths provide ample support to the Great Recession-era Vans store guitars, but this is no empty nostalgia trip – the songwriting (not to mention the simple but none-catchier solo Eva Hendricks rips before the last chorus) is way too strong for that. (JM)

Grandaddy – Watercooler

Grandaddy’s literally titled new album, Blue Wav, sees Jason Lytle and co focus on a more six-string-centric sound, positioned somewhere in between bluegrass and new wave. Watercooler thus gives the synths the backseat and brings the guitars to the fore, interjecting pedal steel and a “gentle guitar solo”.

There’s no shortage of innovation in the guitar universe, but it’s not often a veteran indie band sounds somehow fresher for making ‘a guitar album’. Grandaddy, once again, prove themselves the exceptions to the rule. (MP) 

Yard Act – Dream Job

Heralding from Leeds, UK, alt rock quartet Yard Act made waves last year with their debut album, The Overload – a record they followed up with zany eight-minute single, The Trench Coat Museum.

Dream Job – the lead single from album number two – is slightly more conventional in its approach: it’s less than three minutes long, but those 140-odd seconds are used wisely, littered with off-kilter riffs, punchy basslines and a quirky, dissonant guitar solo that oozes the Yard Act edge. (MO) 

Interlaker – The Hunger

Interlaker finds two of the UK’s standout alt-rock bands from the past decade joining forces, as former Lonely the Brave singer David Jakes lends his distinctive and impassioned vocals to ex-Arcane Roots drummer Jack Wrench’s expansive guitar chords. The Hunger’s overdriven Telecaster chime straddles the line between indie and emo, and the results are utterly triumphant. (MAB)

The Black Moods – Roadhouse Blues (ft. Robby Krieger and Diamante)

Though people almost invariably picture only the iconic Jim Morrison when thinking about the Doors, Morrison’s surreal psychedelic musings arguably would’ve never had the cross-generational impact they continue to have without the guitar work of Robby Krieger. From flamenco, jazz, Indian sitar music, and folk influences, Krieger created fascinating six-string tapestries that served as the perfect backdrop to Morrison’s songs.

Blues, however, is also a huge part of Krieger’s vocabulary, and was the main influence of one of his greatest riffs – the barreling figure that opens Roadhouse Blues. For their cover of the Doors classic, Tempe, Arizona trio The Black Moods recruited singer/songwriter Diamante and Krieger himself.

Wielding his trademark Gibson SG, Krieger brings old-school cool to the Black Moods’ dimed-out attack, and his call-and-response lick-trading with Black Moods singer-guitarist Josh Kennedy is priceless. (JM)

Sheherazaad – Mashoor

San Francisco-raised songwriter Sheherazaad, blends folk, classical and South Asian soundscapes into evocative and atmospheric compositions. Mashoor features the stellar Ria Modak on guitar, who brings her own blend of Hindustani and classical influences and lends it a warmth that is at once both comforting and unsettling, like falling asleep next to an untended campfire. (MP)

Also on this week’s playlist…

  • Chelsea Wolfe – Whispers in the Echo Chamber
  • Cold in Berlin – Dream One
  • Within Temptation – Ritual
  • El Moono – Chains
  • The Umbrellas – Three Cheers!
  • Kurt Vile – This Time Of Night (Chastity Belt cover)
  • Glitterer – Plastic
  • Troy Redfern – Getaway
  • Bar Italia – World’s Greatest Emoter
  • The Seafloor Cinema – Geese Attack!!!

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Matt Parker

Matt is a staff writer for GuitarWorld.com. Before that he spent 10 years as a freelance music journalist, interviewing artists for the likes of Total Guitar, Guitarist, Guitar World, MusicRadar, NME.com, DJ Mag and Electronic Sound. In 2020, he launched CreativeMoney.co.uk, which aims to share the ideas that make creative lifestyles more sustainable. He plays guitar, but should not be allowed near your delay pedals.