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From electro-soul anthems to go-for-the-throat garage rock: here are this week's essential guitar tracks

The Velveteers
The Velveteers' Demi Demitro (Image credit: Easy Eye Sound/YouTube)

The end of summer, believe it or not, is rapidly approaching. Though the arrival of September does mark the end of beach season, it also heralds the beginning of fall release season, and its accompanying rush of exciting new music.

From the tunes we’ve heard in recent days, it seems that the fall of 2021 is going to be just as thrilling for those hungry for guitar innovation as the year’s previous seasons. 

Animals As Leaders are back with an unrelenting piece of high-gain prog, Johnny Marr’s wielding a nine-pickup Strat to glorious effect on a new "electro soul anthem,” The Velveteers are – with some help from Dan Auerbach – keeping go-for-the-throat garage rock alive, while Fantastic Negrito brings topical fire to a breezy country structure on Rolling Through California.

It’s a lot to take in, and that’s not even the half of it – so don’t waste another second! Dive on in, and hear the guitar greatness that awaits.

Animals As Leaders – Monomyth 

The Tosin Abasi-led prog-metal outfit returned from their unofficial musical hiatus this week, releasing their first new music in half a decade in the form of the brutally unrelenting epic, Monomyth – and Animals As Leaders fans will be pleased to hear it was totally worth the wait.

Rather than throwing us face first into a flurry of rapid-fire notes and bombarding us with a barrage of densely packed chugs, the trio instead take the opportunity toy with us a little more, building the anticipation and heightening our senses via some sporadic strums and pounding kick-drum passages.

It’s not long before the track breaks away into the first of its many mosaic-like passages, which are ultimately joined together with a sublime sonic glue that merges Abasi’s otherworldly, ever-sustaining lead tone and snappy low-string stabs into one oversized tapestry of prog-metal perfection.

Keep your eyes and ears peeled, folks, because if this new single – and Abasi’s recent Instagram tease – is anything to go by, a new Animals As Leaders album is just around the corner. Plus, if Monomyth is a sign of things to come, you’re not going to want to miss it. (MO)

Black Label Society – Set You Free

The first track from Black Label Society’s forthcoming record Doom Crew Inc. – which is due out November 26 – Set You Free sees the Zakk Wylde-led quartet deliver a track that metamorphosizes beyond all expectation over the course of its near-four-minute runtime.

While the song commences with a Stairway to Heaven-like arpeggiated acoustic guitar passage, it quickly reminds us who’s playing it, when Wylde and co enter the fray with a stomping distorted guitar-driven section. 

The track makes many winding stylistic turns throughout its course, culminating with a mind-bending dose of dual lead work from Wylde and co-guitarist Dario Lorina.

And there’s to be plenty more where that came from. “It really, truly is a two-guitar album, more so than ever,” Wylde promises. (SR)

Johnny Marr – Spirit, Power and Soul

The fact that – other than his career-defining role crafting some of the 20th century’s most rich, quietly complex and gorgeous guitar riffs with The Smiths – Johnny Marr has managed to slot himself into bands as musically diverse as Modest Mouse, The Cribs, The Pretenders and The The is a testament to his versatility and skill as a guitarist.

No matter what the song calls for, Marr knows how to craft the perfect part, so it’s unsurprising that even when he’s looking to create an "electro soul anthem" in the form of Spirit, Power and Soul the first single from his upcoming double album, Fever Dreams Pts 1-4 – his playing is still a tonal revelation.

Wielding an incredible-looking custom Strat with nine (yes, nine, with 18 switches to boot!) single-coil pickups, Marr makes the opening arpeggio ring out like a commandment from the heavens, likewise with the song’s brilliantly simple lead break.

We can’t wait to see what else Fever Dreams Pts 1-4 (and that guitar, for that matter) have in store for us. (JM)

The Velveteers – Motel #27

If Queens of the Stone Age and L7 got into a bar fight, the result would probably sound a lot like The Velveteers, the Denver-based three-piece whose raucous performances recently attracted the attention of Dan Auerbach – who became such a fan that he ended producing the band’s forthcoming debut album, Nightmare Daydream.

The Black Keys mastermind’s sonic footprint is all over Motel #27 – and not just because of guitarist/singer Demi Demitro’s pawn-shop offset. No, this is a garage-rock banger with the kind of fuzzed-up tones Auerbach has been honing on record for decades.

But far more importantly, the track oozes attitude. Demitro – who spent up to nine hours a day woodshedding as a teen – doesn’t so much swipe at her guitar as stab it, and that makes her playing just as exciting whether she’s engaging in pitch-shifted leads or hammering out a single chord. The Velveteers deliver rock in its rawest, most primordial form – they’re going to be huge. (MAB)

Dragged Under – Brainwash Broadcast

Taking direct aim at the “media sensationalism that we endure everyday”, Seattle metallers Dragged Under have teamed up with Underoath’s Spencer Chamberlain to issue a brand-new standalone track, Brainwash Broadcast.

Kicking off with a killer electric guitar riff courtesy of Ryan “Fluff” Bruce – of Riffs, Beards & Gear YouTube channel fame – the track quickly blossoms into a fast-paced ADTR-style punk-hard-rock number, wrought with plenty of gain-heavy guitar-centric breakdowns and carefully crafted vocal harmonies. (SR)

Davy Knowles – Roll Me 

Roll Me – the second single from roots singer-songwriter Davy Knowles’s upcoming album, What Happens Next – boasts an abundance of just about everything you could hope to find from a soulful, blues-drenched, guitar-driven number.

A three-note lick from a snarling electric guitar armed with a heavyset tremolo effect and we’re away, with Knowles guiding us through the track via his almost-hypnotic vocals, recurring gain-y snaps and melodic flourishes. His PRS isn’t wholly resigned to the rhythm section, though, and tentatively awakens from its solo-less slumber to deliver some expertly crafted phrases.

Of the track, which was written by Knowles’s producer Eric Corne, the guitarist says, “as soon as I heard it, I related to it and knew I wanted to record it. It was great to push myself out of my comfort zone and I couldn’t be more pleased with how it turned out.”

Smooth tones, easy going vocals, a swelling mid-section and a sumptuously selected guitar solo… What more could you possibly want from an end-of-week essential track? (MO)

Buffalo Nichols – Back on Top

Milwaukee, Wisconsin native Buffalo Nichols recently became venerated indie/blues label Fat Possum Records’ first solo blues signing in almost 20 years. Next month, the company will release his self-titled debut album – so, what sets this singer, songwriter and guitarist that far apart?

The premise of his debut’s second single, Back on Top, is familiar enough. Our protagonist “ain’t got a dime left” for the object of his affection, but once he’s got some money, the duo will “live like a king and queen.”

Nichols is a man on a mission though, and injects this age-old thematic backdrop with an urgency and skill – compositionally and vocally – that shows exactly why he’s got even the most seasoned of blues fans excited. 

Nichols’ sweet-as-honey slide work on the song is absolutely impeccable – matching the excitability, charisma and underdog charm of the song’s narrator beat-for-beat, while locking perfectly into the song’s sumptuous groove. 

Anyone who fears the blues’ demise would do well to keep their eyes on Nichols – with guitarists like him carrying the torch and moving the genre into the 21st century, the blues’ll be just fine. (JM)

Juan Antonio – The Science Fair

You might remember Berklee International professor Juan Antonio from his lessons on how to capture the essence of Steve Vai and Plini in your playing – and it appears he’s certainly internalized those techniques for the first single from his forthcoming EP, Sublimation.

The Science Fair takes its cues from prog – check out the piano and orchestral instrumentation – but Juan Antonio’s melodic sensibility and dynamic playing style are sure to appeal to anyone who thinks the genre favors technicality over feel. And the way that middle-eight solo alchemizes a wealth of lead approaches into solid gold is pure guitar magic. A+! (MAB)

Fantastic Negrito – Rolling Through California

In the wake of climate change and the challenges presented by California’s annual fire season, three-time Grammy winner Fantastic Negrito has joined forces with Bay Area singer songwriter Miko Marks for a refreshingly genre-fluid number, Rolling Through California.

Incorporating silky country-style slide guitar, soulful vocal harmonies and bluesy electric piano leads, Rolling Through California is an uplifting cut which further illustrates Fantastic Negrito’s impressively malleable musical style.

“I remember waking up to an apocalyptic sky,” Fantastic Negrito says. “The sky was orange, the sun looked bloodshot and people’s anxiety levels were very high. It felt and looked like doomsday. It really made me think about climate change and the environment – how our actions impact where we live and the choices we make.”

A portion of the song’s proceeds will be donated to Defy:Disaster, which aims to provide both immediate and long-term disaster relief. (SR)

Marissa Nadler – Bessie, Did You Make It?

For this writer’s money, other than maybe Nick Cave, no-one on Earth is better equipped to write a gothic murder ballad – or flip one on its head – than Marissa Nadler.

A phenomenal acoustic fingerstylist, Nadler is a master of shaping a narrative and building tension with her playing, and that’s exactly what she does on Bessie, Did You Make It?, the haunting lead single and track from her upcoming album, The Path of the Clouds.

Written during the early stages of the pandemic, this Western ghost story of sorts comes alive beautifully at the hands of Nadler’s driving fingerpicking, a lush orchestral arrangement and Nadler’s crisply matter-of-fact vocals.

Bessie, Did You Make It? feels like a tale you heard long ago at a sleepover, at a campfire, or from an old relative – timeless and forever embedded into your head, there to comfort or spook you in equal measure. (JM)

Me and That Man – Got Your Tongue (feat. Chris Georgiadis) 

Behemoth member Adam 'Nergal' Darski was back in action with his ominous blues-funk-fusion-esque group Me and That Man this week, returning with a bang thanks to the group’s newest heavy-riffing romp, Got Your Tongue.

Enlisting the help of Chris Georgiadis of Turbowolf, Got Your Tongue adopts a no-holds-barred sonic approach that blasts listeners with an immediate, in-your-face gain-heavy riff that gallops along without reprieve, save the stripped-back refrains.

And for those hoping for a solo, you're in luck, as the closing 30 seconds gives Darski ample opportunity to break away from the track’s mainstream riff and let loose on a rapid-fire lead passage that closes the track out in a show-stopping burst of frantic, rock-heavy energy. 

A timely, rock 'n' roll-fueled pre-weekend pick-me-up if ever there was one. (MO)