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From funky wah workouts to pop-punk reinventions: here are this week's essential guitar tracks

Faye Webster
(Image credit: Faye Webster/YouTube)

Today is April 29, meaning we’re incredibly close to being already a full third of the way through 2021. Though the year has unfurled with dizzying speed (at least to our eyes), it hasn’t done so without gifting us an incredible bounty of guitar-powered goodness, more examples of which we’re excited to share with you today.

This week, we've got a delectable bit of danceable “Bofenia Rock” (more on that below) from Jupiter & Okwess, a pop-punk reinvention from Willow Smith, some stompbox-heavy psychedelia from A Place to Bury Strangers, catchy pop-metal from Colosseums, and lots more.

So take a few minutes out of your busy day to kick up the volume and explore the amazing, always-evolving world of guitar music.

Faye Webster – Cheers

Though Atlanta-based singer/songwriter/guitarist Faye Webster was only 21 when she released her most recent album – 2019’s Atlanta Millionaires Club – she, amazingly, already had two full-length albums under her belt beforehand.

Made, consequently, with the sure-footedness of an industry veteran (an incredibly talented one at that) Atlanta Millionaires Club stood out like a needle in a haystack. An intoxicating, this-shouldn’t-work-but-it-does-perfectly mix of lonesome country twang, intimate and sharp folk lyrics, and touches of sparse R&B and even hip-hop, it was a revelation that won her legions of admirers across the musical (and political) spectrum.

Armed with a Johnny Marr signature Jaguar, Webster delivers more brilliant twists on Cheers, the first single from her upcoming fourth LP, I Know I'm Funny haha

Dialing up the tension in the verses with a palm-muted, two-chord riff, Webster sets the table for an explosive chorus that never arrives. Instead, she cooks up some dreamy arpeggios that work as guitar hooks and the perfect sonic contrast to the fuzz-crusted verses. She makes it sound so easy too… (JM)

Squid - Pamphlets

Leading the charge in the new wave of British post-punk – along with the likes of IDLES, Fontaines D.C. and Black Midi – Squid are readying debut album, Bright Green Field, for release next week.

The band’s anarchic ambition has been in evidence across all the tracks released so far, but perhaps no more so than on chaotic eight-minute album closer Pamphlets, a live highlight honed over the band’s relentless pre-Covid tour schedule.

Guitarists Arthur Leadbetter and Anton Pearson weave the kind of krautrock-informed arpeggiated chords that wouldn’t sound out of place on a modern-day Radiohead record, juxtaposed with an altogether more abrasive hack ’n’ slash approach as the track builds to its furious feedback-drenched climax.

It’s safe to say that if the rest of the album can reach these lofty, cathartic heights (and we’d wager it will), Bright Green Field will be essential listening. (MAB)

Willow – Transparent Soul 

Taken from her upcoming, as-yet-untitled fifth full-length album, 20-year-old R&B singer-songwriter Willow Smith’s new single Transparent Soul sees the rapper-by-trade swap lyrical flows for some equally intricate six-string guitar work, with extremely tasty results.

Marking a significant sonic shift from her previous releases, which are characterized by fast-paced lyrics and R&B rhythms, Smith’s new single comes as somewhat of a surprise – an incredibly welcome one, at that – as she wields a bite-y electric guitar to maximum effect.

The initial brushstrokes on her new sonic canvas are painted with silky melodic slides and punchy, Paramore-esque powerchords, with Travis Barker on hand to lend some pop-punk double-hand hi-hat and rapid-fire tom hits as Smith weaves in catchy chorus hooks and infectious verse vocals.

Armed with an out-of-this-world, Yvette Young-painted Ernie Ball Music Man St. Vincent signature and a newfound affinity for everything emo/punk, Smith’s upcoming album is certainly not one to be missed. (MO)

Machine Gun Kelly – Love Race

While March’s Daywalker! saw Machine Gun Kelly return somewhat to his hip-hop roots, Love Race – his new single with Travis Barker and Sleeping With Sirens’ Kellin Quinn – sees him circle back around to the pop-punk stylings that shaped his knockout 2020 album, Tickets To My Downfall.

Kicking things off with a gorgeously dialed syncopated clean line, the Cleveland rapper-turned rockstar quickly turns it up to 11 with an arrangement of super-catchy hooks and full, chunky powerchords.

Fans of MGK’s new musical direction will be pleased: in a new interview with LA radio station KROQ, he confirmed that he’d “keep breaking the mould” with upcoming material, vowing to “piss people off all over again”. (SR)

Jupiter & Okwess - Mieux que ça

Kicking off with some of the funkiest wah work we’ve heard since the shag carpet era, Mieux que ça – taken from Jupiter & Okwess’s new album, Na Kozonga – will drop-kick any lethargy right out of you.

Led by Jupiter Bokondji – a musical omnivore and hyper-charismatic frontman if ever there was one – Jupiter & Okwess blend funk, blues, rock and a number of different musical styles from their native Democratic Republic of the Congo into a sound that’s so distinctly their own, Bokondji gave it its own name, “Bofenia Rock.”

Though the band’s rhythm section – Yende Balamba on bass and Montana Kinunu on drums – anchor Mieux que ça with a performance for the ages, guitarists Eric Malu-Malu and Richard Kabanga give the song as much color as Bokondji.

Riffing off of one another and weaving in and out of each other’s leads, Malu-Malu and Kabanga pull a lot of melodic weight, and sound like they’re having an absolute blast while doing so. (JM)

Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds – We’re On Our Way Now 

Noel Gallagher has followed up his 2020 Blue Moon Rising EP with an all-new single titled We’re On Our Way Now – a rock anthem that serves as the first single from an upcoming "best of" album, Back The Way We Came: Vol 1, which will be released on June 11.

We’re On Our Way Now is everything that a Noel Gallagher ballad should be, and then some. Opening with a melodic bass lick that locks into the upper echelons of the fretboard, the track is fleshed out with moody and mysterious minor-chord strums, before a major modulation builds momentum towards a larger-than-life grand finale.

Gallagher is on top form with some characteristically catchy lyrics that ooze with tone and an unavoidable singalong charm, with a carefully constructed bed of acoustic strums and arpeggiated melodic electric licks proving that, even after all these years, the Oasis man still has some of the best songwriting chops around. (MO)

Mental Cruelty – King Ov Fire

Because what’s our essential guitar tracks roundup without a little dose of death metal? This week, German five-piece Mental Cruelty are bringing the goods. Their new track King Ov Fire is a grand cacophony of dissonant guitars, thundering blast beats and a breakdown that’ll get your grandma moshing.

And the track isn’t without its standout lead guitar moments, either. A solo around the 1:48 mark sees guitarist Marvin Kessler throw down a series of multi-string alternate-picking lines and mind-boggling sweeps.

Says Schmerler: “With this song, we hope to have created a guilty pleasure for all our fans who have been by our side since day one. Of course, it's not a pure slam track, but I'm proud of how we managed to unite our roots and our musical origins with our new sound in this song.” (SR)

A Place to Bury Strangers - End of the Night

Oliver Ackermann, mastermind behind NYC pedal co Death By Audio, has enlisted a new line-up for A Place to Bury Strangers’ first new material in three years – but his trademark blend of stompbox-heavy shoegaze-meets-garage rock is very much in full effect.

As you’d expect from the maker of pedals like the Total Sonic Annihilation and Fuzz War, End of the Night is a whirlwind of caustic six-string textures, as what could be a straight rock ’n’ roll riff in the hands of less sonically adventurous players becomes an exercise in the joy of noise.

While Ackermann builds layers upon layers of fuzz, white noise and raging tremolo sweeps, the grinding rhythm section of new members John Fedowitz (bass) and Sandra Fedowitz (drums) anchors the track in hypnotic How Soon is Now? indie. Transcendent stuff. (MAB)

Cedric Burnside – Step In 

One of 13 songs taken from forthcoming record I Be Trying, which seeks to “chart a course through dark times and towards the resonant love waiting to be found on the other side”, Cedric Burnside’s latest single Step In serves up a blues-infused blend of awe-inspiring guitar work and emotive vocal melodies.

The two-time Grammy-award nominee guides us into Step In with a swampy fingerstyle lick, skipping strings with both a pinpoint accuracy and an effortless nonchalance that blossoms into an guitar-driven soundscape constructed from overdriven punctuation marks and phrase-combining slides.

Beyond the bounty of masterful six-string constructions found in Step In, there is a deeper meaning, one which Burnside conveys with his commanding voice as he prays to the heavens to escape hardship and despair.

Recorded at Royal Studios in Memphis with the help of producer Boo Mitchell and North Mississippi All-Stars’ guitarist Luther Dickinson, I Be Trying will be released on June 25. (MO)

Beartooth – Hell Of It

Back with another morsel from their upcoming fourth studio album Below – out June 25 – Columbus, Ohio rockers Beartooth have released Hell Of It. The third single of the album thus far – following Devastation and The Past Is Dead – the track kicks off with a single-note alternate picking line under frontman Caleb Shomo’s tone-setting vocals, before smashing into its supremely energetic main riff.

Says Shomo: “[The track is] meant to try and melt as much face as possible. This song was really important for discovering the guitar tone for the album and the use of pedals to expand on parts. The breakdown in this might be my favorite of all.” (SR)

Colosseums – Putrid

Blending endlessly catchy R&B-style vocals with crushing, drop-tuned guitar work, pop-metal newcomers Colosseums are certainly ones to watch. With their new single Putrid, the four-piece serve up a plethora of chunky electric guitar lines, and a vocal melody that’ll embed itself in your head upon your first listen.

Says bassist Will McKeown: “Putrid feels like the first step into the world just because it encapsulates us so well. It’s got the riffs, it’s got the chorus, and it’s got the subs in there. There are a lot of different aspects in there. It felt like the perfect summation of the band at this point.” (SR)