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From neo-soul virtuosity to groove-infused grime-metal: here are this week's essential guitar tracks

Melanie Faye performs during FORM Arcosanti 2019 at at Arcosanti Urban Laboratory on May 10, 2019 in Arcosanti, Arizona.
(Image credit: Tim Mosenfelder/Getty)

From the potential death of the guitar solo, to the merits of smashing guitars onstage, to social media’s influence on the mental health of budding guitarists, there’s discourse – from every conceivable angle – on anything and everything relating to this instrument we love.

It can get so loud and heated that one can easily forget just why we all care so much in the first place – what brought us to the guitar to begin with. 

Regardless of how we feel about the latest guitar-related issue of the day, what binds us all together is that something, somewhere, made by somebody, made us want to pick up a guitar and hit a power chord as loud as we could.

Though there’s as much stylistic variety as usual, a lot of this week’s finest guitar tracks brought us back to that uniquely joyful feeling – the sensation of hearing something with the sort of verve that inspires one to just, to paraphrase the great Mick Ronson, play and not worry.

We hope these songs do the same for you. 

Dreamer Boy - Let's Hold Hands ft. Melanie Faye

One of social media’s brightest talents – and the guitarist responsible for one of our favorite solos of 2020 – takes us by surprise with each new release, and this collaboration with Nashville-based singer-songwriter Dreamer Boy is no exception.

The laid-back vibe of Let's Hold Hands is something of a Trojan horse, however, as Faye’s gained-up leads are laced with a dynamism and attention to detail that few contemporary players can touch.

That point is hammered home by the solo spot that drops at the two-minute mark, as Faye weaves lyrical pentatonic lines, jazz-inflected passing notes and octave-spanning runs into one of 2021’s must-learn leads. (MAB)

Post Malone – You Can Have the Crown (feat. Andrew Watt and Dwight Yoakam’s band)

Little by little, Post Malone is chipping away at the notion that he’s "just" a hip-hop artist. From covering Black Sabbath’s War Pigs with Slash, Chad Smith and Chris Chaney to jamming with Jared Dines and facing off against his longtime musical accomplice Andrew Watt in epic guitar battles, he’s a man with his fingers in many musical pies.

But country? That was, until Monday, unchartered territory for Posty.

Appearing at the end of Matthew McConaughey’s We’re Texas livestream fundraiser, Malone – joined by Andrew Watt and Dwight Yoakam’s band – delivered knockout renditions of both Brad Paisley’s I’m Gonna Miss Her (The Fishing Song) and Sturgill Simpson’s You Can Have the Crown.

The latter saw him don a strummer – while Watt wielded a Fender Strat – as he tore through the track’s energetic arrangement, once again proving that he’s an artist that can’t be pigeonholed. (SR)

Mannequin Pussy – Control

With the departure of founding guitarist Thanasi Paul, Mannequin Pussy have been made a trio. From the sounds of their explosive new single though, the Philly punks haven’t lost an ounce of their bite, or tunefulness. 

The first taste we’ve gotten from the band’s upcoming EP, Perfect, Control – like the best quiet-’n’-loud punk before it – lures you in gently before hitting you over the head with a sledgehammer.  

Marisa Dabice does it all on this song – doling out riffage both sweet and jangly, and titanium-strength, all the while giving a vocal performance replete with the same perfect balance of tenderness and brute, primal force.

Destined to absolutely kill live, Control is one of those perfect rockers – built from simple ingredients and a straightforward equation – that’ll surely inspire scores of listeners to pick up their axe and dime everything, or do so for the first time. (JM)

Toby Lee – Take the Wheel

It feels as though Toby Lee has been around for some time now, and as such it is all too easy to forget that this UK-based electric guitar protege – tipped for greatness by a handful of guitar heroes, including Joe Bonamassa – is still only 16 years old. 

Building upon his well-earned reputation as being one of the most formidable young guitarists in the world right now, Lee’s new single reminds us what he’s all about – that is, high-gain guitars, and heavy-riffing old school rock ‘n’ roll music. 

Taking inspiration from AC/DC in an effort to unleash a “real driving rock song with a killer solo”, the Gibson SG-wielding youngster hits a home run with the incredibly mature Take The Wheel, taking the opportunity to flex his face-melting abilities with a blistering Angus Young-inspired solo.

With the release of his debut album Aquarius just around the bend, the fierce axe slinger is only going to get better with age – a terrifying prospect when you remind yourself he’s not yet old enough to drive in his home country. (MO) 

Hacktivist – Planet Zero

Four years after their ground-pounding 2016 effort Outside the Box, Hacktivist are finally set to unleash another full-length upon the world. Hyperdialect is set to grace – or destroy – speakers June 18, 2021. However if you can’t wait until then, you’re in luck, as the UK grime-metallers have just dropped its first single, Planet Zero.

Guitarist James Hewitt weaves gravity-defying, drop-tuned riffs throughout the time signature-fluid rhythmic mesh, resulting in a groove that’s impossible not to bang your head to.

On the track’s lyrical theme, co-vocalist J Hurley explains: “Look at the state of the planet at the moment and people are still ignoring it. It doesn’t make sense. There are all these homeless people on the streets, but there’s all this land and enough food to go around for everyone.”

Adds co-vocalist Jot Maxi: “There are so many things wrong with the way humanity is. We’re self-destructive and everybody knows it.”

Well, one thing’s for sure: this self-destructivity is absolutely reflected in the track’s cataclysmic arrangement. (SR)

Beabadoobee – Last Day On Earth 

Having released her debut album Fake It Flowers last year to critical acclaim, Bea Kristi is back under the moniker of Beabadoobee with a nostalgic new single, Last Day On Earth, which enlists the help of indie-pop phenoms Matty Healy and George Daniel of The 1975.

Healy and Daniel’s hands are all over the new single, which perfectly partners the pair’s expertly constructed atmospheric soundscapes with Kristi’s tasty guitar work and effortless lyrical flow. 

Kitted out with a delicious double-tracked arpeggiated guitar line, get-up-and-move drum beat and a ridiculously catchy chorus hook that will have you singing along after the first return, Beabadoobee’s stadium-sized new anthem is an exciting reminder that, for this already well-versed indie-rock artist, the best is yet to come. (MO)

Michigander - Better

Three EPs in, the star of Michigan-based indie-rocker Jason Singer is rising at a stratospheric pace, and with life-affirming singles like this, it’s easy to see why.

Better is taken from Singer’s latest effort, Everything Will Be OK Eventually – a prescient message for these times if ever there were one – and showcases the singer-songwriter’s ability to inject a sense of drama into Midwestern chord progressions, embellished by orchestral layers of chiming guitars and a chorus that’s nothing short of anthemic. (MAB)

Braids – Slayer Moon 

Inspired by singer/guitarist Raphaelle Standell-Preston’s purchase of a Sailor Moon phone case while on tour with Braids in Tokyo, Slayer Moon is an enduringly off-beat exploration of the “frenetic modern mind,” through the lens – naturally – of an iconic anime.

Standell-Preston’s serrated lead guitar stabs – a touch discordant, but never to the point of being overly abrasive or ugly – are the perfect counterpoint to the song’s rich synth and keyboard textures, and all told make for a fascinating tune. (JM)

Meet Me @ The Altar – Hit Like A Girl

To those who reckon pop-punk is dead – we feel compelled to bring this trio to your attention. Formed of Georgia vocalist Edith Johnson, Florida guitarist/bassist Téa Campbell and New Jersey drummer Ada Juarez, Meet Me @ The Altar are the quintessential modern music story, banding together after finding each other via YouTube.

The band’s latest single Hit Like A Girl – and second since signing to Fueled By Ramen – is an anthem of female empowerment, inspired by thousands of Facebook posts by women detailing what being a woman means to them.

It’s a beacon of optimistic defiance driven by Campbell’s delivery of a selection of easycore-style guitar riffs, and we love it. (SR)

 Spang Sisters – Jenny 

Hailing from Bristol, UK, retro-infused rockers Spang Sisters have released their highly infectious new single, Jenny, which showcases the band’s breezy sun-drenched style of easy-going rock.

Composed of Jules Gibbons and Rachid Fakhre, the duo – who wield a vintage Gibson Melody Maker and an ‘80s-era Vox Standard 24 – offer up a blissful end-of-week treat, layering on smooth cleans, huge harmonies and groovy guitar trills that play host to subtle trumpet toots and upper-register lead licks. A gnarly guitar solo cameo also makes the cut, crafted from blazing double-stop blends and searing pentatonic runs.

Citing inspiration from ‘70s Motown, as well as a whole host of genres such as psych, soul, R&B and bedroom indie, the promising pair are preparing to release their self-titled debut album in May. If Jenny is anything to go by, it’s going to be one helluva good time. (MO) 

Enumclaw – Free Drop Billy 

The second single from this Tacoma, Washington quartet’s debut EP, Jimbo Demo, Free Drop Billy is spunky, short and sweet. 

The way singer/guitarist Aramis Johnson sneers “I don’t wanna be a loser” repeatedly in the chorus over propulsive Mustang riffing coated in a healthy (but not suffocating) layer of grime will definitely bring another punk-influenced Washington act to mind, but a Nirvana retread (and goodness haven’t there been enough of those?) this certainly is not.

The song’s nimble bassline really moves, giving the song a musical depth that goes hand-in-hand with its anxious, troubled lyrics, which Johnson says stem from “survivor’s guilt” from avoiding the unglamorous fates – “townies, or losers,” in his words – that have befallen some friends and other people he grew up with. (JM)