It is indeed that time of the week again. Though it’s not quite time to cue up Rebecca Black, you can start preparing your weekend playlist with some of the best new guitar music of recent days.
On tap this week is Billie Eilish’s stunning acoustic reinvention, a shred-heavy slice of melodic death metal from At the Gates (with a helping hand from King Diamond's Andy LaRocque), a searing protest anthem from Pussy Riot and Tom Morello and a whole lot more.
So kick your feet up and press play. Guitar innovation awaits you…
Billie Eilish - Your Power
Billie Eilish has swept music’s biggest awards show, topped the pop charts in multiple countries, written Bond themes, and generally bent or broken the rules of pop convention whenever they’ve gotten in her way. Make no mistake – naysayers abound, but she has done it all on her own terms.
The very subject of this blurb, Your Power, has racked up 42 million views in just the week since its release. The third single from what’s sure to be a blockbuster of a sophomore album, Happier Than Ever, Your Power is another wholesale, completely seamless shift for someone who has already become one of the 21st century’s great pop chameleons.
Over light-as-a-feather acoustic strums – with the acoustic occasionally doubling her vocal melody as well – Eilish pulls no punches, laying out a tale of emotional abuse, manipulation and uneven power dynamics – and the significant, often silent and unrecognized, toll they take on victims – with laser-like precision.
Eilish uses the blissful acoustic atmospherics to disguise breathtaking lyrical knockouts (“Will you only feel bad when they find out?/If you could take it all back, would you,?” “Will you only feel bad if it turns out/That they kill your contract?”) with the sort of nonchalant brilliance only the greatest songwriters possess. And to think that she’s only 19… (JM)
Tom Morello & Pussy Riot - Weather Strike
While we’re all awaiting that first glimpse of Rage Against the Machine’s ultra-secretive, twice-postponed reunion tour, Tom Morello appears to have struck upon something of a purple patch in his own songwriting.
Last year’s Comandante EP found the maverick six-stringer on fine, mostly instrumental form, but this fresh collaboration with Russian punk outfit Pussy Riot – who Morello himself praised as “one of the most radical and important activist musical groups of all time” – contains some of the best riffs to emerge from the Morello arsenal in quite some time.
A swaggering drop-D Telecaster jam worthy of RATM’s wildest festival-field jump-a-thons, Weather Strike is also notable for Nadya Tolokonnikova’s siren-like foreshadowing of Morello’s Whammy-harmonized outro wail. There’s clear chemistry here – a full album could make for very interesting listening indeed… (MAB)
Spiritbox – Circle With Me
Following 2020’s Holy Roller and more mellow offering Constance, Canadian trio Spiritbox are back with another no-holds-barred metal cut, Circle With Me. Straight off the bat, guitarist Michael Stringer serves up a destructive, drop-tuned prog metal riff, which serves to juxtapose the more ambient and melodic verse sections in which bandleader Courtney LaPlante takes the reins.
What’s perhaps the most defining feature of Circle With Me is the band’s masterful grasp of dynamics. While its instrumental playing is, of course, impressive throughout, the track’s peaks and troughs mould it into one of the most energetic metal takes of 2021 so far.
"This song was written in the studio as a last minute addition, one of the many reasons we are so grateful to no longer be exclusively working remotely,” says LaPlante. “It captures the spectrum of emotions I’ve been feeling lately about my music. From the anxiety I feel about messing up, to a confidence meant to protect me from self doubt.” (SR)
Modest Mouse – We Are Between
"I went in to making this one with two records in mind. It’ll be released as quickly as it’s legally allowed to be. It’s a partner to this one." So said Isaac Brock of the follow-up to Modest Mouse’s 2015 album, Strangers to Ourselves… in 2015.
Though “as quickly as it’s legally allowed to be” ended up being a whole six years, all will quickly be forgiven with a spin of the restlessly inventive We Are Between, the first single from that long-awaited follow-up, The Golden Casket.
Every lesson one would learn from the Isaac Brock Guitar School is readily accessible here – the melodic single-note motifs that lodge right in your head, the twitchy, funk-gone-wrong riffing, colorful, ringing harmonics that bridge musical gaps and leap out of your stereo…
They’re not indie rock’s standard-bearers anymore – quietly leading off their debut album with one of the best songs of the 1990s or, in the early oughts, bringing “””alternative””” sounds to your grocery store loudspeakers – but Modest Mouse have nonetheless settled into a very solid groove. We’re excited to hear this LP at long last. (JM)
Haggard Cat - Quit Your Jobs
After ditching their record label, UK riff darlings Haggard Cat were approached by Adrian Bushby – Grammy-winning producer and engineer for the likes of Muse and Foo Fighters – to begin work on a fresh set of material, to capture their madcap onstage energy. And judging from this first taste, they nailed it.
Quit Your Jobs has all the grit and grind of the octave pedal-toting guitar-drums duo formula – note the triple-amp Orange/Fender rig – but Haggard Cat are altogether wilder and more unhinged than their contemporaries.
The track’s breakneck pace barely lets up, as it touches on progressive single-string riffs, post-hardcore breakdowns, and culminates in pure ’80s thrash – and this unbridled aggression, in all its forms, seems appropriate given the track’s background.
“We wrote the lyrics about an actual series of bad advice that we received from our old record label,” says Flying V-toting frontman Matt Reynolds. “They literally were sat there straight-faced refusing to work on a marketing plan with us, insisting our next move was to ‘quit your jobs’.
“Advice that also followed these pearls of wisdom was ‘fake your death’ – I know this sounds made up but it’s 100% true.” Based on these anecdotes – and the ferocity of the resultant track – we’d say you made the right decision, boys. (MAB)
At the Gates – Spectre of Extinction
With a name like Spectre of Extinction, it’s hard to imagine this track to be anything other than an earth-shattering heavy metal freight train. And while that is indeed what it develops into, there’s a gorgeous intro of nylon-string acoustic playing beforehand, which is shortly after followed by an enveloping harmonized electric guitar section.
“It is always very hard to choose which song to release to the public first,” explains frontman Tomas Lindberg Redant, “especially with this album having so many layers and textures.
“We did feel, however, that this, the opening track of the record, represented the overall feel of the album. It has the musical depths that you would expect from an At The Gates track, and still carries that intensity and urgency that we have always tried to get across with our music.” (SR)
HEALTH, Nine Inch Nails – Isn’t Everyone
In their first new release since 2020’s DISCO4 :: PART I – an album which saw guest appearances from the likes of Soccer Mommy, Full Of Hell and Perturbator – LA noise rockers HEALTH have teamed up with industrial-rock juggernauts Nine Inch Nails on new single Isn't Everyone.
Mixed by Atticus Ross and featuring guest vocals from NIN leader Trent Reznor, the track features the same wall of gritty synths and techno-style beats that are ever-present in Nine inch Nails’ music, in addition to the odd permeating – but equally dirty – electric guitar line.
As HEALTH explain: “It’s fucking Nine Inch Nails. That speaks for itself. You don’t need a clever quote to encapsulate it.” (SR)
Brendan Byrnes - Murmurations
While King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard may have shone a fresh light on microtonal guitar playing in recent years, many of these experiments in pitch were pioneered by avant garde American composer Glenn Branca during the ’80s and beyond. And now, a former student of the guitar experimentalist seeks to carry the torch for a new generation.
Brendan Byrnes brings these microtonal approaches to a contemporary musical backdrop, conjuring otherworldly arpeggios and scale runs over a rich soundscape of glitched-out drum patterns and post-rock tremolo picking.
That might sound challenging to the untrained ear, but Byrnes allays any fears with his supreme sense of melody, which ensures those none-more-outside notes always find their way back home.
If you think instrumental guitar music doesn’t have anything new to say, you owe it to yourself to give Murmurations a spin. (MAB)
Kings of Convenience – Rocky Trail
Surprises come in good and bad varieties, but the return of Kings of Convenience after a decade-plus-long hiatus definitely falls into the former category.
Those vocal harmonies, the autumnal, playful strings, the delicious acoustic guitar interplay – equal parts classical, pop, folk and flamenco…
A listen to Rocky Trail, the first single from the Bergen, Norway duo’s upcoming album, Peace or Love, is almost like stepping into a portal to another, rose-tinted world. It’s guitar-driven mood music and escapism of the best kind, and we didn’t know we needed it. (JM)
Oceans – Everyone I Love Is Broken (feat. Robb Flynn)
Arriving with Oceans’ brand-new EP We Are Nøt Okay, Everyone I Love Is Broken sees the German post-metallers join forces with Machine Head frontman Robb Flynn. While the track’s tastefully layered vocal harmonies take center stage, its balance of crisp clean electric guitar lines and gain-heavy riffs form the bedrock of its high-octane arrangement.
“Working with Robb and all the other amazing people that contributed to this EP was an experience I will never forget,” explains frontman Timo Rotten.
“Everyone was so positive about it and we all put so much energy into this without the slightest hint of hesitation. It’s just absolutely mind-blowing to me and I couldn’t be happier about how it all turned out. Together we can make a difference and end the stigma of mental health once and for all!” (SR)
Madi Diaz - Nervous
Since signing to ANTI- earlier this year, this Berklee-schooled, Nashville-based singer-songwriter has debuted a trio of stripped-back singles rooted in guitar-bass-drums arrangements. It’s a radical departure from the synth-pop leanings of 2014’s Phantom that harks back to her indie roots – and Nervous is evidence that it’s a sage move indeed.
Simplicity is the key to the track’s irresistibility – its hooks stem from Diaz’s double-tracked opening dyads, which, delivered via her faithful 1959 Harmony Meteor, provide the very definition of woody electric guitar tone.
Topped off with confessional, anthemic vocals, there’s a pop-punk-meets-indie-rock immediacy here, and one that has ‘summer anthem’ written all over it. (MAB)