From swaggering funk to futuristic pop cocktails: here are this week's essential guitar tracks

Nilüfer Yanya performs on stage at SWN Festival 2019 on October 18, 2019 in Cardiff, Wales.
Nilüfer Yanya (Image credit: Mike Lewis Photography/Redferns)

Though we’ve been a bit preoccupied telling you about all that’s new and cool in the gear world for the first couple weeks of 2021, we’ve still had our ears to the ground for new guitar music the whole time.

And what discoveries, dear reader, we have compiled to share with you. 2020 – for all of its many, many, many drawbacks – was a great year for riffs, solos and six- (and seven- and eight-) string innovation, and it seems so far that 2021 will be no different.

This week, we have a futuristic pop knockout from Arlo Parks, the triumphant return of prog-metal titans the Liquid Tension Experiment, a swaggering new tune from funkmeister Cory Wong, a haunting slice of gothic folk from Emma Ruth Rundle and Chelsea Wolfe, and a whole lot more.

So don’t hesitate – close out your January out properly with some of the month’s most eye-opening guitar-based creations.

Liquid Tension Experiment – The Passage of Time 

The minds of John Petrucci, Jordan Rudess, Mike Portnoy and Tony Levin, when melded together, form an unstoppable superbrain capable of conceiving some of the wildest prog arrangements imaginable.

The quartet – who comprise supergroup Liquid Tension Experiment – are gearing up to release their first studio album in 22 years, Liquid Tension Experiment 3. But don’t worry: the creativity saved on naming the album will no doubt be spent on its composition.

With a suitably colorful accompanying music video, the record’s first single The Passage of Time puts the abilities of the four-piece on full display, with a cornucopia of shifting time signatures and a voyage of dazzling guitar lines. (SR)

Nilüfer Yanya - Day 7.5093

A highlight from the London singer-songwriter’s new EP, Feeling Lucky?, Day 7.5093 finds Nilüfer Yanya laughing as she breezes past the constraints of genre, style and structure observed by your average musician.

Armed with her trusty Fender Jazzmaster, Yanya hooks you in with a slinky, subtly catchy riff in the verse before moving to chunky chording in the bridge and chorus that’ll have fists a-pumpin’.

Endlessly dynamic, colorful and constructed with a master composer’s ear, Day 7.5093, is high-powered guitar pop for the future. (JM)

Tomahawk - Business Casual

The resurgence of oddball metal icons Mr. Bungle was one of the pandemic’s more unexpected gifts, but it appears Mike Patton isn’t content to just revive one sleeping giant, as his alt-rock supergroup Tomahawk are on track to release their first new music since 2014.

And judging from Business Casual, the band haven’t missed a beat in their six years off. The uneasy atmosphere that’s a constant throughout Tomahawk’s work is very much present and correct here, while Duane Denison – of Jesus Lizard fame – is on hand to provide huge powerchord hooks and tense palm-muting alike.

On this form, new album Tonic Immobility is already shaping up to be one of 2021’s best. (MAB)

Chelsea Wolfe & Emma Ruth Rundle - Anhedonia

Two of the electric guitar’s most distinctive contemporary voices have unplugged and joined forces for this bewitching acoustic ballad.

‘Anhedonia’ is defined as the inability to feel pleasure, and the track’s weighty themes are borne out by a slow crescendo, as sparse strums build to a savage overdriven climax.

The heavily reverb’d production, which comes courtesy of longtime Wolfe collaborator Ben Chisholm, lends the track an emotional heaviness that’s on a par with any of its performers’ most ferocious recorded moments. (MAB)

Arlo Parks – Hope

Since her first pair of EPs in 2019, 20-year-old Londoner Arlo Parks has been dubbed (opens in new tab)the “euphonious voice of Generation Z,” and gotten shout-outs from A-listers like Billie Eilish (opens in new tab) and Florence Welch.

While such an amorphous, hyperbolic label sets unreasonable expectations no artist could ever hope to live up to, a listen to Parks’ latest track, Hope, puts the reason for the hype into stark relief. 

The latest single from her highly-anticipated debut album, Collapsed In Sunbeams, Hope is a delectable cocktail of soulful hooks, fleet, jazzy rhythms, and deeply moving, empathetic lyrics that will absolutely knock you out.

The way the song’s warbling, gorgeous guitar leads ebb and flow with Parks’ crystalline storytelling brings – in the best way possible – the musical interaction of Blur’s Damon Albarn and Graham Coxon to mind. Don’t call her “the voice of a generation,” but Arlo Parks is making music that sounds like absolutely nothing else out there. (JM)

Of Mice & Men – Obsolete

The first single from the California metalcore vets’ upcoming three-track EP Timeless, Obsolete channels all the elements for which they’ve come to be known: hundred-mile-an-hour riffs, super-catchy hooks, and a breakdown with enough mass to alter the Earth’s gravitational field.

Says vocalist/bassist Aaron Pauley, “it's a song about questioning how future-proof one is in the grand scheme of things, and acknowledging that maybe we aren't at all. I think we all wonder, to a certain extent, whether or not we'll fit into the future, or how we would, or what that would look like.”

It’s a track that’ll blow your mind with its meaning, and blow your mind with its riffs. Enjoy. (SR)

Miss Grit - Blonde

Miss Grit is the musical alias of Korean-American guitarist and producer Margaret Sohn, who is one of the most exciting tone savants we’ve heard this side of St. Vincent.

The expansive production of Blonde is indicative of forthcoming EP, Impostor, as its dreamy Radiohead-esque lines give way to explosive bursts of fuzz.

Although comparisons aren’t beyond the imagination, it’s clear that Miss Grit is wielding a particular sonic palette that’s all her own – and that seems wholly appropriate, given this is a musician who once dreamed of building effects pedals for a living. (MAB)

Cory Wong – Coming Back Around (feat. Cody Fry)

After releasing eight albums last year, you'd think funk guitar extraordinaire Cory Wong would put down his pick for the New Year and let his 100-mph right hand take a well-earned rest.

Well, Wong's done just the opposite, having started up his own variety show, Cory and the Wongnotes, in which viewers are treated to a new single every week in the lead-up to yet another new album.

Wong shows no sign of any 2020-induced fatigue and starts things off in fine form with Coming Back Around. Featuring the vocals of regular collaborator Cody Fry, the track struts along with a swagger courtesy of a strong funk foundation underpinned by a pulsating bass line.

While we don't see Wong let loose in the form of a guitar solo – he's too busy flexing his slapping skills on the bass – Fry steps up to the plate, cranks up the gain and follows up the expertly layered brass interlude with a string of rapid hammer-ons, pull-offs and pentatonic runs that round off the track in style. (MO)

Adult Mom – Sober

It’s been four long years since Adult Mom – the band helmed by singer/songwriter Stevie Knipe – graced us with Soft Spots, a devastating record of brilliantly kinetic pop songs you could sing, scream, cry or laugh along to in equal measure. 

Now with the (well-deserved) muscular backing of punk giant Epitaph Records, they’ve announced a new album, Driver, and unveiled its wonderful second single, Sober

Knipe’s never had time for anyone’s bullshit, and Sober shows that their lyrical touch has only gotten sharper in the intervening years (“The only thing that I've done this month is drink beer and masturbate, and ignore phone calls from you”). 

With Allegra Eidinger coloring the picture with some absolutely infectious guitar leads, this triumphant post-breakup earworm is a sign of amazing things to come from this band. (JM)

Hyro The Hero – Retaliation Generation (feat. Spencer Charnas)

If you’re looking to get fired up, Hyro The Hero’s latest effort Retaliation Generation will undoubtedly scratch that itch. Recruiting Ice Nine Kills’ Spencer Charnas for guest vocals, the Texas-born rapper delivers a gut-punching, thought-provoking lyrical volley over a clutch of distorted guitar riffs and chunky basslines.

The track is the third in a series of high-profile collaborations for Hyro, the other two being Fight with Chad Gray of Hellyeah, and We Believe with Disturbed’s David Draiman.

On the lyrical message of the track, Hyro states: “I think with everything going on in the last several years, our generation is holding people accountable. It's a movement in terms of a 'You ain't getting away with this shit anymore.' It's a battle cry.” (SR)

Cheap Trick  – Light Up The Fire

Sometimes, all you need is a classic rock ‘n’ roll track filled to the brim with driving drumbeats and a wickedly distorted rhythm guitar to give you a timely end-of-week lift. Lucky for us, Cheap Trick are back once again to deliver the goods.

In anticipation of their 20th studio album In Another World, Light Up the Fire sees the Rock and Roll Hall of Famers at their brilliant best, offering up oversized rock hooks, a wailing vocal line that calls for your best Robin Zander impression and a guitar solo that will have you reaching for any six-string in the vicinity. 

The new album – to be released on April 9 – promises us Cheap Trick at their eclectic best, and vows to deliver myriad sounds and song approaches from the hugely influential pop-rock ‘n’ roll band. (MO)

Mogwai – Ritchie Sacramento

Now, it doesn’t quite fit into the “...of the week” bracket, but Mogwai’s new musical ode to “all the musician friends we’ve lost over the years” is just too good to let slip over a missed day or two.

The Scottish post-rock powerhouses have treated us to another tasty teaser for their upcoming album As the Love Continues with the poignantly atmospheric Richie Sacramento, following the release of Dry Fantasy last October.

In memory of the late Dave Berman of Silver Jews, Mogwai do what they do best – layer on the guitars, offer up some melodic intrigue, and serve up a wacky music video to boot. 

Kitted out with a massive, venue-rumbling bassline that embraces the subtle melodic shimmers of the lead, the track briefly strips away those layers in a middle eight, giving listeners a small reprieve before throwing them head first into a pit of all-enveloping post-rock bliss.

Braithwaite's vocals are also a welcome addition to the song, which constantly – but exquisitely – teeters on the brink between conventional pop order and fuzzy rock chaos. (MO)

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Matt Owen

Matt is a Staff Writer, writing for Guitar World, Guitarist and Total Guitar. He has a Masters in the guitar, a degree in history, and has spent the last 16 years playing everything from blues and jazz to indie and pop. When he’s not combining his passion for writing and music during his day job, Matt records for a number of UK-based bands and songwriters as a session musician.