Best of Utah Music 2015 Preview | Best of Utah Music | Salt Lake City | Salt Lake City Weekly

Best of Utah Music 2015 Preview 

The showcase artists of City Weekly's 2015 Best of Utah Music

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It's not news that the world of music is a lot different than it was 20 years ago. Through countless streaming and music-downloading websites, music fans are only a few mouse clicks away from thousands of songs in countless genres. And social media has forever changed the way that bands build their fanbases and get the word out about their work.

But in many more ways, the music world is still very much the same. In essence, live concerts are still all about the relationships between the performer and the audience. No matter how advanced music-making technology gets, a song always starts as a spark in a musician's mind. And it doesn't matter whether you have 100 likes on Facebook or 1,000: You don't get anywhere without putting in the necessary hard work.

No matter how many times we change the name of our battle of the bands, now dubbed Best of Utah Music (formerly the City Weekly Music Awards, aka CWMAs), it's still designed with two main goals in mind: supporting the creativity of the people who work every day to make the Utah music scene great, and giving those musicians a platform to connect with more listeners.

For the 2015 Best of Utah Music, we may be shaking up the name, but we're keeping many of the big changes implemented during the 2014 CWMAs. Our nomination panels are made up of a diverse range of local music writers, radio hosts, venue owners and scene-makers, and the judging panels at the showcases will continue to counterbalance the popular vote, thereby creating an even playing field for musicians who are still building a fanbase.

Online voting narrowed down the 60 band, rapper and DJ nominees into the top 10 from each category, whom you can read about on the following pages. We couldn't have asked for a better lineup for this year's newly minted Best of Utah Music, as this is some of the top musical talent to come out of Utah.

The ultimate winners will be determined both by in-person voting at the showcases and judging scores. You'll learn the names of the winning Band of the Year, Rapper/Rap Group of the Year and DJ of the Year in the March 5 issue of City Weekly, as well as on the Twilight Concert Series stage this summer.

The Utah music scene is filled with more groundbreaking musicians than can be included in one competition. Attending a showcase will provide a potent taste of the musical ability and boldness that is putting our local music scene on the map.

So, take a minute to read about this year's Best of Utah Music participants, not only those you've heard before, but also the ones you're unfamiliar with. After all, a local band you dance to at a Best of Utah Music showcase could end up being your new favorite band, or, at the very least, the creator of a musical moment you'll never forget. —Kolbie Stonehocker, Music Editor

  • One World Media Productions
  • Minx

When the dynamic electro-pop duo of Ischa (vocals) and Raffi (guitar) say they were busy in 2014, they really, really mean it. Minx can always be counted on to push their projects to that next level, but for their latest undertaking, a combination full-length electronic album and film titled Together Forever, they really outdid themselves. Teaming up with Selecta (of Muscle Hawk) and Salty Horror Productions, Minx applied their creativity to every aspect of the film/album—including stage setup, costumes, concept creation, songwriting and more—and the result is a sexy, spooky homage to silent movies that explores the dark side of love in sensual detail.

Big Wild Wings
  • Big Wild Wings

Big Wild Wings
One of the most striking aspects of Big Wild Wings' debut album, Speaking in Cursive—released in November—is the interplay between its many opposites. Hard-hitting alt-rock is wrapped in melodic piano and beautifully delicate atmosphere; Lyndsi Austin can sing with ethereal airiness as well as roof-raising power; and moments of melancholy seem to give way to sun-dappled hope. It all combines to create a moody sound that'll appeal to fans of The Cure and Regina Spektor and—as evidenced by Big Wild Wings' steady gigging schedule—the trio is continuously improving and exploring it.

  • Trevor Christensen
  • Fictionist

When Fictionist was dropped from Atlantic Records in 2013—thwarting plans to release an album with the label—there was no way the Provo four-piece was going to let it keep them down. Instead, they regrouped and collaborated with Nate Pyfer of June Audio to put together their first album in years, a self-titled full-length released locally at the Rooftop Concert Series' massive fifth-anniversary celebration show in October. Going their own way seems to have suited Robbie Connolly and company well: Their newfound creative freedom shines through in sparkling, masterfully crafted art-rock/synth-pop songs like "Lock and Key" and "Not Over You."

The Ladells - EMILY SNOW
  • Emily Snow
  • The Ladells

The Ladells
If a live performance by Provo band The Ladells could be summed up in a word, it would be "unpredictable." When the quartet played at Muse Music Cafe for the venue's 2014 Battle of the Bands (which they won), The Ladells unleashed a level of unrestrained madness that was a total blast to watch, especially when lead vocalist Max Punck ran into the audience swinging (carefully) a very real hammer. And The Ladells' sound is equally chaotic, a gloriously rough-edged brand of loud, fast, guitar-driven glam-punk, which will also be heard on the band's upcoming album, Vamp.

  • VanLadyLove

Provo indie-rock five-piece VanLadyLove take their name from a list of their favorite things: "a van, a good lady and a whole lotta love." No news on the lady front, but in the past year, a van and love have definitely been instrumental to the band's upward climb, in the form of VanLadyLove's frequent local and national touring, as well as the band members' genuine passion for what they do. And whatever they're doing seems to be working. In 2014, VanLadyLove marked two significant notches in their belt: Their latest EP, the synth-laced and pop-tastic Love Matter, was included on VH1's staff-picked Best Albums of 2014 list, and they were honored as the Artist on the Verge act at the 2014 New Music Seminar in New York City.

  • Kari Ann Haskell
  • Dark Seas

Dark Seas
It doesn't seem to matter to Dark Seas that Utah is a few hundred miles away from any ocean; these five dudes know exactly how to conjure up a guitar-heavy surf-rock sound that's obscured beneath a hefty layer of hazy psychedelia. In the past year, Dark Seas hit the road hard with a few tours throughout the West Coast and the Midwest, and also shook the rafters of several local venues, where they played some great shows put on by the folks of Psych Lake City. All that time put in on the stage has resulted in Dark Seas becoming masters of working audiences into a frenzy during their live shows, which can turn even the most reserved music lover into a flailing, whooping maniac.

Static Waves
  • Static Waves

Static Waves
Provo rockers Static Waves didn't win Velour's 2014 Summer Battle of the Bands, but the horde of screaming teenage girls in front of the stage would probably disagree. And it's no surprise why: Static Waves' upbeat, infectiously catchy style of synth-laced rock—largely influenced by The Killers and Coldplay—seems tailor-made for dancing or blasting in the car, and, boy, can the five-piece put together a chorus that sticks in your head. In September, Static Waves performed a sold-out show at Velour for the release of their self-titled debut EP, which features polished, well-made tracks such as "Prisoners" and "Pull Me Closer." Not bad for a band that celebrated their first anniversary in January.

Secret Abilities - JESSE LINDENBERG
  • Jesse Lindenberg
  • Secret Abilities

Secret Abilities
It's tough to pick just one aspect of Secret Abilities' sound that makes them such a fun band to listen to. Tink Safeer has a hell of a voice (and it's great when she and co-lead vocalist Davin Abegg really let loose together), which is a perfect match for Secret Abilities' refreshingly gimmick-free, surf-y, punk-fueled "awkward rock." Add to that a style of songwriting by Abegg that combines a love for beasties and spooks with sincere lyrics about heartache—as heard on Secret Abilities' excellent Music to Break Up By, one of the best local albums of 2014—and you've got the secret to their success.

  • Trevor Christensen
  • Bat Manors

Bat Manors
Every so often, a band comes along that can create moments so achingly beautiful that you can't help but gasp, and Bat Manors is one of those bands. In fact, the Provo chamber-pop's debut full-length album, Literally Weird—a standout local album of 2014—is so stunning that you'll want to hold your breath and lean in to hang on every note. Bat Manors' lineup is basically a who's-who of top-shelf Provo indie music: Just frontman/main songwriter Adam Klopp has ties to Salazar, Lake Island and more. One of the most magical moments of the year was when Klopp's voice floated through Velour as he sang "Cabin 4" at the venue's annual Slumber Party.

The Strike
  • The Strike

The Strike
These eight dapper gents rarely make a public appearance without being dressed to the nines in suspenders, bowties and button-down shirts, but The Strike are currently making a big splash locally and nationally for more reasons than just their fashion sense. Headed by charismatic frontman Chris Crabb, The Strike play a soulful, upbeat style of funk-pop that's impossible not to dance to—as heard on their latest EP, 2014's We Are the Strike—displaying influences that range from Michael Jackson to Stevie Wonder. And they know how to turn every concert into an all-out party—their performance at the Rooftop Concert Series was one of the highlights of the summer.

DJ Luva Luva
  • DJ Luva Luva

DJ Luva Luva
If you've heard it on the radio, you'll most likely hear it during a set by DJ Luva Luva—part of the Lazy Panda Productions crew—who sets up shop at residencies at The Moose Lounge (along with DJ Bentley), The Office (formerly Inferno Cantina) and Brio Tuscan Grille in Fashion Place Mall. Luva Luva can take any Top 40 song—everything from Neon Trees to Calvin Harris—and dance-ify it, turning it into a heart-pumping crowd-pleaser that can transform a so-so evening into a full-blown party. And judging from the masses of dancing people he packs into The Moose Lounge on Saturday nights, the crowds approve.

DJ Feral Cat
  • DJ Feral Cat

DJ Feral Cat
Other DJs might concern themselves with bass and Top 40, but Sam Stinson, aka DJ Feral Cat, likes to keep things a little more old school. Although he occasionally dabbles in other genres, Feral Cat is first and foremost a funk & soul man, who has been supplying Salt Lake City with vintage soul hits and obscure cuts through various incarnations of his Soulville parties since 2008. And with a love of vinyl that's rivaled probably only by his dad, Randy Stinson of Randy's Records, Feral Cat typically shows up to gigs at places like Beer Bar and Cisero's with a stack of records, ready to bring the house down. DJFeralCat

  • Naomi V. Photography
  • J Godina

J Godina
A Salt Lake City veteran DJ who has participated in multiple Best of Utah Music DJ Spin-offs over the years, Justin Godina, aka J Godina, has garnered a reputation for throwing down all-vinyl open-format sets that effortlessly jump from soul and funk to rock and hip-hop, lately often at Bar-X. And two years in a row, Godina has pulled off one of the most stellar sets of the competition, but hasn't walked away with a win. He keeps returning, though, and every year his abilities only get sharper.

DJ Bentley
  • DJ Bentley

DJ Bentley
DJ Bentley is one of those DJs you tend to see everywhere, including as a solid force at Best of Utah Music for multiple years, and for good reason. A member of the Lazy Panda Productions crew, Bentley has the skills to bridge gaps between any genres, and keeps party-goers on their toes with his mix of trap, house, pop and more. Lately, he's been a regular fixture at The Moose Lounge on Saturday nights, where he kills it on the decks.

Mr. Vandal
  • Mr. Vandal

Mr. Vandal
A member of the Dirt First collective, Mr. Vandal is an inventive producer/DJ whose work can be heard not only at venues like The Urban Lounge at the regular Dirt First Takeover showcases, but also on his own albums. He seems to come out with a new set of songs about once a year; 2014's release was an EP titled Rude, which features plenty of the dirty, bass-heavy hip-hop/dubstep that Mr. Vandal does so well. All of the songs are badass instrumental pieces that would be great soundtracks to speeding on the freeway, but "Rude" and "Sword Training" especially are just waiting to blow out your speakers.

  • Bello

A member of the Nightfreq crew, Hunter Wagstaff, aka Bello, got his start playing local basement parties. But he's now a regular fixture at The Urban Lounge's Nightfreq Takeover nights as well as W Nights at Zest Kitchen & Bar, where he spins smoother-than-smooth EDM mixes of deep house, chillwave, trap and more. If you're in the mood to lose yourself in a mass of dancing people, drink in hand, you should find yourself at a Bello party.

DJ Delmaggio
  • DJ Delmaggio

DJ Delmaggio
Although DJ Delmaggio has been DJing for only a few years, he's carved out a nice niche in Salt Lake City's open-format scene. A bboy as well as a DJ, Delmaggio can be found at Circle Lounge's Earphoria Fridays and Club Elevate's Social Saturdays, where he throws down mixes and mashups of basically every genre under the sun. From hip-hop and reggae to funk and soul, Delmaggio can do it all—just no techno allowed.

  • Grimblee

One of the hardest-working producers around, dubstep wizard and Dirt First crew member Gilbert Splett, aka Grimblee, had a hell of a 2014. He released an impressive four albums, Help Us Pay Rent, Cold, Free Noize Vol. 1 and I Got Trust Issues—either as Grimblee, his alter-alter-ego Hecka or a combination of both—as well as scored a number of big national gigs. Locally, he can often be caught at Dirt First Takeover at The Urban Lounge, where he lays down his spacey, synth-laced style of dubstep/trip-hop.

  • Shields

Any DJ worth his or her salt can grab an audience's attention from the get-go and hold them rapt as they dance the night away, and Shields is such a DJ. A member of the Digital Poets crew, Detroit transplant and current Park City dweller Christopher Shields, more commonly known simply as Shields, has been honing his DJ and production craft since 2009. He's a regular fixture at Park City clubs like Cisero's and The Cabin, as well as Salt Lake City's Club Elevate, where he spins electro, deep house and more into electrifying concoctions you can't help but move to.

  • Choice

No Friday night at The Red Door is complete without a set from Nicole Jaatoul, aka Choice (as well as a fancy-schmancy martini, of course). A newer member of the Nightfreq posse, Choice has the skills to spin fresh down-tempo house and techno for hours, and knows when to take the energy up and bring it back to earth again. Whether you catch her at The Red Door, The Urban Lounge or Zest Kitchen & Bar, Choice will make sure you "enjoy that bassline."

click to enlarge New Truth
  • New Truth

New Truth
For the past few years, West Valley City rapper Marcus Agee, aka HQ, and producer Milo Green have been dropping underrated but first-rate albums as New Truth, and their latest, 2014's Truth Hurts, shows they're not slowing down anytime soon. Combining dirty Southern-influenced beats—HQ is originally from Mississippi—with aggressively delivered rap, Truth Hurts is a searing, satisfyingly heavy example of the way New Truth can attack a creative vision with style and laser-like focus.

Lost, the Artist - ZACH LAMBROS
  • Zach Lambros
  • Lost, the Artist

Lost, the Artist
Since summer 2014, the duo of emcee Lost, the Artist and producer Site Saturn have been periodically releasing tracks from their soon-to-be-released full-length album, Lost Boy vs. the World. There's no official drop date yet, perhaps due to the level of detail they're putting into this release, which is evident on multifaceted tracks such as "Steady Drowning" and "Closure." Site Saturn's experimental production brings together dark, gritty beats and atmospheric instrumental touches to make a fitting foundation for Lost, the Artist's introspective lyrics, which he can spit with ferocity as well as sing with some impressive pipes.

  • Steven Chapman
  • Umang

Emcee Umang Khosla, more commonly known just as Umang, is a New Jersey transplant whose brutal style has been heard most recently on his album The Black Rose Certificate, released in November and produced by B.B.Z. Darney. He raps with the driving force of a battering ram, and with the ability to control every syllable of his lyrics down to the letter. And underneath all that wordplay is production influenced by throwback '90s hip-hop that's tinged with moody atmosphere, as heard on tracks such as "Accomplices" and "Urban Legends," which seem to fade in, explode, then fade out again.

  • Q1

Pleasant Grove emcee David Quiñones, aka Q1, has been involved in the local scene for years, as a member of the rap group Free Speech Syndicate and an occasional contributor to albums released by House of Lewis and other rappers. But in 2014, Q1 made his official solo debut with the full-length album To End Is to Begin—a collection of sometimes weird, often funny and always personal tracks that feature guest spots from his own family—which established him as a skilled emcee in his own right. Whether he's rapping a letter to one his biggest influences ("Dear Eminem") or poking fun at himself ("I'm Atheist without the hair plan," from "Weird Science"), Q1 spits his brain-tickling lyrics with emotion and agile flow.

Jay Citrus
  • Jay Citrus

Jay Citrus
In a way, it's fitting that emcee Jay Citrus begins his mixtape Suck My Lemons—released in May 2014—with a line of dialogue from The Big Lebowski, because he channels a bit of The Dude with his mumbly, sleepy delivery. A mellow head-nodder that's a mix of loose rhymes, old-school samples and a haze of blunt smoke, Suck My Lemons is a good example of Citrus' off-the-wall style. But in September, Citrus was already back at it with the Esscarrgo-produced Alone With Two Drinks, which is often just as chilled-out, but picks up the energy on hard-hitting track "Chum Bucket."

Illwinded P - TIANA MIERA
  • Tiana Miera
  • Illwinded P

Illwinded P
It's no wonder that Spirited Away Vol. 2, the latest full-length album from Layton rapper Illwinded P and the followup to 2012's Spirited Away Vol. 1, sounds great; after all, it features beats from a long list of great producers, including Flying Lotus and El-P, as well as influential locals like Piccolo of Dine Krew. And Illwinded P's verbose rap does all those high-quality sounds justice, as he can lay down airtight, barbed rhymes with tongue-twisting agility (like on the smooth and jazzy "Emma Goldman") as well as sincere emotion (like in the personal true story of "Actinomisis").

House of Lewis
  • House of Lewis

House of Lewis
If there was one thing that rising rap crew House of Lewis proved in 2014, it's that they're full of surprises. Throughout the year, emcees Donnie Bonelli, Atheist, Apt and Chance Lewis, along with DJ SkratchMo and DJ ChuOnWax, racked up an impressive list of boundary-pushing, ground-breaking projects and huge shows, all with a level of flair and talent that is becoming House of Lewis standard. Some of the highlights included Bonelli releasing his official debut, the funny and honest Shakeface—easily one of the best local albums of 2014—House of Lewis playing to 4,000 people at the Rooftop Concert Series (although the real star was probably Apt's full-body flower suit) and Atheist adopting the moniker Rhyme Time for his new online variety show, Rhyme Time Television. But House of Lewis isn't out of juice by any means—these dudes are just getting started.

  • Yze

The latest album from American Fork rapper/musician Yze (of the Alive & Well Family) was a long time coming, but worth it, as it displays his unique devotion to his craft. Released in January and produced by Chance Lewis, Ugly Picture Perfect stands out partly because all the music is original (no samples in sight) and mostly was performed live with physical instruments, including guitar and piano. And that varied sound is utilized deliberately, so as Yze aggressively spits rapid bars on "Homemade Explosives," the head-pounding drums echo the track's urgent lyrics.

Dine Krew
  • Dine Krew

Dine Krew
Salt Lake City rap collective Dine Krew hit the ground running with their experimental 2013 debut, Dine and Dash, and since then, they've only further proven their skill and unconventional approach to hip-hop, especially with their latest drop, WE-E.T.'s Vol. II. Created by the Dine Krew offshoot duo WE—emcee Harrison Montgomery (aka Erasole James) and enigmatic producer Andrew Auman (aka Piccolo)—WE-E.T.'s Vol. II was one of the best local albums of 2014, made up of evocative instrumentals, anime references and razor-sharp stream-of-consciousness rap. With every release, WE and the rest of the Dine Krew family raise the bar for local rap.

  • Zigga

Midvale rapper Zane Anthony Dennison, aka Zigga, included a long list of local rap talent on his 2012 mixtape, Lake Bonneville, but for his fourth and latest release, 2014's Big Cottonwood, he focused on guest spots from only three other emcees: label mate Bentley, Cig Burna and major-label name John Boy. And that focus is also reflected in Big Cottonwood's songwriting and production, a cleanly executed blend of hip-hop and G-funk, as heard on tracks like "Bird Call" and club banger "Too Turnt Up. ZiggaBiz

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