By Alessandro Improta
Since coming together with their current lineup in January 2013, Westward the Tide has been working hard to gain a following, and they have seen success in a way most Provo bands don’t. They were named Salt Lake City Weekly’s “Band of the Year” in 2014. They landed a spot as the opening act for OK Go at The Complex in Salt Lake City a year later, and sold out two nights at Velour Live Music Gallery earlier this year. On April 1st, 2016, they released their latest EP, Microphone Heart (read more about it here).
Since their earlier release, Sorry Soul, Westward the Tide has traded their organic sound for arpeggiated synth and added some electric guitar in place of acoustic. Despite these sonic changes, they’ve still managed to keep their distinctive sound intact. Though now very electronic, they still keep acoustic guitar and piano on many of their tracks, and you can hear elements of their formerly organic sound shine through. A Westward the Tide hallmark, they also continue to use all three of their vocalists.
Three part harmony, switching lead vocalists, and strong back up vocals have been a part of Westward the Tide’s success since day one. “Who Knows” is a great example of their use of multiple vocalists. Lead vocal duties get passed back and forth between Jackson Larsen and Kaitie Forbes, and harmonies are strategically placed throughout the song and heavy in the choruses. This song is probably my favorite off of the EP. I really enjoy Forbe’s soft delivery. When it is juxtaposed with Jackson Larsen’s naturally more raspy vocals, it works wonderfully. Megan Larsen’s backup vocals in this song are absolutely perfect, adding depth at times and highlighting certain moments. More importantly, the chorus is catchier than the common cold, and the lyrics are super relatable as they beg the question, “Where do we go from here?” This song reminds me a lot of Vance Joy and their driven, organic pop/rock sound. In fact this whole EP does, though it never sounds copycat.
Their opening track, “The Weekend,” is probably their biggest departure from past work. I had to check to make sure I was listening to the right album. Then the first harmony came in and I knew I was. In the first verse, there is a slightly distorted guitar and effected lead vocals. With a swung classic rock beat and verbose chorus, it goes against their usual use of catchphrase-like choruses. That isn’t to say that this is any less catchy. Personally, I love seeing musicians and bands doing things they don’t normally do. They don’t need to completely abandon what has made them successful, but change shows that they are pushing themselves to be more.
Beyond the great musicianship here, I have to make mention of the production on this album. It is fantastic! If an album has good production, it means you don’t notice it. It stays out of the way of the listening experience so that you can enjoy the music and the lyrics. However, in my opinion, great production not only gets out of the way and portrays the music naturally, but it actually adds to the listening experience. The title track, “Microphone Heart,” is a perfect example of this. This song is full of little interesting additions, and the way that they are placed in the mix is absolutely terrific. There are two examples of this that I want point out.
First, starting right at 1:50 there is a little bridge-like section that lasts 15 seconds. It is very ethereal and flowy in the way that the synth swells. To keep everything grounded, there is an electronic kick drum and snare. The difference between the two sounds is interesting, but what makes this moment great is the way they are panned. The kick is strictly in the left ear, and the snare is strictly in the right ear. This keeps your brain busy chasing the sound from left to right and is a fantastic way of making something that could have been mundane interesting again. The second example is found in the second verse, right before the first example, at 1:38. In your left ear there are three rhythmic, electronic beeps followed by what sounds like a robot crow cawing into a distant canyon. Weird description, I know, and it doesn’t really sound like it would be musical, but it’s great. You need to listen to it to understand. What makes this moment so perfect is that it’s used in a softer moment in the song. The way that it sits in the mix, panned far to the listener’s left ear, makes it feel strange and unexpected.
What makes the production on this album even more impressive is that the EP is self produced. “We self produced this one,” Jackson Larsen told Reach Provo. “But Scott Wiley [of June Audio] has had his magic hand in everything. He’s been fantastic so big thanks to him.”
Overall I am impressed with this EP. Not only is it good, fun music, but it’s an example of Westward the Tide pushing themselves and evolving to find their sound and make better music. With the success they found with their previous outings, it would be easy for them to stick to what they were doing and be content. They didn’t exactly reinvent music here, but they have reinvented themselves, and the results are a great addition to the tapestry of Provo music.
You can listen to Microphone Heart on Spotify here. Make sure to like Westward the Tide on Facebook and listen to “Wildlife” below. Also, Microphone Heart is part 1 of a full length LP. Keep an eye out for its second half in the coming months.