By Alessandro Improta
When it came time for the music to start, I was expecting a band to kick off the night, but Eminent Sol isn’t a band. They’re actually a time machine. Let me just tell you, the 80’s are a fun time. While I should have nothing to be embarrassed about, Eminent Sol is already a guilty pleasure of mine. It’s like if 80’s synth pop met European techno. The band consists of 4 synth players (one also doubles as a bass player) and backing tracks. Their act is definitely a polarizing one. A listener will either wish Eminent Sol was something they aren’t and dismiss them, or they will accept them for what they are and enjoy what they do. As for me, I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face. What I love about Eminent Sol is that they represent another important piece of the music scene in Provo, namely, the electronic scene. It is definitely great that they are adding depth and variety to the music scene and pushing boundaries. Diversity in sounds sparks creativity and innovation. I’ve got to say, I really enjoyed their set. Are they my new favorite band? No, but I understand that I might have genre biases present that are preventing that from being the case. I just love the fact that they took risks and weren’t afraid to be them. They put on a kind of show that isn’t usually seen in Provo, and it was just plain fun. Unfortunately, because Eminent Sol has a throwback vibe on top of being a niche genre, I think it divided the judges as much as it did the audience.
The Solarists put on a heck of a show! Right away, I knew they had just made a fan out of me. They gave a very tight performance that was both creative and professional. You could tell that they took the time in practice to work out small performance details like transitions and deciding where in the set to banter. Their tone was great across the board, and the bass was especially fat. Their energy was high and consistent, but it wasn’t contrived. It was just how they felt. I was very impressed with them, and I think that their sound is great for summer nights like last night. It sounds like the soundtrack to memories I haven’t made yet. I especially enjoyed when they busted out the saxophone. There is just something magical about that instrument, and it gets a crowd going. I’d like to give a personal thank you to The Sexy Sax Man for making the saxophone cool again! As far as performance goes, I think they put on the best set of the night. It was just as good all the way through. In fact, their set was so good that I was ready to call them the winners without even hearing the last two bands.
And then MMEND came along. MMEND quickly became one of my favorite pop rock bands in Provo. I am an absolute sucker for high female backup vocals. I know that’s a very specific thing to be a sucker for, but it’s just who I am. MMEND, to my delight, had that in huge quantities. Their harmonies were absolutely spectacular. On top of that, their part writing was interesting without being too much for the ear to handle. I really enjoyed how they used their synthesizer. Mostly it was flourishes here and there, and often sat in the mix as a simple harmonic layer, but I enjoyed that they weren’t afraid to place it front and center on occasion. They used dynamics very intelligently doing occasional things like dropping out all of the instruments after a big crescendo to allow for vocals to really come through. That kind of thing is so killer in a live performance. Their music was interesting as well. It was pretty accessible pop, but it had a sense of creepiness to it at times that didn’t quite seem to fit their aesthetic. I enjoyed that juxtaposition, personally, but I can see how it might turn some people off, and that’s okay. They are making interesting music, and they should continue to do so. Their performance, if I’m being honest, wasn’t quite up to par with The Solarists’ in my eyes. They hit an energy slump in their set that lasted about 2 or 3 songs. However, MMEND was more interesting musically, and made some cool artistic decisions like using a sound clip in their set.
The Cardboard Club reminded me that we live in the 21st century. They played to a backing track that someone on stage with a laptop was cueing up for them. They almost felt like techno played with guitars. With the high pitched lead singer and their electronic beats, they reminded me a little of the Venga Boys. However, I feel like to pull off this sound you need to be very bass/sub-bass heavy, and they came up lacking. This is easily remedied by either adding a synth player, or buying their bassist an octave pedal and some sort of filter pedal to give him a sub-bass sound. I can’t judge them poorly because it just sounded empty, which in this case seems like a simple matter of getting more equipment and using it correctly. I’ve been there, and my band received the same criticism at our first Battle of the Bands at Velour. Honestly, I enjoyed their music. They play a fairly tight show, only showing some hiccups as they lost timing with the track once or twice. I would love to see them with the addition of a live drummer and synth player. I think that with those additions their ideas would finally be fleshed out and their live performance would reflect the great music they are writing. It was the kind of performance that made me want to hear their record because I think in a controlled environment like the studio, they would probably be able to put together some solid recordings.
At the end of the night, I think we all knew that it came down to a decision between The Solarists or MMEND. They were both just too professional – too good – to not win last night. Even before the results were announced, it seemed unfair that they both had to play the same night, as I felt that they both deserved to be in the finals. I was glad I wasn’t a judge yesterday. In the end, MMEND won it. It was a difficult decision between The Solarists with the best performance, and MMEND with the best musicianship. In fact, these two bands were so neck-and-neck, even the crowd votes were equal! It was announced onstage that they were separated by only 3 points from the judges scorecards. Unreal. MMEND moves on, and those that face them in the finals need to watch out. These guys mean business.
Tonight is the last night of preliminaries. Come watch as Melting Rain, NewConnection, Kitfox, and Sea Elephant fight for the last spot in the finals. Admission is $7 (cash only). Doors open at 8PM. You can check out “Bike Ride” by The Cardboard Club below.