By Mike Romero
Come with me on a journey far above the dusty, desert floors of Deseret. Travel above the lofty, snow-capped peaks and into the pale blue sky. Now brace yourselves as we fly beyond, piercing the veil of the mountain west’s terrestrial plane, and enter the cosmic expanse of the universe, where galaxies swirl and Kolob’s light reaches out from past eons to make stardust shimmer with iridescent splendor. Now bottle this experience, funnel it into your ears, and leave none of your cares or worries behind.
Welcome to Deseret Vibe Rock.
We live in an age where rock is no longer the dominant genre. Over the last century, we’ve seen everything from punk, nu-metal, and grunge to sweater-wearing college rock and adult contemporary. It can sometimes feel like rock is played out – like it no longer knows how to speak to the soul or coexist with other genres without becoming them. Taking a deep dive into Deseret Vibe Rock has restored my faith in the efficacy of rock music.
One of my favorite emerging sounds in the territory, Deseret Vibe Rock takes mid tempo, atmospheric grooves and adds chorusy guitars, shimmery synths, a touch of 60’s and 70’s rock, and injects a healthy dose of Gen Z nihilism into the mix. Whereas Dusty Deseret has an easy-to-trace sonic lineage mostly born of local pressures and circumstances, Deseret Vibe Rock is a synthesis of external influences not bound by place – or time for that matter. It’s at once new and nostalgic; made right here in Utah but strangely universal.
Spend 3 seconds with the song “Pastels” by Dad Bod and you’ll immediately be transported back in time to your grandparents’ tract home, where shag carpet, floral patterns, and wood panels abound. Dad Bod is certainly not a cover band, nor is their sound a dead ringer for 60’s and 70’s acts in the way Greta Van Fleet is for Led Zeppelin. Instead, they draw on the spacey, psychedelic textures of the 60’s and early 70’s and apply the 2020’s desire to chill out.
Bly Wallentine’s “Crying Violets” does the same. The verses employ a gliding, sparkling synthesizer that wouldn’t feel out of place in a David Bowie song. However, instead of trying to capture the vintage sound of the Bowie era using retro recording techniques, the song borrows from the era’s sonic palette and expands it with modern production elements. When the chorus drops, mellotron flutes are introduced while aspects of the 2020’s lofi beat phenomenon bubble up underneath them, including carefully panned and arranged samples of found sounds.
Perhaps the vibiest band in the genre, Brother. takes the 70’s love of high registered vocals and dials down the energy. Instead of belting like Foreigner’s Lou Gramm, lead singer Chuck Emery whispers in gritty doubled and tripled falsetto. super young adult and Adult Prom do the same on their song “Fall Into You.” In 60’s and 70’s rock, vocal presence was obtained through energetic delivery. In a lot of Deseret Vibe Rock, vocal presence feels like it’s obtained through physical proximity – whispered directly into your ears in sweet, sweet, stereo. Homephone and 26fix also employ this technique, but with female vocalists whispering in their lower registers.
The most striking thing about all this is how these acts have managed to draw on vintage sounds while warping them in such a way that they feel both familiar and absolutely foreign. 60’s rock evokes sunshine and strawberry fields. 70’s rock projects carefree bravado. Deseret Vibe Rock feels like The Animals’ version of “I Put A Spell On You” but genre-fied. It’s cold, spooky, and haunting, but groovy all the same.
Much has been said about the difference between Millennials and Gen Z, especially where humor and meme culture are concerned. To illustrate my point about the groovy spookiness of Deseret Vibe Rock, take a look at this graphic:
Deseret Vibe Rock feels a LOT like Gen Z Nihilism, especially when it gets dancy. Bathyscaphe’s “No Fair”, Kasadoom’s “White Light,” and The Solarists’ “Cup of Tea” are perfect examples of this. More energetic than the Deseret Vibe Rock entries from Brother. and Dad Bod, they’re no less haunting. Underneath the tightly compressed rhythm sections (complete with tambourines, claps, high hats, and thuddy snares) are lyrics grappling with anxiety, self-doubt, and despair.
Here are a few lyrical examples:
“People, they’ll come around
On our wedding day
Saying, ‘Girl you’re so beautiful.”
That’s what they’ll say.
But I just need to know:
Could you love me at all?”
– “Cup of Tea” by The Solarists
“I know I’m young and dumb,
But I’m so tired of life going wrong.”
– “No Fair” by Bathyscaphe
“God, I’m feeling funny
Like bloodlust mixed with honey.
My heart, it’s just a-racin’.
I can’t see straight this side of the borderline.”
– “White Light” by Kasadoom
While less dancy than the aforementioned entries, Tal Haslam’s “Kill Me Slower” is an absolute masterclass on how to couch our generation’s existential dread in a chill groove. Normally I’d only choose a few lyrics to highlight, but the entire first verse and chorus are phenomenal:
“Gotta get a job, but I hate the boss man.
Makes me want to slit my wrists
and burn out doing push-ups in the ocean.
Man, I hate my dreams. What’s the game plan?
I’m mildly dissatisfied
With living in the backseat of a budget sedan.
And this sugar-free sour hard candy
And this zero-calorie caffeinated aspartame
Is killing me slowly.
Kill me slower.”
This Utah rock movement is paying homage to styles of the past while re-contextualizing them, injecting the moods, production techniques, and atmosphere of the current day. Rock has always captured the rebellious energy of youth, and Deseret Vibe Rock is no different. Angst is a powerful emotion, and guitars and drums are fantastic instruments for letting that out. And while rebellion in the past has often taken the form of social movements, modern rebellion is less of a movement and more of a vibe. It’s a state of being in the face of information overload and abject nihilism. Deseret Vibe Rock embodies that in the most groovy and cosmic ways possible without losing the grit rock music requires.
I could geek out about these groups forever, but talking about music is like dancing about architecture. It’s best if you experience it yourself. We’ve compiled some of the greatest examples of Deseret Vibe Rock into a super duper Spotify playlist. Give it a spin and let us know what you think on Instagram.