6 fresh guitar artists you need to hear in February 2019

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This month we catch a dose of Polyphia, BlackLab, Thyla, Black Fast, Vaureen and Christof Van Der Ven...

Polyphia

A true polyphonic spree

Polyphony is the term given to a musical approach that simultaneously combines a number of parts, each of which forms an individual melody and harmonises with the others. The clue is in the name then for Texan progressives Polyphia, because this instrumental four-piece burn through ideas at a, frankly, alarming rate.

“We subject ourselves to a lot of different types of music while writing an album,” says guitarist Scott LePage. “Any time somebody has a suggestion for me I always check it out. You never really know what masterpiece you’re going to come up with... I really try to make sure I stay in the mindset of ‘nothing is off limits’.”

We’ll make something new out of whatever music is out there at the time

That approach has defined Polyphia since they formed in 2010. In fact, it’s about the only thing that defines them. They’re heavy, yet too airy to be progressive metal, too jazz for djent and too electronic for post-rock. Their most recent album New Levels New Devils channels a sizeable hip-hop wedge and sees Scott and co-guitarist Timothy Henson weaving intricate “pentachronic” guitar melodies over subby beats.

“I’m a man who likes a challenge,” says Scott. “So I’ll take a beat and throw some guitars on it just to prove to myself that I can make it sick. It’s really not easy either, and I find myself in that whole rut of, ‘How the hell am I going to write guitars to this,’ but that’s all part of the fun!”

‘Fun’ is the right word. Polyphia take preconceptions of tired instrumentals and delight in tinkering and warping and astonishing.

“I guess there has never really been a time where we haven’t tried to just do something new,” concludes Scott. “I’d say New levels New Devils says that we’re capable of making music out of any genre. We’ll make something new out of whatever music is out there at the time.”

  • For fans of: Chon, Plini
  • Gear: Ibanez AZ, Ibanez Talman, Axe-Fx II

BlackLab

Sounds from Osaka's dark corners

Osaka witch doom duo’ BlackLab hail from Osaka, Japan and make arty, aggressively- fuzzed metal. “I don’t think that my guitar sound is modern, it’s more like a 70s psychedelic fuzz sound,” says guitarist Yuko Morino. “But I think it is possible to be heavy without lowering the string tension. [Instead] I use Ernie Ball .10-.52 gauge strings, inspired by Page Hamilton [Helmet]!” 

BlackLab’s album Under The Strawberry Moon 2.0, released over the summer, recalls early Sabbath but with a vocal dexterity that ranges from ghostly melody to raw aggression. “I’ve never really thought about such matters deeply,” says Yuko, when we ask if there’s a guiding principle behind her approach. “If I had to say, it’s that when I’m playing I focus on the thought that I’m the coolest thing in the world at this very moment...”

  • For fans of: Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard 
  • Gear: Gibson SG

Thyla

A new stick of Brighton rock

Brighton’s Thyla occupy a corner of indie rock in the vicinity of Cocteau Twins, melding that spacious, crystalline quality with the thundering heaviness of contemporary British rock.

“My sound is piercing,” says frontwoman Millie Duthie. “It’s industrial but I write melodies that have a serenity to them.” This paradoxical combo is then offset (literally) by co-guitarist Mitch Duce’s love of modulation.

“My Jazzmaster’s tremolo arm has become an extension of my own,” Mitch tells us. “I learned to play with it in my hand all the time as I found it much more expressive.”

Both players talk about playing in terms of “the possibilities”, so we’re excited to see what they come up with on their debut, due in 2019. “[I love] the creative space playing puts me in,” says Millie. “Every time I pick it up something happens.”

  • For fans of: Yonaka 
  • Gear: Millie: Mustang, Mitch: Fender Jazzmaster

Black Fast

  • Who: Trevor Johanson and Aaron Akin 
  • Sounds like: All killer, no filler blackened thrash. Expect no coffee breaks, slow jams or love songs
  • Gear: Trevor: Suhr Ml, EVH 5150 III. Aaron: PRS MCarty, Soldano Avenger, D’Addario strings 
  • For fans of: Skeletonwitch 
  • Hear: Cloak Of Lies

Vaureen

  • Who: Brooklyn guitarist Andrea Horne 
  • Sounds like: A doom-gaze take on the early-90s critical darlings that skirted US grunge and alt-rock 
  • Gear: Fender Telecaster Custom (with P90S), Gibson SG 70s Tribute, Fender Hot Rod Deluxe 
  • For fans of: Emma Ruth Rundle, Fugazi 
  • Hear: Secret

Christof Van Der Ven

  • Who: Bear’s Den’s live guitarist gone solo 
  • Sounds like: Finely-honed, full-colour indie-pop constructions 
  • Gear: Fender Snakehead T-style (re-make) 
  • For fans of: Grizzly Bear, Damien Jurado 
  • Hear: You Left It Too Long
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