Nate Utley – Infinite Potential

 Nate Utley – Infinite Potential

Nate Utley – Infinite Potential – EP Review

Dig the beard on this guy!  All music aside for a brief moment, one bearded-brother to another, game gotta respect game you know what I’m sayin’?  This guy grows a thick face bush!  Nice work Nate.

Anyhow…so…we’ve got Infinite Potential here eh?  I’d say that’s pretty damn apt after listening to the new EP from Nate Utley – this dude has some extremely rad ideas and real passion radiating from the music he makes.  All of these songs were written while he was still in college according to the official website, going on to note from its creator direct that ‘This EP does a great job of introducing who I am to the world while leaving people wondering what type of music comes next.’  I think you can get the gist of the kind of creativity and youthful spirit you’ll find on these tracks from Utley…and I think you’ll hear from the way he’s approaching his music, there really is Infinite Potential with his limitless imagination.

In case you missed it, Infinite Potential also subconsciously hints at something even more important when examining it as the title of the entire EP; there’s an implied humbleness there.  I’d assume Nate knows he’s on the right path and that he’s finding his way into bringing these ideas of his into reality; but as the title would also imply, he understands there’s still plenty of room to refine, grow and expand his creativity even further.  Now that he’s out of college and set his mind free from the ol’ institution, hopefully the artistic side of his life can reclaim him in-full…he’s got a great thing started here on this EP.

Nate will prove himself capable of thriving in the acoustic-rock realm throughout Infinite Potential, though the beginning of the record sounds like the adventure will include a whole lot more creativity than anything typrical as “Blue Dream” begins.  The EP’s got a bit of hipster flavor to it…can’t lie to you there…but I didn’t feel like Nate was trying to hide it, so much as embrace it.  With a beat machine and really clever layers of guitars, Utley finds the rhythm & groove at the heart of “Blue Dream” and works it well throughout the verse of this first impression…and then makes what sounds like a transition to a Red Hot Chili Peppers-esque approach to the chorus.  I think it’s an interesting track in the sense that he’s got real hooks that stand-out in both of the songs major parts…but that quite often for me, it came down to the guitars.  I like the vocals, I like the piano, love the breakdown…I’m with him on about 50% of the lyrics, the other 50% of me has been out of college too damn long…so take that with a grain of salt or whatever the kids are takin’ it with these days.  But when I say the guitars…I’m really specifically referring to the lead; the rhythm work is right on the money too – but it’s the way that the lead guitar melody finds itself wandering around brilliantly in this tune that really worked for me.  In the chorus, it’s almost subdued, subtle and taking a backseat to the vocals – even though it’s just as incredible to listen to as anything else happening!  But then…in my opinion…the guitar really brings it home with the tones he puts in during the second-minute and bridge of the song.  I mean, credit to the man for even including a bridge when more than half of the songs out there don’t even bother anymore – but those searing notes bring out a huge amount of personality on “Blue Dream.”  I dig that they’re probably even somewhat polarizing; for some people the tone will be nearly grating…for others like me, you’ll latch onto it quickly and turn it up as loud as your system will take it just to get as much of that good good sound straight into your face-holes.

The lead-single from the Infinite Potential EP is called “What Up” – a track that further reveals the influences on Utley’s style & sound.  If there isn’t an album with Stephen Jenkins on it in his house, I’d be massively surprised…”What Up” continues along the intentions that Third Eye Blind set forth upon long ago, incorporating a lot of the same magic.  I think you get a lot of that “Semi-Charmed Life” style pulse in the vibrant melody of the design in this tune…especially in the catchy way he approaches the lyrics in the verse.  I’ll admit…it is TOUGH to know whether or not Nate’s being completely serious with a line like ‘what up lady’ – or if he’ll be able to be taken seriously out there by those that listen as a result.  You listen to the rest of the song and it still incorporates a lot of lingo-laden buzz words and catch phrases – but he performs it all as sincerely and with real focus; so it’s honestly hard to say what his intentions with the lyrics are.  Obviously inspired by college life, love and relationships…that part I get…but as to whether or not he’ll want to be remembered for the great ideas he’s putting forth being combined with a more mixed reaction to the intentions or sentiments of the lyrics, I dunno.  I think he’s got some choices to make for sure when it comes to this issue if he wants to verifiably make sure he’s not labeled a novelty act by some out there…yet at the same time, there’s no doubt that songs with a lighthearted approach, style & sound like Utley writes are quite well known to catch on with the masses out there.

Case in-point, songs like “Bet” that sound like a combination of Third Eye Blind, Custom and Dynamite Hack all rolled into one party scenario.  “Bet” worked more for me that “What Up” did in the sense that I think from the moment the lyrics start the hook on this cut, its intentions are crystal clear.  If anything depicts the reality of the college lifestyle…best I can remember it…”Bet” does a great job of filling the imagery in the lyrics with the antics many of us are privileged enough to experience in post-secondary education.  I think he’s got a great approach to the rhythm and flow of the vocals, great ideas in the backing vocals and effects applied…the guitars again, completely stand-out to me.  “Bet” is definitely a track based in fusion and contrast at the end of the day…Nate’s definitely playing off the fact that you wouldn’t find many of the words he writes in an acoustic-rock setting and I can’t say I blame him for it.  Without a doubt, anyone that hears a song like “Bet” is going to have a reaction one way or the other – chances are it’s going to be a positive one for sure…I think he’s got some of the strongest hooks on the EP, best moments for vocals and certainly most imaginative guitars in the mix here.  He’s written a track for good times that stretch from the night ‘til the next morning and beyond, people always dig those – but I think the impressively smooth singing in the chorus was what put this song over the top for me.  But I’m a melody guy, which is why that is…I’ve been on record saying that at least a hundred times by now I’m sure…that’s what speaks to me personally – otherwise I’d be more than content with the creative lyricism he puts into “Bet” because he’s got some killer lines in this tune that you definitely gotta hear for yourself to believe.  Won’t lie to Nate…he’s got the linguistic abilities to make a guy like me who’s really not that old feel entirely ancient through a lot of what he says…but at the very least, the songs don’t leave anyone behind so much as there are people out there that will really get right into what Nate is saying and particularly how he’s saying it.  Great structure, movement and groove overall – I think that “Bet” is arguably the EP’s most accessible cut and cohesive set of ideas.

Here’s my worry.  My worry is that all the amazing instrumentation and writing that Nate is putting into the music…like LISTEN to the way “It’s Over” begins…what IF people completely end up MISSING this stuff while he’s going for the shock-value factor in the lyrics?  That’s what worries me.  His flow, metering and timing is nearly flawless…there’s no denying that this guy can write a song.  Listening to the way the chorus works on “It’s Over,” you know that Nate can also match the energy in the music with words that make sense alongside it in their attitude, tone and meanings…when he wants to.  Best way I can put it is that the minute that “It’s Over” started I was already sold on it yesterday through what I was hearing in the music – lyrically, this track ended up being much more of a toss-up due to a bit of wandering focus.  Parts of this song come across incredibly sincere; at other times Nate runs the risk of sounding like he’s forcing it by trying to be too stylistic or shocking with what he’s saying.  Could just be my opinion…and to be fair to him, I think these are consistent traits that are in all the songs on the EP and clearly he’s trying to establish a signature style & approach…I get that.  All I’m saying is that the skill-level, talent and songwriting capabilities are all clearly top-notch and I think that the notable efforts made in the music from performance to production stand the risk of getting lost in the background in behind the surface-level shocks of the lyrics.  It’s something to consider.  If I was putting as much effort in as Nate is musically, all I’m saying is I’d want to make sure people notice that just as much at the very least…if not more so; I’m just not entirely convinced that’s what we come away with as listeners, even on what seems like a more tender moment on “It’s Over” due to the choices he makes in his words.  Melody-wise and music-wise, it’s definitely one of the strongest cuts on the record.

Infinite Potential wraps up with the final cut “Blowtorch,” which amps up the energy back into the party-zone before the EP is over.  It starts out slow…but don’t be mistaken, this cut gets moving quickly as it launches into the hook – and this is where I might also advise a bit of caution to Nate; “Blue Dream” is the exception on this record when it comes to the approach on how the songs reveal themselves – the other four to follow put that chorus hook right up front as the first thing we hear.  Not everyone’s gonna catch onto that…hell, most people wouldn’t even care – but artist-to-artist, that’s the kind of thing that he’ll look back on in retrospect and realize he’ll be able to get more creative with the structure of his material later on down the road.  Or he might…again…these are all choices he may/may-not make and advice from an old guy that he may/may-not take, that’s all up to him.  “Blowtorch” has Nate sounding large & charge, confident and stylistic, even name-checking the lead-single early on in the opening verse.  What I’m listening for and still searching for is that genuine connection to the material and words he’s singing…and in that sense, I think that Nate’s still got some work ahead of him to convince us all.  On the one-hand, “Blowtorch” sounds well executed and really well put together…on the other hand, if I’m being honest…this last track sounded like it reached harder for the shock-value and buzz-words than any of the others, also concentrating on the stylistic approach to the lyricism more than any other tune.  It creates a weird feeling when you’re listening to what sounds so natural for him in the music with lyrics that seem like they require more effort to conform to a certain attitude than they might naturally have come out.  So…you see what I’m saying…it’s tough to fault this guy when it comes to the entertainment factor…I definitely got right into every tune, but it definitely left me scratching my head as to where exactly Nate Utley’s Infinite Potential would take him next.  I really do believe that Infinite Potential is there – I think he’s got an incredible amount of skill and insightful ways of finding his rhythm & groove in the vocal-flows & music throughout the entire EP…but I’m not even sure that I even know what to really make of this guy.  He’s certainly talented…that much I know…but as they say – with great talent comes great responsibility.  It’ll be interesting to see where he takes that next record from here.

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