itchy-O to Perform 3 Nights of HALLOWMASS and to Release First Live Album SYPHERLOT | HALLOWMASS DOUBLE LIVE 2020

itchy-O live in 2020, photo by Michael Rehdish

This Friday October 29 through Sunday October 31 with doors at 8 p.m., Denver-based experimental performance troupe itchy-O is set for a string of shows at The Summit Music Hall it’s calling HALLOWMASS. Expect a visceral flood of image and sound more like a ritual than a traditional concert or other show with performers dressed up in outfits like ushers in a neo-mystical ceremony. Full drum corps including taiko, synths, other electronics noises, bass, guitar—all in sync to create one of the most powerful live music performances you’ll get to see this or any season. Opening the first night is dark Americana band Munly and the Lupercalians, on October 30 the opening performer is industrial/noise/producer legend J.G. Thirlwell and his Xordox project, October 31 brings tribal post-hardcore post-punk phenoms Wovenhand.

In 2020 the 57-member group performed two outdoor, drive-up events, SYPHERLOT in the parking lot of the Mission Ballroom in August and HALLOWMASS at the now demolished New Tech Machinry building in October. Those performances were captured in high definition and will find release as a double live LP on November 5 through Alternative Tentacles. But advance copies of SYPHERLOT | HALLOWMASS DOUBLE LIVE 2020 will be available during the 2021 HALLOWMASS performances. We recently got to ask some questions of the band via email about the creation of the new album and its evolution as a live and recording project across roughly the past decade.

itchy-O live in 2020, photo by Michael Rehdish

Queen City Sounds and Art (Tom Murphy): How did Itchy-O prepare for the concerts that were captured on the SYPHERLOT | HALLOWMASS DOUBLE LIVE 2020 album given the sprawling membership and what one would assume were observed precautions during that phase of the pandemic?

Itchy-O: When the pandemic hit, we got to work at what we do best, adapting and evolving. Over the years as this thing has grown, being as flexible and nimble as this behemoth can be has been paramount.

So, we heeded the call: Short-band radio broadcast turned each car interior into a private listening experience for what felt like a post-apocalyptic affair. Roving bands of our Khaos Federation opened a temporary escape portal with physically contactless strategies, engulfing each vehicle in the carefully crafted rite and ritual 2020 called for. And procedurally, we developed a set of standard operating procedures that the health department applauded us for, while we followed all of the recommended CDC guidelines for masking, ventilation, disinfecting, and distancing to keep everyone safe.

Q: Bands often release a live album to mark the end of an era or the peak of that era and the beginning of another. Do you feel this was the case with this live album? If so, how so? If not, why not wait until enough newer material was created for a new studio type of record?

I: We record all of our live sets but have never been interested in putting out a live record until now. One of the reasons we decided to release this material was because after looking back we realized we had just captured an extraordinary moment in time (as the blaring car horns attest). It was a literal torch lighting during one of the darkest moments of modern history.

In hindsight, and as you most astutely surmise, this album does feel like a turning of the page for us. One of the reasons for this is the music that we are currently writing for our next studio album embraces a number of more advanced concepts we are incredibly excited about: Things like beat cancellation, the effects of frequencies on bio-organisms, science in music, group hypnotics, and the rhythmic brain.

Q: The global pandemic, still ongoing, prompted musicians and other performing artists to find creative ways to present and perform their music in a safe way and/or to reassess their music and experiment with new approaches and sounds out of necessity and caution. Did those considerations and limitations drive the kinds of shows you’ve done and perhaps inspire new sounds and visual styles and performances that stretched what you’ve done before? How so?

I: Covid may have forced our hand, but like we mentioned we are good at adapting and were able to respond in kind. In addition to the drive-in series (which you can catch part of on Alamo In-Demand), our From The Vault live performance streams gathered fans online each Saturday for two and a half months to relive HD recorded concerts, and we were commissioned by the Greek Onassis Foundation for our Milk Moon Rite performance. The acclimation and protocols we developed helped shape our triumphant return to Levitt Pavilion in July for thousands of spaced-out revelers under a beautiful summer night sky that we set ablaze in pyrotechnics.

But, probably the thing we are most proud of over the past 19 months was our Noise Bath stroboscopic meditation series, utilizing binaural and isochronic frequencies. We rolled out this six part series to our beloved Patreon supporters (who have seriously been the lifeblood through these last 20 months) as a proof-of-concept and it exceeded everyone’s expectations.

Q: What do you feel Evergroove Studio has been instrumental in bringing out in terms of sound for the live shows and on your recordings, the live album in particular?

I: Bringing on Evergroove in 2015 was a game changer for us. Our radio frequency game is on par with the biggest stadium shows touring and in terms of the studio… a whole other article could be devoted to this; see: Evergroove’s new Atmos system that was just installed and our next record.

Q: After listening to the live album in depth I’d say that like your studio albums it gives the listener another dimension of the band. I found the level of detail in texture, dynamics, tone and atmospheric elements to be very immersive in a way that’s different from the live show where the visual element and the collective experience of both band and audience creates an energy that would be impossible to convey fully on a recording. What do you feel you tried to highlight on the live recording with the mixing and mastering process that isn’t always fully possible when executing the music live? Or maybe it is and having this independent listening experience enriches the live show.

I: Many of the musicians were out in the center of the lot with the cars and we had atmospheric mics specifically placed to capture those elements. Those tracks really ended up paying off.

Q: How did J.G. Thirlwell come to be an opener for the October 30 Hallowmass 2021 show? How did his music and production impact what Itchy-O has done?

I: Many of us grew up with J.G. – Foetus, Wiseblood, Clint Ruin, Steroid Maximus, and all of his music on Ectopic Ents, etc. We met him down in Tasmania when we played Dark Mofo in 2016; he’s been a great source for advice concerning the industry over the years and we are completely honored to get his holiday cards every year.

Queen City Sounds Podcast Ep. 5: Ian Vanek on the The Rewards of Authenticity and Being Present in an Age of Toxic Nostalgia

Howardian, image courtesy Ian Vanek

Ian Vanek is perhaps best known for his time in the band Japanther. From 2001 to 2014 Japanther brought together the interest of Vanek and bandmate Matt Reilly in hip-hop, punk, art, graffiti and a spirit of experimenting with a mode of creative expression that would be difficult to pigeonhole. Depending on who you might have asked at any point people might have lumped Japanther in with punk, garage rock, indie rock or art rock. The group befriended a broad spectrum of like-minded artists in the realm of music and fine art and pursued whatever opportunities presented themselves in that rich milieu of Brooklyn in the 2000s and early 2010s and the American and international art and music underground. In the spring of 2021 Vanek released his memoir Puppy Dog Ice Cream about his time in Japanther. His candid and thoughtful account of his life during those years is a vibrant and encompassing narrative that truly captures the spirit of that time and those various places that certainly intersected similar scenes throughout the country and the wider world before various political, social and economic forces made the cultural infrastructure that made aspects of DIY touring and the art galleries and venues increasingly unsustainable certainly by the end of the decade.

These days Vanek’s perhaps main musical project is Howardian and he’s playing a show at 1010 Workshop in Denver, Colorado on Monday, October 18, 2001 at 10:30 p.m. with Knuckle Pups which includes Oliver Holloway formerly of the great folk punk band The Fainting Fansies. Vanek also publishes his long running zine 99mm, the current issue of which includes an interview with hip-hop legend Boots Riley of The Coup whose film Sorry To Bother You garnered rave critical reviews upon its release in 2018 and with whom Vanek has toured and collaborated. We recently got to talk with Vanek extensively about his time in music going back to his youth in Olympia, Washington in the 90s when he was involved in underground music and culture from a very young age. In the extended discussion we talked about aspects of how underground music has changed and how that evolution was inevitable as well as the perils of nostalgia and a looking forward to a future of inspirational music and art that one has not yet encountered. For more information on Vanek, his various projects and goings on, please visit ianvanek.com where you can also find links to his social media accounts related to his varied creative projects. For now, you can listen to the interview on Bandcamp for episode 5 of the Queen City Sounds Podcast below.

Queen City Sounds Podcast Ep. 4: Cellista and Music and Art as Community Experience

Cellista, photo by Yellow Bubbles Photography

Cellista brings her tour for her new album Pariah to Colorado this weekend. The multi-media artist described her performances “stage poems” that engage those who show up as part of an inclusive experience that reflects the reality of the world and people’s lives. Originally from Longmont, Colorado, Cellista has been on a creative and civic path that has expanded her ideas of the possibilities of music and the reach of her rooting in classical music and working through her compositions and performances to make that world of music more accessible to people outside the traditional elite circles through presenting musical and theatrical experiences in a way that attempts to break down those barriers, psychological, social and economic. If you go expect not just to witness music and storytelling but a strong cinematic dance element. We recently had the opportunity to speak with Cellista about her background in Denver underground music, the noise scene and her times developing her music and performance in San Jose, California and beyond. So listen on Bandcamp embedded below. And go see the show for yourself on Friday, October 14, 2001 at Mutiny Information Café, doors 7:30 p.m. with special sets from dark ambient artist Herpes Hideaway and Zero Collective and Saturday October 16, at House of Cellista in Longmont with Zero Collective, 7:34 p.m.

For more information please utilize the links below the Bandcamp podcast.

cellista.net
facebook.com/cellista.music
twitter.com/xcellistax
instagram.com/xcellistax
youtube.com/user/xcellistax
cellista.bandcamp.com
en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cellista

Live Show: cleopatrick at Bluebird Theater, 10/11/21

cleopatrick at Bluebird Theater, 10/11/21, photo by Tom Murphy

The Jonathan Glazer-esque music videos for cleopatrick’s songs certainly suggested there was more to the band than a casual listen to its debut full-length BUMMER made obvious—a depth and exorcism of personal darkness and angst in the storytelling. On this cold night before the first freezes of the year since winter hit Denver the live band provided a personal warmth that contrasted a bit with the timbre of some of the music. The scorching and pile-driver cadence guitar work and percussion combined with introspective passages and what proved to be a vulnerability mixed in with the dynamic aggression of much of the performance. In moments Luke Gruntz’s vocals hit your ears like Josh Homme and the informal arrangements of the songs reminiscent of Queens of the Stone Age but more fuzzy and raw.

What was not at all obvious from the album, though there are elements of musique concrète at the end of songs and of course the track “Ya,” was how the band deployed ambient soundscapes between songs whether processed beats from Ian Fraser or delay manipulation from Gruntz’s guitar or pre-recorded keyboard atmospheres and the like. It showcased how sure this is amped up rock music but some of the sensibility and attitude is out of hip-hop and electronic music, even the way the songs are arranged. For various songs Gruntz’s vocal cadence is borderline spoken word but more akin to rapping. The hybrid style reminded me of early Kasabian where grimy, psychedelic post-punk and electronic music melded together seamlessly.

cleopatrick at Bluebird Theater, 10/11/21, photo by Tom Murphy

“Victoria Park” hit hard and the visceral motion of Gruntz and Fraser seemed to be working in perfect lock step while exuding an eruptive spontaneity, the music seeming to burst from inside them yet orchestrated for all involved in the show to get swept up in the momentum. “Family Van” provided surprisingly nuanced moments of nearly unhinged energy and tenderness as a way of coping with strong, mixed emotions and memories of desperate times. “2008” was a calm moment amidst a maelstrom of activity and sounds. At one point Fraser introduced a song with hits on a drum pad to create a resounding low end bass tone riff that gave a soundscape the likes you might more likely hear at an EDM or deep house show. It was just not just some neo-grunge thing, not a rap rock show or try hard eclecticism. It wasn’t a macho display of aggression though it was an expression of a release of frustration in a way that was easy to relate to, especially these days with collective anxiety at a high state. In fact, during one song some people were getting a little too rowdy with moshing and Gruntz asked if people could chill it with that and jump up and down. Which is the original punk way and although cleopatrick seem to have created a soundtrack for primal release of tension, it was not one that lacked for the recognition of the frailty and humanity of others as the band’s lyrics make abundantly clear if you take the time to read them.

cleopatrick at Bluebird Theater, 10/11/21, photo by Tom Murphy

Toward the end of the set, Gruntz told the audience that normally he and Fraser would meet people after the show and sign records but with the pandemic still raging and a long tour ahead they had pre-signed a bunch of vinyl. And he was good to his word as seen below adding another reason to like this Canadian duo beyond just the music.

Live Show Review: Japanese Breakfast at Ogden Theatre, 10/8/21

Japanese Breakfast at Ogden Theatre, 10/8/21, photo by Tom Murphy

For the first tour since the 2020 pandemic lockdown, Japanese Breakfast performed as though that downtime spent not being able to operate as usual as a band incubating the new material and developing a live show that felt somehow both spontaneous and refined. As someone who hadn’t seen the band since 2016 at Larimer Lounge the tasteful yet robust light show simply enhanced the impact of the band’s already evocative songwriting.

Luni Li at Ogden Theatre, 10/8/21, photo by Tom Murphy

The show started off with opener Luni Li. The Toronto, Ontario-based songwriter brought her eclectic style of pop that sounded as rooted in 90s R&B and smooth jazz as 2000s indie rock. But just when you thought you had her sound figured out the singer/guitarist would lay out some superb display of guitar or violin prowess showing that sure she could write pleasant, tuneful songs imbued with her charming stage presence but she also had chops that could add that dimension to the music. She recounted to us how she had looked up to Michelle Zauner of Japanese Breakfast because for maybe the first time in her life she saw someone who also had Korean ancestry represented in the realm of music she might aspire to join. Li had written some demos of instrumentals in the early part of 2021 that she shared a bit of with us with the full band that brought to full bloom other songs like the ethereally gorgeous “Afterglow.”

Japanese Breakfast at Ogden Theatre, 10/8/21, photo by Tom Murphy

As a six-piece for this show, Japanese Breakfast utilized the large stage of The Ogden well with back lighting as circles or spheres upon which colors and patterns were projected along with streaming and sweeping lights from above to create a palpable ambiance and an intimate mood befitting the vulnerable energy of the music. Sure, the first two Japanese Breakfast albums were written in the wake of deeply painful experiences and processing the intense emotions related to them in a way that didn’t leave one in a state of dissociation. Much of the set list was drawn from the 2021 album Jubilee, as one might hope, and the older songs took on a similar emotional timbre. That is to say, and perhaps projecting a bit here, a tentative embrace of those things in life that brighten your lived experience after a long period of feeling under a cloud of a necessary and natural time of having your head and heart in a space where your joy and other positive emotions can feel alternately muted and amplified, your negative emotions similarly outsized. The songs of Jubilee felt like an attempt to find a healthy balance without going toxically posi and pretending everything’s cool just because you want it to be especially after a year and a half of some of the most confusing times in the country’s history both in terms of the impact of the pandemic and the seemingly endless string of crises brought on by political and cultural turmoil that are impossible to ignore. Like most of us, Zauner and the band intuited that living in that existential zone is unsustainable even when caution is still necessary and there is so much work left to do. And one way to break that emotional and spiritual stasis is to make creative work looking to an inevitable and hopefully better future rather than stay focused on the worst possibilities.

Japanese Breakfast at Ogden Theatre, 10/8/21, photo by Tom Murphy

Beginning with one of Jubilee’s introductory song, and one of Japanese Breakfast’s most immediately catchy and appealing, “Paprika,” brought us along on a journey of deep emotional honesty that is the hallmark of Zauner’s songwriting. From the emotionally complex “Be Sweet” to the poignant “Kokomo, IN” in the first third of the set we experienced a gentle and vibrant side to the newer material. The cover of Dolly Parton’s classic “Here You Come Again” seemed a perfect fit for the way Zauner sings about love and relationships as never simple and never the cliché of love solving all your problems and that the falling in love is pretty much never happiness ever after and that it often simply doesn’t work out and not often too catastrophically but in the regular, everyday way that our failings and our adherence to outmoded personal narratives can create conflict and disappointing experiences without our intending them to be. Certainly following up the Parton song with “Boyish” and “The Body is a Blade” solidified Zauner’s gift for articulating these multi-layered human experiences and emotions with a poetic economy.

Japanese Breakfast at Ogden Theatre, 10/8/21, photo by Tom Murphy

In the final third of the set proper, Japanese Breakfast treated us to a bit of Zauner’s soundtrack to the video game Sable and the track “Glider” and ending with a a rousing yet somehow wry rendition of the great Psychopomp track “Everybody Wants To Love You.” But it was an early night and though having already played fifteen songs, Zauner and her bandmates returned for an encore closing the night with one of the band’s greatest songs, the psychedelic, space rock, cool jazz celebratory anthem “Diving Woman.” That song from Soft Sounds from Another Planet struck one before and seemed this night a peek into the next chapter for people who have been through a long period of feeling like everything has been oppressive and tentative and maybe forward motion, however cautious we must be, is possible.

Japanese Breakfast at Ogden Theatre, 10/8/21, photo by Tom Murphy
Japanese Breakfast at Ogden Theatre, 10/8/21, photo by Tom Murphy

Mild Wild Once Again Cultivates a Deeply Nostalgic Sense of Place and a Time in Life on “Slow Backwards” and “Old Drugs”

Mild Wild “Slow Backwards” and “Old Drugs” single cover

Listening to these songs one imagines Mild Wild setting up microphones at the kinds of buildings he uses for the cover images of his various singles and EPs. Like an urban explorer who realized that these settings have a vibe that could inform some songwriting and provide the acoustic space to inspire the informal, lo-fi production that gives the impressionistic pop songs an undeniable mood that draws you in. As though he imagines the kinds of stories and lives that happened in these old buildings and the resonances with his own lived experience.The vocals in “Slow Backwards” echo slightly in the spoken section and draw out in the choruses with reverse delay on guitar to both take you out of normal time and place you in a separate timeframe in which the song exists, the moment before these buildings are again occupied or bulldozed in the name of some developer’s idea of progress. “Old Drugs” sounds a bit like something that was recorded to an old reel-to-reel and processed through plate reverb giving it an intimate feeling akin to hearing an old blues record but musically more like 90s indiepop and lo-fi rock. The romantic sentiments expressed eschew cliché with strong and sensory imagery. Once again, Mild Wild succeeds in using old recording methods and aesthetics in new ways to create music giving a unique listening and emotional experience that dares to be vulnerable and risks imperfection as a more direct reflection of actual human experience.

Best Shows in Denver October 2021

The Milk Blossoms perform at Titwrench on Sunday 10.03, photo by Cory Palencia
Muscle Beach circa 2018, photo by Tom Murphy

Friday | 10.01
What: Muscle Beach, Cheap Perfume and Mainland Break
When: 8 p.m.
Where: Hi-Dive
Why: This is a now rare opportunity to see Denver post-hardcore band Muscle Beach. Fitting somewhere in between noise rock, the aforementioned subgenre of punk and extreme metal, Muscle Beach also somehow manages to create an inviting rather than forbidding energy. Cheap Perfume’s strident and thrilling feminist punk anthems challenge tropes of punk and social convention equally with great energy and sass. Mainland Break’s jangle-y power pop is absolutely for fans of Franz Ferdinand and Nick Lowe with a perfect balance of homespun storytelling and burning off everyday frustration with fuzz-tinged melodies.

Saturday | 10.02
What: Franksgiving 2021: Ralph Gean, Little Fyodor & Babushka Band and The Pollution, DJ Don Bess
When: 9 p.m.
Where: Lion’s Lair
Why: The late Franklin Bell was a local character whose eccentric DJ nights were a hit with the local weirdo music cognoscenti. For several years he held an event called Franksgiving as a fundraiser for the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation. With the relatively recent passing of Bell, his friend Little Fyodor has taken up the cause in Bell’s name and merch sales as well as proceeds from the evening will be donated to the aforementioned charity. If you show up you’ll get to see Denver rock and roll legend Ralph Gean, the über punk of Little Fyodor & Babushka Band (don’t go expecting another Ramones or Black Flag clone, this is weird, smart, eccentric stuff and as filled with attitude and as informed by existential anxiety as the best of the genre), the psychedelic punk of The Pollution and DJ Don Bess whose own bizarre choice of cuts for the evening will be decidedly different. Some of the city’s finest all on one bill and for a good cause.

Sol Vida Worldwide performs at Titwrench, image courtesy the artist

Sunday | 10.03
What: Titwrench 2021: Nacha Mendez (Santa Fe), The Milk Blossoms, Machete Mouth, My Name is Harriett (Colorado Springs) and Sol Vida Worldwide
When: 4-10 p.m.
Where: City Park Pavilion 2001 Steele St,
Why: The Titwrench Festival launched in 2009 as a means of shining a light on the creative efforts of marginalized groups beginning with the musical and art works of female identified folks and expanded to other groups including the 2SLBGTQIAP+ community at large and people of color and so on. While the curation has been thusly focused, the festival has always been all ages and inclusive and open to everyone to get to experience creative performances in a safe environment from people whose work isn’t always featured in the usual venues and rooms where you generally get to see live music. The current edition of the festival takes place on Sunday, October 3, 2021 from 4-10 p.m. at the Denver City Park Pavilion. The event will include educational workshops, dance parties, food from Maiz food truck (selling homemade Mexican cuisine) and a market featuring Witch Collective, a group of local artisans and herbalists. Also, this year Suzi Q. Smith will be the MC. Our recent podcast includes interviews with the event organizers (Sarah Slater, Michaela Perez and Katie Rothery) and members of all the performing artists including My Name is Harriet, Machete Mouth, Nacha Mendez, April (Axé) Charmane of Sol Vida Worldwide and Harmony Rose of The Milkblossoms which you can listen to on Bandcamp. For more information on the festival please visit titwrenchcollective.org.

Nacha Mendez performs at Titwrench, photo by M. Cordero
My Name Is Harriett performs at Titwrench, image courtesy the artist
Machete Mouth performs at Titwrench, photo by Tom Murphy circa 2021
The Shivas at the Gothic Theatre in 2013, photo by Tom Murphy

Monday | 10.04
What: The Shivas w/Rootbeer Richie & The Reveille and Honey Blazer
When: 7 p.m.
Where: Hi-Dive
Why: Since forming in 2006, Portland, Oregon’s The Shivas has developed a sound that incorporates elements of 60s psychedelic garage rock and pop but out of step with obvious trends. Its idiosyncratic songwriting style has always seemed to have more in common with the 90s indie pop and its emphasis on raw expressiveness and tapping into classic sounds and aesthetics as a vehicle for expressing timeless themes and universal human emotions with an intensity and artistry that feels vital and of the moment and not trying to recreate a previous era of music and culture. The band started making a name for itself in the American underground in the late 2000s but its breakthrough to a wider audience might be traced in the wake of the release of its 2013 album Whiteout! On the respected and influential label K Records. Heavy touring every year and a string of solid albums garnered the band a bit of a cult following when, in 2020, The Shivas, like many touring entities, had to effectively stop operations. The foursome had already written its next album and had to put plans on hold for any kind of release until the following year. During the first part of the pandemic and a de facto blackout of live shows happening, three fourths of the band worked with the unhouse population of Portland through a non-profit and took time to rethink and rework how the band would operate going into the future. In early 2021 the group released its latest album Feels So Good // Feels So Bad through Tender Loving Empire, a record that evokes the sense of urgency and uncertainty that all of us felt during the bleakest times of the 2020-2021 pandemic but which many of us poignantly felt prior to that global, and ongoing, health crisis. It is both a cathartic and comforting listen. Check out our interview with The Shivas on Bandcamp.

Indigo De Souza, photo by Charlie Boss

Monday | 10.04
What: Indigo De Souza w/The Slaps
When: 7 p.m.
Where: Globe Hall
Why: North Carolina-based singer and songwriter Indigo De Souza recently released her latest album Any Shape You Take on Saddle Creek in August 2021. Though its neo-soul and pop sound is somewhat stylistically different from her fantastic 2018 debut album I Love My Mom with its introspective, guitar pop songs it goes further into an approach of radical vulnerability in plumbing the depths of emotional trauma, self-doubt and the use of creativity as a path out of the darkest places of the mind. The gentle touch of the songs have an unconventional power through honoring wounded feelings with a compassionate honesty that informs the songwriting in general.

Tuesday | 10.05
What: Arlo Parks w/Michelle
When: 7 p.m.
Where: Globe Hall
Why: Arlo Parks’ debut album Collapsed in Sunbeams was one of the more anticipated releases of the past year. Her early EPs showcased a unique and soulful voice from an artist with a deft and easy wordplay that gave an added dimension to her jazz-inflected downtempo pop songwriting. Her performance video for Seattle’s KEXP recorded during the pandemic verified Parks’ self-possession as a performer capable of commanding attention within the coolly dynamic flow of the music.

Japanese Breakfast, photo by Peter Ash Lee

Friday | 10.08
What: Japanese Breakfast w/Luna Li
When: 8 p.m.
Where: Ogden Theatre
Why: With every album Michelle Zauner of Japanese Breakfast has seemed to take on powerful emotional challenges as almost an engine for her creativity. Psychopomp was written while her mother went through treatment for cancer, Soft Sounds From Another Planet was written in the wake of her mother’s death and seemed like a personalized science fiction story as an attempt to make a meaning of events for anyone listening in to her heartfelt sentiments and poetic exploration of inner space channeled into expansive and inventive art rock. Her latest album, Jubilee, is a departure from those first two records in being more overtly pop in the sense that writing a pop song with resonance and poignancy is a challenge and a way to remain focused on something that distills joy for at least a few moments of time with observations that express essential truths. The record has much in common with the great indie pop bands of the 90s and 2000s and how that music was ambitious and experimental in utilizing sounds and song dynamics that were out of step with what was popular but which has gone on to age well. 2021 has been a bit of a banner year for Zauner as it also marks the release of her powerful memoir Crying in H Mart. If you’re lucky enough to have an H Mart in or around your city and, perchance, have spent time in one the book has a special, tactile, cultural resonance that is difficult to fully appreciate without experiencing that gloriously pan-Asian market for yourself.

Friday – Saturday | 10.08 and 10.09
What: Convulse Records 3 Year Anniversary
When: 5:30 p.m.
Where: Aztlan Theater
Why: Hardcore label Convulse Records celebrates its three year anniversary with a two day festival at the historic Aztlan Theater where many a punk and underground music show took place in the decades leading up to the 21st century. The scheduled performers include Goon, Spine, Militarie Gun, Ingrown, Raw Breed, Discreet, The Consequence, Spy, Urban Sprawl, Faim, Entry, Big Laugh, Video Prick, Punitive Damage, Gel, Scowl, Closed In, Sweat, Cyst, Battlesex, Public Opinion, Direct Threat, MSPaint, Drill Sergeant, Yambag, Rash, Candy Apple, L.I.B., Blood Loss, Reality Complex and Asbestos. See set times below and keep in mind that with all festivals set times can be a little loose around the edges.

Saturday | 10.09
What: Grief Ritual album release w/Church Fire, Lost Relics and Dulled Arrows
When: 7 p.m.
Where: Hi-Dive
Why: Grief Ritual celebrates the release of its debut album The Gallows Laugh. The band’s blend of post-hardcore and extreme metal is threaded through with surprisingly uplifting melodies as contrasted with distorted vocals and fluidly heavy riffs. Also on the bill are sludge metal greats Lost Relics whose own 2021 album Now We’re Even dropped in April. Dulled Arrows is a bit of a departure from the heavy with its blend of math rock and Americana. Even more of a departure for this show is Church Fire and its revolutionary industrial dance synth pop.

Nation of Language, photo by Robin Laananen

Saturday | 10.09
What: Nation of Language w/Oko Tygra
When: 8 p.m.
Where: Lost Lake
Why: For its new album, A Way Forward due out on November 5, 2021 on PIAS, Nation of Language reached back to the roots of its sound to early pioneers of electronic pop and rock like Kraftwerk, Popol Vuh, Suicide and OMD. It also has the transformative sense of wonder mixed with nostalgia heard in the music of Tor Lundvall in the 90s as released on the 2019 compilation A Strangeness In Motion. So called minimal synth from the early 2010s was very much part of the emergent modern darkwave movement and Nation of Language has refined those sounds and impulses in a way that should also appeal to fans of Perfume Genius and Future Islands. Opening the show is the great, soulful dream pop band Oko Tygra who though clearly inspired in part by Cocteau Twins also bring an R&B sensibility to its lush and affecting guitar rock.

Saturday | 10.09
What: Supersuckers w/Reno Divorce and Luke Schmaltz
When: 7 p.m.
Where: Oriental Theater
Why: Supersuckers were part of that whole mess of the Seattle music scene explosion of the early 90s and benefited from that association but somehow survived the fallout of that collapse to become a beloved underground touring act for some 30 years now. Reno Divorce may be a roots punk band but its stories of everyday struggle hit deep and its spirited performances help drive that content home. Luke Schmaltz was and is the frontman for long running Denver punk legends King Rat and he brings a literary flair to his punk songwriting though for this show he’s going solo.

cleopatrick, photo by Tanner Pare

Monday | 10.11
What: cleopatrick w/Zig Mentality and Ready The Prince
When: 7 p.m.
Where: Bluebird Theater
Why: cleopatrick’s 2021 debut album BUMMER seethes with irresistible intensity. Like a hop-hop album written by guys who make music that sounds like they had to listen to Soundgarden and Sleaford Mods through blown out speakers growing up. The vocal cadence has that kind of flow and the burning, distorted, pulsing guitar work is almost like a sample in the way it is employed in the mix of sounds.

Cellista, image by Yellow Bubbles Photography

Friday | 10.15
What: Cellista PARIAH tour w/Zero Collective (LA) and Herpes Hideaway
When: 7 p.m.
Where: Mutiny Information Café
Why: Cellista returns with her latest album PARIAH which is a fairytale concept album of a sort. But it’s a fairytale about confronting injustice by daring to speak the truth even though rejection by one’s community is often inevitable with a long and uncertain road to vindication for refusing to accept the official version of events. In live performance Freya Cellista aims to break down the barrier of performer and audience with a collective experience of the music. The combination of classical music, pop and opera makes the type of creative work one often has to go to a fancy theater or art gallery to see accessible in a smaller setting like Mutiny.

Friday | 10.15
What: The Final Sound (Brooklyn) w/eHpH and Weathered Statues
When: 8 p.m.
Where: HQ
Why: New York’s The Final Sound brings its moody post-punk flavored dream pop to Denver in the wake of the release of its 2021 album Automata Theory. Fans of The Chamleons and Pink Turns blue will appreciate what The Final Sound have to offer. Weathered Statues is a post-punk band from Denver with a touch of punk brashness that gives the music an expansive momentum and pop flavoring. EhpH is one of Denver’s most interesting EBM/industrial bands even though its latest album, 2020’s Infrared, revealed a bit more than a passing gift for making brooding and deeply atmospheric post-punk.

Valley Maker, photo by Bree Burchfield

Friday | 10.15
What: Valley Maker w/Patrick Dethlefs
When: 8 p.m.
Where: Globe Hall
Why: Austin Crane was already writing thoughtful, delicately textured folk style songs on the 2010 self-titled debut Valley Maker album. But with the 2021 release of When The Day Leaves it’s like you’re getting to see those modest though sophisticated creative beginnings attain a full bloom with subtle layers of dynamics interlocking and resolving around rhythm of the poetic imagery of the lyrics. It’s a mastery of songcraft in this loose realm of songwriting that one hears in the work of Sam Beam where storytelling, elegant turns of phrase and delicacy of feeling work together with a nuanced evocation of life’s poignant moments strike you with power of gentle epiphany.

Saturday | 10.16
What: 100 Gecs
When: 8 p.m.
Where: Ogden Theatre
Why: 100 Gecs is, loosely and perhaps imprecisely speaking, an experimental pop duo from St. Louis whose sound combines noise, trap, industrial pop, EDM and video game music. The auto-tuned vocals and hyperkinetic yet chill production is the kind of thing that will alienate and outrage more conventionally-minded tastes which is why it’s interesting in the first place in flouting outdated notions of good taste. It is unabashedly its own thing which is why the group has garnered a cult following not just for the music but its non-gendered presentation as performers. If you thought people hated Riff Raff, this is weirder with stage personae that really do push the envelope in a creative way and thus culturally significant for that as well as pushing into hybrid musical territories in making something new and undeniably accessible and interesting if you’re open to the unfamiliar.

Monday | 10.18
What: Erykah Badu
When: 7 p.m.
Where: Mission Ballroom
Why: Erykah Badu is one of the pioneers of psychedelic neo-soul whose emotionally vibrant and deep songs have rightfully caught the attention of a wide audience since the late 90s after the release of her 1997 debut album Baduizm. Her gift for jazz idiom and poetry in the context of hip-hop and soul is second to none and her commanding live performances are always moving and worth witnessing.

Cradle of Filth, image courtesy the artists

Monday | 10.18
What: Cradle of Filth w/3TEETH and Once Human
When: 7 p.m.
Where: Ogden Theatre
Why: Cradle of Filth is currently touring and performing its 1998 album Cruelty and the Beast in its entirety. The concept album centered around the story of the 16th/17th century Hungarian countess Elizabeth Báthory. So go expecting the band’s usual theatrical, extreme metal bombast with some older fan favorites and perhaps some cuts from the group’s forthcoming album Existence is Futile.

Thursday | 10.21
What: Juliet Mission, Jacket of Spiders, Amalgam Effect
When: 7 p.m.
Where: HQ
Why: Juliet Mission is a trio that includes former and current members of classic Denver alternative rock band Sympathy F. Juliet Mission has less jazz elements than the latter and its music is more in vein with the great, gloomy, dark vibe of old Denver. Jacket of Spiders includes former members of Twice Wilted and Tarmints doing a more shoegaze-y and post-punk thing.

Kal Marks, photo by Greg Scranton

Sunday | 10.24
What: Kal Marks w/Moon Pussy and Tender Object
When: 7 p.m.
Where: Hi-Dive
Why: Kal Marks from Boston has been making some of the most scorchingly abrasive yet accessible noise rock this side of Big Black for over a decade all while mixing in haunting atmospherics and irreverent storytelling. The title of the group’s 2019 EP Let The Shit House Burn Down about summed up widespread frustration with the direction of American society and government. Did this band woodshed songwriting while listening only to releases on Amphetamine Reptile, Touch and Go and Siltbreeze before putting out any releases? Probably not but thankfully they sound like that was part of the creative process to shield musical instincts from the temptation to aim for appealing to tastes dullened by having become used to music that sounds tame and having gone through focus group meetings before being marketed as exciting when it’s anything but. Moon Pussy from Denver are a similar type of band with its own eruptive dynamics and emotional intensity coupled with scorching soundscapes.

Tuesday | 10.26
What: Lords of Acid w/Aesthetic Perfection, Praga Khan and MXMS
When: 6:30 p.m.
Where: Oriental Theater
Why: Lords of Acid is the Belgian industrial dance band whose overtly sexually themed songs are a hedonistic celebration of life and a repudiation of puritanical sensibilities and a-human hypocrisy. But even if that’s not completely your thing the songs are fun especially in the live setting when you don’t always know what frontman Praga Khan will get up to on stage all in the spirit of a good time. MXMS is the excellent dream pop/downtempo group from Los Angeles whose lush, sultry sound is reminiscent of MIA by way of Crystal Castles and Goldfrapp.

Snotty Nose Rez Kids, photo by Brendan Meadows

Wednesday | 10.27
What: Snotty Nose Rez Kids w/Lex Leosis
When: 8:30 p.m.
Where: Hi-Dive
Why: Snotty Nose Red Kids is a Canadian First Nations hip-hop duo whose production seems as dark as it is playful. Their songs suss out the corners of depression and alienation with sharp couplets that flow with a jagged yet sinuous flow. Currently the group is touring for its fourth full length album Life After.

Thursday | 10.28
What: Mr. Atomic w/Trash and Gila Teen
When: 7 p.m.
Where: Globe Hall
Why: Denver’s Gila Teen is what happens when punk and emo kids discover post-punk and manage not to go Goth yet embrace that emotional intensity as a vehicle for making honest art. Mr. Atomic from Fort Collins could be dismissed as yet another 2010s/2020s band that really hopped back on that retro 90s alternative rock revival bandwagon. But its energetic shows and strong songwriting makes such considerations irrelevant because if you band can bring it live that’s all that matters in making it something to recommend.

Tokyo Police Club, photo by Taylor Ohryn

Saturday | 10.30
What: Tokyo Police Club w/Pkew Pkew Pkew https://www.bluebirdtheater.net/events/detail/405233
When: 8 p.m.
Where: Bluebird Theater
Why: Tokyo Police Club got going in 2005 and benefited directly from the peak years of the music blog phenomenon from roughly 2006-2016. The band hit the sweet spot of a mix of influences that sounded like 90s indie rock like Cursive and Modest Mouse and the then still strong post-punk revival. What set the band apart from a steady stream of cookie cutter indie rock was its strong songwriting and thoughtful, insightful lyrics. This was perhaps best embodied in its first half decade by the 2010 album Champ which the 10th anniversary edition of which TPC announced at the end of 2020 and released in 2021. Opening the show are fellow Canadians Pkew Pkew Pkew and their brand of anthemic pop punk.

Saturday | 10.30
What: itchy-O Hallowmass w/J.G. Thirlwell
When: 8 p.m.
Where: Summit Music Hall
Why: itchy-O is the experimental, maximalist electronics and rhythm mobile orchestra that has graced Denver, Colorado and worldwide stages for over around a decade. It’s performance art as much as music though both can be enjoyed independently, which is why itchy-O is still interesting and not an inspired gimmick, as the collective has evolved all aspects of its show and recordings from launch. It’s a bombastic and unforgettable spectacle everyone should get to see. Opening the show is legendary producer and influential industrial artist J.G. Thirlwell whose project Foetus helped to pioneer and develop the industrial and noise genres at the beginning of the 1980s. He has been involved in other people’s records for decades including a fascinating collaboration with Zola Jesus for her 2013 remix album Versions.

Queen City Sounds Podcast Episode 3: Titwrench 2021

The Milk Blossoms circa 2016, photo by Tom Murphy

The Titwrench Festival launched in 2009 as a means of shining a light on the creative efforts of marginalized groups beginning with the musical and art works of female identified folks and expanded to other groups including the 2SLBGTQIAP+ community at large and people of color and so on. While the curation has been thusly focused, the festival has always been all ages and inclusive and open to everyone to get to experience creative performances in a safe environment from people whose work isn’t always featured in the usual venues and rooms where you generally get to see live music. The current edition of the festival takes place on Sunday, October 3, 2021 from 4-10 p.m. at the Denver City Park Pavilion. The event will include educational workshops, dance parties, food from Maiz food truck (selling homemade Mexican cuisine) and a market featuring Witch Collective, a group of local artisans and herbalists. This podcast includes interviews with the event organizers (Sarah Slater, Michaela Perez and Katie Rothery) and members of all the performing artists including My Name is Harriet, Machete Mouth, Nacha Mendez, April (Axé) Charmane of Sol Vida Worldwide and Harmony Rose of The Milkblossoms. For more information on the festival please visit titwrenchcollective.org. Listen below to our lengthy interviews with the festival’s organizers and artists performing at this year’s event.

Live Show Review: Modest Mouse and Future Islands at Red Rocks, 9/28/2021

Modest Mouse at Red Rocks, 9/28/21, photo by Tom Murphy

On what turned out to be the last night before the rains and chill nights of fall came to stay in the Denver Metropolitan area, Modest Mouse and Future Islands brought an impressive display emotionally charged, melancholic pop. The great art punk band Empath opened the show but some of us ran into some of the gnarled traffic of rush hour, road construction and computerized misdirection getting into Red Rocks and had to miss their set.

Future Islands at Red Rocks, 9/28/21, photo by Tom Murphy

It would be easy to be jaded about what might be called classic indie rock at this point but something about the music of both Modest Mouse and Future Islands have built into their songwriting an enduring quality borne of the music coming out of genuine, heartfelt emotions and not coming at that songwriting from a conventional direction. That bands this idiosyncratic and imbued with a gloriously raw sense of heightened feeling are able to draw a crowd of size speaks to the validity of music that clearly isn’t being honed or polished to be anything more than what it was in the beginning and from which it developed organically.

Future Islands at Red Rocks, 9/28/21, photo by Tom Murphy

After having seen Future Islands at much smaller venues from the more intimate like the Denver DIY space Rhinoceropolis in 2008 and 2010 and Larimer Lounge in 2011 and small/medium sized rooms like The Bluebird Theater and the Gothic Theatre it was refreshing to see that the band was able to take its hushed and reflective yet expansive art pop and its delicate sensibilities to the big stage and translate songs of such deep personal meaning for such a large performance space. Of course frontman Sam Herring treated us to his acrobatic movements, dramatically acting out the powerful feelings coursing through him as he relives some of the experiences that inspired the lyrics and as melded with the dynamic and evocative music that gave those words such a resonant context. In one moment Herring went for it so hard, swept up in the moment that he fell down and joked about the last time he played Red Rocks he tore his ACL with the moral of the story being “Don’t try to impress Morrissey” as that’s for whom Future Islands opened in July 2015. The set consisted of some of the band’s most beloved songs including breakthrough hit “Seasons” as performed memorably on Late Night With David Letterman in 2014 as well as deep, older cuts like “Tin Man” and “Little Dreamer.” Songs from the band’s 2020 album As Long As Your Are, “Plastic Beach,” “Thrill,” and especially “For Sure” with its tonal nods to early Depeche Mode hit the perfect mood for the night and a strong reminder that Future Islands has from the beginning established an aesthetic that is equal parts nostalgia and immediacy, a mix that seems somehow to help with processing regret and the kinds of emotional trauma that don’t crash into your psyche so much as haunt the back of your mind.

Modest Mouse at Red Rocks, 9/28/21, photo by Tom Murphy

Nearly 30 years into his career writing music with Modest Mouse, Isaac Brock might be excused for resting on his laurels some but if his recorded output and this performance are any indication that’s not exactly happening. The band is supposedly known for having bad live shows but having seen the group in 2000 for the Moon & Antarctica tour and in 2008 opening for REM at Red Rocks while Johnny Marr was in the band I’d say the only Modest Mouse gigs I’ve seen have been solidly emotionally stirring including this concert. I also read some reviews of the band’s latest album, 2021’s The Golden Casket, with criticism of how there’s too much going on in every song. Perhaps we heard different albums or someone missed how eclectic the band’s music has been since very early on making for a fascinating eclectic body of work that isn’t stuck in a stylistic rut yet possessed of a signature sound. Maybe this new record didn’t work for those more critical reviewers.

Modest Mouse at Red Rocks, 9/28/21, photo by Tom Murphy

Seeing newer songs like “We Are Between,” “Wooden Soldiers,” “Fuck Your Acid Trip” and “Back to the Middle” alongside classic tracks like “Cowboy Dan,” “Bukowski,” “Tiny Cities Made of Ashes,” “Float On” and “Dark Center of the Universe” made it all seem like part of the band’s colorful and unique storytelling style with a broad palette of sounds that reconcile punk, synth pop, Americana, funk, Eastern European folk etc. into one of the distinct branches of indie rock that Modest Mouse helped to establish. That is to say a kind of music that makes it acceptable to write music that encourages you to take it on on its own terms without it needing to conform to something more familiar and established. The band’s multiple instruments were arrayed across the stage like a kind of orchestra in miniature so that its layers of sound could be brought to bear with ease and a precision that doesn’t seem there as the emotions are frayed around the edges in the vocals and expressive instrumentation. But seeing Modest Mouse in this incarnation made the intentionality of its sprawling and patchwork style obvious.

Modest Mouse at Red Rocks, 9/28/21, photo by Tom Murphy

Later in the set proper Brock mentioned, with some amusement, how he was made aware of how his shouts of “Well” in “King Rat” had been made into a meme, providing a moment of humor in a set of music brimming with emotional intensity and insightful observations on personal psychology and society that have aged surprisingly well since the 90s. Perhaps this tapping into universal and long term human psychology explains some of Modest Mouse’s continued popularity but seeing the newer and older songs together in a touching demonstration of authentic feeling in musical performance it was also obvious that one of the classic bands of indie rock as we know it could evolve without losing sight of why it wrote music earlier in its career and why someone might connect with its songs.

Queen City Sounds Episode 2: Uncertainty and Urgency with The Shivas on Feels So Good // Feels So Bad

The Shivas at The Gothic Theatre, June 2013

Since forming in 2006, Portland, Oregon’s The Shivas has developed a sound that incorporates elements of 60s psychedelic garage rock and pop but out of step with obvious trends. Its idiosyncratic songwriting style has always seemed to have more in common with the 90s indie pop and its emphasis on raw expressiveness and tapping into classic sounds and aesthetics as a vehicle for expressing timeless themes and universal human emotions with an intensity and artistry that feels vital and of the moment and not trying to recreate a previous era of music and culture. The band started making a name for itself in the American underground in the late 2000s but its breakthrough to a wider audience might be traced in the wake of the release of its 2013 album Whiteout! On the respected and influential label K Records. Heavy touring every year and a string of solid albums garnered the band a bit of a cult following when, in 2020, The Shivas, like many touring entities, had to effectively stop operations. The foursome had already written its next album and had to put plans on hold for any kind of release until the following year. During the first part of the pandemic and a de facto blackout of live shows happening, three fourths of the band worked with the unhouse population of Portland through a non-profit and took time to rethink and rework how the band would operate going into the future. In early 2021 the group released its latest album Feels So Good // Feels So Bad through Tender Loving Empire, a record that evokes the sense of urgency and uncertainty that all of us felt during the bleakest times of the 2020-2021 pandemic but which many of us poignantly felt prior to that global, and ongoing, health crisis. It is both a cathartic and comforting listen. Now the group is in the beginning part of its first tour since the winter of 2019-2020 and you can catch them at Treefort Music Fest this weekend (Friday, 9/24 at The Hideout at 4 p.m. and Saturday 9/25 (really 9/26 but who’s counting) at the Olympic at 12:40 a.m.) and in Denver at the Hi-Dive on Monday, 10/4 with as yet announced dates between and following the Denver date. Visit theshivas.org for more information and other dates for the tour. We recently got to speak with guitarist and vocalist Jared Molyneux about the new record its origins and the impact of not being able to tour for a year and a half on the band and its priorities for the future. Below is the link to Queen City Sounds Podcast episode including that conversation as well as the fetching video for “Feels So Bad.”