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.”
After their psychedelic/shoegaze band Creepoid dissolved a few years back, Anna and Patrick Troxell took some time out to further explore the pop and electronic side of their songwriting. Lovelorn emerged out of that process and its 2021 debut full-length What’s Yr Damage echoes with the influence of 80s, noisy psychedelic soundscapers and fellow travelers on the line of blending rock instruments with electronic sensibilities, Spacemen 3 as well as grimy industrial dance acts like My Life With The Thrill Kill Kult and experimental rock band Curve and its own gift for perfectly blending electronic dance ideas with cathartic psychedelia. But the sentiments expressed and the tenor of the record is very much grounded in the present and the challenges faced by us all as the fallout of income inequality compounded by a continuing global pandemic and a now seemingly endless climate crisis crashes throughout our lives, casting stark shadows on the near and foreseeable future. And yet the album is not despairing, rather an embrace of life and a lingering will to strive toward a meaningful and vibrant existence. Lovelorn offers no convenient or pat answers but its music resonates with the certainty that your feelings about the world are real despite how politicians, pundits and the mainstream media spin events. We had a chance to pose some questions to Lovelorn via email so read on and if you are so inclined give the band a listen on Bandcamp (linked below) where you can pre-order the vinyl release of the record due to ship out in late November.
Queen City Sounds (Tom Murphy): “Get a Job” is reminiscent to me of Curve from the albums Cuckoo and Come Clean. That sort of difficult to classify blend of pop, industrial and noisy guitar rock with programmed beats. What artists, if any, did you find inspiring or interesting that influenced that aspect of your music? What moods/emotions do you think that sound lends itself well to expressing?
Lovelorn: We are getting a lot of Curve references, which is awesome but definitely not something that was at the forefront of our minds when making the LP. “Get a Job” was actually a song that kind of snuck its way onto the record last minute. We had the beat for a while but hadn’t fleshed it into anything yet. The night before our 2019 SXSW tour, the Baltimore date was canceled due to weather. So I went down into the basement with that beat and wrote the vocals—turned it into a song. We ended up playing it every night on that tour and letting the live performance really inform how the song would take shape. Honestly, I think I was thinking more of it being a Rapture type thing at the time. The sound was angry to me, and I wanted to tap into this pissed off existential dread vibe.
Q: The title of “Get a Job” also sounds like a common refrain creative people hear from family, friends and strangers who think as an artist you’re not doing anything serious and that, in fact, takes work that isn’t always easy to quantify. As if working hard at some mundane, often essentially meaningless job just to survive is something to which one must aspire. What are some jobs you’ve done that have made you recommit to doing creative work?
L: Oh man, we’ve both had some terrible soul sucking jobs. The worst job I ever had was selling Colorado Prime steaks over the phone. You had to lie and pretend they didn’t have to buy an extra freezer but they totally did. Patrick has had basically every shitty job you can imagine. We’ve both also been super lucky and had amazing jobs. When we made the decision to quit our jobs and go on tour full time with Creepoid, I had a wonderful job teaching art history at a college in Philadelphia. Ultimately though, there’s nothing as fulfilling as working for yourself.
Q: How would you answer someone that tells you to get a job instead of doing a musical project if you had to give a serious response?
L: I’ve had this conversation several times with all sorts of people. People are either being a dick or they genuinely do not understand the amount of work that goes into being a full time band. Most of the time you can get people to see reason. What’s more frustrating to me is when people say things like “Oh, well its time to get back to real life” or some other stupid reference to touring not being a legitimate source of income. I don’t know, it feels pretty fucking real to me.
Q: It seems to me that the economy for being in a band has changed drastically over the course of the last eight to ten years from venues you can play, being able to have a job to sustain yourself and pay rent at home, transportation, getting your music out into the world and promoting it in order to get your band talked about and reaching for various opportunities. How has that changed for you in ways that may have impacted Creepoid dissolving and Lovelorn navigating the new music world landscape? As a musician and writer myself I saw music blogs implode, alternative weeklies drastically reduce activity or disappear, the ways bands seem to have to market themselves is strange to me, DIY spaces especially after the pandemic and many clubs being gone, the “indie” model of music festivals and radio formats making things less diverse. Etc. Just wondering about your perspective on that and how that has affected your life as a musician both before and currently with Lovelorn.
L: The pandemic has taken out a lot of great venues and bands, that is a sad and undeniable truth. But, I think there will be a reawakening of new DIY spaces that will emerge in the next few years. You can’t break the DIY spirit. We just recently played at an amazing DIY space in Houston, and it was awesome. Kids for the kids, no ego, a safe place for all. The marketing thing is funny too. I try not to get too caught up in how to flex on social media, use it to promote the hell out of yourself for sure but also stay authentic.
Q: “Sickness Reward” is about failure and I feel it’s a bit of an illuminating exploration of the experience and meaning of that concept. How has your understanding of failure evolved in your understanding of what it is and how much weight we need to give it since adolescence?
L: It’s sort of about failure. It’s more specifically about my eating disorder, which I had in my early 20s. It’s about chasing an ideal that will never come, and ultimately feeling disgusted with yourself in every way possible. It’s true though, this idea of ‘SUCCESS’ is drilled into all of us. Creatives aren’t able to escape either. I think if you’re ever going to feel satisfied you have to carve out your own definition of success, instead of chasing after someone else’s.
Q: A number of people I know who have made and do make music that gets lumped in with shoegaze have always been or have become interested in Detroit techno and the like in the past decade and more. How did you become interested in it and how do you feel it fits into your overall way of thinking about and making the music you do?
L: We both have been interested in those sounds since high school. But honestly, I am much more influenced by hip hop and pop when I make music, and Patrick is more influenced by 90s Brit Pop—so together we create this weird little drug pop child.
Q: “Hole In Yr Soul” and the album title What’s Yr Damage seem to me oblique references in some way to late 80s and early 90s popular culture and music with Sonic Youth and Bikini Kill using the shortened “yr” for “your” and maybe Heathers and the line “What’s your damage?” Maybe it relates to “Get A Job” and adjusting to what seems to me a world culture hell bent on leaving everyone not already wealthy (and even them long term) broken or crippled in their psyche and ability to resist and blame themselves for not making that adjustment because of the “rules” of how things have been working, or rather, not working. What is the significance of that title and song for you perhaps in the context of the album and what seems to me an extended commentary on life in late capitalism?
L: Both “Hole in Yr Soul” and “Whats Yr Damage” are more directly about mental illness than a more general comment on society – though that certainly feeds into the issues of mental illness. To us, the use of the “Yr” places the tone of the question in a specific voice, hopefully one that the listener relates to, and trusts. Yr not alone.
Q: Why do you feel Spacemen 3 has continued to resonate with you creatively?
L: Spacemen 3 continues to influence me because they still have a hand in current music. Sonic Boom has touched so much over the years from MGMT, Panda Bear, Beach House, and Yo La Tengo. J Spaceman takes a different approach, spending years orchestrating beautiful live shows with Spiritualized. At the end of all that, they still hold their DIY roots, making it very difficult for record collectors and I love that.
After four years I’m finally sharing the first episode of the Queen City Sounds Podcast. Going with that name for now because it’s easy to remember in association with this site. This episode is focused on the Down in Denver festival which takes place Labor Day weekend 2021 September 4-6 at Larimer Lounge. For details and to buy tickets visit downindenver.com. It celebrates Denver music and includes musicians who have been in around the scene going back decades. It was organized by Lipgloss founder Michael Trundle, Kitty Vincent of rock band Zealot and Marie Litton from Spyderland. The audio is a bit rough around the edges due to recording environments and when possible I’ll try to have more clear audio captures in the future. But for now enjoy some conversations with various people in the local music scene including Josie Cool of An Antiquated Bluff, Megan Kelley of Married a Dead Man, Armando Garibay of Machu Linea (all three of which are performing at the festival) and Michael Trundle.
Saturday – Monday | September 4-6
What: Down In Denver Fest
When: Labor Day Weekend
Where: Larimer Lounge
Why: With the erosion of the national and local media especially in coverage of local music and culture as a parallel to increasing income inequality the curation of a local scene virtually everywhere in America has all but disappeared. Publications that once served as active legacy institutions that traditionally documented and preserved local culture in a robust way have either dissolved or transitioned to a digital marketing portal model with a subsequent narrowing of content and cultural mission. Music festivals often following a lifestyle branding concept in sync with the lifestyle model of much of digital media following the implosion of the blogosphere can feel like Philip K. Dick circa Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep was more of a prophet than we’d prefer to believe. The Down in Denver Fest organizers remember a time when the rich and broad diversity of Denver’s local scene was more honored and represented in local music festivals and older artists were not expected to retire but, rather, respected for their past and current efforts. While Denver and other cities are in disarray with the forces of drastic income inequality and subsequent gentrification local cultural history seems to pass into irrelevance like a social media feed more quickly than at any previous moment in human history, episodes without context, products to consume and discard. But this is antithetical to lived human experience and human life and our collective craving for connection not just to other people but our experiential, existential context that defines our lives for a certain period or our entire lives. Maybe Down In Denver Fest won’t provide this to everyone but the inspiration behind it is the understanding that local culture and the people who make it a living thing past and present are not just the atomized dots of a marketing galaxy but a continuum that can be and is accessible. So go expecting to see a broad slice of bands representing decades of Denver music history from bands from a variety of genres and styles to DJs from the Denver underground. Visit the event website for the line-up and schedule and to sample artists. Also listen to the Queen City Sounds Podcast featuring a handful of stories from the Denver scene from some of the people that were involved and have helped to make various corners of the city’s musical milieu.
Monday | September 6
What: Midwife w/Sympathy Pain and Sketches
When: 8 p.m.
Why: Midwife is touring more broadly in support of her 2021 album Luminol, a soothing yet heart wrenching record mourning deep loss and fumbling for healing the caustic burns on your heart from the death of friends, the crumbling of the cultural infrastructure that gave one’s life more definition than it might have had and a nation and international community in disarray from grand forces of inequality and the rise of fascism and science denial with no seeming relief on the horizon. It isn’t a dire record but an honest one cast in gossamer guitar work and introspective, dreamlike vocals that tap into those dark places of the mind and not to say it’s all going to be okay but rather as a reminder that you’re not crazy and your feelings of despair, deep discontent and righteous anger are real and valid. Midwife is also performing at Trident Bookstore in Boulder on September 8 and The Coast in Fort Collins on September 12.
Thursday | September 9
What: Denver Meatpacking Company w/I’m A Boy, Wiff and Sleep Demons
When: 7 p.m./8 p.m.
Where: Lost Lake
Why: Denver Meatpacking Company pull liberally from 90s alternative rock for inspiration but its fuzzy guitar work is couched in solid pop hooks that prevent it from sounding like a throwback act. Which makes it a good pairing with I’m A Boy and its own power pop sensibilities and refreshingly unaffected love for bombastic and theatrical rock and roll.
Sunday | September 12
What: Denver Does Denver
When: 1-10 p.m.
Where: Green Valley Ranch Town Center Amphitheater 5060 Argonne St., Denver, CO 80249
Why: It has been 11 years since the last Denver Does Denver event happened when various musicians in the Denver scene covered music by peers and influences in local music at the Meadowlark Bar and its environs. This reboot of the event, once again curated by educator and member of experimental funk and world music phenoms Pink hawks, Yuzo Nieto, is taking place outdoors in Green Valley Ranch and features a typically fascinating set of musicians showcasing the creative wares of other bands and songwriters that otherwise wouldn’t normally be thus recognized for their impact.
Thursday | September 16
What: St. Vincent
When: 7 p.m.
Where: Mission Ballroom
Why: Annie Clark has been experimenting with concepts across her musical career and giving us not only a respectable body of work and consistently fascinating songwriting and inventive musicianship but a creative arc in which she’s willing to take risks. None more so than her 2021 album Daddy’s Home. It is clearly a well-arranged series of vignettes about life in New York City as told through the sonic lens of 70s pop and rock like an East Coast answer to Joni Mitchell’s fantastic and insightful 1970 album Ladies of the Canyon. The structure of the album feels like reading a short novel with a cinematic scope and revelations about character and concept reminiscent of the flow of Virgnia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway. Every tour, certainly for her last three albums, has involved creative and entrancing production and even set design subverting the standard rock and pop paradigm so if you go expect some of that deep creativity for which Annie Clark and St. Vincent are rightfully known.
Friday | September 17
What: Herbie Hancock
When: 7 p.m.
Where: Ellie Caulkins Opera House
Why: Herbie Hancock and his stunningly brilliant keyboard and synth work alongside his mindblowingly talented collaborators put on one of the greatest live shows going regardless of genre. His roots in some of the jazz legends of the 60s and 70s are impressive enough but his albums under his own name often reveal a passion and genius for composition that he channels into accessible and engrossing songs and performances that remain relevant and powerful.
Friday and Saturday | September 17-18
What: Westword Music Showcase
When: See schedule per day at http://www.westwordshowcase.com
Where: Rino Arts District and Mission Ballroom
Why: The Westword Music Showcase returns with an expanded presentation in the Rino Arts District northwest of downtown Denver including performances at the Mission Ballroom for headlining acts like Young The Giant, Kaytranada, Thundercat, Matoma, Hippo Campus and Duke Dumont with a bevy of local acts nominated by experts in the local scene tapped for their knowledge by the long running alternative weekly paper.
Monday | September 20
What: Mannequin Pussy w/Angel Du$t and Pinkshift
When: 7 p.m.
Where: Bluebird Theater
Why: Philadelphia’s Mannequin Pussy has long commented on sexism and its effect on identity and how those issues dovetail into the colonist mentality and the most deleterious and sometimes subtle corrosive effects of capitalism. But doing so in a way that seems as tender and sensitive as it is ferocious, cast in noise rock and melodic punk. In 2021 Mannequin Pussy released its gloriously caustic EP Perfect.
Monday and Tuesday | September 20 and 21
What: Mdou Moctar
When: 7 p.m.
Where: Globe Hall
Why: Mahamadou Souleymane is a Tuareg songwriter from Niger who is known to the musical world at large as Mdou Moctar with a growing international following despite the lyrics to his songs being in Tamasheq. His intricate guitar work and sincere performance style renders what might seem exotic to some Americans immediately relatable. Moctar’s fusion of blues and rock with West African musical styles and sounds come off both familiar and arrestingly fresh. In 2021 he released the album Afrique Victime through Matador, his first for an imprint other than specialist label Sahel Sounds. An intense and engaging performer, Moctar’s gracious and self-effacing demeanor doesn’t quite prepare you for the emotionally charged journey of the show but makes it one you want to take.
Tuesday | September 21
What: Twin Tribes and Wingtips w/Plague Garden
When: 7 p.m.
Where: The Oriental Theater
Why: A great pairing of the Brownsville, Texas lo-fi post-punk band Twin Tribes and Chicago’s darkwave pop sensations Wingtips. The former released a beautifully curated remix album in 2021 called Altars including remixes from Turkish post-punk legends She Past Away, Dave Parley of Prayers, Wingtips and Bootblacks. Wingtips’ new record Cutting Room Floor is a gorgeously composed set of expansive and bright yet hazily moody and reflective pop songs subverting the tropes of sounds and aesthetics borrowed from 80s era synth pop by many modern artists and seemingly as influenced by the likes of Thompson Twins and Howard Jones as Depeche Mode and Fad Gadget. Opening the show is Plague Garden whose 2021 album Requiem of Souls is a great expansion on their brooding and atmospheric blend of industrial and post-punk into more pop territory including an excellent cover of Tanita Tikaram’s 1988 hit single “Twisting in My Sobriety” that highlights the song’s then unfashionable level of self-examination.
Tuesday | September 21
What: Torres w/Ariana and The Rose
When: 7 p.m.
Where: Larimer Lounge
Why: Torres has from early in her career blended a more electronic pop aesthetic with a raw and gritty folk-inflected songwriting style and dynamically emotional vocals. Her 2021 album Thirstier is brimming with high contrast sounds that give the songs a forcefulness that was always there in her music but made unmistakable this time around.
Wednesday | September 22
What: Waltzer w/Vision Video, Voight, Lord Friday the 13th
When: 8 p.m.
Why: Waltzer is Sophie Sputnik who fronted punk band Killmama for more than a few years. But her music theater background seems to have been yearning for greater expression if the debut Waltzer album Time Traveler is any indication and the bizarre music video for “Destroyer” which is like a humorous horror movies as a backdrop to soulful, R&B pop. Maybe Sputnik got to listening to a lot of Erykah Badu, Harry Nilsson and Todd Rundgren but she makes that lush, almost orchestral sound seem spare as well. Athens, Georgia-based post-punk/pop band Vision Video is an interesting contrast with its 2021 album Inked in Red reminiscent of 80s jangle pop, XTC and Pink Turns Blue. Voight is a Denver-based band that collides together noise rock, industrial/techno beats, emotionally-charged vocals and caustic shoegaze-y soundscapes.
Wednesday | September 22
What: Front 242 w/Consolidated, Blackcell and DJ N810
When: 7 p.m.
Where: The Oriental Theater
Why: Front 242 is one of the pioneers of the EBM wing of industrial music of the 80s with its stark visual style akin to a stylized Futurist aesthetic. Claiming to be apolitical and even amoral, Front 242’s pulsing, atmospheric dance music nevertheless takes aim at corrupt religious and political figures without an explicitly verbalized critique, rather choosing to present them as absurd and cartoonish. By contrast the overtly political industrial band Consolidated is part of this tour and from its album titles, to its music and confrontational performance style the group from San Francisco leaves no doubt about its leftist politics and activist cultural orientation while also injecting very pointed commentary with humor that also manages not to distract from the message. Denver’s long-running noise/industrial/EBM duo Blackcell opens the show with its own richly imagined and immersive soundscapes.
Wednesday | September 22
What: Ratboys X Wild Pink w/Bellhoss
When: 7 p.m.
Where: Globe Hall
Why: Earlier in 2021 Wild Pink released A Billion Little Lights, a pop album of lush orchestration and sage and sharply observed comments on one’s changing perspectives and priorities as one ages into adulthood physically and psychologically and the subsequent realization that the sureties of now will sometimes seem like the follies and cringe-worthy moments of the future. While songwriter John Ross wrote the album from the perspective of a single human life the themes seem to resonate strongly with society overall in the past decade and coming to terms with blind spots, injustice, inequality and chronically bad habits that have a fallout for oneself and others.
Saturday | September 25
What: Lost Relics and Never Kenezzard
When: 9:30 p.m.
Where: Tooey’s Off Colfax
Why: Two giants of Denver sludge metal, Lost Relics and Never Kenezzard both demonstrate how heavy, doomy metal can be dynamic and even expansively psychedelic while hitting hard. Expect a new Lost Relics EP soon and Never Kenezzard’s follow-up to the excellent 2016 album Never Say…
Monday | September 27
What: Esmé Patterson
When: 7 p.m.
Where: Globe Hall
Why: The beginning of the global pandemic in March 2020 landed just in time to thwart plans for Esmé Patterson and her band to tour in support of her then new album There Will Come Soft Rains. The new record showcased Patterson’s ear for subtle emotional dynamics in songwriting and for expressing the complexity of one’s feelings in an uncluttered way. The spare melodies of the new batch of songs also demonstrate an attention to space in the songs perhaps as a symbolic way of honoring the need to such in one’s life in order to make sense of what can feel overwhelming. Not a pandemic record but sure seems like one that addresses little things in life we often ignore in our rush to push through everything when we need to and never really taking the time to feel what we need to in order to maintain a healthy state of mind.
Wednesday | September 29
What: Judas Priest w/Sabaton
When: 7 p.m.
Where: Mission Ballroom
Why: Perpetually underrated yet highly influential, Judas Priest is one of the pioneering bands of heavy metal that still occasionally tours and is still a powerful live act due in no small part to singer Rob Halford’s expressive and operatic vocals. With hits like “Breaking The Law” and “Living After Midnight” from its 1980 album British Steel, Judas Priest started to break into the mainstream with subsequent regular rotation on MTV. Getting to see Judas Priest at a theater like the Mission Ballroom with its excellent sound and seating layout is likely to be the most enjoyable environment to take in the band’s broad range of moods and highly charged dynamics.
Thursday | September 30
What: Fat Tony and Cadence Weapon
When: 8 p.m.
Why: Fat Tony and Cadence Weapon are rappers from Houston and Edmonton, Canada respectively but who both draw on an electric palette of sounds and influences and their use of imaginative beats and production have set them apart from many peers from early on in their respective careers. Their individual blends of classic rapping with free associating sounds and textures in the beat with an ear for songwriting and impassioned delivery make this one of the hip-hop shows to see this year in Denver. Fat Tony is touring following the 2020 release of his album Exotica and Cadence Weapon with his 2021 album Parallel World.
Uno (o el primero) 2020 by Sanchecito y el que se marea
The vocals on this 2020 album by Sanchecito y el que se marea (Sanchecito and The One Who Gets Dizzy?) finds Alejandro Sánchez-Galindo (who some may know from avant-garde jazz combo Malamadre) sounding like he’s been to that dive bar Tom Waits used to hang out in in the 70s and then spent some time in the places Waits never dared put into a song, more beat than beat. In the context of some late night downtempo jazz songs these tracks in both English and Spanish the vocals sound more world weary and emotionally fragile and vulnerable than defeated. As though the songwriter has hit what felt like the bottom only to find a further layer down for years and is reaching out to the things that make the most sense and enliven the senses and the fragments of passion left in the psyche after life has kicked you down the stairs seemingly multiple times so that you’re not sure you have anything left to hang onto. But the songs don’t sound melancholy so much as introspective with songs that have a feeling like Sánchez-Galindo is sharing with us a reconstruction of life while going through biographical artifacts, physical or mnemonic, and finding resonances of the good or at least meaningful as a chain to a way of feeling and being that feels more like living than the gray, dim state of the soul that is perhaps was the impetus for writing some of this material. The song “Gold leafed chains II” seems to especially make this explicit though in a poetic and subtle fashion. Sanchez explores the various ways one’s mind can trick you into going further into the dark, labyrinthine places of the heart but also how the same mind can serve the opposite purpose if you can take moments out to step back from that process. One might interpret the arc of the album as a pandemic record but these thoughts and emotional experiences seem to be an all too common collective reaction to how the world has been for many people for years now which the 2020-2021 pandemic simply amplified and forced more than the average amount of introspection on most people. What Sánchez-Galindo has crafted with this album is an astute and sensitive set of songs written with a rare delicacy of feeling that goes beyond mere desperation, frustration and anger and allows the underlying hurts to be expressed and honored so that maybe they too can be processed rather than once again buried left to fester like a lingering ghost forever sapping bits of your emotional energy. Listen to the album on Bandcamp where you can find links to follow the artist on his photo blog, video channel and his current musical experiments.
With live music coming back, we’ll see how robustly with the delta and other variants of the pandemic, we’re picking back up with listing some events that might be of interest to readers. Rather than a weekly show listing, this will be a monthly thing with highlights. If things pick up more in 2022 and 2023 maybe more events will be included once the pandemic ends but for now keeping things minimal.
Monday | August 2, 2021
What: King Crimson w/The California Guitar Trio
When: 7 p.m. (6 p.m. doors)
Where: Fiddler’s Green
Why: Since the its 1968 inception, King Crimson has been an innovative rock band whose imaginative blend of avant-garde jazz, classical music, folk and emergent musical ideas and styles across decades has garnered more than a mere cult following. Its 1969 album In The Court of the Crimson King has remained a highly influential work on progressive/art rock to this day. Certainly King Crimson’s music has the feel of composed for an orchestra but there is also a spontaneous spark to the music that has kept its songs fresh well after the first wave of progressive rock ended in the early 80s. The dramatic arrangements, intense yet fluid dynamics and fine emotional nuance of the songwriting demonstrates the inner workings of a band that is not, as is presumed with any band associated with the concept of progressive rock, on technique for its own sake so much as on the impact of the music which superior technique can lend a broad musical palette. Legendary guitarist Robert Fripp is the group’s sole original member and in addition to King Crimson, Fripp has performed on albums by, among many others, David Bowie and Brian Eno. Also on this tour the line up with include bassist/Chapman Stick player Tony Levin. Since the early 80s, Levin has regularly brought his own brand of musical imagination to King Crimson having been introduced to Fripp through working with Peter Gabriel and who has also been a prolific studio and live musician whose work can be heard in work by Tom Waits, Buddy Rich, Pink Floyd, Lou Reed, Laurie Anderson as well as David Bowie. With the recent renewed interest in progressive rock seeing one of the pioneers in this incarnation with Fripp, Levin, Mel Collins, Pat Mastelotto, Gavin Harrison, Jakko Jakszyk and Jeremy Stacey is a fine chance to witness one of the movements great live bands. In the coming days we will publish our interview with Levin and link that here when it’s live.
Friday | August 6, 2021
What: NNAMDÏ w/Fresh Fruit!
When: 9 p.m. (8 p.m. doors)
Where: Globe Hall
Why: Nnamdi Ogbonnaya is a songwriter and multi-instrumentalist whose broadly eclectic songwriting and performance style has meant he is pretty much impossible to pigeonhole. One dub it the clumsily broad term indie rock but the execution is is often so unconventional and strange that it might be considered psychedelic and an amalgam of all of that with jazz and non-Western musical styles. But he manages to make it coherent and a product of his rich imagination that weaves together daydreams, surreal fantasies, social commentary and contemplation of the nature of human existence and his own place in it without really trying to impose answers to the questions he poses. Start anywhere with his catalog, it’s all wonderfully strange and accessible. Live, he performs with a paradoxical theatrical authenticity that can be off-putting for someone expecting their musicians to be not nearly as physically expressive. The band called NNAMDÏ is also opening for Sleater-Kinney and Wilco at Red Rocks the following Tuesday, August 10.
Saturday | August 7, 2021
What: Big Dopes w/Amazing Adventures and Luna Nunez
When: 9 p.m. (8 p.m. doors)
Where: Lost Lake
Why: Big Dopes’ 2019 album Crimes Against Gratitude was simply one of the most meaningful records out of the realm of indie rock and power pop that year. With tastefully fuzzy melodies the band’s poignant and touchingly poetic lyrics stripped bare the pretense that coats too much modern popular music. This is the band’s first live show since the beginning of the pandemic.
Tuesday | August 10, 2021
What: Small Black and Korine
When: 8 p.m. (7 p.m. doors)
Where: Marquis Theater
Why: As the modern roots of chillwave were congealing into a cohesive musical aesthetic, Small Black was there playing DIY spaces and small clubs in the late 2000s. Its visceral performances paired with transportingly gorgeous, freeflowing song dynamics gave the band an appeal that transcended any trend from early on. Its latest album Cheap Dreams finds the band using its fine tuned crafting of electronic pop songs to suss out, identify, feel fully and process feelings most of us have felt this past decade of needing to settle for a cheapened sense of our own life’s horizons as if those are the only options open to us. It can be a crushing realization and there is a bit of that in these songs too but also a sense of hope and resistance to this death before death if we can be bold enough to cast aside conventional wisdom and cultivate a deep sense of affection for ourselves and others as a bulwark to the narratives that get us to erode our own power. Korine is a great partner for this bill because its own flavor of dream pop evokes a similar sensibility but in a way that might appeal to fans of recent darkwave artists like Choir Boy and Lebanon Hanover. Its 2020 album The Night We Rise sounds beautifully like a musical postcard from 1985 synth pop via Russian post-punk and 2000s electronic artists like Robyn.
Tuesday | August 10
What: Sleater-Kinney and Wilco w/NNAMDÏ
When: (6 p.m. doors)
Where: Red Rocks
Why: Sleater-Kinney and Wilco are two of the most influential and most interesting bands that came out of the mid-90s, both having formed in 1994. S-K came up in the musical milieu of the Pacific Northwest in the context of K Records, Kill Rock Stars, Mr. Lady Records, Chainsaw Records, Riot Grrrl, the International Pop Underground festival, around artists like Unwound, Bikini Kill, Bratmobile, Wipers, Mecca Normal and all of that great ferment of ideas and music of that time. Its early albums dared to imagine a present and a future in which feminist ideas their critique of culture and society was the norm and not something to resist and grounded in lived experience expressed straight from the heart. Though the band has experimented and refined and expanded its sound the base line of compassion and honesty has kept the band from waxing into a more watered down version of itself. Its 2021 album Path of Wellness expands on the electronic textures and soundscapes that made The Center Won’t Hold (2019) so evocative. Wilco emerged out of Chicago, Illinois when alternative country band Uncle Tupelo split and Jeff Tweedy continued in a similar musical vein that he and the rest of the band have evolved in fascinating ways every since to the point that it would make as much sense to refer to Wilco as alternative county as it would to call Beck indie folk. Wilco’s big breakthrough creatively and commercially came with the release of its 2001 opus Yankee Hotel Foxtrot wherein its embrace of production and processed sounds as part of its core of songwriting resulted in a classic of modern pop music that rewards repeated listens some twenty years onward. Both Sleater-Kinney and Wilco have also managed to remain powerful live acts as well and getting to see modern experimental pop weirdo NNAMDÏ is just a bonus.
What: Voight w/Oko Tygra and Chuch Fire
Why: If you were to try to put together a bill of the three of the best, most representative bands of Denver’s darkwave/post-punk/dream pop scene, such as it is, you couldn’t do better than this. Voight’s intense, noisy, industrial-tinged shoegaze is always surprisingly gritty and moving. Oko Tygra’s refined emotional colorings and R&B inflected dream pop never fails to captivate. Church Fire somehow makes pointedly poetic socio-political commentary deeply emotional, personal and swirling with dreamy production and powerful dance rhythms.
Thursday | August 12, 2021
When: 8 p.m. (7 p.m. doors)
Where: Marquis Theater
Why: Radke is a garage rock trio of four brothers Isaiah, Solomon and Dee Radke from St. Joseph, Missouri. Slapping a genre tag on the band, though, doesn’t do it justice and these guys have been called proto-punk and psychedelic rock as well. But its hard hitting rock and roll the brothers Radke play with an undeniable conviction and flair that is undeniably effective.
Thursday | August 19, 2021
What: Steven Lee Lawson with The Dark Wolf Rises Band album release w/Doo Crowder and Disinherited
When: 8 p.m.
Why: Steven Lee Lawson recently released his 2021 self-titled album on Snappy Little Numbers. Lawson played music for years in Denver and elsewhere and his thoughtful lyrics and poetic commentary on human existence with a particular knack for giving form to frustrations, despair, joy, affection and excitement have always made his work noteworthy. But Lawson took seemingly several years off playing music because it can be an unrewarding grind in so many ways with not nearly enough rewards for innovators and those with something unique and interesting to say. Whether in art rock band Zubabi, Americana groups Oblio Duo and Los Dos and the New American Ramblers or even Ross Etherton and the Chariots of Judah, Lawson really brought some passion and creativity to his bands. The self-titled album is an extension and evolution of the songwriter’s prior work and one in which he seems to illuminate and clarify aspects of American culture the past several years that have seemed confusing or tangled. If you go to this show you also get to see Doo Crowder who is like a modern day Harry Nilsson.
Tuesday | August 24, 2021 — CANCELLED
What: The Residents
When: 8 p.m. (7 p.m. doors)
Where: Bluebird Theater
Why: The Residents are a legendary multimedia and avant-garde band whose membership is largely unknown since they started recording and performing under that name in the early 70s. The group’s music and history is storied and fairly well documented for those curious but lest the designation of avant-garde tuns anyone off, The Residents’ music has almost ways been pretty accessible and an experiment with the format of popular music and the experiments coming in with specific sounds used and the content of the music—the lyrics, the visual style, the presentation, the experience of what’s been created. The band has been on the forefront of multimedia performances, set and costume design, video releases, what one might even deem early alternate reality games involving a concept that informed an album and even blurring the line between it all. The Residents’ cover songs by artists like The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, James Brown, Elvis Presley and numerous others as well as unusual takes on traditional folk songs are something that simply must be heard to fully appreciate how strangely brilliant the interpretations. In recent years the band has been touring more widely and it appears that this tour is in support of the 2020 album Metal, Meat & Bone – The Songs of Dyin’ Dog.
Saturday and Sunday | August 28 and 29
What: Glasss Records Stage at the UMS
When: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. and 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Where: Mutiny Information Café
Why: The Underground Music Showcase is a sprawling affair and returns in 2021. There may be many fine performances to catch but the best bet to find acts that aren’t playing a bunch of clubs because they are just that underground and likely not to see at many DIY spaces since there aren’t many of those anymore is to spend some time at Mutiny Information Café throughout the day and evening on Saturday and Sunday, August 28 and 20 for the Glasss Records Stage. Not all of the artists are on the local independent imprint but all fit in with the label’s cultivation of various sides of the local experimental music scene. So you can catch the heartfelt post-punk emo of Gila Teen, Princess Dewclaw’s gritty industrial, feminist punk, Blackcell’s maximalist minimal industrial synth noise, R A R E B Y R D $’s soul wrenching/soothing ambient hip-hop, the colorful and imaginative glitchore of Morlox and Kid Mask, the noisy, psychedelic hip-hop of Joohs Up, Shocker Mom’s tender and daydreamy soundscapes, Gort Vs. Goom’s weirdo prog-punk-art rock and numerous other artists. Can’t go wrong no matter when you check in. Pluse it’s at Mutiny so you can get something to drink that isn’t alcoholic and pick up a book you’re not expecting to find, a fine selection of comics, find a record not everyone has on their shelves and maybe even play pinball. The choice pick of the entire festival. Tentative (because day of show things always seem to change) schedule included below.
Sex Swing | Type II | Rocket Recordings
This sprawling best of list was intended for publication in January 2021 but other priorities got in the way and I had written about many of these in brief in my year end best column for the December 2020 print edition of Birdy magazine in December. Others I wrote up for Birdy throughout the year. All of that text is here hopefully not in a form with my errors edited back in. At any rate it begins with what I’m going to call the album of the year, Type II by UK post-punk experimentalists Sex Swing. It not only stretched post-punk beyond the usual boundaries these days and it articulated the conflict, the outage and confusion of a world coming to terms with the great shortcomings of modern, international capitalism, the inadequacy of the conservative/far right and neoliberal government to address the needs of people across decades and most painfully and poignantly in the moment. That agony and anomie can be heard throughout the album but even separate from that context it’s just a great, experimental rock album. The original verbiage for the Birdy piece reads “An uncomromisingly mind-altering psychedelic noise rock ride through 2020 hell.” With any luck we’ll see the band in North America sooner than later and see for ourselves if the live show delivers. What follows is the rest of the best of list for 2020.
A.M. Pleasure Assassins | Careless Laughter | Self-released
This latest EP from Fort Collins-based, math-y post-punk band A.M. Pleasure Assassins sounds like it was written after a long period of contemplation and self-imposed exile from one’s usual social activities. “Said Yer Outta Gas” is imbued with a rush of exuberance reflected in its words about emerging from winter into a period of new beginnings. “Get It Right” finds the band waxing into the warped garage punk territory like something one would expect out of Memphis, Tennessee the past two decades — raw and ragged yet bracing. “Cain Was Killing Abel” strikes a more contemplative tone and the sprawling “Pretty Dead Beat” creates a beautifully hypnotic pulse of sounds with bell tones processed through reverb and distorted drones for an effect like a late 90s Yo La Tengo track. The four songs give the impression of nostalgic reflection, but one where you see and feel deeply the joys and pains of a good time in your life that you are wise enough now to know to enjoy in its full measure rather than through the lens of selective romanticism.
Abrams | Modern Ways | Sailor Records
Adulkt Life | Book of Curses | What’s Your Rupture?
ADULT. | Perception Is/As/Of Deception | Dais Records
Darkly urgent industrial dance anthems to purge today’s desperation, confusion and chaos.
Angel Olsen | Whole New Mess | Secretly Group
A tender yet bracingly fragile portrait of the realization that you can never adequately prepare for everything life might throw your way.
Anna von Hausswolff | Sacro Bosco | Southern Lord
A Shoreline Dream | Melting | Late Night Weeknight
With its first release since 2018’s Waitout EP, A Shoreline Dream presents a set of songs that seems less ethereal than their previous output. From opening track “Turned Too Slow” to closing song “Atheris Hispida” the progressive shoegaze duo has seemingly focused its attention on the texture and physicality of the music. One is tempted to say the guitars are more like hard rock, but only if your idea of hard rock is more in the vein of Swervedriver. But “Downstairs Sundays” has more in common with folk music in its intricate guitar interplay though threading through an uplifting, introspective drone. A Shoreline Dream still gives us its usual transporting melodies, but this time its astral realms are more focused and vivid as though coming out of its musical dreamstate into a phase of making those dreams real.
Autechre | Sign | Warp Records
Cleanses the mind with textural tones and hypnotically immersive, abstract rhythms.
Bambara | Stray | Wharf Cat Records
Bestial Mouths | RESURRECTEDINBLACK | RUNE & RUIN
Bison Bone | Find Your Way Out | self-released
Black Wing | No Moon | The Flenser
blackcell | Burn the Ashes | self-released
Denver-based EBM/IDM band Blackcell returns with its first full- length album since 2013’s In the Key of Black. Matt Jones’ processed, distorted vocals sound as ever like a dispossessed human resisting an ever increasing mechanization of life. These dark dance songs articulate so well the struggles of the human condition and seem so resonant for today as meaningful choices and control over your own life are leeched away into increasing labor defined by a gig economy, subscription and streaming services in the modern equivalent of pay-per-view, and a failing political and economic system that has channeled all the world’s wealth into fewer and fewer hands, nickeled and dimed to death and expected to take it like it is or not to streamline the technocratic wealth pipeline. Blackcell offers no answers but this time, its Gary Numan-esque end of the world techno feels particularly cathartic right now.
BleakHeart | Dream Griever | Sailor Records
Body Double | Milk Fed | Zum
Vignettes of personal psychological horror expressed as seething, angular post-punk pop.
Body Negative | Fragments | Track Number Records
Bootblacks | Thin Skies | Artoffact Records
Soaring synths and guitar sketch a vivid image of a deep yearning for personal transcendence and rebirth.
Boris and Merzbow | 2R012P0 | Relapse Records
Alien soundscapes of stunning immediacy that challenge preconceptions of all artists involved.
Botanist | Photosynthesis | The Flenser
Cabaret Voltaire | Shadow of Fear | Mute
Camila Fuchs | Kids Talk Sun | Felte Records
Avant-garde, psychedelic synth pop for tropical vacations in parallel dimensions.
Causer | Hellebore: Demos | self-released
Chicano Batman | Invisible People | ATO Records
Un-ironic, un-corny psych Tropicalia love songs for an inclusive future of unified humanity.
Choir Boy | Gathering Swans | Dais Records
Every song is an introspective Goth R&B ode to radical self care.
Church Fire | Some Lonely Wip | self-released
This collection of “unfinished/unmixed/unmastered/instrumentals” bridges the gap between Nine Inch Nails and Crystal Castles with their raw, lo-fi, maximalist glitch. Without the highly emotive and cathartic vocals that have been part of Church Fire’s signature sound we are invited to visit the soundscapes that give those vocals a powerful musical context. What is obvious here is the band’s playfulness and gift for pairing dark tonal choices and buoyant rhythms anchored by spare textural elements. On “pixie death tickle” there are wisps of voices but they serve as more a musical aside from the strong, bright, urgent main passages. The “wip” in the title may refer to “works-in-progress” but these songs would work as mood pieces in a soundtrack to the inevitable English language Inio Asano manga film in mirroring that artist’s talent for simultaneously expressing melancholia and joy.
cindygod | EP 2 | Fire Talk
Clipping. | Visions of Bodies Being Burned | Sub Pop
Brooding, seething, menacing industrial hip-hop horror stories from an all too near future.
Cyclo Sonic | Pile of Bones EP | self-released
Damn Selene | Nobody By That Name Lives Here Anymore | self-released
Dan Deacon | Mystic Familiar | Domino Records
Dead Voices On Air | Stone Cross Shuttle Worn | self-released
Deafbrick (Deafkids + Pet Brick) | s/t | Rocket Recordings
Death Bells | New Signs Of Life | Dais Records
Atmospheric post-punk brimming with an infectious sense of hope after a time of struggle.
Death Valley Girls | Under the Spell of Joy | Suicide Squeeze
Acid jazz flavored garage psych with an ear for emotionally rich infinite horizons.
Deerhoof | Teenage Cave Artists | Joyful Noise
Reliably Beefheartian, lo-fi No Wave-esque, boundary-breaking avant-pop.
Down Time | Hurts Being Alive | self-released
Drew Danburry | Icarus Phoenix A Sides and B Sides 2020 | Telos
Drew McDowell | Angalma | Dais Records
Dyad | Dormant | self-released
Charles Ballas and Jeremy Averitt are perhaps better known for their participation in acts like Howling Hex and Esmé Patterson’s live band respectively as well as their production work for Echo Beds. But DORMANT from their long-running collaborative project DYAD showcases their mutual knack for genre-bending IDM-esque soundscapes. DYAD freely blends elements of non-Western polyrhythms, intricate and textured instrumentation, luminous jazz keyboard progressions and tasteful electronic arrangements that convey an eclectic and international flavor. Imagine music equally influenced by Herbie Hancock, 80s Ethiopian synth pop, Daft Punk, Warp Records artists and informed by a deep sense of play, and you will have some idea of the soothing and imagination stirring quality of this music and its brilliantly new age downtempo future jazz sounds.
eHpH | Infrared | self-released
This Denver-based electro-industrial duo minces no words on the opening track “Idiot” in its introductory sample “I’m gonna say one thing, fuck Trump.” And then on to choice sampling of 45s words and those of journalists cataloging some of his offenses against humanity. The menacing descending synth bass progression and minimalistic percussion puts the focus on the words. The rest of the album is less explicitly and specifically topical but it is the band’s most fully realized and focused effort yet. The pulsing pace and Fernando Altonaga’s distorted vocals draw you into meditations on the perils of creeping authoritarianism on “Tarnished.” The pastoral pace and deep melancholy of “Forever Haunted” resonates with the artfully despairing tones of the Closer period of Joy Division the way its circular guitar line and synth melody rides a wave of personal revelation and the contemplation of an unrelievedly bleak future. EhpH has long been one of the more interesting modern EBM bands but Infrared demonstrates that the group of Altonaga and Angelo Atencio have fully integrated those roots with a more contemporary post-punk and darkwave sensibility, thus never sounding stuck in the past.
Emerald Siam | Inventions of Ascension | self-released
Emma Ruth Rundle & Thou | May Our Chambers Be Full | Sacred Bones Records
Emmy The Great | April / 月音 | Bella Union
Entrancer | Decline Vol. 4 | Multidim
In constructing this latest installment in Entrancer’s Decline series Ryan McRyhew utilized Rob Hordijik’s DIY synth, the Benjolin, as well as the Make Noise Shared System. Though both are modular synthesis devices and visually look complex, McRyhew, in naming the equipment on the Bandcamp page, takes some of the technological mystery out of music making with synths and puts the emphasis on the creativity end. For twenty-seven minutes forty-four seconds of the single track of this album, “Decline XVI,” we travel with McRyhew through the sonic analog of the distorted ebb and flow of civilizational decay that we seem to be experiencing right now. Yet at the heart of the piece we hear a separation of more industrial sounds and those more organic like the inevitability of nature reasserting its primacy in our own consciousnesses and in the entire world.
Equine | Light Wa/orship | Noise Pelican
Eve Maret | Stars Aligned | White Supulchre Records
Eyebeams | It Means Trouble | Hot Congress
Eyedress | Let’s Skip to the Wedding | Lex Records
Eye of Nix | Ligeia | Scry Recordings
Uplifting, psychedelic, blackened noise doom journey to a pagan underworld and back.
Facs | Void Moments | Trouble In Mind
The post-punk equivalent of crime jazz’s subterranean menace.
Faim | Hollow Hope | Deathwish
Fearing | Shadow | Funeral Party
Fire-Toolz | Rainbow Bridge | Hausu Mountain Records
Flaming Lips | American Head | Warner Records
Overflowing with compassion and musical salves for the pain and despair of the fractured American psyche.
French Kettle Station | Spirit Mode | Slagwerk
Future Islands | As Long As You Are | 4AD
A soulfully soothing and transporting examination of the roots of one’s melancholic impulses.
Galleries | Resolve | self-released
Ganser | Just Look at That Sky | Felte Records
Incandescent yet contemplative post-punk dense with conceptual content and poignant social commentary.
Gold Cage | Social Crutch | Felte Records
Hard to Be a Killer: A Tribute to Ralph Gean
In an alternate universe Ralph Gean is a beloved rock and roll hero widely known for his brilliantly unique and off-beat songwriting. But the British Invasion derailed that trajectory and Gean instead has since become a bit of a legendary figure with a cult following in Denver music who has periodically played shows and championed by figures as politically disparate as Boyd Rice (who compiled a collection of Gean’s work in 2007) and Jello Biafra. That fandom is reflected on this sprawling tribute album assembled by Arlo White of Hypnotic Turtle Radio and bands like Deadbubbles and The Buckingham Squares. Every interpretation of Gean’s songs is a worthy listen and a fine showcase for his sheer breadth as an artist. Contributions from local, experimental eccentrics like Little Fyodor & Babushka, Claudzilla and The Babysitters lovingly capture Gean’s essential appeal as an artist with an unvarnished charm and humor. Eric Allen of The Apples in Stereo fame highlights the science fiction cowboy persona that Gean could convey while White’s band Diablo Montalban with the late, great eccentric DJ and Denver cultural figure Frank Bell give “Switzerland” a real dark exotica treatment reminiscent of weirder moments in Tom Waits’ catalog. A fascinating portrait of an important yet often overlooked artist.
H Lite | Green Youth Heattech | self-released
Anton Kruger has been known for his inventive, hyperkinetic electronic and experimental music. But for this new EP he took a deep dive into contemplative realms of sound. Elegant, heavenly strings, luminous swells of tone and crystalline percussion embody the title of the song “Light Language.” The spacious sound design aspect of all the song’s on the album are reminiscent of Plaid in the enigmatic playfulness and the stretching consciousness to find inspiration through creative work. Every song brings forth a singular and imaginative portrait of tone, texture and rhythm that takes you on a journey to alien spaces that strike one as familiar and ultimately comforting like a dream. It is post-glitchcore IDM that dispenses with the anxiety in favor of a soothing spirit.
Houses of Heaven | Silent Places | Felte Records
Gloomy street tribal dance anthems fortified with dark, minor chord melodies.
Human Impact | s/t | Ipecac Recordings
In The Company Of Serpents | Lux | self-released
In the Company of Serpents has long been a band that has aimed to infuse its music with its interest in cinema, esoteric knowledge, literature, and with all of those come out of directi human experience, emotion and an attempt to make sense of life and imbue it with meaning. Lux is the fullest manifestation of those aims written into its most sonically dynamic set of songs to date. The crushing yet fluid heaviness of its sound is paired perfectly with elements of song that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Spaghetti Western soundtrack. “The Fool’s Journey” opens the record as a sort of map for the path set before us ending with the enigmatic “Prima Materia.” It’s a musically diverse and rich album that places In the Company of Serpents apart from a mere doom band and more in the realm of Swans’ and Neurosis’ own heavy explorations of the human psyche.
IDLES | Ultra Mono | Partisan
Pointed yet loving politi-punk built on a hip-hop framework.
Insect Ark | The Vanishing | Profound Lore Records
A seething and entrancing hybrid of a Junji Ito manga and industrial psychedelic doom.
Jarv Is | Beyond the Pale | Rough Trade Records
jOoHS UhP | Big Glasss | Records
This record is so irreverent and self-deprecating it uses the swagger language of much of hip-hop to make statements that are the opposite of anything some other artists would brag about. The irony runs so deep even the elements of the music sounds like swagger. There is a song called
“NoWeDon’tWannaMakeGoodMusic.WeTriedAndIt’sBoring.” The glitchy, industrial beats are so unconventional and eccentric you would never confuse this duo with anything resembling traditional hip-hop. It all has more in common with Renaldo & The Loaf and The Residents than even a weirdo like Kanye. Though often confrontational and obnoxious there’s no denying the relentless creativity of the production and glorious seeming lack of regard for how a song is supposed to sound.
Juliet Mission | Surren | self-released
Surren is the third EP from Denver-based post-punk band Juliet Mission. As with previous releases the trio’s command of blending layers of atmosphere with strong rhythms and a contemplative melancholy is impressive. The short title track actually has three movements that flow from existential introspection to passages of dark realization to a mood of uneasy acceptance. All four songs in their brooding beauty demonstrate, as have the most recent albums from The Church, that you can write vital and engrossing rock songs from an adult point of view with elegance and grace, and without defaulting to an adolescent, and thus thematically limited, perspective.
Jupiter Sprites| Holographic | Jupiter Sprites Records
Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith | The Mosaic of Transformation | Ghostly International
Killd By | Neotropical (tape reissue) | Noumenal Loom
King Krule | Man Alive! | Matador
Like The Fall gone hip-hop chillout lounge post-bad trip horror movie dreaming.
Klara Lewis | Ingrid | Editions Mego
Distorted melancholic cello drones like the glitched image memories of past life regression.
KoKo La | Curriculum Vitae | self-released
Koko La has long already established herself as an artist of note as one of the MCs and producers in the hip-hop group R A R E B Y R D $. Her soulful voice and presence often draws out subconscious emotions and gives them form in the music and performance. Curriculum Vitae finds Koko La exploring the experiences that have shaped her. Aided by Machete Mouth and Kitty Opinion$ on a couple of tracks, Koko La excels here with shining a light on those experiences that challenge you in various ways, while at the same time, giving you a better sense of self and the boundaries you must draw the border for people who might seek to dismiss you as a human or otherwise put you in your place. The trap beats and hushed atmospheres provide a fascinating listening experience, like you’re honoring the subconscious thoughts and feelings that affect your waking life by giving them an identifiable form that also allows you to comprehend, embrace and reconcile the wounded sides of yourself.
Lazarus Horse | Oh the Guilt! | self-released
Lithics | Tower of Age | Trouble In Mind
Surreal, minimalist post-punk funk disintegrating into disorder like American democracy.
Lone Dancer | Temporal Smearing | Multidim
Mamaleek | Come and See | The Flenser
Many Blessings | Emanation Body | Translation Loss Records
Ethan McCarthy of Primitive Man renown returns to his ongoing noise soundscapes with the enigmatic and forbidding Many Blessings. In typical fashion this set of five pieces stretches beyond what McCarthy has done with the project in the past. Throughout this album there is not the harsh noise and deconstructed drones of some earlier work. Rather, it is layered collages of sound that give voice to the raw angst and anxieties that sit as a background hum of modern civilization eating away at our collective unconsciousness. The concluding track “Harm Signal” is like a symbol for the whole effort — a flow of sounds, a frequency, that we usually ignore but which causes untold destruction to our existence. These songs identify and give expression to energies and forces we’ve bypassed our whole lives but which are now impossible to ignore, like a sound art metaphor for the social and political forces that have come home to roost of late.
Marissa Nadler | Moons | self-released
Melkbelly | PITH | Carpark Records/Wax Nine
Memory Bell | Solace | self-released
Metz | Atlas Vending | Sub Pop
Midwife | Forever | The Flenser
Madeline Johnston wrote Forever during one of the darkest times of the Denver DIY music and art community. Her community was scattered and challenged in the wake of the Ghost Ship fire with so many lives seeming to be on hold with no hint about when thatdespairing period would end. And the 2018 death of Colin Ward hit everyone whose lives he touched so deeply that it seems like the kind of hurt that will never fully heal. Johnston’s almost ghostly, delicate and vulnerable vocals and distorted, ethereal guitar seem to drift together in an effort to make some sense of those feelings with a nuance and sensitivity that always comes across as emerging directly from those places of acute pain and ache and loss, and honoring the need to just feel all of that whenever the need strikes and for however long into your life it lasts even if that is, indeed, forever. An especially touching and evocative tribute to a uniquely restless and creative yet sensitive and emotionally refined person in Colin Ward, Forever is a tender and heartbreaking, healing catharsis in the listen.
Mild Wild | Mild Wild, Vol. 1 | self-released
Intensely personal, imaginatively lo-fi aural snapshots of daydreams and poetic observations.
Mint Field | Sentimiento Mundial | Felte Records
Dream pop slow burner illuminating and warming the inner regions of the melancholic heart.
Moby | All Visible Objects | Mute Records
Retro rave and chillout lounge songs mourning our collective loss, yearning for a hopeful future.
Molchat Doma | Monument | Sacred Bones Records
Introspective, elegantly minimalistic, lo-fi, Belarusian gloom pop.
Mong Tong | Mystery | Guruguru Brain
Moodie Black | FUZZ | Fake Four
Moon Pussy | Hurt Wrist | The Ghost Is Clear Records
Guitar riffs like swarms of angry insects sweeping through. Syncopated percussion like start- and- stop jackhammers. Bass lines like a half- ton coil being struck and emitting a menacing fluidity. Tortured vocals erupt with Brutalist, post-hardcore poetry. All of this helps to make this latest Moon Pussy record the perfect companion and reaction to a radically uncertain world seemingly in perpetual crisis mode and on the verge of we know not what. Fans of bands on the Amphetamine Reptile imprint or Touch and Go will be thrilled with the band’s seemingly endless supply of inspired, aggressive and savage noise rock riffs and the ability to articulate directly from a place of desperation and outrage. “Fail Better” should be the theme song of these United States.
Mr. Bungle | The Raging Wrath of the Easter Bunny Demo | Ipecac
Mr. Gnome | The Day You Flew Away | El Marko Records
Mrs. Piss | Self-Surgery | Sargent House
Napalm Death | Throes of Joy in the Jaws of Defeatism | Century Media
New Standards Men | I Was A Spaceship | self-released
Night of the Living Shred | Return of the Night of the Living Shred | self-released
The name of this album of course invokes the title of the 1985 horror comedy Return of the Living Dead. And the Colorado Springs-based metal group has taken the opportunity to give us an unusual and eclectic record that not only reflects its members’ broad taste in music but a deeply healthy sense of humor about the world and themselves. “Shred Shoppe Quartert” is an a cappella song in the style of a barbershop quartet. There are rap, punks, death metal, doom and grindcore songs. All of it performed with a charming exuberance even though the entire track list reads like something out of a heavy metal version of Mad Magazine. “We Get it, Mike Patton Is a Musical Genius” with screaming like a cover of something by Naked City with lyrics mocking that? That’s genius. Even though the record is largely a put on in one way or another, the fact that it has so much variety makes it eminently listenable.
No Age | Goons Be Gone | Drag City
Of Feather And Bone | Sulfuric Disintegration | Profound Lore Records
Oneohtrix Point Never | Magic Oneohtrix Point Never | Warp Records
Otzi | Storm | Artoffact Records
Emotionally intense post-punk at the intersection of Sleater-Kinney and The Cure.
Perry Weissman 3 | Backlog | self-released
Plack Blague | Wear Your Body Out | self-released
Plague Garden | LEFT IN THE GRAVE | self-released
Pod Blotz | Transdimensional System | Dais Records
Pole | Fading | Mute Records
Primitive Man | Immersion | Relapse Records
Princess Dewclaw | Wild Sugar | Glasss Records
On the Wild Sugar EP Princess Dewclaw has reinvented itself as a gritty, industrial darkwave band. That element was there on its 2017 album Walk of Shame (in fact the songs “Walk of Shame” and “Into the Words” have carried over in a significantly different form), but there seems more of an edge here. The vocals come more directly from channeling anxiety and pain into catharsis. Rather than acoustic drums the electronic and programmed drums sync more closely with the cutting synth work. The effect is like a caustic and politically charged take on a pop song with mainstream appeal. In that way it has an appeal similar to that of Alice Glass’s emotionally raw solo offerings.
Protomartyr | Ultimate Success Today | Domino Records
Burning poems songs evoking a Jim Thompson-esque modern America in slashing/clashing post-punk.
Public Memory | Ripped Apparition | Felte Records
If Tarkovksy and Jarmusch could team up to make a cyberpunk movie this would be the soundtrack.
Rafael Anton Irisarri | Peripeteia | Dais Records
Raspberry Bulbs | Before the Age of Mirrors | Relapse Records
Reverb And The Verse | RESONATE | self-released
Since 1999 Reverb & The Verse has been developing and writing some of the most imaginative hip-hop out of Denver. The groupput their songwriting on this ninth record through a rigorous process of experimentation and weeding out the material deemed not quite there. Though steeped in classic MC wordplay, the beats and expertly crafted synth work and rhythms seem as informed by the likes of Minneapolis alternative hip-hop that came out of the 90s as it does 80s and 90s synth pop. All of these elements make for a sonically rich and diverse listen a bit like a cross between Clipse and Meat Beat Manifesto.
Riki | s/t | Dais Records
Goth synth pop for skate rink parties in abandoned malls.
Run The Jewels | RTJ4 | Jewel Runners
Shabazz Palaces | The Don of Diamond Dreams | Sub Pop
Shitkid | 20/20 | PNKSLM
An unlikely and fascinating hybrid of garage rock and soulful synth pop.
Shocker Mom | The Mediocre Depression | self-released
Sightless Pit | Grave of a Dog | Thrill Jockey
Sublime and caustic, often claustrophobic, soundscapes of terrifying and transcendent beauty.
SNAD/Jackson Lee| Jargon/Syntax Error 12” EP | Deep Club Records
SPELLS | Stimulants & Sedatives | Snappy Little Numbers
This record is raw even by SPELLS standards. But it’s perfect for 11 songs about the messiness of adulthood with lyrics that frankly go for the jugular. This isn’t new for this pop punk band and its anthemic choruses, but it’s always interesting to hear the contrast between the primal pop of the songwriting and incisive portraits of American life that dispense with the soul-destroying niceties. “We Can’t Relate” is a pointed declaration of the disconnect between the culture of the wealthy and the working class. “I’m Sorry I’m Not Sorry” is something of an apology song for being how you have to be in a world that demands essentially unacceptable compromises. Imagine an amalgam of Blatz, Stiff Little Fingers and The Replacements and you have an idea of the sound, the vibe and the sentiments expressed throughout.
Spice | s/t | Dais Records
Sprain | As Lost Through Collision | The Flenser
Colossal, sprawling, slowcore deep dives into the catharsis of anxiety and rootlessness.
Spunsugar | Drive-Through Chapel | Adrian Recordings
Squarepusher | Be Up a Hello | Warner Records
Stay Tuned | Remote Control | self-released
Brilliantly sampling from American media and entertainment culture, both musically and thematically, Stay Tuned has produced not just a signature song with this arc of eleven tracks but a signature album. Dense with content each song uses the format of autobiography to comment on aspects of society like the shallowness of celebrity culture and the way we formulate our dreams and aspirations in terms and frameworks taken from preexisting constructs like television shows, movies, video games and other media — of course expressed through the corporate controlled channels we most often use to communicate with one another. But in free associating musical and other media references in a collage of sounds in the beat, Stay Tuned uses media tropes and collective myths and imagery to showcase how we can subvert the prevailing power relationships and the monopolistic paradigms of our time.
Stephen Malkmus | Traditional Techniques | Matador
Studded Left | Sidewalk Vitamins | Girlgang Music
Stūrī Zēvele | Labvakar | self-released
An endearing indie pop manifestation of the essence of close and warm friendships.
Sumac | May You Be Held | Thrill Jockey
Suo and Data Rainbow | s/t | Multidim
SUUNS | FICTION EP | Joyful Noise
Syko Friend | Fontanelle | Post Present Medium
The Drood | Totally Comfortable | self-released
The High Water Marks | Ecstasy Rhymes | Minty Fresh
The Microphones | The Microphones In 2020 | P.W. Elverum & Sun
The Paranoyds | Pet Cemetery EP | Suicide Squeeze
The White Swan | Nocturnal Transmission | CockThermos
Through Flames | Through Flames | self-released
Riveting, radical experiments in political poetry and sound design.
TI-83 | Demo | self-released
Time | These Songs Kill Fascists | Dirty Laboratory
Hip-hop artist Chris “Time” Steele displays a true gift for fusing autobiography and lived experience with historical context and knowledge of political theory on this album. He’s always been a brilliant lyricist whose expert wordplay has seemingly effortlessly combined his sharp sense of humor with a wide ranging curiosity about the world and a growing body of knowledge of history, culture and politics. On These Songs Kill Fascists, Steele works with Daiba, Mick Jenkins, long time producer AwareNess, Giuseppe, Ron Miles, JXSHYB, Cat Soup and Psalm One to create a jazz-inflected story cycle commenting astutely on social issues now getting some focus. While a riveting listen purely as a well crafted album, These Songs Kill Fascists does not function as merely socially conscious entertainment, it seems to have been crafted as a form of praxis that challenges artist and listener in a dialectic of critical pedagogy that mutually encourages ongoing personal growth and social transformation.
Tobacco | Hot, Wet & Sassy | Ghostly International
Bright, bombastic, noisy synths paired with darkly humorous musings disrupt the album’s aesthetic of nostalgic comfort sounds.
Torres | Silver Tongue | Merge Records
Uniform | Shame | Sacred Bones Records
Scorching and thrillingly diverse industrial hardcore inspired by noir literature.
Usaisamonster | Amikwag | Yeggs Records
Vivian | The Warped Glimmer | self-released
Voight | s/t | self-released
Maybe it’s Chase Dobson’s treatments and mixing and mastering after Adam Rojo and Nick Salmon wrote and recorded this album, but the self-titled Voight album is the closest the duo has come to sounding like it’s blurring the line between its rock and electronic aesthetics. Guitar chords burn and shimmer out, percussion flurries and traces out a minimalist beat and Salmon’s vocals float through the songs like a person who was once lost but is now rediscovering his ability to feel and to express those emotions with a coherent self-awareness. Every song has an expansive quality reminiscent of Clan of Xymox and The Twilight Sad. The tone of the album perfectly walks the line between urgency and introspection without ever compromising an underlying delicacy of spirit and emotional refinement.
Wayfarer | A Romance With Violence | Profound Lore Records
Wetware | Flail | Dais Recordings
White Rose Motor Oil | You Can’t Kill Ghosts | self-released
Windy & Carl | Allegiance and Conviction | Kranky
WL | ADHD | Beacon Sound
Wolf Parade | Thin Mind | Sub Pop
Yves Tumor | Heaven To A Tortured Mind | Warp Records
Futuristic, effervescent, downtempo, synth pop-inflected, R&B informed non-binary funk.
Porlolo’s new EP No Praise, No Blame borrowed its title from the William Stafford poem of the same name. It’s sentiments are a bit like having a non-detached Zen attitude toward life, accepting what is including the connections you have with others even through trying times. Maybe songwriter and singer Erin Roberts felt like she wanted to articulate a sense of how life had to be over the past year and often enough was in the past and will be in the future for reasons other than a global pandemic. But Robets goes beyond the all too commonly expressed feeling of being glad to be around people again regularly and all the privileges and imagined normalcy that goes along with it and delves into what you learn about yourself and your relationships with people when you can’t and thus don’t have to be around other people so much except as is necessary. In these songs you do hear an appreciation for the people you love and the subtle elements of your relationship with them that maybe you took for granted while also highlighting the tensions that came into focus when you were forced to take a step away from the situations that defined your life. In “Ain’t No Use” Roberts confesses to her own shortcomings including not being “good at saying goodbye” when that is necessary for the moment or from now on. She examines the basic human folly of hanging onto false hopes even when the shine on them is as obviously extinguished as a “old dead star.” Every song seems to be about taking stock of one’s place in life and shedding the desires, the aspirations and relationships that are dragging you down even when they have their hooks in your psyche and feel so much like a part of an identity that you’ve outgrown. And yet this forward momentum is not undertaken ruthlessly, but rather with compassion and a reticence born out of an awareness of one’s own faults and limitations of understanding. Every song is a well-crafted, expertly produced, indie folk pop song but Roberts has always brought a depth of thought and poetic expression to her lyrics since the early days of the project. Listen to the EP on Bandcamp and connect with Porlolo at the links below.
“GRAVITY” finds Denver’s Never Kenezzard pulling us through a winding road of heavy rock cast in warping, colorful tones. It’s a musical parallel to lyrics that conjure images of being an astronaut on a perilous trip to orbit and plummeting back to earth. It is a bit like a psychedelic doom analog to Bowie’s “Space Oddity.” The accompanying music video to the single draws upon guitarist/vocalist Ryan Peru’s knowledge of video production, cinema and music history. The hues are a shifting array of keyed colors to fill in areas of a negative image so that the band looks like it’s performing from another dimension in a 1970s Hammer film. It recalls the early music videos of Black Sabbath in which oil projections are overlaid on the band for a primitive visual effect but one that gives it a sense of mystery and otherworldly visual aesthetic. Peru is an expert of manipulating VHS video sources and processing them for projections in the live setting and that expertise in mixing mediums gives this offering a much better than intentionally amateurish feel.
Fans of Voivod’s late 80s music videos will also appreciate the cuts and experiments in style that run throughout not to mention how both the music and the visuals evoke a mood of experiencing something from a future where everything has fallen apart and put itself back together from the ruins of technology and culture. As is usual for the band, Never Kenezzard in this song doesn’t try to pummel you with heaviness, its shifts in pace and tone are creative and serve a sense of storytelling. Fans of the aforementioned as well as Unsane, Naked City, Queens of the Stone Age and Sleep will find something to appreciate about Never Kenezzard’s disregard for the conventions of noise rock, sludge metal and jazzy death metal. Watch the video below, connect with Never Kenezzard at the links provided and look for the band’s full length album The Long and Grinding Road due out in Fall 2021.
If ever there was a title to the current season of human civilization, endless collapse is it and this collaborative album between Denver-based experimental electronic/ambient artist bios+a+ic and Seattle-based avant-garde soundscaper noisepoetnobody (under the name Entropic Advance) is a musical analogue to what seems like a pervasive feeling that just when we think we’ve hit a new low as a species we keep showing ourselves that we haven’t seen anything yet. There are no grand political statements or observations on this album, just that mood of seeming to be caught up in the flow of society’s static as institutions, norms, formerly generally agreed to beliefs about what constitutes truth and a reliable path to knowledge and so much of what makes up the world as we know it erodes into insolidity and an ambient white noise of what can only be described as not just future urban decay but the kind of prolonged collapse Edward Gibbon described in his colossal 1976-1789 masterpiece The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire but this time a global, interconnected civilization, the collapse of which will spare no one in the end. Humanity will probably survive but the successors to the Roman Empire never had nuclear technology, advanced biological weapons and so many of the other fun stuff awaiting us if and when global hegemon’s fragment and pass into history with a massive power vacuum filled by groups and leaders we can’t yet imagine.
This album seems to have been based on contemplating the dark future that even the most cynical and dystopian cyberpunk never really considered and how realistic it is for a collapse to not feel like one until it’s well under way. The sheets of processed white noise, the organic yet fragmented rhythms and distorted drones of the title track and “behind the projected” is reminiscent of a dark negative image of Tangerine Dream’s “Thru Metamorphic Rocks” from Force Majeure Those familiar might even flash back to the stark, gray, deeply haunting imagery of Andrei Tarkovksy’s 1979 film Stalker and it’s air of mystery and yearning for dream fulfillment in the face of existential peril. The titles of the songs tell a tale of a similar voyage of waking up one day (“sunrise”) and becoming aware that you’re living in apocalyptic times except it’s not as dramatic or as sudden as science fiction and mythology has lead you to believe (‘endless collapse”) and you try to figure out a way to preserve your sanity while reconciling yourself with the tragic reality and envisioning what it might be like to exist on the other side of this time (“a bridge between worlds” and “from the ashes”) only to hit upon the oddly comforting idea that we all go through these shorter cycles in life as part of bigger trends and often only get a brief period of respite that we should treasure (“catch a breath”). Despite these heady themes it is a soothing listen and one that also perfectly embodies the melancholic yet faintly hopeful mood of the world today. Who knows where we’ll end up in the next year or ten but this album is also a reminder that being paralyzed by those concerns isn’t going to derail the worst possibilities and that creative work can be a cathartic way to break that psychological freeze.
Listen to endless collapse on Bandcamp and also, if you’re so inclined, give a listen to noisepoetnobody’s excellent 2021 album Insanity Mirror on Bandcamp as well. Connect with Entropic Advance at the links below for more information and to stay appraised of Wesley Davis’ various creatie endeavors.