Pulsing low end rumble pushes Buggie’s song “Westend” along as Gretchen King almost reads the story of the current dissolution of the world order as we knew it and the desperate attempts to save it. Whether that be with “corporate saviors” or clinging to the utterly discredited neoliberal order with its distractions in entertainment, social media and dead end jobs held out as our only options as a way to perpetuate an economic model that hasn’t been sustainable in even the most powerful countries for four decades. Buggie points out that it seems like the last legs of resisting the inevitable. The almost industrial percussion wedded with King’s pondering but cautionary vocals convey the hard reality before us but inject it with a hint of whimsical flavor as if to suggest that maybe this end of things as we know it is a positive because it’s already been crashing in on itself since the turn of the century and maybe we’re already ready for something new even if it seems scary. Fans of Holly Herndon and Hiro Kone will greatly appreciate the production and soundscaping and the conceptual nature as well as the social critique of the song. Listen to “Westend” on Soundcloud, watch a short clip of the stop motion music video on Instagram and connect with Buggie at the links provided.
“Stigande luft” (Ascending Air) is the first track from Jäverling ◇ von Euler’s upcoming album Musik för trädgårdar (Music for gardens). It draws us in by establishing a percussive tone as a beat as shimmering splashes of synth come in and the melody and textural elements blossom into a dynamic soundscape of interweaving rhythms and melody. It’s like a fusion of New Age jazz and ambient composition. Though having a bit of the vibe of an after hours techno lounge, the overall effect uplifts the mood with the sense of illumination and energy. Rickard Jäverling and Henrik von Euler have worked together on previous albums as the ambient duo Dödens Dal and this newer collaborative material emphasizes a synthesis of the organic and electronic. Listen to “Stigande luft” on Spotify and look for the project’s new album out on the Flora & Fauna imprint.
“Mountains” is a bit of a new direction for Irish ambient artist Emiji. It still features well crafted, melodic drifts, drones as ethereal wind blowing through the track and a sense of a spiritual journey in sound. With Heart Singing providing non-verbal vocals that trail off into echoes that dissolve into the rest of the soundscape there is an even stronger sense of grounding in tangible emotions and a sense of wonder. With the slowly ascending arc of piano that runs through the song it suggests being at the heights of the title and looking across the landscape and its tranquil grandeur when the sun is beginning to come up, peeking through rainclouds or slowly going past the horizon toward night. The second piano figure toward the end of the song changes the tone slightly to give the ethereal song a hopeful flavor. The effect of the vocals with the organic instrumentation and electronic drones is reminiscent of the better New Age music of the 80s and 90s without the pretentious baggage attendant with some of that musical milieu. Listen to “Mountains” on YouTube and connect with Emiji at the links provided. “Mountains” is the first song from Emiji’s new LP My Journeys due out in 2020.
When Janet Weiss, longtime drummer of Sleater-Kinney, said she was leaving the band and partly due to creative differences on the band’s 2019 album The Center Won’t Hold, it came as a shock to most fans. I had seen Sleater-Kinney the first time in October 1998 at The Fox Theatre in Boulder and Weiss was a standout performer among impressive turns by Carrie Brownstein and Corin Tucker. Having then found out about the band through Brownstein’s insightful commentary on her influences in Roni Sarig’s book The Secret History of Rock I was not let down when I decided to see if it was possible to see Sleater-Kinney in Colorado. Picking up Call the Doctor and then most recent album Dig Me Out felt revelatory like this band was saying things that needed to be said at a time when not a lot of that was in the public discourse. I also saw Weiss perform in other bands over the years. In Quasi basically I was awestruck by her raw power and versatility and how her style seemed different in that band as well as when she was a drummer in Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks.
Before Sleater-Kinney split that first time I’d seen the bands four times and bring along noteworthy artists on the tours the way independent bands used to and sometimes still do. Bands like Ailer’s Set, The Gossip and The Quails. I was in retrospect impressed with how the band brought on Rainbow Sugar and The Pauline Heresy to open at The Fox as Rainbow Sugar became one of my bands at that time and so did Pauline Heresy when Yoon Park and Claudine Rousseau formed the post-punk band Sin Desires Marie with Germaine Baca of Rainbow Sugar. Going to see them always seemed inspirational and transformational. Their records seeming to be exactly what I wanted to hear when they came out. When Sleater-Kinney broke up in 2006 it felt like the beginning of the end of an era of music.
Then the reunion happened and following the release of No Cities to Love in 2015 it was obvious the trio was back into the swing of things and the band’s show at the Ogden Theatre with Lizzo as the opening act was fantastic. When Sleater-Kinney returned for Riot Fest in 2016 I felt I had seen a lot more music during the interim and braving an injury I decided to stick around to see them, though feeling for some reason I’d seen the band several times already and knew what they were about. I don’t know what I was expecting but it felt like the band was having fun and rediscovering their power even more as a live band and keeping the vibe casual but electric. It hit me as refreshing and as though somehow the band was tapped into some general mood a lot of people were in with culture and politics. It was a bracing reminder that this band still had something to offer someone like me who has seen and heard so much and didn’t even want to be at a festival given aforementioned injury. It’s easy to get jaded especially when you’re not feeling well. Yet Sleater-Kinney made it seem worth it even if only to catch the band’s set (I also saw Danny Brown, Vince Staples and Ween before going home, all also worthwhile).
So what would a post-Janet Weiss Sleater-Kinney look and sound like live? The album The Center Won’t Hold certainly showcased a band that was evolving in a direction that maybe many fans didn’t appreciate. But it also contained some of the band’s best songs to date and let us know that the band felt the need to do something different and not get stuck in a rut. Weiss has publicly said why she left the band and one can hardly blame her given her reasons. There’s no replacing someone like Janet Weiss whose unique and powerful style uplifts all of her projects. But for this tour Angie Boylan of Aye Nako and Freezing Cold stepped in and more than ably performed songs that would have to be challenging for most other drummers to play. So much so that it felt like Brownstein and Tucker were able to relax and project a sense of joy and solidarity. Katie Harkin and Toko Yasuda helped fill out the instrumentation especially on keyboards so bring that deeply atmospheric sensibility of The Center Won’t Hold.
The set with the current touring lineup felt like a sustained spark of hope in a bleak time in America. Once again, to me, Sleater-Kinney was singing about the things people need to hear, about which many of us are thinking. They also brought to bear insight into the insecurities and psychological trauma that seems to be striking our lives with increasing regularity whether economically, our social lives, the death of friends whether you’re young or old through illness, murder or suicide. The songs on the new record also addressed issues of isolation, being able to look forward when world events seem so paralyzing with a sense that everything is broken and beyond our ability to repair or redeem. The songs don’t try to sugar coat or to say that everything will be okay. But it also isn’t a set of nihilistic songs as that mindset is its own form of despair obsession. The show felt like the band sharing with us a sense that we’re going to need each other in a real and vulnerable way if we have any hope of getting through this period without throwing up our hands and letting the fascists and their cronies take over the world and dictate what’s left of the future of the human race if their program prevails.
The Center Won’t Hold
Hurry On Home
The Future Is Here
Bury Our Friends
What’s Mine Is Yours
One More Hour
Can I Go On
A New Wave
The Dog/The Body
Words and Guitar
Dig Me Out
Italian rapper Dydo’s song “Tacchi & Jordan” is in Italian but one needn’t understand the lyrics to appreciate his artistry. He deftly switches between rapping styles throughout the song with great nuance conveying urgency and contemplation. The beat employs organic and electronic instruments and the production balances an expansive melody with rhythmic texture and vibrant layers of atmosphere. Fans of artists on the Rhymesayers Entertainment imprint will appreciate Dydo’s forceful presentation and mastery of wordplay paired with dynamic music that suggests a reflective quality even as the moment of the song is clearly aimed at moving forward. Listen to “Tacchi & Jordan” on Soundcloud and follow Dydo at the links below.
“EATR” is a song by Swedish band Phogg written from the perspective of a robot named Mofeto driven to misanthropic heights by its anger at the recklessness and wanton destruction humankind has wreaked upon the earth and other living creatures. Sounding like it was recorded in a secret, underground lair constructed from the salvaged fuselage of Mofeto’s would be escape vehicle from humanity’s self-inflicted environmental apocalypse, “EATR” has the quality of an urgent and corrosive, headlong psychedelic thrash to reflect the robot’s uncontrollable outrage at the “hundreds of years” humans have had to tumble the natural world toward becoming an uninhabitable wasteland. Listen to Mofeto’s lament, “EATR,” on Spotify and follow Phogg at the links provided.
Blind The Thin King’s aim is to make music that sounds like something from a lost or extra-terrestrial civilization or found by a far future society with no known cultural connection to our own—to make something for which the social and technological context is unknown. So the project’s latest single “Cloak of Misanthrope” comes across like the discovery of a music storage device that contained the information throughout an optical storage matrix that was found in pieces and through which we’re stimulating the crystalline structure to elicit sounds and we get a fascinating collage of tones, textures and a rhythm not based on anything normal but out of the cadence of seemingly random sonic data. Instead of a Hari Seldon type figure giving us the finest music of the era from the arts equivalent of Foundation, we get something like an even more corrupted, more randomized flow of sounds than the Elvis Presley hologram performance from Blade Runner 2049. It’s supposed to be challenging, it’s maybe even supposed to be off putting but there’s something about this track that keeps you listening, a sonic puzzle that tantalizes because some of the pieces are missing but if you pay close enough attention you will figure out the unifying element. Perhaps the connectors can be found across the Four Hymns LP from which “Cloak of Misanthrope” is taken. But even if not, “Cloak of Misanthrope” has an appeal similar to artifacts of ancient civilizations we don’t fully understand or the electronic transmissions from numbers stations. Yet there is a strange and haunting coherency to the song that is undeniable. Listen on Soundcloud and follow Blind The Thin King further there as well.
Youcancallmeoliver’s mysteriously named track “C+S+M” combines an understated yet urgent melodic arpeggio over textural beats and fluid, but distorted, bass accents. The layers of sound intertwine and evolve as the song progresses with the bass and the most minimal component of the percussion stay consistently voiced, dropping out mid-song for a bit of a high tone interlude and repeating figure like a passage out of a Rabies-period Skinny Puppy song modified and dropped in to add to the slightly haunted quality of the main melody. The whole piece suggests a journey and a transformation like if you could somehow be put through an assembly line process to tweak aspects of your mind and body to gently work out the ailments, injuries and neuroses that may be plaguing you for true deep relaxation to be possible—a complex but non-invasive procedure rediscovered from a past, hitherto unknown advanced civilization. The song also works as the intro music to a high tech spy movie for a sequence suggested in the previous scenario but where the lead figure undergoes a procedure to bring the mind and body in perfect sync for the mission ahead. The 007 franchise has been looking to change the starring role to be played by a woman rather than the men it’s been for around sixty years? This is a song for the opening scenes of that film. Listen to “C+S+M” on Soundcloud and follow youcancallmeoliver at the links below.
Thursday | September 5
What: Hot Snakes w/SPELLS
When: Thursday, 09.05, 7:30 p.m.
Where: Oriental Theater
Why: It would be too facile to cite biographical information about Hot Snakes at this point. Influential noise rock band from San Diego comprised of former/current members of Drive Like Jehu, Rocket From the Crypt, Pitchfork and Obits. Its shows are incendiary, its songs imbued with a dark yet dry sense of humor and its angular guitar rock also not short on dynamic grooves that seem too confrontational to work as unconventional dance music but don’t tell that to John Reis. The group is currently re-touring in support of its monumental 2018 album Jericho Sirens. If you go early to catch SPELLS, just think of them as an 80% version of Hot Snakes because that’s good enough. And other inside jokes that don’t work on the internet.
What: The 184.108.40.206s w/The Ghoulies and The Vanilla Milkshakes
When: Thursday, 09.05, 8 p.m.
Where: Streets Denver
Why: The 220.127.116.11s are a lively surf rock and rockabilly band from Japan who came to a larger public consciousness in the West after appearing in Kill Bill Vol. 1. The Ghoulies are a similarly-minded sorta rockabilly garage punk band and The Vanilla Milkshakes will make all the awkward jokes that desperately need to be made and break up the evening some with its well-crafted, outsider pop punk.
What: The Funs, Sweetness Itself, American Culture, Natural Violence
When: Thursday, 09.05, 8 p.m.
Why: The Funs is a band from Illinois that combines a twee indie pop sensibility with a dream pop sound palette. Think Black Tambourine post-shoegaze. American Culture took the Dinosaur Jr and Meat Puppets thing and put it through an indie pop lens and listened to a bunch of Cure records and came up with something different but bearing the fingerprints of all of that in its sound and ethos. Natural Violence is Michael Stein’s (Homebody, School Knights) latest project. A kind of spindly, super refined post-punk pop band.
What: Mystic Wool, Arc Sol and Total Trash
When: Thursday, 09.05, 9:30 p.m.
Where: Mercury Café
Why: Arc Sol is former Silverface guitarist Michael Thompsons’s new band that somehow welds Neil Young-esque rock wih psychedelia without really sounding like he’s trying to be in the same lineage as any of that in the past decade and that’s impressive on its own. Total Trash is a Denver indie rock supergroup including former and current members of Fingers of the Sun, Fissure Mystic, Lil’ Slugger, Quantum Creep and Eyebeams. Mystic Wool’s synth compositions sound as though someone had to go on some prolonged retreat with no access to the internet and just a music player that had the Deerhunter discography, early Air albums, Candy Claws and Harmonia albums.
Saturday | September 7
What: TEARS to LI6HT, Hate Minor and Claudzilla
When: Saturday, 09.07, 7 p.m.
Where: Seventh Circle Music Collective
Why: This show is a fundraiser for ProgressNow Colorado’s Keep Abortion Safe initiative and it will include sets from experimental electronic artist TEARS to LI6HT, experimental noise rock duo Hate Minor and Claudzilla’s melodica Goth strangeness.
What: Mannequin Pussy w/Destroy Boys and Ellis
When: Saturday, 09.07, 8 p.m.
Where: Larimer Lounge
Why: Mannequin Pussy’s melodic punk is anthemic, emotionally raw and affecting. Like some sort of power pop band from the 80s with the expansive songwriting style and inventive dynamics but whose lyrics are soul searching and pointed but never cruel. The group’s 2016 album Romantic was full of joyful chaos exorcising trauma and sadness with bursts of sound and energy. The new record, 2019’s Patience, is more introspective but no less imbued with the radical vulnerability and personal insight that has made its music worth a deep listen from the beginning.
What: Audio Dream Sister, Whiskey Orphans, Austin Sterling
When: Saturday, 09.07, 9 p.m.
Where: 3 Kings Tavern
Why: Audio Dream Sister hasn’t played in a million years. Meaning maybe in half a decade or more or so it seams. The sludge rock band from Denver was a staple of the heavy rock and punk scene for years and its adept songwriting and psychedelic sensibilities set it apart from the “stoner rock” set of the day.
What: De La Soul w/DJ Mick
When: Saturday, 09.07, 8 p.m.
Where: Ogden Theatre
Why: De La Soul brought something a little strange to hip-hop when it came onto the scene in the 80s blending psychedelic rock aesthetics with weirdo funk and rap. It also used that perspective to examine social issues from a different angle and in its own way had as incisive a social critique as contemporaries like Public Enemy and The Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy.
Sunday | September 8
What: King Crimson
When: Sunday, 09.08, 6:30 p.m.
Where: Paramount Theatre
Why: King Crimson was one of the earliest of the progressive/art rock bands to have emerged in the late 60s, incorporating classical music concepts and a sense of dramatic orchestration into ambitous rock songs. Its 1969 debut In the Court of the Crimson King set a creative high water mark for the progressive rock genre with imaginative lyrics and songwriting that employed musical chops with real creativity to write emotionally arresting songs like the title track and “21st Century Schizoid Man.” While guitarist Robert Fripp is the sole remaining original member he has been the musician in the band that has steered the ship consistently from the beginning through its various phases from the early sort of amalgam of folk, rock, jazz, classical and psychedelia through the experimental hard rock phase of the 2000s through to today.
What: King of Heck (NV), Endless, Nameless, Old Sport and Zephyr
When: Sunday, 09.08, 8 p.m.
Why: King of Heck from Nevada is a “desert rock” band that sounds like it came up on a lot of Gravity Records bands, Fugazi, melodic post-hardcore and modern underground emo. Old Sport from Denver is a great blending of post-hardcore and noisy proto-alternative rock like Dinosaur Jr.
Monday | September 10
What: Voight, Dancing Plague (OR), French Kettle Station and Luxury Hearse
When: Monday, 09.09, 7 p.m.
Where: Seventh Circle Music Collective
Why: A darkwave show at Seventh Circle with Denver’s shoegaze/post-punk/industrial synthesists Voight, EBM/dance Goth group Dancing Plague from Oregon, French Kettle Station and his animated 80s adult contemporary/avant-garde/New Wave music and Luxury Hearse’s beat driven ambient pop.
What: Hazel English w/Modern Leisure
When: Monday, 09.09, 7 p.m.
Where: Larimer Lounge
Why: Hazel English is oft compared to another Oakland, California artist Day Wave. But one might just as well compare her hazy, bright dream pop to the work of Alvvays because it has a similarly wistful and expansive quality that gives one a sense of introspective yearning. Joining her on the bill is Denver indie pop group Modern Leisure. Singer Casey Banker has been crafting some of the more thoughtful and impassioned pop songs out of Denver for more than a decade and Modern Leisure is the continuation of his legacy.
Tuesday | September 10
What: Kristin Hersh (electric trio) w/Fred Abong
When: Tuesday, 09.10, 7 p.m.
Why: Kristin Hersh formed post-punk band Throwing Muses with Tanya Donelly in 1981 when both were fourteen years old. But that band went on to be one of the early alternative rock bands that helped to define the aesthetic of the UK record label 4AD with its emotionally powerful music and inventive songwriting. In that band and as a solo artist Hersh has used mythology and culture and her own struggles with mental illness to produce a body of work that is both startlingly intimate and imaginatively far reaching in scope. Her latest record, 2018’s Possible Dust Clouds draws on specific mythologies and personal history to deliver a set of songs that strikes deep emotional chords expressed with Hersh’s signature, textural voice and warmth as well as unconventional rhythms and guitar voicing. Somehow Hersh’s songs seem like manifestations of archetype and the forces of nature cooperating to speak eternal yet personal truth through her.
What: Silence in the Snow, Echo Beds, Blood Loss and Causer
When: Tuesday, 09.10, 8:30 p.m.
Why: Oakland’s Silence in the Snow sometimes comes off like a neo-darkwave band because it is but its root is an urgent post-punk akin to the likes of Red Lorry, Yellow Lorry and Xmal Deutschland. Its new record Levitation Chamber finds the band mixing ethereal guitar with high emotive vocals and deep, irresistible rhythms.
Tacono Gate gets “It’ll All Come to Pass” going with a grittily uplifting riff that soars into an evocative, anthemic verse. The synth compliments the elevated tone of the vocals in a way that syncs nicely with what comes to be an almost hypnotic melodic drone that flows and resolves throughout the song. Fans of The Chameleons and Comsat Angels will appreciate the defiant yet melancholic progressions. Like the band is struggling against the unacceptable inevitable. Like knowing you’re going to take that okay paying job because it’ll mean that you can afford to not just survive but have something for yourself to pursue what you really care about on the side until maybe it becomes your main gig. All while taking it on with a resigned spirit knowing that you, and really everyone, deserves better than what is on offer, that this contingent reality that benefits the few at the expense of the hopes and dreams of the majority is unsustainable but for now it is what it is. And yet, the song more than hints that this and other situations in life will come to pass in the end. While cold comfort in the moment, it beats utter despair. Listen on Soundcloud and follow Tacono Gate at the links provided.