Best Shows in Denver 9/28/17 – 10/4/17

Mirror Fears_Jul30_2017_TomMurphy_web
Mirror Fears at UMS, July 30, 2017, photo by Tom Murphy

 

Who: Holy Fuck w/Emerald Siam 
When: Thursday, 9.28, 7 p.m.
Where: Lost Lake
Why: Toronto’s Holy Fuck uses a combination of conventional and non-musical devices to make music that sounds like a high energy electronic band without using software, loops or samplers. If that’s the band’s aim it’s live show is a ferocious and relentless in its flood of sounds and musical ideas in a very visceral way. In July, the group released a new EP, Bird Brains, recorded live in a studio further establishing the fact that most bands would require a bevy of synths, drum machines and software to achieve similar results. Opening is Denver’s Emerald Siam. Yeah, Denver veterans and legends in the band who made great, atmospheric music in bands like Twice Wilted, The Bedsit Infamy and Light Travels Faster. But Emerald Siam stands on its own and over the past year and a half the group has delved further into dark, moody melodies and creative guitar tone separation that really opens the music in a way many other guitar rock bands seem to ignore these days. The result is a depth of sound that is enveloping and hypnotic like driving on a fog enshrouded road at night.

Who: Kim Boekbinder, Mirror Fears and EVP 
When: Thursday, 9.28, 8 p.m.
Where: Lion’s Lair
Why: Kim Boekbinder is New York by way of Montreal artist/musician whose work challenges preconceived notions in society and of what art can be, should be and what it can impact and who can be involved in its creation. Her 2013 album The Sky is Calling includes a collaboration with astronomer Phil Plait. So you know the live show is going to be far beyond any standard faire. In 2017 she released NOISEWITCH, an album for which every song is said, according to her website, to be “a spell cast on the audience.” Don’t worry, it’s going to be benevolent stuff. Seeing her would be enough to go to this show but if you go you can catch the industrial/punk/Goth stylings of EVP whose songs have incisive and thought-provoking statements on sexism, the nature of human relationships and our inborn ability to derail our own lives. But wait, there’s more: Mirror Fears. Kate Warner started the latter while still performing in an excellent, shoegazey indie rock band called Talk All Night. But as that band started to go inactive and crumble, Warner had more time to devote to her solo project and in time her inventive and riveting beats and fragile yet powerful vocals have come together for a sound that has roots in the underground and alternative rock that was the foundation of Talk All Night as well as the noise, industrial and experimental music world that has embraced Mirror Fears as one of its own. While still relatively unknown in Denver, Mirror Fears has been creating some of the most interesting music coming out of Denver at the moment because Warner has established her own sound that would appeal to fans of industrial music, electronic dance music and noiseniks alike.

Who: Tristen w/Jenny O and In/Planes 
When: Friday, 9.29, 8 p.m.
Where: Lost Lake
Why: Tristen could be yet another indie singer-songwriter the likes of which we’ve seen come and go for the last decade and a half or so. But there’s an underlying sense of something different in her songwriting. Maybe it’s because she’s someone who had to figure out unconventional ways to record and share her music in the early days of her career. Could be because she’s a keen observer of human behavior and has turned that quality into music making her own life experiences fodder for songwriting as well. Her 2017 album is called Sneaker Waves suggesting Tristen has an offbeat sense of humor as well—never a bad thing. Also on the tour is Jenny O whose background in jazz actually didn’t ruin her creativity. Instead, the chops she learned going that route in college gave her the tools to compose songs with a subtle yet expansive dynamism. Her new album, 2017’s Peace & Information is like a finely textured, downtempo pop record on which Jenny O takes some chances and goes beyond what you might have come to expect from her already respectable back catalog. “Intuition” in particular bears comparison to the likes of Aldous Harding and Kate Bush with its dense yet expansive synth work and wise and insightful words.

Who: Moodie Black, Night of the Living Shred, ROÄC and It’s Just Bugs
When: Friday, 9.29, 8 p.m.
Where: Bar Bar/Carioca Café
Why: Moodie Black is a Los Angeles-based hip-hop group. If you’ve seen the band there’s plenty of live instrumentation but rather than some outright jazz or R&B direction, Moodie Black is more what might be called an “industrial rap” band. It has the confrontational quality you’d expect out of any kind of punk or gangster rap group but with the noisy soundscaping you might even expect from a like-minded shoegaze or post-punk band like A Place to Bury Strangers or Pop. 1280. It’s Just Bugs is like-minded but with soul-oriented beatmaking more like something you’d expect to hear from an Anticon or Rhymesayers artist. Just mix in some harsh noise in the beats here and there. The rest of the show is metal or grindcore done by people who have a deep appreciation for hip-hop and vice versa.

Who: Junius, Black Mare, Mustard Gas & Roses and Ghosts of Glaciers 
When: Friday, 9.29, 8:30 p.m.
Where: Hi-Dive
Why: Junius from Boston has been developing its cinematic sound, some might say post-metal, since 2003. Post-metal probably gives the impression the band sounds a bit like Isis, Pelican and Jesu. And it does. But there is more overt melody and conventional song structure in the music of Junius. Is 2017 album Eternal Rituals For The Accretion Of Light sounds both tribal and futuristic, like something that would suit a soundtrack for a sequel to John Christopher’s The Tripods series. Ghosts of Glaciers from Denver is an instrumental post-metal band whose focus on songwriting over soundscaping is a great fit for the bill. While not as active for a few years, the band is back to playing regular shows and showing how you can have epic instrumental metal without being doom. Black Mare is the solo project of Sera Timms of Ides of Gemini and Black Math Horseman. On Death Magick Mother, her second record as Black Mare, Timms comments on the misogyny and political turmoil of the current era with a sprawling, majestic, darkly moody guitar work and fluid rhythms that is as brutal as it is entrancing.

Who: Severed Heads, Pankow, Echo Beds and Blackcell
When: Friday, 9.29, 8:30 p.m.
Where: The Black Box
Why: Severed Heads is an industrial and electronic dance band from Sydney, Australia. Founded in 1979 as Mr. and Mrs. No Smoking Sign by Richard Fielding and Andrew Wright, the project brought on now sole remaining early member of the band Tom Ellard that same year. Initially using tape loops, synths and other sorts of non-standard noisemakers, Severed Heads must have been a bit of a head scratcher for many when it adopted that name before the turn of the decade. However, around the world, Severed Heads was making the kind of experimental, even avant-garde, music that resonated with music that was already being created by the likes of Nurse With Wound, Smegma, Cabaret Voltaire, Throbbing Gristle and, soon enough, Einsturzende Neubauten, Coil, Test Dept. and Skinny Puppy. By the mid-1980s, Severed Heads had evolved its sound becoming almost an electronic dance pop band and later enjoyed a bit of commercial success with the 1988 single “The Greater Reward.” But Severed Heads always had its roots in the weird and there was no mistaking the group for a mainstream band even as some of its material garnered that level of popularity. Ellard announced the end of Severed Heads in 2008 but in subsequent years the band toured with Gary Numan and have done one-offs here and there. But in 2016 new material appeared and now is a rare chance to see the legendary band at all much less in an intimate venue.

But wait, there’s more. Pankow is a band that formed in East Germany in 1981 when rock and roll was very much frowned on in the DDR and the communist world generally. Pankow even wrote songs critical of the repressive East German regime and their music wasn’t widely released for years. Their sound might be compared to the likes of industrial/EBM band Nitzer Ebb except more pop though no less energetic and confrontational.

Denver’s Echo Beds and Blackcell are opening the night. Echo Beds has mastered the integration of analog industrial sounds produced by voice, striking an oil drum and guitar/bass and electronic elements in percussion, sampling, synths and sound processing. Depending on the show you catch it could be the more tribal-esque side of the band or the more ambient experiments it has engaged in over the last year and a half. Those unfamiliar should think more along the lines of the aforementioned Einsturzende Neubauten and Test Department. Blackcell is one of the longest-running bands in Denver in general having begun in the early 90s. The duo has developed various musica ideas across its entire career but of late its use of synths and circuit bent devices has propelled its music beyond the industrial and more noise-oriented music of its early days. Not sound design so much as a reimagining of what that music can be utilizing new methods and technologies and basically not getting stuck in a stylistic rut that no longer seems relevant. Blackcell remains ahead of the curve.

Who: New Ben Franklins & The Ghost of Joseph Buck 
When: Friday, 9.29, 9 p.m.
Where: The Squire Lounge
Why: New Ben Franklins are probably considered by many to be a kind of alt-country band and maybe it is. In the way that the Beat Farmers, Green on Red or even Mojave 3 are so. Singer David DeVoe spent some years making dark, atmospheric music as a member of Denver-based post-punk/Goth band Fiction 8. But his musical interests have always been diverse and the appeal of the spare songwriting style of country proved strong. NBF is a kind of synthesis of DeVoe’s interests and could never be limited to merely alt-country or post-punk but, rather, a fascinating blending of it all with DeVoe’s signature songwriting style that is never just one flavor, never just one texture and never boring.

Who: Future Islands w/Jenny Besetzt 
When: Friday, 9.29, 8 p.m.
Where: Fillmore Auditorium
Why: Future Islands was one of the most high profile bands of the Wham City collective in Baltimore. The trio toured DIY spaces around the country in its early days including Denver’s own Rhinoceropolis where the band played a couple of times before finding increasing popularity for its wonderfully unusual, soulful pop songs. The band got a big break into the mainstream with its appearance on The Late Show with David Letterman on March 3, 2014 and singer Sam Herring’s dancing and other stage antics becoming a sensation on the Internet. In 2017 Future Islands released its latest album, The Far Field, on 4AD.

Who: Japanese Breakfast w/Mannequin Pussy and The Spirit of The Beehive
When: Saturday, 9.30, 8 p.m.
Where: Larimer Lounge
Why: Michelle Zauner of Japanese Breakfast has a knack for perceiving small but significant nuances in the dynamics of human relationships and issues of race and gender. Her albums, 2016’s Psychopomp and 2017’s Soft Sounds From Another Planet reflect Zauner’s insights with humor and stark and poetic sincerity. The downtempo pop and hazy atmospherics of a Japanese Breakfast song draw you in and convey the themes of the song directly to the heart and Zauner is a powerfully vulnerable and unpretentious performer. It’s an especially effective blend of style, presentation and honesty. Mannequin Pussy isn’t a contrast so much as a great compliment to Zauner’s music as a punk band that didn’t get hung up on the usual sounds, tools, methods or looks of being punk. Its songs are witty takedowns of sexism, ignorance and harmful and outmoded cultural narratives in general. Sonically, the band is reminiscent of Babes In Toyland’s ferocious intensity, Versus’ experimental guitar pop and more modern punk bands also not straightjacketed by tradition like Tacocat. The group’s 2016 album Romantic was a true statement about American culture at the dawn of Trump’s America.

Who: Diorama of the Cosmos
When: Saturday, 9.30, 7-10 p.m.
Where: Fiske Planetarium (Boulder)
Why: Katy Zimmerman and Genevieve Waller are Denver-based artists that challenge prevailing modes of thinking by experimenting with the forms and conceptions of existing phenomena. This time out, the solar system and space and our way of thinking about how things have to be. The statement from their event page: “Part craft project and part teaching tool, the handmade model of the solar system fashioned out of cardboard, string, and Styrofoam is an iconic children’s activity. In an installation created expressly for the Fiske Planetarium, Katy Zimmerman and Genevieve Waller pay homage to this kid tradition with a speculative representation of the solar system. Assembling together fictional suns, moons, planets, and stars into imaginary patterns and orbits, Waller and Zimmerman present a departure from the faithful diagram. They posit that the place where science and fantasy meet is rich with possibilities and will enable us to envision new worlds, rules, and dimensions of thought.”

Who: One-Eyed Doll w/Doll Skin, Sharone & The Wind and Rotten Reputation
When: Saturday, 9.30, 7 p.m.
Where: Lost Lake
Why: One-Eyed Doll is a Goth punk/metal duo from Austin that has been playing the kind of music that would have been in a Goth version of Jawbreaker. Meaning it almost seems like a self-aware studio project that makes the music to present a concept with strong imagery, like informal branding with an underlying sense of humor. Rotten Reputation is a punk band that on the surface level might seem fairly straightforward but its mascot, Nancy, is a headless, armless, legless mannequin that also serves as kind of a merch booth. And its songs challenge sexism and the almost populist fascism exemplified by the Trump administration. Sharone & The Wind has come a long way from when singer Sharone Borik performed under her own name as a kind of singer-songwriter act. Over the summer of 2016 Borik assembled the first incarnation of the rock band to flesh out her songs and the result was something like a hard rock band but driven by Borik’s piano work and powerful voice. A new line up came together in 2017 that fully frees Borik up to front the band with music that has progressed further in a dark, hard rock direction.

Who: The Black Madonna and Gerd Janson
When: Saturday, 9.30, 9 p.m.
Where: Club Vinyl
Why: The Black Madonna has become one of the premier electronic dance artists in the underground but at this point she’s only underground only in that she’s not yet known to a mainstream audience. Her set at Sonar 2017 was lauded for her signature fluid transitions using a very unconventional playlist and samples. Marea Stamper (aka The Black Madonna) has spent time cultivating her skills and knowledge at all levels of the electronic dance world from promotions, management, running a label to production and more and it lends her actual music an unspoken authenticity and grit.

Who: Goldie w/Fury, Grym and Goreteks
When: Saturday, 9.30, 8 p.m.
Where: Cervantes’ Other Side
Why: Goldie got his big break to the world through his graffiti art but in the 90s he became a producer of electronic music and an innovator of jungle and breakbeat. On his debut solo album, 1995’s Timeless, Goldie showed how breakbeat rhythms could easily drive a soulful pop song in “Inner City Life” and give it an experimental edge that popular electronic music generally didn’t have before. Goldie has remained an innovator and an influential music producer. And you may have seen him in The World Is Not Enough and EastEnders if you knew to look for him.

Who: Seun Kuti & Egypt 80 w/Atomga
When: Saturday, 9.30, 8 p.m.
Where: Cervantes’ Masterpiece Ballroom
Why: Seun Kuti is Afrobeat founder Fela Kuti’s youngest son and he is leading one of Fela’s classic bands. Opening is Atomga, one of the most legit, Fela-inspired, Afrobeat bands in Denver. So it’ll be a great night of Afrobeat with legendary musicians and a great local band carrying on that tradition of the blend of funk, jazz and traditional African music that got Fela in trouble with the Nigerian government throughout his career.

Who: Rock For Tolerance – SPLC Benefit w/Surrender Signal, Electric Thinking Machine, Gestapo Pussy
When: Saturday, 9.30, 9 p.m.
Where: The Skylark Lounge
Why: Gestapo Pussy Ranch is a snotty punk rock band which includes former KTCL and KBPI disc jockey John “Whipping Boy” Wilbur. So it’ll be a lot of irreverent humor (the name should spell that one outh, though) and a lively rock show benefitting Southern Poverty Law Center. The $5 cover goes directly to the SPLC

Who: Dark Descent Records 8th Anniversary show: Spectral Voice (album release) w/Ritual Necromancy, Ascended Dead, Grave Ritual and Blood Incantation
When: Saturday, 9.30, 8 p.m.
Where: Hi-Dive – Sold Out
Why: Death metal/doom band Spectral Voice is releasing its latest album, Eroded Corridors of Unbeing at this show. One of the most brutal yet haunting bands out of that genre today, Spectral Voice has slowly been carving its own legacy of dark, heavy music across the globe for the last few years. Also on the bill is the quasi-legendary, like-minded, band Blood Incantation. It’s not the kind of metal show for everyone but for those that appreciate uncompromising sounds and aesthetics, it’s hard to beat.

Who: The Slants w/Princess Dewclaw and Surf Mom
When: Sunday, 10.01, 9 p.m.
Where: Lion’s Lair
Why: The Slants is an all-Asian American dance punk band from Portland, Oregon that recently testified before the Supreme Court of the United States on the right to trademark the use of the band name. And won. Their sound is sort of a retro synth pop thing but more rock like The Epoxies. Princess Dewclaw from Denver sounds like a pop punk band that has a riot grrrl sensibility including the subject matter and synths. Its 2017 album Walk of Shame reflects an outsider perspective on the punk and art scene with poetic abstractions of fear, insecurity and rage into creative constructs and pop culture references. But it doesn’t blunt the message because its delivered with such passion. Surf Mom is a duo that is quickly growing beyond the surf part of its name and now has more in common with The Jesus and Mary Chain with its abrasive, face burning, spiky guitar tones than the garage surf stuff of the past decade. That is except that there is no detached emotionalism in Molly McGrath’s vocals—her voice and messaging is direct, pointed and incisive.

Who: Dead Rider w/Wheelchair Sports Camp and Quits
When: Sunday, 10.01, 7 p.m.
Where: Lost Lake
Why: Todd Rittman was once the guitarist in experimental noise rock band U.S. Maple before those weirdos broke up in 2007. Which is the same year the great electronic punk band Sleaford Mods started. Coincidence? Definitely but since 2009 Rittman has been a member of Dead Rider, a band much more electronic than U.S. Maple and sharing some of the same aesthetic and socially critical sensibilities of the aforementioned band from Nottingham, England. That Denver’s own bizarro noise rock Quits, which includes former members of Hot White, CP-208, Witch Doctor and Sparkles, seems only fitting. What is perhaps more unusual is Wheelchair Sports Camp on the bill but beatmaker/vocalist/lyricist supreme Kaelyn Heffernan has always incorporated unusual samples in her hip-hop as well as playing with players capable of taking jazz into previously unknown territory.

 

Who: Ambersmoke, Admiral, Brother Saturn
When: Sunday, 10.01, 7 p.m.
Where: 7th Circle Music Collective
Why: Ambersmoke is an L.A. based shoegaze/sound collage band touring in support of its latest album, Lay My Bones Beneath the Valley Oak. Many bands claim My Bloody Valentine as an influence but Ambersmoke actually seems to have taken the hazy, lo-fi soundscaping aspect of MBV seriously and done interesting things with similar methods and sounds with guitar, of course, but also synths and sampled impromptu noisemakers. Denver’s Brother Saturn is more an ambient project but using highly processed guitars and voices. The project’s 2017 album Apollo, Can You Hear Me? Is almost like a post-Tim Hecker, melancholic sequel to Brian Eno’s 1983 album Apollo: Atmospheres & Soundtracks. Except that has a quality that suggests the soothing of a pain buried inside the psyche—a slow moving spell of healing.

Who: Wolves in the Throne Room w/Pillorian
When: Monday, 10.02, 7
Where: The Black Sheep
Why: Wolves in the Throne Room may have been dismissed as “hipster metal” by some people as it gained popularity among fans who normally wouldn’t be into metal. WITTR had and has all the classic black metal elements from the feral voices, stark, death metal guitar played with a ferocious intensity. And its whole aim was to express the forces of nature and the ambient energy of the Pacific Northwest. This resulted in music that while definitely black metal, like some of the band’s cousins in Europe and other parts of North America, it had an atmospheric sound that suggested more than a dark spirit reclaimed from conquering cultures. There is no corpse paint on stage or references to Satan in the music of WITTR, as though they took the pagan aspect of its philosophical underpinnings seriously. At the height of its popularity in 2011 the band announced it would be curtailing its touring. But five years later the group was touring in a limited capacity once again. On the 2017 album Thrice Woven, Wolves in the Throne Room returns to playing black metal after 2014’s Celestite, the brilliant, synthesizer companion album to 2011’s Celestial Lineage.

Who: Lords of Acid w/Combichrist, En Esch, Night Club, ITSOKTOCRY and Christian Death
When: Tuesday, 10.03, 7 p.m.
Where: The Gothic Theatre
Why: Lords of Acid definitely splits the line among industrial music fans. The project has unabashedly embraced industrial music, EBM, club dance music and an outrageously trashy aesthetic or cartoonish sexuality. But no matter what you think of the specific subject matter of the songs the fact is that the live band is a lot of fun. Band leader Praga Khan has been known to push his bandmates off stage into the crowd and then not exempting himself from such playful indignities. Night Club is a darkwave band co-founded by former Warlock Pinchers and Foreskin 500 guitarist, and longtime Metalocalypse collaborator (among other noteworthy film and animation projects), Mark Brooks. Christian Death is obviously the incarnation of the band with Valor Kand on guitar and lest fans of the band forget, Kand was the main guitarist on the band’s great second album, 1984’s Catastrophe Ballet. And live the band performs songs from across its entire career. If you go and don’t expect something impossible and quaintly fanciful like Rozz Williams, who is dead, and Rikk Agnew you might actually enjoy the show.

Who: Drab Majesty w/DJs Boyhollow and Slave 1
When: Wednesday, 10.04, 9 p.m.
Where: Milk Bar
Why: Drab Majesty’s music is like a fully synthesized combination of David Bowie circa Ziggy Stardust, Red Lorry Yellow Lorry and super hip science fiction movie soundtrack. Fans of Roxy Music will love this. So will fans of Cocteau Twins and vintage Clan of Xymox. Deb Demure is also a great songwriter whose 2015 album, Careless, was the go-to album for fans of dark post-punk for an entire year. 2017’s The Demonstration helped to expand Drab Majesty’s audience well outside the Goth and post-punk subculture not by compromising Demure’s artistic vision but because it turns out it wasn’t just people identifying as Goths could find something to appreciate about the deep and stirring atmospheres of the music and its futuristic vision.

Who: King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard and Other Worlds
When: Wednesday, 10.04, 8 p.m.
Where: Ogden Theatre
Why: King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard sounds like it has to be a stoner rock band. And that’s partially true as the Australian psychedelic rock band doesn’t hold its nose up and creative use of hard rock and metal tropes in crafting its mind altering songs. Known for an exuberant live show, King Gizzard actually seemed to live up to its absurdist, cartoonish name in the best sense. He group is currently touring in support of its 2017 album Sketches of Brunswick East.

Who: Zealot, Teacup Gorilla and The Far Stairs
When: Wednesday, 10.04, 9 p.m.
Where: 3 Kings Tavern
Why: It’s Weird Wednesday at 3 Kings, which happens the first Wednesday of the month. Booked and hosted by Claudia Woodman, the series showcases some of Denver’s most unusual bands whether or not that is obvious by looking at or listening to the artists in question. Zealot is the latest band from Luke Hunter James-Erickson who is most well known for his pop bands The Don’ts And Be Carefuls and For Keeps. But he’s always had a leg in experimental music and noise with Wind Does and now Zealot. Teacup Gorilla is the kind of band that could only happen when people were never told they shouldn’t do a strange glam rock band and one of Denver’s most original and interesting bands because they’re following no one else’s trend and not aiming to have anyone follow theirs. The Far Stairs is the current band of Hindershot keyboard player Jesse Livingston. Can’t say I’ve seen the band have it on good authority it’s quite unusual and partly so for how Livingston is able to make something so unusual accessible.

Best Shows in Denver 9/21/17 – 9/27/17

The Mansfields
The Mansfields at the Gothic Theatre in 2008, photo by Tom Murphy

 

Now that Fall is basically here, Denver will have more great shows than at any other time of the year. To that end, we’ll be including more shows on this list than would otherwise be advisable in a “Best Shows” type list.

Who: Throwing Snow (UK, Houndstooth/Local Action), RUMTUM, Marcelo Moxy, b2b, Rameau Control 
When: Thursday, 9.21, 9 p.m.
Where: The Black Box
Why: Dirty//Clean brings some of the most interesting electronic dance oriented acts together for its events. Tonight it’s Bristol, UK’s Throwing Snow whose 2017 album Embers is filled with the kind of bright soundscaping and bass drones that have made recent offerings from likes of Weval, Demdike Stare and Clark so compelling. It’s the kind of stuff that stirs our imagination. RUMTUM’s combination of organic sounds and electronics may be the odd one out on this bill except his own form of crafting beats and atmosphere is right in line with the sort of post-IDM, deep house sort of music on hand for this show.

Who: Tyto Alba video release w/Happy Abandon, Florea and Yesol 
When: Thursday, 9.21, 9 p.m.
Where: Syntax Physic Opera
Why: Tyto Alba somehow found a way to be both a great indie rock and dream pop band all at once. Its emotional flavorings are tuneful and cathartic while projecting a melancholic yet comforting aural signature that transcends mere genre. Tonight the band releases its video for “The Hunger,” created with L.A.-based filmmaker Colin Anders of Slice Cinematics. Also on the bill is Chapel Hill, North Carolina’s cinematic indie pop band Happy Abandon whose simple yet detailed and lush compositions challenge the listener to confront their personal demons with compassion rather than judgement. Their new album Facepaint has to be counted among the most rewarding listens of any album of 2017 as its rich sonic tapestries are a poignant representation of self-honesty and self-examination.

Who: Vagabon w/Nnamdi Ogbonnaya and Nina De Freitas
When: Thursday, 9.21, 8 p.m.
Where: Larimer Lounge
Why: Laetitia Tamko’s Vagabon on her 2017 album Infinite Worlds proved that you can absolutely write a record largely by yourself, play most of the instruments on that record and sound like you had to recruit ace players in your music community to create an album with such a vast and forceful expression of engagement with the world. Tamko’s combination of driving rock and brightly ethereal tones contribute to making her music accessibly eclectic and refreshingly original. It is reminiscent to a limited extent to the music of Rainer Maria and that raw, unabashed expression of intense emotions with an edgy vulnerability.

Who: Natural Violence EP release w/Ssleeperhold, Prison Glue and Quits 
When: Thursday, 9.21, 9 p.m.
Where: The Meadowlark
Why: Michael Stein is perhaps best known for his stints in garage rock band School Knights, indie pop group American Culture and experimental post-punk band Homebody. Natural Violence goes further in the exploration of electronic pop gone weird. Sort of a minimal synth project that one might compare to Fad Gadget or Sparks. But maybe even more stripped down. The group’s debut EP called SP might even make some people think of a lo-fi John Maus. But really it’s just Stein’s rich imagination finding ways of making something he hasn’t heard a million times and that’s often where the best music comes from. Also on playing is Prison Glue, the noise/performance art project of former Hot White guitarist Kevin Wesley. It’s always a different show with Wesley so expect something completely unlike anything he’s done with Prison Glue before. Quits is the latest noise rock project from former/current members of noise rock/weirdo bands like Hot White, Sparkles and Anger Throne. You’ll have to go to figure out who. Out of town guest for this show is Ssleerperhold, the minimal synth-ish solo project of BOAN’s Jose Costa.

Who: Secret Chiefs 3 w/Echo Beds 
When: Friday, 9.22, 8 p.m.
Where: Downtown Artery
Why: Trey Spruance was once in art rock band Mr. Bungle with Mike Patton. Secret Chiefs 3 is more like a bizarro, psychedelic prog band whose own music reflects a playful interpretation of esoteric knowledge and musical ritual. But Secret Chiefs 3 is known to do an offbeat if somewhat faithful cover or few like John Carpenter’s theme to Halloween. Opening is Denver-based industrial punk band Echo Beds who have been branching out from its signature post-apocalyptic tribal onslaught of sound and emotions to challenging yet hypnotic soundscapes. Either way, you’ll get to see something powerful and unforgettable.

Who: 7th Circle 5-Year Anniversary Show #1: Chaff, American Psychonaut, Proto Whats?, Astral Planes, The Real Lying Rohr, Joshua + The Devil, CFX-Project, Unit-Y and Krbs (Ludlow)
When: Friday, 9.22, 4 p.m.
Where: 7th Circle Music Collective
Why: To celebrate its five years as 7th Circle Music Collective, the venue is having three days of shows featuring the bands that have made it a vibrant subscene in the larger Denver music scene. What makes 7th Circle perhaps more significant than many other venues for fostering and developing a scene is the fact that it’s a community of bands and volunteers and younger musicians can invite their friends to the show without worries of age restriction. The lineup will be eclectic and if you go you can probably expect to see one or two bands you’ve never heard of that you’ll like.

Who: Grave Moss, Sherman’s March, Demoncassttecult, Giardia
When: Friday, 9.22, 7 p.m.
Where: Flux Capacitor
Why: Grave Moss updates death rock for the current era. Vocalist Amanda Gostomski is able to project a cathartic level of transmogrified turmoil and pain that way you’d want with this music rather than yet another Andrew Eldritch clone. Demoncassettecult is sort of an industrial noise/drone solo project from Gold Trash’s Vahco Before Horses. There aren’t many shows like this in Colorado Springs but the Flux and its central location is a great place to catch some experimental music from Denver.

Who: Body Meat w/Killd By, GrassHopper and Plague Survivor 
When: Friday, 9.22, 8 p.m.
Where: Globe Hall
Why: Body Meat is sort of a combination of lo-fi math rock band with jazz underpinnings and intricate rhythms. Killd By is a reflection of the restless imagination and energy of Colin Ward who employs live electronics and beats to disorient the senses and take you to places in your brain that you may not know had existed.

Who: The Blackouts, Like a Rocket (Boise), Hot Apostles and Last Rhino
When: Friday, 9.22, 8 p.m.
Where: 3 Kings Tavern
Why: Normally cover bands are kind of bland and wack but The Blackouts make its punk covers seem like originals because the members of the band play like they own it. Hot Apostles plays melodic hard rock that may be rooted in classic rock of the 70s and 80s but there is an exuberance to its performances that sets it apart from other bands mining similar territory. That and vocalist Eryn Swissdorf is a force of nature.

Who: Option 4 w/Bones and Colin/Dungeon 
When: Friday, 9.22, 8 p.m.
Where: Larimer Lounge
Why: Brennen Bryarly is one of the most important promoters of electronic dance music in Denver and beyond. And his hard work to that effect came out of his own endeavors as a maker of such music with his project Option4. This is a rare opportunity to catch Bryarly in his element and hopefully hear about the next edition of his superbly well-curated festival Cloak and Dagger.

Who: Faces of US – 5th Annual Our Neighbors, Ourselves fundraiser to support Project Worthmore, juried art gallery featuring dozens of artists, live music by Tom Hagerman Ensemble, Bluebook, DJ sets by Jonny DeStefano and Christy Thacker. VR experience by DenVR 
When: Friday, 9.22, 6 p.m.
Where: McNichols Building
Why: This is a show happening at the McNichols Building to the west of Civic Center Park. It’s kind of an odd layout for a show but it works. This is a fundraiser for area refugees through Project Worthmore. As indicated above, the live music will be provided by Tom Hagerman Ensemble and Bluebook. Hagerman is perhaps best known as a member of gypsy punk/folk band DeVotchka. Bluebook is the experimental solo project of Julie Davis who uses cello, loops and beats to weave wise and wryly humorous stories. Davis has been known to play with Nathaniel Rateliff but many in Denver’s underground music scene have long since appreciated her richly imaginative work not only in Bluebook but Bela Karoli and Seven Hats.

Who: Dead Cross w/Secret Chiefs 3 
When: Saturday, 9.23, 8 p.m.
Where: Ogden Theatre
Why: Dead Cross is a hardcore/thrash supergroup whose members include Justin Pearson and Mike Crain from Retox, Dave Lombardo of Slayer and Suicidal Tendencies and Mike Patton whose improbably eclectic and storied career includes singing with Faith No More, Mr. Bungle and Fantomas. Doesn’t mean the band is any good but in this case the musicians push past the usual genre boundaries because they’re all weirdos going way back. See above for Secret Chiefs 3.

Who: The Mansfields Hollywood Babylon listening party w/Dead Wave, DJ sets by The Mansfields
When: Saturday, 9.23, 8 p.m.
Where: Modbo
Why: The Mansfields are one of the most enduring bands from Colorado Springs. Sort of like a glam rock take on Generation X, the band’s melodic punk has been gracing stages along the front range since the 90s. The group is finally releasing its new album, Hollywood Babylon, with a listening party at art gallery Modbo. If you go, Modbo is down the alley and it’s a small-ish building. So it’ll be an intimate way to experience this band’s bombastic music in an intimate setting.

Who: Sleeping Lessons, RMMTS and Slynger
When: Saturday, 9.23, 9 p.m.
Where: Lion’s Lair
Why: Roommates is a Denver band that blurs the lines between the music that helped inspired it. Whether that be 90s and early 2000s math rock, punk, shoegaze and hip-hop production. Its 2017 debut full length album Victoria represents the apex of two years and more of reinvention and synthesis of the ideas of current and past bandmates. The band’s combination of elegance and raw power is pretty much impossible to pigeonhole but if you’re a fan of stuff like Milemarker, Rainer Maria and Sunny Day Real Estate you’ll find much to like here.

Who: Strange Powers and Demoncassettecult and Amanda G 
When: Saturday, 9.23, 6-9 p.m.
Where: Hooked On Colfax
Why: Josh Powers is a prolific artist whose work traverses a broad range of electronic and beat-driven music. He was once a member of alternative hip-hop group Strange Us with then future Men In Burka bandmate Kamran Khan. In MIB Powers, Khan and Mario Zoots (primarily known as a visual artist and for having been a co-founder of early witch house band Modern Witch) created a fascinating synthesis of hip-hop, Middle Eastern rhythms and low-end heavy techno. Strange Powers is Josh’s long-running solo project in which he is able to explore whatever ideas strike him as interesting whether that’s his left field take on pop, experimental dance music or noise. Amanda G is the solo project of Amanda Gostomski of Princess Dewclaw, Grave Moss and Gold Trash. For Demoncassettecult see above on 9/22.

 

Who: 7th Circle 5-Year Anniversary Show #2: Spit Black and Dreamcast split release, Hapless, Full Bore, Screwtape, Wake the Bat and MOB 
When: Saturday, 9.23, 6:30 p.m.
Where: 7th Circle Music Collective
Why: The second night of 7th Circle Music Collective’s 5-year anniversary celebration. Plenty of worthy bands including the Rage Against the Machine-esque Wake the Bat and Screwtape, easily one of Denver’s best punk bands. Nay, best bands, punk or otherwise. The group’s ferocious energy is infectious. It’s tempting to say Screwtape is hardcore but its sound palette is a bit broader even as its presentation is possessed of the aggression and directness that makes hardcore so compelling.

Who: Quantum Creep, Modern Leisure and Vatican Vamps
When: Saturday, 9.23, 8 p.m.
Where: BarFly/Alamo Drafthouse Lakewood
Why: Modern Leisure is the latest band from Casey Banker who some may know from his stints in The Don’ts and Be Carefuls and Shady Elders. With Modern Leisure it’s all his songwriting and creative vision, the result being some of his strongest songs to date. It’s indie pop but Banker’s wordsmithing has always been thoughtful and insightful. Had great Colorado indie rock bands like Lil’ Slugger, Fingers of the Sun and Supply Boy been commercially successful calling Quantum Creep a supergroup wouldn’t seem silly. But rather than try to be like any of their past bands, Quantum Creep is more like a noisy post-punk band like The Fall but without the perverse sense of obtuseness that makes Mark E. Smith’s band sometimes challenging for many people. The group’s 2016 album Friends With Death is a timeless collection of noise pop that could have come out in 1986, 1996 or today.

Who: Cloudless Rain, Winter Twig and Winter 
When: Sunday, 9.24, 7 p.m.
Where: Mutiny Information Café
Why: It’s a Textures event. Which is the monthly ambient showcase that happens the final Sunday of every month at Mutiny Information Café. Cloudless Rain is Chris Mandel’s longform abstract electronic compositions. He often live broadcasts from his studio but this is a not common chance to see it live where the transporting tones will be richer and the low end more robust. Winter Twig is one of Don White’s latest projects. White has sure played in some weirdo rock bands over the years including Action Friend, New Ancient Astronauts and, recently, Ice Troll. But his exploration of electronic soundscapes with The Kappa Cell and Boy Howdy have been widely different and worthwhile.

Who: 7th Circle 5-Year Anniversary Show #3: Bourgeois Girl, Meeting House, Sliver, Zero-Form, Almataha, Jack’s Smirking Revenge, Flower Crown Me a Queen, Waifu, Tonguebite, PoRf, Henn
When: Sunday, 9.24, 1 p.m.
Where: 7th Circle Music Collective
Why: The final night of 7th Circle Music Collective’s celebration of its five years as a DIY venue. You probably can’t go wrong with showing up at any time. Sliver is a great modern grunge band that probably takes more influence from Bad Brains than Black Sabbath. Jack’s Smirking Revenge was, maybe still is, a fun folk punk act that takes aim at the silliness of the conservative and imperialist end of American culture.

Who: Adam Ant: The Anthems Tour w/Glam Skanks
When: Tuesday, 9.26, 8 p.m.
Where: Paramount Theatre
Why: Adam Ant’s music career emerged during that great period of music when punk and glam rock overlapped and influenced each other. His style, part punk, part glam, part a reinterpretation of various Native American styles, struck a chord with audiences in the UK and the US and his hits including “Antmusic,” “Desperate But Not Serious,” and “Goody Two Shoes” ensured his status as an early star of MTV. In 2017 Adam Ant is still a vital performer who has continued to refine and reinvent his music. Because he could never be tied to any particular movement and his music having aged well, Adam Ant is no simple nostalgia artist one-or-two-hit wonder.

Who: MF Ruckus comic/video premiere and tour kick-off w/Muscle Beach, Traid-Ins and Granny Tweed
When: Wednesday, 9.27, 7 p.m.
Where: Streets of London
Why: Hard rock band MF Ruckus is premiering its comic and video for The Front Lines of Good Times as part of its tour kickoff show. It’s a twelve part comic book and singles series that takes place in a dystopian future wherein the band as the principal characters find a way to keep being a band and do what they do best in the face of monumental odds against them. So yeah, except for the setting, essential just like real life. The band worked closely with comic artist Josh Finley and so far it’s the colorful, entertaining and humorous read you’d expect from a band like MF Ruckus who defy an easy rock and roll pigeonhole. Also on the bill is Muscle Beach, a group that might technically be a hardcore band but its intricate guitar work and rhythms puts it outside the usual bands of that aesthetic. Think more like Dillinger Escape Plan or Cave-In and Coalesce than the Youth Attack sound. And would you look at that, Josh Finley’s band Granny Tweed is playing too. That act is a mutant hybrid of styles in the same way that, maybe, NRBQ or the Beat Farmers might be but not really like either of those at all.

Who: Wand w/Darto and Serpentfoot 
When: Wednesday, 9.27, 7 p.m.
Where: Lost Lake
Why: Wand is an L.A.-based band that caused a bit of a stir among fans of psychedelic rock in 2015 when it released the stunning twin albums Golem and 1000 Days. If the band had roots in garage rock on any earlier releases, you couldn’t really tell on the 2015 records because they sounded like far beyond post-stoner rock psych while maintaining the kind of massive and driving sound you’d expect from a band that came more out of the music world pioneered and inhabited by the likes of Sleep and Monster Magnet. 2017’s Plum retains the heaviness but feels more like the band has taken the time to breathe in the songs instead of seeming to push things into the red for much of an album. The songs switch up the dynamics in fascinatingly disorienting ways while maintaining a groove. Something which not nearly enough so-called psych bands do. The Butthole Surfers and shoegazers like Medicine, yes. But it’s rare and thus refreshing on Plum. The lyrics still delve into unusual subjects and the surreal storytelling that has always set Wand apart from other psychedelic rock bands.

Darto, from Seattle, is also in the psych vein but with more of an emphasis on Synths. It’s 2017 album Human Giving reveals that you can have synth as a primary component of your songwriting and use it to make the same kind of hypnotic drones and melodies that disorient and transport through methods employed by bands like The Velvet Underground whose use of dissonance and non-standard tempos gave its music an otherworldly quality that has become timeless. It’s premature to say the same of Darto but its new record sure didn’t seem like the band is trying to ride someone else’s sonic coattails.

Who: Torche w/Pueblo Escobar and Throttlebomb 
When: Wednesday, 9.27, 7 p.m.
Where: Globe Hall
Why: Maybe Torche is technically a “sludge rock” band but with that much energy maybe the sludgy side of that equation isn’t as emphasized. The band includes current and former members of respected doom act Floor. Torche seems more fluid and less forbidding, no knock on Floor. Also playing this show are local sludge metal style bands. Denver’s Throttlebomb has more roots in punk with members of Frontside Five and The Blackouts and former members of Low Gravity, Tard and Under the Drone. None of those names mean much if you don’t know much about Denver punk at all or before 2013. But all were noteworthy and that experience of playing music in non-glamorous dive bars and warehouses for years gives you a certain grit and credibility no matter what kind of music you’re playing even if music critics don’t give your band any sunshine. Pueblo Escobar, in addition to being one of the best band names of recent years that really only could have come from Colorado where the city of Pueblo has connotations that lack context and nuance elsewhere, is a kind of a local supergroup including members of Kingdom of Magic, Black Acid Devil, White Dynamite and Sparkles. See above for spending years playing unglamorous shows. It’s a sludge rock/noise punk band and always worthy of your time.

 

Who: Hundred Waters w/Lafawndah
When: Wednesday, 9.27, 7 p.m.
Where: Larimer Lounge
Why: Electronic pop group Hundred Waters has its roots in a childhood friendship between Trayer Tryon and Zach Tetreault who had various musical projects together dating back to at least high school. While attending University of Florida in Gainesville the two musicians met Nicole Miglis and the trio lived together through the later part of college while working, going to school and writing the music that would comprise the early material of Hundred Waters. The group’s self-titled debut LP (and the Thistle EP prior) came out on OWSLA, the label started by Sonny “Skrillex” Moore. Hundred Waters would be impossible to stamp as just an electronic pop band because its beats, electronic and acoustic, tend toward the unconventional incorporating Bossa Nova rhythms and the kind of informal rhythms that are a part of much folk music. Its soundscaping also drifts experimental with melodies and textures that suggests a more than passing familiarity with IDM and deconstructing the standard pop idiom of verse chorus verse chorus outro. Perhaps that’s why the band, with its way of using repetition as might a more overtly electronic artist might, fit in with a more experimental electronic aesthetic. But whatever the reason, Hundred Waters recently released the Communicating LP, an album of melancholic yet vibrant downtempo made soulful by Miglis’ breathy vocals and the sense that the band recorded in a wide open space to capture the natural reverb. Even if that isn’t true, the record conveys that sense more so than any of its previous releases.

Who: Alien Boy (Portland), Perfume V (Portland), Wrinkle and Gecko
When: Wednesday, 9.27, 7 p.m.
Where: 7th Circle Music Collective
Why: Kudos to Alien Boy for naming themselves after a Wipers song. And honestly, the Portland, Oregon-based band has adopted that desperate yet haunted vibe that has given every Wipers record a timeless quality that many punk records don’t much possesses. That and the thoughtful, incisive lyrics that speak to a deep rooted melancholy that comes from realization that the world probably isn’t going to be as good as it could be if we all tried a little harder. Oh, Alien Boy also clearly has a sense of humor and irony in the sincerity of its sentiments. Wrinkle is a sort of lo-fi/emo band from Denver whose noisy pop songs sound that is the essence of a feeling of trying to find something meaningful in a time when you’re told all the endless horizons Americans are raised to expect but you know it’s a lie and most of your friends are in dead end service industry jobs and while you rightfully think there has to be something better in life for everyone you’re not entirely certain there is. So you take bits from Brainiac, Pixies, Pavement and other bands that articulated that feeling so well in their respective ways and in their specific cultural contexts.

Happy Abandon’s Facepaint Is Cinematic Pop Music Outside Its Comfort Zone

Happy Abandon
Happy Abandon, photo by Shannon Kelly

 

Happy Abandon has a name that on the surface suggests a carefree, effervescent spirit. While that quality is certainly present in the music, the band’s songs delve deep into the issues of identity, authenticity and bravery in the face of your own shortcomings. Happy Abandon released its latest record, Facepaint, through Schoolkids Records on August 25 and is currently on tour to cities it has yet to visit in the western part of the US and Canada. For vinyl heads, the colored vinyl edition of Facepaint has a color scheme mirroring the album cover.

Lead singer and guitarist Peter Vance, percussionist Jake Waits and bass player Justin Ellis all met at the University of North Carolina in 2010. All were involved in theater in some capacity growing up and in college and that element enters into its songwriting, particularly on Facepaint, which is one of the factors in what makes the band’s music stand out. There is a sense that the band is scoring an emotional experience while also recreating that experience as would a novelist or a filmmaker. Although the band in the beginning sounded more like a folk-inflected indie rock band, it has grown into its artistic ambitions.

The live group is a trio, its fourth member Alex Thompson, mainly doing production on the records, perhaps occasionally playing live in the group’s home town of Chapel Hills, North Carolina. Every member of the band is a multi-instrumentalist beyond the musical roles cited above and that perhaps accounts for its broad expressive palette. “ I think what makes this band so special and interesting is that we’re what happens when drama kinds come together to form a band,” says Ellis.

This cinematic, theatrical sensibility extends further into the songwriting in that Happy Abandon’s music always has a direction and a cohesion that suggests a narrative quality even if there is no strict aim to tell a story. Its soundscaping is as informed by the soundtrack work of Hans Zimmer and epic fantasy film scores (think Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings) as it is by bands that are able to convey strong emotions regardless of whether or not there are lyrics—Sigur Ros, This Will Destroy You and Mogwai. However, what Happy Abandon has to say reveals an effort to connect with people by articulating feelings everyone has but might be elusive to pin down. This is exemplified well with the song “Severed Seams” which deals with the transitional times in one’s life when everything seems like it’s changing and falling apart all at once.

“It’s one of the earlier songs,” says Vance. “I started writing it before Happy Abandon was an idea. I was writing it because writing is a really good coping mechanism. I was in a relationship that wasn’t working but I didn’t know how to communicate it. I liked the idea of the first line being, ‘If you should rest upon my chest would you feel my distress.’ If you could, could you understand what I’m feeling without me having to say anything. Can you feel it without me having to be super blunt about it. Nobody likes conflict but sometimes conflict is necessary. The answer of the song is no, that’s not how you deal with conflict. It’s like hope but not hope that things will get better but that there will be a sense of closure. But to get there you really have to go out of your comfort zone and face the conflict head-on.”

“It’s funny with ‘Severed Seams,’” continues Vance. “As I was writing out the lyric sheet for the album, it has the fewest lyrics and yet those lyrics are super significant. It’s like the idea is highly condensed into a pocket sized bit of emotional baggage. I don’t think the song needed too many words because it’s a simple idea people can relate to. And not just in romantic relationships but yes, I have to suck it up and be an adult and intentionally confront it. I think of ‘Severed Seams’ and ‘Heavy Lines’ as sibling songs because they’re definitely related. Except ‘Heavy Lines’ is like a sequel. ‘Severed Seams’ is the consent to the idea of it and ‘Heavy Lines’ is the doing of it. I’m not happy with a lot of decisions that I’ve made and I think a lot of those make it into the songs. I’m not here to write songs about how great I am, I want to write songs about real problems and things that people go through. I’m not good at forming sentences about how I’m feeling so I write a song. [We all have different coping mechanisms in this band],Jake likes to hit things, Justin likes to write emails and I like to write songs.”

Facepaint by Happy Abandon
Cover of Happy Abandon’s Facepaint

The songs on Facepaint are clearly layered and arranged for dramatic dynamism yet exuberant, refined and organic, delicate but powerful. Naturally the title mattered and carried a significance that isn’t obvious. The album cover shows the face of a young woman, face painted like she might be a Viking or part of a Celtic tribe prepared for ritual or for war. It is a striking image. The young woman is Eliza Merritt, the daughter of the album’s producer Jason Merritt. The painting was done by Mariam Marand and the photography by Shannon Kelly and Jafar Fallahi. All people with whom the band has personal connections. For such a personal album yet one whose songs give glimpses under the masks everyone wears to get through life even though the masks we wear often do little to hide what’s really going on behind the facade.

“The title comes from a lyric in the song ‘Take Me,’” says Vance. “The whole idea behind it is that face paint is used to change what you look like so you look like something you’d rather be. The longer it’s on your face the more worn down and imperfect it will be. When we talked to Mariam we said we wanted it to completely cover her face but to look hectic as if she threw it on. Some people are in a point in their lives where they have to just become somebody else.”

Catch Happy Abandon on tour now…

Thurs. 9/21 – Denver CO – Syntax Physic Opera
Mon. 9/25 – Richland WA – The Emerald of Siam Thai Restaurant and Lounge
Wed. 9/27 – Vancouver BC – The Morrissey Pub
Thurs. 9/28 – Seattle WA – Vermillion Art Gallery and Bar
Sun. 10/1 – Tacoma WA – Real Art Tacoma
Mon. 10/2 – Portland OR – Bunk Bar
Tues. 10/3 – Crescent City CA – Port O’Pints Brewing Co.
Wed. 10/4 – San Francisco CA – Hemlock Tavern
Sat. 10/7 – Los Angeles CA – The Hotel Cafe
Wed.10/11 – Phoenix AZ – The Lost Leaf
Fri. 10/13 – Austin TX – Spider House Cafe and Ballroom
Sat. 10/14 – Houston TX – Super Happy Fun Land
Sun. 10/15 – New Orleans LA – The Circle Bar
Tues. 10/17 – Birmingham AL – The Nick Rocks
Thurs. 10/19 – Athens GA – The Caledonia Lounge
Fri. 10/20 – Bryson City NC – Nantahala Brewing
Fri. 10/27 – Galway, Ireland – Monroe’s Live w/ Mundy
Sat. 10/28 – Dublin, Ireland – The Academy w/ Mundy
Sun. 10/29 – Birr, Ireland – Birr Theatre & Arts Centre w/ Mundy
Tues. 10/31 – Dublin, Ireland – The Ruby Sessions at Doyles Bar
Thurs. 11/2 – Bray, Ireland – The Harbour Bar
Sat. 11/11 – Richmond VA – Gallery5
Fri. 11/17 – Durham NC – The Pinhook

INVSN and the Power of Music to Subvert the Dominant Paradigm

INVSN
INVSN, photo by Redigera

 

 

INVSN is a post-punk band from Umeå, Sweden that has mastered the art of making radical politics accessible to a wide audience. It’s melodic yet intense compositions recall the appeal of Gang of Four who likewise made pointed social commentary with contagiously danceable songs. And like Gang of Four, INVSN isn’t short on experimental flourishes that ensure the music stays fresh and challenging.

The band’s lead singer Dennis Lyxzén is one of punk’s all time great frontmen who many of you may have seen on vocal duties in The Refused and The (International) Noise Conspiracy. Charismatic, nearly supernaturally energetic and witty, Lyxzén and his bands have exerted a lasting impact on punk and popular music. INVSN recently the 2017 album The Beautiful Stories on Woah Dad!, a reminder that punk need neither be didactic or purely created for entertainment. It can inform, illuminate and inspire. We recently had a chance to talk with Lyxzén as the band was getting its current tour under way with a stop tonight at Larimer Lounge in Denver. The show starts at 8 p.m.. We’re including the bulk of the interview in Q&A format because it felt like a conversation more than a typical interview and so many of his ideas are relevant for punk, music and culture in general today.

Tom Murphy: Some of your other projects that might be more familiar to most people like The Refused and The (International) Noise Conspiracy had obviously political content with names that suggest such and I was wondering if the name INVSN had similar connotations.

Dennis Lyxzén: Not really. With The (International) Noise Conspiracy I was pretty stoked that we had a band name that was kind of an idea what the music presented. INVSN, it could be the same for that.

At one point INVSN had Swedish lyrics but with English lyrics you can obviously command a much larger international audience. Was the the reason for the switch?

Yeah. I mean, when we started the band singing in Swedish was a very different approach. When we did two records in Swedish and we started honing in on what we wanted to do as a band we thought it was good enough to be everywhere. Singing in Swedish is fine but if you want to reach outside of Sweden it’s hard and you become nothing more than a cult phenomenon. We’re ambitious people and we wanted to do something substantial. The previous record we did we did a Swedish and an English version. With the new record we only did an English version but we worked with an American producer, Adam Greenspan and it didn’t make sense for him to fly over to Sweden, record a record and have no idea what was going on with the lyrics. He’s worked with The Veils and some Nick Cave. I met him through the last The Refused record and I asked him if he wanted to work on this record and he said yes.

With all the bands of yours that I’ve heard it seems as though you have been able to take what some people might consider radical politics and make them accessible without watering them down. Is that something you’ve done all along with your music?

With The Refused my ambition wasn’t to be accessible, but just to be radical and kind of annoying. I think that when we were a hardcore band and we were hardcore people and such an integral part of the scene, which is a very small scene. There is something very, I wouldn’t say defeatist about it, but it’s a kids preaching to the converted kind of deal. We figured with The (International) Noise Conspiracy let’s be a band that’s accessible but radical with the political ideas. INVSN is the same way but I don’t think it’s the politics or the people that we are, it’s the ideas and it’s going to shine through no matter the music we do. We just want to write great songs and the politics go hand in hand with the kind of people we are. It’s not a cynical attempt to be accessible and political. It’s the music we like and the ideas we have. No matter what I do or the music I’ll always be political because that’s the person that I am.

Yeah, and always have some commentary on things going on whether it’s overt or not.

Exactly. I have to say the art dictates how you approach the political topics. With The Refused it’s so much in your face. The music itself is so aggressive and so violent that the politics are just like they’re screaming in your face. With INVSN it’s more introspective and existential in nature even though all the political traits all shine through if you look at the lyrics. I think that’s the cool thing about having different projects—the language of the music dictates the language that you use in that music.

Right, in the way it’s presented.

Yes, exactly.

I remember seeing The (International) Noise Conspiracy and you jumped around on the railing at The Bluebird Theater, which few people do. This was around the time of the 2000 Presidential election. That was striking but even more noteworthy perhaps was how funny you were about very serious subjects. I remember you made a remark about fascism and brown shirts and maybe we prefer light brown.

I think the way to approach music like that when you play shows sometimes it’s serious but you have to add a sense of humor to it because if it’s too heavy-handed people won’t respond well to it. Especially when when play in INVSN and there aren’t a lot of people, you have to be able to be personal and approachable. And joke about being tight-pantsed communists from Sweden. I’m a very serious person and so are many of my lyrics. But I like to joke about myself. I think it’s important to be able to make fun of yourself. Otherwise you become insufferable.

INVSN
INVSN, photo by Redigera

I’ve never been to Sweden, despite being part Swedish, but is there anything integral to your life early on to your development as a musician that might not be obvious to people who know little about the culture and society there?

I think where you grow up and where you live affects how you view the world. We didn’t even even grow up in Umeå, which is the big city of one hundred twenty-thousand people, we grew up in the villages around it, in the countryside. There is something really sparse about it that gives you a sense of isolation and it affects how you approach music and life. Sweden also has really great, communal music schools. When you’re a a kid at twelve and you want to play guitar, there’s always a practice space and a place to play guitar. That’s how we got to play music and an early age.

Just starting my first band with my friends there was a youth center you could go to and they had a practice space fully set up. We didn’t know how to play but someone came in and showed us the chords to “Smoke on the Water” or whatever. I think that was super important and I think that’s why so many Swedish bands are good at what they do.

I wish every society had that. They had instruments to play too?

They had a complete set-up with the P.A. and everything. You had to book your time but we eventually got our own practice space. We had study circles and borrow a P.A. and suddenly you have your own room and your own equipment.

What kind of places did you have to play for other people?

We had a lot of youth centers. I remember when we started The Refused across the city of a hundred thousand people they had maybe eight youth centers and they had shows. Every other weekend you could play a show at the youth club. And then go see other bands. It was a way to really hone your chops. It’s different from America where you have to do everything for yourself. We had communal music schools and then the youth centers and then the city provides you with good practice spaces. It’s a good thing. It makes people good at what they do. It’s set up to help people. That’s part of the setup of Swedish society—it’s set up to help everyone. If you have an interest we help you with that—if you want to play music, play football, set up a study circle. When we toured and saw the rest of the world we realized it wasn’t anything like Sweden. When you’re at home and find shit you’re concerned about and when you get out into the world you find out how you have it pretty good.

Your new album has a song called “Immer Zu.” What does that refer to?

Oh, that was a joke, it means “Forever.” The song has an industrial and crazy sound. I was joking, because of industrial music like Einsturzende Neubauten from Germany, that I was going to scream the chords in German. And then I did. It was an experiment to mix languages and there was a little bit of Swedish and a little bit of German. Why not?

“I Dreamt of Music” is an interesting title too given the current cultural climate in much of the world because many of us are not encouraged to dream of or aspire to anything that doesn’t serve the interests of big money. I think it’s a radical act to aspire to something that isn’t dictated to you.

The quote “I Dreamt Music” is from Blade Runner. I thought that’s so rad because it’s a sign that you’re a conscious person somehow. As you said, you need to find things that matter in a world that’s been so devoid of ideas, especially political ideas. I think music and art and culture has a huge gap to fill and I think it’s great that with music we can inspire people and make them think about ideas.

Music is one of the few things that can cut through cultures and conditioning. And that’s why it’s been trivialized as a product whose main purpose is entertainment. I think it’s potentially much more powerful and significant than that.

I think so too. I think music has a huge potential to subvert the society we’re in. It’s so powerful and hits you right in the gut. Music doesn’t have to be intellectual, it just has to hit you right. I think that’s why it’s been commercialized as a cheap form of entertainment. Look at punk rock. There are so many punk rock bands that don’t talk about politics or anything. They’re just entertainers. Which is kind of weird because when I was growing up punk rock music was rebellion. Sometimes maybe not focused or directed but always about rebellion. I like to hold on to the idea that music can lead you into [a different way of being].

I remember when punk rock was widely rejected by mainstream society and you might even get beat up or persecuted for being part of that subculture. Now it’s definitely been assimilated into the mainstream even if it still has the potential to be subversive.

I think music still has that potential. Now every fucking fashion designer, every TV show, has the “punky” and “edgy” element. But the music is important and it holds merit. In the 60s with the civil rights movement and the hippies where the music and a mass movement could be close together, I don’t think we’ll have that again. Music still has power but maybe it’s not as visible as it was back then.

That potential power is why our culture seems so set on trivializing creativity and art generally. Whether a conscious effort or otherwise, it is geared toward undermining and neutralizing that power, that influence, over society. But it can’t truly be contained.

For sure. And I think that’s why I’m still obsessed with it. With the idea that music can still reach people that we can’t otherwise. I’m still obsessed with this tribal way of communicating with people. Every night I feel so privileged to do that and get on stage and create something that other people can make their own.

Best Shows in Denver 9/15 – 9/20

Widowspeak
Widowspeak, photo by Kyle Jacques

Now that Trump and the Democrats have struck a bargain about the budget and DACA, maybe we can all take a break and check out a great show happening in Denver (or beyond as some of the acts listed below are on tour).

P.S.: “Goddamn-dipshit-Rodriguez-gypsy-dildo-punks. I’ll get your ass.” — RIP Harry Dean Stanton

Who: Church Fire, Giardia, Deer Creek and The Pollution 
When: Friday, 9.15, 7 p.m.
Where: Tennyson’s Tap
Why: The Pollution is essentially a psychedelic punk band done by people who are punks who like Hawkwind. Bassist Jay Fox was (sometimes still is) in DC hardcore band United Mutation. But given his having spent a great deal of time in the Southern hemisphere including New Zealand, Fox’s musical tastes are eclectic and there’s plenty of that Kiwi rock influence in his music today. Meaning The Pollution could never be a standard punk act. Church Fire makes synth-beat-driven pop music with a passionate intensity worthy of any the heavier rock bands on this bill. And yet, somehow, singer Shannon Webber amidst her ritualistic performances, manages to inject just a twinge of humor—a quality welcome in music that, while immediately danceable, addresses serious social and political issues with an unblinking ferocity. Okay, maybe some blinking.

Who: Speakeasy Series: Rare Byrd$, Abeasity Jones
When: Friday, 9.15, 6 p.m.
Where: Hooked On Colfax
Why: Experimental hip-hop show in a basement of a coffee shop? Not the first time but in this case you’ll get a chance to see one of the most promising acts in Denver or anywhere with Rare Byrd$. The group has incredibly soulful flow and its beatmaking combines the finely sculpted low end of 90s gangsta rap and ambient and psychedelic music in that it’s as hypnotic as it is mind-expanding. Easy to compare to cLOUDDEAD, Deep Puddle Dynamics and early Atmosphere but only in the sense that all are rooted in imaginative soundscaping and poignantly truthful poetry.

Who: Post-Punk Piano/Vocal Covers Night w/Todd Loomis of The Twilight Garden and The Siren Project
When: Friday, 9.15, 8 p.m.
Where: Mercury Café
Why: Todd Loomis of Goth/dark dream pop band The Twilight Garden along with like-minded Denver-based act The Siren Project will perform songs by the likes of INXS, The Cure, Depeche Mode, Radiohead, Switchblade Symphony, Joy Division, Tears for Fears, Morrissey, Bauhaus, Ladytron, Garbage and more. Loomis will also play some songs you wouldn’t expect by artists like Roy Orbison, Elvis, Otis Redding, John McLaughlin, Metallica and Sinead O’Connor. What makes this different from cover bands playing the usual sort of gig is that neither set of artists generally does covers and the interpretations are likely to be interesting.

Who: Blanket Empire w/Silver Face and Quantum Creep 
When: Saturday, 9.16, 9 p.m.
Where: The Skylark Lounge
Why: Blanket Empire is releasing its latest album, Hymn For the Heartless at this show. Superficially Blanket Empire sounds like its members recently ditched that wave of music miming classic rock in favor more unusual influences and embraced modern sensibilities as much as those classic. Maybe these guys listened to a lot of T. Rex, Roxy Music and Led Zeppelin for big, warping sounds. But the lo-fi charm of its album is reminiscent of Jay Reatard’s masterful blend of raw rock and roll and a sophisticated sense of melody and songwriting has been a massive influence on underground music even before his untimely passing in 2010.

Who: Vic N’ the Gnarwhals, Surf Mom and Monocle Stache
When: Saturday, 9.16, 9 p.m.
Where: Syntax Physic Opera
Why: Vic N’ The Gnarwhals do that rare thing where the music has a familiar vibe, one might dub it psychedelic surf rock for the blend of styles, and thus very tangible. But there’s a mysterious undertone to its songs suggestive of noir cinema even when its songs get a little out there. Surf Mom used to be kind of a surf rock band, sort of still is, but the band has evolved greatly since it debuted a couple of years go. How many surf rock bands cover Christian Death? But the influences with this duo are broad ranging and since its members are still in high school you have to think they’re going to outgrow what inspires them now or at least take the music in new directions.

Who: Lotus w/Com Truise and Nosaj Thing
When: Saturday, 9.16, 9 p.m.
Where: Red Rocks
Why: Lotus is basically an EDM jam band. For some people this sounds like the combination of two terrible things. And Lotus may not be for you. Lots of jazz overtones like an electro version of Galactic. But what would you expect of a jam band? Nevertheless, Lotus is respectable live band. But if you want to catch some of the more interesting electronic acts playing more mainstream venues these days, check out Nosaj Thing and Com Truise. The former is a hip-hop artist who has done production work for Kendrick Lamar, Busdriver and Chance the Rapper. His own albums, though tend to be more like ambient dance music with deep low end coursing over and under drifting, vivid melodies. On his 2013 album Home, he featured Blonde Redhead singer Kazu Makino on the song “Eclipse/Blue.” So his musical range and interests are not limited to just a single genre of music. Com Truise came to prominence in the underground through fans of analog synth-based dance music several years back. But his science fiction themed albums caught on with a wider audience not just because Seth Haley is a talented songwriter but he was able to take what could have been simply a lo-fi aesthetic best experienced in a small venue with small sound system and render it suitable for a much larger format of presentation.

Who: Stiff Little Fingers w/Death By Unga Bunga 
When: Saturday, 9.16, 8 p.m.
Where: The Marquis Theater
Why: Stiff Little Fingers, from Belfast, Ireland, were an anecdote in the film High Fidelity for a reason. It’s scrappy, melodic outbursts, as found on its classic, aptly titled, 1979 album Inflammable Material, found an immediate influence but its enduring impact was on the early pop punk scene in America. Although the band broke up in 1982, it reconvened in 1987 and have been actively releasing albums and touring since. Plus, if recent shows are any indication, these guys still play like the world could end tomorrow.

Who: Sonic Vomit, Condor & Jaybird (IA), Harikiri (MN) and Kwantsu Dudes 
When: Saturday, 9.16, 7 p.m.
Where: Mutiny Information Café
Why: Pueblo’s Sonic Vomit probably gets broad brushed as a death metal or grindcore band. But it’s avant-garde and jazz side aren’t exactly subtle or hidden. It just makes the band’s music more unsettling and, frankly, more interesting than something straight ahead couched in a heavy metal subgenre. Which makes its pairing with Condor & Jaybird, a psychedelic band from Iowa rooted in that kind of psych that could have come out of a cult like The Source Family with folk song structure but one using non-Western instrumentation and sounds.

Who: TOPS w/She-Devils 
When: Saturday, 9.16, 8 p.m.
Where: Larimer Lounge
Why: Superficially, TOPS is a Canadian band that makes the kind of light pop music reminiscent of the kind that did well on record charts in the mid-to-late 70s through the 80s. But the secret of many of the songs from that timeframe too is that, yes, discussed the usual everyday life struggles, but in a way that commented on the emptiness and dissatisfaction that is at the core of every society in which the best most people can hope for is a job that doesn’t suck too bad, spending the rest of one’s life with someone you get along with okay even after the rush of early love has long since passed and resign oneself to a beige reality knowing deep down it never needed to be that way. TOPS’ music sounds like the sinking realization of that sort of thing but with more than a shade of the knowledge of what could make life be more fulfilling. That aside, the band’s songs are true gems of indie pop songcraft with words that dig more than a little deeply at the quiet desperation of 21st century urban living.

Who: Micah Schnabel, Sour Boy Bitter Girl and The Swindlin’ Hearts 
When: Sunday, 9.17, 8 p.m.
Where: Lion’s Lair
Why: It’s difficult to say whether, at this point, Micah Schnabel is better known for his solo career or for his band Two Cow Garage. Either way, Schnabel’s take on alt-country is self-critical and he has a real gift for puncturing his own pretensions of years past and foolish notions he might entertain in the present. In that way one might compare him to comedians like Patton Oswalt and Maria Bamford who are keenly aware of their own shortcomings and turn them into their best work. Sour Boy Bitter Girl couldn’t be a more well-named band considering the music. Benjamin Buttice seems to have few qualms in laying out his twitchy psyche out for the audience. Every neurosis, fear and flaw is mixed in with his honest and poetic portrayal of life as its experienced, the only filter seeming to be to make it relatable to other people. The band probably gets labeled alt-country or the like as well but like Schnabel’s, Buttice’s songwriting transcends simple genre designation. It just feels vitally authentic in a format of music tends to hold few surprises.

Who: Witchtrap (Colombia), Nekrofilth, Weaponizer and Skeid 
When: Sunday, 9.17, 8 p.m.
Where: Hi-Dive
Why: Colombian thrash band Witchtrap makes an appearance at the Hi-Dive. Also on the bill are death grind band Nekrofilth, black metal thrashers Weaponizer and “Barbarian black metal” band Skeid. What is that whole Barbarian business about? Listen to their 2017 split release with Morgue Whore and it makes sense because it sounds like the kind of pulsing, low-end heavy stuff Conan would listen to if he could.

 

Who: GGOOLLDD w/Time Scale 
When: Tuesday, 9.19 7 p.m.
Where: Larimer Lounge
Why: Before starting GGOOLLDD with her bandmates in 2014, Margaret Butler was someone who got out of high school and got out of her home town of Baton Rouge, Louisiana. After a stint of subsistence living in Portland, Oregon, she was invited by friends to spend some time in Milwaukee, Wisconsin but it was there that things came together for Butler when she heard the right music that made he want to sing along and soon enough GGOOLLDD became a bit of a local phenomenon before taking its synth pop, crafted to cinematic proportions to stages far and wide. The band isn’t yet playing large theaters regularly but its music is written to that scale. In December the band will release its latest EP, Teeth on Roll Call Records.

Who: Widowspeak w/Death Valley Girls and Clearance
When: Tuesday, 9.19, 8 p.m.
Where: Hi-Dive
Why: Death Valley Girls have done a magic trick in turning campy musical and performance elements into a powerful live band that has the kind of bombast and raw power of L7 or Bikini Kill complimented by an elegant atmospheric side that recalls Cocteau Twins. It’s a combination that shouldn’t work but it just makes DVG more interesting than any surface level assessment of the band could convey outside the live setting even though the band’s records capture some of this essence nicely. Headlining the bill is Widowspeak, a band also known to upset expectations in the best way. Its’ ethereal melodies have an introspective shimmer reminiscent of Mojave 3, The Sundays and Mazzy Star. Its latest record, 2017’s Expect the Best out on Captured Tracks, finds the band exploring a broader palette of sounds seemingly emphasizing texture and rhythm as much as tone and its signature sweeping vistas of dreamy melodies.

Who: Ride w/Lo Moon and DJ Paul Italiano 
When: Wednesday, 9.20, 7 p.m.
Where: Summit Music Hall
Why: In June 2017, British shoegaze legends Ride released Weather Diaries, its first album in twenty-one years. This in the wake of a successful reunion tour in 2015. And like its contemporaries, Slowdive, the new record is a worthy entry in its already respectable extant catalog. The term “shoegaze” is known to have been an insult to bands operating pedals in order to execute their mindbending sounds. What is missed in such a nickname, now minus the negative connotations, is that many of those bands, Ride in particular, did more rocking than shoegazing. As several bands in the 2000s embraced the visceral sound sculpting of 90s shoegazers, the old guard has enjoyed a renaissance and to the credit of most, they came back with new musical ideas that didn’t sound like a tired second act. Those fortunate enough to have caught Ride since it’s been back got to see a band that re-established its reputation as one of the great live bands of its era. Also on the bill is Los Angeles-based dream pop phenoms, Lo Moon. The band has released a few singles that hint at the kind of band that has the sophisticated songcraft and soulfulness of a band like Talk Talk and the knack for crafting evocative atmospheres that have made Perfume Genius one of the most interesting modern artists. But Lo Moon isn’t standing in anyone’s stylistic shadow and its beautifully brooding songs may yet be released on a full length album before the year is out. Get to the show early and catch one of the most promising new bands of the last several years.

The Haunted, “High Desert Psych” of Sun Blood Stories

Sun Blood Stories
Sun Blood Stories, photo by Jackie Hutchens

Sun Blood Stories makes its latest appearance in Denver tonight, 9/15/17, at Lion’s Lair with Big Dopes and Serpentfoot. The former quintet now trio from Boise, Idaho, has been creating its experimental psychedelic music since 2011. Though the band emerged around the time when the most recent wave of psychedelic rock was headed toward its peak, Sun Blood Stories seemed to come from a different place. Its shows feel a bit like you’re seeing what a traveling, shamanistic musical ceremony might be like. Its songs, some rock, some weirdo folk but all informed by an attempt to create a mood and an experience as much as, or more so, than melody.

The 2017 album It Runs Around the Room With Us has a title that suggests the supernatural and the songs themselves are often melancholic compositions haunted by memories, dreams and experiments in crafting atmospheres that stir the imagination and don’t seen leave the mind. We recently caught up with the band via email to discuss some of its history, inspirations and perspectives in creating its riveting body of work. Where a specific band member responds the name will precede that response otherwise assume it’s a collective answer. But you can figure that out because you’re smart.

Queen City: What brought you together to form Sun Blood Stories?

Ben Kirby: I played as a solo act for awhile and really just wanted a band because that’s a shit ton of work and pressure for just one person. Delegation is key.

Jon Fust: He actually just wanted a bunch of mindless fools to do exactly what he told them.

Amber Pollard: Which totally backfired because what he ended up getting was a bossy chick and a drummer who can literally never make a decision about anything.

Ben: Anyway, through a couple line up changes and stylistic progressions, we arrived at this band.

The name of the band suggests that maybe you have a narrative element to your songwriting. Would you say that’s true? What kinds of stories tend to make their way into your songs?

There’s definitely a few continuous themes that tend to push their way into our music: time and death, dreams and wonder, pain and dealing with it. Oh and politics.

Amber: I write a lot about my own personal experience and how that relates to the current political climate. This comes pretty naturally as I am a loud activist in our community. On this newest album we touch on themes like the Black Lives Matter movement, climate change, the confederate flag, the lack of adequate healthcare for the underinsured, police brutality, human trafficking, LGBTQIA rights, etc.

Sun Blood Stories
Sun Blood Stories, photo by Everett Smith

Were you in bands before SBS? What kinds of bands?

Jon and Ben were in a band called Talk Math to Me which was loud and garage rock-y which was active from 2010-2011. When Talk Math to Me dissolved Ben started playing solo as Sun Blood Stories.

When you started out were there really any bands locally that seemed like-minded? What kinds of places did you play early on and did any of them play an important role in your development as a band?

Jon: I feel like Boise has a really good community and the bands are all friends but there aren’t too many overlapping genres here.

Ben: We played really everywhere we possibly could.

Amber: Treefort Music Fest has really given SBS a yearly goal to just play better. The first year of the festival [2012] was Ben’s first year of performing as Sun Blood and every year since we’ve worked really hard to ensure that we are growing and trying to keep up with Treefort’s cool.

What bands or other artists that had a particular impact or influence on what you’ve done with SBS?

Jon: My natural instinct is to say The Velvet Underground because they make me wanna make weird noise.

Ben: I’ve learned a lot from Deerhoof both from seeing them play and reading interviews about how they actually run the band.

Amber: Can I just pick a genre? Cause I listen to A lot of 90s R&B and Hip Hop. It’s taken a lot of strategy and smooth talking to convince the band to let that influence our music.

Having traveled around on tour, what have you come to appreciate about Boise and being based there?

Amber: 1, I can go out and not see anyone I know or I can go out and be surrounded by friends. It’s small enough and big enough for both. 2, I can ride my bike any where in the city. 3, cost of living is pretty low in comparison to other Metro areas which makes supporting this band a lot easier on us a family.

Jon: I like Boise because the music scene is in a cool stage of growth right now and I feel like we’re right in the middle of it.

Ben: Um, I’ve loved many of the towns and cities we’ve gone to but I always just want to come back home.

It’s always awkward trying to describe someone else’s music much less your own, but why do you shorthand describe your music on your Facebook page as “High Desert Experimental Psych-Fuzz”? Certainly that kind of description could be used to describe Spindrift, some aspects of Black Mountain or a trippier, harder edged Ennio Morricone. 

Amber: At Treefort 2015 Wolvserpent posted a picture of us performing on Instagram. Their caption described our sound as “High Desert Psych,” and I just embraced that. I added in the experimental descriptor because sometimes we don’t know what we’re doing but it always sounds good. After a bit I needed to add in the Fuzz part because who doesn’t love fuzz?

Ben: Also it was the coolest 5 words we could think of at the time.

Jon: We have a Facebook page?

Sun Blood Stories
Sun Blood Stories, photo by Sun Blood Stories

Your music has always had experimental underpinnings. You could have followed the psychedelic rock trend of the last 7 years and done okay for yourselves. But you seem to have really embraced what some might consider the weirder side of your songwriting as part of the whole. Why is that such an important aspect of your music and what do you think got you interested in exploring that richly as you have?

Jon: It just felt natural.

Ben: I’ve always loved deeply weird music. The fact that we’re considered a psych band is really interesting to me because it’s almost just a coincidence that the psych thing was happening as we were beginning.

Amber: The Residents and captain Beefheart have really held a place in Jon’s heart since he was very young. Fitting into a genre is just not our jam. I’m much more interested in carving out our own space and I think we do a pretty good job of that. Like when we release a new single and people hear it on the radio, people who have listened to our album or seen our show can tell right away that that’s Sun Blood playing through their speakers. I don’t want that to change.

It Runs Around the Room With Us is very different from Twilight Midnight Morning. Neither would be considered a straight ahead rock record, for sure. But It Runs Around the Room With Us not only suggests the presence of spirits in the music with the title, it’s more overtly ambient/deeply atmospheric. What inspired that approach to the songs for the album? What sorts of feelings and ideas spawned that set of songs?

Ben: Much of the difference between the two albums is the lineup change that occurred between the recording of each. We went from being a quintet to a trio and there was considerably more space within the sound. We tried to reign in some of barreling cacophony and focus more on the development of the pieces themselves.

Jon: Yeah I feel like the line up change had the most significant impact, at least for me and what I’m playing. Having two less members opened up a lot of space in the music, which forced us to get more creative with how we filled that space, and allowed me to start playing keyboards along with the drums.

Amber: I kind of feel like the tracks on It Runs were all loosely based on “Misery is Nebulous,” the final track of Twilight. The elements of that song that really stood out for us were the build, the spaciousness, the beauty and the pain. We took those elements, expanded on them, and used them as the foundation for this album. Creating this album was a healing experience and playing it live is like a therapy session.

Soft Kill’s Post-Punk Roots Remain in the Underground

SoftKill_JoannaStawnicka1_900
Soft Kill, photo by Joanna Stawnicka

Portland, Oregon-based post-punk band Soft Kill is currently on tour with Chameleons Vox. For the Denver date at The Bluebird Theater on Wednesday September 13 the bill include Denver’s own industrial punk band Echo Beds and beat-driven, post-punk shoegazers Voight. It is, frankly, a show that represents a respectable spectrum of a wave of bands that have come along over roughly the past decade that comprise what could loosely be considered a new incarnation of the kind of music that came in the wake of punk when many creative types realized they didn’t need to adhere to an established mode of musical expression. Industrial developed alongside punk with the advent of Throbbing Gristle, but both musical impulses were anti-establishment and made a lifestyle alternative to mainstream mundanity viable.

By the 1980s industrial, post-punk, death rock, dark synth music, noise and even punk were still relatively underground phenomena even as bands like U2 and Echo & The Bunnymen took post-punk into the mainstream, Fad Gadget influenced Depeche Mode who took avant-garde synth music and gave it pop accessibility and both Skinny Puppy and Ministry proved that challenging music could find more than a simply niche audience. When the alternative music explosion of the early 90s changed the face of popular music some of the aforementioned bands benefited while much of the rest became sequestered to the “Goth scene” or largely forgotten.

The so-called post-punk revival, including “dance punk,” of the mid-90s to the early 2000s brought atmospheric, moody music into the mainstream but began in scattered underground scenes around the country. Groups like !!! (Chk Chk Chk) in Sacramento, The Faint in Omaha and The Prids (initially in Missouri, then Nebraska and for around two decades now, Portland, Oregon) created some of the most compelling post-punk in the history of that music. As did New York-based bands such as Interpol, The Rapture, The Strokes and LCD Soundsystem. Perhaps you’ve heard of some of them. All of those bands knew their musical roots in 70s and 80s post-punk, no wave, early darkwave and Krautrock but at that time many of their fans eschewed the term Goth and those so self-identified seemed to dismiss the post-punk revival bands as simply indie rock. The connection between post-punk, Goth, industrial, minimal synth and related music seemed lost.

That is until a generation of musicians, mostly born during the heyday of post-punk and industrial, rediscovered that music and embraced it as something vital that stirred the imagination. That there was an overlap with the noise scene that survived in the depths of the underground didn’t hurt. It was from there that Tobias Sinclair, one of the guitarists and singer in Soft Kill, emerged as a fledgling musician in the larger DIY music scene in New England. He had attended shows at the influential DIY space Fort Thunder in Providence, Rhode Island where, according to Sinclair, “Every other warehouse seemed to have someone with a P.A.” as well as places like Munch House and Dirt Palace.

Going to these unconventional spaces to experience music left an indelible mark on Sinclair.

“It was really inspirational without a doubt that people could just hold their own shows without all the bullshit of a bar,” says Sinclair.

At a memorable show that included now Denver based artist Mat Brinkman, Sinclair experienced the kind of creative expression that one rarely experiences anywhere else.

“With Forcefield he and seven other guys would knit these seven foot tall outfits and play oscillators,” recalls Sinclair. “That completely blew my mind compared to all the other conventional trappings. All that stuff is more important to me probably more than obvious influences on Soft Kill. hat was really inspirational for me because somebody that didn’t ever have lessons or what I perceived at that time as an inherent talent, I loved the lack of those limitations and I could kind of go nuts with it and teach myself to play an instrument based off of what felt and sounded cool rather than what was in a book.”

Around that time, Sinclair and his friends saw the 2001 Friends Forever documentary which shared some of the experiences of the Denver-based noise/performance art band that toured, or even played locally, in a van that often served as both transportation and impromptu stage. After catching Friends Forever at a venue in Western Massachusetts, Sinclair became friends with Friends Forever’s Josh Taylor. It was then that Sinclair and his band Night Wounds relocated to California and played numerous times at long-running DIY space The Smell in Los Angeles. By a strange quirk of fate, Taylor, who was involved in running Monkey Mania, a beloved DIY venue in Denver, moved to Los Angeles to help run The Smell and work at Amoeba Records at the same time Sinclair, who had worked at Amoeba, moved to Denver into Monkey Mania in 2006.

At that time Night Wounds was still an active band that toured the DIY music circuit that had been, and remains, so inspirational to Sinclair and it connected with like-minded noise rock bands like Chicago’s Coughs, Montreal’s AIDS Wolf and Vancouver, British Columbia’s Mutators. All of which were big names in the small realm of DIY noise rock. Also during that time, Sinclair was deep into a thirteen year struggle with drug abuse that ended in 2016. Although his experience with hard drugs took its toll on Sinclair in various ways, access to substances is what anchored him to cities like Denver and his now home of Portland, Oregon. “I wasn’t aspiring to go to a place to go be fucked but I definitely stayed longer because of that, if that makes sense.”

Sinclair admits that the drugs are part of the reason Soft Kill has taken a lot longer to blossom into the band it has striven to be, it also coincidentally pushed his timeline as a musician into developing the ideas and sounds for which Soft Kill is now known. But before Soft Kill, Sinclair had, alongside Night Wounds, been part of a Goth-y punk band called Blessure Graves.

Soft Kill
Soft Kill, photo by Joanna Stawnicka

“When I started Blessure Graves the big thing was the lo-fi garage rock revival,” says Sinclair. “And there was this very small niche out of that which was Goth music made with a similar fidelity. It felt like a quick, flash in the pan. What happened with us was when I started Soft Kill in 2010 we did one album and then my demons got the best of me and I started getting locked up and having to take a long time to stray away from music. When I got out, I started seeing that a bunch of people saw An Open Door as one of the top two or three records that had come out in recent years out of that type of music. That influenced me and people in the band now to put more energy into it in 2012. But by the time we really got momentum was 2014. By that point we realized that our first record had been celebrated as one of the integral releases in post-punk records of the past ten years—they said it was top tier. We thought whoa, that’s crazy, it must be because there aren’t other bands doing that.”

“We started going out and touring and we were blown away by how many bands there were. And from there onward, for the first time in forever I felt there was a large, legitimate scene with dots connected much more than they’d been in the past 15-20 years. There’s a lot of labels that cater to it. Some of the bands have become popular and it’s not been limited to just one style. Not all these bands sound like Joy Division.”

The larger scene that Sinclair had discovered included a constellation of bands and labels across the country and around the world. Imprints like The Flenser, Dais, Sacred Bones, Dark Entries and Beläten are just a few of the labels releasing the music. Bands such as Curse, Beastial Mouths, Troller, Some Ember, All Your Sisters, Burning, Youth Code, Pop. 1280, Echo Beds, Voight, Church Fire and numerous others have been touring and finding an audience eager for sounds and a culture that maintains a connection to its underground roots and experimental music that has yet to be completely co-opted and tamed by mainstream commercial interests.

2016 represented a landmark year for Soft Kill. Its arguably best album to date, Choke, was released on Profound Lore. Best, because it most fully realizes the band’s love of hypnotic beats, driving bass and rich, expressive, evocative tones. Sinclair had booked a Chameleons Vox tour in 2015, through simply contacting vocalist/bassist Mark Burgess. In 2016 Sinclair went on to book two other of the most influential bands for Soft Kill in Sad Lovers and Giants and Modern English, the latter performing its classic 1981 album Mesh & Lace in its entirety for the first time as the group had not toured on the record the first time around. He also booked Clan of Xymox for the third edition of the Out of the Shadows festival alongside Denver-based darkwave band Tollund Men, who released his favorite tape of recent years—Autoerotik.

“When we played Denver the first time at Leisure Gallery they played and we were like, ‘No way, this can’t be happening!’ I think they were really taken aback by how into their band we were. We showed up superfans. They played with us the next time we played there and I think they disintegrated after that.”

“I really like repetitious stuff in general but there’s this slow burn to that whole tape. It’s got hooks and it’s dirty as hell but I can put that on and crank it up and it’s the perfect background music for me. I dug the tones that he gets out of distorting everything to the maximum degree. It was a band I always loved but that particular tape I’m really glad they did that last and went out on that note. He showed he wasn’t beating a dead horse, that he had mastered the vision that he had so it makes sense that he moved on from there. I respect that because I know he could have taken many an opportunity that he didn’t. I love when people don’t give into that bullshit.”

Soft Kill
Soft Kill at Leisure Gallery, June 16, 2016, photo by Tom Murphy

Sinclair’s soft spot for Denver, born of his experience living in the Mile High City and experiencing Friends Forever in New England, extends to the underground metal and hardcore scene in Denver and he expresses an appreciation for acts like Blood Incantation and Civilized. In the near-ish future Soft Kill will also put out a split with Denver death grind heroes Primitive Man, whose Ethan McCarthy shares the history with Sinclair of having lived in and operated Monkey Mania, though not at the same time. But, as is the way with the informal, DIY there is no pressure to put out the split release to fit some record label release schedule. Sinclair met McCarthy and so many other musicians who have impacted him through the underground music route.

“Ultimately, this is how I met all these people and this is the world that we want to exist within and regardless that we sound nothing like Echo Beds, that’s a band we would go on tour with before whatever people think makes sense,” says Sinclair.