Queen City Sounds and Art Best Albums of 2020

Sex Swing | Type II | Rocket Recordings

This sprawling best of list was intended for publication in January 2021 but other priorities got in the way and I had written about many of these in brief in my year end best column for the December 2020 print edition of Birdy magazine in December. Others I wrote up for Birdy throughout the year. All of that text is here hopefully not in a form with my errors edited back in. At any rate it begins with what I’m going to call the album of the year, Type II by UK post-punk experimentalists Sex Swing. It not only stretched post-punk beyond the usual boundaries these days and it articulated the conflict, the outage and confusion of a world coming to terms with the great shortcomings of modern, international capitalism, the inadequacy of the conservative/far right and neoliberal government to address the needs of people across decades and most painfully and poignantly in the moment. That agony and anomie can be heard throughout the album but even separate from that context it’s just a great, experimental rock album. The original verbiage for the Birdy piece reads “An uncomromisingly mind-altering psychedelic noise rock ride through 2020 hell.” With any luck we’ll see the band in North America sooner than later and see for ourselves if the live show delivers. What follows is the rest of the best of list for 2020.

A.M. Pleasure Assassins | Careless Laughter | Self-released
This latest EP from Fort Collins-based, math-y post-punk band A.M. Pleasure Assassins sounds like it  was written after a long period of contemplation and self-imposed exile from one’s usual social activities. “Said Yer Outta Gas” is imbued with a rush of exuberance reflected in its words about emerging from winter into a period of new beginnings. “Get It Right” finds the band waxing into the warped garage punk territory like something one would expect out of Memphis, Tennessee the past two decades — raw and ragged yet bracing. “Cain Was Killing Abel” strikes a more contemplative tone and the sprawling “Pretty Dead Beat” creates a beautifully hypnotic pulse of sounds with bell tones processed through reverb and distorted drones for an effect like a late 90s Yo La Tengo track. The four songs give the impression of nostalgic reflection, but one where you see and feel deeply the joys and pains of a good time in your life  that you are wise enough now to know to enjoy in its full measure rather than through the lens of selective romanticism.

Abrams | Modern Ways | Sailor Records

Adulkt Life | Book of Curses | What’s Your Rupture?

ADULT. | Perception Is/As/Of Deception | Dais Records
Darkly urgent industrial dance anthems to purge today’s desperation, confusion and chaos.

Angel Olsen | Whole New Mess | Secretly Group
A tender yet bracingly fragile portrait of the realization that you can never adequately prepare for everything life might throw your way.

Anna von Hausswolff | Sacro Bosco | Southern Lord

A Shoreline Dream | Melting | Late Night Weeknight
With its first release since 2018’s Waitout EP, A Shoreline Dream presents a set of songs that seems less  ethereal than their previous output. From opening track “Turned Too Slow” to closing song “Atheris  Hispida” the progressive shoegaze duo has seemingly focused its attention on the texture and  physicality of the music. One is tempted to say the guitars are more like hard rock, but only if your idea of  hard rock is more in the vein of Swervedriver. But “Downstairs Sundays” has more in common with folk  music in its intricate guitar interplay though threading through an uplifting, introspective drone. A  Shoreline Dream still gives us its usual transporting melodies, but this time its astral realms are  more focused and vivid as though coming out of its musical dreamstate into a phase of making those  dreams real. 

Autechre | Sign | Warp Records
Cleanses the mind with textural tones and hypnotically immersive, abstract rhythms.

Bambara | Stray | Wharf Cat Records

Bestial Mouths | RESURRECTEDINBLACK | RUNE & RUIN

Bison Bone | Find Your Way Out | self-released

Black Wing | No Moon | The Flenser

blackcell | Burn the Ashes | self-released
Denver-based EBM/IDM band Blackcell returns with its first full- length album since 2013’s In the Key of  Black. Matt Jones’ processed, distorted vocals sound as ever like a dispossessed human resisting an ever increasing mechanization of life. These dark dance songs articulate so well the struggles of the human  condition and seem so resonant for today as meaningful choices and control over your own life are  leeched away into increasing labor defined by a gig economy, subscription and streaming services in the  modern equivalent of pay-per-view, and a failing political and economic system that has channeled all the  world’s wealth into fewer and fewer hands, nickeled and dimed to death and expected to take it like it is or  not to streamline the technocratic wealth pipeline. Blackcell offers no answers but this time, its Gary  Numan-esque end of the world techno feels particularly cathartic right now.  

BleakHeart | Dream Griever | Sailor Records

Body Double | Milk Fed | Zum
Vignettes of personal psychological horror expressed as seething, angular post-punk pop.

Body Negative | Fragments | Track Number Records

Bootblacks | Thin Skies | Artoffact Records
Soaring synths and guitar sketch a vivid image of a deep yearning for personal transcendence and rebirth.

Boris and Merzbow | 2R012P0 | Relapse Records
Alien soundscapes of stunning immediacy that challenge preconceptions of all artists involved.

Botanist | Photosynthesis | The Flenser

Cabaret Voltaire | Shadow of Fear | Mute

Camila Fuchs | Kids Talk Sun | Felte Records
Avant-garde, psychedelic synth pop for tropical vacations in parallel dimensions.

Causer | Hellebore: Demos | self-released

Chicano Batman | Invisible People | ATO Records
Un-ironic, un-corny psych Tropicalia love songs for an inclusive future of unified humanity.

Choir Boy | Gathering Swans | Dais Records
Every song is an introspective Goth R&B ode to radical self care.

Church Fire | Some Lonely Wip | self-released
This collection of “unfinished/unmixed/unmastered/instrumentals” bridges the gap between Nine Inch  Nails and Crystal Castles with their raw, lo-fi, maximalist glitch. Without the highly emotive and cathartic  vocals that have been part of Church Fire’s signature sound we are invited to visit the soundscapes that  give those vocals a powerful musical context. What is obvious here is the band’s playfulness and gift for  pairing dark tonal choices and buoyant rhythms anchored by spare textural elements. On “pixie death  tickle” there are wisps of voices but they serve as more a musical aside from the strong, bright, urgent  main passages. The “wip” in the title may refer to “works-in-progress” but these songs would work as  mood pieces in a soundtrack to the inevitable English language Inio Asano manga film in mirroring that  artist’s talent for simultaneously expressing melancholia and joy.  

cindygod | EP 2 | Fire Talk

Clipping. | Visions of Bodies Being Burned | Sub Pop
Brooding, seething, menacing industrial hip-hop horror stories from an all too near future.

Cyclo Sonic | Pile of Bones EP | self-released

Damn Selene | Nobody By That Name Lives Here Anymore | self-released

Dan Deacon | Mystic Familiar | Domino Records

Dead Voices On Air | Stone Cross Shuttle Worn | self-released

Deafbrick (Deafkids + Pet Brick) | s/t | Rocket Recordings

Death Bells | New Signs Of Life | Dais Records
Atmospheric post-punk brimming with an infectious sense of hope after a time of struggle.

Death Valley Girls | Under the Spell of Joy | Suicide Squeeze
Acid jazz flavored garage psych with an ear for emotionally rich infinite horizons.

Deerhoof | Teenage Cave Artists | Joyful Noise
Reliably Beefheartian, lo-fi No Wave-esque, boundary-breaking avant-pop.

Down Time | Hurts Being Alive | self-released

Drew Danburry | Icarus Phoenix A Sides and B Sides 2020 | Telos

Drew McDowell | Angalma | Dais Records

Dyad | Dormant | self-released
Charles Ballas and Jeremy Averitt are perhaps better known for their participation in acts like  Howling Hex and Esmé Patterson’s live band respectively as well as their production work for  Echo Beds. But DORMANT from their long-running collaborative project DYAD showcases  their mutual knack for genre-bending IDM-esque soundscapes. DYAD freely blends elements of  non-Western polyrhythms, intricate and textured instrumentation, luminous jazz keyboard  progressions and tasteful electronic arrangements that convey an eclectic and international flavor.  Imagine music equally influenced by Herbie Hancock, 80s Ethiopian synth pop, Daft Punk,  Warp Records artists and informed by a deep sense of play, and you will have some idea of the  soothing and imagination stirring quality of this music and its brilliantly new age downtempo  future jazz sounds. 

eHpH | Infrared | self-released
This Denver-based electro-industrial duo minces no words on the opening track “Idiot” in its  introductory sample “I’m gonna say one thing, fuck Trump.” And then on to choice  sampling of 45s words and those of journalists cataloging some of his offenses against humanity.  The menacing descending synth bass progression and minimalistic percussion puts the focus on  the words. The rest of the album is less explicitly and specifically topical but it is the band’s most  fully realized and focused effort yet. The pulsing pace and Fernando Altonaga’s distorted vocals  draw you into meditations on the perils of creeping authoritarianism on “Tarnished.” The  pastoral pace and deep melancholy of “Forever Haunted” resonates with the artfully despairing  tones of the Closer period of Joy Division the way its circular guitar line and synth melody rides  a wave of personal revelation and the contemplation of an unrelievedly bleak future. EhpH  has long been one of the more interesting modern EBM bands but Infrared demonstrates that the  group of Altonaga and Angelo Atencio have fully integrated those roots with a more  contemporary post-punk and darkwave sensibility, thus never sounding stuck in the  past. 

Emerald Siam | Inventions of Ascension | self-released

Emma Ruth Rundle & Thou | May Our Chambers Be Full | Sacred Bones Records

Emmy The Great | April / 月音 | Bella Union

Entrancer | Decline Vol. 4 | Multidim
In constructing this latest installment in Entrancer’s Decline series Ryan McRyhew utilized Rob  Hordijik’s DIY synth, the Benjolin, as well as the Make Noise Shared System. Though both are modular  synthesis devices and visually look complex, McRyhew, in naming the equipment on the Bandcamp  page, takes some of the technological mystery out of music making with synths  and puts the emphasis on the creativity end. For twenty-seven minutes forty-four seconds of the single  track of this album, “Decline XVI,” we travel with McRyhew through the sonic analog of the distorted  ebb and flow of civilizational decay that we seem to be experiencing right now. Yet at the  heart of the piece we hear a separation of more industrial sounds and those more organic like the  inevitability of nature reasserting its primacy in our own consciousnesses and in the entire world.

Equine | Light Wa/orship | Noise Pelican

Eve Maret | Stars Aligned | White Supulchre Records

Eyebeams | It Means Trouble | Hot Congress

Eyedress | Let’s Skip to the Wedding | Lex Records

Eye of Nix | Ligeia | Scry Recordings
Uplifting, psychedelic, blackened noise doom journey to a pagan underworld and back.

Facs | Void Moments | Trouble In Mind
The post-punk equivalent of crime jazz’s subterranean menace.

Faim | Hollow Hope | Deathwish

Fearing | Shadow | Funeral Party

Fire-Toolz | Rainbow Bridge | Hausu Mountain Records

Flaming Lips | American Head | Warner Records
Overflowing with compassion and musical salves for the pain and despair of the fractured American psyche.

French Kettle Station | Spirit Mode | Slagwerk

Future Islands | As Long As You Are | 4AD
A soulfully soothing and transporting examination of the roots of one’s melancholic impulses.

Galleries | Resolve | self-released

Ganser | Just Look at That Sky | Felte Records
Incandescent yet contemplative post-punk dense with conceptual content and poignant social commentary.

Gold Cage | Social Crutch | Felte Records

Hard to Be a Killer: A Tribute to Ralph Gean
In an alternate universe Ralph Gean is a beloved rock and roll hero widely known for his  brilliantly unique and off-beat songwriting. But the British Invasion derailed that trajectory and  Gean instead has since become a bit of a legendary figure with a cult following in Denver music  who has periodically played shows and championed by figures as politically disparate as Boyd  Rice (who compiled a collection of Gean’s work in 2007) and Jello Biafra. That fandom is  reflected on this sprawling tribute album assembled by Arlo White of Hypnotic Turtle Radio and  bands like Deadbubbles and The Buckingham Squares. Every interpretation of Gean’s songs is a  worthy listen and a fine showcase for his sheer breadth as an artist. Contributions from local,  experimental eccentrics like Little Fyodor & Babushka, Claudzilla and The Babysitters lovingly  capture Gean’s essential appeal as an artist with an unvarnished charm and humor. Eric Allen of  The Apples in Stereo fame highlights the science fiction cowboy persona that Gean could convey while White’s band Diablo Montalban with the late, great eccentric DJ and Denver cultural figure  Frank Bell give “Switzerland” a real dark exotica treatment reminiscent of weirder moments in  Tom Waits’ catalog. A fascinating portrait of an important yet often overlooked artist.

H Lite | Green Youth Heattech | self-released
Anton Kruger has been known for his inventive, hyperkinetic electronic and experimental music. But for  this new EP he took a deep dive into contemplative realms of sound. Elegant, heavenly strings, luminous  swells of tone and crystalline percussion embody the title of the song “Light Language.” The spacious  sound design aspect of all the song’s on the album are reminiscent of Plaid in the enigmatic playfulness  and the stretching consciousness to find inspiration through creative work. Every song brings forth a  singular and imaginative portrait of tone, texture and rhythm that takes you on a journey to alien spaces  that strike one as familiar and ultimately comforting like a dream. It is post-glitchcore IDM that dispenses  with the anxiety in favor of a soothing spirit.

Houses of Heaven | Silent Places | Felte Records
Gloomy street tribal dance anthems fortified with dark, minor chord melodies.

Human Impact | s/t | Ipecac Recordings

In The Company Of Serpents | Lux | self-released
In the Company of Serpents has long been a band that has aimed to infuse its music with its  interest in cinema, esoteric knowledge, literature, and with all of those come out of directi human experience, emotion and an attempt to make sense of life and imbue it with  meaning. Lux is the fullest manifestation of those aims written into its most sonically dynamic  set of songs to date. The crushing yet fluid heaviness of its sound is paired perfectly with  elements of song that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Spaghetti Western soundtrack. “The  Fool’s Journey” opens the record as a sort of map for the path set before us ending with the  enigmatic “Prima Materia.” It’s a musically diverse and rich album that places In the Company  of Serpents apart from a mere doom band and more in the realm of Swans’ and Neurosis’ own  heavy explorations of the human psyche. 

IDLES | Ultra Mono | Partisan
Pointed yet loving politi-punk built on a hip-hop framework.

Insect Ark | The Vanishing | Profound Lore Records
A seething and entrancing hybrid of a Junji Ito manga and industrial psychedelic doom.

Jarv Is | Beyond the Pale | Rough Trade Records

jOoHS UhP | Big Glasss | Records
This record is so irreverent and self-deprecating it uses the swagger language of much of hip-hop to make  statements that are the opposite of anything some other artists would brag about. The irony runs so deep  even the elements of the music sounds like swagger. There is a song called  
“NoWeDon’tWannaMakeGoodMusic.WeTriedAndIt’sBoring.” The glitchy, industrial beats are so  unconventional and eccentric you would never confuse this duo with anything resembling traditional hip-hop. It all has more in common with Renaldo & The Loaf and The Residents  than even a weirdo like Kanye. Though often confrontational and obnoxious there’s no denying the  relentless creativity of the production and glorious seeming lack of regard for how a song is supposed to  sound. 

Juliet Mission | Surren | self-released
Surren is the third EP from Denver-based post-punk band Juliet Mission. As with previous releases the  trio’s command of blending layers of atmosphere with strong rhythms and a contemplative melancholy is  impressive. The short title track actually has three movements that flow from existential introspection to  passages of dark realization to a mood of uneasy acceptance. All four songs in their brooding beauty  demonstrate, as have the most recent albums from The Church, that you can write vital and engrossing  rock songs from an adult point of view with elegance and grace, and without defaulting to an adolescent,  and thus thematically limited, perspective. 

Jupiter Sprites| Holographic | Jupiter Sprites Records

Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith | The Mosaic of Transformation | Ghostly International

Killd By | Neotropical (tape reissue) | Noumenal Loom

King Krule | Man Alive! | Matador
Like The Fall gone hip-hop chillout lounge post-bad trip horror movie dreaming.

Klara Lewis | Ingrid | Editions Mego
Distorted melancholic cello drones like the glitched image memories of past life regression.

KoKo La | Curriculum Vitae | self-released
Koko La has long already established herself as an artist of note as one of the MCs and producers in the  hip-hop group R A R E B Y R D $. Her soulful voice and presence often draws out subconscious  emotions and gives them form in the music and performance. Curriculum Vitae finds Koko La exploring  the experiences that have shaped her. Aided by Machete Mouth and Kitty Opinion$ on a couple of tracks,  Koko La excels here with shining a light on those experiences that challenge you in various ways, while  at the same time, giving you a better sense of self and the boundaries you must draw the border for people who might seek to dismiss you as a human or otherwise put you in your place. The trap beats and  hushed atmospheres provide a fascinating listening experience, like you’re honoring the subconscious  thoughts and feelings that affect your waking life by giving them an identifiable form that also allows you  to comprehend, embrace and reconcile the wounded sides of yourself. 

Lazarus Horse | Oh the Guilt! | self-released

Lithics | Tower of Age | Trouble In Mind
Surreal, minimalist post-punk funk disintegrating into disorder like American democracy.

Lone Dancer | Temporal Smearing | Multidim

Mamaleek | Come and See | The Flenser

Many Blessings | Emanation Body | Translation Loss Records
Ethan McCarthy of Primitive Man renown returns to his ongoing noise soundscapes with the enigmatic  and forbidding Many Blessings. In typical fashion this set of five pieces stretches beyond what McCarthy  has done with the project in the past. Throughout this album there is not the harsh noise and deconstructed  drones of some earlier work. Rather, it is layered collages of sound that give voice to the raw angst and  anxieties that sit as a background hum of modern civilization eating away at our collective  unconsciousness. The concluding track “Harm Signal” is like a symbol for the whole effort — a flow of  sounds, a frequency, that we usually ignore but which causes untold destruction to our existence.  These songs identify and give expression to energies and forces we’ve bypassed our whole lives but which  are now impossible to ignore, like a sound art metaphor for the social and political forces that have come  home to roost of late. 

Marissa Nadler | Moons | self-released

Melkbelly | PITH | Carpark Records/Wax Nine

Memory Bell | Solace | self-released

Metz | Atlas Vending | Sub Pop

Midwife | Forever | The Flenser
Madeline Johnston wrote Forever during one of the darkest times of the Denver DIY music  and art community. Her community was scattered and challenged in the wake of the Ghost Ship fire with  so many lives seeming to be on hold with no hint about when thatdespairing period would end. And  the 2018 death of Colin Ward hit everyone whose lives he touched so deeply that it seems like the kind of  hurt that will never fully heal. Johnston’s almost ghostly, delicate and vulnerable vocals and distorted,  ethereal guitar seem to drift together in an effort to make some sense of those feelings with a nuance and  sensitivity that always comes across as emerging directly from those places of acute pain and ache  and loss, and honoring the need to just feel all of that whenever the need strikes and for however long into  your life it lasts even if that is, indeed, forever. An especially touching and evocative tribute to a uniquely  restless and creative yet sensitive and emotionally refined person in Colin Ward, Forever is a tender and  heartbreaking, healing catharsis in the listen. 

Mild Wild | Mild Wild, Vol. 1 | self-released
Intensely personal, imaginatively lo-fi aural snapshots of daydreams and poetic observations.

Mint Field | Sentimiento Mundial | Felte Records
Dream pop slow burner illuminating and warming the inner regions of the melancholic heart.

Moby | All Visible Objects | Mute Records
Retro rave and chillout lounge songs mourning our collective loss, yearning for a hopeful future.

Molchat Doma | Monument | Sacred Bones Records
Introspective, elegantly minimalistic, lo-fi, Belarusian gloom pop.

Mong Tong | Mystery | Guruguru Brain

Moodie Black | FUZZ | Fake Four

Moon Pussy | Hurt Wrist | The Ghost Is Clear Records
Guitar riffs like swarms of angry insects sweeping through. Syncopated percussion like start- and- stop  jackhammers. Bass lines like a half- ton coil being struck and emitting a menacing fluidity. Tortured  vocals erupt with Brutalist, post-hardcore poetry. All of this helps to make this latest Moon Pussy record  the perfect companion and reaction to a radically uncertain world seemingly in perpetual crisis mode and  on the verge of we know not what. Fans of bands on the Amphetamine Reptile imprint or Touch and Go  will be thrilled with the band’s seemingly endless supply of inspired, aggressive and savage noise rock  riffs and the ability to articulate directly from a place of desperation and outrage. “Fail Better” should be  the theme song of these United States.  

Mr. Bungle | The Raging Wrath of the Easter Bunny Demo | Ipecac

Mr. Gnome | The Day You Flew Away | El Marko Records

Mrs. Piss | Self-Surgery | Sargent House

Napalm Death | Throes of Joy in the Jaws of Defeatism | Century Media

New Standards Men | I Was A Spaceship | self-released

Night of the Living Shred | Return of the Night of the Living Shred | self-released
The name of this album of course invokes the title of the 1985 horror comedy Return of the Living Dead.  And the Colorado Springs-based metal group has taken the opportunity to give us an unusual and eclectic  record that not only reflects its members’ broad taste in music but a deeply healthy sense of humor about  the world and themselves. “Shred Shoppe Quartert” is an a cappella song in the style of a barbershop  quartet. There are rap, punks, death metal, doom and grindcore songs. All of it performed with  a charming exuberance even though the entire track list reads like something out of a heavy metal version  of Mad Magazine. “We Get it, Mike Patton Is a Musical Genius” with screaming like a cover of  something by Naked City with lyrics mocking that? That’s genius. Even though the record is largely a put  on in one way or another, the fact that it has so much variety makes it eminently listenable.  

No Age | Goons Be Gone | Drag City

Of Feather And Bone | Sulfuric Disintegration | Profound Lore Records

Oneohtrix Point Never | Magic Oneohtrix Point Never | Warp Records

Otzi | Storm | Artoffact Records
Emotionally intense post-punk at the intersection of Sleater-Kinney and The Cure.

Perry Weissman 3 | Backlog | self-released

Plack Blague | Wear Your Body Out | self-released

Plague Garden | LEFT IN THE GRAVE | self-released

Pod Blotz | Transdimensional System | Dais Records

Pole | Fading | Mute Records

Primitive Man | Immersion | Relapse Records

Princess Dewclaw | Wild Sugar | Glasss Records
On the Wild Sugar EP Princess Dewclaw has reinvented itself as a gritty, industrial darkwave band. That  element was there on its 2017 album Walk of Shame (in fact the songs “Walk of Shame” and “Into the  Words” have carried over in a significantly different form), but there seems more of an edge here. The  vocals come more directly from channeling anxiety and pain into catharsis. Rather than acoustic  drums the electronic and programmed drums sync more closely with the cutting synth work. The effect is  like a caustic and politically charged take on a pop song with mainstream appeal. In that way it has an  appeal similar to that of Alice Glass’s emotionally raw solo offerings.

Protomartyr | Ultimate Success Today | Domino Records
Burning poems songs evoking a Jim Thompson-esque modern America in slashing/clashing post-punk.

Public Memory | Ripped Apparition | Felte Records
If Tarkovksy and Jarmusch could team up to make a cyberpunk movie this would be the soundtrack.

Rafael Anton Irisarri | Peripeteia | Dais Records

Raspberry Bulbs | Before the Age of Mirrors | Relapse Records

Reverb And The Verse | RESONATE | self-released
Since 1999 Reverb & The Verse has been developing and writing some of the most imaginative hip-hop  out of Denver. The groupput their songwriting on this ninth record through  a rigorous process of experimentation and weeding out the material deemed not quite  there. Though steeped in classic MC wordplay, the beats and expertly crafted synth work and rhythms  seem as informed by the likes of Minneapolis alternative hip-hop that came out of the 90s as it does 80s  and 90s synth pop. All of these elements make for a sonically rich and diverse listen a bit like a cross  between Clipse and Meat Beat Manifesto. 

Riki | s/t | Dais Records
Goth synth pop for skate rink parties in abandoned malls.

Run The Jewels | RTJ4 | Jewel Runners

Shabazz Palaces | The Don of Diamond Dreams | Sub Pop

Shitkid | 20/20 | PNKSLM
An unlikely and fascinating hybrid of garage rock and soulful synth pop.

Shocker Mom | The Mediocre Depression | self-released

Sightless Pit | Grave of a Dog | Thrill Jockey
Sublime and caustic, often claustrophobic, soundscapes of terrifying and transcendent beauty.

SNAD/Jackson Lee| Jargon/Syntax Error 12” EP | Deep Club Records

SPELLS | Stimulants & Sedatives | Snappy Little Numbers
This record is raw even by SPELLS standards. But it’s perfect for 11 songs about the messiness of  adulthood with lyrics that frankly go for the jugular. This isn’t new for this pop punk band and its  anthemic choruses, but it’s always interesting to hear the contrast between the primal pop of the  songwriting and incisive portraits of American life that dispense with the soul-destroying niceties. “We  Can’t Relate” is a pointed declaration of the disconnect between the culture of the wealthy and the  working class. “I’m Sorry I’m Not Sorry” is something of an apology song for being how you have to be  in a world that demands essentially unacceptable compromises. Imagine an amalgam of Blatz, Stiff Little  Fingers and The Replacements and you have an idea of the sound, the vibe and the sentiments expressed  throughout. 

Spice | s/t | Dais Records

Sprain | As Lost Through Collision | The Flenser
Colossal, sprawling, slowcore deep dives into the catharsis of anxiety and rootlessness.

Spunsugar | Drive-Through Chapel | Adrian Recordings

Squarepusher | Be Up a Hello | Warner Records

Stay Tuned | Remote Control | self-released
Brilliantly sampling from American media and entertainment culture, both musically and thematically,  Stay Tuned has produced not just a signature song with this arc of eleven tracks but a signature album.  Dense with content each song uses the format of autobiography to comment on aspects of society like the  shallowness of celebrity culture and the way we formulate our dreams and aspirations in terms and  frameworks taken from preexisting constructs like television shows, movies, video games and other  media — of course expressed through the corporate controlled channels we most often use to  communicate with one another. But in free associating musical and other media references in a collage of  sounds in the beat, Stay Tuned uses media tropes and collective myths and imagery to showcase how we  can subvert the prevailing power relationships and the monopolistic paradigms of our time.  

Stephen Malkmus | Traditional Techniques | Matador

Studded Left | Sidewalk Vitamins | Girlgang Music

Stūrī Zēvele | Labvakar | self-released
An endearing indie pop manifestation of the essence of close and warm friendships.

Sumac | May You Be Held | Thrill Jockey

Suo and Data Rainbow | s/t | Multidim

SUUNS | FICTION EP | Joyful Noise

Syko Friend | Fontanelle | Post Present Medium

The Drood | Totally Comfortable | self-released

The High Water Marks | Ecstasy Rhymes | Minty Fresh

The Microphones | The Microphones In 2020 | P.W. Elverum & Sun

The Paranoyds | Pet Cemetery EP | Suicide Squeeze

The White Swan | Nocturnal Transmission | CockThermos

Through Flames | Through Flames | self-released
Riveting, radical experiments in political poetry and sound design.

TI-83 | Demo | self-released

Time | These Songs Kill Fascists | Dirty Laboratory
Hip-hop artist Chris “Time” Steele displays a true gift for fusing autobiography and lived experience with  historical context and knowledge of political theory on this album. He’s always been a brilliant lyricist  whose expert wordplay has seemingly effortlessly combined his sharp sense of humor with a wide ranging curiosity about the world and a growing body of knowledge of history, culture and politics. On  These Songs Kill Fascists, Steele works with Daiba, Mick Jenkins, long time producer AwareNess,  Giuseppe, Ron Miles, JXSHYB, Cat Soup and Psalm One to create a jazz-inflected story cycle  commenting astutely on social issues now getting some focus. While a riveting listen purely as a well crafted album, These Songs Kill Fascists does not function as merely socially conscious entertainment, it  seems to have been crafted as a form of praxis that challenges artist and listener in a dialectic of critical  pedagogy that mutually encourages ongoing personal growth and social transformation.

Tobacco | Hot, Wet & Sassy | Ghostly International
Bright, bombastic, noisy synths paired with darkly humorous musings disrupt the album’s aesthetic of nostalgic comfort sounds.

Torres | Silver Tongue | Merge Records

Uniform | Shame | Sacred Bones Records
Scorching and thrillingly diverse industrial hardcore inspired by noir literature.

Usaisamonster | Amikwag | Yeggs Records

Vivian | The Warped Glimmer | self-released

Voight | s/t | self-released
Maybe it’s Chase Dobson’s treatments and mixing and mastering after Adam Rojo and Nick Salmon wrote  and recorded this album, but the self-titled Voight album is the closest the duo has come to sounding like  it’s blurring the line between its rock and electronic aesthetics. Guitar chords burn and shimmer out,  percussion flurries and traces out a minimalist beat and Salmon’s vocals float through the songs like a  person who was once lost but is now rediscovering his ability to feel and to express those emotions with a  coherent self-awareness. Every song has an expansive quality reminiscent of Clan of Xymox and The Twilight Sad. The tone of the album perfectly walks the line between urgency and introspection without  ever compromising an underlying delicacy of spirit and emotional refinement.

Wayfarer | A Romance With Violence | Profound Lore Records

Wetware | Flail | Dais Recordings

White Rose Motor Oil | You Can’t Kill Ghosts | self-released

Windy & Carl | Allegiance and Conviction | Kranky

WL | ADHD | Beacon Sound

Wolf Parade | Thin Mind | Sub Pop

Yves Tumor | Heaven To A Tortured Mind | Warp Records
Futuristic, effervescent, downtempo, synth pop-inflected, R&B informed non-binary funk.

Short Takes #3: February 2019

EarthControlPill_LeavesOnLeaves
Earth Control Pill, Leaves On Leaves

earth control pill – leaves on leaves – self-released 

Lead track “drippy tree” is an interesting and comforting collage of retro synth sampling and minimalist beats that pulse and bounce softly like one of those balloons with a grip shaped like an animal head that many people rode around on as kids. And that sort of melancholic, textured atmosphere with some white noise melded with abstract melodies layered with flowing tones and blurred beats that is suggested in “drippy trees” manifests in a variety of ways across the album without ever really replicating the feel of each song. In that way it’s reminiscent of early Aphex Twin but after the advent of modern experimental electronic dance music, tropical pop and deep house. Earth Control Pill pulls ideas together for this album as the title suggests as an organic process of layering wherein the elements complement each other seemingly naturally in the context of clearly technologically produced sounds. Altogether the songs, as sequenced, feel like a slow processing of sorrow by soothing the pains of loss while knowing they’ll never fully go away and the feeling of resignation of that reality. “Fog” strikes a somewhat jaunty note and, in fact, sounds the least like fog of all the songs though may highlight a time of fond memories connected to fog and how magical it can seem on an otherwise sunny morning. Whatever the inspiration or impetus behind this collection of music, it might be described as an ambient version of indie pop with the assembled use of discarded and currently unfashionable sounds to make something beautiful and tranquil with no obvious touchstones in contemporary commercially popular music.

Abjects_NeverGiveUp
Abjects, Never Give Up

Abjects – Never Give Up – Yippee Ki Yay Records

This debut LP from London’s Abjects strikes one as something akin to a frantic, grunge-y power pop record. But in the interest of not getting lazy and being quick to pigeonhole a band, the members of Abjects come from different corners of the world and met up in the UK bringing with them a vastly different set of cultural backgrounds that does give these songs an ineffably different flavor than 90s retro bands that all grew up in countries where the predominant language is English. The rhythms have an urgency yet fluidity that makes it easier to change directions and character rapidly with guitar work and vocals that seem adept at working counter point giving the songwriting an unusual and fascinating dynamism like something one might have heard in early Blonde Redhead songs or out of Velocity Girl.

BisonBone_TakeUpTrouble
Bison Bone, Take Up Trouble

Bison Bone – Take Up Trouble – self-released

One thing Bison Bone has always done exceedingly well is not limit its songwriting and creativity to the expectations of a subgenre of music. Yes, it’s coming from the world of country but also psychedelic rock but for the latter not in any obvious way. Its instincts seem inspired more by the hybrid country, punk and psych of the likes of The Flesheaters, Green On Red and Uncle Tupelo than much of the Americana that has come along since where it has not been too predictably been bathing in the musical DNA of early 1970s Laurel Canyon. Bison Bone’s music sounds like there is some real grit and real life experience behind it and paying of dues and not trying to mimic a beloved and trendy style of music. Take Up Trouble is urban honky tonk with the relatable storytelling intact but with a flair for wordplay and thoughtful commentary. What really makes these songs is the little details that bring the song together like the minimal guitar solo in the middle of “Hey Bartender” and the drone at the beginning of “Late December” to suggest memories of coming out of the haze of a memorable dream or of the heatwaves on the late afternoon road following a long day of driving and having a moment of reflection on what it’s all been about.

BruceLamont_BrokenLimbsExcite
Bruce Lamont, Broken Limbs Excite No Pity

Bruce Lamont – Broken Limbs Excite No Pity – My Proud Mountain

Like an industrial ambient rendition of a culturally hybridized folk music from a hundred years hence, this latest solo record from Bruce Lamont of Yakuza is akin to an Ian McDonald novel. The latter has written several works of science fiction and fantasy that seem aimed at subverting tropes set in places that aren’t the usual locales for fantastic fiction. The influence of anthropology and straight out cultural concepts outside the developed world is so pervasive his work has a tonality and range that is refreshingly unpredictable. Lamont’s interest in non-Western musical ideas too informs these songs of immersive textures and compound rhythms. With “Goodbye Electric Sunday” the science fiction parallels are obvious but throughout Lamont weaves a series of narratives that are reminiscent of My Life in the Bush of Ghosts in sounding ineffably futuristic but as a commentary on the civilization on the verge of collapse of now.

Confluence_ClosureStartOver
Confluence, Closure, Start Over

Confluence – Closure, Start Over – self-released

Denver’s Confluence represented a musical rebirth for songwriter Ian Gassman whose work in other bands including his 2000s indie rock band Night Owl. The latter was more in a power pop meets Elvis Costello vein. Confluence was much more math rock in the late 90s and early 2000s sense that one heard touches of in the likes of Modest Mouse and Deathcab For Cutie. Confluence made no bones about nor held up its nose at complex arrangements and guitar solos but all in service to the song. Like it was using its technical skills to have fun and not just to show off. This record came out four years after the band was a functioning outfit and serves as a swan song and a reminder of how Confluence managed to fully integrate indie rock with musical chops and emotionally resonant vocals with a refreshingly unironic earnestness. Fans of LVL UP and Palm should definitely give this record a listen.

EerieWanda_PetTown
Eerie Wanda, Pet Town

Eerie Wanda – Pet Town – Joyful Noise Recordings

Obvious touchstones for the 2016 Eerie Wanda album Hum would be 60s pop stars like Margo Guryan and Françoise Hardy. All of that atmospheric soulfulness and orchestrated sonic details was present in Marina Tadic’s songwriting and recording for that record. For Pet Town, Tadic stripped back some of the seeming orchestration and opted for the use of space and non-tonal atmosphere as well as raw guitar recording, fretting sounds included. The result is a more up close focus in sound rather than the nearly panoramic folk pop of Hum. Same introspective, melancholic lyrics but this time reminding one of the vibe of the Beach House’s 2008 album Devotion conveying a sense of warmth, isolation and reflection on times that haunt you with a sense of comfort and nostalgia.

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Lightning Cult, EP1: Burner

Lightning Cult – EP 1: Burner – self-released

A welcome return to the songwriting of Mike Marchant who in the 2000s and early 2010s brought an uplifting moodiness and energy to his indie rock bands Widowers and as a contributing songwriter to Houses as well as Mike Marchant’s Outer Space Party Unit. This isn’t as overtly as experimental as Widowers and the Outer Space Party Unit, nor as psychedelic as the latter. Rather it shines on Marchant’s gift for subtle dynamics and vocalizing with strong yet nuanced emotion. Throughout the EP it’s a mixture of texture and bright tones with driven and shaped by the aforementioned qualities. Marchant has struggled with serious health issues for several years at this point and one is tempted to look for that in this set of songs and if it’s there it’s more in the focus of the songwriting to put something together that feels good and honest to perform and worthy of attention beyond one’s consideration shaded by knowledge of his challenges as a human, at least not anymore than everyone faces. As such, Marchant demonstrates here why he garnered such wide attention during his time in Denver because none of this feels rote or desperate to recapture past glory. There is a timeless quality to Marchant’s music because he’s never really tried to fit in with trends while not spending much time mining the past. This EP is a great example of that. It’s not his masterpiece but if this is a comeback it’s better than many we’ve seen.

LyingOnIce_TheDream
Lying On Ice, The Dream

Lying On Ice – The Dream – Asylum Moon

Pulling apart this record to its components and influences is easy enough because there’s plenty of post-rock informing the guitar ideas, 80s and 90s darkwave and downtempo. But what it really sounds like is if someone got the essence of 80s moody Goth/post-punk but didn’t get trapped there with same production ideas and mood. There’s as much modern electronic pop aesthetic throughout the album like everyone involved is well aware of the likes of Purity Ring, Robyn, CHVRCHES and Phantogram. Composer Jesse Maddox is known more for his work in the world of taiko in Colorado including manufacturing the drums but has had a lifelong interest in dark, industrial music so working with talented dream pop vocalist Angela Cross from Los Angeles with the finished songs mixed and produced by Dave “Rave” Ogilvie of Skinny Puppy fame the project could have been fairly predictable. But it is instead of a deeply atmospheric, sonically rich set of songs including a cover of “Smothered Hope” that shares with the original and deep melancholy and being engulfed with urgent emotions but is more in a psychedelic vein, more Tear Garden than Skinny Puppy. Speaking of the former, Edward Ka-Spel does guest vocals on the stark yet lush and cold “Surrender,” and brings to the song his signature vocals lending a sense of being at the end of one’s struggle with all the things your ego screams to cling to before acceptance of your own mortality sets in.

ShadowsTranquil_Wander
Shadows Tranquil, Wander

Shadows Tranquil – Wander – self-released

Doran Robischon was once a guitarist in Gauntlet Hair and since that time there have been hints of a new musical project. Then Shadows Tranquil played shows in the past couple of years. But if you missed them there was no way to hear that music until the fall of 2018. Wander may remind anyone in the know of another Denver band, A Shoreline Dream. But only in that there are the aesthetics of electronic music underlying the songwriting. But there is more noise rock and psych punk behind the drifty push of the songs on Wander. In that way at times one is reminded of Nowhere-period Ride especially when the songs shift dynamics and add expansive layers of atmosphere and percussion only to pull the sounds back and redirect their momentum as the stream of sound progresses. The recording might be a little lo-fi for some tastes but that adds something of a tiny bit of mystique to music that sounds like the musicians skipped the late 90s and 2000s entirely and landed back in 2018 a late entry into the Holy Mountain Records (USA) catalog.

T-Rextasy_Prehysteria
T-Rextasy, Prehysteria

T-Rextasy – Prehysteria – Boogie Agency Records

Balancing the humorous with the meaningful and melancholy is a difficult balancing act in music, but T-Rextasy have long since mastered that art and this record simply reveals an evolution in the band’s sophistication of songwriting. “Coffee” has plenty of profane and playful double entendre while articulating a relatable frustration. The songs aren’t merely irreverent surf-ska punk songs, they’re like musical theater pieces for a play about young urban Bohemia but brimming with sharp observations as social commentary and character sketches that explore what it means to navigate the fraught political, economic and cultural environment in America today. Identity, sexuality, class and examination of one’s yearnings are discussed in story form with an undeniable affection and compassion for all the soft and hurt spots in everyone. Fans of the the melodramatic tones employed by Julie Brown in “The Homecoming Queen’s Got a Gun” and the teen tragedy songs of the 60s that inspired it will find much to love with Prehysteria.

Best Shows in Denver 11/09/17 – 11/15/17

James Murphy of  LCD Soundsystem
James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem, who play at 1stBank Center on Saturday, November 11, photo by Ruvan Wijesooriya

Thursday: November 9, 2017

Guantanamo Baywatch
Guantanamo Baywatch, photo by Todd Walberg

Who: Guantanamo Baywatch w/Cheap Perfume and Vic ‘n’ The Narwhals
When: Thursday, 11.09, 8 p.m.
Where: Hi-Dive
Why: By now surf rock is a style of music that’s been beaten into the ground over the last 7-8 years, all the possibilities of the music beaten out of it, leeched of vitality and iterations of it meditating ad nauseum upon well-worn paths. But it happens. Some band is doing it in a way that brings genuine creativity to a form of music that seems to hold no more surprises. Thus is Guantanamo Beach’s 2017 album Desert Center which has plenty of the usual tricks but even amid those are beautiful leads and melodic turns of phrase that elevate the band’s music beyond tropes and styles into the realm of originality even while employing the sounds and rhythms of an established musical genre. That Guantanamo Baywatch is a compelling live band seals that impression. Opening the show are Cheap Perfume, as thrillingly sassy punk band, and Vic n’ The Narhwals, a psychedelic garage rock band that sounds like it crawled out of Venice Beach in the late 60s, got on a plane that traveled through the Bermuda Triangle and dropped them off in Denver circa 2015. Who knows, really, but they don’t sound like they’re trying to jump on any trendy bandwagons.

Who: PterrorFractyl w/Mirror Fears, Sid Madrid and Terminals
When: Thursday, 11.09, 6 p.m.
Where: Syntax Physic Opera
Why: Mirror Fears’ 2017 album Eaten should be on the Year End Best lists of every music journalist but probably won’t because Kate Warner is from Denver and few journalists outside the Mile High City are aware of her beautifully sculpted, experimental music infused, electro pop songs informed by heightened feelings about so many of the things plaguing our world today. Plus the songs have a depth of atmosphere and a catchiness that’s undeniable. PterrorFractyl is what you might get if an electronic dance outfit got into ambient and the abstract end of dubtechno. Reminiscent of Gonjasufi and maybe showing the influence of Flying Lotus in the mixture of organic sounds and pure electronics in the beats.

Who: Musical Mayhem w/Claudzilla, The Far Stairs as Destination Moon covering TMBG, A Box of Stars and Jacob McKelvie
When: Thursday, 11.09, 9 p.m.
Where: The Skylark Lounge
Why: “Mayhem” is the appropriate word for this edition of the event. Okay, not pure mayhem (or pure fucking Armageddon for that matter), but it will be a contrast between Claudzilla’s keytar-driven weirdo pop songs and those of The Far Stairs covering They Might Be Giants and touring Americana bands A Box of Stars from Vermont and Jacob McKelvie from Massachusetts. But at least the touring bands aren’t the usual sort of beards and mandolins variety we get coming to Colorado looking to get their big break following in the path of The Lumineers.

Friday: November 10, 2017

Voight
Voight, photo by Tom Murphy

Who: Vase Vide and Had I Known dual album release w/Katey Sleeveless
When: Friday, 11.10, 8 p.m.
Where: Zodiac Venue/Bar
Why: The Colorado Springs music scene is probably a bit of a dismissed enigma to anyone outside of that city unless they know a band or two. But the Springs has been home to some of the most interesting musical projects Colorado has yet produced. And if not interesting per se to many, at least respectable. Against Tomorrow’s Sky, Eyes Caught Fire, Dear Rabbit, El Toro De La Muerte, Abracastabya, Blighter, 908, Black Pegasus, Be Thou My Vision, Cocordion, The Mansfields and Nicotine Fits at a minimum. Tonight experimental pop band Vase Vide releases its latest album, Hello Moon, Good Night. Fans of Yo La Tengo and Mercury Rev will appreciate the deep, hazy atmospheres and unfurling whorls of compound time in the rhythms. That latter gives it an open-ended and expansive feeling. A more contemporary comparison could be made with the rock/psychedelia and electronica of The Helio Sequence.

Had I Known is releasing the Pedestrians EP. Singer/guitarist Brian Eastin has been around in bands for years, relatively recently in War Parts. Had I Known is a more spiky, glittery indie rock band than War Parts but with Eastin’s usual sincerity and intensity. Think more like a lo-fi and noisy The Life and Times and you’ll have some idea of what you’re in for.

Katey Sleeveless also has a new EP but it won’t be released at this show. Like Had I Known, Katey Sleeveless is a trio but rather than three men, it’s three women: Kate Perdoni many may know as a singer and guitarist in Eros & The Eschaton; Emily Gould as the drummer in country band Plain As Day; Kellie Palmblad as vocalist/guitarist in Eyes Caught Fire, Waterbear and Constellation of Cars. Among others. Their band together some may want to characterize as dream pop because there is a gritty yet ethereal quality to the guitar sounds but as with the members’ other bands, there is an expressive emotionality to the music that doesn’t release all at once. It doesn’t unfold in one or multiple bursts. It has the rare quality of being cathartic, soothing, nuanced and introspective.

Who: Gone Full Heathen album release w/Married a Dead Man, Teacup Gorilla, Vexing and guests
When: Friday, 11.10, 7 p.m.
Where: 7th Circle Music Collective
Why: Gone Full Heathen is release its self-titled album tonight with a show with deathrock band Married to a Dead Man, glam/psych band Teacup Gorilla and Vexing. Gone Full Heathen sounds like a combination of hardcore, transcendental metal and screamo. Meaning it’s heavy, it has moments where singer Ryanne Brooks wails in an unhinged way reminiscent of Kat Bjelland from Babes in Toyland.

Who: Fathers w/Wild Call, Poolside At The Flamingo and Voight
When: Friday, 11.10, 8:30 p.m.
Where: Hi-Dive
Why: Heavy music supergroup Fathers (which includes Oscar Ross of Lords of Fuzz, Eddie Maestas of Native Daughters and Mhyk Monroe of Cult of the Lost Cause) is releasing its self-titled debut at this show. Calling it metal is a bit of a misnomer because it’s more like the kind of metal and hardcore that came out on Hydra Head—more experimental, usually more extreme. One of these kids is not like the others and industrial post-punkers Voight are opening this show with its second to last show before it goes on an extended period of not playing live. You never know, singer Nick Salmon might break something in a burst of exuberance but that’s long been one of his charms.

Who: Death From Above w/The Beaches
When: Friday, 11.10, 8 p.m.
Where: Gothic Theatre
Why: In 2017 Death From Above seems to have been able to go back to using that name without the comma and the “1979” afterward. Combining post-punk’s rhythm driven songwriting, hard rock’s exuberant bombast and electronic dance music, Death From Above quickly became one of the most popular of the “dance punk” bands in the first decade of the 21st century before taking a five year hiatus in 2006. Its latest album, Outrage! Is Now is not the acidic barn burner that is 2004’s You’re A Woman, I’m a Machine or the sophisticated take on the same as 2014’s The Physical World but it’s a worthwhile listen even if it doesn’t much push the band’s existing envelope and its seemingly meta social commentary can be a tad oblique. The live show, though still seems as exuberant as ever. Opening band The Beaches, also from Toronto, is a pretty straight forward rock and roll band with a harder edge than many of the bands mining the overworked classic rock mold. But there’s more of a power pop melodicism to The Beaches that lifts it from the tired blues based hard rock that’s been pedaled ad infinitum over the past half decade and more.

Saturday: November 11, 2017

LCDSoundsystem's  James Murphy
James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem, photo by Ruvan Wijesooriya

Who: LCD Soundsystem w/Traxx
When: Saturday, 11.11, 7 p.m.
Where: 1stBank Center
Why: Too much pop music is concerned with an adolescent view of love and relationships and the world in general. Which is the appeal for many people who either are there in their lives or who are, somewhere in their heads, trapped in yearning for that time in their lives where they put adolescence and youth on a pedestal as the best time in life. But anyone who gets past 27, and especially into or past your 30s knows the best years of your life are rarely your teens and early 20s. Besides, you can’t go back and a lot of popular art and music isn’t aimed toward you and your life experience and perspectives. Fortunately, when LCD Soundsystem came back, the band gave us a record like American Dream which has all the liveliness and innovation of the band’s earlier records as well as words that speak honestly to concerns, feelings and thoughts that come to you if you’re an especially sensitive, perceptive and introspective younger person and definitely when you’re well into adulthood. No dumbing down or pandering required or given and all sarcasm and sardonic humor hitting exactly where it needs to be.

Who: Franksgiving w/Little Fyodor & Babushka, Ralph Gean and Esmerelda Strange
When: Saturday, 11.11, 9 p.m.
Where: Lion’s Lair
Why: This is an annual event thrown by Franklin Bell to benefit the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation. As usual, the fantastic punk rock band Little Fyodor & Babushka will perform and outweird and frankly outpunk most other bands at the same time with surprisingly catchy songs about anxiety and our strange world. Ralph Gean, Denver’s O.G. still living rock star will perform as well as Esmerelda Strange whose performance moniker is no mere clever stage name.

Who: HorrorHouse Pinball Tournament of Death
When: Saturday, 11.11, 6 p.m.
Where: Vision Comics & Oddities (3958 S. Federal)
Why: This will be a combination haunted house and pinball tournament. It’s $15 to enter with pinball machines provided and maintained by Bloodshed Deathbath’s Ryan Policky who also designed the haunt. His band A Shoreline Dream has been releasing some of the most beautiful shoegaze singles over the past year in preparation for an eventual full length release sometime next year. On this night, however, music will be provided in part by DJ Fernando Altonaga of industrial band eHpH.

Who: Screwtape tour kickoff w/Remain & Sustain, King Kaleb, Victim Culture, Discount Price, Lovely Gang
When: Saturday, 11.11, 6:30 p.m.
Where: 7th Circle Music Collective
Why: If you were to name, oh, the top three best punk bands out of Denver right now, Screwtape would have to be on that list because the hardcore outfit because its shows are an explosion of energy and it has something to say rather than resort to being mere entertainment.

Who: cEvin Key, Djoto, Mudwulf and VJ Dizypixl
When: Saturday, 11.11, 9 p.m.
Where: Ophelia’s
Why: cEvin Key of Skinny Puppy and Download fame will do a DJ set this night with some local noise/industrial luminaries including Cozmos Mudwulf. VJ Dizypixl does visuals for all kinds of artists across the country but is based in Denver metro and will provide her usual array of arresting visuals.

Who: Jean-Baptiste Le Cessna
When: Saturday, 11.11, 9 p.m.
Where: Hi-Dive
Why: Slim Cessna (of the Auto Club, of course) doesn’t often perform a solo show so who can say exactly what he’ll perform. But it’ll be with his usual warm yet haunting voice and expressive guitar work.

Tuesday: November 14, 2017

Gift Of Gab
Gift of Gab, photo from officialgiftofgab.com

Who: Porlolo w/Jeff Beam, Turvy Organ and Cocordion
When: Tuesday, 11.14, 8 p.m.
Where: Hi-Dive
Why: Porlolo has various part time members but it’s all the songwriting of Erin Roberts who has kept the project going for more than a decade. In the beginning it might have been described as a side project of her band with Joe Sampson, A Dog Paloma, but the latter has long since gone the way of all things. Is it folk? Maybe grounded there in some senses. Singer-songwriter? What does that even mean when such can be said of Nick Drake, Elliott Smith, Joni Mitchell and Greg Laswell? Indie rock? It’s all clumsy labeling for Roberts whose songs combine keen insight into human behavior, poignant observations about everyday experiences and a existential sense of humor that can wax to the absurd and silly. Cocordion is the experimental indie rock band from Colorado Springs that just released its debut full length record, Expectations, also not short on insightful words about the world we live in and our individual navigations of uncertainty, despair and how, yes, expectations (our own, that of others) shape our perceptions. Turvy Organ is the secret great band more people should know about because its orchestral pop songs are dark, moody, expansive and thought-provoking.

Who: Gift of Gab (Blackalicious), Landon Wordswell, Tope, Reason the Citizen, Kruza Kid
When: Tuesday, 11.14, 8 p.m.
Where: Larimer Lounge
Why: Gift of Gab (born Timothy Parker) is one of the most talented MCs in all of hip-hop and his fast, literate, profane, profound, pointed delivery is one of the things that made Blackalicious one of the most popular and influential acts in underground hip-hop since the 90s. In 2017, Gab released his latest EP, Rejoice! Rappers are Rapping Again!! And it’s no mere boast because the EP is the rapper in high form.

Wednesday: November 15, 2017

Who: Cut Copy w/Palmbomen II
When: Wednesday, 11.15, 7 p.m.
Where: Ogden Theatre
Why: Cut Copy was one of the few bands that got a good deal of buzz in the 2000s that was better than the buzz would suggest. They early on melded together 80s synth pop sensibilities with shoegaze guitars. And live those guitars were fiery and atmospheric at once. Following 2008’s In Ghost Colours, Cut Copy increasingly experimented with electronic sounds and production techniques for both its records and its live shows. In 2011, Zonoscope probably confused some fans of the band’s early music with its complete adoption of an electronic dance aesthetic which, honestly, was where the band seemed to be going from the beginning. 2013’s Free Your Mind brought the band into a more electrosoul direction that it continued with on 2017’s Haiku from Zero. However, in September 2016, Cut Copy released a limited edition cassette called January Tape. It’s a mostly ambient and minimal synth affair and fans of Popol Vuh, Panabrite and Sinoia Caves will find a lot to like there but it’s a safe bet you won’t see it live. However, Cut Copy won’t skimp on the energy and bright, enveloping atmospheres and dance-worthy rock songs that have made it a noteworthy band from early on.

Who: Samvega w/Medusa’s Disco and Today’s Paramount
When: Wednesday, 11.15, 8 p.m.
Where: Flux Capacitor
Why: Samvega from Napa Valley, California doesn’t fit in a simple box: Its music is heavy, it’s psychedelic, it’s avant-garde and bluesy. Melissa and Mercedes Baker are unconventionally charismatic singers who sound like and come off like they spent a couple of decades touring with Heart and went on to do something weirder. The band’s 2016 album The King is Asleep was one of that year’s most interesting rock albums for its diversity and obvious care for making it a unique from the songwriting to the painting for the cover art. Also on the bill is experimental rock band Today’s Paramount. They look like they might be in a ska band, and maybe on the side some of them are, but their weirdo take on prog, jazz and psych is not like much of anything going on in Denver.