SUMAC formed in 2014 when Kurt Ballou of Converge connected guitarist Aaron Turner (Isis, Old Man Gloom, Mammifer, House of Low Culture) who had written the initial elements of songs with Baptists drummer Nick Yacyshyn to help realize Turner’s vision of crafting the heaviest music of his career then thus far. Brian Cook of Russian Circles and formerly of These Arms Are Snakes and Botch rounded out the classic and current line-up in time for the group’s debut album. The resulting four albums since (The Deal from 2015, What One Becomes in 2016, Love in Shadow out 2018 and May You Be Held released in 2020) are indeed some of the heaviest records of recent years. But as with Turner’s other projects it’s never just heavy for the sake of that quality, it’s intricate and imaginative, emotionally charged soundscapes in which the contributions of all the players seems to be highlighted. Certainly with the most recent album it’s not relentlessly crushing dynamics but a flood of textures seemingly elevated in a suspended and sustained whirlpool of sound that rushes through you and then out like experiencing a state of being. Calling it post-metal or sludge metal is one way of giving people an idea of what they’re in for but the music itself has more in common with artists like Neurosis and SunnO))) than with some other bands lumped under those genre designations. Perhaps it is conceived of as a mind-altering experience to perform and thus witness when you’re in the room with it live. The fact that SUMAC has collaborative albums with noise legend Keiji Haino who is highly selective with whom he does work speaks much to how SUMAC isn’t merely a metal or heavy band.
Turner has long been a champion of forward thinking underground music since the 90s with his label Hydra Head Records which issued releases from the likes of Boris, Big Business, Cave In, Daughters, Dälek, Jesu, Kayo Dot, Oxbow, Khanate, Harvey Milk, Xasthur and The VSS. Its roster is a kind of who’s who of heavier experimental music of its heyday. Through the label and touring Turner has had a vehicle for exploring his creative interests in music and visual art which brings an added dimension to SUMAC’s releases as well and the ethos with which the band operates. On its current tour the group will be joined by purveyors of death doom Blood Spore and Los Angeles-based avant-garde saxophonist Patrick Shiroishi.
We recently had a chance to talk with Turner about his roots in music, his early and ongoing experiences with DIY music and culture, working with Keiji Haino and the aims of his record labels Hydra Head and SIGE among other subjects that hopefully hold surprises for the patient listener. Find links to SUMAC, Hydra Head, SIEGE, Thrill Jockey and information for the Denver show (including buying tickets) this Sunday, March 13, 2022 below the Bandcamp link to listen to the interview.
With disaster and political malfeasance plagueing the world, not helped by an American president filled with the insufferable hubris to troll not just a dictator with nuclear capabilities and a proven delivery system as well as an American territory hit hard by a hurricane it’s difficult to think how anything less serious matters much. But getting no enjoyment out of life won’t make things better for anyone so what follows are a list of some of the best shows happening in Denver this coming week.
Who:Atriarch, Fotocrime, Echo Beds and Palehorse/Palerider When: Thursday, 10.12, 9 p.m. Where: Meadowlark Lounge Why: Portland’s Atriarch creates the kind of ominous, bluntly forceful yet elegant music that shows you where noise, deathrock and black metal intersect to create the soundtrack to an epic post-apocalyptic horror film soundtrack. It’s new record, Dead As Truth, should appeal to fans of Neurosis, Swans and Wolves in the Throne Room. Fotocrime includes members of Coliseum and Young Widows. Not too surprising considering Coliseum’s latest, and best, material is a reinvention of dark post-punk. Fotocrime is even more in that vein but with the forcefulness of a post-hardcore band. And that would be reason enough for going to this show but you’ll also get to see Denver’s great industrial/noise band Echo Beds and Palehorse/Palerider who are on that post-punk vibe but more in the vein of colossal, atmospheric doom metal. That is if Kevin Shields got into that game. It’s 2017 album, Burial Songs, is a sprawling science fiction and fantasy epic in its own right.
Who:We Should Have Been DJs (WI), Once A Month (WI), Guts and Obtuse When: Thursday, 10.12, 9 p.m. Where: Mutiny Information Cafe Why: Madison, Wisconsin’s We Should Have Been DJs are that kind of noisy, sloppy and relentless weirdo punk brings their show to Mutiny with fellow Wisconsinites Once a Month, a lo-fi, fuzzy punk trio that is so bratty and irreverent it’s worth listening to for that alone. “Ghosting” and “Boys Oughta” from their new split with We Should Have Been DJs are brilliantly pointed pieces of commentary. Denver emo punks Guts and Obtuse put out two of the best EPs/splits of the year out of that world that has been re-emerging over the past half decade or so. Flavorwise, Guts is more DC-esque emo and Obtuse more midwest/Chicago/Champagne-Urbana style.
Who:Candace w/Eyebeams and Boat Drinks When: Thursday, 10.12, 8 p.m. Where: Hi-Dive Why: Candace is “country shoegaze”? Maybe the shimmer from certain kinds of country and the solid songwriting. But the Portland band’s music could have come out 26 years ago of at the height of slowcore in the 90s or today with a fresh take on all of that. Opening are Denver dream pop band Eyebeams and Boat Drinks, a band whose melancholic pop songs suggest maybe the songwriters listened to a lot of Chisel (though probably Ted Leo & The Pharmacists) and Wilco but that is no knock on the excellent songwriting.
Who:Battalion of Saints, The Nobodys and The Cryptics When: Thursday, 10.12, 7 p.m. Where: The Marquis Theater Why: Battalion of Saints was part of the first wave of hardcore when it launched in San Diego in 1980. Sure it had the edgy furiousness of other hardcore bands and thus part of the appeal. But Battalion of Saints always had a melodic quality to even its heavier songs that has aged better than some of the music of its contemporaries. Colorado Springs-based melodic hardcore veterans The Nobodys opens the show alongside Dover, New Hampshire’s The Cryptics.
Who:Jonwayne w/Danny Watts and Grigsby When: Saturday, 10.14, 8 p.m. Where: Lost Lake Why: Jonwayne was one of the youngest performers at Low End Theory when he started performing at the legendary hip-hop showcase in 2010. He started attending the night when he was still a teenager in 2009 and he became friendly with Diaba$e and later Peanut Butter Wolf who has since signed the rapper and beatmaker to his Stones Throw label. Jonwayne garnered early attention for his mixtapes including 2011’s I Don’t Care and Cassette and Cassette 2 from 2012 and 2013 respectively. His lyrical deftness was reminiscent of Aesop Rock but his beatmaking has always been creative in his use of musical samples in synch with unusual field recordings to craft truly unique rhythms. 2017’s Rap Album Two further confirms Jonwayne’s gift for storytelling and imaginative soundscapes. Jonwayne discovered Danny Watts when the latter contacted him through Soundcloud. Watts, originally from Houston, had been working at a Costco optical department with no realistic prospect of taking his music to the professional level but there was a creative connection between the two artists and Jonwayne was very involved in making the music for Danny Watts’ 2017 release Black Boy Meets World, a powerfully vulnerable and honest set of songs that spell out some of the downbeats of modern life with a rare sensitivity.
Who:D.I., Redbush, The Hacks and Amuse When: Saturday, 10.14, 8 p.m. Where: Streets of London Why: D.I. is indeed the hardcore band that was in Penelope Spheeris’ Suburbia. Or at least vocalist Casey Royer is still in the band. The group had a memorable scene in the film where they perform “Richard Hung Himself,” which was originally written when Royer was in The Adolescents. But D.I. Had plenty of other material and its sing-along, poppy punk sure seemed to have an influence a generation or more of punk bands to follow. Denver’s The Hacks are cut from a similar cloth including an irreverently self-deprecating sense of humor as evidenced by the title of its 2017 album: Three Chord Cliché.
Who:Black Out—Solar Powered Show w/Ned Garthe Explosion, The Amphibious Man and Colfax Speed Queen When: Saturday, 10.14, 7 p.m. Where: 7th Circle Music Collective Why: This show is going to be drawing on solar power, presumably stored in the kind of battery that can provide ample power for three rock bands to play at least partial sets. For this show Ned Garthe Explosion and Colfax Speed Queen will demonstrate how bands that in some ways came out of the garage rock and psychedelic resurgence of the past 8 years or so can take the threads of the music that informed a lot of other bands and do something genuinely interesting with it. Ned Garthe and Stuart Confer playing off each other and the crowd provide some hilarious stage banter.
Who:The Bronx w/Plague Vendor and ’68 When: Saturday, 10.14, 7:30 p.m. Where: Globe Hall Why: The Bronx is often referred to as hardcore but its sound is like someone found a way to inject Aerosmith by way of L.A. glam metal into a punk band. Somehow it works. But if you’re not at all into Turbonegro or the the glammy end of The Refused, you probably won’t like The Bronx. Plague Vendor is in a similar vein and apparently calls its sound “voodoo punk.” Which is fitting since there seems to be some trippy-ish surf rock in its aesthetic that makes you think these guys listen to a lot of The Cramps and, in its noisier more hectic moments, At The Drive-In.
Who:Listener w/Levi the Poet and Comrades When: Sunday, 10.15, 7 p.m. Where: Marquis Theater Why: When Listener first started touring through Denver over a decade ago, it was the spoken word/hip-hop project of Dan Smith. His rapping and beats was in a similar vein to that of artists on the Rhymesayers and Anticon labels meaning sharply observed lyrics and a mastery of delivery. These days, Listener hasn’t ditched his poetic sensibilities but the music is provided by a live band whose introspective music has more in common with post-rock and Daniel Lanois than Smith’s organic and electric beatmaking of old and in many ways the better for it. 2017’s Being Empty: Being Filled finds Smith in an especially emotionally vibrant and impassioned mode.
Who:Imelda Marcos (Chicago) w/Body Meat and Club Soda When: Sunday, 10.15, 9 p.m. Where: 3 Kings Tavern Why: Imelda Marcos is a math rock/avant-garde noise rock band from Chicago whose 2017 album Dalawa might be compared to the likes of This Heat, Laddio Bolocko or Don Caballero. At least in its use of space in the songs and willingness to employ unorthodox rhythms and methods of playing guitar strings. Denver’s Body Meat might be similarly described except there seems to be more of a jazz component to Body Meat otherwise maybe its disorienting and angular flow of rhythms would be difficult to pull off.
Who:Boris w/SubRosa at Endon When: Tuesday, 10.17, 7 p.m. Where: Globe Hall Why: Boris is the long-running metal/avant-guitar rock band from Japan. Its music helped to define stoner and doom rock for the past 25 years. While influenced heavily by Melvins (the band took its name from a Melvins song), Boris seems to just explore whatever realm of sound and rock and roll suggests itself to the band. Whether it’s broad vistas of sound with 2000’s Flood, crushing fuzz sculpting with 1998’s appropriately titled Amplifier Worship, the heaviest of heavy shoegaze and psychedelia with 2005’s classic album Pink or 2017’s eclectic Dear, Boris always seems to be reaching in different directions for inspiration. Live, Boris will remind you why so many other guitar bands are playing it safe in terms of both the sounds employed and the level of energy put into the show. Opening is SubRosa, the mystical/atmospheric doom band from Salt Lake City. Since its inception, SubRosa’s imagery and music has seemingly drawn upon primal, earth energies to put into its whole aesthetic. 2016’s For This We Fought the Battle of Ages is classic SubRosa in its weaving together organic, almost folk elements with epic, heavy, densely atmospheric guitar work and pummeling tribal rhythms that carry your imagination into the mythological realms that are at the heart of the music.
Who:Chromadrift and Victoria Lundy When: Tuesday, 10.17, 7 p.m. Where: Hooked On Colfax Why: This latest installment of the Speakeasy Series hosted by Glasss Records in the basement of Hooked on Colfax features two of Denver’s most accomplished ambient/experimental electronic artists. With Chromadrift, Drew Miller has found a way to tap into the same well of transcendent and transporting sound and rhythm that seems to inform the work of Boards of Canada. Except that Miller’s song titles seem more grounded in immediately relatable themes rather than the suggestive mysteriousness of BOC. And this cozy setting would be the perfect place to experience his music live. Victoria Lundy has been a veteran of various facets of the Denver expermental music scene since at least the 90s. She uses the theramin the way other musicians play their classical instruments and she has in fact adapted classical pieces for her performance. Ultimately, though, Lundy is a nerd and that finds its way into her elegant way of expressing those impulses such as her 2015 electro/ambient album Miss American Vampire. Every Victoria Lundy show is different so expect something well-composed but leaving room for intuition to guide the sound where it may go this evening.
Who:Dälek w/Street Sects, Echo Beds and It’s Just Bugs When: Tuesday, 10.17, 8 p.m. Where: The Marquis Why: Dälek formed in the late 90s and from the beginning its use of sound and samples was markedly different from most other hip-hop acts. In retrospect the group’s most obvious peers in beatmaking and soundsculpting (i.e. Sole, cLOUDDEAD, Cannibal Ox, Aesop Rock, El-P) started getting off the ground to a national audience around the same time. But it was Dälek that seemed to be embraced by more open-minded fans of heavy music who could appreciate what one might call the My Bloody Valentine meets Godflesh sound of the group. In 2011 the project went on hiatus for a few years before reuniting to write and record 2016’s Asphalt for Eden on Profound Lore, a label that generally releases metal in a more experimental vein. In 2017 Dälek released Endangered Philosophies on Ipecac, an imprint also well known for its catalog of arty, innovative heavy music. Austin’s Street Sects is one of the opening acts and its gritty, dark and aggressive industrial punk has garnered it an international audience. The 2016 album End Position blurred all lines between hardcore, industrial and breakcore. 2017’s Rat Jacket takes the band into even darker thematic territory. Apparently hard political and economic times is a good time for music that gives no fucks about peeling back the scab of society’s sins. Speaking of which, two Denver bands are also on the bill. Echo Beds has been developing its own synthesis of punk, industrial and noise since 2010 and these days have honed strong ideas into sharp songs that articulate and embody the desperation of the current era. With its visceral live show, Echo Beds is pretty unforgettable. It’s Just Bugs is an industrial rap band whose forays into noise are a refreshingly developed use of sounds as samples.
Who:Pixies w/Mitski When: Wednesday, 10.18, 7 p.m. Where: The Fillmore Auditorium Why: Pixies probably got its greatest boost into mainstream popularity oddly with the release of the 1999 film Fight Club. Because if you went to see the band during its 2003-2004 reunion tour cycle a lot of the crowd seemed largely lukewarm to and confused by the band’s other classic material but when “Where is My Mind?” came on the crowd went wild. Some of us got to be confused by Pixies during its earlier era when the 1988 album Doolittle was offered in the metal section of tape/CD clubs and when it turned out that it wasn’t metal didn’t know what to think of it. But once everything clicked the genius of the band’s unusual and imaginative lyrics and its willingness to go off the standard time signatures and roll with the moment became something to be cherished rather than dismissed. This version of the band is without founding bassist Kim Deal but Joe Santiago’s truly eccentric and brilliant guitar work will be there along with Black Francis’ alien yet melodious and intense vocals and David Lovering’s expressive and propulsive drumming. Also, if you’re going to get a bass player Paz Lenchantin is no slouch and her talent has elevated other artists like Jarboe, A Perfect Circle, Jenny Lewis, Queens of the Stone Age and Silver Jews. Opening the show is Mitski whose emotionally charged rock songs are cathartically confessional and some of the most strikingly honest music of the past few years.
Who:Girlpool w/Palm and Sweater Belly When: Wednesday, 10.18, 7 p.m. Where: Larimer Lounge Why: Seems like any guitar band that has a tinge of distortion and any whiff of DIY credibility is called “punk” like a sound rather than an attitude. Or, worse, when said music isn’t particularly aggressive and the band is all or mostly women, “pastel punk.” Girlpool probably gets painted in that light often and if the band chooses to embrace that sort of thing, it’s certainly entitled to because who gets to tell a band whether or not it’s really punk. But fans of dream or indie pop will find much to like in Girlpool’s expansive melodies and fluid song dynamics, particularly on its excellent 2017 album Powerplant. Philadelphia’s Palm toured with LVL UP earlier in 2017 and its precise, spidery guitar interplay was reminiscent of a band like Young Marble Giants had the members gone on to be members of 90s math rock bands and then ditched the sound but not the musical skill and ended up like some weirdo neo-No Wave jazz band. Its 2017 album (EP?) Shadow Expert is a nice reminder that a band can be completely weird and completely accessible at the same time.