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.

Best Shows in Denver 9/19/19 – 9/25/19

JaySom_LindseyByrnes
Jay Som performs at Larimer Lounge on September 24, 2019

Thursday | September 19

PsychedelicPornCrumpets_JoshLudlow
Psychedelic Porn Crumpets, photo by Josh Ludlow

What: Psychedelic Porn Crumpets w/Meatbodies and Serpentfoot
When: Thursday, 09.19, 7 p.m.
Where: Larimer Lounge
Why: The unlikely named Psychedelic Porn Crumpets from Perth, Australia at least picked an apt moniker because it captures what you’re in for. Oh, sure, stoner rocked psychedelia thrown together with prog and fuzzy melodies and tripped out choruses. Its new album And Now For the Whatchamacallit has surreal song titles like “My Friend’s a Liquid,” “Digital Hunger,” “Hymn For A Droid” and “Keen For Kick Ons.” If Lewis Carroll had been born in the 90s and grew up at a time when the older kids in Tame Impala and Pond were kicking around in the local scene he might have ended up in a band like this.

What: Why? w/Barrie
When: Thursday, 09.19, 8 p.m.
Where: Bluebird Theater

What: Swim (Baltimore), Horse Girl, Eamonn Wilcox and Cop Circles
When: Thursday, 09.19, 9 p.m.
Where: Rhinoceropolis

Cuco_courtesyArtist
Cuco, photo courtesy the artist

What: Cuco w/Ambar Lucid and KAINA
When: Thursday, 09.19, 7 p.m.
Where: Mission Ballroom
Why: At twenty-one Omar Banos aka Cuco is a bonafide pop star who came up on Chicano rap stars like Baby Bash and MC Magic. Like the latter he also sings and raps in English and Spanish. Banos has also folded into his soundscapes a laid back kind of psychedelic pop sound. While his songwriting and the production thereon is strong and evocative, his music videos and storytelling shows a side of life that is honest, surprisingly candid and often uncomfortable but real and therein lies the power of the presentation of his music. “Bossa No Sé” from his debut album Para Mi (2019) navigates the troubled waters of a breakup with sensitivity, complexity and comfort with uncertainty and confusion. Cuco’s balance of the romantic and the realistic has been fascinating so far.

What: GEL SET (L.A.), Natural Violence, DJ Noah Anthony, DJ Rewd and guest
When: Thursday, 09.19, 9 p.m.
Where: Meadowlark Bar

Friday | September 20

Melvins2019Chris Mortenson2
Melvins, photo by Chris Mortenson

What: The Melvins w/Redd Kross and Toshi Kasai
When: Friday, 09.20, 8 p.m.
Where: Gothic Theatre
Why: Melvins have done pretty much whatever they’ve wanted to that was fun for them music-wise since beginning in 1983. Before grunge was a thing, Melvins had already perfected that sound and aesthetic as well as a certain strain of doom. Most left field heavy music today can probably trace a bit of influence to the band originally from Montesano, Washington. The group’s prolific catalog covers a good deal of sonic territory and the band has collaborated with the likes of industrial music pioneer Lustmord, Jello Biafra and, recently, with Swedish noise-punk stars Shitkid (who are performing select dates on the current tour) on the Bangers EP. The group has experimented with the format of its lineup such as when the members of Big Business joined for two drummers and a bassist. And now with two bassists and a single drummer. Or as Melvins Lite with Mr. Bungle (among other projects) member Trevor Dunn on bass. Melvins might also be the only American band to have played all fifty states in fifty days. You never quite know what you’re in store for with a Melvins show except that it’ll be worth your time unless heavy, imaginative music and powerful performances thereof aren’t your thing. Melvins bassist Steven McDonald is doing double duty this tour with his original band, the influential punk/power pop group Redd Kross.

Boris1
Boris, photo courtesy the artists

What: Boris w/Uniform
When: Friday, 09.20, 8 p.m.
Where: Marquis Theater
Why: Japanese heavy, experimental psych and drone extravaganza, Boris, is currently touring in support of its 2019 album LφVE & EvφL due out October 4. If you’re going expecting their mind-altering psychedelic freakouts, rumor has it you may be let down. But if you are into the slow roiling drone the band has engaged in in the past but updated and more like a psych SunnO))) this would be the tour to catch. Opening the show is industrial noise band Uniform which is comprised of former members of The Men and Drunkdriver.

What: Brian Wilson (Al Jardine & Blondie Chaplin featuring selections from Friends, Surf’s Up and the hits) w/The Zombies
When: Friday, 09.20, 7 p.m.
Where: Paramount Theatre

What: Eventually It Will Kill You showcase 2nd anniversary: TWINS (ATL), Golden Donna (PDX), Lone Dancer Peer Review b2b E.I.W.K.Y., you already know
When: Friday, 09.20, 8 p.m.
Where: Rhinoceropolis
Why: The anniversary party for Denver electronic music and darkwave imprint Eventually It Will Kill You.

Demoncassettecult_wJuniordeer_Nov8_2018_TomMurphy
Demoncassettecult (Junior Deer on left), photo by Tom Murphy

What: 30 Years of Work: VAHCO 1989-2019 Physical release w/Dead Characters, Chromadrift, nIGHTtIMEsCHOOLbUS, Bowshock and Demoncassettecult
When: Friday, 09.20, 7 p.m.
Where: Mutiny Information Café
Why: Vahco Before Horses aka Vahco Strickland has spent the last thirty years involved in producing, promoting and writing music in various formats and styles. This show celebrates his career retrospective and the release of the flash drive containing one hundred of his songs. The performances will include collaborations with various members of bands affiliated with his Glasss Records imprint as well as a showcase for his more electronic pop songs and his industrial ambient collage songwriting as Demoncassettecult.

Saturday | September 21

Zealot_Jan12_2019_TomMurphy_sm
Zealot, photo by Tom Murphy

What: Zealot album release w/Simulators and The Vanilla Milkshakes
When: Saturday, 09.21, 8 p.m.
Where: Hi-Dive
Why: Zealot is releasing its debut album The Book of Ramifications. But what this debut album doesn’t make obvious are the musical roots of the group in Denver underground rock. Does that matter? It does if you know who The Don’ts and Be Carefuls, Supply Boy, Façade and Ideal Fathers were. Or The Outfit, The Pseudo Dates, Violent Summer or Fingers of the Sun were. Much less Catatonic Lydia or Le Divorce. All of that goes into informing the upbeat, well-crafted pop songs that comprise the band’s new album and the sizzling, wiry energy of its performances. There is a tick toward the positive running through the record. Rather than a “city of the dead” there’s “City of the Living.” Instead of irrevocable mistakes there’s “Fix it in Post.” Rather than a dark horse there’s a “Show Pony.” Instead of a broken heart there’s “Overloud Heart.” You get “Somnambulist” instead of insomnia. “Black Paint” rather than institutional yellow. A “Snake Goddess” rather than the insecure dictator Yaweh. “Casio Argento” in place of Dario or Asia. And more. It’s an upbeat record with some tight melodies and a charming economy of songwriting. The Simulators will bring the angular menace of its music and Vanilla Milkshakes will deliver earnest, blustery pop punk as companion to Zealot’s fastidious songcraft. Oh yes, there’s also a companion covers album called Revised Edition featuring renditions of all the songs on the new record as done by the band’s local scene peers as well as a solo cover done by the band’s bassist Suzi Allegra. All of which is a gesture not many bands would bother to attempt to release concurrent with a new album.

What: Das Ich w/Velvet Acid Christ, Oberer Todpunkt, DJ Katastrophy
When: Saturday, 09.21, 7 p.m.
Where: Herman’s Hideaway

Anna_Morsette_AnthonyIsaac
Anna Morsett of The Still Tide, photo by Anthony Isaac

What: Charlie Cunningham w/The Still Tide
When: Saturday, 09.21, 8 p.m.
Where: Globe Hall
Why: The Still Tide’s Anna Morsett has played in Colorado musical projects as varied as Ark Life, Porlolo and These United States as well as with Natalie Tate and Brent Cowles. But perhaps where she shines brightest is in her own band The Still Tide. Her guitar work is both ethereal and fiery, her ear for dynamics and tone keen and imaginative. Morsett’s songwriting is both intimate yet expansive, introspective and yearning, reconciling contrasts with a broad emotional palette. And she’s opening for noteworthy UK singer-songwriter Charlie Cunningham whose 2017 album lines included the deeply evocative single “Minimum” and its entrancing atmospheres.

What: Wovenhand w/Jaye Jayle
When: Saturday, 09.21, 8 p.m.
Where: Larimer Lounge
Why: Evan Patterson is rightfully known for his heavier music with Young Widows and Breather Resist. But his Jaye Jayle project is taking him in a different direction with a pastoral songwriting style that serves well the contemplative storytelling of the music he initially wrote as a solo project rather than something that needed to fit into the format of a full, loud band. These days he has partners in realizing the musical vision and the results is a kind of haunted Americana. Which makes it an ideal pairing with Americana infused post-punk/noise rock band Wovenhand from Denver. Wovenhand started out as very much in the post-Sixteen Horsepower vein continuing what singer and main songwriter David Eugene Edwards had been developing since the late 80s. But in the past decade the music has become more sonically intense (it was always emotionally so) and incorporating a broader range of dynamics and sounds so that early fans may even find it, except for Edwards’ undeniable spiritual presence, unrecognizable.

What: Bison Bone, Casey James Prestwood and the Burning Angels
When: Saturday, 09.21, 8:30 p.m.
Where: Ophelia’s Electric Soapbox

What: Greg Laswell w/Sarah Slaton
When: Saturday, 09.21, 7 p.m.
Where: The Soiled Dove Underground
Why: Greg’s warmth and humanity expressed in clever and insightful turns of phrase has made him a national treasure of a songwriter.

What: Future Days: Can Tribute
When: Saturday, 09.21, 10 p.m.
Where: Mutiny Information Café

What: Mdou Moctar w/Pale Sun
When: Saturday, 09.21, 8 p.m.
Where: Lost Lake
Why: Mdou Moctar might be the most internationally renowned guitarist and songwriter out of Niger in the modern era and his electric adaptations of Tuareg guitar music has made him a favorite among discerning music fans who are open to such fusions of musical ideas, rhythms and sounds. To the uninitiated he may sound like an exotic prog artist but his music is deep and sophisticated. He is again touring in support of his 2019 album Ilana (The Creator).

What: Seventh Circle 7 year anniversary night 1: 1476, Only Echos, Postnihilist, Causer, Kid Mask, Videodrome, GACK, DOX, Didaktikos, Tuck Knee and secret guests 
When: Saturday, 09.21, 12:30 p.m.
Where: Seventh Circle Music Collective
Why: Rarely do anniversaries happen on a numerically specific date related to a venue or an endeavor of any kind of this all day all evening marathon of music across two dates celebrates the continued success of Denver’s DIY venue Seventh Circle Music Collective.

What: Speedealer w/Barstool Messiah and Valiomierda
When: Saturday, 09.21, 8 p.m.
Where: Streets Denver

Sunday | September 22

SurfCurse_Julien-Sage
Surf Curse, photo by Julien Sage

What: Surf Curse w/Dirt Buyer
When: Sunday, 09.22, 7 p.m.
Where: Larimer Lounge
Why: Surf Curse is a duo from Los Angeles whose name may convey the impression it’s one of those surf rock/garage psych bands that have plagued the musical landscape for around a decade. And to some extent that’s exactly what these guys are. Except there’s something raw about their songwriting and performances and their music videos, whoever is directly involved in their scripting and design, speak to an uncommon creative imagination and as though the people in the band had in mind films that their songs might suit. Pick any of the videos and you’ll find something that’s a cut above most videos most bands are making these days. The band’s new album, Heaven Surrounds You, was released on September 13 on Danger Collective. For a duo Nick Rattigan and Jacob Rubeck manage to have a full sound yet spare songwriting so they’re doing something right.

What: Seventh Circle 7 year anniversary night 2,: JSR (Alex from this band named Seventh Circle), Sliver, Arctobog, Curtis T and the Duffel Bag Boys, Caustic Soda, The Slacks, Unit-Y, Pinetree Janitorial Service, American Psychonaut, Astral Planes, Hellspoon and Activate Boner and secret guest
When: Sunday, 09.22, 12:30 p.m.
Where: Seventh Circle Music Collective
Why: Second day of Seventh Circle Music Collective’s seven year anniversary going from early afternoon until midnight.

What: Pop Will Eat Itself w/Chemlab and Scifidelic w/DJ Dave Vendetta
When: Sunday, 09.22, 7 p.m.
Where: Oriental Theater
Why: Pop Will Eat Itself is a genre bending band that dispensed with the usual stylistic boundaries between grebo, sleaze rock and industrial dance music akin to My Life With the Thrill Kill Kult. Chemlab was one of the bands that helped define the sound and aesthetic of industrial rock in the 90s fusing old school industrial with hard rock.

Monday | September 23

AcidKing1
Acid King, photo courtesy the artists

What: Acid King w/Wizard Rifle and Warish
When: Monday, 09.23, 7 p.m.
Where: MarquisTheater
Why: Acid King is on tour in support of the twentieth anniversary of its classic psych doom album Busse Woods. The group began in the early 90s when its sound was very much not in vogue but two decades later its heavy, experimental psych metal, not fully duplicated by other artists, has made it a cult band among connoisseurs of that realm of music.

What: God is an Astronaut w/Spiral Cell and Brother Saturn
When: Monday, 09.23, 7 p.m.
Where: Bluebird Theater

Tuesday | September 24

Boy_Scouts_Ulysses_Ortega
Boy Scouts, photo by Ulysses Ortega

What: Jay Som w/Boy Scouts and Affectionately
When: Tuesday, 09.24, 7 p.m.
Where: Larimer Lounge
Why: Jay Som’s hazy pop songs have a personal emotional insight and sophistication of songcraft that can be easy to miss when you’re lost in the moment with her. Her new album Anak Ko blurs the lines between noisy shoegaze, indie pop and the 70s Laurel Canyon sound. Taylor Vick of Boy Scouts has written one of the most affecting, vivid and cathartic set of songs about loss and healing from sorrow and setbacks of the past few years for the new Boy Scouts album Free Company. Her unconventional melodies and song dynamics give her compositions a depth and complexity that reward repeatedly exploring her catalog.

What: Like A Villain, Harms, Earth Control Pill and Debaser
When: Tuesday, 09.24, 8 p.m.
Where: Rhinoceropolis
Why: Like A Villain is sort of an industrial ambient act whose dark and heavily textured atmospheres explore the personal and collective psyche in operatic vocals and processed loops. The new album What Makes Vulnerability Good, released on September 20, 2019, makes exquisite use of space in tone and rhythm that it engulfs you gently before you realize it.

Wednesday | September 25

Photo: Dara Munnis. @daramunnis
Tash Sultana, photo by Dara Munnis (@daramunnis)

What: Tash Sultana w/The Tesky Brothers
When: Tuesday, 09.24, 6:30 p.m.
Where: Red Rocks
Why: Tash Sultana is a guitar prodigy whose psychedelic rock, blues and folk songs created with her expert ability to play multiple part at once and along with loops is impressive on its own but the energy and enthusiasm with which she plays is infectious. As a multi-instrumentalist, Sultana crafts her songs real time in an almost orchestral manner as an orchestra of one. Difficult to pigeonhole a genre for Sultana as her songwriting style is unique but might be compared to an artist like Tune Yards.

RussianCircles_courtesyArtists
Russian Circles, photo courtesy the artists

What: Russian Circles w/Facs
When: Tuesday, 09.24, 7 p.m.
Where: Bluebird Theater
Why: Russian Circles is an instrumental metal band from Chicago but it’s songs are more akin to post-rock in their use of mood and nuanced dynamic builds from spare tonal echoes to roilingly triumphant riffs that burst and rain down like ash following a volcanic eruption or like a dam bursting releasing a torrent of sonic water and debris. Its 2019 album Blood Year finds the band evoking ancient civilizations (“Kohokia”) and primal mythological imagery (“Hunter Moon” and “Ghost on High”). Opening the show is Chicago’s Facs. The latter is making the kind of post-rock that is more like some of the most experimental post-punk going now. Guitarist and vocalist Brian Case was once a member of weirdo math rock band 90 Day Men and experimental rock band Disappears. With Facs he and the rest of the band are pushing the creative envelope with song structure, texture and dynamics. That group’s 2019 EP Lifelike has a secure place on our year end best list for its chilling, cinematic soundscapes and gritty, stark, moody songwriting.