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 8/16/19 – 8/21/19

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The Inactivists perform at Streets Denver for the DARC All Stars show. Photo circa 2016 by Tom Murphy

Friday | August 16

What: Derelicts w/Cyclo-Sonic, Clusterfux and The Lurchers
When: Friday, 08.16, 8 p.m.
Where: Streets Denver
Why: The Derelicts are a bratty punk band from Seattle legendary for its unhinged stage shows in a scene know for them. Lead singer Duane Bodenheimer grew up in Denver and was part of the punk world here before moving to Seattle to join this infamous outfit. Clusterfux are the legendary Denver street punk band that has been going since the early 90s.

What: Flying Lotus in 3D w/Brandon Coleman Spacetalker, Salami Rose Joe Louis, PBDY
When: Friday, 08.16, 8 p.m.
Where: The Mission Ballroom
Why: Flying Lotus returns with his visually stunning “in 3D” performance in support of his new album Flamagra. The sets often involve a bit of a stage set where Steven Ellison aka Flying Lotus controls the sound and perhaps aspects of the visuals for an engulfing audio-visual experience. See below for a taste from 2017. Though Flying Lotus has crossed over between experimental electronic and EDM and funk and hip-hop his imaginative soundscaping continues to evolve in ever more colorful directions with an ear and eye for the presentation of that music for people who show up to craft a mutually inspiring performance.

Saturday | August 17

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Little Fyodor and Babushka Band circa 2016, photo by Tom Murphy

What: Sigilcraft with Tom Banger The Art of Making Things Happen: Using Art, Sound and Video to Create Change
When: Saturday, 08.17, 2-4 p.m.
Where: Mercury Café
Why: Tom Banger, former punk/experimental/underground music promoter in Denver through the 80s and into the 90s will demonstrate the use of creative endeavor to enact change in one’s life and beyond. See event page for details including suggestions for bringing imagery from magazines or books in the crafting of the aforementioned sigil. Banger will also present artifacts of his music promotion past at the Central Library on Monday 8/19.

What: Physical Wash, Voight, Entrancer and Staggered Hooks
When: Saturday, 08.17, 9 p.m.
Where: Rhinoceropolis
Why: Physical Wash is the solo project of High Functioning Flesh’s Susan Abstract. Both are melodic and in the classic industrial/EBM mold but whereas HFF is more akin to the likes of Nitzer Ebb and Front 242, Physical Wash is a little weirder and more in the vein of late 80s Skinny Puppy.

What: The Rotten Blue Menace w/The Repercussions, Noogy, Tuck Knee
When: Saturday, 08.17, 7 p.m.
Where: Seventh Circle Music Collective
Why: The Rotten Blue Menace was one of Denver’s greatest ska punk bands in the vein of Choking Victim and Against All Authority before going more or less inactive a few years back. Here’s a chance to see the band at the venue you could most often catch its spirited performances.

What: Denver Art Rock Collective All Stars: Inactivists, Little Fyodor, Gort Vs. Goom, Cattle Axe and The Plastic Rakes
When: Saturday, 08.17, 8 p.m.
Where: Streets Denver
Why: Denver Art Rock Collective is a loose affiliation of bands that don’t really fit into any distinct musical categories but are united by having an eccentric artistic vision behind the music and this event features some of the group’s greatest bands. Naturally punk/noise pioneer Little Fyodor will bring the weirdness as well as great songcraft, Gort Vs. Goom is the Blue Oyster Cult, Melvins and Devo hybrid no one was expecting or asking for but which we need in this bland era and The Inactivists return after who knows how long a hiatus to lay out twisted pop songs too clever for their own good but also catchy enough that in a parallel universe the band would have had a string of hit records. The Plastic Rakes includes former Mourning Sickness guitarist Matt Maher and Cattle Axe includes former New Ancient Astronauts and Superbuick guitarist/vocalist Kasey Elkington.

What: The Claypool Lennon Delirium w/Uni
When: Saturday, 08.17, 8 p.m.
Where: Ogden Theatre
Why: Les Claypool and Sean Lennon’s band together, The Claypool Lennon Delirium, is making some of the most transporting, conceptual psychedelia being made by anyone right now and at the live show you’ll also probably get treated to some inspired reworkings of their respective individual catalog but also some Beatles material as they did “Tomorrow Never Knows” in their current style when the band stopped through to play The Fox Theatre in 2017.

What: Snail Mail w/Choir Boy
When: Saturday, 08.17, 8 p.m.
Where: Bluebird Theater
Why: Lindsey Jordan will eventually outgrow her current phase of songwriting with the gentle guitar work, albeit highly refined and sophisticated, that’s a little too much like that of many of her indie rock peers. But her lyrics reveal someone who is capable of articulating great, vivid nuances of feeling and unconventional thinking.

Sunday | August 18

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Phantogram, photo by Reagan Hackleman

What: Old Man Gloom w/Oryx and Echo Beds
When: Sunday, 08.18, 8 p.m.
Where: Marquis Theater
Why: Old Man Gloom is sort of an extreme/atmospheric metal/post-hardcore super group comprised of members of Isis, Converge, Sumac and Cave-In. Its music is haunting, psychedelic and unrelenting. Oryx is an extreme metal band from Denver that is sometimes lumped in with doom and if you’re into doom you won’t be disappointed but Oryx’s presentation and creativity within that realm of music sets it apart from many of its peers. Echo Beds is the organic-industrial post-punk band whose confrontational sound and political lyrics are both harrowing and transcendent.

What: Y La Bamba and Esmé Patterson
When: Sunday, 08.18, 6 p.m.
Where: Larimer Lounge
Why: Y La Bamba is a band from Portland, Oregon that is impossible to pigeonhole as folk or world music or “Latin” or post-punk or experimental pop because it’s all of that to varying degrees. It’s music, though, is a sonically rich and engrossing band whose ability to craft a vivid mood and deeply emotional listening experience that’s transporting and grounding at once is impressive. Esmé Patterson in her now long-standing solo career is an artist whose work is rooted more in feeling and concept than genre. Patterson made her mark in indie folk band Paper Bird but her solo records have all explored the nature of identity and relationships and her live performances seem to experiment with the very format of what a live band can look like and how it can present itself without limiting itself to past expectations.

What: The Claypool Lennon Delirium w/Uni
When: Sunday, 08.18, 7:30 p.m.
Where: Boulder Theater
Why: See above for Claypool Lennon Delirium.

What: Phantogram w/Bob Moses
When: Sunday, 08.18, 8 p.m.
Where: The Mission Ballroom
Why: Phantogram’s synth pop is cinematic and sweeping in scope and presentation even back when the band wasn’t playing rooms as big as The Mission Ballroom. More than some of its early peers, Phantogram created a sound that felt like it was engaging your imagination as much as your emotions and bringing you along for its ride into broad vistas of sound and inspiration while speaking to a broad spectrum of the human experience. Its newer music seems to be expanding into more soulful territory though no album has been forthcoming since 2016’s Three. Its “Into Happiness” single, though, more than hints at its next musical direction.

Monday | August 19

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Calexico and Iron & Wine, photo by Piper Ferguson

What: Calexico and Iron & Wine w/Madison Cunningham
When: Monday, 08.19, 8 p.m.
Where: Denver Botanic Gardens
Why: Calexico and Iron & Wine last collaborated on a recording with 2005’s In the Reigns EP. But in 2018 Sam Beam, Joey Burns and John Convertino were able to get together to write and record the eight songs that make up their new record together, 2019’s Years to Burn. It’s the kind of album that sounds like its intricate details were somehow well mapped out and intuitive. Like friends who get each others instincts and share sensibilities and aesthetics. Which given these artists seems obvious. And it’s an album on which thoughts and observations are explored with a sense of life’s complexities and ambiguities and the comfort that can come with being able to navigate through tentative times in your life and in the world if you’re not too set in your ways and hardened to your own heart and the world around you.

What: Punk Show and Tell with Tom Banger
When: Monday, 08.19, 6 p.m.
Where: Central Library Floor 7 Training Room
Why: Denver punk promoter/musician/underground culture legend Tom Banger will present artifacts from his life and times in that world with actual items from his library donated to the Denver Public Library as part of its history collection. It’s a rare and curated glimpse into Denver’s cultural heritage and its connection with underground music and culture around the world.

Tuesday | August 20

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BIG|BRAVE, photo by Rachel Cheng

What: Big|Brave w/Deaf Kids, Yakuza, Human Tide, Gruesome Relics and Volunteer Coroner
When: Tuesday, 08.20, 8 p.m.
Where: Rhinoceropolis
Why: It might be an exaggeration to call this the extreme metal show of the month much less the year. But it does include experimental drone metal trio Big|Brave and its contorted atmospherics and emotionally charged vocals, Deaf Kids’ polyrhythmic, psychedelic industrial punk and Yakuza’s menacing, sludgy, dark and heavy yet ethereal drones. And that’s only half the bill.

What: Deathwish w/Cadaverine, Zygrot and Victim of Fire
When: Tuesday, 08.20, 7 p.m.
Where: Seventh Circle Music Collective
Why: Deathwish is the thrash punk band from Madison, Wisconsin, not the UK thrash band from the 80s. But if you’re a fan of the latter it seems like you’d be into the Wisconsin band as both have a similar proclivity for confrontational vocals, burning guitar riffs and a disdain for mainstream normalcy.

Wednesday | August 21

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David Dondero circa 2009, photo by Tom Murphy

What: David Dondero and Patrick Dethlefs
When: Wednesday, 08.21, 8 p.m.
Where: Hi-Dive
Why: David Dondero is a lifer whose music reflects a dedication to telling the truth about various corners of human existence and experience through poignant stories delivered with his signature voice warm and sensitive and on the verge of quavering, accompanied by intricate guitar work played with a dynamic urgency. Patrick Dethlefs is a Denver-based singer songwriter whose highly emotive songwriting is thought-provoking and inspires a compassionate examination of your own feelings and reactions to the events in your life through his own openness in singing about his own travails and reflections.

Best Shows in Denver 05/16/19 – 05/22/19

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Tav Falco’s Panther Burns performs at Lion’s Lair on May 18. Photo by Klaus Pichler

Thursday | May 16

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Johnny Marr, photo by Nial Lea

What: Old Time Relijun w/Shooda Shook It and Moon Pussy
When: Thursday, 05.16, 8 p.m.
Where: Hi-Dive
Why: Colliding Captain Beefheart-esque outsider atonality with non-western elements of rhythm, Old Time Relijun’s shamanistic, Sun City Girls-esque jazz was unlike much of anything else going on when it launched in the late 90s. Now back together after nearly a decade hiatus, OTR is touring widely in the wake of the release of its 2019 album See Now and Know. Also on the bill for the night is Tucson-based No Wave funk-esque quartet Shooda Shook It and Denver’s confrontational, deconstructionist noise rock stars Moon Pussy.

What: An Evening With Johnny Marr
When: Thursday, 05.16, 7/8:30 p.m.
Where: Gothic Theatre
Why: Johnny Marr is the iconic guitarist from post-punk legends The Smiths. His solo career is also full of worthwhile material in which he gets to show off his gift for complex yet seemingly simple melodies. Live, Marr performs material from across his career and anyone that has seen him might even say the unlikely and point out that his vocals for classic Smiths material are at least as good as Morrissey’s. As the title of the show suggests, an entire evening of Marr’s music and selections from catalog of The Smiths and some choice covers.

What: Glissline
When: Thursday, 05.16, 6:30 p.m.
Where: Ross-Broadway library
Why: Tommy Metz has been making beautiful and affecting ambient/IDM music for over a decade. With Glissline he pushes the production methods further than ever while making very experimental music so accessible it always takes you by surprise.

What: John Catdog and Sobremarcha Musicgroup
When: Thursday, 05.16, 6:30 p.m.
Where: Hooked On Colfax
Why: John Catdog’s boundary pushing mix of what might be described as abstract industrial dance music and noise informed by radical politics. At other times more downtempo and chill but always interesting. Sobremarcha Musicgroup is a project of Amber Gomez, a formerly Chicago-based DJ and producer whose bright, gently urgent tracks will definitely fill out the room and beyond this night.

What: Jenny Lewis On the Line Tour 2019 w/Karl Blau
When: Thursday, 05.16, 7 p.m.
Where: Ogden Theatre
Why: On The Line is Jenny Lewis’ latest record and it is the exquisitely composed, lush pop that Lewis has made so well for years with her usual literary flair. But in promoting the record, Lewis might have struck some people as very unvarnished and disarmingly off-the-cuff. But we kind of need that from more artists these days especially those whose art gives one the impression of their embracing classic forms of art and established ways. Jenny Lewis has always been a bit subversive and a little different in the humor department, one might say a secret weirdo who operates in the open, which is why her creative output remains worthwhile because all the weirdness, the eccentricity is there amid the expertise in presenting a conventional front.

Friday | May 17

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Calpurnia, photo by Pooneh Ghana

What: Nitzer Ebb w/Liebknecht and DJ n810
When: Friday, 05.17, 7 p.m.
Where: The Oriental Theater
Why: With the stridently urgent rhythms and confrontational feel of its 1987 album That Total Age, Nitzer Ebb, like Front 242 and D.A.F., established a template for much later EBM with any bite and vitality.

What: No Gossip in Braille release show w/Emerald Siam and Weathered Statues
When: Friday, 05.17, 8 p.m.
Where: Mercury Café
Why: No Gossip in Braille is releasing its debut effort Bend Toward Perfect Light on Cercle Social Records at this show. The post-punk duo of Keith Curts of Echo Beds and formerly of Ghost Orchids and Subpoena The Past and Bryan S. Becker formerly of experimental guitar band Annik has crafted a brooding post-punk album of refined emotional expression and lush atmospheres driven by gently urgent electronic percussion. Vocally it’s a bit of a different direction for Curts than most people who have seen his bands in the past two decades are used to as rather than the screaming and highly processed sounds in Echo Beds or Glass Hits, Curts hits some truly melancholic and introspective depths to match the elegant and ethereal guitar work.

What: Duncan Barlow and Natalie Rogers reading
When: Friday, 05.17, 8 p.m.
Where: Syntax Physic Opera
Why: Duncan Barlow is known to many for his time in hardcore and post-hardcore bands (Endpoint, Guilt, By the Grace of God) from Louisville, Kentucky as well as punk and Americana bands from Denver (D. Biddle, Lion Sized). But lately he’s been a professor living in Vermillion, South Dakota teaching at the University of South Dakota and continuing to write literary fiction including his 2019 novel A Dog Between Us. Natalie Rogers is a writer whose diverse work background (911 dispatcher, adult caretaker, teacher etc.) informs her own works of fiction. Both will read selections from their body of work.

What: Calpurnia w/Slow Caves
When: Friday, 05.17, 8 p.m.
Where: Gothic Theatre
Why: Calpurnia’s fuzzy indie rock sounds a bit like a throwback to 70s power/bubblegum pop like The Sweet or The Raspberries though likely filtered through the lens of latter day practitioners of related sounds like Twin Peaks and The Strokes. The band is really young with singer and guitarist Finn Wolfhard turning 17 in December so the band will grow beyond its most obvious current influences. Tracks like “Greyhound,” though, more than hint at promising uses of sound ahead.

What: Slothrust w/Summer Cannibals and The Velveteers
When: Friday, 05.17, 7 p.m.
Where: Bluebird Theater

What: Jenny Lewis w/Karl Blau
When: Friday, 05.17, 6 p.m.
Where: Mishawaka Amphitheatre

What: The Beeves (album release) w./Augustus, Nate Cook and Meeting House
When: Friday, 05.17, 8:30 p.m.
Where: Fox Theatre

What: Denver Hex Pre-Party: Muscle Beach and Church Fire
When: Friday, 05.17, 8 p.m.
Where: Globe Hall

Saturday | May 18

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R A R E B Y R D $, photo by Tom Murphy

What: Fem Fest 2019: 2 Kayla Marque, 3 RAREBYRD$, 4 The Milk Blossoms, 5 YaSi
When: Saturday, 05.18, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Where: Museum of Contemporary Art Denver
Why: The 2019 edition of Fem Fest is a celebration of female identified artists and musicians with workshops, a bazaar, DJs, a photo book and live music throughout the course of the event. Of course attendance is open to people of all ages and genders. The numbers listed above before the band/artist is the time slot in the afternoon/evening you can expect to catch their set. Experimental hip-hop and whatever kind of pop one might like to use to describe The Milk Blossoms. But no matter who you choose to check out there are only some of Denver’s greatest on the festival.

What: KGNU Quarterly Showcase: Tav Falco’s Panther Burns, Florea (solo), Ghost Tapes and The Guest List
When: Saturday, 05.18, 8:30 p.m.
Where: Lion’s Lair
Why: All the local bands on this bill would be worth going to see alone. But the surprise announcement of a performance from Tav Falco’s Panther Burns put the show at the top of our list for this week. The group started in Memphis and its membership included the likes of founding member Alex Chilton of Big Star who performed and toured with the band until 1984 including the well-known 1979 television appearance on Marge Thasher’s Strait Talk program. The host attempts to skewer the band’s performance but Falco deftly turns her criticisms into a chance to make a case for music that truly is rock and roll and not an attempt at following established formula. Falco’s eccentric and brilliant, arty, psychedelic blues punk has exerted a strong infuence on the likes of Jon Spencer, The Oblivians, Spacemen 3, Primal Scream and The Gories. Currently the band is touring in support of its 2018 album of inspired covers (and some originals) ranging 80 years of American music: Cabaret of Daggers. Don’t sleep on this one because a band as legendary and as unique as Tav Falco’s Panther Burns rarely makes an appearance in Denver much less at a small club like Lion’s Lair.

What: Calpurnia w/Slow Caves
When: Saturday, 05.18, 7 p.m.
Where: Aggie Theatre

What: Kirin J. Callinan w/Jorge Elbrecht and French Kettle Station
When: Saturday, 05.18, 8 p.m.
Where: Larimer Lounge

What: Time (FL), TetraKroma, Atonal Stimulant
When: Saturday, 05.18, 9 p.m.
Where: Rhinoceropolis

What: Sutphin (KS), TWINK, Felony Charge, Tuck Knee and No Sign
When: Saturday, 05.18, 8 p.m.
Where: Thought//Forms Gallery

What: Proud Souls Backyard BBQ feat. Slim Cessna’s Auto Club w/Zeparella the All-Female Zeppelin Powerhouse, Saddle of Southern Darkness and New Ben Franklins
When: Saturday, 05.18, 6:30 p.m.
Where: Gothic Theatre

What: Cub Sport w/Minor Poet and Modern Suspects
When: Saturday, 05.18, 7 p.m.
Where: Marquis Theater

Monday | May 20, 2019

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Xiu Xiu, photo by Andrea Petrovicova

What: Xiu Xiu w/Elyria Sequence
When: Monday, 05.20, 7 p.m.
Where: The Oriental Theater
Why: Since 2012’s Always, Xiu Xiu’s albums have become darker and like collections of harrowing stories commenting on the horrors of society. None more so than 2019’s Girl with Basket of Fruit. It could have had its own season of the now canceled SyFy series Channel Zero. There is the experimental folk side of Xiu Xiu that was compelling and thrillingly emotionally raw, a quality that Jamie Stewart developed further in the context of the synth-driven exorcisms of his most recent records. Reminiscent of Suicide in both evocation of stark psychological spaces and richness of tone and mood, Xiu Xiu now embodies what many darkwave bands would like to be but are not yet there.

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Christine and The Queens, photo by Suffo Moncloa

What: Florence + The Machine: The High as Hope Tour 2019 w/Christine and the Queens
When: Monday, 05.20, 6:30 p.m.
Where: Red Rocks
Why: Was it an accident that Florence + The Machine are playing Red Rocks the night after the airing of the final episode of Game of Thrones on Sunday, May 19? Probably. But it’s more interesting to speculate that is no coincidence for a band that wrote the chilling ballad “Jenny of Oldstones” based on the quasi-mythical wife of Duncan Targaryen, ancient ancestor of Daenerys, of course. Either way, Florence + The Machine’s music has a deserved reputation for its uplifting and diverse mix of pop styles and expansive moods buoyed by Florence Welch’s refined yet soulful vocals. Opening the show is Christine and the Queens, or, simply, Chris, the performance moniker of Héloïse Adelaide Letissier who has used the project and even the name of the project to experiment with adopting a persona and to discuss in song and performance the nature of identity itself. A heady proposition, perhaps, but it has been very much a part of Letissier’s push to writing pop music that challenges assumptions while somehow remaining incredibly accessible. Fans of David Byrne and Laurie Anderson will appreciate Letissier’s almost free association yet coherent compositional style, especially as manifested on her 2018 album Chris, and the sheer playfulness of her songs and stage persona.

What: Omni w/Vic N’ The Narwhals
When: Monday, 05.20, 8 p.m.
Where: Globe Hall

What: Lord Buffalo w/Palehorse/Palerider, Matriarch and Shadows Tranquil
When: Monday, 05.20, 7 p.m.
Where: Lost Lake

Tuesday | May 21

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The Twilight Sad, photo by Debi Del Grande

What: The Twilight Sad w/Kathryn Joseph
When: Tuesday, 05.21, 7 p.m.
Where: Larimer Lounge
Why: Being a cult band can be rough going knowing that you’re doing something special and different, pushing music in a similar vein forward by taking chances and not following trends. Well, to some extent anyway, that has paid off for Scotland’s The Twilight Sad. Post-punk and shoegaze has been a crowded field for the past two decades especially lately when it seems everyone that suddenly realized they liked The Cure and dark post-punk started a band. But The Twilight Sad’s willingness to utilize raw noise and sing with urgency instead of with an affectless, almost disengaged style has always seemed vital and reminiscent of bands like The Comsat Angels and The Sound more than some other bands who might claim similar influences. The group nearly called it quits half a decade ago but it started garnering unexpected attention for its then new album, 2014’s Nobody Wants to Be Here and Nobody Wants to Leave, as well as an opening slot on tour with The Cure where the band distinguished itself well. In 2019 the group released its latest album It Won/t Be Like This All the Time and reaffirming itself as a band that doesn’t try to sugarcoat or downplay life’s down sides in its songwriting while providing an excellent soundtrack to work through those times. That part of what informed the writing of the record was tapping into some old Brian Eno songs using Eno’s Oblique Strategy cards as an impetus to writing songs that would be fun to play live sets the new record apart from much of modern rock music by trusting in processes outside of conscious thought to inject creativity into your art.

What: Hyperdontia, Mortiferum, Spectral Voice and Of Feather and Bone
When: Tuesday, 05.21, 8 p.m.
Where: Syntax Physic Opera

What: Florence + The Machine: The High as Hope Tour 2019 w/Christine and the Queens
When: Tuesday, 05.21, 6:30 p.m.
Where: Red Rocks

What: Camp Cope w/An Horse and Oceanator
When: Tuesday, 05.21, 7 p.m.
Where: Lost Lake

Wednesday | May 22

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Radkey, photo by Tom Murphy

What: Radkey w/One Flew West and And the Black Feathers
When: Wednesday, 05.22, 7 p.m.
Where: Larimer Lounge
Why: Radkey gets lumped in with punk and, oddly, proto-punk probably because its sound is crunchy, dynamic rock music with great, melodic vocal harmonies. But it is a rock and roll band comprised of three brothers whose songwriting owes no stylistic debt to any particular movement or artist. Maybe you could say its reminiscent of Thin Lizzy combined with a good, modern pop punk band. Wherever Radkey is coming from with its music, its high energy live shows are always entertaining. In 2019 the group released its latest album, No Strange Cats…P.A.W where it switches the pace of the songs up more than ever expanding its already respectable dynamic range.

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The Faint, photo by Bill Sitzmann

What: The Faint w/Choir Boy, Closeness and boyhollow
When: Wednesday, 05.22, 7 p.m.
Where: Bluebird Theater
Why: Before it became fairly trendy in the late 2000s and 2010s, The Faint was drawing upon 80s synth pop and mixing it with emotionally-charged post-punk. The band’s second proper album Blank-Wave Arcade from 1998 was a bit of an anomaly somehow reminiscent of Falco, Duran Duran, The VSS and the more interesting 90s emo. By the time of 2001’s Danse Macabre the group had refined to perfection a fusion of electronic and post-punk without sounding like much of anyone else. Eighteen years later The Faint is pushing itself in interesting directions as evidenced by the release of its new album Egowerk. The songwriting straddles the world of electronic dance music and post-punk and with lush production and Todd Fink’s always expressive and melodious vocals swimming in atmospheric grandeur. It is the band’s least traditionally rock sounding record and chances are most suited to the group’s visually dynamic light show.

What: Rhett Miller of The Old 97’s w/Anthony Ruptak
When: Wednesday, 05.22, 8 p.m.
Where: The Oriental Theater

Best Shows in Denver 05/31/18 – 06/06/18

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Git Some perform at benefit for Miles Elliott Bellinger Webb (son of G. Matthew Bellinger) at Goosetown Tavern on Saturday, June 2. Photo by Tom Murphy

Thursday | May 31, 2018

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Pearls & Perils, photo by Tom Murphy

Who: Glasss Presents The Speakeasy Series Season 2: EVP, Mirror Fears, Claudzilla
When: Thursday, 05.31, 6:30 p.m.
Where: Hooked On Colfax
Why: Industrial/dark pop duo EVP is celebrating singer/guitarist Amanda Baker’s birthday with this show alongside weirdo synth/keytar sorceress Claudzilla and Mirror Fears’ emotionally cathartic electronic compositions.

Who: Glasss Records & Titwrench Presents the 100th Glasss Show: R  A  R E B Y R D $, Gold Trash, Pearls & Perils, Rachael Pollard, EVP
When: Thursday, 05.31, 8 p.m.
Where: Syntax Physic Opera
Why: Glasss Records is commemorating its 100th show with an event that includes RAREBYRD$ and Rachael Pollard who will be going to Titwrench Stockholm on June 14 and 15 this year. This show is a short list of the best songwriters and, in the case of everyone but Rachael, electronic music artists in Denver right now. Whether it’s the transcendent hip-hop of R A R E B Y R D $, the noisy electroclash of Gold Trash, the soulful downtempo of Pearls & Perils, EVP’s genre-defying electronic punk or Rachael Pollard’s ability to seemingly write from a middle school diary of dreams, fears and loves with a sublime wisdom and playfulness, this lineup is impeccable.

Who: Hail Satan EP release of Rad Metal w/Dead Characters and Cönaxx
When: Thursday, 05.31, 7 p.m.
Where: 3 Kings Tavern
Why: Jake Fairly’s work as a graphic/comic artist isn’t so difficult to run into around town. Whether it’s his This is Heavy Metal comic or work he’s done for various concerns, his clean lines, use of space and compelling detail are noteworthy. He also has a band called Hail Satan that’s releasing its Rad Metal EP tonight. The band is in the vein of classic thrash and speed metal with a little punk thrown in and Fairly is its frontman. Because the title of the album is humorous while honoring what makes that style of music great, you can bet the band will embody that spirit live as well.

Friday | June 1, 2018

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Animal Years, photo by Organic Photography

Who: Giardia album release w/Church Fire, Sonic Vomit and Today’s Paramount
When: Friday, 06.01, 8 p.m.
Where: Goosetown Tavern
Why: Giardia is releasing its latest album tonight. The Denver based band sounds like some kind of art-rock/fusion/prog band. Its songs while containing elements of black metal and grindcore has more in common with Goblin and Naked City. Lots of synth and keyboards and drastic shifts in tone, rhythm and texture to that it never gets bogged down in adherence to genre. Three other bands that don’t really fit anyone else’s mode so well are also playing this show. Church Fire some people probably think of as kind of a dance music band with melodic synth lines and bumping rhythms. But the music runs deeper with roots in noise, industrial, political punk and art rock. Also, vocalist Shannon Webber is an electrifying figure delivering her lines with a theatrical and symphonic intensity like a Kabuki theater performer but reigned in by no one’s muse but her own. Sonic Vomit is coming up from Pueblo to bring its noisy prog death metal and Today’s Paramount could be considered a math-y, No Wave funk band with elements of psych in its sound.

What: New Hinterland Benefit Concert: Pan Astral, Like Miller from Lotus and Flobots
When: Friday, 06.01, 8 p.m.
Where: Globe Hall
Why: Hinterland Gallery sat north of Downtown Denver for years before the inevitable happened and existence in that part of town became untenable. The gallery hosted numerous events for some of Denver’s most adventurous artists and was a hub/base of operations for the more visually inclined creators including filmmakers, painters and sculptors. It also hosted forward thinking multimedia presentations. This show is a benefit for the gallery’s new space. Performing is genre-bending electronic pop band Pan Astral who will be joined on stage by Luke Miller of Lotus and Johnny 5 and Brer Rabbit of Flobots making it a one-of-kind show for everyone that shows up and one aimed at helping out one of Denver’s true independent art institutions.

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Michael Franti and Spearhead, photo by Anthony Thoen

Who: Michael Franti & Spearhead w/Xavier Rudd and Victoria Canal
When: Friday, 06.01, 6:30 p.m.
Where: Red Rocks
Why: Michael Franti & Spearhead will release its new album Stay Human 2 later this year but for this tour you can catch the band in support of the first volume of Stay Human. These days Franti is more known for his upbeat, highly positive world-music-oriented funk and soul and rightfully so, that’s what he feels is the best vehicle for making music counter to the misguided and destructive elements of world human culture. But that roots level political orientation (he also helps to lead a yoga session around the time of his concerts in Colorado and elsewhere) runs long in Franti’s career going back to his time with industrial hip-hop groups Beatnigs and The Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy whose lyrics seem oddly prescient over two decades since.

Who: Animal Years w/Tyler Imbrey’s Ghost Revue and House With A Yard
When: Friday, 06.01, 8 p.m.
Where: Larimer Lounge
Why: No link for this show because Ticketfly got hacked but it shouldn’t yet be sold out. At any rate Animal Years borrowed its name from a Josh Ritter album. Seeing as Ritter is one of the most literate, thoughtful and emotionally vibrant songwriters in modern pop music, you can hardly blame them. It’s also a reminder to live life to the fullest and pack as much living in with each year as if you are living seven as, for instance, a dog would. The group’s latest five-song EP Far From Home touches on familiar tones and textures in the realm of pop Americana of the past decade. But Mike McFadden’s voice has enough character to set the band apart from its peers and his words possessed with enough self-awareness and nuance of expression to be worth repeated listens.

Saturday | June 2, 2018

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Nightmares On Wax, photo by Sequoia Ziff

Who: Bassnectar and Nightmares on Wax DJ set, CharlestheFirst and Dorfex Bos
When: Saturday, 06.02, 6:30 p.m.
Where: 1stBank Center
Why: Bassnectar is rightfully one of the most popular artists who took the underground rave culture and music he experienced as a teenager in the 90s to a wide audience and made it accessible with his creative hybrid of downtempo, dubstep and drum and bass. In recent years, his conceptual multi-media shows, or gatherings, have added a more intentional communal dimension to his days long stints in cities on his tours. For this second of three shows in the Denver area, Bassnectar has brought along one of electronic dance music’s true pioneers with George Evelyn aka Nightmares on Wax. Evelyn started out DJing in clubs in Leeds with his friends John Halnon and Kevin Harper with genre-hopping mixes in their sets with hip-hop, soul and funk as the root. The project found a home at then Sheffield, now London, based experimental electronic label Warp Records with it’s 1991 debut album A Word of Science: The First and Final Chapter. Nightmares On Wax operated as a DJ-based act in the live setting until the late 90s when it morphed into a hybrid of production technology and live instrumentation with a drum machine giving the band’s shows a more intimate feel. Though Halnon and Harper have long since moved on, Evelyn has continued on steering Nightmares on Wax and tonight he’ll get back to doing a DJ set but with a more modern set of tools at hand to mix and weave in an imaginative set of music.

Who: Benefit Show for Miles Elliott Bellinger Webb (son of G. Matthew Bellinger): Git Some, Pretty Mouth, Zebroids and Animal Actress
When: Saturday, 06.02, 8 p.m.
Where: Goosetown Tavern
Why: G. Matthew Bellinger was a bright and talented, but, like many artists, deeply troubled, guitarist and vocalist for the well-known posthardcore legends Planes Mistaken For Stars, Americana alterna punks Ghost Buffalo and noisy sludge rockers Ill Cattivo. When he died in 2017 under unusual circumstances it was a big blow to friends and family perhaps none more so than to his son Miles. The proceeds from this show will toward benefiting Miles and it features some of the Denver area’s best bands including posthardcore noise rock band Git Some (which includes former Planes members Charles French and Neil Keener), dream pop tinged country act Pretty Mouth (fronted by former Ghost Buffalo members Marie Litton, Jedd Kopp and Benjamin Williams) , joke punker performance art band Zebroids and slowcore-ish, math rock-esque, post-rock leaning band Animal Actress which includes former Ghost Buffalo guitarist Tommy Ventura. A lot of talent for one room and for a good cause.

Tuesday | June 5, 2018

BlackMarble_photoCourtesyChrisStewart
Black Marble, photo courtesy Chris Stewart

Who: Cold Cave, Black Marble, Choir Boy and Boy Hollow
When: Tuesday, 06.05, 7 p.m.
Where: The Marquis Theater
Why: Black Marble did something that many modern artists making music in the atmospheric post-punk vein didn’t—sound like every other band out of the neo-post-punk revival. Sure, Chris Stewart tapped into 80s bands that were precursors/pioneers of what is now called minimal synth like Iron Curtain and Solid Space. But his bass-driven melodies had more in common with experimental electronic dance music than rock. Stewart’s 2016 release on Ghostly International, It’s Immaterial, solidified that impression even if the music was even more accessible. The songs seemed to operate from a dreamlike earth, sparsely populated, perpetually late morning and soft lighting, the kind of environment that gives one time to contemplate and work out the angst in your head.

Wednesday | June 6, 2018

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A Hawk & A Hacksaw, photo by Louis Schalk

Who: A Hawk and a Hacksaw at Shady Grove Series
When: Wednesday, 06.06, 6:30 p.m.
Where: Four Mile Historic Park
Why: Jeremy Barnes some may know as the former drummer of Neutral Milk Hotel but since the early 2000s he and his wife Heather Trost have been making music inspired by Eastern European, Turkish and Balkan folk music as A Hawk and a Hacksaw. Based in Albuquerque the duo also contributed to the early development of like-minded band Beirut. A Hawk and a Hacksaw started as more or less a solo project of Barnes’ but during the recording of the project’s 2002 self-titled debut he met Trost beginning a musical partnership and otherwise since. That initial album was adopted as the soundtrack to the 2005 documentary film Zizek! about Slovenian philosopher and cultural critic Slavoj Žižek. The act is now touring in support of its new album Forest Bathing and with its old world/pastoral tone, where better to experience this music than a park rather than a club. After all A Hawk and a Hacksaw had a form of Japanese nature therapy in mind for the record. According to an April 2018 article in Albuquerque Journal, Valle de Oro National Wildlife Refuge in New Mexico is their “forest bath of choice.” In an era when too much is created to be disposable and conceived that way, it’s a refreshingly out of step perspective for music and how to best experience it.