Best Shows in Denver November 2021

Julien Baker performs at Gothic Theatre on Nov 13, photo by Alyssa Gafkjen
Brandy Clark, photo by Chris Phelps

Wednesday | 11.03
What: Brandy Clark w/Kelsey Waldon
When: 7 p.m.
Where: Lost Lake
Why: If famous country music stars performing songs you’ve written is a sign of your significance as an artist, Brandy Clark has had a resoundingly successful career. Kenny Rogers, Reba McEntire, LeAnn Rimes, Kacey Musgraves, Keith Urban and Darius Rucker have all performed songs penned by Clark. Her critically acclaimed 2020 album Your Life Is a Record garnered her accolades for her own work even from more critical reviewers because her arrangements and thoughtful lyrics were undeniably well crafted and affecting even if you’re not a fan of country music or acoustic pop. Producer Jay Joyce encouraged Clark to expand her musical range with sounds and ideas that brought a quality to the songs that pushed beyond the boundaries of Clark’s previous work for arguably the best record of her career thus far. The 2020 pandemic put plenty of plans for touring and promoting records on hold so this is a chance to see the award winning singer and songwriter at an intimate venue.

Wolf Alice, photo by Jordan Hemmingway

Wednesday and Thursday | 11.03 and 11.04
What:
Wolf Alice w/The Blossom
When: 7 p.m.
Where: Bluebird Theater
Why: Wolf Alice is hitting its stride with its new album Blue Weekend. Earlier records like 2017’s Visions of a Life and 2015’s My Love is Cool showcased the music of a band learning its powers and creative instincts in often thrilling ways during some years when too many rock bands were trying to cop some of that classic rock or psychedelic garage cachet. Wolf Alice walked a finer line of hard rock and atmospherics fortified by singer Ellie Rowsell’s sometimes gritty vocals yet always emotionally vibrant and nuanced vocals. The new album reveals a band that has not become stuck in what one might expect from previous efforts. Swells in a song don’t inevitably lead to a glorious blowout, rather Wolf Alice takes left field turns in its arrangements perhaps a challenge to foster their growth as a band with consistently compelling results.

Black Dice, photo by Black Dice

Thursday | 11.04
What: Black Dice w/cindygod and H Lite
When: 8 p.m.
Where: Hi-Dive
Why: Black Dice was an integral part of New York City underground music in the late 90s and 2000s. Its members had come up through punk but took the spirit of open possibilities suggested by that music to do whatever the wanted to. Anything could be an instrument, any rhythmic idea could be made to work. Even ideas about how structure and patterns would emerge through a kind of sound collage cut-up technique that one might compare favorably with the work of Autechre and Aphex Twin. Key to the band’s creative approach and aesthetic was visual art concepts and its various album covers have been designed by members of the band in a style that hits you like graffiti by way of the Situationist International. The band’s methods of composition and expression proved influential to peers like Animal Collective, a band that on the surface makes an updated form of 90s indie pop but like that music truly experiments with the form and musical substance of the songwriting with forays into noise and sampling that enriched the palette of sounds and dynamics available in crafting songs.

In 2012 Black Dice released its then most recent album Mr. Impossible after which its members took time to pursue other projects, Eric Copeland releasing several solo works as well. With the pandemic thus far time seems to have stretched and compressed for most people and what may feel like a handful of years in the living it can stretch to several and in 2021 Black Dice released its latest record Mod Prog Sic. It is classic Black Dice as a free flowing parade of ideas, textures, rhythm and playful tone and signal processing like some futuristic hip-hop/EBM fusion psychedelic beatmaking. We recently had a chance to speak with longtime member Aaron Warren about his early musical days growing up in California and his formative years as an active member of the punk scene in Boulder and Denver in the 90s before ending up in NYC in pursuit of furthering his education and ending up in the city at a time of great creative ferment. Listen to the interview on the Queen City Sounds Podcast.

Thursday | 11.04
What: The Black Angels w/L.A. Witch
When: 8 p.m.
Where: Ogden Theatre
Why: The Black Angels came together and established its individual style of psychedelic rock before that became too trendy in the 2010s and has been able to develop, refine and then evolve its aesthetic across multiple records. Obvious influences drawn from early psychedelic rock, shoegaze, Middle Eastern drones and compound time signatures out of that music and perhaps a touch of African influence along with industrial and the avant-garde has merely made for a musical career that is much more creatively varied than seems obvious with a live show that is consistently entrancing. Opening is the like-minded L.A. Witch and their engaging take on blending 60s psychedelic pop with noir vibes.

Soccer Mommy, photo by Brian Ziff

Thursday | 11.04
What: Soccer Mommy w/Alexalone
When: 7 p.m.
Where: Gothic Theatre
Why: Probably virtually every musician touring in 2021 has the same story of an album released early in 2020 or slated or release that year only to have all forward momentum in getting the music out there slowed down or stopped due to the pandemic. When Soccer Mommy’s Color Theory was released at the end of February 2020 it garnered some critical acclaim for its winsome, melancholic pop songs in which the songwriter’s arrangements expanded to give her short lyrical lines expansive and often shimmering background textures paired with ethereal string arrangements. There is a pensive and yearning quality to singer/songwriter Sophie Allison’s words and vocal performance that elevates the music beyond much of the sometimes interchangeable indie music offerings you might hear on a playlist in a public space. Allison is not stranger to luminous and introspective songwriting, but right now she is taking her craft into deeper emotional territory than her admittedly excellent 2018 debut album Clean.

Band of Horses, photo by Stevie and Sarah Gee

Thursday | 11.04
What: Band of Horses w/Miya Folick
When: 7 p.m.
Where: Mission Ballroom
Why: Band of Horses is a band that has managed to make uplifting yet incredibly heartbreaking music with undeniable earworm melodies without losing the emotional impact for the last 17 years. The group formed after the respected indie pop band Carissa’s Wierd split in 2004 and quickly established itself as purveyors of thoughtful songs imbued with an upbeat energy and great forward momentum while never dipping into the realm of the hokey or obnoxious positivity. Probably because the lyrics have consistently hit as grounded and insightful even when written in good fun. Expect the new Band of Horses album Things Are Great to drop in January 2022 but for now you can maybe catch a good deal of that new material live until then.

Friday | 11.05
What: Eventually It Will Kill You 4 Year Anniversary Pre-Show: Wisteria w/Candy Apple, Deadluv and Vitrina
When: 8 p.m.
Where: Hi-Dive
Why: Brian Castillo has been involved in DJ nights over the years and releasing a few records here and there. But he may have found his niche when he launched Eventually It Will Kill You four years ago releasing mostly experimental music and darkwave like the 2018 reissue of the 1983 death rock classic by Denver band Your Funeral and their single “I Want To Be You” b/w “April Fool’s Day” and releases from Many Blessings, the noise side project of Primitive Man’s Ethan McCarthy, chicago darkwave band Funeral Door and dark minimal synth group Child of Night from Columbus, OH. For the occasion of the anniversary “El Brian” put together two shows including this Pre-Show which includes performances by Pittsburgh based post-punk band Wisteria and jagged, jangly Denver post-punkers by way of hardcore Candy Apple.

Plack Blague in October 2018, photo by Tom Murphy

Saturday | 11.06
What: Eventually It Will Kill You 4 Year Anniversary: Kontravoid, Plack Blague, Many Blessings and Closed Tear
When: 8 p.m.
Where: Hi-Dive
Why: For the second night of the 4 year anniversary of Eventually It Will Kill You you can catch some of the stars of underground darkwave and noise with EBM techno artist Kontravoid, industrial disco legend Plack Blague (listen to our new interview with Raws Scheslinger of Plack Blague from our podcast on Bandcamp), the ambient noise stylings of Many Blessings and the gloomy, post-punky dream pop of Closed Tear.

Saturday | 11.06
What: Dan Deacon w/Alex Silva and Patrick McMinn
When: 8 p.m.
Where: Bluebird Theater
Why: Dan Deacon’s 2020 album Mystic Familiar was praised as a solid synth pop album but it sounds more like Deacon has really honed his songwriting after a career of pushing musical ideas ever forward. The instrumental performances have a nuance and energy with a granular level of musical detail that can be enjoyed for simply the sheer joy and dynamic expressiveness Deacon seems to bring to his music. But one has to marvel at the way Deacon orchestrates complex passages and textures to into majestic pop songs that uplift the spirit and living up to the name of the album. His live shows are often a collaborative affair and even with his music surely Deacon will encourage those that show up to become involved in spontaneous and creative ways that don’t happen at other shows.

Gus Dapperton, photo by Jess Farran

Saturday | 11.06
What: Gus Dapperton w/spill tab at The Gothic
When: 6 p.m.
Where: Gothic Theatre
Why: Forget the hair style, the jewelry, the eyeliner and Gus Dapperton’s stylish sartorial proclivities, the songwriter’s 2020 album Orca is brimming with touching and delicate songs with real insight into the vulnerabilities and haunting thoughts that come to you in your lowest moments. His spare musical arrangements give the vocalization of the lyrics space to issue forth and sit in the air like lingering melodies. It’s an unexpectedly interesting effect from a songwriter who can come across to anyone that hasn’t sat down with the music as saccharine pop but the guy’s music is anything but that.

Uniform, photo by Ebru Yildiz

Monday | 11.08
What: Uniform, Portrayal of Guilt and Body Void
When: 7 p.m.
Where: HQ
Why: Uniform is an industrial hardcore band from New York that came out of the city’s punk and extreme music scene. Its fiery and abrasive electronic onslaught articulates issues of existential confusion and frustration with the destructive forces of society and within our own minds and clawing a path to catharsis. The group’s 2020 album Shame (Sacred Bones Records) is perhaps its most accessible but also its most deeply personal and raw. Also, listen to our podcast episode with an interview with vocalist Michael Berdan on Bandcamp. Opening the show is the great experimental hardcore group Portrayal of Guilt. With music sitting somewhere betwixt black metal, grindcore, hardcore and noise, Portrayal of Guilt consistently delivers scorching songs of poetic yet abrasive beauty. Its new album Christfucker is due out November 5, 2021 on Run For Cover Records. Body Void’s scathing, outraged doom just seems like the perfect complement to the whole show and its 2021 album Bury Me Beneath This Rotting Earth out on Prosthetic Records is not short on tortured crushers.

Mamalarky, photo by Sara Cath

Tuesday | 11.09
What: Slow Pulp w/Mamalarky
When: 7 p.m.
Where: Globe Hall
Why: When many bands in the 2010s were evoking a bit of 1990s fuzz rock and grunge, Slow Pulp took a hint of that but went in more a direction of atmospheric pop and experimental soundscapes as a structure for its more hushed and introspective songs. Tourmates Mamalarky from Atlanta is on a similar wavelength with songs of unconventional structure, rhythmic strategy and tonal palette. Like maybe its members came up listening to early Liz Phair demos, Broadcast, Virginia Wing, Deerhoof and Electrelane. The group’s outstanding 2020 self-titled album never gives you a chance to get too settled into a sound but draws you along for a ride into a colorfully dreamlike realm of lush pop adventures.

Wednesday | 11.10
What: Nothing w/Frankie Rose and Enumclaw
When: 7 p.m.
Where: Marquis Theater
Why: Nothing has been on a great trajectory of developing into and beyond punk-influenced shoegaze reaching a high state of creativity on its 2020 album The Great Dismal. Whorling sheets of guitar drone bursting up and receding like waves punctuated by electronic crackles and an aesthetic as much informed by electronic music as by rock at this point. Frankie Rose has spent time in such bands as Crystal Stilts, Dum Dum Girls, Vivian Girls and Beverly but her solo albums is where she has perhaps been most free to utilize her imaginative guitar work, production and songwriting. Though these days she’s also in a band with Matthew Hord of Pop. 1280 called Fine Place which is more in the realm of dub-influenced darkwave pop. So it may be awhile before you get a chance to see a solo Frankie Rose performance for a bit. Enumclaw is one of the few modern bands that sounds like it was heavily influenced by Dinosaur Jr without ripping the band off and injecting a good deal of fuzzy dream pop like they listened to The Smiths but found a way to mix Morrissey out of the proceedings.

Wednesday | 11.10
What: Armand Hammer w/Trayce Chapman and Time (from Calm.)
When: 8 p.m.
Where: Hi-Dive
Why: The psychedelic sounds in the beats to Haram, the 2021 album by Armand Hammer with The Alchemist, is reminiscent of the ways cLOUDDEAD tapped into subconscious spaces to evoke a mood that complements the surreal vibe of the lyrics. Fans of Gonjasufi and early Sole records will appreciate the way this pairing of artists collage tone and texture to create great depth of sound and expression. Plus opening is Time whose existential and deeply philosophical and playful lyrics are an antidote to the programmed ignorance of the American education system and the current state of the culture.

Silverstein, photo by Juan Angel

Thursday and Friday | 11.11 and 11.12
What: Silverstein w/The Plot In You and Can’t Swim
When: 6 p.m.
Where: Bluebird Theater and Gothic Theatre
Why: Silverstein is one of the few bands that walked the line between pop punk and screamo without sounding a parody of itself and where the distorted, screaming vocals really did sound like a primal expression of an intense peak of feeling in the context of the songs. What has kept the band worth a listen is the songwriting and how, as is the case with the better pop punk, the most critical examination in the lyrics is aimed at one’s own shortcomings and finding a way to get through those moments of feelings of failure and intense self-judgment rather than lash out at someone else like a challenge to oneself to truly feel these things you don’t want to in an attempt to be a better person even if you fall short because life and self-betterment is often a process of reworking habits and not some perfect formula to follow.

Friday | 11.12
What: Glacial Tomb, Noctambulist, Necrosophik Abyss — CANCELED
When: 8 p.m.
Where: Hi-Dive
Why: Glacial Tomb and Noctambulist are two of the best and most brutal and imaginative technical death metal bands out of Denver at the moment and if that’s your thing they’re both on the same bill.

Phony Ppl, photo courtesy the artists

Friday | 11.12
What: Phony Ppl w/Kent Washington
When: 7 p.m.
Where: Marquis Theater
Why: Brooklyn’s Phony Ppl have done some music with Megan Thee Stallion but their own music is a richly expressive sort of art soul music and jazz-inflected hip-hop without making boundaries between any of those styles. There is a gentleness to the music that makes it instantly accessible even though the specific content is very musically sophisticated and challenging. These five guys take heady musical elements and ideas and bring to it a loose and playful spirit that sounds like it should be music for the kind of arty dramas that have yet to be made about the poignant periods in the lives of regular people.

Julien Baker, photo by Alysse Gafkjen

Saturday | 11.13
What: Julien Baker w/Dehd
When: 8 p.m.
Where: Gothic Theatre
Why: Little Oblivions is not the album a lot of people were expecting from Julien Baker. Her first two records of hushed and introspective folk rock had an undeniable emotional power in part because of Baker’s own stirringly emotional vocals. For this record Baker expanded the palette of sounds including more electronic elements and more expansive, brash soundscapes that seem perfectly suited to what really feels like a burst of expressing emotions kept under wraps for too long yearning to be let out. There is an intensity to the record that almost makes Baker’s previous albums seem safe by comparison if they too weren’t informed by a strong emotional honesty themselves. Easily one of the top albums of the year in the realm of rock. Opening is psychedelic surf pop band Dehd from Chicago. Don’t let that short descriptor throw you off because Dehd performs with an often unsettling intensity as well for a band whose moody music is not short on nervy energy too.

Saturday | 11.13
What: Nitzer Ebb w/DJ Eli
Where: Oriental Theater
Why: EBM/industrial legends Nitzer Ebb don’t tour much these days and no matter which of their music you’ve heard the live band is more scrappy, more visceral and more powerful than you could really expect. Their 1987 album That Total Age remains a stone classic of 1980s electronic industrial music.

Big Dopes, photo by Jake Cox

Saturday | 11.13
What: Big Dopes album release w/Bellhoss
When: 9 p.m.
Where: Roxy on Broadway
Why: Big Dopes is one of the best Denver bands not enough people know about yet. Its new EP Destination Wedding picks up where its outstanding 2019 album Crimes Against Gratitude left off with affecting lyrics and exquisitely crafted melodies. Fans of C86 era pop, Magnetic Fields and Carissa’s Wierd will likely appreciate the band’s attention to sonic detail and knack for a poetic and thoughtful turn of phrase. Also on the bill is the utterly idiosyncratic pop group Bellhoss. Although many have compared Bellhoss and singer Becky Hostetler, at least according to the project’s website, to artists like Waxahatchee and Soccer Mommy, Bellhoss is weirder and more interesting than those comparisons would suggest (though both artists are obviously notable in their own right) and often comes off like some kind of weirdo indie pop thing with intricate and eccentrically shoegaze-y guitar. Really a show with two of the most compelling bands in the Denver scene post-2017 when the music scene in the Mile High City started to severely fragment even as it expanded.

Monday | 11/15
What: Surfbort — CANCELED
When: 8 p.m.
Where: The Coast (Fort Collins)
Why: Surfbort is a weirdo punk band that’s probably a little too rough around the edges and real for a lot of people who call themselves fans of punk but it’s also one of the most interesting and powerful bands in the world of punk today. They don’t have a lot of releases but its new single “FML” has a strange music video that includes Fred Armisen of Portlandia fame whose own background in punk and his own unusual sense of humor vibed with that of this New York band.

Monday | 11.15
What: Exhumed w/Creeping Death, Bewitcher and Victim ov Fire
Where: Oriental Theater
Why: Indeed, it’s influential deathgrind band Exhumed from San Jose, California. Though the music can be brutal and forbidding in a way that might be reminiscent of Cannibal Corpse it nevertheless performs the music with great energy informed by a sense of irony and humor with lyrics often aimed at the corrupt American political and economic system that has metastasized into an oligarchy with a wide gulf between the ultra rich and the poorest members of society.

Paul Jacobs, photo courtesy the artist

Tuesday | 11.16
What: Tonstartssbandht, Paul Jacobs and Wally
When: 8 p.m.
Where: Hi-Dive
Why: Between its gentle lo-fi psychedelia and almost found sound collage aesthetic, Tonstartssbandht from Orlando, Florida is a different animal in the realm of modern psychedelic pop. Andy and Edwin White draw on a broad spectrum of influences from more traditional music to classical music, classic rock and they have a High Rise tribute band called High Rise II. So even though their relatively pastoral 2021 album Petunia can come off just shy of too weird and gritty for yacht rock there are plenty of bizarro nuggets in the mix to keep it interesting. Paul Jacobs’ 2021 album Pink Dogs on the Green Grass gave us a solid batch of wefting and warping psych pop that somehow both hits the ears reminiscent of both Unknown Mortal Orchestra, Clarke and the Himselfs and Odessey & Oracle period The Zombies. The textural quality of his guitar sound keeps us grounded as vocals and wind sounds and even the percussion carries us away into ethereal realms of daydream wonder. In the case of both artists it seems odd to consider how they might pull this stuff off live and yet they do.

Black Marble in May 2017, photo by Tom Murphy

Tuesday | 11.16
What: Black Marble w/Voight
When: 7 p.m.
Where: HQ
Why: Black Marble has spent some years perfecting a sonic equivalent of Polaroid photos cast in the colors of lo-fi, New Wave-y post-punk. The 2021 album Fast Idol finds Black Marble less in the realm of entrancing gloom pop and more in some upbeat mood with a sound that makes one think about what forbidden music might have sounded like if it was the USA rather than the USSR that cracked down on the immoral popular music of a decadent other empire. Live the music hits with full fidelity resulting in two different experiences of the music. Denver’s Voight really wants to be a dark techno band playing in dark rooms in the neo-urban decay but is still stuck in industrial shoegaze mode. And yet remains one of the best bands in the Mile High City because the music isn’t rote, predictable, safe pabulum and ferocious live.

Tuesday | 11.16
What: Nick Lowe’s Quality Rock & Roll Revue w/Los Straightjackets
Where: Oriental Theater
Why: Nick Lowe is one of the pioneers of power pop. He would have sealed that reputation had he remained in Rockpile with one of the other greats of that form of music Dave Edmunds. But Lowe’s solo career speaks for itself with soulful pop rock classics like “Cruel to Be Kind” and “I Love the Sound of Breaking Glass.” This run of music is a nod to the sounds that influenced Lowe from rockabilly to soul and beyond.

Wednesday | 11.17
What: Caribou w/Jessy Lanza
When: 7 p.m.
Where: Boulder Theater
Why: Dan Snaith has written some of the most inventive yet accessible electronic music for nearly 20 years as Caribou. Employing traditionally acoustic instrumentation alongside synths/electronic instruments and programming, Snaith taps into some of the same emotional pools of yearning, introspective pondering and nostalgia as the later chillwave and bedroom pop composers he influenced directly or indirectly. His most recent album Suddenly (2020) seemed more somber than other releases but still flowing with hazy yet bright melodies. Even in the most down moments, Snaith incorporates a playful creativity in the mix to convey the nuances and complexity of existence and how we experience life.

Kraak & Smaak, photo by Michael Mees

Wednesday | 11/24
What: Kraak & Smaak w/Capyac
When: 8 p.m.
Where: Marquis Theater
Why: Dutch musical production trio Kraak & Smaak are masters of blending a tropical beat with layers of synth melody modified in real time to give a sense of fluid movement giving the music the aural equivalent of 3D visuals. The effect being an enveloping music with a cinematic sensibility like a somehow benevolent spy movie funk without any violence or skullduggery involved, just adventure and relaxing moods. It’s most recent EP, Scirocco, is like an unlikely but satisfying blend of Ennio Morricone, Boards of Canada and Simple Minds. If the band’s recent live streams are any indication, this current tour will be like seeing some long lost electro funk great of the past playing music that seems familiar yet fresh.

The Velveteers, photo by David Mermilliod

Friday | 11.26
What: The Velveteers w/Dreadnought and Dry Ice
When: 7 p.m.
Where: Gothic Theatre
Why: The Velveteers were a promising band from early on in their career in Denver and Boulder playing house shows, small clubs and DIY spaces. While many bands were trying for that classic rock sound, The Velveteers were rapidly outgrowing those early influences into their own sound with fuzzed out riffs and surging song dynamics that made the band sound like it was taking off in multiple directions lending its performances a fiery energy. Through developing the group, creating their own music videos and a little bit of touring, The Velveteers came to the attention of Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys who offered to produce the trio’s new album Nightmare Daydream. Sure it has expert production and clearly the band got some polish in Auerbach’s studio but this set of songs also sound so focused yet as thrillingly effusive as it ever has.

Friday | 11.26
What: Baroness
When: 8 p.m.
Where: Globe Hall
Why: Savannah, Georgia’s Baroness never got to tour behind its 2019 album Gold & Grey for the reasons most bands didn’t do a lot of touring in 2020 and a good chunk of 2021. But now the group with new guitarist Gina Gleason will get a chance to perform older favorites as well as material from the aforementioned album showcasing a seemingly different approach to songwriting different from the brash, bombastic and playful style of previous records. John Baizley’s vocals still soar with great expressive control but the music seems more tied in with the rhythms and beautiful minor chord progressions so that when the songs engage into expansive choruses they always seem to resolve in ways that feel like the group decided to push themselves to say something different and worthwhile with each song. It’s frankly their best album and it would be simply lazy and clumsy to merely refer to this era of Baroness as sludge metal.

Primitive Man in April 2015, photo by Tom Murphy

Saturday | 11.27
What: Primitive Man w/Spectral Voice and Oryx
When: 8 p.m.
Where: Hi-Dive
Why: Denver is fortunate to have an exceptional extreme metal scene with many bands worth a deep listen. This show, though, showcases three of the best. Spectral Voice and the angular brutality of its dark death metal has evolved from an earlier sort of a blackened deathgrind sound into more refined sonic brutality without losing its raw edge. Oryx has never been short on an inventive evocation of musical heaviness and commentary on the hubris of human civilization. It’s 2021 album Lamenting a Dead World perhaps says it all with the title but the vocals sound especially feral and the parallel rhythms and guitar leads flow with a primordial energy that embodies an inevitable path to doom for the planet if things don’t take a different turn amongst us humans. And of course Primitive Man brings the most crushing and emotionally harrowing death grind you’re likely to experience anywhere. The Denver trio did not tour or play much if anything in the way of live shows in 2020 or much of 2021 so its caustic 2020 album Immersion and its nightmare vision of what seem like end times didn’t get to unleash what is hopefully a catharsis of the eschatological mood that has cloaked the planet since the onset of the pandemic until recently. That these great works of music from Oryx and Primitive Man are still so relevant does speak to the excellence of their conception and execution but also to how far we have to go as a species to prove ourselves worthy of continued existence.

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

SoftKill_JoannaStawnicka1_900
Soft Kill, photo by Joanna Stawnicka

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Soft Kill
Soft Kill, photo by Joanna Stawnicka

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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