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 1/24/19 – 1/30/19

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hackedepicciotto performs January 30 with DBUK at Lost Lake. Photo by Sylvia Steinhäuser

Thursday | January 24, 2019

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Meet the Giant, photo by Tom Murphy

Who: Meet the Giant w/Dead Pay Rent, Mr. Atomic
When: Thursday, 01.24, 7 p.m.
Where: Lost Lake
Why: Meet the Giant, perhaps unintentionally, perhaps subconsciously, perhaps entirely by plan, has drawn on both 80s and 90s sounds at a time when the various aesthetics of those decades are firmly back in vogue. Downtempo, brooding post-punk, the rhythms of sample-driven composition and emotionally rich vocals make for a band that sounds instantly like something beyond having an appeal to nostalgia while drawing on a hint of that. The group spent nearly a decade honing its songcraft and chemistry as a unit and more than a small amount of the intimacy that comes out of such extended wood shedding comes through in the music like you’re getting to experience that connection that friends have who can share much with each other and be real. Many bands put on some kind of ego-driven facade fueled by a kind of borrowed rock and roll myth bravado. Meet the Giant comes about its rock and roll power honestly and with tender emotions laid bare, which is always more compelling than tough guy strutting any day of the week. Do yourself a favor and see them or at least check out their remarkable 2018 self-titled debut.

Who: DSTR, eHpH, Cutworm
When: Thursday, 01.24, 8 p.m.
Where: 3 Kings Tavern
Why: DSTR is Destroid, a project of Daniel Meyer who some may know more for his work as half of influential EBM band Haujobb. Distorted vocals, imaginative soundscaping, strong, pulsing beats and menacing, glitch-hazed atmospherics. Denver’s eHpH has been making an interesting hybrid of industrial rock and dark EBM of their own but refreshingly unlike any of their peers in the Mile High City. Cutworm is a bit of a left field choice for a bill like this if its 2018 Swallow EP is any indication with its sound being unfruitful in placing in a particular genre box. Its sounds range from modern downtempo darkwave to especially beautifully moody IDM. Live, though, Cutworm definitely brings the industrial edge into the production.

Friday | January 25, 2019

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Klaus Dafoe, photo by Tom Murphy

Who: Red Tack, George Cessna and Blindrunner
When: Friday, 01.25, 9 p.m.
Where: Lion’s Lair
Why: Red Tack is the solo, somewhat weirdo singer-songwriter project of Ted Thacker who should be remembered widely for being in 90s alternative rock band Baldo Rex and later as a member of indiepop band Veronica. Whatever his pedigree, Thacker has remained one of Denver’s most interesting songwriters and personalities. George Cessna is the son of Slim Cessna of Auto Club fame. The younger Cessna’s own work is both not too surprising considering his father’s legendary musical legacy but he is far from a carbon copy and his use of raw sound and atmosphere in his recordings and his wide ranging musical style in a broader realm of Americana and weirdo folk is noteworthy on its own merits.

Who: faim (record release), Line Brawl, Euth, Moral Law and Targets
When: Friday, 01.25, 7 p.m.
Where: Seventh Circle Music Collective
Why: Hardcore band faim is releasing its latest seven inch through Convulse Records and celebrating the occasion with a few of Denver’s and Wyoming’s best hardcore acts.

Who: Texas Chainsaw Massacre 1 and 2
When: Friday, 01.25, 9:30 p.m.
Where: Sie Film Center
Why: Tobe Hooper passed away in 2017 leaving behind a legacy of unusual and influential films beginning, in terms of impact, with 1974’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre, a movie so graphically violent and darkly disturbing for the time, because it felt more like a documentary than the mostly tame horror cinema up to its release. In 1986 he released the sequel as a horrifying kind of parody. Between that, the 1982 Poltergeist film, 1985’s space vampire spectacle Lifeforce and numerous other films, Hooper’s unique cinematic vision will be celebrated for years to come including this month-long or so series hosted by Theresa Mercado kicking off this night on the director’s birthday.

Who: Flaural, Panther Martin and The Eye & The Arrow
When: Friday, 01.25, 8 p.m.
Where: Larimer Lounge
Why: The kind of line up you want to see more often in the realm of indie rock with Flaurel’s psychedelic pop, Panther Martin’s visionary lo-fi rock and The Eye & The Arrow’s re-working of Americana into something we’re not hearing ad infinitum on playlists and radio stations with a fairly vanilla stream of content.

Who: Klaus Dafoe, New Standards Men and Simulators
When: Friday, 01.25, 9 p.m.
Where: The Skylark Lounge
Why: Klaus Dafoe seems to be a sort of instrumental rebirth of late 90s to mid-2000s indie math rock but deconstructed to be more fractured and potentially more interesting than some of the bands mining that neo-mathcore/emo sound of late. Simulators are the kind of post-punk that carves out the overtly atmospheric quality for stark contrasts of tone and angular rhythms that somehow still flow without getting splintery and yet, despite that intentional minimalism, bursting with Bryon Parker’s raw emotional vocals.

Saturday | January 26, 2019

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Hippo Campus, photo by Pooneh Ghana

Who: Hippo Campus w/Now Now
When: Saturday, 01.26, 9 p.m.
Where: The Ogden
Why: Hippo Campus has been writing finely crafted pop songs since its early days and challenging itself to make each record reflect not just personal and creative growth, qualities you’d want in any band worth your continued attention, but an evolving approach to larger cultural narratives. The group’s 2018 album Bambi offers no pat answers or platitudes. It is a record brimming with questions instead of the instant opinion/instant expert tendency that permeates our culture from the way people interact and present themselves on social media and how one must conduct oneself in various contexts lest one be thought indecisive rather than recognizing and learning to identify nuance—not in a way to placate all sides but in order to avoid the hubris of being unaware of one’s own limitations of knowledge and comprehension. It can be enjoyed as just a solid pop album but there’s a great deal of dimensionality and content for anyone wanting to listen deeper.

Who: A Celebration of 1/26 with Weird Al Qaida, Gregory Ego and Mermalair
When: Saturday, 01.26, 7 p.m.
Where: Mutiny Information Café
Why: Weird Al Quaida is an avant-garde punk/noise/psychedelic band from Denver that doesn’t perform often. Definitely for fans of the more rock end of Sun City Girls.

Who: Space Jail, Snaggletoothe and Claudzilla
When: Saturday, 01.26, 7:30 p.m.
Where: The People’s Building
Why: Space Jail might be described as a psychedelic synth band. Snaggletoothe as psych prog. Claudzilla as a one-person keytar rock weirdo extravaganza. All in likely the only venue in Aurora where you might see music anywhere within he realm of these bands.

Who: Soulless Maneater, Sliver, Endless Nameless, Fox Moses, Equine
When: Saturday, 01.26, 9 p.m.
Where: 3 Kings Tavern
Why: Soulless Maneater is somewhere between the best death rock band in Denver and a moodily creepy doom band. Sliver is “Diet Nirvana.” Fox Moses sounds like a gloomier neo-grunge band and all the better for that. Endless Nameless sounds like a hybrid of math rock, shoegaze and post-rock—not that those are mutually exclusive concepts. Equine is the avant-guitar and synth solo project of former Epileptinomicon and Moth Eater guitarist Kevin Richards.

Sunday | January 27, 2019

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Sumac, photo by Anne Godoneo

Who: Sumac, Divide and Dissolve, Tashi Dorij
When: Sunday, 01.27, 7 p.m.
Where: Larimer Lounge
Why: Aaron Turner’s guitar work and songwriting in partnership with fellow musicians has helped to define some of the boundaries of the more experimental, heavy music. As the leader of Hydra Head Records he also encouraged the development of that music throughout the 90s and 2000s. As a member of Isis, Old Man Gloom and Mamiffer, to name a few projects, Turner has crafted consistently interesting material that is undeniably within the realm of metal but with an ear for abstracting sounds into noise and then back together into coherent expressions of emotion outside the realm of standard songwriting in the genre. With Sumac this may be especially so in particular the band’s 2018 album Love In Shadow where the trio takes the concept of love at its most primordial level pre-marketing device, pre-narrowing the concept down to a relatively trite, or at least limited, word casually thrown around. Also on this tour is Bhutanese guitarist Tashi Dorij whose noisescapes could be considered loosely as avant-garde but also seem to contain a kind of personal ritualistic expression. See his own 2018 album gàng lu khau chap ‘mi gera gi she an example of the sorts of music you’re in for during his set. Since Dorij and Turner have collaborated on at least one record maybe you’ll get to see some of that this night as well.

Tuesday | January 29, 2019

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The Maykit circa 2015, photo by Tom Murphy

Who: Nadia Bolz-Weber – The Shameless Book Tour
When: Tuesday, 01.29, 7:30 p.m.
Where: Tattered Cover — Colfax
Why: Nadia Bolz-Weber is the activist and Lutheran pastor whose 2014 memoir Pastrix: the cranky, beautiful faith of a sinner & saint traced her personal growth from a kind of bohemian comedian to sober theology student and pastor. The book, brimming with irreverent humor and sarcasm as well as plenty of illuminating insights into human psychology, whether you’re Christian or not, struck a chord with a fairly sizable audience. In humanizing challenges many people face, Bolz-Weber made a good case for how we can embrace an expanded sense of our own best selves. In July 2018 left her pastoship of House for All Sinners and Saints in Denver, Colorado. Now she is releasing her new book Shameless: A Sexual Reformation. As a candid reexamination of “patriarchy, sex, and power” (from the Tattered Cover website), Bolz-Weber will likely further cement her reputation as something of a refreshingly maverick religious thinker and writer.

Who: Big Paleo album release w/Places Back Home, The Maykit and Quentin
When: Tuesday, 01.29, 7 p.m.
Where: Larimer Lounge
Why: Denver-based math rock Big Paleo is releasing its, presumably, debut album. One of the opening bands, The Maykit, may not be math rock but its intricate musicianship and songwriting and Max Winne’s indisputably sincere vocal delivery will be a standout of the evening.

Wednesday | January 30, 2019

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Mallrat, photo by Michelle Pitris

Who: Gnash w/Mallrat and Guardin
When: Wednesday, 01.30, 7 p.m.
Where: The Bluebird Theater
Why: Mallrat is Grace Shaw from Brisbane, Queensland, Australia. Since high school, Shaw has been writing sophisticated pop songs that bring together elements of electronic dance production, hip-hop style beats and the informal structure of modern indie rock—really an ideal synthesis and vehicle for expressing one’s ideas with nuance but a direct emotional quality. Her 2018 EP In The Sky is an interesting blend of contrasts: dusky atmospherics speckled with bright highlights, onomatopoeic cadences and vivid lyrics and soaring, saturated melodies dissolving into introspective minimalism. Headlining the show is Gnash, aka Garrett Nash, who released his debut full-length We on January 11, 2019. Nash made waves with his early breakup EPs and his far better than average beat-driven R&B.

Who: Hackedepicciotto w/DBUK
When: Wednesday, 01.30, 7 p.m.
Where: Lost Lake
Why: Hackedepicciotto is a multi-media, experimental music duo comprised of Danielle de Picciotto and Alexander Hacke. De Picciotto was one of the founders of the long-running electronic music festival The Love Parade in Berlin. The festival was initiated as celebration of innovative electronic music but also as a subversive kind of demonstration for peace through love and music. Hacke is the bassist for influential industrial band Einstürzende Neubauten. The aforementioned couldn’t completely encompass either artist’s work, output and collaborations and it would be worthwhile to explore their work in depth. But with this project the two bring together a set of skills in composition, performance, film making and storytelling. The word “immersive” gets thrown around a lot these days but it definitely applies to a Hackedepicciotto show. It isn’t just that the sound design and visuals and songwriting are striking, they are, it’s also because before it quite became a widely articulated phenomenon, de Picciotto, in her 2013/2015 graphic novel We Are Gypsies now vividly and powerfully captured what it’s like to be noteworthy, internationally renowned artists have to uproot from one’s home and home city of decades due to gentrification. Then, as explored in further detail on the 2016 album Perserverantia and 2017’s Menetekel how the way the world economy functions now globally has not only all but dismantled the way independent artists and not-so-independent artists can live, function and thrive. The albums alone are worthwhile experiences in the listening but the live show is where you truly get to experience a deep emotional manifestation of faith and hope nearly crushed by despair at the state of things supported by a drive to seek what must be better over the horizon. There is no naivete to the work, de Picciotto and Hacke both know they can never really regain what they once had, but a reminder that one’s compulsion to pursue one’s life work can be a beacon through difficult times. The duo’s latest release is the 2018 meditation soundtrack Joy.

Who: The Pink Spiders w/Television Generation and Smile Victoria
When: Wednesday, 01.30, 7 p.m.
Where: Larimer Lounge
Why: The Pink Spiders are a power pop band from Nashville who had a minor hit in 2006 with “Little Razorblade” from their Ric Ocasek-produced album Teenage Graffiti. Smile Victoria sounds like it’s still wearing its Pixies and others 90s alternative music fairly freshly. But not in the neo-grunge kind of way as the trio has more atmosphere and melody than some of its peers tapping into the same era. Television Generation somehow perfectly blends grunge with power pop without sounding like Nirvana or like Cheap Trick gone metal. Is there a bit of sonic DNA in there out of Love Battery and Buzzcocks? Probably but live the band has plenty of grit and emotional darkness to keep it from ever feeling derivative.

Best Shows in Denver 08/9/18 – 08/15/18

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Echo Beds album release Sunday, August 12, 2018 at Mutiny Information Café

Thursday | August 9, 2018

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Lady Gang, photo courtesy Jen Korte

Who: Lady Gang EP release w/Venus Cruz & Ginger Perry and R A R E B Y R D $
When: Thursday, 08.9, 9 p.m.
Where: Syntax Physic Opera
Why: Jen Korte has long been known as a respected and talented songwriter in Denver with her inventive songwriting and vivid lyrics. Known mostly for her Americana solo output and her brilliant collaborations with other artists including stints in Gin Doctors and as a guitarist in experimental rock band Teacup Gorilla. Lady Gang is Korte branching out as a songwriter and, this time around, as a producer. It’s a solo project in which Korte uses “a beat machine, a loop pedal, bass guitar, electric guitar and her signature voice.” That voice has some grit, character and confidence. The project’s new EP, released tonight, is Simple Truths, is truth in advertising with Korte finding direct ways of discussing the world in its incredible disarray. The songs resist simple classification. “How Do You Sound” has elements of bluesy psychedelia and hip-hop as interpreted through someone like MC 900 Foot Jesus. “Preface This” like a long lost Helium track with its electro-lounge and mysterious melodic strains. Sharing the stage for the occasion of this release is a collaborative set with two of Denver’s most noteworthy musical figures in jazz/soul/hip-hop phenom Venus Cruz, host of the Jazz Odyssey program on KUVO (one of the most forward thinking radio programs in Denver) and Ginger Perry, one of the Mile High City’s great DJs and not just the kind that shows up with a simple playlist. Oh, and R A R E B Y R D $, one of the most interesting hip-hop crews going that’s injecting a rich spectrum of quality imagination and emotional content into the genre.

Who: Lupe Fiasco w/Mickey Factz, Bill Blue, Dylan Montayne, Connor Ray
When: Thursday, 08.9, 7 p.m.
Where: The Ogden Theatre
Why: It’s for the best that Lupe Fiasco didn’t actually quit music as he had intended in 2016 after the controversy over “N.E.R.D.” and the infamously supposed anti-Semitic line. In a time when white supremacy has made a curious rise in American political life, it’s essential to have voices who are articulate and unabashed critics of such nonsense not to mention Fiasco’s sharp critique of the down side of America’s actions on the international stage. Initially shelved, 2017’s Drogas Light was described as a prequel to the 2011 album Lasers. Perhaps for this tour Lupe Fiasco will unveil a bit of his new direction as creatively moving forward certainly suits him.

Who: Angélique Kidjo’s Remain In Light and Femi Kuti & Positive Force
When: Thursday, 08.9, 6:30 p.m.
Where: Denver Botanic Gardens (York Street)
Why: Two giants of world music on one bill in a beautiful setting? Both Kidjo and Kuti have deep roots in the development of world music in general but Afrobeat in particular. Obviously Femi Kuti’s father Fela was the founder of Afrobeat and Femi played in Fela’s band starting in his teen years. Kidjo was “discovered” as a jazz musician in Paris but quickly made a name for herself internationally for her powerful voice and inimitable personal style. A rare opportunity in Denver.

Friday | August 10, 2018

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Meet The Giant, photo by Tom Murphy

Who: Meet the Giant vinyl release w/Church Fire and The Patient Zeros
When: Friday, 08.10, 9 p.m.
Where: Syntax Physic Opera
Why: Denver-based rock band Meet the Giant releases the vinyl edition of its self-titled debut album tonight with a show at Syntax. The record is a synthesis of moody, deeply atmospheric dream pop, downtempo and fuzzy hard rock. Live the band’s songs have a mysterious yet emotionally vibrant quality accented by a broad dynamic range between the trio’s players. For the occasion Meet the Giant is joined by two of Denver’s best bands. The Patient Zeros emerged from the glut of neo-classic rock, throwback 60s psych-nostalgia and garage rock that seemed to dominate the past several years with its own musical identity and more bluesy like Cream and not a cut-rate Brian Jonestown Massacre. Church Fire is the rare band that bridges electronic dance music, noise, industrial and synth pop and infuses it with a passionate intensity and shamanic stage presence.

Who: Melvins w/WE Are The Asteroid
When: Friday, 08.10, 7:30 p.m.
Where: Gothic Theatre
Why: Melvins have managed to spend its 35 years as a band not just developing its signature sludgy, heavy rock and influencing generations of musicians, it has taken the opportunity to collaborate with other artists in various realms of music. Whether that’s with experimental electronic artist Lustmord or Jello Biafra, Melvins seem to have long realized that you have to keep doing stuff you find interesting and following your curiosity and trying different things along the way. 2017’s A Walk With Love and Death was a double album with half of it being a noisy soundtrack to a forthcoming film in which the band is involved. Now, Melvins are touring its latest record, 2018’s Pinkus Abortion Technician. Reliably great live, do yourself a favor and see Melvins this weekend or if not this weekend sometime if you’ve not before.

Who: Witch Mountain w/False Cathedrals and Wild Call
When: Friday, 08.10, 8 p.m.
Where: Hi-Dive
Why: Witch Mountain is a doom band from Portland, Oregon currently touring in support of its recently-released self-titled album. The quartet has technically been around since the late 90s but with an early 2000s hiatus giving band members some time to pursue other projects, the group reconvened this past decade with female lead singers who really help coalesce the drifty heavy riffs into mythical anthems. Also on board for the show is Denver doom band False Cathedrals and Wild Call who, while not doom, more psych or shoegaze, have an edge and heaviness to its atmospheric rock that will fit right in.

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Parker Millsap, photo by James Coreas

Who: Parker Millsap w/Plain Faraday
When: Friday, 08.10, 8 p.m.
Where: The Bluebird Theater
Why: Parker Millsap is definitely operating with a tradition of music that includes blues rock artists of his youth like Eric Clapton and Stevie Ray Vaughan who were doing their level best to tap into the original blues artists of the American South and Midwest. But instead of getting stuck there, it’s obvious Millsap took some time to explore traditional folk and country and more modern practitioners of that art who brought their own ghosts and haunted quality and soul to their own music. Like Townes Van Zandt and Jeff Buckley. Millsap’s own voice and playing has a an impressive subtlety and spectrum of detail, texture and emotional colorings and has established himself as a real talent in his realm of music. In May 2018 he released his latest record Other Arrangements.

Saturday | August 10, 2018

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Itchy-O, photo by Christopher Cleary

Who: Itchy-O Record Release w/Codename: Carter
When: Saturday, 08.11, 8 p.m.
Where: Gothic Theatre
Why: The Itchy-O’s new full-length Mystic Spy | Psykho Dojo, like any recorded work, could never fully capture the exuberant mayhem and visceral impact of a thirty plus member band in elaborate costumes generating an orchestra of rhythms and tones designed to disorient and inspire. Nevertheless, the new album offers listeners a foray into deep sound design that conveys the sheer detail and atmospheric experience of the band in a different context. It’s the band’s most forward thinking set of songs to date and rendered in a way that is as easy to get lost in on its own terms as the band is live. Each of the band’s albums have been impressive works in their own right in terms of recording and execution as a separate experience from the live show but Mystic Spy | Psykho Dojo is much more than an addendum to an Itchy-O concert, it is the realization of the concept of an esoteric spy film soundtrack and sonic training rhythms for tribal psychics to manifest a more vital future. Joining Itchy-O for this occasion is spy rock/surf band extraordinaire Codename: Carter.

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Princess Dewclaw, photo by Tom Murphy

What: Washout Fest at Globe Hall: Muscle Beach, Rotten Reputation, Sliver, Moon Pussy, Princess Dewclaw, Sonic Vomit, Morlox, Ultraviolet, Eraserhead Fuckers, Bert Olsen, Juice Up, Lepidoptera, Fever Dreams, Saddy, Freak//When//Scene, Monty O’Blivio, Clutch Plague, Television Generation, King Slug and Wayward Sun
When: Saturday, 08.11, 12 p.m.
Where: Globe Hall
Why: Hands down the most eclectic music festival to happen in Denver in 2018. While many try to encapsulate too many genres with not enough interesting artists, others focus on indie rock and NPR-friendly pop, yet others an uninspired and obvious selection of popular artists and token local artists who aren’t going to ruffle any feathers, the organizers of Washout Fest have dug a little deeper. But more than that, not just artists on the Glasss imprint. It includes notable local noise artist Morlox, ambient project Lepidoptera, noisy psych punk group Princess Dewclaw, the industrial noise rock of Moon Pussy, dream psych pop group Fever Dreams, experimental metal band Sonic Vomit, unconventional punk bands Rotten Reputation and Muscle Beach, fuzz rock bands Sliver and Television Generation, noise hip-hop weirdo Eraserhead Fuckers and much more. The more conventionally-minded festivals have their place, especially when they have a local focus like The UMS and Westword Music Showcase, but this is one where radio-friendly wasn’t the consideration, just quality and putting one’s reputation on the line for declaring the bands as such.

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Valley Queen, photo by Pooneh Ghana

Who: Valley Queen w/Tyto Alba
When: Saturday, 08.11, 8:30 p.m.
Where: Lost Lake
Why: Valley Queen has been honing its live show and songwriting for four years with numerous national tours under its belt to road test its music. Its gift for reinventing a type of rock music that isn’t part of a subgenre and isn’t necessarily trying to remanifest some older style of music is impressive. The band may have borrowed some from its retro peers and 2000s indie rock but with the release of its debut album, Supergiant (2018), the Los-Angeles based band demonstrated it’s perfectly capable of establishing a signature sound of layered melodies and Natalie Carol’s commanding vocals. Valley Queen is no stranger to Denver having made the Mile High City a regular stop on its tours and tonight the group will share the stage with one of America’s most promising rock bands, the warmly moody and emotionally stirring Tyto Alba from Denver.

Who: Great American House Fire and Sophisticated Boom Boom split release
When: Saturday, 08.11, 8 p.m.
Where: Bowman’s Vinyl and Lounge
Why: It wouldn’t be accurate to say that Great American House Fire and Sophisticated Boom Boom are punk but its roots lie in a similar Denver punk and emo scene of the past two decades. GAHF has a bit more soul and Americana in its sound while SBB is more in the vein of power pop. Both celebrate the release of their split seven inch tonight at Bowman’s.

Who: GhostPulse (single premiere) w/Plume Varia and Ramakhandra
When: Saturday, 08.11, 8 p.m.
Where: Syntax Physic Opera
Why: GhostPulse is premiering its new single “Dreaming In Hypersleep” tonight. The song is a leap forward for a band that was evolving out of its roots in excellent post-rock/instrumental rock band Lucida Tela. The more electronic, soundscape-y sound of its newer material is very welcome in a city where music rooted in mundane reality currently dominates. Plume Varia will compliment the evening well with its own downtempo dream pop and space jazz/Flying Lotus/Gil Scott-Heron-esque band Ramakhandra will keep things in the outer realms of the imagination as well.

Who: Melvins w/WE Are The Asteroid
When: Saturday, 08.11, 8 p.m.
Where: The Aggie Theatre
Why: See above for 8.10 on Melvins.

Sunday | August 12, 2018

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Cannons circa 2010, photo by Tom Murphy

Who: Goon, faim, Soul Vice
When: Sunday, 08.12, 6 p.m.
Where: Mutiny Information Café
Why: This benefit for the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition features some of the more interesting local hardcore acts including Goom and Faim from Denver and Soul Vice from Colorado Springs. Yes, the bands are doing a benefit for a political organization but their own songwriting is non-didactic and address social and interpersonal issues in a poignant and powerful way. For instance, faim’s great song “All Talk” takes to task the people in its own world and scene who talk a big game and make a major display of what they want people to think they’re about without doing anything concrete in the real world and in their own lives to address those issues in meaningful way.

Who: Cannons w/Echo Beds (album release), Limbwrecker, In The Company of Serpents
When: Sunday, 08.12, 9 p.m.
Where: Mutiny Information Café
Why: Over two years after the release of its debut full-length New Icons of a Vile Faith, Denver’s Echo Beds finds its starkly menacing clamor evolving in new directions with its 2018 album Buried Language (officially out on 8.17 through The Flenser). Still in place is the physicality of the music and its inventive and visceral use of percussion and rhythmic sound but added to the mix is a greater sense of the use of production in executing that aesthetic in a way that is an even more full spectrum stimulation of the senses. This show is a bit of a record release and tour kickoff for the band but also a chance to share the stage with like-minded acts. Cannons was an excellent noise rock/post-hardcore act that was most active nearly a decade ago in Denver. In the Company of Serpents is a doom band but its wall of sound is so colossal and caustic it’s almost more like death metal or grindcore slowed down to the pace of magma. Limbwrecker could be said to be a powerviolence band with a sense of humor.

Tuesday | August 14, 2018

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The Chamanas, photo by Brett Muñoz

Who: The Chamanas w/Picture the Waves, Vic N’ The Narwhals, Los Mocochetes and Ghost Tapes
When: Tuesday, 08.14, 7 p.m.
Where: Globe Hall
Why: The Chamanas is an indie pop band if indie pop were born out of being influenced by not just the type of music that formed the DNA of C86 and American indie pop bands of the 90s (garage rock, psychedelia, folk, noise etc.) but if the folk underpinnings of that music included traditional Mexican music, the various pop traditions of Latin America and Cuban dance music. It’s that mixture that gives the band’s music not only a uniquely eclectic flavor but one that has an immediate connection for fans of earlier and more modern indie pop. Manuel Calderon and Hector Carreon met as sound engineers at Sonic Ranch near El Paso, Texas and after working on projects by other artists the two finally issued their own album as The Chamanas in 2015, Once Once. In 2017 the band released its second album, NEA, titled after the nickname of Carreon’s brother who had recently passed with songs that reflected that loss. With 2018’s NEA II, The Chamanas re-rendered several of NEA‘s songs with five new tracks. Also on this bill are some of the best bands in the Denver music scene whose own music is a brilliant synthesis of musical traditions in Vic N’ The Narwhals, Los Mocochetes and Ghost Tapes.

Who: Wino, Xasthur and Phallic Meditation
When: Tuesday, 08.14, 9 p.m.
Where: 3 Kings Tavern
Why: Robert “Wino” Weinrich will perform some of his starkly evocative solo material at this show. Better known, perhaps, for his tenure in doom legends Saint Vitus and The Obsessed, his solo acoustic material showcases his raw gift for songwriting. Xasthur’s spare black metal with acoustic instrumentation came to Denver in 2017 with a haunting performance capable of deep musical darkness without the usual instrumentation and sound one associates with a similar aesthetic. Denver’s Phallic Meditation is more a doomy psychedelic band but with some experimental noisiness that sets it apart from similarly-minded groups.

Who: Lil Ugly Mane, Kahlil Cezanne, Curta, Cadaver Dog, Many Blessings, Videodrome
When: Tuesday, 08.14, 8 p.m.
Where: Hi-Dive
Why: When Travis Miller released his debut album as Lil Ugly Mane, 2012’s Mista Thug Isolation, he had already garnered some praise from members of the Odd Future collective for his absurdist imagery and inventive production that really didn’t obey then mainstream hip-hop conventions with his use of noise and black metal soundscapes/samples in some of the beats. So it’s fitting that on this bill are experimental/noise hip-hop artist Curta, hardcore bands Cadaver Dog and Videodrome and noise soundscaper Many Blessings. If there’s a show demonstrating how all those worlds and their various aesthetics aren’t so far apart this whole year so far, this is it.

Wednesday | August 8, 2018

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Aseethe, photo by Karlee Barr

Who: Yakuza, Aseethe, Oryx, Terminator 2
When: Tuesday, 08.14, 8 p.m.
Where: Hi-Dive
Why: Aseethe’s 2017 album Hopes of Failure is a great example of how one can create an immersive experience with heavy music if you’re willing to go beyond how that music has often been conceived in an earlier era. Not just doom or a subgenre of that subgenre, Aseethe’s music is now more like sound design in the form of songs to render an experience through sound and, live, through the visceral dynamics of how that sound is executed. It would be imprecise and wannabe inclusive to call it ambient. It’s not that. It’s not music that can be easily shuffled off into the background if you wish. Aseethe is in good company for this show with Chicago’s Yakuza, a band that has long been pushing the boundaries of heavy music and Denver’s Oryx and Terminator 2 who both don’t just make experimental metal but whose own songs expand what heavy music can be and the forms it can take when the dynamics aren’t essentially the same trying to fit into what doom or grind are “supposed” to sound like.

Who: Beach House w/Sound of Ceres
When: Tuesday, 08.14, 8 p.m.
Where: The Ogden Theatre
Why: It could be argued that Beach House has been in something of a creative rut since 2012’s Bloom, or, less charitably, sine 2008’s Devotion. While it’s albums have been enjoyable and yielding worthwhile songs, and the live shows have been reliably moving, the songwriting was starting to get a little stale. With 2018’s 7, it’s like the band reinvented itself. Maybe with the help of producer Sonic Boom, former member of Spacemen 3 and Spectrum, but this set of songs sounds like Victoria Legrand and Alex Scally recognized a need to break their own boundaries as the songs are far more experimental and adventurous than the duo has ever been. The band’s previous two albums were nice but Beach House is better than merely nice and has now proven it. Sound of Ceres is now based out of New York but the band is originally from Fort Collins, Colorado and its own dreamlike pop music shares the quality of intimate sound and mood and personal mythology that has made Beach House’s music so resonant for anyone with a rich inner life and imagination.

Who: Father John Misty with TV On the Radio
When: Tuesday, 08.14, 6:30 p.m.
Where: Red Rocks
Why: Love him, hate him or find him mundane, at least Father John Misty has some self-awareness of his own creative output. Joshua Tillman, Misty, recently released his new album God’s Favorite Customer and ditched the unifying concept approach to writing the album, which Tillman told Consequence of Sound in April 2018 was “pretentious.” You have to honor that level of frankness and honesty in an artist. Whatever intentionality went into God’s Favorite Customer, the record is a sonically and emotionally rich listen with collaborations with the likes of Haxan Cloak and Weyes Blood. That visionary art rock/downtempo/experimental R&B band TV On the Radio is on the bill too is more than just a bonus.

Best Shows in Denver 01/04/18 – 01/10/18

Rubedo
Rubedo at We Labs, November 15, 2013. Photo by Tom Murphy

Thursday | January 4, 2018

Princess Dewclaw
Princess Dewclaw, photo by Tom Murphy

 

Thursday | January 4, 2018

Who: Hot Trash, Creature Keeper, Princess Dewclaw at Lost Lake
When: Thursday, 01.04, 8 p.m.
Where: Lost Lake
Why: Hot Trash from Sewell, NJ is a punk band that seems like its members grew up on a lot of 90s pop punk and emo but then discovered the roots of that music and absorbed a great deal of Rites of Spring and Fugazi. Its clipped, angular guitar riffs reveal the latter but its bratty yet melodic vocals are right out of 90s post-hardcore and pop punk. Denver’s Princess Dewclaw have some of that brattiness in their vocals but it comes off more like righteous outrage at being the “beneficiaries” of misogyny American style. With keyboards and guitar work that goes beyond any kind of standard punk, think more Milemarker than AFI.

Saturday | January 6, 2018

iZCALLi_Jul31_2016_TomMurphy

Who: iZCALLi (album release) w/Rubedo (album release), Wes Watkins and El Cro
When: Saturday, 01.06, 7 p.m.
Where: Bluebird Theater
Why: Maybe the next iZCALLi album will be called Casas Del Santo. But seriously, the veteran rock and roll band based out of Denver is calling its new record iZCALLi IV. It is the group’s first bilingual record, it’s previous efforts with songs in Spanish, and with any luck will bring the band, which has been putting on highly energetic shows since its 2005 inception, and playing in various scenes and subscenes in Denver. Many bands garner attention from press and garner a following quickly but iZCALLi has had to grind and play Mexican restaurants and other restaurants that happened to have a P.A. for karaoke night or some other kind of music. But iZCALLi’s power as a live band was undeniable and before ever really releasing an English language song on an album, the group attracted fans for its strong songwriting and charismatic stage show.

Joining iZCALLi in releasing an album is Rubedo whose Vaca is its first album since 2014’s Ikey Owens produced Love is the Answer. Though not benefiting directly from Ikey’s magic, Vaca reflects his legacy of excellence and truth with eleven songs that to some extent documents the mourning process of a mentor and friend. But across the record the songs are a celebration of Ikey’s life and his influence on the people around him and how people can inspire each other to achieve their dreams with integrity. The previous Rubedo albums are worthwhile on their own, representing the era in which they were made, but Vaca may be the most emotionally nuanced and deep record the band has released to date. The exuberant bursts of emotion and wiry energy of Rubedo’s core sound is there but the gentler atmospheres and the evidence of a band pushed further into craft if individual members pushed further than they’d been before makes for rewarding repeated listening.

Who: Tennis w/Brent Cowles
When: Saturday, 01.06, 8 p.m.
Where: The Ogden Theatre
Why: Yours Conditionally, released on Tennis’ own label Mutually Detrimental, came out in 2017 and seems to have pushed the band’s cachet higher among a wider audience since it’s playing The Ogden this time around. The record isn’t envelope-pushing enough to garner a lot of kudos from music critics. It’s still the sort of Laurel Canyon circa 1973 pop sound with 2000s production updates on the mixing and mastering end. It was also written during a four-month sailing trip along the West coast of the US and Mexico. That might justifiably make one think the band is trying to recapture some past glory of its first album. But the songwriting is better and Alaina Moore and Patrick Riley have clearly developed their craft to a fine degree. Beyond that, Tennis is never really given the credit it deserves for articulating many of the internal conflicts, aspirations, insecurities, anxieties and uncertainty in America without hitting you over the head with it and without having to dumb it down.

Brent Cowles long ago established himself as a songwriter of note separate from his old band You, Me and Apollo. His 2017 Cold Times EP puts him in good company with Tennis invoking another era of music. Except there’s somehow this sense that Cowles listened to or otherwise absorbed a lot of mid-90s Pulp while writing those songs. That is to say that there’s a decadent yet romantic undertone to the idealistic overtones of his songs. That mixed quality will probably give Cowles’ songwriting some durability that many of his peers may lack.

Who: SPELLS 7” release w/Hooper and Lawsuit Models
When: Saturday, 01.06, 8:30 p.m.
Where: Hi-Dive
Why: SPELLS shows are a punk rock party for people who are wise enough to remember that 80% is good enough. But their version of 80% is a bit higher than many punk bands who don’t look like they’re having fun even if they’re bashing out the tunes. The band will release one of its collectible 7”s this night and on the bill are other excellent bands that are technically punk but open up the format quite a bit in Hooper and Lawsuit Models.

Sunday | January 7, 2018

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

Who: R A R E B Y R D $ w/Bianca Mikahn, Abeasity Jones, A’Dula and MC Big House
When: Sunday, 01.07, 7 p.m.
Where: Larimer Lounge
Why: This Glasss Records showcase highlights its excellent hip-hop roster. Bianca Mikahn has spent several years honing her poetry and production skills all while being heavily involved in Denver’s performing arts community and youth outreach. Her own work is passionately honest and while informed by hip-hop, incorporates elements of ambient and noise to create a mood and a texture, something tangible, in her beats. Abeasity Jones brings a playfulness and wit to his raps that are almost a detournement of the bravado that underlies entirely too much hip-hop. R A R E B Y R D $ is sometimes a duo, sometimes a group. But whatever the configuration, the project will draw you into their vision of a better, more nurturing, more loving world that also doesn’t pretend that the struggles and pains we’ve all experienced never happened. Even if you’re not wanting that, its beats are a transporting and intimate flow of sounds and rhythms that one might compare to more dreamy IDM acts and alternative/underground hip-hop legends cLOUDDEAD or imaginative modern artists like Kari Faux and Jonwayne.

Monday | January 8, 2018

Euth 1
Euth in its previous incarnation, Caged Bird Songs circa 2015, photo by Tom Murphy

Who: Stoic/Euth tour kickoff w/Echo Beds, Old Sport and faim
When: Monday, 01.08, 7 p.m.
Where: 7th Circle Music Collective
Why: Stoic and Euth are both hardcore bands from Laramie, Wyoming and both are kicking off their winter tour in Denver at Seventh Circle Music Collective. Helping to celebrate the occasion are three of Denver’s best bands with a connection to hardcore. Old Sport is a kind of a math rock/emo band in the vein of early 764-Hero or lo-fi Jawbreaker. Faim has such a feral, aggressive sound it’s difficult to know what to compare it to except for maybe the relentless pace of Converge minus the math-y instincts but with all the splintery dynamics and thrillingly abrasive melodies and punchier low end. Echo Beds is brings together the confrontational, organic catharsis of hardcore with classic industrial music in the vein of Throbbing Gristle, Test Dept. and Einstürzende Neubauten.

Wednesday | January 10, 2018

Surf Mom
Surf Mom, photo by Tom Murphy

Who: Cowgirl Clue w/Surf Mom, Sweater Belly and Meeting House
When: Wednesday, 01.10, 7 p.m.
Where: Lost Lake
Why: Ashley Clue appears to have tapped into a personal creative mythology akin to the otherworldly, surreal, bright and glittery world that is that of Akiko Higashimura’s manga series Princess Jellyfish, a place where the characters live in an apartment building in Tokyo populated by otaku women and where men are forbidden to enter. Her colorfully upbeat pop songs are strange but playful and accessible. Apparently, according to Jocelyn Rockhold of Medium, Clue has mainly been DJing queer dance parties around the world and performing select shows in larger cities so this is your opportunity to catch her live act in a place like Denver. Opening are Meeting House, Sweater Belly and Surf Mom. The latter with its gritty surf garage sound may be a bit out of step for some electronic pop stuff but both Cowgirl Clue and Surf Mom off an alternative to the patriarchal vision of art and music channeled to you daily. Gold Trash is a more obvious fit being an experimental electronic project that expands on the possibilities and palette of dance music while challenging societal norms and stereotypes in its lyrics.