Best Shows in Denver and Beyond May 2023

Skinny Puppy performs at Fillmore Auditorium on May 3, 2023, photo by Emilie Elizabeth and John Kraw, 2014
Ruston Kelly, photo by Alysse Gafkjen

Tuesday | 05.02
What: Ruston Kelly w/Briscoe
When: 7
Where: Gothic Theatre
Why: Ruston Kelly has never been limited by his association with country and Americana and his 2023 album The Weakness even expands what that music can sound like. His earnest and dynamically expressive vocals seem to come from a deep place in his live performances and in music that can have a hushed, introspective quality, Kelly brings a vulnerable fortitude to songs that could work as chamber pop or a cosmic and existential brand of folk informed by a frank self-examination that has an appeal that transcends genre. Best to catch an artist at a time of having transitioned to music that bursts past previous boundaries and fans of his earlier work would do well to see Kelly on this touring cycle.

Wilder Woods, photo by Darius Fitzgerald

Tuesday | 05.02
What: Wilder Woods w/Abraham Alexander
When: 6:30
Where: Bluebird Theater
Why: Needtobreathe lead singer Wilder Woods aka Bear Rinehart is now touring in support of his new album FEVER / SKY, a collection of spirited neo soul roots rock that sounds like it could have come from the same music scene that spawned Joe Cocker. It’s an album that sounds like the songwriter is coming to terms with who he is as a man and as an artist reckoning with his past and his purpose in life born of a time of isolation during the early pandemic and its impacts on the life of anyone that depended on the world of live music and its associated cultural and economic infrastructure. But Rinehart goes much further and hits deep places in his soul bared self-examination that are more cathartic than uncomfortable.

Skinny Puppy photo by Emilie Elizabeth and John Kraw, 2014

Wednesday | 05.03
What: Skinny Puppy w/Lead Into Gold
When: 7
Where: Fillmore Auditorium
Why: Skinny Puppy were pioneers of electronic industrial music when it formed in 1982 out of the Vancouver, BC New Wave scene. Taking new technologies like sequencers and samplers and pushing the potential aesthetics of these new tools, Skinny Puppy had as much in common with hip-hop artists of that time and now as it did with underground and experimental electronic and industrial rock acts. Its themes of alienation, environmental destruction, animal rights and left politics, Skinny Puppy innovated musically and challenging convention in musical form as well as content. When early member Dwayne Goettel passed away in 1995 the band ended for several years even as a recording project before reuniting in 2000 for its first live performance since 1992. Four years later the group’s new album, the pointedly titled The Greater Wrong of the Right, released and Skinny Puppy toured again and has remained an active project since but with composition steeped in sound design and even more keen social commentary. Unfortunately this tour has been announced to be its last and will more than likely include Skinny Puppy’s signature high use of theatrical performances and striking visuals and some of the most well crafted, intellectually stimulating and emotionally engaging electronic music ever made. The bonus is the opening act is Lead Into Gold, the long time project of Paul Barker, former bassist of Ministry.

Jason Isbell and The 400 Unit, photo by Danny Clinch

Wednesday and Thursday | 05.03 and 05.04
What: Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit w/Angel Olsen
When: 6
Where: Red Rocks
Why: Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit is touring ahead of the June 9, 2023 release of the band’s new album Weathervanes so you’ll get plenty of material from the new record for this show. Isbell has become one of the most acclaimed songwriters of his generation for his vivid, sensitive and imaginative storytelling and delicate vocal style that makes it easy to forget what style of music he’s playing as it engages your emotions with an unexpected immediacy. In that way he’s like Neil Young whose own diverse songwriting and performance draw upon a broad array of methods and aesthetics that nevertheless have a comfortable familiarity. For these two dates Isbell will be joined by another of the modern great songwriters of the current era in Angel Olsen who seems to be able to make retro musical sensibilities seem modern and vibrant.

Nuovo Testamento, photo courtesy the artists

Thursday | 05.04
What: Molchat Doma w/Nuovo Testamento and Mothe
When: 7
Where: Ogden Theatre
Why: Nuovo Testamento is a Los Angeles-based darkwave band whose sound blurs the line between post-punk, italo disco and synthpop. On its 2022 swing through Denver at the Hi-Dive the group’s performance was like seeing Madonna fronting Depeche Mode but with its own distinctive flavor. Its new album Love Lines is filled with gorgeously produced darkwave dance club hits like the soundtrack to a retrofuturist thriller that has yet to be made. Molchat Doma is the cult post-punk band from Minsk, Belarus whose introspective songs of loneliness and alienation have struck a chord well beyond their homeland. Its of necessity thin production style and minimalist guitar sound has proven massive influential in Russia as well as globally in the realm of post-punk and darkwave.

eHpH in 2023, photo by Tom Murphy

Saturday | 05.06
What: I Ya Toyah w/eHpH, Hex Cassette, DJ Nitrogen
When: 9
Where: The Broadway Roxy
Why: I Ya Toyah is a Chicago-based artist whose dark electronic music has a kind of European flavor in the production and tonal palette. Like a darkwave/industrial Danielle Dax with elements of noise, ambient and breakcore in the mix. ehpH is the evolving, long time project of Fernando Altonago and Angelo Atencio also of post-punk rock band Plague Garden. The blend of EBM and industrial with punk attitude and social commentary always hits harder than expected and for this show more of the industrial side of their songwriting will be featured. Hex Cassette is a one man EBM/industrial cult leader of furiously energetic dance music and confrontational stage performance whose banter unsettles some but the choice and absurd humor value is undeniable.

Fishbone, photo by Pablo Mathiason

Saturday | 05.06
What: Fishbone w/Frontside Five
When: 6
Where: Levitt Pavilion
Why: Fishbone has been genre bending and bursting since 1979. Its hybrid style of ska, punk, funk and beyond was like the punk side of Afrofuturism. Its songs always seemed to depict a time in the non-too-distant days to come where people could just be who they are and have the normal struggles of life we all face. All along the way the group’s sharp social commentary was couched in a surreal sense of humor and infectious party anthem grooves that didn’t downplay the issues so much as provide a soundtrack for working through them and shining a light on corners of American society that are often swept under the rug. The group recently released “All We Have Is Now” on the Bottle Music for Broken People compilation on Fat Mike’s new NOFX imprint with founding member Chris Dowd performing on a recording for the first time since 1994 and the song has the same irreverent and fun-loving spirit one would hope for with new Fishbone material.

Zealot in 2022, photo by Tom Murphy

Saturday | 05.06
What: Zealot w/Owosso and Loose Charm
When: 8
Where: Hi-Dive
Why: Zealot is celebrating the release of its new single “Newer Testament” at the Hi-Dive. Its literate yet spirited music is like if an indie rock band got reconnected with the intensity and musical inventiveness of early 2000s New York City rock with a similar level of imaginative songwriting and aim to make music that isn’t background playlist nonsense but which commands your attention. Owosso is a similarly-minded band comprised of local scene veterans who seem to have rediscovered a knack for crafting pop-inflected post-punk noise rock. If Loose Charm can be considered alt-country or post-rock its because its songs seem to be composed with ear for evocative melody and soundscaping that don’t usually go together unless you’re listening to something like Silver Jews or Wilco though Loose Charm doesn’t really sound like either.

Polly Urethane in 2022, photo by Tom Murphy

Sunday | 05.07
What: Munly & The Lupercalians w/Polly Urethane
When: 7:30
Where: Ophelia’s Electric Soapbox
Why: Munly & The Lupercalians is like a darkly ritualistic, performance art mystical folk version of what Munly has been doing across his career. One might be tempted to compare it to neofolk but it’s more like a musical cognate to cinematic works like The Wicker Man and Kill List including the stage garb but also tied in with the singer’s baroque and stark poetry. Opening the performance is composer and performance artist Polly Urethane who seems to do a different type of performance and while sometimes combining musical elements and methods of previous performance with her new shows she always seems to push the boundaries of where she’s been before. Could be a weird DJ set, a visually striking performance to pre-recorded music with edgy components in presenting the material or who can say but always worth checking out.

Cobra Man, photo by Danner Gardner

Sunday | 05.07
What: Cobra Man w/Starbenders and Stolen Nova
When: 7
Where: Gothic Theatre
Why: Cobra Man is a self-styled “power disco” duo comprised of Andy Harry and Sarah Rayne and currently touring in support of its new EP New Paradise which releases on May 19, 2023. The lead single “Thin Ice” has all the bombast and gloriously, unabashedly epic sound of something you might have heard on the soundtrack for a Cannon Pictures action movie from the 1980s. And the live band isn’t just a couple of button pushers basically doing karaoke to well-produced tracks. They’re like a post-irony glam rock band that exults in the grand sweep and sonic excess of its music.

Nox Novacula in 2022, photo by Tom Murphy

Monday | 05.08
What: Nox Novacula, Plague Garden and Weathered Statues
When: 7
Where: HQ
Why: Nox Novacula is a post-punk band from Seattle in the gritty death rock vein. Its moody guitar is shot through with a wiry energy and urgency that pairs well with impassioned vocals and driving rhythms. Its 2021 album Ascension bears obvious comparisons with Xmal Deutschland but with a more punk edge. Opening the show are two of Denver’s best post-punk outfits. Plague Garden’s music has a more electronic, New Wave-esque foundation with brooding lyrics and fiery, twin guitar work. Weathered Statues is a little more stark but with bright and buoyant vocals.

Ringo Deathstarr, photo from Bandcamp

Tuesday | 05.09
What: Ringo Deathstarr w/Pleasure Venom, Cherished and Bloodsports
When: 7
Where: Hi-Dive
Why: Ringo Deathstarr is the cult shoegaze band out of Austin, Texas’ seemingly vibrant community for that style of music. Its own particular flavor is ethereal, drifty and transporting in that Slowdive and Lush vein but with its own fuzzily psychedelic sheen. It’s been two years since the group’s self-titled full-length so maybe we’ll get to see some newer material for this stop in Denver. For this trip to the Pacific Northwest, Ringo Deathstarr is joined by Austin noise-rock/art punks Pleasure Venom with local support in Denver from Sonic Youth-esque post-punk band Bloodsports and shoegaze/post-punk greats Cherished.

Death Grips in 2015, photo by Tom Murphy

Tuesday | 05.09
What: Death Grips
When: 7
Where: Mission Ballroom
Why: Death Grips is the now legendary industrial hip-hop group from Sacramento, California comprised of MC Ride, Andy Morin and Zach Hill. The group has become known for its edgy imagery and its disdain for playing along with music industry expectations and doing so with creativity and deep irreverence. But its well-publicized antics perhaps boosted the group’s cachet while its inventive music spoke for itself with artwork and album and track names that demonstrated a keen awareness of internet culture and American social reality. When the band did perform live it was an incendiary and aggressive affair that has been unforgettable.

Pond, photo by Matsu

Wednesday | 05.10
What: Pixies w/Pond
When: 6:30
Where: Mission Ballroom
Why: Pond from Perth, Australia has been developing and evolving its cinematic, psychedelic art rock since 2008 and its 2021 album 9 sounds like a series of interconnected short films. There’s a spaciousness and dramatic sense of mood and atmosphere that washes around the core rhythms and melodies as they burst with emotion. Like if Pink Floyd hung out with Hawkwind more and ditched their epic sweeps in favor of their more raw rock instincts but infused it with disco and funk. Australia has become known for its popular psychedelic bands but fortunately for the world they’re all very different from each other and Pond is a band whose creative trajectory has left behind some fine listening. Of course there’s also the headlining band, Pixies, who were a choice cult band in its first iteration from the mid-80s through the early 90s and highly influential for its wonderfully eccentric lyrics and brilliantly unconventional, noisy, eruptively energetic alternative rock. But once a younger generation caught wind of the band through the appearance of “Where Is My Mind?” on the soundtrack of Fight Club it became a much more popular band and able to tour on the strength of its older material and bring its sound, foundational to modern rock music, to a much wider audience.

Spike Hellis in 2022, photo by Tom Murphy

Wednesday | 05.10
What: Spike Hellis w/Candy Apple, Moon 17 and Sell Farm
When: 7
Where: Hi-Dive
Why: Spike Hellis is basically making the kind of modern EBM and industrial that is informed by punk and even hardcore in its raw energy of delivery. In the live show it’s reminiscent of the kind of hard hitting vibe one might hear in early Nitzer Ebb and Meat Beat Manifesto but with the aesthetics of a modern, glitchcore project but with all the extraneous sonics ripped out but with the bombast left in place. One of the most electrifying live bands in the modern realm of darkwave. Sell Farm has lately been dipping deep into sequencing and sampling to create dystopian, politically charged dub dance post-punk. Candy Apple bridges the gap between a hardcore band and shoegaze-tinged noise rock. Moon 17 is a “Sci-Fi Industrial” band from Kansas City helmed by Zack Hames. The genre seems to fit even if it was dropped as slightly humorous but one hopes Nicolas Winding Refn taps these bands for his next movie soundtrack.

Greg Puciato, photo by Jim Louvau

Wednesday | 05.10
What: Greg Puciato w/Escuela Grind, Deaf Club and Trace Amount
When: 6:30
Where: The Marquis Theater
Why: Greg Puciato is the former lead singer and lyricist for metalcore legends The Dillinger Escape Plan. Outside of the context of that band, Pusciato has been a member of synthwave band The Black Queen with its deep atmospheric, cinematic sounds akin to something you might expect to hear from the likes of Failure. And in recent years his solo records have been a fusion and evolution of his past work into something that reconciles an aggressive sound and energy with introspective sentiments and electronic aesthetics. The 2022 album Mirrorcell sounds like where metalcore should have gone and might be more favorably compared to a project like Author & Punisher or Blacklist. Opening are some heavy hitters as well with noise rock supergroup Deaf Club with Justin Person of The Locust, Brian Amalfitano of AcxDC, Scott Osment of Weak Flesh, Jason Klein of Run With The Hunted and Tommy Meehan of The Manx. And Escuela Grind, the modern grindcore/powerviolence legends from Pittsfield, Massachusetts who are quickly establishing themselves as a live band to catch whose songs are informed by a “intersectional progressive” revolutionary, inclusive fervor.

Metronymy, photo by Hazel Gaskin

Wednesday | 05.10
What: Metronymy w/Glüme
When: 7
Where: Summit Music Hall
Why: Metronymy has been constantly evolving its experimental pop sound with an early focus on exquisitely alien techno soundscapes to its more recent albums that demonstrate its finely honed songcraft with organic elements that seem to more directly reflect tender human experiences with a startling poignancy. Its 2019 album Metronymy Forever wasn’t the first hint at a shift in sound and style but it is an album full of the kind of songwriting one might expect on a Wilco record or an album by The National. And the group’s 2022 album Small World is fully in that mode with songs that are vulnerable yet rich in subtle production that clears the space for the lyrics and organic textures of the music to shine making Metronymy a fascinating anomaly in the expanded realm of modern indie rock.

Church Fire, photo by Tom Murphy

Friday | 05.12
What: Church Fire w/Calm., Moon Pussy, Sorrows
When: 8
Where: Hi-Dive
Why: Church Fire is celebrating the release of its new music video. For what song? Who knows? You’ll have to go to find out and maybe it’ll be released online later. But video or not, Church Fire’s emotionally vibrant industrial dance music is best experienced live without the filters of a purely online experience. Calm. is the hip-hop duo of Time and Awareness who have been putting out some of the most literate and politically charged hip-hop out of the Mile High City in recent years and don’t do many shows at venues like the Hi-Dive or similarly-sized venues these days. And hip-hop in generally isn’t getting a lot of traction at smaller clubs in general but Hi-Dive is an exception to that general rule. Chris “Time” Steele will probably crack wise between songs with genuine wit. Moon Pussy is the getting to be known nationally on the underground circuit noise rock band from Denver whose eruptive music and explosive energy always seems to exceed expectation. SORROWS is a downtempo electronic duo of Glynnis Braan and Lawrence Snell whose dark atmospherics and operatic vocals pull from diverse influences.

Friday | 05.12
What: 7038634357, Verity Larsen, Emilie Craig, sleepdial and Polly Urethane
When: 9
Where: Glob
Why: 7038634357 seems to be a generative ambient noise artist from Arlington, VA whose releases display a knack for signal processing. Verity Larsen combines musique concrète with prepared environmental recordings and ambient soundscapes to produce sonic experiences that recontextualize everyday experiences. French Kettle Station is performing as sleepdial, his more ambient experiments in electronics and sometimes guitar. Polly Urethan you just never know what to expect from how now broad palette of ideas for performance and music and just be prepared to get to witness something unique and potentially challenging.

Friday | 05.12
Frontline Assembly and Whorticulture
When: 9
Where: Tracks
Why: EBM pioneers Frontline Assembly is performing for this “Bladerunner — A Cyberpunk Party” and providing the perfect soundtrack for such an event with its dystopian lyrics and electronic industrial.

Friday | 05.12
What: Crowded House w/Liam Finn
When: 7
Where: Paramount Theatre
Why: Australian band Crowded House is perhaps best remembered for its outstanding 1986 hit “Don’t Dream It’s Over” with its spare yet orchestral melody. But Crowded House produced some quality folk pop during its initial run of 1985-1996 and when it has since reunited in the 2000s and 2020s still led by singer/guitarist Neil Finn who had a fairly successful career while Crowded House was split.

White Rose Motor Oil circa 2021, photo courtesy the band

Saturday | 05.13
What: Scott H. Biram w/Garrett T. Capps and White Rose Motor Oil
When: 8
Where: Hi-Dive
Why: Scott H. Biram is the renowned blues punk musician/solo artist whose troubadour country ballads could seem like pure affectation but he’s done his time in punk and metal and bluegrass in crafting his signature gritty, gospel blues sound. Supporting this bill is the great Denver-based alternative country/outlaw rockabilly band White Rose Motor Oil whose own spare line-up as a duo always seems to punch above its weight in its forcefulness and emotional impact.

Indigo De Souza, photo by Angella Choe

Sunday | 05.14
What: Caroline Polachek w/Alex G and Indigo De Souza
When: 7
Where: Mission Ballroom
Why: Indigo De Souza’s songs have since early on been an expression of a moody vulnerability cast as deeply atmospheric pop songs that are often pointed but never cruel, simply honest and poetic. Her latest album out on Saddle Creek is 2023’s All of This Will End continues the development of her vibrant songwriting filled with stories that take the pain of lived experience and reflecting on the broad expanse of feelings one goes through in life and sitting in them and finding a way to put them into stories that give them a context that makes them something from which to learn and exult in life rather than be overwhelmed by disappointment, bitterness, petty betrayal (by others and by oneself). And she’s a perfect artist in this line-up of other art pop practitioners of note such as Alex G who has taken conceptual psychedelic rock to fascinating new heights and headliner Caroline Polacek who as a member of Charlift (which was founded in Boulder, Colorado while she was attending CU) made some of the cooler indie rock to have emerged out of that decade that produced the foundations of much of what we hear now. But in her solo career she has emerged as an innovative and experimental artist whose pop songs don’t seem beholden to anyone else’s style bending genres and sounds to suit her creative vision of the moment. For her 2023 album Desire, I Want to Turn Into You you can hear the impact of hyper pop and glitch but as elements and not a root.

Salads and Sunbeams, photo by Tom Murphy

Sunday | 05.14
What: Spooky Mansion w/Sour Magic and Salads and Sunbeams
When: 7
Where: Hi-Dive
Why: Spooky Mansion is a surf-rock inflected psychedelic lounge pop band from Los Angeles making a couple of stops in Colorado including this date at the Hi-Dive. Denver’s Sour Magic sound like they could have come from a similar musical lineage but with more luminous guitar melodies. Like maybe they got deep into DIIV and Mac Demarco and found their own voice as a band. Salads and Sunbeams is the kind of band that has crafted exquisite psychedelic indiepop that might have come right out of an unlikely scene that included the Zombies and The Apples in Stereo. But it works and doesn’t have that throwback yesteryear worship vibe even if to some extent that’s what it is because the songwriting stands on its own and worthy of its obvious and not so obvious influences.

Wednesday, photo by Zachary Chick

Monday | 05.15
What: Wednesday w/Cryogeyser
When: 7
Where: Larimer Lounge
Why: Wednesday from Asheville, North Carolina has garnered a bit of a cult following among fans of experimental noise rock and shoegaze and whatever one might call Canadian guitar bands like Women, Preoccupations and FRIGS. But then there’s another side of the band’s sound and that’s the more country flavor of some of its songs, unabashed, borderline cosmic honky tonk stuff. And Wednesday makes it work because it’s obvious the group is fully steeped in both creative instincts and its records are a journey for which a variety of sounds make sense. In particular its 2023 record Rat Saw God and its vivid stories of life in the American South told with great nuance, insight and poignancy. At times the songs can take you by surprise with an offhand lyric that’s so real but delivered with the nonchalance that makes it palatable and it all feeds into what’s making Wednesday one of the most fascinating bands of this moment.

Monday | 05.15
What: Yves Tumor w/Pretty Slick and NATION
When: 7
Where: Ogden Theatre
Why: Yves Tumor is an artist whose genre-bending art rock/hip-hop/electronic dance music/funk seems tapped into a raw, otherworldly energy that is a reflection of the anxieties and nightmares of the world we experience everyday. The 2023 album Praise A Lord Who Chews But Which Does Not Consume; (Or Simply, Hot Between Worlds) is more overtly rock than earlier albums but still like an alien glam rock that feels ahead of the curve. Live, Yves Tumor is a commanding figure with a lot of swagger and electrifying presence.

Narrow Head, photo by Nate Kahn

Monday | 05.15
What: Narrow Head w/Graham Hunt, Public Opinion and Flower Language
When: 8
Where: Hi-Dive
Why: Houston’s Narrow Head much like Phoenix’s Holy Fawn probably come from a general realm of local scene music but whereas Holy Fawn has transcended black metal into more the realm of a post-rock shoegaze, Narrow Head may have found its origins in a music scene that had or has fine examples of the resurgence of hardcore and emo in the compelling form that emerged all over the country in the past decade. But the band as we hear it on its new album Moments of Clarity is the kind of heavy shoegaze with dynamics like blossoming melodies and soaring vocals that seem to harmonize with the ethereal fuzz and dense low end to give the songs an undeniable uplift.

Tim Hecker in 2019, photo by Tom Murphy

Tuesday | 05.16
What: Tim Hecker
When: 7
Where: Boulder Theater
Why: Can’t really blame Tim Hecker for expressing in his recent interview in the New York Times his misgivings for having helped to popularize ambient music since it has become such a workhorse of the bland playlist culture of Spotify. Who wants to be handmaiden to that? But to Hecker’s credit he’s always been an artist who has explored new vistas of the art form in terms of form, structure, sound palette, presentation and instrumentation. His new album No Highs is imbued with a textural, intimate quality that feels very much of the body as his music does in the live setting rather than the offensively bland and background quality of generic playlist ambient.

Mr. Bungle, photo courtesy Buzz Osborne

Tuesday | 05.16
What: Mr. Bungle w/Melvins and Spotlights
When: 7
Where: Mission Ballroom
Why: No matter where you check in on the Mr. Bungle timeline you will find boundary-pushing music that bends and breaks genres from the early death metal-surrealism to the lush and theatrical art rock of its late 90s output. Currently the band is touring with a lineup that includes Mike Patton, Trey Spruance, Trevor Dunn, Scott Ian and Dave Lombardo so who can say what the setlist will sound like whether its more baroque pop stuff or the material from its recently reissued 1986 demo The Raging Wrath of the Easter Bunny. Whatever it might be, the show will be bombastic and mind-expanding. Bonus: Melvins, the sludge rock legends, will bring their always riveting and cathartic performance of its own music that spans various ends of heavy rock with a hard hitting finesse.

Tuesday | 05.16
What: Hoodoo Gurus
When: 7
Where: Bluebird Theater
Why: Hoodoo Gurus are the legendary Australian garage rock band that was an influence on generations of bands that have been keyed into its particular brand of jangle psychedelia and punk. Currently the band is touring in support of its 2022 album Chariot of the Gods.

Future Islands in 2021, photo by Tom Murphy

Wednesday | 05.17
What: Future Islands w/Deeper
When: 7
Where: Mission Ballroom
Why: Future Islands has come a long way from playing DIY spaces in Denver to Red Rocks and now headlining Mission Ballroom. But what hasn’t changed is its emotionally gripping synth pop and impassioned live performances. For this night Chicago’s arty post-punk band Deeper will bring its darkly atmospheric and poignant music to the proceedings.

Sparta, photo courtesy the artists

Thursday | 05.18
What: Sparta w/’68 and Geoff Rickly
When: 6
Where: Bluebird Theater
Why: The 2002 album Wiretap Scars is where Sparta picked up where At The Drive-In, singer Jim Ward’s then most recently prominent band, left off. The angular, Fugazi-esque, anthemic songs that astutely commented on the times without being so topical as to age poorly in the years ahead. Rather, Wiretap Scars today seems perhaps even more relevant than it did when America was in a state of confusion and nascent authoritarianism and misplaced nationalistic patriotism was starting to settle into the swing of public life. There is a passionate coherence of productive outrage on the record and based on the group’s 2022 tour Sparta will deliver on that messaging on this tour as well.

Thursday | 05.18
What: The Mssng w/To Be Astronauts and Tiny Humans
When: 7
Where: Hi-Dive
Why: The Mssng is a band whose hybrid of styles sometimes comes off like people who were inspired by the agglomeration of 90s alternative rock, post-punk revival and the glam rock end of modern garage rock. To Be Astronauts has generally been sort of a 90s throwback, alternative hard rock band who displayed all the stylistic fingerprints of 2000s stoner rock but with more melody. Lately some of the band’s recordings have included versions of songs, live and otherwise, that reveal that if you strip away some of those hard rock instincts you find a band that has some solid songwriting with nothing to prove. Sure, it’s a bit like a better version of the kind of acoustic and electric alt-rock you might have heard from the likes of Counting Crows which isn’t for everyone but respectable nonetheless. Tiny Humans, what can you say, except that the singer has to stop being carted on stage in a wheelchair and in hospital robes and pretending like he’s doing a Nirvana tribute band when it’s more obvious it’s a strange attempt to fully emulate The Amboy Dukes’ guitarist’s entire solo career. But hey, who doesn’t appreciate such fetishistic performance art?

Friday | 05.19
What: Vast Aire (Cannibal Ox) w/Gee Tee and guests
When: 9
Where: Bar Red 437 W. Colfax
Why: Vast Aire is the charismatic and enigmatic rapper who is perhaps best known for his work with alternative hip-hop group Cannibal Ox. His forceful delivery and vivid, socially conscious storytelling once encountered sticks with you because his various collaborators like El-P on the 2001 classic album The Cold Vein are able to create a darkly haunting soundscape from which his voice stands out like an urban mystic and mythological poet.

MUNA, photo by Isaac Schneider

Friday | 05.19
What: MUNA w/Nova Twins
When: 7
Where: Mission Ballroom
Why: Given that the members of MUNA all have academic backgrounds in music or cultural studies one might expect the music to be something more cerebral or conceptual. And initially when developing their own material the trio of Katie Gavin, Josette Maskin and Naomi McPherson experimented with sounds and styles before coming upon exuberant pop songs with earworm hooks and lyrics that are sure about instantly relatable subjects of love and relationships but also with a sensitivity toward issues of identity beyond the usual tropes and which resonate broadly. The group released its 2022 self-titled album to critical acclaim and now MUNA is on a headlining tour of large concert halls with a supporting slot on the upcoming Taylor Swift tour where an appreciative audience for its particularly expansive and upbeat songs will be found.

Friday | 05.19
What: Shady Oaks w/Weary Bones, Fern Roberts and The Picture Tour
When: 7
Where: Lost Lake
Why: Shady Oaks is a mix of blues and indie rock and Americana. Weary Bones is a bit of an Americana jam band from Louisville, Colorado but more in the vein of Widespread Panic where there are coherent songs that have resonance beyond the genre. It released its latest album Humble Echoes in 2023. Fern Roberts might be described as an indie rock band that seems to be equally influenced by Bright Eyes, 90s alternative rock and the more pop end of Built to Spill. The main reason to go to this show is to see the live debut of former Emerald Siam guitarist Billy Armijo’s band The Picture Tour. Its 2022 album Before the Sound, Before the Light was an audacious debut of introspective, gloomy shoegaze with an ear for interweaving atmospheres and feedback sculpting to produce unique melodies and an enveloping sound.

Fruit Bats, photo by Chantal Anderson

Friday | 05.19
What: Fruit Bats w/Kolumbo
When: 7
Where: Ogden Theatre
Why: The new Fruit Bats album A River Running To Your Heart seems assembled and composed as a cinematic experience as much as one more musical. When the record gets up and going its intricate guitar arrangements flow with a grace and elegance that one normally hears more in music that operates at a slower pace and yet for this set of songs Eric D. Johnson and the band never sound rushed. The music is just focused even in reflective passages and there is an energy to the music that pulls you in. Fans of early The War on Drugs will hear some resonance here but Johnson’s songs seem to reign in the impulse to psychedelic self-indulgence and one gets the sense that as free as the music feels that it’s been crafted to edit out excesses that don’t contribute to one of the most consistently enchanting pop albums of the year.

Placebo, photo by Mads Perch

Saturday | 05.20
What: Placebo w/Deap Valley and Poppy Jean Crawford – canceled
When: 7
Where: Fillmore Auditorium
Why: Placebo emerged at a time in the mid-1990s when the alternative rock wave was basically spent and a lot of really dull, beige rock and roll and uninspired pop was peddled as exciting. Placebo offered something that seemed to reinvent the edginess of the darker end of grunge with a more glam rock sense of theater and drama. Its early albums dipped into rock and dance music equally before it became even more of a thing at the turn of the century and in a fashion different than had been done by the likes of New Order, Primal Scream and their storied ilk. Its 1998 album Without You I’m Nothing and its promotional videos revealed a band that seemed to have embraced Goth-like personal darkness in musical style and outward presentation. That the band appeared in Velvet Goldmine, Todd Haynes’ 1998 glam rock fictional biopic of David Bowie and Iggy Pop and that early 1970s era didn’t hurt in establishing Placebo’s cred as a band that embodied the emerging new alternative culture. The band’s 2022 album Never Let Me Go, perhaps a reference to Kazuo Ishiguro’s 2005 tragic novel of of the same name as well as the 2010 film, its first in 9 years has Placebo pushing its own boundaries beyond where it has been before as a band with an unabashed use of saturated synth melodies and a much more creative use of processed guitar in rock music than we’ve heard in awhile. And if you’re going to have an opening acts like mutant garage psych duo Deap Valley and experimental pop/singer-songwriter Poppy Jean Crawford that just hints that someone in your camp has been listening for something different and actually cool which isn’t always the case in the music industry even on accident.

Fenne Lily, photo by Michael Tyrone Delaney

Saturday | 05.20
What: Fenne Lily & Christian Lee Hutson w/Anna Tivel
When: 8
Where: The Bluebird Theater
Why: The intimate production on Fenne Lily’s new album Big Picture puts her expressive and breathy vocals front and center without pushing the delicate, almost impressionistic, warm and layered guitar work into the background. The songwriter sounds resigned on these set of songs but that seems to come more out of a sense of having to come to terms with how you can never really get too complacent in life nor do you want to and that sometimes getting to used to comfort can be a path antithetical to personal growth but also how feeling like you’re always having to fend off life’s static and unpredictably intermittent challenges can be kind of a bummer even if you’re able to brush them off and move forward. Lily sounds like she understands and has some deep empathy for how in recent years everyday challenges have seemed like a bit much and how that pace isn’t exactly relenting yet we do have to maintain a core of some grace to weather this steady stream of a whole lot of everything. Big Picture, the title alone, points to how stepping back in the moment can give you the pause you need to keep things in perspective even if you have a moment or ten.

Shania Twain, photo courtesy the artist

Sunday | 05.21
What: Shania Twain w/Hailey Whitters
When: 6:30
Where: Ball Arena
Why: Shania Twain needs no introduction. The “Queen of Country Pop” is one of the best selling artists of all time. Certainly in the realm of country and pop music of the last 30 years. Normally in this show listing these kinds of artists don’t make the cut because they’re just too mainstream and not creatively interesting. But Twain was a pioneer in pushing country music into the realm of pop. She and Garth Brooks, whether you’re into their music or not, paved the way for people like Taylor Swift and Carrie Underwood to find an audience beyond the niche of country. Twain’s humor and charisma made her songs appealing beyond genre and continue to do so. In 2023 Twain released her new album Queen of Me which features current production techniques (even some elements of hyper pop) one might expect to hear on the record of a newer artist but of course the draw is her commanding voice and ability to articulate a range of feelings that seem to capture timeless experiences in new ways that fortunately hint that Twain is keenly aware of not only her place as a country artist that has always embraced new sounds but as one who has also been trying on new ways of having her songs hit with fresh sounds and songwriting that doesn’t sound like she’s stuck in the past.

Sunday | 05.21
What: Violent Femmes w/Jesse Ahern
When: 5
Where: Levitt Pavillion
Why: Violent Femmes will perform its 1983 self-titled debut album in its entirety for this show. That record was a staple of alternative rock radio and college dorms for decades. Its weird blend of folk, punk, jazz and outsider pop had an undeniable, immediate and enduring appeal with classics like “Blister in the Sun,” “Add It Up” and “Gone Daddy Gone” but the whole record beginning to end is a journey into the essence of youthful angst and frustrations but expressed in a way that somehow remained relevant well beyond anyone’s teen years. The Femmes remain a force in the live setting and always surprisingly powerful yet fun.

Arts Fishing Club, photo courtesy the artists

Tuesday | 05.23
What: Arts Fishing Club w/Homes at Night
When: 7
Where: Globe Hall
Why: Arts Fishing Club is an indie rock band from Nashville that formed in 2016. Singer/guitarist Christopher Kessenich grew up seeing live music with his father and older brothers witnessing a mix of alternative music, classic rock and jam bands all of which fed into his own eclectic songwriting. The band’s debut album Rothko Sky (due out June 16, 2023) is arranged as a kind of personal journey of a person who in the first half of the record sets out in life idealistic and open to everything only to find out that all of us have limitations both human and of our own unique psychology. On the album’s second half there is a reflection on the nature and impact of love, sex and pain and how that can shape who we are once the shine and novelty of new experiences evolves into appreciating the breadth and depth of life. The songs have a bluesy grit and an often impassioned delivery informed by the flow of its narrative element for a record that sounds like it had to be made by a band a few releases into its career once it has figured out who it is and what it wants to say with intention but with the exuberance of a new band intact. Listen to our interview with Kessenich on the Queen City Sounds Podcast on Bandcamp.

My Life With the Thrill Kill Kult in 2012, photo by Tom Murphy

Monday | 05.22
What: My Life With the Thrill Kill Kult w/ADULT. and KANGA
When: 6:30
Where: Oriental Theater
Why: My Life With The Thrill Kill Kult is currently touring celebrating its 36 years as a band with a set list that focuses on the group’s first decade. The band’s campy, industrial disco sleaze has always demonstrated a more fun and lighthearted side of industrial culture while offering a distinctive visual and musical style in its bombastic live shows. By the time Thrill Kill Kult appeared in The Crow (1994), the band had already been staples of the more underground end of alternative rock write large but its performance in the film was the perfect embodiment of the aesthetics of the movie. ADULT. is the great industrial post-punk duo from Detroit whose music of the past few years has really been the musical reflection of the conflicted and dystopian times we’ve been going through with a world on the brink of domination by authoritarian regimes and the already unfolding disastrous consequences of climate change with little to no vision and action by world leaders. ADULT.’s music is an act of human solidarity and a catharsis of ambient despair. KANGA is a Los Angeles-based producer whose dusky pop music is darkwave adjacent but also adjacent to a more dance beat infused chillwave and vaporwave with sultry vocals. It might be more apt to compare KANGA to the likes of Charli XCX and Jessie Ware than an artist out of the Goth world.

Martin Dupont, photo from Bandcamp

Tuesday | 05.23
What: Martin Dupont w/Julian St. Nightmare and French Kettle Station and Kill You Club DJs
When: 7
Where: Hi-Dive
Why: Legendary French New Wave band Martin Dupont, formed in 1982, is playing few shows on this tour through the US and one of those stops is in Denver. The group has a new album out called Kintsugi that with its sweeping synths and darkly melancholic melodies seems to have arrived in time for the current era of appreciation for its particular style of cold wave pop/minimal synth and marking its first album in 36 years. French Kettle Station might be described as a hybrid New Age/glitch/post-Cloud rap/abstract post-rock artist whose stage antics involve some impressive dance moves and prodigious energy. Julian St. Nightmare is one of the best post-punk bands from Denver at the moment whose songs seem to have emerged out of its members having gone through phases of playing garage and psychedelic rock and surf but come through with some strong songwriting skills and the ability to craft moody yet powerful songs that don’t sound like the cookie cutter version of modern darkwave.

Y La Bamba, photo by Jenn Carillo

Tuesday | 05.23
What: Y La Bamba w/Ritmo Cascabel
When: 7
Where: Bluebird Theater
Why: Ya La Bamba is currently touring in support of its new record Lucha which in its typically exploratory fashion employs folk music of various traditions and an experimental soundscaping aesthetic that allows for a rich expression of themes and the sounds that serve to anchor them in your mind. The album is one about various identities and how they overlap and how we can come to embrace them as a coherent and intermingled part of our existence no matter what those categories might be of gender, sexuality, culture and individual psychology. It’s a gentle record but one that runs deep into the aforementioned subjects and through that more vulnerable approach that encourages patience with self and others is able to more successfully enter into the more tender realms of the heart and mind and comment with an intuitive insight. The psychedelic folk of these songs are ambitious in scope and imagination and the live band always seems to truly render the songs into a vibrant and moving form.

Mareux, photo by Nedda Afsari

Friday | 05.26
What: Mareux w/Cold Gawd
When: 7
Where: Marquis Theater
Why: Mareux established his cult following as a darkwave artist with singles and EPs over the past few years. What set him apart from some of his peers though are his deeply lush and detailed production with rich low end, his dusky and soulful vocals and his poetic tales of romantic yearning like something out of late night cafe reminiscing about heartbreak and lost loves. Currently the producer/singer/songwriter is touring in support of his debut full-length Lovers From the Past, a record that reveals a dimensionality to Mareux’s gift for conveying sonic depth and emotional nuance. Opening is the Cold Gawd whose 2022 album God Get Me the Fuck Out of Here was one of the records of choice to connoisseurs of shoegaze and music that pushes the boundaries of established styles. With R&B beats and granular guitar melodies in densely expressive layers, Cold Gawd is helping to reshape what both forms of music have to sound like and whether there has to be a separation.

Hot Chip, photo by Matilda Hill-Jenkins

Friday | 05.26
What: Chromeo and Hot Chip w/Coco & Breezy and Cimafunk
When: 5
Where: Red Rocks
Why: Canadian electro-funk duo Chromeo seems to regularly tour with its bombastic and visually arresting live show and always with an innovative opening act or two along for the ride. For this outing at Red Rocks you will get to see Hot Chip. The UK band came to prominence in the early 2000s for its innovative fusion of synthpop and dance music that sounds like a successor to the kinds of sounds we heard out of Madchester, the Balearic Beat, disco and neo soul. Hot Chip always seems to have a keen ear for use of space in its compositions and how that can have a very powerful emotional resonance that goes beyond the mere us of dazzling, atmospheric melodies and strong beats. Its latest album is 2022’s Freakout/Release which found the band leaning heavy into its alternative pop sound with some nice experimental moments reminiscent of Kraftwerk and perhaps contemporaries it influenced like Cut Copy. It might be the group’s most full-realized album in its long career.

Ganser, photo from Bandcamp

Friday | 05.26
What: Ganser w/Antibroth and The Red Scare
When: 8
Where: Hi-Dive
Why: Chicago’s Ganser is probably well within the realm of post-punk but artier and with a more interesting palette of sounds upon which it draws. In moments like noise rock math rock psychedelic weirdos with angular flow but with an ear for sculpting the collective soundscape it creates. In this way the band has more in common with other Chicago weirdo post-punk bands like Facs or Dehd or beyond the Windy City and akin to bands like Studded Left, Body Double, Dry Cleaning, Lithics or FRIGS. Whatever the exact nature of Ganser might be for anyone into more experimental post-punk that isn’t being defined by a trendy sound. Opening are confrontational, mathy post-punk band Antibroth and the more noise rock The Red Scare.

Suzanne Ciani, photo by Katja Ruge

Saturday | 05.27
What: Suzanne Ciani w/Colloboh
When: 7
Where: Central Presbyterian Church
Why: Synth pioneer Suzanne Ciani is doing a rare performance in Denver this night with quadraphonic sound and a projection-mapped light show. Ciani’s long career has seen her work appear in film, television and commercials as music and sound effects and her 1980s and beyond New Age albums have been nominated for a Grammy five times. Her contributions to sound design and music has been a part of popular culture in ways both subtle and overt and her unique achievements as a composer in league with the likes of Morton Subotnick, Wendy Carlos, Laurie Spiegel, Pauline Oliveros and Delia Derbyshire. Don’t sleep on these shows. You may never get another chance to see Ciani live.

Nerver, photo from Bandcamp

Saturday | 05.27
What: Nerver, Almanac Man and Edith Pike
When: 8
Where: Hi-Dive
Why: Nerver from Kansas City is a rising noise rock band in the vein of the kinds of artists you’d hear from Amphetamine Reptile and Touch and Go. It’s 2022 album CASH was a brutal yet haunting selection of songs that are somehow both melancholic and introspective yet fiery in their cathartic moments. In 2023 Nerver released a split with noise rock legends Chat Pile called BROTHERS IN CHRIST. Edith Pike’s self-titled EP from 2022 may have been pretty lo-fi but you can hear the kind of screamo-noise rock crossover sound that may have its roots in hardcore but has evolved beyond the predictable version of that music. Almanac Man also from Denver has the kind of gristly noise rock that’s feral like Neurosis but with a post-punk angularity that gives its music a vibe like Shellac if Steve Albini had come up in the music world he helped to influence.

Meet the Giant in 2022, photo by Tom Murphy

Saturday | 05.27
What: Meet the Giant album release w/Church Fire and The Mssng
When: 8
Where: Enigma Bazaar
Why: Meet the Giant is releasing its new album We Are Revolting. The group’s 2018 self-titled debut was the product of several years of woodshedding musical ideas and songs as well as production and its gritty mix of rock and downtempo with emotionally stirring vocals reflected with the then emergent live band. This time around the trio appears to have focused on an even sonically edgier catharsis with songs that express an anger born of frustration and weariness at the political and cultural situation in which we find ourselves in America and really worldwide. As touchstones one might point to the likes of Failure and its own fusion of rock and electronic sensibilities and a sheen of the cinematic. Or Nine Inch Nails in even further implementing sound design elements in the mix. But Meet the Giant’s songs tend to be more melodic and its sound having more in common with a modern shoegaze band with a bit more rock and roll kick to its songwriting. Church Fire is also on the bill bringing its own reinvented amalgam of political, electronic industrial dance music and are rock touches.

Sarah Shook and the Disarmers, photo by Harvey Robinson

Sunday | 05.28
What: Sarah Shook and the Disarmers w/Porlolo and Wheelright
When: 7
Where: Hi-Dive
Why: Outlaw country, country-punk, whatever designation fits Sarah Shook and the Disarmers, Sarah Shook is one of the most distinctive voices in modern country music on the still fairly underground level where a great deal of the best of that and other musical styles are found. Shook’s voice has enough of a rough edge to be interesting but their melodic resonance serves well stories of every day life written in a way that seems so specific yet relatable in spirit and substance. Speaking of, Pololo is more an indie rock band but Erin Roberts has a gift for turning a sense of humor into music with a sharply observational and existential bent.

Yob, photo courtesy the artists

Sunday | 05.28
What: Yob w/Cave In and Dreadnought
When: 7
Where: Gothic Theatre
Why: Yob is an influential doom band that began in 2000 before splitting in 2006 and reconvening in 2008. Its sound is definitely in that realm of mining what Black Sabbath, Saint Vitus, Sleep and Earth had done before but seeing Yob live it seems obvious that Mike Scheidt is injecting a sense of fun into the music and its flows of heavy rock is tinged with psychedelia. This coming year the group is re-issuing its debut album Elaborations of Carbon so perhaps the set list will favor that record but either way, Yob is a fun live band that makes music that is both cosmic and deeply human. Cave In is the influential post-hardcore, foundational metalcore band from Massachusetts. Dreadnought is the doom band from Denver whose rhythmic style has a tribal sensibility and whose overall sound is more atmospheric, psychedelic and more rooted in dark folk than many of its heavy music peers.

Djunah, photo from Bandcamp

Monday | 05.29
What: Djunah w/Moon Pussy and Limbwrecker
When: 7
Where: Hi-Dive
Why: Chicago’s Djunah is a noise rock band of the kind that fans of the jarring and cathartic music of HIDE and Diamanda Galás might find much to their liking. Fronted by guitarist/singer/Moog bass player Donna Diane, Djunah recently released its new album Femina Furens. The heaviness of the music doesn’t just come from its gloriously clashing dynamics and instrumentation, it’s, per Djunah’s Bandcamp page, “the story of diagnosis and continuing recovery from complex post-traumatic stress disorder, or C-PTSD. The album’s title comes from the Latin for ‘furious woman.’ The artwork is inspired by representations of the divine feminine in 1970s sci-fi metal art.” Touchstones on a quick listen would have to include Chelsea Wolfe, Patti Smith and Nick Cave for the exuberantly unleashed emotional energy present within. Who better to open than Denver’s Moon Pussy whose own eruptive noise rock while often accompanied by an eccentric sense of humor between songs has a similarly elemental energy that releases personal darkness, pain and frustrations in built and rapidly uncoiled tensions. Limbwrecker has a similar aesthetic though from a place that seems more steeped in a foundation of hardcore and extreme metal.

James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem, photo by Ruvan Wijesooriya

Monday and Tuesday | 05.29 and 05.30
What: LCD Soundsystem w/M.I.A. and Peaches
When: 6
Where: Red Rocks
Why: LCD Soundsystem is the band started by James Murphy of DFA Records as a vehicle for his experiments in blending indie rock and electronic dance music. Though often associated with “dance punk,” LCD Soundsystem is much more wide-ranging than that designator would suggest with innovative production and a highly experimental approach to songwriting format and style beginning with the early single “I’m Losing My Edge” to its newer material like “New Body Rhumba” from the soundtrack to Noah Baumbach’s 2022 film White Noise based on Don DeLillo’s 1985 novel of the same name. Perhaps just as noteworthy for this show are the opening artists. Sure, irreverent and theatrical electroclash pioneer Peaches was in Denver recently with a powerful and entertaining show at the Summit Music Hall but rapper M.I.A., who learned how to make her own music from Peaches, hasn’t played in this area since her most recent national tour in 2008 at the Fillmore Auditorium, and her own music and performances are informed by her fusion of hip-hop, experimental electronic dance music, non-Western musical styles and an activist bent that challenges human rights abuse and imperialism.

Helloween, photo by Martin Häusler

Tuesday | 05.30
What: Helloween w/Hammerfall
When: 6
Where: Ogden Theatre
Why: Helloween is the influential power metal band from Hamburg, Germany. Since 1984 released a string of albums that have often featured concepts and storytelling commenting on the human condition in both personal, emotive narratives and paralleling historical references with current events and commenting on recurring themes of human civilization and the impact of culture and those in power on the lives of people within and without a particular country. The iconography of the pumpkin has been part of the group’s artwork since early on and infuses the often weighty subject matter of the songwriting with a touch of humor and humanity. In 2016 older Helloween lead vocalists Michael Kiske and Kai Hansen rejoined along with long time singer Andi Deris for the kind of sound not many groups in metal have ever had in one band. In May 2023 the group was slated for induction into the Metal Hall of Fame. In the coming days look for our audio interview with guitarist Sascha Gerstner on the Queen City Sounds Podcast series.

Ryan Oakes, photo courtesy the artist

Tuesday | 05.30
What: Ryan Oakes w/Layto and Cherie Amour
When: 7
Where: Globe Hall
Why: Ryan Oakes released his new album WAKE UP on May 12, 2023. The album makes good on the rapper’s experiments in genre bending and blending. The subject matter is about personal struggle, mental health difficulties and overcoming adversity but the attitude and delivery is punk set to trap beats and production for a sound that could be a complete disaster but works because the words are raw and real and the music hitting with an exhilarating immediacy. Somehow Oakes takes the anthemic quality of modern post-hardcore emo and a dazzling parade of current cultural references to tell stories of striving and struggling in an era of amplified anxiety and pressure to succeed despite human limitations and vulnerabilities. Oakes doesn’t bother not tapping into hyper pop’s sonic surrealism and industrial hip-hop as well as the aforementioned styles to create a compelling sound of his own.

Drain, photo by Christian Castillo

Tuesday | 05.30
What: Drain w/Drug Church, MSPAINT and TORENA
When: 7
Where: The Marquis Theater
Why: Drain is a melodic hardcore trio from Santa Cruz, California that recently released its new album Living Proof. Drug Church hails from the opposite end of the country in Albany, NY but its own style of hardcore is also not short on melody but its style is one with some roots in pop punk or the modern, better, version that emerged in the early 2010s. But the real reason to go to this show is to see MSPAINT from Hattiesburg, Mississippi whose debut full length Post-American release came out on Convulse Records. Clearly the band came out of the punk/hardcore scene but it’s synth-driven art punk is stranger and more colorful than a lot of what else is on offer for this night but delivered with the same level of intense energy and outpouring of passion. One might compare the band to Milemarker and The VSS but it’s really its own, unique flavor of challenging-to-classify punk.

Chella and the Charm in 2022, photo by Tom Murphy

Wednesday | 05.31
What: Chris King & The Gutterballs w/Chella and The Charm and Silver Triplets
When: 7
Where: Hi-Dive
Why: Chris King & The Gutterballs is a band from Seattle whose flavor of Americana has more in common with CCR than the more modern country folk strain though that’s in the mix too. Chella and The Charm has for the past decade or so provided the kind of Americana that is an urban soundtrack to contemplating life and the sorts of issues and thoughts and feelings that drive an authentic existence and performed with the earthy energy of a rock and roll band. But even within that you can hear the irreverent humor and sharp social commentary and observations on human behavior with affection and insight.

Ultrabomb, photo from

Wednesday | 05.31
What: Ultra Bomb w/Black Dots, The Black Gloves and Shiverz
When: 7
Where: HQ
Why: Ultrabomb is a punk supergroup featuring Greg Norton of Hüsker Dü, Jamie Oliver of UK Subs and Finny McConnell of The Mahones. The music that’s been available appears to be a particularly vibrant style of power pop and fantastic vocal melodies that one might expect from a group of such punk luminaries.

Sex Park Sets Self-Soothing Existential Anxiety on the Darkwave Synthpop of “Without Reserve”

Sex Park, photo courtesy the artists

“Without Reserve,” the latest single from Sex Park’s forthcoming full length album out on Dowd Records later in 2022, showcases the trio’s elegant songwriting in the realm of post-punk. The group’s debut LP Atrium (on Denver-based post-punk band Voight’s Vacant Decade imprint 2018) revealed an ability to craft ebullient darkwave tracks with urgent guitar hooks and early No Age-esque lo-fi aesthetics. The vocal accents and layered rhythms and melodies lend the song an emotional nuance worthy of its lyrics sketching vividly a headspace of someone doing what he can to cope with the anxieties and unresolved emotional traumas that can build like a persistent specter always on the edge of consciousness. Yet the soothing sounds and energy of the song which has a flavor reminiscent of Technique period New Order and wouldn’t sound out of place on a a Future Islands record minus the guitar. As for the latter, the delicate arpeggios hang perfectly off the synth lines tracing the paces like something you might hear if Depeche Mode had guitar on Speak & Spell in that it would never be the focus of the song, just another element to create a deep mood that itself is the goal of the song as a vehicle for expressing feelings and ideas that can be heady but delivers well with a mix of minimalist elements. At a time when many modern post-punk and darkwave bands have settled into stylistic predictability, Sex Park gives us a song that reconciles its influences with a modern sensibility apt for conveying a complexity of thinking and feeling in a way accessible without downplaying struggle. Listen to “Without Reserve” on Spotify and follow Sex Park from Portland, Oregon at the links provided.

Sex Park on Facebook

Sex Park on YouTube

Sex Park on Instagram

Endearments Offer a Lush and Heartfelt Post-Break-Up Song For Adults on “Too Late”

Endearments, photo by Rita Iovine

Endearments have tapped into a certain aesthetic of 1980s New Wave/synth pop sound for its single “Too Late.” That mix of lush, atmospheric melodies, soulful vocals, soft but finely accented percussion and palm muted guitar followed by elegant and minimal leads giving definition to the more ethereal synths. That sound is suited well to nuanced takes on the complex interpersonal politics of relationships especially those that have fallen apart in ways that leave at least one of the people hurt and confused until they sort out what it is they wanted all along and more importantly what they don’t want. In this song when Kevin Marksson sings “That is not the way to love me at all” it’s a declaration of self-worth. The earlier part of the song describes the awkward conversations in which the person who has transgressed against the formerly shared trust of the relationship tries to explain themselves with excuses that amount to insults by way of rationalizations. The perspective of the song seems to be an interesting emotional place of having gone beyond the initial hurt and pondering what went wrong to embracing what’s best instead of what once was but is now broken. It’s an important psychological turning point for anyone that’s been in a relationship gone awry and essential for moving on to better places in one’s own heart and perhaps better recognizing earlier when things won’t work out. There are a lot of love songs, a lot of break-up songs, a lot of songs about missing someone, a lot sitting in a place of anger and betrayal but this one is about loving yourself and being adult and we could use more of that sort of framing in pop music. Fans of Washed Out and Future Islands will appreciate the sounds and sentiments in this song. Listen to “Too Late” on Spotify and follow Brooklyn-based Endearments at the links below.

Endearments on TikTok

Endearments on Facebook

Endearments on Twitter

Endearments on Instagram

Live Show Review: Modest Mouse and Future Islands at Red Rocks, 9/28/2021

Modest Mouse at Red Rocks, 9/28/21, photo by Tom Murphy

On what turned out to be the last night before the rains and chill nights of fall came to stay in the Denver Metropolitan area, Modest Mouse and Future Islands brought an impressive display emotionally charged, melancholic pop. The great art punk band Empath opened the show but some of us ran into some of the gnarled traffic of rush hour, road construction and computerized misdirection getting into Red Rocks and had to miss their set.

Future Islands at Red Rocks, 9/28/21, photo by Tom Murphy

It would be easy to be jaded about what might be called classic indie rock at this point but something about the music of both Modest Mouse and Future Islands have built into their songwriting an enduring quality borne of the music coming out of genuine, heartfelt emotions and not coming at that songwriting from a conventional direction. That bands this idiosyncratic and imbued with a gloriously raw sense of heightened feeling are able to draw a crowd of size speaks to the validity of music that clearly isn’t being honed or polished to be anything more than what it was in the beginning and from which it developed organically.

Future Islands at Red Rocks, 9/28/21, photo by Tom Murphy

After having seen Future Islands at much smaller venues from the more intimate like the Denver DIY space Rhinoceropolis in 2008 and 2010 and Larimer Lounge in 2011 and small/medium sized rooms like The Bluebird Theater and the Gothic Theatre it was refreshing to see that the band was able to take its hushed and reflective yet expansive art pop and its delicate sensibilities to the big stage and translate songs of such deep personal meaning for such a large performance space. Of course frontman Sam Herring treated us to his acrobatic movements, dramatically acting out the powerful feelings coursing through him as he relives some of the experiences that inspired the lyrics and as melded with the dynamic and evocative music that gave those words such a resonant context. In one moment Herring went for it so hard, swept up in the moment that he fell down and joked about the last time he played Red Rocks he tore his ACL with the moral of the story being “Don’t try to impress Morrissey” as that’s for whom Future Islands opened in July 2015. The set consisted of some of the band’s most beloved songs including breakthrough hit “Seasons” as performed memorably on Late Night With David Letterman in 2014 as well as deep, older cuts like “Tin Man” and “Little Dreamer.” Songs from the band’s 2020 album As Long As Your Are, “Plastic Beach,” “Thrill,” and especially “For Sure” with its tonal nods to early Depeche Mode hit the perfect mood for the night and a strong reminder that Future Islands has from the beginning established an aesthetic that is equal parts nostalgia and immediacy, a mix that seems somehow to help with processing regret and the kinds of emotional trauma that don’t crash into your psyche so much as haunt the back of your mind.

Modest Mouse at Red Rocks, 9/28/21, photo by Tom Murphy

Nearly 30 years into his career writing music with Modest Mouse, Isaac Brock might be excused for resting on his laurels some but if his recorded output and this performance are any indication that’s not exactly happening. The band is supposedly known for having bad live shows but having seen the group in 2000 for the Moon & Antarctica tour and in 2008 opening for REM at Red Rocks while Johnny Marr was in the band I’d say the only Modest Mouse gigs I’ve seen have been solidly emotionally stirring including this concert. I also read some reviews of the band’s latest album, 2021’s The Golden Casket, with criticism of how there’s too much going on in every song. Perhaps we heard different albums or someone missed how eclectic the band’s music has been since very early on making for a fascinating eclectic body of work that isn’t stuck in a stylistic rut yet possessed of a signature sound. Maybe this new record didn’t work for those more critical reviewers.

Modest Mouse at Red Rocks, 9/28/21, photo by Tom Murphy

Seeing newer songs like “We Are Between,” “Wooden Soldiers,” “Fuck Your Acid Trip” and “Back to the Middle” alongside classic tracks like “Cowboy Dan,” “Bukowski,” “Tiny Cities Made of Ashes,” “Float On” and “Dark Center of the Universe” made it all seem like part of the band’s colorful and unique storytelling style with a broad palette of sounds that reconcile punk, synth pop, Americana, funk, Eastern European folk etc. into one of the distinct branches of indie rock that Modest Mouse helped to establish. That is to say a kind of music that makes it acceptable to write music that encourages you to take it on on its own terms without it needing to conform to something more familiar and established. The band’s multiple instruments were arrayed across the stage like a kind of orchestra in miniature so that its layers of sound could be brought to bear with ease and a precision that doesn’t seem there as the emotions are frayed around the edges in the vocals and expressive instrumentation. But seeing Modest Mouse in this incarnation made the intentionality of its sprawling and patchwork style obvious.

Modest Mouse at Red Rocks, 9/28/21, photo by Tom Murphy

Later in the set proper Brock mentioned, with some amusement, how he was made aware of how his shouts of “Well” in “King Rat” had been made into a meme, providing a moment of humor in a set of music brimming with emotional intensity and insightful observations on personal psychology and society that have aged surprisingly well since the 90s. Perhaps this tapping into universal and long term human psychology explains some of Modest Mouse’s continued popularity but seeing the newer and older songs together in a touching demonstration of authentic feeling in musical performance it was also obvious that one of the classic bands of indie rock as we know it could evolve without losing sight of why it wrote music earlier in its career and why someone might connect with its songs.

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


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.