Queen City Sounds and Art Best Albums of 2020

Sex Swing | Type II | Rocket Recordings

This sprawling best of list was intended for publication in January 2021 but other priorities got in the way and I had written about many of these in brief in my year end best column for the December 2020 print edition of Birdy magazine in December. Others I wrote up for Birdy throughout the year. All of that text is here hopefully not in a form with my errors edited back in. At any rate it begins with what I’m going to call the album of the year, Type II by UK post-punk experimentalists Sex Swing. It not only stretched post-punk beyond the usual boundaries these days and it articulated the conflict, the outage and confusion of a world coming to terms with the great shortcomings of modern, international capitalism, the inadequacy of the conservative/far right and neoliberal government to address the needs of people across decades and most painfully and poignantly in the moment. That agony and anomie can be heard throughout the album but even separate from that context it’s just a great, experimental rock album. The original verbiage for the Birdy piece reads “An uncomromisingly mind-altering psychedelic noise rock ride through 2020 hell.” With any luck we’ll see the band in North America sooner than later and see for ourselves if the live show delivers. What follows is the rest of the best of list for 2020.

A.M. Pleasure Assassins | Careless Laughter | Self-released
This latest EP from Fort Collins-based, math-y post-punk band A.M. Pleasure Assassins sounds like it  was written after a long period of contemplation and self-imposed exile from one’s usual social activities. “Said Yer Outta Gas” is imbued with a rush of exuberance reflected in its words about emerging from winter into a period of new beginnings. “Get It Right” finds the band waxing into the warped garage punk territory like something one would expect out of Memphis, Tennessee the past two decades — raw and ragged yet bracing. “Cain Was Killing Abel” strikes a more contemplative tone and the sprawling “Pretty Dead Beat” creates a beautifully hypnotic pulse of sounds with bell tones processed through reverb and distorted drones for an effect like a late 90s Yo La Tengo track. The four songs give the impression of nostalgic reflection, but one where you see and feel deeply the joys and pains of a good time in your life  that you are wise enough now to know to enjoy in its full measure rather than through the lens of selective romanticism.

Abrams | Modern Ways | Sailor Records

Adulkt Life | Book of Curses | What’s Your Rupture?

ADULT. | Perception Is/As/Of Deception | Dais Records
Darkly urgent industrial dance anthems to purge today’s desperation, confusion and chaos.

Angel Olsen | Whole New Mess | Secretly Group
A tender yet bracingly fragile portrait of the realization that you can never adequately prepare for everything life might throw your way.

Anna von Hausswolff | Sacro Bosco | Southern Lord

A Shoreline Dream | Melting | Late Night Weeknight
With its first release since 2018’s Waitout EP, A Shoreline Dream presents a set of songs that seems less  ethereal than their previous output. From opening track “Turned Too Slow” to closing song “Atheris  Hispida” the progressive shoegaze duo has seemingly focused its attention on the texture and  physicality of the music. One is tempted to say the guitars are more like hard rock, but only if your idea of  hard rock is more in the vein of Swervedriver. But “Downstairs Sundays” has more in common with folk  music in its intricate guitar interplay though threading through an uplifting, introspective drone. A  Shoreline Dream still gives us its usual transporting melodies, but this time its astral realms are  more focused and vivid as though coming out of its musical dreamstate into a phase of making those  dreams real. 

Autechre | Sign | Warp Records
Cleanses the mind with textural tones and hypnotically immersive, abstract rhythms.

Bambara | Stray | Wharf Cat Records

Bestial Mouths | RESURRECTEDINBLACK | RUNE & RUIN

Bison Bone | Find Your Way Out | self-released

Black Wing | No Moon | The Flenser

blackcell | Burn the Ashes | self-released
Denver-based EBM/IDM band Blackcell returns with its first full- length album since 2013’s In the Key of  Black. Matt Jones’ processed, distorted vocals sound as ever like a dispossessed human resisting an ever increasing mechanization of life. These dark dance songs articulate so well the struggles of the human  condition and seem so resonant for today as meaningful choices and control over your own life are  leeched away into increasing labor defined by a gig economy, subscription and streaming services in the  modern equivalent of pay-per-view, and a failing political and economic system that has channeled all the  world’s wealth into fewer and fewer hands, nickeled and dimed to death and expected to take it like it is or  not to streamline the technocratic wealth pipeline. Blackcell offers no answers but this time, its Gary  Numan-esque end of the world techno feels particularly cathartic right now.  

BleakHeart | Dream Griever | Sailor Records

Body Double | Milk Fed | Zum
Vignettes of personal psychological horror expressed as seething, angular post-punk pop.

Body Negative | Fragments | Track Number Records

Bootblacks | Thin Skies | Artoffact Records
Soaring synths and guitar sketch a vivid image of a deep yearning for personal transcendence and rebirth.

Boris and Merzbow | 2R012P0 | Relapse Records
Alien soundscapes of stunning immediacy that challenge preconceptions of all artists involved.

Botanist | Photosynthesis | The Flenser

Cabaret Voltaire | Shadow of Fear | Mute

Camila Fuchs | Kids Talk Sun | Felte Records
Avant-garde, psychedelic synth pop for tropical vacations in parallel dimensions.

Causer | Hellebore: Demos | self-released

Chicano Batman | Invisible People | ATO Records
Un-ironic, un-corny psych Tropicalia love songs for an inclusive future of unified humanity.

Choir Boy | Gathering Swans | Dais Records
Every song is an introspective Goth R&B ode to radical self care.

Church Fire | Some Lonely Wip | self-released
This collection of “unfinished/unmixed/unmastered/instrumentals” bridges the gap between Nine Inch  Nails and Crystal Castles with their raw, lo-fi, maximalist glitch. Without the highly emotive and cathartic  vocals that have been part of Church Fire’s signature sound we are invited to visit the soundscapes that  give those vocals a powerful musical context. What is obvious here is the band’s playfulness and gift for  pairing dark tonal choices and buoyant rhythms anchored by spare textural elements. On “pixie death  tickle” there are wisps of voices but they serve as more a musical aside from the strong, bright, urgent  main passages. The “wip” in the title may refer to “works-in-progress” but these songs would work as  mood pieces in a soundtrack to the inevitable English language Inio Asano manga film in mirroring that  artist’s talent for simultaneously expressing melancholia and joy.  

cindygod | EP 2 | Fire Talk

Clipping. | Visions of Bodies Being Burned | Sub Pop
Brooding, seething, menacing industrial hip-hop horror stories from an all too near future.

Cyclo Sonic | Pile of Bones EP | self-released

Damn Selene | Nobody By That Name Lives Here Anymore | self-released

Dan Deacon | Mystic Familiar | Domino Records

Dead Voices On Air | Stone Cross Shuttle Worn | self-released

Deafbrick (Deafkids + Pet Brick) | s/t | Rocket Recordings

Death Bells | New Signs Of Life | Dais Records
Atmospheric post-punk brimming with an infectious sense of hope after a time of struggle.

Death Valley Girls | Under the Spell of Joy | Suicide Squeeze
Acid jazz flavored garage psych with an ear for emotionally rich infinite horizons.

Deerhoof | Teenage Cave Artists | Joyful Noise
Reliably Beefheartian, lo-fi No Wave-esque, boundary-breaking avant-pop.

Down Time | Hurts Being Alive | self-released

Drew Danburry | Icarus Phoenix A Sides and B Sides 2020 | Telos

Drew McDowell | Angalma | Dais Records

Dyad | Dormant | self-released
Charles Ballas and Jeremy Averitt are perhaps better known for their participation in acts like  Howling Hex and Esmé Patterson’s live band respectively as well as their production work for  Echo Beds. But DORMANT from their long-running collaborative project DYAD showcases  their mutual knack for genre-bending IDM-esque soundscapes. DYAD freely blends elements of  non-Western polyrhythms, intricate and textured instrumentation, luminous jazz keyboard  progressions and tasteful electronic arrangements that convey an eclectic and international flavor.  Imagine music equally influenced by Herbie Hancock, 80s Ethiopian synth pop, Daft Punk,  Warp Records artists and informed by a deep sense of play, and you will have some idea of the  soothing and imagination stirring quality of this music and its brilliantly new age downtempo  future jazz sounds. 

eHpH | Infrared | self-released
This Denver-based electro-industrial duo minces no words on the opening track “Idiot” in its  introductory sample “I’m gonna say one thing, fuck Trump.” And then on to choice  sampling of 45s words and those of journalists cataloging some of his offenses against humanity.  The menacing descending synth bass progression and minimalistic percussion puts the focus on  the words. The rest of the album is less explicitly and specifically topical but it is the band’s most  fully realized and focused effort yet. The pulsing pace and Fernando Altonaga’s distorted vocals  draw you into meditations on the perils of creeping authoritarianism on “Tarnished.” The  pastoral pace and deep melancholy of “Forever Haunted” resonates with the artfully despairing  tones of the Closer period of Joy Division the way its circular guitar line and synth melody rides  a wave of personal revelation and the contemplation of an unrelievedly bleak future. EhpH  has long been one of the more interesting modern EBM bands but Infrared demonstrates that the  group of Altonaga and Angelo Atencio have fully integrated those roots with a more  contemporary post-punk and darkwave sensibility, thus never sounding stuck in the  past. 

Emerald Siam | Inventions of Ascension | self-released

Emma Ruth Rundle & Thou | May Our Chambers Be Full | Sacred Bones Records

Emmy The Great | April / 月音 | Bella Union

Entrancer | Decline Vol. 4 | Multidim
In constructing this latest installment in Entrancer’s Decline series Ryan McRyhew utilized Rob  Hordijik’s DIY synth, the Benjolin, as well as the Make Noise Shared System. Though both are modular  synthesis devices and visually look complex, McRyhew, in naming the equipment on the Bandcamp  page, takes some of the technological mystery out of music making with synths  and puts the emphasis on the creativity end. For twenty-seven minutes forty-four seconds of the single  track of this album, “Decline XVI,” we travel with McRyhew through the sonic analog of the distorted  ebb and flow of civilizational decay that we seem to be experiencing right now. Yet at the  heart of the piece we hear a separation of more industrial sounds and those more organic like the  inevitability of nature reasserting its primacy in our own consciousnesses and in the entire world.

Equine | Light Wa/orship | Noise Pelican

Eve Maret | Stars Aligned | White Supulchre Records

Eyebeams | It Means Trouble | Hot Congress

Eyedress | Let’s Skip to the Wedding | Lex Records

Eye of Nix | Ligeia | Scry Recordings
Uplifting, psychedelic, blackened noise doom journey to a pagan underworld and back.

Facs | Void Moments | Trouble In Mind
The post-punk equivalent of crime jazz’s subterranean menace.

Faim | Hollow Hope | Deathwish

Fearing | Shadow | Funeral Party

Fire-Toolz | Rainbow Bridge | Hausu Mountain Records

Flaming Lips | American Head | Warner Records
Overflowing with compassion and musical salves for the pain and despair of the fractured American psyche.

French Kettle Station | Spirit Mode | Slagwerk

Future Islands | As Long As You Are | 4AD
A soulfully soothing and transporting examination of the roots of one’s melancholic impulses.

Galleries | Resolve | self-released

Ganser | Just Look at That Sky | Felte Records
Incandescent yet contemplative post-punk dense with conceptual content and poignant social commentary.

Gold Cage | Social Crutch | Felte Records

Hard to Be a Killer: A Tribute to Ralph Gean
In an alternate universe Ralph Gean is a beloved rock and roll hero widely known for his  brilliantly unique and off-beat songwriting. But the British Invasion derailed that trajectory and  Gean instead has since become a bit of a legendary figure with a cult following in Denver music  who has periodically played shows and championed by figures as politically disparate as Boyd  Rice (who compiled a collection of Gean’s work in 2007) and Jello Biafra. That fandom is  reflected on this sprawling tribute album assembled by Arlo White of Hypnotic Turtle Radio and  bands like Deadbubbles and The Buckingham Squares. Every interpretation of Gean’s songs is a  worthy listen and a fine showcase for his sheer breadth as an artist. Contributions from local,  experimental eccentrics like Little Fyodor & Babushka, Claudzilla and The Babysitters lovingly  capture Gean’s essential appeal as an artist with an unvarnished charm and humor. Eric Allen of  The Apples in Stereo fame highlights the science fiction cowboy persona that Gean could convey while White’s band Diablo Montalban with the late, great eccentric DJ and Denver cultural figure  Frank Bell give “Switzerland” a real dark exotica treatment reminiscent of weirder moments in  Tom Waits’ catalog. A fascinating portrait of an important yet often overlooked artist.

H Lite | Green Youth Heattech | self-released
Anton Kruger has been known for his inventive, hyperkinetic electronic and experimental music. But for  this new EP he took a deep dive into contemplative realms of sound. Elegant, heavenly strings, luminous  swells of tone and crystalline percussion embody the title of the song “Light Language.” The spacious  sound design aspect of all the song’s on the album are reminiscent of Plaid in the enigmatic playfulness  and the stretching consciousness to find inspiration through creative work. Every song brings forth a  singular and imaginative portrait of tone, texture and rhythm that takes you on a journey to alien spaces  that strike one as familiar and ultimately comforting like a dream. It is post-glitchcore IDM that dispenses  with the anxiety in favor of a soothing spirit.

Houses of Heaven | Silent Places | Felte Records
Gloomy street tribal dance anthems fortified with dark, minor chord melodies.

Human Impact | s/t | Ipecac Recordings

In The Company Of Serpents | Lux | self-released
In the Company of Serpents has long been a band that has aimed to infuse its music with its  interest in cinema, esoteric knowledge, literature, and with all of those come out of directi human experience, emotion and an attempt to make sense of life and imbue it with  meaning. Lux is the fullest manifestation of those aims written into its most sonically dynamic  set of songs to date. The crushing yet fluid heaviness of its sound is paired perfectly with  elements of song that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Spaghetti Western soundtrack. “The  Fool’s Journey” opens the record as a sort of map for the path set before us ending with the  enigmatic “Prima Materia.” It’s a musically diverse and rich album that places In the Company  of Serpents apart from a mere doom band and more in the realm of Swans’ and Neurosis’ own  heavy explorations of the human psyche. 

IDLES | Ultra Mono | Partisan
Pointed yet loving politi-punk built on a hip-hop framework.

Insect Ark | The Vanishing | Profound Lore Records
A seething and entrancing hybrid of a Junji Ito manga and industrial psychedelic doom.

Jarv Is | Beyond the Pale | Rough Trade Records

jOoHS UhP | Big Glasss | Records
This record is so irreverent and self-deprecating it uses the swagger language of much of hip-hop to make  statements that are the opposite of anything some other artists would brag about. The irony runs so deep  even the elements of the music sounds like swagger. There is a song called  
“NoWeDon’tWannaMakeGoodMusic.WeTriedAndIt’sBoring.” The glitchy, industrial beats are so  unconventional and eccentric you would never confuse this duo with anything resembling traditional hip-hop. It all has more in common with Renaldo & The Loaf and The Residents  than even a weirdo like Kanye. Though often confrontational and obnoxious there’s no denying the  relentless creativity of the production and glorious seeming lack of regard for how a song is supposed to  sound. 

Juliet Mission | Surren | self-released
Surren is the third EP from Denver-based post-punk band Juliet Mission. As with previous releases the  trio’s command of blending layers of atmosphere with strong rhythms and a contemplative melancholy is  impressive. The short title track actually has three movements that flow from existential introspection to  passages of dark realization to a mood of uneasy acceptance. All four songs in their brooding beauty  demonstrate, as have the most recent albums from The Church, that you can write vital and engrossing  rock songs from an adult point of view with elegance and grace, and without defaulting to an adolescent,  and thus thematically limited, perspective. 

Jupiter Sprites| Holographic | Jupiter Sprites Records

Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith | The Mosaic of Transformation | Ghostly International

Killd By | Neotropical (tape reissue) | Noumenal Loom

King Krule | Man Alive! | Matador
Like The Fall gone hip-hop chillout lounge post-bad trip horror movie dreaming.

Klara Lewis | Ingrid | Editions Mego
Distorted melancholic cello drones like the glitched image memories of past life regression.

KoKo La | Curriculum Vitae | self-released
Koko La has long already established herself as an artist of note as one of the MCs and producers in the  hip-hop group R A R E B Y R D $. Her soulful voice and presence often draws out subconscious  emotions and gives them form in the music and performance. Curriculum Vitae finds Koko La exploring  the experiences that have shaped her. Aided by Machete Mouth and Kitty Opinion$ on a couple of tracks,  Koko La excels here with shining a light on those experiences that challenge you in various ways, while  at the same time, giving you a better sense of self and the boundaries you must draw the border for people who might seek to dismiss you as a human or otherwise put you in your place. The trap beats and  hushed atmospheres provide a fascinating listening experience, like you’re honoring the subconscious  thoughts and feelings that affect your waking life by giving them an identifiable form that also allows you  to comprehend, embrace and reconcile the wounded sides of yourself. 

Lazarus Horse | Oh the Guilt! | self-released

Lithics | Tower of Age | Trouble In Mind
Surreal, minimalist post-punk funk disintegrating into disorder like American democracy.

Lone Dancer | Temporal Smearing | Multidim

Mamaleek | Come and See | The Flenser

Many Blessings | Emanation Body | Translation Loss Records
Ethan McCarthy of Primitive Man renown returns to his ongoing noise soundscapes with the enigmatic  and forbidding Many Blessings. In typical fashion this set of five pieces stretches beyond what McCarthy  has done with the project in the past. Throughout this album there is not the harsh noise and deconstructed  drones of some earlier work. Rather, it is layered collages of sound that give voice to the raw angst and  anxieties that sit as a background hum of modern civilization eating away at our collective  unconsciousness. The concluding track “Harm Signal” is like a symbol for the whole effort — a flow of  sounds, a frequency, that we usually ignore but which causes untold destruction to our existence.  These songs identify and give expression to energies and forces we’ve bypassed our whole lives but which  are now impossible to ignore, like a sound art metaphor for the social and political forces that have come  home to roost of late. 

Marissa Nadler | Moons | self-released

Melkbelly | PITH | Carpark Records/Wax Nine

Memory Bell | Solace | self-released

Metz | Atlas Vending | Sub Pop

Midwife | Forever | The Flenser
Madeline Johnston wrote Forever during one of the darkest times of the Denver DIY music  and art community. Her community was scattered and challenged in the wake of the Ghost Ship fire with  so many lives seeming to be on hold with no hint about when thatdespairing period would end. And  the 2018 death of Colin Ward hit everyone whose lives he touched so deeply that it seems like the kind of  hurt that will never fully heal. Johnston’s almost ghostly, delicate and vulnerable vocals and distorted,  ethereal guitar seem to drift together in an effort to make some sense of those feelings with a nuance and  sensitivity that always comes across as emerging directly from those places of acute pain and ache  and loss, and honoring the need to just feel all of that whenever the need strikes and for however long into  your life it lasts even if that is, indeed, forever. An especially touching and evocative tribute to a uniquely  restless and creative yet sensitive and emotionally refined person in Colin Ward, Forever is a tender and  heartbreaking, healing catharsis in the listen. 

Mild Wild | Mild Wild, Vol. 1 | self-released
Intensely personal, imaginatively lo-fi aural snapshots of daydreams and poetic observations.

Mint Field | Sentimiento Mundial | Felte Records
Dream pop slow burner illuminating and warming the inner regions of the melancholic heart.

Moby | All Visible Objects | Mute Records
Retro rave and chillout lounge songs mourning our collective loss, yearning for a hopeful future.

Molchat Doma | Monument | Sacred Bones Records
Introspective, elegantly minimalistic, lo-fi, Belarusian gloom pop.

Mong Tong | Mystery | Guruguru Brain

Moodie Black | FUZZ | Fake Four

Moon Pussy | Hurt Wrist | The Ghost Is Clear Records
Guitar riffs like swarms of angry insects sweeping through. Syncopated percussion like start- and- stop  jackhammers. Bass lines like a half- ton coil being struck and emitting a menacing fluidity. Tortured  vocals erupt with Brutalist, post-hardcore poetry. All of this helps to make this latest Moon Pussy record  the perfect companion and reaction to a radically uncertain world seemingly in perpetual crisis mode and  on the verge of we know not what. Fans of bands on the Amphetamine Reptile imprint or Touch and Go  will be thrilled with the band’s seemingly endless supply of inspired, aggressive and savage noise rock  riffs and the ability to articulate directly from a place of desperation and outrage. “Fail Better” should be  the theme song of these United States.  

Mr. Bungle | The Raging Wrath of the Easter Bunny Demo | Ipecac

Mr. Gnome | The Day You Flew Away | El Marko Records

Mrs. Piss | Self-Surgery | Sargent House

Napalm Death | Throes of Joy in the Jaws of Defeatism | Century Media

New Standards Men | I Was A Spaceship | self-released

Night of the Living Shred | Return of the Night of the Living Shred | self-released
The name of this album of course invokes the title of the 1985 horror comedy Return of the Living Dead.  And the Colorado Springs-based metal group has taken the opportunity to give us an unusual and eclectic  record that not only reflects its members’ broad taste in music but a deeply healthy sense of humor about  the world and themselves. “Shred Shoppe Quartert” is an a cappella song in the style of a barbershop  quartet. There are rap, punks, death metal, doom and grindcore songs. All of it performed with  a charming exuberance even though the entire track list reads like something out of a heavy metal version  of Mad Magazine. “We Get it, Mike Patton Is a Musical Genius” with screaming like a cover of  something by Naked City with lyrics mocking that? That’s genius. Even though the record is largely a put  on in one way or another, the fact that it has so much variety makes it eminently listenable.  

No Age | Goons Be Gone | Drag City

Of Feather And Bone | Sulfuric Disintegration | Profound Lore Records

Oneohtrix Point Never | Magic Oneohtrix Point Never | Warp Records

Otzi | Storm | Artoffact Records
Emotionally intense post-punk at the intersection of Sleater-Kinney and The Cure.

Perry Weissman 3 | Backlog | self-released

Plack Blague | Wear Your Body Out | self-released

Plague Garden | LEFT IN THE GRAVE | self-released

Pod Blotz | Transdimensional System | Dais Records

Pole | Fading | Mute Records

Primitive Man | Immersion | Relapse Records

Princess Dewclaw | Wild Sugar | Glasss Records
On the Wild Sugar EP Princess Dewclaw has reinvented itself as a gritty, industrial darkwave band. That  element was there on its 2017 album Walk of Shame (in fact the songs “Walk of Shame” and “Into the  Words” have carried over in a significantly different form), but there seems more of an edge here. The  vocals come more directly from channeling anxiety and pain into catharsis. Rather than acoustic  drums the electronic and programmed drums sync more closely with the cutting synth work. The effect is  like a caustic and politically charged take on a pop song with mainstream appeal. In that way it has an  appeal similar to that of Alice Glass’s emotionally raw solo offerings.

Protomartyr | Ultimate Success Today | Domino Records
Burning poems songs evoking a Jim Thompson-esque modern America in slashing/clashing post-punk.

Public Memory | Ripped Apparition | Felte Records
If Tarkovksy and Jarmusch could team up to make a cyberpunk movie this would be the soundtrack.

Rafael Anton Irisarri | Peripeteia | Dais Records

Raspberry Bulbs | Before the Age of Mirrors | Relapse Records

Reverb And The Verse | RESONATE | self-released
Since 1999 Reverb & The Verse has been developing and writing some of the most imaginative hip-hop  out of Denver. The groupput their songwriting on this ninth record through  a rigorous process of experimentation and weeding out the material deemed not quite  there. Though steeped in classic MC wordplay, the beats and expertly crafted synth work and rhythms  seem as informed by the likes of Minneapolis alternative hip-hop that came out of the 90s as it does 80s  and 90s synth pop. All of these elements make for a sonically rich and diverse listen a bit like a cross  between Clipse and Meat Beat Manifesto. 

Riki | s/t | Dais Records
Goth synth pop for skate rink parties in abandoned malls.

Run The Jewels | RTJ4 | Jewel Runners

Shabazz Palaces | The Don of Diamond Dreams | Sub Pop

Shitkid | 20/20 | PNKSLM
An unlikely and fascinating hybrid of garage rock and soulful synth pop.

Shocker Mom | The Mediocre Depression | self-released

Sightless Pit | Grave of a Dog | Thrill Jockey
Sublime and caustic, often claustrophobic, soundscapes of terrifying and transcendent beauty.

SNAD/Jackson Lee| Jargon/Syntax Error 12” EP | Deep Club Records

SPELLS | Stimulants & Sedatives | Snappy Little Numbers
This record is raw even by SPELLS standards. But it’s perfect for 11 songs about the messiness of  adulthood with lyrics that frankly go for the jugular. This isn’t new for this pop punk band and its  anthemic choruses, but it’s always interesting to hear the contrast between the primal pop of the  songwriting and incisive portraits of American life that dispense with the soul-destroying niceties. “We  Can’t Relate” is a pointed declaration of the disconnect between the culture of the wealthy and the  working class. “I’m Sorry I’m Not Sorry” is something of an apology song for being how you have to be  in a world that demands essentially unacceptable compromises. Imagine an amalgam of Blatz, Stiff Little  Fingers and The Replacements and you have an idea of the sound, the vibe and the sentiments expressed  throughout. 

Spice | s/t | Dais Records

Sprain | As Lost Through Collision | The Flenser
Colossal, sprawling, slowcore deep dives into the catharsis of anxiety and rootlessness.

Spunsugar | Drive-Through Chapel | Adrian Recordings

Squarepusher | Be Up a Hello | Warner Records

Stay Tuned | Remote Control | self-released
Brilliantly sampling from American media and entertainment culture, both musically and thematically,  Stay Tuned has produced not just a signature song with this arc of eleven tracks but a signature album.  Dense with content each song uses the format of autobiography to comment on aspects of society like the  shallowness of celebrity culture and the way we formulate our dreams and aspirations in terms and  frameworks taken from preexisting constructs like television shows, movies, video games and other  media — of course expressed through the corporate controlled channels we most often use to  communicate with one another. But in free associating musical and other media references in a collage of  sounds in the beat, Stay Tuned uses media tropes and collective myths and imagery to showcase how we  can subvert the prevailing power relationships and the monopolistic paradigms of our time.  

Stephen Malkmus | Traditional Techniques | Matador

Studded Left | Sidewalk Vitamins | Girlgang Music

Stūrī Zēvele | Labvakar | self-released
An endearing indie pop manifestation of the essence of close and warm friendships.

Sumac | May You Be Held | Thrill Jockey

Suo and Data Rainbow | s/t | Multidim

SUUNS | FICTION EP | Joyful Noise

Syko Friend | Fontanelle | Post Present Medium

The Drood | Totally Comfortable | self-released

The High Water Marks | Ecstasy Rhymes | Minty Fresh

The Microphones | The Microphones In 2020 | P.W. Elverum & Sun

The Paranoyds | Pet Cemetery EP | Suicide Squeeze

The White Swan | Nocturnal Transmission | CockThermos

Through Flames | Through Flames | self-released
Riveting, radical experiments in political poetry and sound design.

TI-83 | Demo | self-released

Time | These Songs Kill Fascists | Dirty Laboratory
Hip-hop artist Chris “Time” Steele displays a true gift for fusing autobiography and lived experience with  historical context and knowledge of political theory on this album. He’s always been a brilliant lyricist  whose expert wordplay has seemingly effortlessly combined his sharp sense of humor with a wide ranging curiosity about the world and a growing body of knowledge of history, culture and politics. On  These Songs Kill Fascists, Steele works with Daiba, Mick Jenkins, long time producer AwareNess,  Giuseppe, Ron Miles, JXSHYB, Cat Soup and Psalm One to create a jazz-inflected story cycle  commenting astutely on social issues now getting some focus. While a riveting listen purely as a well crafted album, These Songs Kill Fascists does not function as merely socially conscious entertainment, it  seems to have been crafted as a form of praxis that challenges artist and listener in a dialectic of critical  pedagogy that mutually encourages ongoing personal growth and social transformation.

Tobacco | Hot, Wet & Sassy | Ghostly International
Bright, bombastic, noisy synths paired with darkly humorous musings disrupt the album’s aesthetic of nostalgic comfort sounds.

Torres | Silver Tongue | Merge Records

Uniform | Shame | Sacred Bones Records
Scorching and thrillingly diverse industrial hardcore inspired by noir literature.

Usaisamonster | Amikwag | Yeggs Records

Vivian | The Warped Glimmer | self-released

Voight | s/t | self-released
Maybe it’s Chase Dobson’s treatments and mixing and mastering after Adam Rojo and Nick Salmon wrote  and recorded this album, but the self-titled Voight album is the closest the duo has come to sounding like  it’s blurring the line between its rock and electronic aesthetics. Guitar chords burn and shimmer out,  percussion flurries and traces out a minimalist beat and Salmon’s vocals float through the songs like a  person who was once lost but is now rediscovering his ability to feel and to express those emotions with a  coherent self-awareness. Every song has an expansive quality reminiscent of Clan of Xymox and The Twilight Sad. The tone of the album perfectly walks the line between urgency and introspection without  ever compromising an underlying delicacy of spirit and emotional refinement.

Wayfarer | A Romance With Violence | Profound Lore Records

Wetware | Flail | Dais Recordings

White Rose Motor Oil | You Can’t Kill Ghosts | self-released

Windy & Carl | Allegiance and Conviction | Kranky

WL | ADHD | Beacon Sound

Wolf Parade | Thin Mind | Sub Pop

Yves Tumor | Heaven To A Tortured Mind | Warp Records
Futuristic, effervescent, downtempo, synth pop-inflected, R&B informed non-binary funk.

Best Shows in Denver and Beyond 6/7/18 – 06/13/17

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Of Feather And Bone perform at 71 Grind on Friday, June 8, 2018. Photo by Pale With Decay

Thursday | June 7, 2018

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Ryanhood, photo by Taylor Noel Photography

Who: Ryanhood w/Matt Cox
When: Thursday, 06.07, 7 p.m.
Where: Walnut Room
Why: Ever since Mumford and Sons and The Lumineers, at a minimum, popularized folk pop to a massive audience more than a few musicians have tried their hands at that style of music. But Ryanhood predates that wave having started in 2003 in Boston (now based in Tucson, AZ where Green and Cameron Hood met in high school). And beyond that, Ryanhood has established itself as a popular live act on the college and small club circuit. Ryan Green’s proficiency with guitar got him a scholarship to Berklee but as a songwriter it gives some dimensionality to the songwriting that might not be there with a musician who came to playing more casually. Green’s songs with Hood, at this point, have the polish and tunefulness of anything you’re likely to hear on mainstream radio combined with the synergy that mostly comes from musicians who have known each other for a good deal of their lives growing together as artists. The duo’s 2017 album Yearbook is a record diverse in its emotional colorings and songwriting dynamics giving its positive sheen depth and listening longevity.

Who: Stella Luce 7” release for Gloria w/Señorita Sometimes and Seven Inches of Heaven
When: Thursday, 06.07, 9 p.m.
Where: Surfside 7
Why: Stella Luce is presenting its sixth release, the Gloria seven inch, tonight at Surfside 7. The Fort Collins-based experimental rock band combines an Eastern European musical sensibility with the kind of baroque pop that The Dresden Dolls and DeVotchKa perfected. Stella Luce, though a little weirder than both, and noisier, has created a body of work thus far with the same cinematic sweep and nuanced emotional colorings.

Friday | June 8, 2018

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Isenordal, photo courtesy Isenordal

What: 71 Grind IV Day 1 (see below)
When: Friday, 06.08, 2 p.m.
Where: The Black Sheep and Triple Nickel Tavern
Why: This is the major metal festival in Colorado. Independently run and promoted it features some of the most interesting acts in extreme and death metal, doom and grindcore. Things get kicked off at 2 p.m. at The Black Sheep and finishes in the late night hours at The Triple Nickel Tavern. For this first day you can catch Denver’s deathgrind stars Of Feather And Bone at the Black Sheep at 6:40 p.m.. The trio just started its tour in the wake of the release of its latest album, Beastial Hymns of Perversion. Immediately after at 7 p.m. on the main stage is Seattle’s black/folk metal act Isenordal will bring its layered, orchestral sound. For fans of Giant Squid and SubRosa. You can’t really miss with any of the bands but it would also be a good chance to see Wyoming’s great, grind-y, post-hardcore band Euth, Denver’s melodic doom giants, Wayfarer and Denver D-beat/thrash juggernauts Rotstrotter. Full schedule below.

Black Sheep
Side Floor Stage
2-220 Weaken
2:40-3 Berrated
3:20-3:40 Anakusha
4:20-4:40 Euth
5-5:20 Portrayal Of Guilt
5:50-6:10 Falter
6:40-7 Of Feather And Bone
7:30-7:50 Void Omnia
8:20-8:40 Closet Witch
9:10-9:30 Gaff

Main Stage
2:20-2:40 Full Bore
3-3:20 Salems Bend
4-4:20 Rotstrotter
4:40-5 Bleubird
5:20-5:50 Zeta
6:10-6:40 Wayfarer
7-7:30 Isenordal
7:50-8:20 Brainoil
8:40-9:10 Transient w/Bastard Noise
9:30-10:40 Mizmor

Triple Nickel
11-11:20 Cursus
11:30-11:50 Ice Sword
12-12:20 Modok
12:30-12:50 Hexist
1-1:30 Tejon St. Corner Thieves

Who: Today’s Paramount, Samvega and Archipelaghost
When: Friday, 06.08, 9 p.m.
Where: Goosetown Tavern
Why: This is a bill where none of the bands really fit in any musical subscene. Nor are they trying and the show is the better for that. Today’s Paramount has bits of gypsy folk, Americana, psychedelia and metal but really it’s more like some kind of odd glam prog band that dresses up like they’re all lead gumshoes in a noir novel. Samvega similarly skirts the edges of sludge metal, psychedelic rock and prog without being tied down by the conventions of any of it. Its sonically powerful shows feel orchestrated but only in that they have played the music so much they’re comfortable executing it in a way that leaves plenty of room to change moods, tempos and emotional colorings to fit the environment. If Archipelaghost’s recent single “Spinach” is any indication, those guys listen to a lot of the better hip-hop utilizing trap tracks while crafting their own electronic beats and burned the memo on not using kinda crap autotune. Archipelaghost takes musical ideas that shouldn’t work and puts it together in a way that seems more like a beyond ironic to legit and inventive take on electronic indie pop. Meta in its musical touchstones to the point of avant-garde.

Who: The Descendents w/The Potato Pirates and In the Whale
When: Friday, 06.08, 7 p.m.
Where: Boulder Theater
Why: The Descendents’ story sounds like it couldn’t be true. Drummer Bill Stevenson met future Black Flag and Circle Jerks vocalist Keith Morris before the latter’s stint in Black Flag and worked for Morris’ father as a fisherman. Of course Stevenson would spend some years as Black Flag’s drummer while also playing in The Descendents, a band he started with some friends from school when most of them were still in high school. The band’s blend of pop, surf rock and punk made for one of the earliest pop punk bands and its sound and lyrics throughout the 80s articulated teen angst, insecurities and simple aspirations better than a lot of music in the mainstream ever could and thus the band’s enduring popularity and viability. Even as its music is framed in the teen experience there was an evolution in thought and complexity of emotion that happened during the course of the band’s career. These days, seeing The Descendents is a great reminder that punk, even pop punk, can be silly, kinda dumb, but also thoughtful and vibrantly energetic in ways that don’t seem tamed by the compromises mainstream commercial success has exacted on some of the bands The Descendents have influenced.

What: Intendence Film Fest Opening Party with Sympathy F
When: Friday, 06.08, 9:30 p.m.
Where: Denver Open Media
Why: When Sympathy F began in the early 90s Denver was in the prime of its period of urban decay. LoDo as we came to know it in the mid-90s didn’t exist. Squatters lived in buildings downtown and the Fifteenth Street and Twentieth Street viaducts led to areas of glorious industrial yesteryear. Denver felt dark, a little grimy and gritty while not as dangerous as larger cities. The band’s music, a moody, jazz-inflected post-punk, fit that milieu perfectly and it was one of the era’s classic alternative rock bands and one of the very few to have survived through the decades to now. Until a few years ago, the band had only released one record and soon it will release a third. Live, the band creates a lush but electrifying sound and for those that remember those older times in Denver, it’s like getting a taste of that vibe for the time the band drifts into its set.

Saturday | June 9, 2018

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The Corner Girls, photo by Tom Murphy

Who: 71 Grind IV Day 2 (see below for lineup)
When: Saturday, 06.09, 1 p.m.
Where: Black Sheep and The Triple Nickel Tavern
Why: This second day of 71 Grind IV includes performances from powerviolence pioneers Infest, longtime Albuquerque grind legends Noisear and Colorado Springs death grind band 908 which includes 71 Grind organizer Bryan Ostrow. Things get started at 1 p.m. at The Black Sheep and finishes once again in the late hours at Triple Nickel.

Black Sheep
Side Floor Stage
1-1:20 Aerial Ruin
1:40-2 Nite Kidz
2:20-2:40 Blunt
3-3:20 Minimum Wage Assasins
3:40-4 Sentient Divide
4:20-4:40 Funeral Chic
5-5:20 Bandit
5:40-6 Pavel Chekov
6:30-6:50 Test
7:20-7:40 Noisear
8:10-8:30 Remission
9-9:30 Stapled Shut

Main Stage
12:40-1 Modern Color
1:20-1:40 Fortunes Fool
2-2:20 908
2:40-3 Addaura
3:20-3:40 Haunter
4-4:20 Badr Vogu
4:40-5 Apocalyptic Noise Syndicate
5:20-5:40 Cryptic Void
6-6:30 Dead In The Manger
6:50-7:20 Un
7:40-8:10 Scorched
8:30-9 Despise You
9:30-10 Infest

Triple Nickel
10:30-10:50 The Stalk
11-11:20 Pris
11:30-12 Anonymous Inc.
1210-12:30 Saus

Who: The Corner Girls (single release) w/Vic N’ The Narwhals, Kinky Fingers and Cocordion
When: Saturday, 06.09, 7:30 p.m.
Where: Lost Lake
Why: A year after excellent 2017 Popcorn EP, The Corner Girls release the “Boyfriend” single. Given the band’s gift for giving songs with incisive and irreverent lyrics titles that could come from a vapid pop song, “Boyfriend” probably isn’t just a song about someone’s boyfriend in that tired, classic vein. From the imagery of the band’s artwork to its surf-y punk sound, The Corner Girls aesthetic resonates with that of early K Records bands and 90s indie pop, which in its time was a rejection of the masculine rock world. It isn’t an attack on the latter as much as creating something not defined by it.

Who: Screwtape, Gutter Villain, The Uglys and No Chance
When: Saturday, 06.09, 7:30 p.m.
Where: Lion’s Lair
Why: The Uglys somehow mixed screamy posthardcore with sludgy riffs for a sound that is like what would have happened had grunge developed a decade and a half later with The Deftones as an influence. That sort of desperation delivered with a manic intensity fits in well on a bill with Denver hardcore stars Screwtape whose songs blur the radical political with the personal in a way we need to see more of right now.

Sunday | June 10, 2018

StillValley_PhotoCourtesyNicholasPryor

Who: 71 Grind IV Day 3
When: Sunday, 06.10, 12 p.m.
Where: The Triple Nickel Tavern
Why: This third and last day of 71 Grind takes place at Triple Nickel and sort of a showcase of some of Colorado’s heavy bands. Still Valley is the kind of band that maybe got inspired by the stoner/sludge rock bands with that steady, slow cymbal work going like a hypnotic metronome but its sound is more uplifting, more melodic and ultimately more transporting. In that way Still Valley has a lot in common with Earth, taking the blues roots of the music and exploring its outer possibilities. Tricoma from Denver has similar influences but its sound is more like a fierce thrash/crossover and its heaviness more cutting. The Munsens’ 2016 album Abbey Rose sounds like a doom meditation on the darkened passages and cosmic terror merely hinted at by early Gothic literature, for example Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto. But whatever band or bands you catch, it’ll be a great slice of heavy music’s current underground scene.

12-12:20 Ultraviolet
12:30-12:50 Still Valley
1-1:20 Tricoma
1:30-1:50 The Munsens
2-2:20 Innoculated Life
2:30-2:50 Scepter
3-3:20 Kenaima
3:30-3:50 Gutpest
4-4:20 Commonear
4:30-4:50 Remain & Sustain
5-5:20 Bonus Surprise!
5:30-5:50 Druids
6-6:20 Tower
6:30-6:50 Article 15
7-7:20 The Mutations
7:30-7:50 Broken Dead
8-8:20 Demerit
8:30-9 SMD
9:10-9:40 Homewrecker
9:50-10:20 Sledge
10:30-11 Dead Set

Who: Daikaiju w/TripLip and The Savage Blush
When: Sunday, 06.10, 9 p.m.
Where: Tennyson’s Tap
Why: Daikaiju is a surf rock band that on the surface sounds like a band in that vein with some punk oomph behind it. But its shows are famously tribal affairs during which the band performs in kabuki masks, uses pyrotechnics in its sets and otherwise brings those who show up into a ritual of rock and roll chaos. Experimental jazz thrash prog band TripLip and surf rockers The Savage Blush will ably set the stage for the mayhem to follow with Daikaiju.

Monday | June 11, 2018

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Sleep circa 2010, photo by Tom Murphy

Who: Sleep w/Primitive Man and Oryx
When: Monday, 06.11, 7 p.m.
Where: The Ogden Theatre
Why: Nearly twenty years after the release of its most recent album, 1999’s until then posthumous release, Dopesmoker, the princes (naturally the kings being Black Sabbath) of stoner rock/doom Sleep released a new album in 2018 called The Sciences. Of course its laden with fanboy references to Sabbath (there’s a song called “Giva Butler”), science fiction and arcane knowledge. Oh, and cannabis. “Marijuananaut’s Theme” begins with someone taking a hit off a bong. But it seems as though Sleep has sculpted its sound ever so slightly giving it greater dynamism and fluidity. Don’t worry, the guitars still sound like the tone is in a constant state of splintering and the rhythms are off enough in the right places to be hypnotic and deftly launch the main melodies into spaces that Moebius might have drawn for one of his lost Jodorowsky collaborations—psychedelic, alien and raw. That deathgrind titans Primitive Man and doomdeath stars Oryx are on the bill just make the whole show twice as good.

Who: Violent Femmes
When: Monday, 06.10, 6:30 p.m.
Where: Denver Botanic Gardens (York Street)
Why: Four decades on, Violent Femmes went from jazz-inspired folk-punk-pop weirdos who were perfect for the college rock world of the 80s to a still surprisingly powerful live band whose sound has been influential but not widely imitated. On recordings and on stage the Femmes bring in more than the usual rock instruments and since its early days the band has brought on a group of people called The Horns of Dilemma to play raw, chaotic sounds on a couple of songs in the set. For the Denver dates of the past several years The Horns of Dilemma has included avant-garde improvisational band Animal / object, a group in which Femmes singer Gordon Gano has been known to play violin. Several of the Femmes’ songs have entered the lexicon of popular music through the college and alternative rock path and even if you weren’t around or old enough for the band’s music to impact you the first time it was coming around its music has held up well because it was never grounded in any trendy sound or style but rather an premium on creativity and imagination. Go and be surprised by how of the moment and so not rote the Femmes remain today.

Who: Yes (Howe, Downes and White iteration)
When: Monday, 06.10, 2 p.m.
Where: The Paramount Theatre
Why: Progressive rock has a reputation as an overly intellectual music made by snobs for other technically proficient musicians and fans capable of appreciating the intricacies and compositional sophistication of the music. But most of those bands were seeking to create something deeply imaginative and capable of expressing ideas and emotions beyond the bare bones rock and roll sonic vocabulary. Yes wrote music that aimed to explore and articulate the dreams and aspirations of humankind. Sure, some of it got pretty out there and abstract but largely its songs came from a personal place writing about love, anxiety, fear and a broad range of emotions and the very individual experience of our struggles and triumphs. Yes just didn’t dumb it down. For this show you’ll get to see master guitarist Steve Howe, Alan White’s drumming wizardry and Geoff Downes’ gift for weaving together various keyboard and synth elements to create one of the sounds that has established Yes as a legendary live act for the past few decades.

Tuesday | June 12, 2018

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Covenhoven in Ojai, CA, photo courtesy Joel Van Horne

Who: Covenhoven album release w/The Still Tide
When: Tuesday, 06.12, 7 p.m.
Where: The Bluebird Theater
Why: Joel Van Horne has been writing beautifully introspective songs under the moniker Covenhoven for several years and now, with A Kind of Revelation, three records. It was within a week of finishing the mixes for A Kind of Revelation that Van Horne’s brother Ben died from a pulmonary embolism following years of struggling with ulcerative colitis. As with his previous releases (the 2013 self-titled album and 2015’s The Wild and Free), Van Horne immersed himself in a natural environment, taking in the patterns, energies of the place and as much of its essence as possible to drive his creative inspiration. For A Kind of Revelation that place was Olympic National Park and Big Sur. Perhaps a kind of pastoral folk and pop is the form of Van Horne’s songs but the musical language feels like an emotional recreation of the places that influenced their writing. Since it’s at the Bluebird, chances are it’ll be a full band presentation of the music where Covenhoven will share the evening with dream pop/rock band The Still Tide.

Who: Calexico w/Julia Jacklin
When: Tuesday, 06.12, 7 p.m.
Where: Boulder Theater
Why: Calexico and Mojave 3 were doing psych-folk-inflected pop Americana before it became a massive feature of “indie” radio in the past ten to fifteen years. Calexico, though, also absorbed a good deal of Mexican folk stylistic flourishes giving its sound a more exotic edge. The group released its latest record, The Thread That Keeps Us, in January 2018. Employing keyboards and synths alongside more traditional instruments has been one of Calexico’s hallmarks from its early days but the new record feels even more expansive and open as though maybe somewhere the band aimed to simplify its sound without sacrificing its full and rich tones.

Wednesday | June 13, 2018

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Ancient Elk circa 2017, photo by Tom Murphy

Who: Of Feather and Bone tour kickoff w/Tomb Mold and Casket Huffer
When: Wednesday, 06.13, 8 p.m.
Where: Hi-Dive
Why: Denver deathgrind band Of Feather and Bone played 71 Grind in Colorado Springs this past weekend and it will kick of its tour in support of its new album Beastial Hymns of Perversion with this show at the Hi-Dive alongside like-minded bands Tomb Mold, from Toronto, Ontario and Casket Huffer from Cheyenne, Wyoming.

Who: Sunmonks, Ancient Elk, Avifauna and GALLERIES
When: Wednesday, 06.13, 7 p.m.
Where: Lost Lake
Why: Sacramento’s Sunmonks has been honing its blend of R&B, indie pop and world music since 2012. Entertainment Weekly said the band was a “Worthy successor to the Talking Heads.” That seems like hyperbole and lack of life experience and knowledge of recent and older music history. Nevertheless, the band’s willingness to experiment with the form of pop music across various cultures as well as the sound and rhyme schemes to great effect makes it one of the most interesting bands to have bypassed being a psychedelic rock band but effectively making psychedelic pop music. Also on the bill is experimental, psychedelic folk band Ancient Elk, psych hard rock band GALLERIES and the windswept electropop soundscapes of Avifauna.

To Be Continued…