Short Takes #2: August 2018

This is the latest installment of our periodical records review column with the featured album being Them Are Us Too’s posthumous swan song Amends out on Dais Records.

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Them Are Us Too, Amends, Dais Records

Them Are Us Too – Amends – Dais Records

Them Are Us Too’s gift to its listeners is a nearly unmatched ability to distill all the pain, disappointment and sadness of a lifetime of unrequited love and rejection by others, by society and ourselves into soaring melodies that sublimate those feelings into ethereal shadows that can no longer overwhelm us even if they can still haunt us. Amends may be the final record from the band due to the tragic death of guitarist Cash Askew in the 2016 Ghost Ship fire. But the music’s power to take gentle yet strong rhythms and couple them with intertwining melodies, luminescent and melancholy, as a vehicle for honoring genuine emotional expression is a testament to the duo’s enduring alchemical ability to soothe the spirit.

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AZALiA_SNAiL, NEON_RESiSTANCE, Silber (US)/Thokei Tapes (Germany)

AZALiA SNAiL – NEON RESiSTANCE – Silber (US)/Thokei Tapes (Germany)

Pretty much impossible to say when this album was written and recorded post-1980. Its sensibility and aesthetic points to 80s and 90s synth pop. The guitar on “Celeste (Can You Feel It)” sounds like something out of a more ambitious New Wave band but set inside a song that could have come out in the past 10 years among artists tapping into 80s pop sounds to capture a sense of nostalgia. But NEON RESiSTANCE isn’t mining nostalgia. It is doing something more interesting and meta by using an older set of musical parameters and sounds with modern production to evoke a personal style of songwriting that looks forward as many bands of the 80s seemed to be doing but avoiding getting that all wrong by really giving the songs an unusual emotional dimensionality and nuance with nostalgia-tinged melodies as relatable self-reflection and not self-obsession. Sonically it’s difficult to compare this multi-faceted pop record to much of anything else but perhaps Nina Hagen’s 1982 experimental rock/New Wave masterpiece NunSexMonkRock. There was little like that then, there’s little like this now and every track is worth your time.

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bios+a+ic – Vaccine – Symbolic Insight

bios+a+ic – Vaccine – Symbolic Insight

Wesley Davis seems to generate his albums around themes that express the essence of ideas that have taken up residence in his imagination. 2015’s cloudLanD has an airy, drifty feel suggesting a sense of space and peace. Vaccine’s claustrophobic drones and repeating circular phrases spawn others that intersect in ominous, dissonant patterns suggestive of one set of sounds mutually infecting another to produce a third sound that’s darker with descending tones. Not an anti-vax abstraction, but more a comment on not trusting corporations and moneyed interests to provide a cure. In that way, it’s a bit of a cyberpunk ambient album but one that doesn’t make the dystopia seem kinda cool.

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CURTA, End of Future Park, self-released

CURTA – End of Future Park – self-released

Jake Danna minces no words in his critique of American culture in general and his local community in particular. From the self-appointed expertise on all things and the lives of other people due to the internet and social media (“Ghost Milk”) to the limitations of bravado to dignify one’s life and art (“Prop Comic”) and the poisonous, self-eroding qualities of unreigned-in/unexamined cynicism (“I’m Still Cool, Right? (feat. WC Tank), Danna’s observations are a cogent assessment of the root ills of modern America’s writhing cultural anomy beyond platitudes of left and right. 4Digit’s production as further brought into detail by ManMadeMadMan’s mastering is what shines just as brightly. The beats, the streaming details of sound to accent the mood, tone and texture, the vibrant atmospheres and the masterful flow of melodies to suit the moment are not subtle so much as fully integrated and you get a to take in 4Digit’s imaginative composition with the 26+ minute closing track, “The Life of 4Digit Vol. 1.”

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Daisy Mortem, La vie c’est mort, self-released

Daisy Mortem – La vie c’est mort – We Are Vicious

An always engaging listen akin to an unlikely and thus refreshing synthesis of B-52s, Lords of Acid and breakcore, La vie c’est mort from Bordeaux, France’s Daisy Mortem is a sort of decadent industrial dance pop. A lot of American industrial dance groups fall back too much on mediocre 90s EBM. On this EP, Daisy Mortem taps more into mid-80s New Wave’s melodramatic emotionalism but using the sound palette of modern electronic dance music to craft songs with a giant sonic imprint. Imagine the curiously compelling upbeat and alien quality of Classix Nouveaux minus the schlock and with a sprinkling of influence from Sparks and Fad Gadget. If Fellini had lived to make a movie about Bohemian New York City in the 80s, he would have done well to have tapped Daisy Mortem to score the soundtrack because this band is that exact vibe—bombastic, lush and brimming with vitality.

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The Damned, Evil Spirits, Search and Destroy/Spinefarm Records

The Damned – Evil Spirits – Search and Destroy/Spinefarm Records

Easily The Damned’s best record since Machine Gun Etiquette. But it would be more honest to say it’s the band’s best record since it’s debut. Most bands more than forty years into their career are creatively treading water. The Damned apparently found some juice in their collective imagination to write an album in the classic style of writing a cohesive record of quality material beginning to end. Most bands write a record this vibrant early in their careers. “We’re So Nice” rocks harder than but has a similarly deft orchestration of melody and harmony one might expect out of The Zombies. It should come as no surprise that Tony Visconti, one of the minds behind shaping the best Bowie records, was on board for Evil Spirits. But even the most brilliant production can’t make up for subpar songwriting. Even if you didn’t know this was The Damned, so many of these songs are striking and timeless. “Shadow Evocation” is like a long lost cousin to something The Moody Blues might have written in the 60s—a windswept, imagination stirring mini-epic. What makes Evil Spirits such a remarkable album is that The Damned prove track to track that they know that if they relied on only one trick, one tempo, one songwriting style they’d bore themselves as much as us and that should count for something in any band much less one that could easily skate along on the laurels of its older classic material. The Damned have create what should in time be considered new classics with this record.

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Frog Eyes, Violent Psalms, Paper Bag Records

Frog Eyes – Violent Psalms – Paper Bag Records

For its final record, Frog Eyes has refined its raw noir Americana sound to a place of great clarity that brings the conflicted emotions into sharp focus. Carey Mercer still sounds like he’s shaken by the force of emotion even as he delivers his words with the confidence and quaver of a Bryan Ferry. With this album, more than previous Frog Eyes releases, each song sounds like a room, an environment, a psychological space Mercer enters with immediate, cogent commentary. At times, as with “Idea Man,” the music feels like the modern equivalent of an early-to-mid-70s Genesis record with the elegance of sonic detail, mysteriousness and grandeur. Maybe Mercer wasn’t listening to a steady diet of The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway or Foxtrot but this Frog Eyes swan song resonates with the artistic ambition and exploring the possibilities of one’s own songwriting and reach as a musician.

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Immersion, Sleepless, swim~

Immersion – Sleepless – swim~ 

Somewhere in England there’s a high tech train station going to the places where it sounds like Boards of Canada songs take place and this is the gentle effervescent music to put you in the mood to be in a place of peace and disconnect from the rough and tumble everyday world. The cycling tones of “Off Grid” seem aimed to help you reprogram your brain to check out of the ambient anomy that comes with life in the twenty-first century and take a trip through a languidly melodic soundscape for nearly fifty minutes before being dropped off in a beautiful place out in the country.

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The Milk Blossoms – Dry Heave the Heavenly – self-released

The Milk Blossoms – Dry Heave the Heavenly – self-released

With heartbreaking imagery throughout, this second album from The Milk Blossoms quickly becomes impossible to resist in drawing you in to tender yet intense emotional experiences that might be off putting to those with an aversion to psychological intimacy at this deep a level. But The Milk Blossoms never seem off putting. The band bares its alchemy of words and sounds with a brave openness borne of knowing you’re speaking truth or at least your truth—a quality that never goes out of style and which can never but completely duplicated as something idiosyncratic to the artist in question. The Milk Blossoms make pop music the way some people make something special for a loved one—with great attention to detail and with a care and affection and without expectation of anything in return. Was this written in an old lighthouse? A treehouse? A cottage in the woods waiting for the winter to thaw? Probably not but it has the feel of taking time out in isolation to allow the nuances and strength of feeling to emerge and find their perfect expression.

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Oryx, Stolen Absolution, Midnite Collective/Graven Earth

Oryx – Stolen Absolution – Midnite Collective/Graven Earth

This is the sound of the world around us crumbling and eroding and our inability or unwillingness to reverse course. Like the manifestation of Derrick Jensen’s Endgame. Oryx could have pummeled us with some doom-y deathgrind but there is simply a greater diversity of musical ideas here than all of that. The dynamics, for one, while often insistent, leave enough space so that the crushing avalanche of sound hits harder. It also means that, unlike some bands in the realm of extreme metal, Oryx’s songs never truly feel same-y. Across this album the duo pushes the boundaries of what the music can be by fully integrating brutal sonics with atmosphere. Stolen Absolution’s long stretches feel like an intense journey but none that leave you worn out for having taken them.

 

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Peach Kelli Pop, Gentle Leader, Mint Records

Peach Kelli Pop – Gentle Leader – Mint Records

Featuring what might be the album cover of the year for richness of content alone, Gentle Leader is ten songs in the noise pop vein. Upbeat, irreverent, bordering-on-twee-but-confident, Peach Kelli Pop’s songs have great melodic vocal harmonies and wide ranging rhythms. Closing track “Skylight” reveals the band’s experimental guitar edge hinted at earlier in the record confirming that Peach Kelli Pop has more to offer than the exquisite pop gems that have been a large part of its recorded catalog to date.

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Sugar Candy Mountain, Do Right, self-released

Sugar Candy Mountain – Do Right – self-released

The retro-futurist sonic flourishes across this album are reminiscent of a sunny Laurel Canyon psych Broadcast in a pop moment. Or perhaps like Death & Vanilla in that the melodies are nostalgic but the undertones and rhythms suggest a grounding outside the English-speaking music world. As the songs on the album fuzz and incandesce one wonders if the band watched a whole lot of reruns of The Ed Sullivan Show and nailed the vibe and the aesthetic when old Ed had on the hippest guests that didn’t have to compromise and could just shine on a program where the evils of the modern music industry weren’t so firmly in place to insidiously influence and water down popular music into the lowest common denominator product, rather when taste makers had taste and a sense of adventure. Do Right may be retro and couched in a sense of nostalgia but the details on album closer “Do You Know The Place,” and throughout the record, those qualities sound surprisingly fresh at a time when looking back four or five decades and more for inspiration is so played out.

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Synth_Drone collective, Tone Science, Symbolic Insight

Synth_Drone collective – Tone Science – Symbolic Insight

The track names on this album from Denver based synth supergroup Synth-Drone collective suggest a collective telling of life in some far flung future akin to Larry Niven’s Tales of Known Space but with the dark cloak of a minimalist, existentialist Tarkovsky science fiction film like Stalker. The name of the album doesn’t spell out but hints at the scientists of the time depicted in this album searching in earnest for the real science equivalent of the mythical first sound, the teleological ground zero vibration, that launched the universe into dynamic life because it has been discovered that the universe is dying and the only thing that can reverse the process is to discover the appropriate wavelengths to stop the impending doom of all and everything. Except someone in the scientific community knows it’s all for naught and just another attempt by sentient beings to interfere with the natural order of things with the hubristic notion that mortals can fix anything if they set their minds to it when in fact by our temporal nature and perspective we can never known enough to impact everything. Which is a downer but in the case of this album, it’s a beautifully compelling, drone-driven soundscape of a time when humans and other intelligent creatures have to learn to accept the inevitable.

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Wye Oak, The Louder I Call the Faster It Runs, Merge Records

Wye Oak – The Louder I Call, the Faster It Runs – Merge Records

There’s always been a bit of a cinematic quality to Wye Oak’s music and one might perhaps clumsily say the new album is to If Children what Fargo is to Blood Simple—not massively better but more sophisticated, more intentionally stylized with its newfound skill set and sonic palette. The melding of acoustic instruments and electronic production is so complete that the band seems to effortlessly bring to bear tones, rhythms, textures, melodies and atmospheres to craft songs as experiences. Wye Oak hasn’t ditched classic songwriting methods and models, it’s just taken those structures and filled them out with rich content. But what does Wye Oak have to say this time around? Refreshingly the band asks more questions than providing a set perspective. At a time when too many bold-yet-curiously-vapid-and-trite statements are made in the public sphere, it’s asking thoughtful questions and pondering issues about life and the world without a sense of one’s own certainty as a nod to the fact that we can’t know everything while not discrediting our own thoughts and feelings that makes this record remarkable. The title suggests chasing after goals while those goals we are encouraged to think of as ends in themselves become elusive and we are forced to really think about what it is we’re all on about and if the chase is worth it in the end. Because of that, The Louder I Call, the Faster It Runs really is the kind of record that needs to be out in the world questioning the dominant paradigm not with firebrand skepticism but compassionate curiosity for ourselves and others.

Best Shows in Denver 06/28/18 – 07/04/18

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Rubedo will headline its annual summer show at The Bluebird Theater this Saturday, June 30, 2018. Photo by Tom Murphy

Thursday | June 28, 2018

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Post Animal, photo by Tim Nagle

Who: Post Animal w/Slow Pulp and Serpentfoot
When: Thursday, 06.28, 8 p.m.
Where: Lost Lake
Why: Chicago’s Post Animal sounds like a power pop band that has adopted some sludge rock edginess and a lot of psychedelia to warp those edges into interesting directions. Its new album When I Think Of You In a Castle makes you wonder what would have happened had The Sweet and ELO merged because the exquisitely tuneful melodies rock with an earnestness out of step in this decade where many try and fail miserably at projecting that authenticity much less at sustaining the quality songwriting across an entire record. The changes of pace, dynamics, tone and atmosphere throughout the album also proves the band cares enough about its own art and potential listeners to not brand its career with a same-y aesthetic. Post Animal is a rock band but one that isn’t stuck in rock-ist clichés as its sonics are as transporting as they are riveting.

Who: Pretty Mouth video release w/Archipelaghost and Oxeye Daisy
When: Thursday, 06.28, 8 p.m.
Where: Ophelia’s Electric Soapbox
Why: Pretty Mouth is debuting its video for “This Poison Loves You” at this show at Ophelia’s. The Denver-based quartet combines the drawn out pacing and dynamics of alt-country with windswept dream pop, singer Marie Litton seemingly channeling the energy of ancestral spirits to effect a an emotional catharsis throughout the performance. Joining Pretty Mouth for the occasion is avant-garde pop outfit Archipelaghost and like-minded neo-alternative rock band Oxeye Daisy, which recently released an excellent self-titled debut engineered by Male Blonding frontman Noah Simons.

Friday | June 29, 2018

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Cop CIrcles circa 2014, photo by Tom Murphy

Who: Froth: A Rhinoceropolis fundraiser w/Superstar & Star, Cop Circles, Lux Hearse, J. Hamilton Isaacs, Mirror Fears, Data Rainbow, French Kettle Station
When: Friday, 06.29, 7 p.m.
Where: Redline Gallery
Why: Denver DIY space Rhinoceropolis, which was closed in December 2016 in the wake of the Ghost Ship tragedy in Oakland, California, for supposed fire code violations, has had multiple hurdles to overcome to re-open including paying rent on the building while it couldn’t be utilized and remodeling to bring the space to code. So this event is happening to help move that along to the final phase before the re-open. The usual suspects of former Rhino inhabitants and those who made the space what it was will be performing but the night will include a special appearance from Neville Lawrence who performs as Superstar & Star, who now lives in Omaha, Nebraska and claims to be the “undisputed king of home-disco.” Watch any of his videos and that’s pretty much impossible to dispute as his VCR 80s era home video aesthetic is much more likeable than one might expect in this age when many things are overproduced and essentially unrelatable.

Who: Strange Goo feat: Pheel, Mirror Fears and PterrorFractyl
When: Friday, 06.29, 8:30 p.m.
Where: Fort Greene
Why: This is the latest edition of Strange Goo which includes some of the most forward thinking experimental electronic artists in Denver. Tonight’s show includes dream noise/industrial pop artist Mirror Fears and post-dub techno soundsculptor PterrorFractyl.

Who: Sliver w/Parking With Planets, The Swamp Rats, Bailout, Theoretic 
When: Friday, 06.29, 8 p.m.
Where: Moe’s Original BBQ
Why: It would be enough to go see sludge/surf punkers The Swamp Rats. But it would also be worth your time to check out grunge punks Sliver. That despite singer Chris Mercer dropping the bomb on his own band and admitting that his own take on his own band’s style of punk: “Post hardcore that came out in the early 00’s and beyond is just the poppy emo shit with a lot of screaming.” We beg to differ and declare Sliver a refreshingly emotionally raw and honest rock band with a leg in both DC hardcore and NW proto-alternative rock. Sure, Mercer doesn’t do a great job of ripping off Bad Brains and Wipers but he tries and that has to count for something.

Who: Electric Funeral Fest III Day 1
When: Friday, 06.29, 3 p.m.
Where: 3 Kings Tavern, Hi-Dive and Mutiny Information Café
Why: This two day festival showcases some of the underground’s best extreme music bands from Denver and elsewhere including Spirit Adrift, Eagle Twin, R.I.P., Aseethe, Amplified Heat, Forming the Void, Love Gang, Urn., Loom, Necropanther, Smokey Mirror, Twingiant, Echo Beds, Augur, Green Druid, Keef Duster and The Rare Breed. Someone also convinced Denver thrash punks Speedwolf to reunite for tonight’s line up. Kudos.

Saturday | June 30, 2018

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

Who: Rubedo w/Holophrase, R A R E B Y R D $, Picture the Waves and Mace Windu
When: Saturday, 06.30, 7 p.m.
Where: The Bluebird Theater
Why: In what has become at least a semi-annual tradition, Rubedo headlines The Bluebird Theater in early summer. The Denver band, parts prog, psychedelic rock, noise rock and avant funk, has been at the forefront of one wing of the local DIY scene for years. For these events Rubedo brings together some of the more interesting bands out of the underground like experimental electro-downtempo band Holophrase and the soulful and lush hip-hop of visionaries of a utopian yet grounded, loving and compassionate future, R A R E B Y R D $.

Who: Electric Funeral Fest III Day 2
When: Saturday, 06.30, 3 p.m.
Where: 3 Kings Tavern, Hi-Dive and Mutiny Information Café
Why: This second day of heavy and extreme music includes sets from bands across the front range and beyond: Weedeater, Primitive Man, Zeke, Sierra, Duel, Grey Gallows, Cloud Catcher, The Munsens, Communion, Crud, Space in Time, White Dog, Vexing, Pink Fuzz, Wizzerd, Smolder & Burn, Alone and Still Valley

Who: Machinefest w/16Volt, Machinewerx and Society Burning
When: Saturday, 06.30, 6 p.m.
Where: Outdoor location in Wellington, CO
Why: Tempting to call this an event linked to the local Burning Man community and maybe ultimately it is, but in truth it’s an industrial music and sculpture performance event in the middle of nowehere (map on the event page). Coming out for the occasion is infamous/legendary industrial rock band 16 Volt.

Who: Magic Sword w/Church Fire and EVP
When: Saturday, 06.30, 7 p.m.
Where: The Marquis Theater
Why: This show would be worth attending for Denver bands Church Fire and EVP alone because they’re both pushing forward the aesthetics of dance music and electronic pop with energetic and emotionally stirring performances. But Boise, Idaho’s Magic Sword doesn’t make it here nearly enough with their space knight stage personae and one-would-think-wack-but-never-is combination of 80s prog metal guitar and sweeping science fiction movie soundtrack synthscapes. Camp is pretty played out these days but Magic Sword has taken it to another level that makes it endearing like you’re in on the camp so it’s no longer a joke but just fun.

Sunday | July 1, 2018

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Immersion, photo by Toby Mason

Who: Immersion w/Brother Saturn
When: Sunday, 07.01, 7 p.m.
Where: Larimer Lounge
Why: Immersion is the ambient project comprised of Malka Spigel of Israeli/Belgian experimental post-punk band Minimal Compact and her husband Colin Newman who more than a few people may know as being in Wire. In the 80s their respective bands surely rubbed shoulders in the UK and the rest of Europe and in the early 90s when the duo created Immersion as a way to further explore beat-driven, non-rock music it entered a realm of sound and atmosphere that might have been associated with minimalist IDM and ambient/abstract atmospheric artists of the day like Seefeel and Future Sound of London. The group’s recent albums, including 2018’s Sleepless, have shown a willingness for more overt use of guitar to create texture and tone.

Who: Janelle Monáe w/St. Beauty
When: Sunday, 07.01, 6:30 p.m.
Where: Paramount Theatre
Why: Janelle Monáe’s new album Dirty Computer spent a decade percolating and incubating in her rich imagination. Apparently she felt as though she had to present an image safe for public consumption, as it were. The album is even more a concept album than any of her other excellent offerings over the past several years and it tells a story of personal evolution and self-acceptance in the face of a world that tries to define you and impose meaning on you especially if you’re an “entertainer” and black and a woman. The short film Monáe released in the wake of the album gives vivid life to the story with Monáe as an android named Jane 57821 struggling against a dystopian society toward a more open and compassionate future. While her music has always been sonically rich and evocative, with Dirty Computer, Monáe has pushed her art beyond previous boundaries by revisiting some of her perennial themes in creative new ways.

Who: Canyon of the Skull, Giant of the Mountain, Voideater, A Light Among Many
When: Sunday, 07.01, 8 p.m.
Where: Hi-Dive
Why: If you made it to Electric Funeral Fest III but just want one more night of the heavy, this show will more than do with deep, atmospheric doom act Canyon of the Skull from Austin alongside the more experimental, ambient metal of A Light Among Many.

Who: Nevayda Gunn (last show), Horns and Spyderland
When: Sunday, 07.01, 5 – 8 p.m.
Where: Goosetown Tavern
Why: When a lot of rock bands were riding the psych bandwagon and making fairly mundane music that was essentially pop or straight ahead rock with some reverb and yelping, Nevayda Gunn were pushing boundaries of what the music could be and left us one great statement of where it was and where it could have gone with its 2016 album Glitchkraft; A Human Experience. Maybe a slightly art-pretentious title but very much worth a listen. This is their last show. Catch members in Archipelaghost.

Monday | July 2, 2018

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Dirty Few circa 2013, photo by Tom Murphy

Who: Dirty Few 7” release w/Wyldlife, The Bad Engrish, The Born Readies, DJ Ross Taylor Murphy
When: Monday, 07.02, 7 p.m.
Where: Larimer Lounge
Why: Dirty Few is releasing its new 7” EP, Volcom Sessions out on Snappy Little Numbers (you can order the 7” here). While the band has a deserved reputation for being a rowdy party band one thing that is often overlooked is the songwriting. Somewhere between power pop and post-Reatards garage punk, Dirty Few’s fuzz pop has never sounded more focused and and tuneful. It sounds like someone in the band has been listening to a lot of Thin Lizzy but that’s no bad thing. The vocal harmonies really make the songs this time around and this new record represents the band at its current peak.

Tuesday | July 3, 2018

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Pale Sun, photo by Tom Murphy

Who: Michael Rault w/Pale Sun and Bear and the Beasts
When: Tuesday, 07.03, 8 p.m.
Where: Globe Hall
Why: Michael Rault, though Canadian, sounds like he spent some time hanging out in Laurel Canyon in the mid-1970s—gently psychedelic pop compositions with a twinge of country rock running through them are the hallmarks of his sound. We’ve heard a lot of that sort of thing in recent years but Rault happens to be better at the songwriting end than most other people mining similar territory. Also on the bill is Denver-based shoegaze band Pale Sun whose cosmic soundscaping has some edge to its hypnotic melodies.

Wednesday | July 4, 2018

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Flowering Blade, photo by Tom Murphy

Who: Spectral Voice, Superstition, Flowering Blade, Many Blessings
When: Wednesday, 07.04, 8 p.m.
Where: Meadowlark Bar
Why: Spectral Voice is a Denver-based death metal band whose instincts wend toward a more stark sound. And it’s in good company for this show with Many Blessings, the ambient/noise project of Primitive Man vocalist/guitarist Ethan McCarthy, and Aaron Miller of Cadaver Dog doing his solo noise act Flowering Blade. So, musically speaking, all the negative vibes with none of the negative consequences.