Screen Memories, John Maus’ 2017 album, is titled as a reference to distorted memories from childhood and how so many of our memories now and our sense of time are distorted and even mediated through the screens of our everyday lives. That Maus tends to compose his songs through the ecclesiastical modes of medieval music as explored again by late 70s and early 80s synth pop pioneers like OMD, Human League and Gary Numan would seem to give his own music a quality of being of a time while also being outside it.
In contrast to the aforementioned heady intellectual concepts, Maus’ live show brought those sounds to life in a seething, visceral, powerfully emotional way. Known for this kind of performance, Maus seems to tell us that maybe we do live with mediated experience at this time but that it needn’t rule our lives and that the emotions we feel and the connections with have with others directly or through own recognition of what it must be like to witness and experience the atrocities of the world don’t have to be some abstract concept we can dismiss because we can so often just understand it as another part of the entertainment landscape, especially the way much of news is framed and presented. Maus’ highly charged performance, as though bodily wracked with the harrowing realities of the subjects of his songs, both broke the purely entertainment level of the show by being too intense and raw to truly see as a concert as well as the conceit that entertainment needs to just be art and can’t aspire to strike deeper than simple aesthetic stimulation.
As Maus’s show progressed and he allowed himself to manifest the spirit of the music more fully it was an example of the Theatre of Cruelty in that Maus didn’t spare himself emotionally and seemed willing to break into his own subconscious to deliver something more primal than a conventional pop song. Maus is often credited with being a pioneer of hypnagogic pop and it’s easy to see why as the songs, especially later in the set, felt like a waking dream in which emotions and thoughts that maybe one doesn’t often let fly in public flowed freely—a psychic cleansing too rare in live music.
Who:John Maus w/LKDLX When: Friday, 01.19, 8 p.m. Where: The Marquis Theater Why: John Maus may be known to some as a former keyboardist in Ariel Pink’s band but his early solo albums, 2006’s Songs and 2007’s Love is Real became a kind of blueprint for the chillwave/hypnogogic pop movement. Using vintage synth sounds and the pop aesthetics of many 80s New Wave bands and a hazy lo-fi production style, likely of necessity given limitations of available equipment as well as a conscious effort in that direction. With 2011’s We Must Become the Pitiless Censors of Ourselves, Maus cleaned up some of his soundscapes without losing a focus on using echoing melodies to convey a sense of a recreation of a memory of a sound and a place while giving it an emotional intimacy and immediacy. With 2017’s Screen Memories injects even greater clarity and stronger musical lines in his production, giving a listening experience not unlike finding an especially clean print of a forgotten, unlikely, Alejandro Jodorowsky and Kenneth Anger collab epic science fiction road film.
Who:Screwtape EP release w/Sysco Yola, Raw Breed and Fat Chance When: Friday, 01.19, 7 p.m. Where: Larimer Lounge Why: Screwtape is a Denver punk band that seems to perfectly balance the explosive aggression of post-hardcore with a driving energy and pointed political commentary. And one of the most impressively visceral live bands out of anywhere right now. For this show the group is releasing a limited run EP in an edition of 25.
Who:Necropanther w/Bodies We’ve Buried and Morgue Whore When: Friday, 01.19, 9 p.m. Where: Streets of London Why: This is a show featuring what might be described as “extreme” metal bands that didn’t forget that good songwriting makes them more effective. Necropanther is on the more thrash end of that spectrum while Morgue Whore more in the death metal vein.
Who: Bluebook, Porlolo and Whipporwill When: Saturday, 01.20, 7 p.m. Where: Leon Gallery Why: Bluebook has generally been the solo project of Julie Davis (Seven Hats, Nathaniel Rateliff and the Nightsweats) and a perfect blend of downtempo, jazz and avant-folk with Davis on upright bass and layers of sound. She regularly has collaborators drawn from various ends of the Denver music scene. Porlolo is a showcase for the songwriting of Erin Roberts whose songs, while seemingly playful, have a thoughtfulness and insight and dry humor that can take you by surprise with its intensity in a way you probably need.
Who:Emily Wells w/The Milk Blossoms When: Sunday, 01.21, 7 p.m. Where: Larimer Lounge Why: The concept of the one person band has been done many times well. An Emily Wells performance is like seeing a one person orchestra. The level of planning and logistics involved were probably a product of necessity in not depending on other musicians to provide any of the components of the music and years in the making. But it also doesn’t come off like a gimmick as Wells conveys a sense of being immersed in her own songs. Using cello, viola, drums, synths, samples and her own voice, which cuts through the soundscape so vividly, Wells tells stories imbued with a sense of the mythical and the deeply personal cloaked in an American noir. Her latest album is 2017’s In the Hot. Opening he show is Denver’s The Milk Blossoms, a band that also uses what could be seen as disparate elements inventively to compose heartfelt yet dreamlike songs. Michelle Rocque and Harmony Rose have very different but powerfully complimentary voices that are about to articulate a richness of emotion that enhances the band’s already imaginative lyrics.