Queen City Sounds Podcast Ep. 7: Plack Blague and the Wild Wild Midwest Music Underground

Plack Blague in October 2018, photo by Tom Murphy

Plack Blague started as a side project of grindcore outfit Wasteoid. Drummer Raws Schlesinger wanted an outlet for his interest in electronic music, noise and dance music and Plack Blague became, for about a decade, the occasional vehicle for that when it launched on Halloween 2001 and a pretext for Scheslinger to play some of the weirder shows he would have been going to anyway. With the untimely passing of Jeffmetal Sayers of Wasteoid in September 2011, Schesinger went on to focus his energy on Plack Blague and hone its craft, visual style and performances and along the way went from something of a local and regional legend to a star of the American underground able to fit bills of multiple musical genres and one of the most powerful and compelling live acts running. Depending on which record you pick up or show you catch you might hear more of the noise side of Plack Blague or more of the electronic dance aspect but in place is the leather daddy gear and Schlesinger’s dynamic stage show comparable to a more industrial and noise Big Freedia—the same raw intensity and infectiously fun energy. Schlesinger also regularly issues aesthetically striking merch and does t-shirt screenings for himself and other artists. But as you will hear in our recent interview with Raws he has a strong sense of community and connection to underground music culture both within the rich history of Lincoln, Nebraska punk and extreme music and the larger culture beyond his regional scene.

You can witness the spectacle of Plack Blague for yourself at the Hi-Dive this Saturday, November 6, 2021 for the 4 year anniversary of the Eventually It Will Kill You label along with Kontravoid, Many Blessings and Closed Tear. But until then, please listen to our extended interview with Raws Schlesinger below and hear about his deep roots in Lincoln punk and the modern era of underground music in America and beyond. And o check out Plack Blague’s music and order merch, visit the Bandcamp page.

Best Shows in Denver November 2021

Julien Baker performs at Gothic Theatre on Nov 13, photo by Alyssa Gafkjen
Brandy Clark, photo by Chris Phelps

Wednesday | 11.03
What: Brandy Clark w/Kelsey Waldon
When: 7 p.m.
Where: Lost Lake
Why: If famous country music stars performing songs you’ve written is a sign of your significance as an artist, Brandy Clark has had a resoundingly successful career. Kenny Rogers, Reba McEntire, LeAnn Rimes, Kacey Musgraves, Keith Urban and Darius Rucker have all performed songs penned by Clark. Her critically acclaimed 2020 album Your Life Is a Record garnered her accolades for her own work even from more critical reviewers because her arrangements and thoughtful lyrics were undeniably well crafted and affecting even if you’re not a fan of country music or acoustic pop. Producer Jay Joyce encouraged Clark to expand her musical range with sounds and ideas that brought a quality to the songs that pushed beyond the boundaries of Clark’s previous work for arguably the best record of her career thus far. The 2020 pandemic put plenty of plans for touring and promoting records on hold so this is a chance to see the award winning singer and songwriter at an intimate venue.

Wolf Alice, photo by Jordan Hemmingway

Wednesday and Thursday | 11.03 and 11.04
What:
Wolf Alice w/The Blossom
When: 7 p.m.
Where: Bluebird Theater
Why: Wolf Alice is hitting its stride with its new album Blue Weekend. Earlier records like 2017’s Visions of a Life and 2015’s My Love is Cool showcased the music of a band learning its powers and creative instincts in often thrilling ways during some years when too many rock bands were trying to cop some of that classic rock or psychedelic garage cachet. Wolf Alice walked a finer line of hard rock and atmospherics fortified by singer Ellie Rowsell’s sometimes gritty vocals yet always emotionally vibrant and nuanced vocals. The new album reveals a band that has not become stuck in what one might expect from previous efforts. Swells in a song don’t inevitably lead to a glorious blowout, rather Wolf Alice takes left field turns in its arrangements perhaps a challenge to foster their growth as a band with consistently compelling results.

Black Dice, photo by Black Dice

Thursday | 11.04
What: Black Dice w/cindygod and H Lite
When: 8 p.m.
Where: Hi-Dive
Why: Black Dice was an integral part of New York City underground music in the late 90s and 2000s. Its members had come up through punk but took the spirit of open possibilities suggested by that music to do whatever the wanted to. Anything could be an instrument, any rhythmic idea could be made to work. Even ideas about how structure and patterns would emerge through a kind of sound collage cut-up technique that one might compare favorably with the work of Autechre and Aphex Twin. Key to the band’s creative approach and aesthetic was visual art concepts and its various album covers have been designed by members of the band in a style that hits you like graffiti by way of the Situationist International. The band’s methods of composition and expression proved influential to peers like Animal Collective, a band that on the surface makes an updated form of 90s indie pop but like that music truly experiments with the form and musical substance of the songwriting with forays into noise and sampling that enriched the palette of sounds and dynamics available in crafting songs.

In 2012 Black Dice released its then most recent album Mr. Impossible after which its members took time to pursue other projects, Eric Copeland releasing several solo works as well. With the pandemic thus far time seems to have stretched and compressed for most people and what may feel like a handful of years in the living it can stretch to several and in 2021 Black Dice released its latest record Mod Prog Sic. It is classic Black Dice as a free flowing parade of ideas, textures, rhythm and playful tone and signal processing like some futuristic hip-hop/EBM fusion psychedelic beatmaking. We recently had a chance to speak with longtime member Aaron Warren about his early musical days growing up in California and his formative years as an active member of the punk scene in Boulder and Denver in the 90s before ending up in NYC in pursuit of furthering his education and ending up in the city at a time of great creative ferment. Listen to the interview on the Queen City Sounds Podcast.

Thursday | 11.04
What: The Black Angels w/L.A. Witch
When: 8 p.m.
Where: Ogden Theatre
Why: The Black Angels came together and established its individual style of psychedelic rock before that became too trendy in the 2010s and has been able to develop, refine and then evolve its aesthetic across multiple records. Obvious influences drawn from early psychedelic rock, shoegaze, Middle Eastern drones and compound time signatures out of that music and perhaps a touch of African influence along with industrial and the avant-garde has merely made for a musical career that is much more creatively varied than seems obvious with a live show that is consistently entrancing. Opening is the like-minded L.A. Witch and their engaging take on blending 60s psychedelic pop with noir vibes.

Soccer Mommy, photo by Brian Ziff

Thursday | 11.04
What: Soccer Mommy w/Alexalone
When: 7 p.m.
Where: Gothic Theatre
Why: Probably virtually every musician touring in 2021 has the same story of an album released early in 2020 or slated or release that year only to have all forward momentum in getting the music out there slowed down or stopped due to the pandemic. When Soccer Mommy’s Color Theory was released at the end of February 2020 it garnered some critical acclaim for its winsome, melancholic pop songs in which the songwriter’s arrangements expanded to give her short lyrical lines expansive and often shimmering background textures paired with ethereal string arrangements. There is a pensive and yearning quality to singer/songwriter Sophie Allison’s words and vocal performance that elevates the music beyond much of the sometimes interchangeable indie music offerings you might hear on a playlist in a public space. Allison is not stranger to luminous and introspective songwriting, but right now she is taking her craft into deeper emotional territory than her admittedly excellent 2018 debut album Clean.

Band of Horses, photo by Stevie and Sarah Gee

Thursday | 11.04
What: Band of Horses w/Miya Folick
When: 7 p.m.
Where: Mission Ballroom
Why: Band of Horses is a band that has managed to make uplifting yet incredibly heartbreaking music with undeniable earworm melodies without losing the emotional impact for the last 17 years. The group formed after the respected indie pop band Carissa’s Wierd split in 2004 and quickly established itself as purveyors of thoughtful songs imbued with an upbeat energy and great forward momentum while never dipping into the realm of the hokey or obnoxious positivity. Probably because the lyrics have consistently hit as grounded and insightful even when written in good fun. Expect the new Band of Horses album Things Are Great to drop in January 2022 but for now you can maybe catch a good deal of that new material live until then.

Friday | 11.05
What: Eventually It Will Kill You 4 Year Anniversary Pre-Show: Wisteria w/Candy Apple, Deadluv and Vitrina
When: 8 p.m.
Where: Hi-Dive
Why: Brian Castillo has been involved in DJ nights over the years and releasing a few records here and there. But he may have found his niche when he launched Eventually It Will Kill You four years ago releasing mostly experimental music and darkwave like the 2018 reissue of the 1983 death rock classic by Denver band Your Funeral and their single “I Want To Be You” b/w “April Fool’s Day” and releases from Many Blessings, the noise side project of Primitive Man’s Ethan McCarthy, chicago darkwave band Funeral Door and dark minimal synth group Child of Night from Columbus, OH. For the occasion of the anniversary “El Brian” put together two shows including this Pre-Show which includes performances by Pittsburgh based post-punk band Wisteria and jagged, jangly Denver post-punkers by way of hardcore Candy Apple.

Plack Blague in October 2018, photo by Tom Murphy

Saturday | 11.06
What: Eventually It Will Kill You 4 Year Anniversary: Kontravoid, Plack Blague, Many Blessings and Closed Tear
When: 8 p.m.
Where: Hi-Dive
Why: For the second night of the 4 year anniversary of Eventually It Will Kill You you can catch some of the stars of underground darkwave and noise with EBM techno artist Kontravoid, industrial disco legend Plack Blague (listen to our new interview with Raws Scheslinger of Plack Blague from our podcast on Bandcamp), the ambient noise stylings of Many Blessings and the gloomy, post-punky dream pop of Closed Tear.

Saturday | 11.06
What: Dan Deacon w/Alex Silva and Patrick McMinn
When: 8 p.m.
Where: Bluebird Theater
Why: Dan Deacon’s 2020 album Mystic Familiar was praised as a solid synth pop album but it sounds more like Deacon has really honed his songwriting after a career of pushing musical ideas ever forward. The instrumental performances have a nuance and energy with a granular level of musical detail that can be enjoyed for simply the sheer joy and dynamic expressiveness Deacon seems to bring to his music. But one has to marvel at the way Deacon orchestrates complex passages and textures to into majestic pop songs that uplift the spirit and living up to the name of the album. His live shows are often a collaborative affair and even with his music surely Deacon will encourage those that show up to become involved in spontaneous and creative ways that don’t happen at other shows.

Gus Dapperton, photo by Jess Farran

Saturday | 11.06
What: Gus Dapperton w/spill tab at The Gothic
When: 6 p.m.
Where: Gothic Theatre
Why: Forget the hair style, the jewelry, the eyeliner and Gus Dapperton’s stylish sartorial proclivities, the songwriter’s 2020 album Orca is brimming with touching and delicate songs with real insight into the vulnerabilities and haunting thoughts that come to you in your lowest moments. His spare musical arrangements give the vocalization of the lyrics space to issue forth and sit in the air like lingering melodies. It’s an unexpectedly interesting effect from a songwriter who can come across to anyone that hasn’t sat down with the music as saccharine pop but the guy’s music is anything but that.

Uniform, photo by Ebru Yildiz

Monday | 11.08
What: Uniform, Portrayal of Guilt and Body Void
When: 7 p.m.
Where: HQ
Why: Uniform is an industrial hardcore band from New York that came out of the city’s punk and extreme music scene. Its fiery and abrasive electronic onslaught articulates issues of existential confusion and frustration with the destructive forces of society and within our own minds and clawing a path to catharsis. The group’s 2020 album Shame (Sacred Bones Records) is perhaps its most accessible but also its most deeply personal and raw. Also, listen to our podcast episode with an interview with vocalist Michael Berdan on Bandcamp. Opening the show is the great experimental hardcore group Portrayal of Guilt. With music sitting somewhere betwixt black metal, grindcore, hardcore and noise, Portrayal of Guilt consistently delivers scorching songs of poetic yet abrasive beauty. Its new album Christfucker is due out November 5, 2021 on Run For Cover Records. Body Void’s scathing, outraged doom just seems like the perfect complement to the whole show and its 2021 album Bury Me Beneath This Rotting Earth out on Prosthetic Records is not short on tortured crushers.

Mamalarky, photo by Sara Cath

Tuesday | 11.09
What: Slow Pulp w/Mamalarky
When: 7 p.m.
Where: Globe Hall
Why: When many bands in the 2010s were evoking a bit of 1990s fuzz rock and grunge, Slow Pulp took a hint of that but went in more a direction of atmospheric pop and experimental soundscapes as a structure for its more hushed and introspective songs. Tourmates Mamalarky from Atlanta is on a similar wavelength with songs of unconventional structure, rhythmic strategy and tonal palette. Like maybe its members came up listening to early Liz Phair demos, Broadcast, Virginia Wing, Deerhoof and Electrelane. The group’s outstanding 2020 self-titled album never gives you a chance to get too settled into a sound but draws you along for a ride into a colorfully dreamlike realm of lush pop adventures.

Wednesday | 11.10
What: Nothing w/Frankie Rose and Enumclaw
When: 7 p.m.
Where: Marquis Theater
Why: Nothing has been on a great trajectory of developing into and beyond punk-influenced shoegaze reaching a high state of creativity on its 2020 album The Great Dismal. Whorling sheets of guitar drone bursting up and receding like waves punctuated by electronic crackles and an aesthetic as much informed by electronic music as by rock at this point. Frankie Rose has spent time in such bands as Crystal Stilts, Dum Dum Girls, Vivian Girls and Beverly but her solo albums is where she has perhaps been most free to utilize her imaginative guitar work, production and songwriting. Though these days she’s also in a band with Matthew Hord of Pop. 1280 called Fine Place which is more in the realm of dub-influenced darkwave pop. So it may be awhile before you get a chance to see a solo Frankie Rose performance for a bit. Enumclaw is one of the few modern bands that sounds like it was heavily influenced by Dinosaur Jr without ripping the band off and injecting a good deal of fuzzy dream pop like they listened to The Smiths but found a way to mix Morrissey out of the proceedings.

Wednesday | 11.10
What: Armand Hammer w/Trayce Chapman and Time (from Calm.)
When: 8 p.m.
Where: Hi-Dive
Why: The psychedelic sounds in the beats to Haram, the 2021 album by Armand Hammer with The Alchemist, is reminiscent of the ways cLOUDDEAD tapped into subconscious spaces to evoke a mood that complements the surreal vibe of the lyrics. Fans of Gonjasufi and early Sole records will appreciate the way this pairing of artists collage tone and texture to create great depth of sound and expression. Plus opening is Time whose existential and deeply philosophical and playful lyrics are an antidote to the programmed ignorance of the American education system and the current state of the culture.

Silverstein, photo by Juan Angel

Thursday and Friday | 11.11 and 11.12
What: Silverstein w/The Plot In You and Can’t Swim
When: 6 p.m.
Where: Bluebird Theater and Gothic Theatre
Why: Silverstein is one of the few bands that walked the line between pop punk and screamo without sounding a parody of itself and where the distorted, screaming vocals really did sound like a primal expression of an intense peak of feeling in the context of the songs. What has kept the band worth a listen is the songwriting and how, as is the case with the better pop punk, the most critical examination in the lyrics is aimed at one’s own shortcomings and finding a way to get through those moments of feelings of failure and intense self-judgment rather than lash out at someone else like a challenge to oneself to truly feel these things you don’t want to in an attempt to be a better person even if you fall short because life and self-betterment is often a process of reworking habits and not some perfect formula to follow.

Friday | 11.12
What: Glacial Tomb, Noctambulist, Necrosophik Abyss — CANCELED
When: 8 p.m.
Where: Hi-Dive
Why: Glacial Tomb and Noctambulist are two of the best and most brutal and imaginative technical death metal bands out of Denver at the moment and if that’s your thing they’re both on the same bill.

Phony Ppl, photo courtesy the artists

Friday | 11.12
What: Phony Ppl w/Kent Washington
When: 7 p.m.
Where: Marquis Theater
Why: Brooklyn’s Phony Ppl have done some music with Megan Thee Stallion but their own music is a richly expressive sort of art soul music and jazz-inflected hip-hop without making boundaries between any of those styles. There is a gentleness to the music that makes it instantly accessible even though the specific content is very musically sophisticated and challenging. These five guys take heady musical elements and ideas and bring to it a loose and playful spirit that sounds like it should be music for the kind of arty dramas that have yet to be made about the poignant periods in the lives of regular people.

Julien Baker, photo by Alysse Gafkjen

Saturday | 11.13
What: Julien Baker w/Dehd
When: 8 p.m.
Where: Gothic Theatre
Why: Little Oblivions is not the album a lot of people were expecting from Julien Baker. Her first two records of hushed and introspective folk rock had an undeniable emotional power in part because of Baker’s own stirringly emotional vocals. For this record Baker expanded the palette of sounds including more electronic elements and more expansive, brash soundscapes that seem perfectly suited to what really feels like a burst of expressing emotions kept under wraps for too long yearning to be let out. There is an intensity to the record that almost makes Baker’s previous albums seem safe by comparison if they too weren’t informed by a strong emotional honesty themselves. Easily one of the top albums of the year in the realm of rock. Opening is psychedelic surf pop band Dehd from Chicago. Don’t let that short descriptor throw you off because Dehd performs with an often unsettling intensity as well for a band whose moody music is not short on nervy energy too.

Saturday | 11.13
What: Nitzer Ebb w/DJ Eli
Where: Oriental Theater
Why: EBM/industrial legends Nitzer Ebb don’t tour much these days and no matter which of their music you’ve heard the live band is more scrappy, more visceral and more powerful than you could really expect. Their 1987 album That Total Age remains a stone classic of 1980s electronic industrial music.

Big Dopes, photo by Jake Cox

Saturday | 11.13
What: Big Dopes album release w/Bellhoss
When: 9 p.m.
Where: Roxy on Broadway
Why: Big Dopes is one of the best Denver bands not enough people know about yet. Its new EP Destination Wedding picks up where its outstanding 2019 album Crimes Against Gratitude left off with affecting lyrics and exquisitely crafted melodies. Fans of C86 era pop, Magnetic Fields and Carissa’s Wierd will likely appreciate the band’s attention to sonic detail and knack for a poetic and thoughtful turn of phrase. Also on the bill is the utterly idiosyncratic pop group Bellhoss. Although many have compared Bellhoss and singer Becky Hostetler, at least according to the project’s website, to artists like Waxahatchee and Soccer Mommy, Bellhoss is weirder and more interesting than those comparisons would suggest (though both artists are obviously notable in their own right) and often comes off like some kind of weirdo indie pop thing with intricate and eccentrically shoegaze-y guitar. Really a show with two of the most compelling bands in the Denver scene post-2017 when the music scene in the Mile High City started to severely fragment even as it expanded.

Monday | 11/15
What: Surfbort — CANCELED
When: 8 p.m.
Where: The Coast (Fort Collins)
Why: Surfbort is a weirdo punk band that’s probably a little too rough around the edges and real for a lot of people who call themselves fans of punk but it’s also one of the most interesting and powerful bands in the world of punk today. They don’t have a lot of releases but its new single “FML” has a strange music video that includes Fred Armisen of Portlandia fame whose own background in punk and his own unusual sense of humor vibed with that of this New York band.

Monday | 11.15
What: Exhumed w/Creeping Death, Bewitcher and Victim ov Fire
Where: Oriental Theater
Why: Indeed, it’s influential deathgrind band Exhumed from San Jose, California. Though the music can be brutal and forbidding in a way that might be reminiscent of Cannibal Corpse it nevertheless performs the music with great energy informed by a sense of irony and humor with lyrics often aimed at the corrupt American political and economic system that has metastasized into an oligarchy with a wide gulf between the ultra rich and the poorest members of society.

Paul Jacobs, photo courtesy the artist

Tuesday | 11.16
What: Tonstartssbandht, Paul Jacobs and Wally
When: 8 p.m.
Where: Hi-Dive
Why: Between its gentle lo-fi psychedelia and almost found sound collage aesthetic, Tonstartssbandht from Orlando, Florida is a different animal in the realm of modern psychedelic pop. Andy and Edwin White draw on a broad spectrum of influences from more traditional music to classical music, classic rock and they have a High Rise tribute band called High Rise II. So even though their relatively pastoral 2021 album Petunia can come off just shy of too weird and gritty for yacht rock there are plenty of bizarro nuggets in the mix to keep it interesting. Paul Jacobs’ 2021 album Pink Dogs on the Green Grass gave us a solid batch of wefting and warping psych pop that somehow both hits the ears reminiscent of both Unknown Mortal Orchestra, Clarke and the Himselfs and Odessey & Oracle period The Zombies. The textural quality of his guitar sound keeps us grounded as vocals and wind sounds and even the percussion carries us away into ethereal realms of daydream wonder. In the case of both artists it seems odd to consider how they might pull this stuff off live and yet they do.

Black Marble in May 2017, photo by Tom Murphy

Tuesday | 11.16
What: Black Marble w/Voight
When: 7 p.m.
Where: HQ
Why: Black Marble has spent some years perfecting a sonic equivalent of Polaroid photos cast in the colors of lo-fi, New Wave-y post-punk. The 2021 album Fast Idol finds Black Marble less in the realm of entrancing gloom pop and more in some upbeat mood with a sound that makes one think about what forbidden music might have sounded like if it was the USA rather than the USSR that cracked down on the immoral popular music of a decadent other empire. Live the music hits with full fidelity resulting in two different experiences of the music. Denver’s Voight really wants to be a dark techno band playing in dark rooms in the neo-urban decay but is still stuck in industrial shoegaze mode. And yet remains one of the best bands in the Mile High City because the music isn’t rote, predictable, safe pabulum and ferocious live.

Tuesday | 11.16
What: Nick Lowe’s Quality Rock & Roll Revue w/Los Straightjackets
Where: Oriental Theater
Why: Nick Lowe is one of the pioneers of power pop. He would have sealed that reputation had he remained in Rockpile with one of the other greats of that form of music Dave Edmunds. But Lowe’s solo career speaks for itself with soulful pop rock classics like “Cruel to Be Kind” and “I Love the Sound of Breaking Glass.” This run of music is a nod to the sounds that influenced Lowe from rockabilly to soul and beyond.

Wednesday | 11.17
What: Caribou w/Jessy Lanza
When: 7 p.m.
Where: Boulder Theater
Why: Dan Snaith has written some of the most inventive yet accessible electronic music for nearly 20 years as Caribou. Employing traditionally acoustic instrumentation alongside synths/electronic instruments and programming, Snaith taps into some of the same emotional pools of yearning, introspective pondering and nostalgia as the later chillwave and bedroom pop composers he influenced directly or indirectly. His most recent album Suddenly (2020) seemed more somber than other releases but still flowing with hazy yet bright melodies. Even in the most down moments, Snaith incorporates a playful creativity in the mix to convey the nuances and complexity of existence and how we experience life.

Kraak & Smaak, photo by Michael Mees

Wednesday | 11/24
What: Kraak & Smaak w/Capyac
When: 8 p.m.
Where: Marquis Theater
Why: Dutch musical production trio Kraak & Smaak are masters of blending a tropical beat with layers of synth melody modified in real time to give a sense of fluid movement giving the music the aural equivalent of 3D visuals. The effect being an enveloping music with a cinematic sensibility like a somehow benevolent spy movie funk without any violence or skullduggery involved, just adventure and relaxing moods. It’s most recent EP, Scirocco, is like an unlikely but satisfying blend of Ennio Morricone, Boards of Canada and Simple Minds. If the band’s recent live streams are any indication, this current tour will be like seeing some long lost electro funk great of the past playing music that seems familiar yet fresh.

The Velveteers, photo by David Mermilliod

Friday | 11.26
What: The Velveteers w/Dreadnought and Dry Ice
When: 7 p.m.
Where: Gothic Theatre
Why: The Velveteers were a promising band from early on in their career in Denver and Boulder playing house shows, small clubs and DIY spaces. While many bands were trying for that classic rock sound, The Velveteers were rapidly outgrowing those early influences into their own sound with fuzzed out riffs and surging song dynamics that made the band sound like it was taking off in multiple directions lending its performances a fiery energy. Through developing the group, creating their own music videos and a little bit of touring, The Velveteers came to the attention of Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys who offered to produce the trio’s new album Nightmare Daydream. Sure it has expert production and clearly the band got some polish in Auerbach’s studio but this set of songs also sound so focused yet as thrillingly effusive as it ever has.

Friday | 11.26
What: Baroness
When: 8 p.m.
Where: Globe Hall
Why: Savannah, Georgia’s Baroness never got to tour behind its 2019 album Gold & Grey for the reasons most bands didn’t do a lot of touring in 2020 and a good chunk of 2021. But now the group with new guitarist Gina Gleason will get a chance to perform older favorites as well as material from the aforementioned album showcasing a seemingly different approach to songwriting different from the brash, bombastic and playful style of previous records. John Baizley’s vocals still soar with great expressive control but the music seems more tied in with the rhythms and beautiful minor chord progressions so that when the songs engage into expansive choruses they always seem to resolve in ways that feel like the group decided to push themselves to say something different and worthwhile with each song. It’s frankly their best album and it would be simply lazy and clumsy to merely refer to this era of Baroness as sludge metal.

Primitive Man in April 2015, photo by Tom Murphy

Saturday | 11.27
What: Primitive Man w/Spectral Voice and Oryx
When: 8 p.m.
Where: Hi-Dive
Why: Denver is fortunate to have an exceptional extreme metal scene with many bands worth a deep listen. This show, though, showcases three of the best. Spectral Voice and the angular brutality of its dark death metal has evolved from an earlier sort of a blackened deathgrind sound into more refined sonic brutality without losing its raw edge. Oryx has never been short on an inventive evocation of musical heaviness and commentary on the hubris of human civilization. It’s 2021 album Lamenting a Dead World perhaps says it all with the title but the vocals sound especially feral and the parallel rhythms and guitar leads flow with a primordial energy that embodies an inevitable path to doom for the planet if things don’t take a different turn amongst us humans. And of course Primitive Man brings the most crushing and emotionally harrowing death grind you’re likely to experience anywhere. The Denver trio did not tour or play much if anything in the way of live shows in 2020 or much of 2021 so its caustic 2020 album Immersion and its nightmare vision of what seem like end times didn’t get to unleash what is hopefully a catharsis of the eschatological mood that has cloaked the planet since the onset of the pandemic until recently. That these great works of music from Oryx and Primitive Man are still so relevant does speak to the excellence of their conception and execution but also to how far we have to go as a species to prove ourselves worthy of continued existence.

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 10/11/18 – 10/17/18

ADULT_perArtist
ADULT. performs at Larimer Lounge on Saturday, 10/13/18, with Plack Blague and Voight

Thursday | October 11, 2018

TheChurch_Jul31_2016_TomMurphy
The Church circa 2016, photo by Tom Murphy

Who: Karl Blau w/Porlolo and High Plains Honky
When: Thursday, 10.11, 8 p.m.
Where: Hi-Dive
Why: Karl Blau has had a rich and varied career spanning the past two decades or so. As a member of lo-fi rock band D+ he wrote songs and performed with Bret Lunsford formerly of Beat Happening and future Microphones and Mount Eerie mastermind Phil Elverum. As a solo artist and musical curator with his Kelp Lunacy Advanced Plagiarism Society musical subscription artist, Blau has been involved in making music in widely disparate styles and often hybridizing them or outright creating something that’s impossible to classify beyond maybe simply pop. In recent years, Blau has been writing songs that seem shaped by everything else he’s made up to now with bossa nova percussion, African pop vocal cadences, hip-hop-and-reggae-informed lyrical phrasing and indie/freak folk sensibilities. In the past Blau has performed solo with a loop pedal and pulled off what sounds like a full band minus robust drums so you’re never full sure what you’re in for barring that it’ll be exceptional.

Who: The Church
When: Thursday, 10.11, 7:30/8 p.m.
Where: The Fox Theatre
Why: Australian rock band The Church is currently undertaking it’s tour for the thirtieth anniversary of its 1988 album Starfish. The band had already made a name for itself with fans of adventurous, inventive, literate and thoughtful yet heartfelt rock music. But Starfish was the group’s breakthrough to not just a wider audience but the mainstream with hits like “Under the Milky Way” and “Reptile.” While the group is justly celebrating the release of its iconic album for itself and fans that maybe didn’t get to see The Church in its 80s heyday (pardon the referential joke to the band’s 1985 album of the same name), the band’s new material is as vital as anything it has done in the past and you’ll get the best of both worlds at this show.

Friday | October 12, 2018

RalphGean_Oct3_2014_TomMurphy
Ralph Gean (with Andrew Lindstrom) circa 2014, photo by Tom Murphy

What: Anxious Little Friends Fest Day 1
When: Friday, 10.12, 6 p.m.
Where: Hi-Dive
Why: Record labels Snappy Little Numbers and Anxious and Angry collaborated on this two day festival at the Hi-Dive with some of the better local and not local punk and punk-related bands. For this night you can see two night headliners Off With Their Heads as well as Riverboat Gamblers, SPELLS, Dirty Few, Black Dots, Hooper and Modern Goon.

What: Franksgiving 2018
When: Friday, 10.12, 9 p.m.
Where: Hi-Dive
Why: This yearly event benefiting the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America is hosted by local connoisseur of weird music Franklin Bell. Naturally he always finds some of the best local odd yet accessible bands for the vent. As usual, Little Fyodor & Babushka Band, one of Denver’s longest running and most consistently interesting weirdo punk institutions will perform as well as not-widely-recognized-but-absolutely-a-local-rock-and-roll-legend Ralph Gean, Fyodor drummer Tricky Dick Wicket’s side project that isn’t Universal Devils, Whiskey Orphans, the “sweet and sensitive keyboard songs” of No Pants Katie with DJ Frank Bell spinning kooky kuts.

Who: Screwtape w/Potato Pirates, Noogy, World Movement and Ultraviolet
When: Friday, 10.12, 7 p.m.
Where: Hi-Dive
Why: Screwtape’s politically-charged hardcore and dynamic live show has already made it a favorite among local fans of punk and the group is kicking off its latest tour to the south with this show sharing the bill with ska-punk veterans Potato Pirates and Colorado Springs hardcore outfit Ultraviolet.
Who: Multidim Records Official Launch Party
When: Friday, 10.12, 8 p.m.
Where: Leon
Why: Multidim Records is a new Denver-based label focusing on emerging artists in electronic and abstract music. Founded by Tommy Metz (Glissline) and Michael David King (Cities of Earth), this event will feature some of the artists on the label’s roster including the respective projects of the label’s founders as well as Andre Cactus + Ah, River and Mirror Fears.

Saturday | October 13, 2018

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Shocker Mom, photo by Tom Murphy

Who: ADULT. w/Plack Blague and Voight
When: Saturday, 10.13, 8 p.m.
Where: Larimer Lounge
Why: For twenty years, Detroit’s ADULT. has been on the forefront of mixing electronic pop, techno and industrial music with an experimental flair. In the late 90s, ADULT. helped to pioneer the sound and aesthetic that came to be called electroclash by around the turn of the century. As the duo explored sounds and performance it garnered a cult following among connoisseurs of electronic music paired with a dynamic and sometimes confrontational performance style. It adopted and mutated the sound and production ideas running through underground techno throughout the 2000s giving it a powerful and imaginative soundscape to match singer Nicola Kuperus’s emotionally-nuanced vocals. The band’s 2018 album This Behavior was the darker side of the songwriting that went into the 2017 album Detroit House Guests—both rich and dense with sonic detail and inventive rhythms.

Also on the this leg of the tour is Lincoln, Nebraska’s Plack Blague. Raws Schlesinger had been, maybe still is, involved in the Nebraska grind and extreme metal scene in various bands. But Plack Blague is a bit like a leather daddy Big Freedia but with beats that are the industrial and techno analogue to sissy bounce. On previous occasions in Denver, Plack Blague may have seemed to be a sonically abrasive spectacle but the act’s songs have taken on a compelling form beyond the spectacle without sacrificing the striking visual aspect of the band including Schleslinger’s undeniably amazing dance moves.

What: Anxious Little Friends Fest Day 2
When: Saturday, 10.13, 6 p.m.
Where: Hi-Dive
Why: This second night of Anxious Little Friends Fest includes performances from Off With Their Heads, The Bollweevils, SPELLS, Friends of Cesar Romero, Lawsuit Models, Great American House Fire and Bad Year.

What: KGNU Quarterly Showcase
When: Saturday, 10.13, 8:30 p.m.
Where: Lion’s Lair
Why: This edition of the KGNU Quarterly Showcase features some of Denver’s most innovative electronic artists. Shocker Mom’s dreamy, ambient R&B is the latest vehicle from Robin Walker. As a member of Cougar Pants, walker, along with Jessica Hughes, made a particularly tender and emotionally deep yet playful type of indie pop. As a solo performer, Walker distinguished herself as a talented vocalist and songwriter whose use of sound taps into a pre-linguistic part of the human brain, communicating the vibrations of a loving, healing aspect of the universe—which she has manifested most strongly with Shocker Mom. Also catch her in excellent hip-hop duo Nighttimeschoolbus. Larians is the solo side project of Male Blonding singer/guitarist Noah Simons. His brilliant take on IDM, techno and ambient may just be getting started but it’s obvious he’s learned a few things to build beyond from Burial and Aphex Twin. Bios+a+ic is the solo project of Textures Ambient Showcase and Symbolic Insight head Wesley Davis. All of his albums with the project are different and conceptual, representing ideas and sound experiments that tickled Davis’ imagination at the time of their creation. Also on the bill are All Mask and DJ Winter

Sunday | October 14, 2018

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Future Generations, photo (cropped) by Shervin Lainez

Who: Henry Rollins Travel Slideshow Tour
When: Sunday, 10.14, 7 p.m.
Where: Boulder Theater
Why: It’s been a good longer while than usual since Henry Rollins has done one of his spoken tours. This time around he’s sharing his photography and telling stories from his travels around the world. His spoken word shows are always worth checking out and with the images to prompt his memory and engage those who show up it will be a more immersive experience when coupled with his already fantastic storytelling.

Who: Future Generations w/Zuli and Whiskey Autumn
When: Sunday, 10.14, 7 p.m.
Where: Lost Lake
Why: Brooklyn has long been home to eclectic indie rock with artists, of necessity, trying out innovative musical ideas and strong songwriting in order to stand out. Future Generations’ 2018 album Landscape is like a stroll through a person’s day and life and composed as though the melodies and rhythms are a soundtrack with electronic, ambient textures to give the songwriting a context that connects all the music. Sure, each piece can be enjoyed on its own but the record feels like a new take on the classic album format from a time when bands felt like there were no throwaway songs and thought in terms of interconnecting themes. Probably not a concept album but one that works on a very conceptual level too.

Tuesday | October 16, 2018

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A Place To Bury Strangers circa 2012, photo by Tom Murphy

Who: A Place to Bury Strangers w/Kraus and cindygod
When: Tuesday, 10.16, 9 p.m.
Where: Globe Hall
Why: A Place To Bury Strangers is often credited as one of the bands that helped to re-popularize shoegaze in the underground. But the band’s contribution has run deeper as guitarist/vocalist Oliver Ackerman created unique guitar pedals with functionality that has helped push the sound of the instrument into new realms of noise and texture. As part of the pedal and sound equipment company/DIY space Death By Audio, Ackerman and company contributed to its creative community in a direct, pragmatic way. APTBS fused lo-fi, shoegaze, noise, post-punk and hardcore in fascinating ways. For an album or two it felt like maybe the project had plateaued even if the songwriting was still good. But the 2018 album Pinned with new drummer Lia Simon Braswell demonstrated that the band hasn’t run out of ideas for heady and disorienting soundscaping. Opening the show is Denver’s cindygod, the follow-up band to shoegaze/noise rock duo Gauntlet Hair. Now the band is a quartet with an even more exhilarating panoply of sound.

Wednesday | October 17, 2018

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Gold Trash, photo by Tom Murphy

Who: Sarah Ruth Alexander, Polecat Moon Pussy and Gold Trash
When: Wednesday, 10.17, 9 p.m.
Where: Thought//Forms
Why: [update, Shiny Around the Edges no longer on the bill] Sarah Ruth Alexander’s brooding yet luminous compositions utilizing effected vocals and acoustic instruments have made Dallas’ They Say The Wind Made Them Crazy one of the more interesting bands and critically acclaimed bands that in the past his intentionally been more or less off the internet because its music works best live. Alexander’s solo performances recall some of the most chilling moments of Nico’s solo work, The Marble Index, Desertshore and The End in particular, in its use of organic instruments in a manner suggesting an electronic music aesthetic as a way to tap into deeply rooted spaces in the psyche. One might also hear in her songs resonances with Jarboe’s more intensely tranquil performances with Swans. Moon Pussy is a noise rock band from Denver and Gold Trash could be said to be a soulful yet noisy version of an electroclash band.