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 2/7/20 – 2/12/20

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Wolf Parade performs at The Gothic Theatre on February 8 with Land of Talk, photo by Pamela Evelyn and Joseph Yarmush

Friday | February 6

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Mainland Break, photo by Tom Murphy

What: Day of Jubilee: Sliver and Marcus Church
When: Friday, 2.07, 5-9 p.m.
Where: The People’s Building
Why: Marcus Church is a Denver-based power pop trio. Its gently jangle-y and fuzzy melodies sound like singer/guitarist Dustin Habel spent a whole lot of time obsessively listening to only records produced by Mitch Easter and the complete discographies of Teenage Fanclub and Big Star. That also means there’s a tender earnestness to the songwriting imbued with an uncommon tenderness and humanity. Sliver bypassed the 90s grunge nostalgia wave of recent years by making no bones about its musical roots in its hard driving, explosively emotional guitar rock. Mudhoney influence aside, its aesthetic is most informed by both the self-effacing, sensitive, introspective side of Pacific Northwest noise punk and the wiry, politically conscious end of DC hardcore.

What: Mainland Break w/Panther Martin, Mystic Wool and The New Creep
When: Friday, 2.07, 9 p.m.
Where: Lost Lake
Why: Denver power pop band Mainland Break is releasing its video for “Gun Without Hire” at this show. The five piece band sounds like it listened to a whole lot of bands on the Flying Nun imprint in the 80s, some Swell Maps and The Feelies while forming and distilled that influence into upbeat pop songs.

What: Neal Cassady Birthday bash
When: Friday, 2.07, 8 p.m.
Where: The Mercury Café

What: Juliet Mission
When: Friday, 2.07, 9 p.m.
Where: Denver Art Society

What: Disposed, Toxic Wife, Colfax Spank and Caustic Soda
When: Friday, 2.07, 9 p.m.
Where: Englewood Tavern

Saturday | February 8

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Courtney Barnett, photo by Lili Waters

What: Wolf Parade w/Land of Talk gothictheatre.com/events/detail/386833
When: Saturday, 2.08, 8 p.m.
Where: Gothic Theatre
Why: CanadianWolf Parade returns touring in support of its new record Thin Mind. Its blend of post-punk and power pop has helped define the aesthetic of modern indie rock as sonically eclectic with thoughtful lyrics.

What: Courtney Barnett
When: Saturday, 2.08, 7:30 p.m.
Where: The Stanley Hotel
Why: Australian singer-songwriter Courtney Barnett has written some of the most personally insightful lyrics of the past two decades paired with emotionally vibrant guitar work and songwriting. She will perform solo for this rare, intimate show at The Stanley Hotel in Estes Park.

What: Lupe Fiasco w/Old Man Saxon, OTIS and HYP3
When: Saturday, 2.08, 7:30 p.m.
Where: Summit Music Hall

What: Shake the Baby Til the Love Comes Out (NYC), Simulators, Turvy Organ and Birdhouse View
When: Saturday, 2.08, 8 p.m.
Where: Glitter City

What: Dr. Montgomery Maxwell, Juniordeer, HXCMIDI, Human Consumption and Savage Bass Goat
When: Saturday, 2.08, 7:30 p.m.
Where: Seventh Circle Music Collective

What: Street Cats Making Love w/Grayson County Burn Ban
When: Saturday, 2.08, 8 p.m.
Where: Hi-Dive

Sunday | February 9

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Miniature Tigers circa 2009, photo by Tom Murphy

What: Miniature Tigers w/Katzú Oso
When: Sunday, 2.09, 7 p.m.
Where: Globe Hall
Why: Miniature Tigers’ 2019 album Vampires of Daylight is an exploration of singer/songwriter Charlie Brand’s painful breakup and his return to writing and performing music after going through agonizing experiences that had him over the edge and art therapy through painting instead of music. The result is a raw yet tender album of deeply emotional songs about loss and the confused and tortured feelings that run you through the wringer.

What: Joseph w/Deep Sea Diver
When: Sunday, 2.09, 7 p.m.
Where: Bluebird Theater

Wednesday | February 12

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The Paranoyds, photo by Tony Accosta

What: The Paranoyds w/Spendtime Palace and Princess Dewclaw
When: Wednesday, 2.12, 7 p.m.
Where: Larimer Lounge
Why: The Paranoyds’ psychedelic fuzz pop is a spirited and surreal take on noisy post-punk. Like The Raincoats having come up in Southern California on pop punk and American pop music with a similarly splintery aesthetic and exuberant live performances. Currently touring again in support of its excellent 2019 album Carnage Bargain.

What: Vale of Pnath w/Gorod and Saeva
When: Wednesday, 2.12, 7 p.m.
Where: Lost Lake

Best Shows in Denver 1/16/20 – 1/22/20

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Heilung performs January 17 at Ogden Theatre, photo by Ruben Terlouw

Thursday | January 16

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Muscle Beach, photo by Tom Murphy

What: Muscle Beach, Church Fire, Vexing and Grief Ritual
When: Thursday, 1.16, 8 p.m.
Where: Hi-Dive
Why: With the exception of Church Fire whose own politically-charged, emotionally cathartic, noisy synth pop, this is basically a showcase for some of the best Denver bands who bridge the gap between experimental metal, hardcore and noise punk. Muscle Beach released its riveting new album Charms in 2019 and Vexing just let loose with its album Cradle.

What: Cursive w/Cloud Nothings and Criteria
When: Thursday, 1.16, 7 p.m.
Where: Bluebird Theater

What: Cereza w/Indica Cinema and Dog Basketball
When: Thursday, 1.16, 7 p.m.
Where: Globe Hall

What: Chromadrift w/Felix Fast4ward, MYTHirst and Furbie Cakes
When: Thursday, 1.16, 8 p.m.
Where: Lion’s Lair

What: Eli N-H & L Heron
When: Thursday, 1.16, 9 p.m.
Where: Rhinoceropolis

What: Necromantic (Goth, post-punk, darkwave, industrial DJ night)
When: Thursday, 1.16, 9 p.m.
Where: Shag Lounge

Friday | January 17

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The Still Tide, photo by Jay Wescott

What: Heilung
When: Friday, 1.17, 7 p.m.
Where: Ogden Theatre
Why: Many bands in the past two or three decades claim to hearken back in their music to early northern European culture. Heilung took the concept a step or two further by basing their music on texts and runes from the Germanic people of the Viking era and longer ago infused with pan-ancient world cultures. The band members look like members of a Scandinavian mystery cult with elaborate outfits, some wearing horned head gear, performing with recreations of traditional instruments from various ancient cultures, guttural vocals reminiscent of Tuvan throat singing. It is a spectacle that is a ritualistic performance of music and poetry designed to transport you to the mindset of earlier humanity getting in touch with its subconscious mind communally.

What: The Still Tide Between Skies album release, Down Time and Heavy Diamond Ring
When: Friday, 1.17, 7 p.m.
Where: Hi-Dive
Why: The Still Tide has been making waves in Denver and beyond for several years at this point with its poignantly expressive dream pop soundscapes. Its sounds are expansive yet are imbued with an intimate sensibility as though Anna Morsett is singing from the past toward the future. It takes you out of a mundane mindset and transports you to a realm where you can feel all the pressures, angst and demands of everyday life but it seems in context of a bigger picture hidden from your thinking most of the time. At least that’s the vibe of the band’s new record Between Skies. The lush and well-balanced soundscapes crafted by Morsett, Jake Miller, Joe Richmond and Nate Meese render incredibly accessible an album of meaningful songs about personal struggle and striving to make sense of the seemingly endless run of reverses and confusing experiences with your heart intact.

What: Caustic Soda EP release w/Sinister Pig and Princess Dewclaw
When: Friday, 1.17, 7 p.m.
Where: Seventh Circle Music Collective
Why: Caustic Soda is a noise punk band from Boulder whose new EP Stud Count will be available at this show. As the title suggests it’s a pointed critique of the all the destructive and regressive ideas that have seemed to issue forth prominently in the wake of Donald Trump announcing his candidacy for president: the misogyny, the bizarre anti-science right, open racism—all the stuff nascent fascism spews into the world.

What: The Amphibious Man, Apollo Shortwave and Pelvis Presley (EP release)
When: Friday, 1.17, 7:30 p.m.
Where: Glitter City

What: Kiltro w/Oxeye Daisy and Julian Brier
When: Friday, 1.17, 8 p.m.
Where: Larimer Lounge

What: On the One: DJ Johnra (John Eggert) and DJ Mike Moses
When: Friday, 1.17, 9 p.m.
Where: The Squire Lounge

Saturday | January 18

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Lazarus Horse, photo by Andy Denson

What: Lazarus Horse Oh, The Guilt album release w/Disinherited and Dead Characters
When: Saturday, 1.18, 8 p.m.
Where: Mutiny Information Café
Why: Eddie Durkin was once a member of the promising and powerful experimental guitar pop band Sparkler Bombs but for various reasons had to take a break from playing in bands and playing shows. But his time away allowed him to incubate and hone his talent further and his latest project Lazarus Horse has been performing now and then with a set of songs that are rough enough around the edges to be fresh and interesting but refined in the execution of dynamics to not be confused for an off-the-cuff band still not in possession of a sense of intentionality. The group’s new album Oh, The Guilt will be an earworm for fans of Codeine, Red House Painters, Versus and Slint. The songs have a simple construction but because of that they are capable of a great emotional range as the layers of sound interact with a fluidity that the sometimes splintery tones might suggest otherwise. The vulnerability on display is disarming, honest and inviting. Given the arc of the songs it’s part eulogy for a time in Denver Durkin experienced while playing DIY spaces in the late 2000s and early 2010s and a map for navigating the new reality in the Mile High City and America in general, one that seems to have put so much up in the air with no sense of confidence in social stability. It’s a record showing bravery and self-awareness in the face of massive uncertainty and possible civilizational collapse.

What: Punk Against Trump: Cheap Perfume, Allout Helter, Over Time, Filthy Hearts, Altar Girls (debut)
When: Saturday, 1.18, 7 p.m.
Where: Marquis Theater
Why: Maybe in the years ahead Trump and everything he willfully and unintentionally encouraged among the forces of cultural and political reaction will be in the rearview and great punk bands won’t have to have fundraiser for groups that are keeping essential services and a compassionate mission alive but for now Punk Against Trump remains a proud tradition in Denver.

What: Bleakheart w/Many Blessings, Its Just Bugs and Human Tide
When: Saturday, 1.18, 9 p.m.
Where: Tooey’s Off Colfax

What: LUCY, H Lite, French Kettle Station and Horse Girl
When: Saturday, 1.18, 8 p.m.
Where: Rhinoceropolis

What: Your Smith w/Chelsea Jade
When: Saturday, 1.18, 8 p.m.
Where: Larimer Lounge

What: Ladies Night (band) and Lifers
When: Saturday, 1.18, 9 p.m.
Where: The Squire Lounge

Sunday | January 19

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Drune, photo courtesy the artists

What: Drune (album release), New Standards Men and Simulators
When: Sunday, 1.19, 7 p.m.
Where: Larimer Lounge
Why: Drune’s debut album SEER is three extended tracks with Roman numerals as the title. Doing so almost invites you to have no preconceptions about what you might be in for with the listening even if you’ve heard the band is a doom band or “heavy.” And it is but there is an elegance to Drune’s composition that has as much in common with bands like Black Mountain who push the aesthetic into unconventional sonic territory as it does with any doom band. James Cook’s soaring vocals and the modulated rhythms syncing with guitar riffs that are as textural and moody as brutal. It’s a sonically expansive record that rewards your attention. Drune doesn’t drone on the same idea ad infinitum, its evolution through a song suggests a narrative structure that pulls you in for the long haul.

Tuesday | January 21

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GZA, photo courtesy GZA management

What: GZA 25th Anniversary of Liquid Swords w/Righteous Revolution (feat. 1-natVson-1), D-Stylz & High Key (Affliction Music), DJ Notch, Killah Priest
When: Tuesday, 1.21, 7:30 p.m.
Where: Summit Music Hall
Why: GZA’s 1995 album Liquid Swords is of course a classic of 90s hip-hop fusing a more traditional genre aesthetic with genre-bending innovations in the use of atmospheric elements in the production to give the whole record an otherworldly quality worthy of its transcendental lyrics. While it might be difficult to prove this record sounds like one of the primary influences on late-90s alternative hip-hop like artists on the Anticon, Mush and Rhymesayers imprints and on experimental electronic music and bands as unusual and adventurous as Black Moth Super Rainbow and CocoRosie. Whatever its exact impact and legacy, Liquid Swords gets into your head and still manages to surprise with the sheer creativity in its use of sound and GZA’s masterful wordplay like a thinking person’s futuristic crime drama manga.

Best Shows in Denver 01/03/20 – 01/07/20

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Eyebeams It Means Trouble cover. Eyebeams performs at Rhinoceropolis on January 4, 2020

Friday | January 3

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

What: Day of Jubilee: R A R E B Y R D $
When: Friday, 1.3, 6 p.m.
Where: The People’s Building
Why: Day of Jubilee is a First Friday event at The People’s Building in Aurora, Colorado. Tonight’s proceedings include live music at 7 p.m. with R A R E B Y R D $. R A R E B Y R D $ is a hip-hop group from Denver. Its two MCs, Key~Lady and KoKoLa, combine swagger and soul, inspiration and heartbreak into an alchemical musical experience. Their beats bring together gangsta rap’s mastery of bass sculpting, exploratory synth experiments and hazy, hypnotic drones with organic, Afro-Cuban rhythms. R A R E B Y R D $ ranges widely in the subject matter of its lyrics from the playfully earthy to the emotionally deep and transcendent but always with the spirit of inviting you into that private world with a welcoming emotional intimacy rare in a live performance.

What: Joshua Trinidad Trio (Joshua Trinidad, Joe Wirtz and Gordon Koch)
When: Friday, 1.3, 5:30 p.m.
Where: Spangalang Brewery
Why: Joshua Trinidad and his trio typically blast mind-altering free jazz with spirited play and great musical chemistry stirring the emotions to elevated levels.

What: Jacket of Spiders, Terminals, Lux Hearse, Denizens of the Deep
When: Friday, 1.3, 9 p.m.
Where: Tennyson’s Tap

Saturday | January 4

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Church Fire (pictured: Shannon Webber), photo by Tom Murphy

What: Eyebeams album release w/96 Ponies, Vampire Squids From Hell and Slugger
When: Saturday, 1.4, 9 p.m.
Where: Rhinoceropolis
Why: Eyebeams is releasing its second album It Means Trouble. The bright, languid psychedelia of the record ranges far from what we’ve come to expect from that loose genre of the past decade. It’s as though lead vocalist/guitarist Suzi Allegra absorbed all the influences that have manifested in recent music but long before when she was growing up and used it as a launching point into emotional outer space. The songs seem to explore issues of anxiety, fears, existential frustrations, feeling perpetually dreaming and wishing rather than doing and ending on a note of learning to calm the mind as a place from which to figure out what you really feel, what you really want and maybe how to actually get there.

What: Bands Against the Ban: Church Fire, Married a Dead Man, Hate Minor and Rebel Girl Productions
When: Saturday, 1.4, 7:30 p.m.
Where: Oriental Theater
Why: Since members of the Senate are trying to have Roe Vs. Wade revisited with aims of overturning legal abortion in a country not actually founded by the Christian version of the Taliban, it will be necessary for people to voice their desire not to live in Medieval Europe again. And this show featuring some of Denver’s most interesting bands is a benefit in the struggle against the forces of reaction. This event is a benefit for Planned Parenthood Votes Colorado and was organized by Megan Kelley of darkwave band Married a Dead Man and David Pereira of noise rockers Hate Minor. Local experimental dance/darkwave band Church Fire will headline and embody a spirit of resistance with its own music and burlesque troupe Rebel Girl Productions will bring its own performance unique in that realm of expression as well.

What: Redivider album release w/Coastal Wives, Corsicana, False Report
When: Saturday, 1.4, 8:30 p.m.
Where: Larimer Lounge

What: Helleborus w/Amdusias, Belhor and Throne
When: Saturday, 1.4, 7 p.m.
Where: Globe Hall

What: Dovekins reunion w/River Arkansas and Shenandoah Davis
When: Saturday, 1.4, 7 p.m.
Where: Mercury Café

Sunday | January 5

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Sliver, photo by Tom Murphy

What: Caustic Soda, Feeling Old (WA), Broken Lawn Chairs and Sliver
When: Sunday, 1.5, 7 p.m.
Where: Seventh Circle Music Collective
Why: Sliver’s Chris Mercer wanted to revisit his folk punk roots “not shit like Andrew Jackson Jihad, Pat the Bunny or Camper Van Beethoven, the good shit like Days N’ Daze.” Fortunately his bandmates convinced him that playing with Boulder-based noise punk band Caustic Soda, folk-inflected indie rock punks Feeling Old from Seattle and Broken Lawn Chairs, an actual folk punk band, from Castle Rock. Sliver fortunately won’t torture us with Mercer’s idea of what “real” folk punk sounds like and might actually be enjoyable this time too.

Monday | January 6

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Equine, photo by Tom Murphy

What: lovelesslust w/Equine and Gila Teen
When: Monday, 1.6, 7 p.m.
Where: Lion’s Lair
Why: loveless lust is a mix of synth pop and industrial and thus a good fit with two bands from Denver that don’t fit neatly into any musical milieu either. Gila Teen is the hybrid sad boy post-punk/emo band we all need in the world right now.

What: The King Khan & BBQ Show w/Colfax Speed Queen
When: Monday, 1.6, 8 p.m.
Where: Larimer Lounge.

Tuesday | January 7

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King Khan, photo by Miron Zownir

What: The King Khan & BBQ Show w/Colfax Speed Queen
When: Tuesday, 1.7, 8 p.m.
Where: Larimer Lounge
Why: King Khan has been making psychedelic garage rock and evolving the art form since before it became hip again and again in the 2000s from back when he was a member of The Spaceshits in Kukamongas in the late 90s. With The King Khan & BBQ Show he and fellow Spaceshit Mark Sultan blended doo wop and garage punk and were in the same circles of likeminded acts Black Lips. Khan has also been involved in King Khan & The Shrines, but the BBQ show is like some late 60s psychedelic soul revue updated for the modern era. Denver-based Colfax Speed Queen will be a great pairing with its own electrifying live show of noisy psychedelic punk.

Best Shows in Denver 12/13/19 – 12/17/19

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Angel Olsen performs at Gothic Theatre December 14 and 15, photo by Cameron McCool

Friday | December 13

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Tourist, photo by David Ellis

What: Tourist w/Matthew Dear and Swim Mountain
When: Friday, 12.13, 8 p.m.
Where: Globe Hall
Why: English electronic musician Tourist aka William Phillips is currently touring in support of his 2019 album Wild. Though known for his production and remixing work for higher profile pop artists, his own music is becoming known for his spacious and emotionally luminous compositions. His mastery of sculpting the sound in the mix and crafting vivid soundscapes that take you out of mundane life into a realm of bright colors and tranquil, uplifting moods is impressive. Also on the bill is aesthetically like-minded musician and producer like Matthew Dear whose 2018 album Bunny is imbued with its own head-space-shifting energy.

What: Princess Dewclaw w/Demoncassettecult, Savage Bass Goat, Techno Allah and $addy
When: Friday, 12.13, 7 p.m.
Where: Seventh Circle Music Collective

What: Nova Fest 7: Fathers, Sorry No Sympathy, The Burial Plot, Cheap Perfume and Saving Verona 
When: Friday, 12.13, 7 p.m.
Where: Hi-Dive

What: Landgrabbers, Octopus Tree, The Pollution and Electric Condor
When: Friday, 12.13, 8:30 p.m.
Where: Tennyson’s Tap

What: Moral Law, Disposal Notice, Thieves Guild, Pontius Pilate
When: Friday, 12.13, 7 p.m.
Where: Mutiny Information Café

What: Black Dots, Surrender Signal, No Comma, Good Family
When: Friday, 12.13, 8 p.m.
Where: Glitter City

What: Deep Club Presents: Ash Lauryn
When: Friday, 12.13, 11 p.m. – 5 a.m.
Where: Rhinoceropolis

Saturday | December 14

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Lot Lizard, photo by James Dean

What: Lot Lizard w/No Gossip in Braille, Old Soul Dies Young and more
When: Saturday, 12.14, 7 p.m.
Where: Seventh Circle Music Collective
Why: Lot Lizard is a post-punk band from Sioux Falls, South Dakota whose debut full-length released on December 6, 2019 and made it as a late entry into our Year End Best List (to be published over six weeks soon). Rather than take cues from the current darkwave movement, Lot Lizard’s noisy, moody songs have more in common with the likes of Iceage, Pere Ubu and bands on the Amphetamine Reptile imprint than the usual suspects. Yet its songs are accessibly melodic and rooted in songwriting rather than bludgeoning volume while also indulging in plenty of noisescaping when the moment strikes right. Denver-based post-punk band No Gossip In Braille recently released its own album in 2019 called Bend Toward Perfect Light, capturing the overpowering despair and sorrow of the past few years in the American psyche, especially in the realm of underground music and art and among those not favored by a system seeming to only boost the interests of the economic elite. Rather than wallow in despair No Gossip in Braille channeled those feelings into a hopeful energy that honors the hurt.

What: Angel Olsen w/Vagabon
When: Saturday, 12.14, 8 p.m.
Where: Gothic Theatre
Why: Angel Olsen has consistently written fascinating music that pushes her own frontiers as an artist and as a vehicle to challenge cultural norms. Her 2019 album All Mirrors is a “[poignantly] dreamlike examination of identity in an age of universal scrutiny” (from our year end best albums coverage). It is a lush sound environment in which to get lost and rediscover yourself.

What: Harry Tuft w/Rich Moore, Glenn Taylor, Bill Rich, Ed Contreras, John Magnie
When: Saturday, 12.14, 7 p.m.
Where: Swallow Hill Daniels Hall
Why: Harry Tuft is the godfather of all folk from Denver and the Front Range since the early 60s and founding the Denver Folklore Center as well as Swallow Hill Music in the 70s. He’s been performing his own music in the last few years and proving he’s a gifted artist as well as interpreter of the work of others.

What: Khemmis w/Wayfarer and UN
When: Saturday, 12.14, 7 p.m.
Where: Bluebird Theater

What: King Cardinal w/Corsicana and Bellhoss
When: Saturday, 12.14, 8 p.m.
Where: Hi-Dive

Sunday | December 15

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Plaid circa 2011, photo by Tom Murphy

What: Plaid w/Nasty Nachos and Xoxford
When: Sunday, 12.15, 7 p.m.
Where: Larimer Lounge
Why: Plaid is one of the foundational projects of IDM and modern experimental electronic music. Since 1991 the group has helped to redefine and evolve beat-driven synthesizer music while mixing in live instruments and samples. Its 2019 album Polymer which has as its subject the examination of the nature of technology and our use of resources and the myriad ways in which they benefit and potentially harm us.

What: Angel Olsen w/Vagabon
When: Sunday, 12.15, 8 p.m.
Where: Gothic Theatre

Tuesday | December 17

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Empath, photo by Daniel Topete

What: Empath w/American Culture and Reposer
When: Tuesday, 12.17, 7 p.m.
Where: Bluebird Theater
Why: Psychedelic noise punk band Empath put out its debut full length in 2019—Active Listening: Night on Earth. But the Philadelphia-based group has been making waves in the underground for the past few years for its creative take on punk as not just as a sound but as an attitude and ethos. And yet its spirited performances are pure punk—a catharsis of emotion and inspiration.

Best Shows in Denver 8/9/19 – 8/14/19

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Rolling Stones perform at Mile High Stadium on August 10. Photo by Dave Hogan.

Friday | August 9

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Jay Aston’s Gene Loves Jezebel, photo by Ian Collins

What: The Alarm, Modern English and Jay Aston’s Gene Loves Jezebel
When: Friday, 08.09, 7 p.m.
Where: Oriental Theater
Why: In the 1980s all three of these bands embodied the kind of highly melodic post-punk that articulated both the bleakness of an era and the hope that they and the rest of humanity would endure writing songs celebrating life and love and honoring the uncertainty, tentativeness and sometimes, yes, even gloominess that cast a pall over society with the impending threat of nuclear holocaust. Over thirty years hence we’re all in another period of doom hanging over the planet from, once again, the threat of nuclear war but also the collapse of our ecosystem and the rise of another wave of aggressive fascism throughout the world. Since these three bands have reconvened each has also been writing some of the best music of their careers and commenting on the times with songs that aren’t trying to capture past glory so much as writing music worthy of their legacy of not getting stuck in a rut. Modern English’s 2016 album Take Me to the Trees, Jay Aston’s Gene Loves Jezebel’s 2017 record Dance Underwater and The Alarm’s 2019 offering Sigma reflect not just the strength of the respective band’s original creative vision but also their growth as artists valid in the modern era.

What: The Yellow Rake 15 year anniversary night 1 w/Simulators, Moon Pussy, Charly Fasano, Brian Polk and Karl Christian Krumpholz
When: Friday, 08.09, 8 p.m.
Where: Mutiny Information Café
Why: The Yellow Rake is a Denver-based literary and culture magazine that is celebrating a remarkable fifteen years in existence with performances from local bands Simulators and Moon Pussy and writers and artists Charly Fasano, Karl Christian Krumpholz and Yellow Rake founder Brian Polk. The celebration will run two nights beginning tonight at Mutiny Information Café.

What: Martin Atkins DJ sets and spoken word
When: Friday, 08.09, 9 p.m.
Where: Tracks
Why: Martin Atkins who has been a major figure in post-punk and industrial music going back four decades (i.e. Nine Inch Nails, Killing Joke, Ministry, Public Image Limited) will do a DJ set tonight and perform some spoken word, possibly reading from his own body of work.

Saturday | August 10

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This Will Destroy You, photo by Veronika Reinert

What: This Will Destroy You w/Brin
When: Saturday, 08.10, 8 p.m.
Where: Oriental Theater
Why: This Will Destroy You is one of the better ambient post-rock bands. Mainly because its dynamics aren’t limited to the predictable builds and then inevitable catharsis like Sigur Ros without all the alien light and energy that imbues that band’s music. This Will Destroy You’s 2018 albums New Others Part One and Part Two finds the band further developing its textural elements giving its new set of soundscapes a depth of low end it didn’t lack but one that highlights the more ethereal melodies with a a evocative contrast in tone.

What: Rolling Stones: 2019 No Filter Tour
When: Friday, 08.10, 6:30 p.m.
Where: Mile High Stadium
Why: Anyone not know who the Rolling Stones are? Use your search engine and learn about the iconic rock and roll band that fused a gritty, heavily blues influenced rock music and evolved it in various and fascinating ways for years with lyrics that often indulged in unusual, offbeat subjects and really a broad spectrum of human experience making their songs long term engaging and influential. Keith Richards’ autobiography Life is one of a handful of essential books written by a musician.

What: GYES: Arc Sol, Mainland Break, Slugger
When: Friday, 08.10, 8 p.m.
Where: The People’s Building
Why: This edition of Get Your Ears Swoll brings to Northwest Aurora, Colorado experimental rock bands with a psychedelic loose edges.

What: The Yellow Rake 15th Anniversary Night 2: SPELLS, Black Dots, Muscle Beach and Joy Subtraction
When: Friday, 08.10, 8 p.m.
Where: Hi-Dive
Why: The second night of The Yellow Rake’s celebration of fifteen years of existence takes place at the Hi-Dive with some of Denver’s best punk and post-hardcore bands.

What: Glasss Fest Day 1
When: Friday, 08.10, 12 p.m.
Where: Rhinoceropolis
Why: This two day event spanning roughly twelve hours each day brings together some of the most interesting of underground bands that often do not get much play at the clubs or more commercial venues. Which makes it an event worth attending to catch a slice of what you’re missing out on if you only go to venues that don’t book experimental music. Most of this stuff isn’t particularly challenging unless your idea of genius is mainstream pop music that is bland but has the veneer of quality or if you’re mainly only into one genre of music not represented. It’s an eclectic booking in a way that needs to happen in Denver and elsewhere more often. Schedule below. All times p.m. as if you needed to be told.

12:30 – DJ Zombie
3 – Grrrl
3:30 Kah Li
4 – Nothing is Everything
4:30 – MYTHirst
5 – Adam Selene
5:30 – Bios+a+ic
6 – Elle Green
6:30 – Sliver
7 – Bianca Mikahn
7:30 – Denizens of the Deep
8 – House N Complex
8:30 – Pearls & Perils
9 – Princess Dewclaw
9:30 – Abeasity Jones
10 – R A R E B Y R D $
10:30 – Catdog
11 – Techno Allah
11:30 – Savage Bass Goat

Sunday | August 11

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Umbras Animas, photo by Tom Murphy

What: Glasss Fest Day 2
When: Sunday, 08.11, 12 p.m.
Where: Rhinoceropolis
Why: See above for Glasss Fest.

1 – Sobremarcha/Hepster Pat DJ Sets
3 – Umbras Animus
4 – Galleries
4:30 Wngdu
5 – Disposal Notice
5:30 – Sumguy
6 – Bowshock
6:30 John Gross
7 – Venus305 / DCC
7:30 – Lady of Sorrows
8 – Pythian Whispers
8:30 – Dead Characters
9 – Soulless Maneater
9:30 Sadbug
10 – Joohsup
10:30 – $addy
11 – Hepster Pat DJ set

Tuesday | August 13

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Plume Varia, photo by Tom Murphy

What: Quits, Multicult (MD), Sliver and Equine
When: Tuesday, 08.13, 12 p.m.
Where: 3 Kings Tavern
Why: Basically a noise rock show except for Equine who is probably doing a noisy guitarscaping sort of set. And Sliver who are basically a grunge color-by-numbers act. At least when it comes to their Layne Staley wannabe singer/guitarist. But they’re pretty alright in spite of all of that. Multicult is a Baltimore-based noise rock band in the vein of Shellac and The Unsane. Quits is a Denver band with a similar aesthetic and one that doesn’t skimp on the raw emotional outbursts.

What: Pure Bathing Culture w/Plume Varia
When: Tuesday, 08.13, 7 p.m.
Where: Larimer Lounge
Why: Pure Bathing Culture started with Sarah Versprille and Daniel Hindman who are also members of experimental folk band Vetiver. PBC is more in the realm of dream pop but with a more organic base with vibrant and sparkling guitar work amid lush synths as well as Versprille’s warm vocals. The group’s 2019 album Night Pass is its first since being dropped from Partisan Records. And rather than a darker than usual album to reflect the process of the experience, Night Pass sounds like a band that kept going its previous creative trajectory of introspective, upbeat yet downtempo pop songs. Opening the show is Plume Varia who share a similar sensibility but whose sound palette is a little more dusky and with singer Cheri Cobbs’ vocals soulful and deeply evocative.

What: Matt Weston (Albany), Ryan Mcryhew and Ryan Seward
When: Tuesday, 08.13, 7:30 p.m.
Where: Rhinoceropolis
Why: This will be something of an experimental improvisational show including locals Ryan Mcryhew better known for his work as modular synth and beats composer Entrance and avant-garde percussionist Ryan Seward. Both will join Matt Weston whose own left field percussion and electronics has brought him into collaborative spheres with the likes of Roger Miller (of Mission of Burma), Jim O’Rourke, drone legend Kevin Drumm, free jazz saxophone player Charles Gayle and Jack Wright, another master sax improviser.

Wednesday | August 14

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Kamasi Washington, photo by Durimel

What: Herbie Hancock and Kamasi Washington
When: Wednesday, 08.14, 7:30 p.m.
Where: Mission Ballroom
Why: Herbie Hancock probably needs no introduction as one of the most important artists in modern jazz as a composer, pianist and band leader. He played in Miles Davis Quarter, he was a pioneer of jazz fusion and funk, he has composed soundtracks, he had a 1983 pop hit with “Rockit” which fused jazz and hip-hop. His accomplishments are, frankly, to massive to list. Also on this bill is Kamasi Washington whose own role as a master saxophonist (he’s played on records by Kendrick Lamar, Thundercat, St. Vincent and others, no big deal), composer, band leader and producer parallels Hancock’s own. As a live performer Washington orchestrates the show with a subtle mastery that feels relaxed and informal due to the songwriting and the years of work already put in but which feels like watching a grandmaster at work. So go early to catch Washington and stay for one of the few living legends of jazz demonstrate his own musical magic.

Best Shows in Denver 06/13/19 – 06/19/19

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Tacocat, performs at Larimer Lounge on Saturday, June 15. Photo by Helen Moga

Thursday | June 13

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Turvy Organ, photo by Jake Cox

What: Turvy Organ album release w/Panther Martin, Sour Boy Bitter Girl
When: Thursday, 06.13, 8 p.m.
Where: Hi-Dive
Why: The Ghost at the Feast is Denver indie rock band Turvy Organ’s new record. What has always set the group apart from the oft-necessary but lazy “indie rock” overarching term is that it most certainly is not operating to jump on some trendy sound or bandwagon. Yes, you’ll hear the echoes of Modest Mouse in some of Ilya Litoshik’s vocals but from there the dynamics of the music and the songwriting is too idiosyncratic to fit into the mold of anyone else. The new album has what sounds like a story arch trying to make sense of a deep yearning for place and identity and coming to accept things as they are. Very Zen. But that journey is one worth taking with the band. There isn’t a single sonic flavor Turvy Organ employs across the album except for maybe some tasty, energetic melodic bass lines. That may even be how the record ties together outside of Litoshik’s highly charged and wide-ranging vocals. Splicing together post-punk moodiness and wiry energy with the frayed musical and emotional edges of 90s lo-fi rock, Turvy Organ has not just come to terms with what it’s about as a band The Ghost at the Feast but with what it’s like to be an underground rock band at this juncture in our culture where if you’re not doing it for the right reasons you’ll undermine your goals by not seeming honest.

What: TOKiMONSTA w/Holly and Blackbird Blackbird
When: Thursday, 06.13, 9 p.m.
Where: Club Vinyl
Why: TOKiMONSTA garnered a name for herself for crafting imaginative and lush downtempo beats that wouldn’t be out of place in the body of work of some of the more melancholy artists on the Warp and Stones Throw roster. She has a real gift for expansive, complimentary synth lines and multiple layers of percussion to accent the tempo of her songs. As a DJ TOKiMONSTA mixes in plenty of material from across a broad spectrum of modern electronic music.

Friday | June 14

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Thou, photo by Tom Murphy

What: Electric Funeral Fest Night 1
When: Friday, 06.14, 3 p.m.
Where: Hi-Dive/3 Kings
Why: This is the fourth edition of Electric Funeral Fest which features some of the most interesting acts in underground “extreme” and experimental metal. Tonight’s programme is as follows:

3 Kings Tavern Stage:
5:15 – 5:55 Fathers
6:15 – 6:55 Dead Now
7:15 – 7:55 Destroyer of Light
8:15 – 8:55 Velnias
9:15 – 9:55 Sourvein
10:15 – 11:00 Acid Witch
11:30 – 12:35 Thou

Hi-Dive Stage:
5:40 – 6:20 Love Gang
6:40 – 7:20 Banquet
7:40 – 8:20 Oryx
8:40 – 9:20 Tia Carrera
9:40 – 10:20 Against the Grain
10:40 – 11:25 Royal Thunder
Afterparty
12:45 – 1:25 Bewitcher

Mutiny Information Cafe Stage:
3:00 – 3:40 Fossil Blood
4:00 – 4:40 Deathchant
5:00 – 5:40 Voideater
6:00 – 6:40 Hexxus
7:00 – 7:40 Greenbeard

What: Anderson .Paak w/Earl Sweatshirt and Thundercat
When: Friday, 06.14, 6 p.m.
Where: Red Rocks
Why: Three of the most creatively brilliant artists of modern hip-hop on one bill anywhere would be noteworthy, at Red Rocks it would be deserving of the word epic.

What: Sympathy F
When: Friday, 06.14, 9 p.m.
Where: Goosetown Tavern
Why: Formed in 1991, Sympathy F is one of the few, if not only, still active bands from Denver’s alternative rock era whose melancholic, jazz-inflected, dream pop reflects an era in Denver where the city felt dark, neglected and wide open. When creative weirdos could rent a warehouse on the relatively cheap and hang out with each other and converse and mutually inspire and otherwise have their own subculture that was vibrant and not well known by the world outside the Mile High City. When downtown had viaducts (Fifteenth and Twentieth Streets) that went from downtown proper to a now long gone warehouse district, where the old Montgomery Wards build stood west of downtown like the abandoned monolithic structure from a bygone era. That the band’s songs are emotionally powerful and moving and intense yet luminous doesn’t hurt because it has been written from a place of nostalgia, but at its heart is a shard of that unique time and place in Denver’s history and it shines forth from the band’s entrancing performances.

What: Daikaiju
When: Friday, 06.14, 7 p.m.
Where: Tennyson’s Tap
Why: Writing about Daikaiju seems folly at this moment so here’s a video that gets at some of the chaotic glory of the weirdo surf band from Alabama.

What: Lazarus Horse, Mt. Illimani, Enji and Sam Morris
When: Friday, 06.14, 8 p.m.
Where: Mutiny Information Café
Why: Maybe Eddie Durkin shoulda zigged when he shoulda zagged here and there in life. But haven’t we all? His old band Sparkler Bombs was pushing punk and noise rock and modern proto-psychedelia in interesting directions. But nearly a decade hence, Durkin has been writing songs under various project names including Lazarus Horse. Imagine if someone somehow bought Rainwater Cassette Exchange, The Glow Pt. 2 and a few Julianna Barwick and Grouper records pluse The Velvet Underground & Nico and got sent off with their parents to scientific station duty at Edinburgh of the Seven Seas with spotty internet but a good instruments and pedals and some recording equipment. That’s basically what Lazarus Horse sounds like—drawing on the weirdo rock familiar while sounding ineffably different from even that.

Saturday | June 15

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Paranoyds, photo by Tony Accosta

What: Tacocat and The Paranoyds w/Princess Dewclaw
When: Saturday, 06.15, 8 p.m.
Where: Larimer Lounge
Why: Seattle’s Tacocat and L.A.’s The Paranoyds are making thought-provoking and emotionally nuanced fuzzy post-surf-punk pop with a refreshing level of depth and spirited energy. Although Tacocat has been associated with the sort of surf punk thing the past decade it’s always been different from all of that because its songwriting has been brimming with irreverent humor, playfulness and a surreal and colorful aesthetic. The cover of its new album This Mess is a Place is striking when you see it at the record store and draws you in with its inviting, retrofuturistic collage style promising something within that will offer interesting stories and perspectives that aren’t trend hopping or trite blandishments about love or needing to always center all content on what’s topical. In that way Tacocat offer a view of a more interesting and vital future for all of us. Paranoyds can be reminiscent of The Raincoats if that band came from southern California instead of London with the wonderful, unconventional choruses and noisy guitar. Watch out for the group’s new 7-inch “Hungry Sam”/”Trade Our Sins” out on Suicide Squeeze July 12.

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Chrome Waves, photo by Melissa Atwood

What: Electric Funeral Fest IV
When: Saturday, 06.15, 3 p.m.
Where: Red Rocks
Why: See above for Electric Funeral Fest IV. Here is this night’s programme of performances:

3 Kings Tavern Stage:
4:15 – 4:55 Abrams
5:15 – 5:55 Thra
6:15 – 6:55 Yatra
7:15 – 7:55 Chrome Waves
8:15 – 8:55 Teeth
9:15 – 9:55 Gozu
10:15 – 11:00 Tombs
11:30 – 12:35 Torche

Hi-Dive Stage:
4:40 – 5:20 Casket Huffer
5:40 – 6:20 Sun Voyager
6:40 – 7:20 Trapped Within Burning Machinery
7:40 – 8:20 The Munsens
8:40 – 9:20 Fotocrime
9:40 – 10:20 Call of The Void
10:40 – 11:25 Dead Meadow
Afterparty
12:45 – 1:25 Bummer

Mutiny Information Cafe Stage:
3:00 – 3:40 Red Mesa
4:00 – 4:40 Upon a Fields Whisper
5:00 – 5:40 Horseneck
6:00 – 6:40 Dizz Brew
7:00 – 7:40 Dysphotic

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Jamila Woods, photo by Bradley Murray

What: Jamila Woods w/Duendita
When: Saturday, 06.15, 7 p.m.
Where: Lost Lake
Why: Jamila Woods recently released Legacy! Legacy! with song titles drawn from names of some of the greatest artists, writers and thinkers of color from America and beyond. Rarely do musicians name check the likes of Zora Neale Hurston, Frida Kahlo, Eartha Kitt, Sun Ra, Octavia Butler, James Baldwin, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Miles Davis, Muddy Waters and others of similar cachet at all much less with such style and soulfulness. Woods’ voice is commanding and wise and one gets the sense you’re learning something about the human beings named as they impacted Woods as a person and an artist in her own right. She doesn’t pretend to speak for them but reflect their deep influence through her own lens and how their work has inspired her to do what she hopes is interesting and worthy in her own right. It’s a deep record worth repeated listens. Fans of Nina Simone and Erykah Badu should give Woods a listen.

Sunday | June 16

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Bert Olsen, photo by Tom Murphy

What: Natural Velvet, Church Fire, Rabbit Fighter and Bert Olsen
When: Sunday, 06.16, 8 p.m.
Where: Lost Lake
Why: Natural Velvet bassist/singer Corynne Ostermann told the Baltimore Sun in 2016 “’Basically, we aim to be a “Sailor Moon” villainess.’” And who wouldn’t want to see that band? Apparently a post-punk band it sure has some nefarious punk energy but the fun kind like what you might imagine a raccoon is thinking. A good fit with Denver’s industrial dance pop powerhouse trio Church Fire whose subversive and politically charged music is not just cathartic but deeply emotional on multiple levels. This is the last show post-punk/dream pop duo Bert Olsen is playing under that name. The group recently lost its drummer and is changing to maybe using a drum machine and changing focus a bit and taking on the name Gila Teen. But it’ll still be Hunter Woods and Aidan Bettis on vocals/guitar and bass respectively so the same luminously evocative songwriting will remain.

Tuesday | June 18

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Operators, photo by Britt Kubat

What: Pile w/State Champion and Warring Parties
When: Tuesday, 06.18, 7 p.m.
Where: Larimer Lounge
Why: Pile has long been making the kind of post-punk/noise punk/lo-fi music that never really sounds like anyone else. Its new record Green and Gray is filled with the band’s signature, and always interesting, counter-point guitar riffing and richly varied song dynamics. The group switches up the pace in a song, conveying the way a mood will pass through your mind as you’re working through memories and contemplating what your life should be about and diving deep into how it really is. All their records are worth a listen and the latest one may be their best.

What: Charly Bliss w/Emily Reo
When: Tuesday, 06.18, 7 p.m.
Where: The Marquis Theater
Why: On 2017’s Guppy, Charly Bliss sounded a bit like other bands mining the 90s, fuzzy alternative pop bands for inspiration but with great energy and Eva Hendricks’ ebullient vocals. With Young Enough the group’s emotional palette seems to have grown exponentially and its sound evolved into a kind of atmospheric power pop but somehow without losing the verve that powered its full-length debut.

What: Lavender Fest Denver: Where in the Hell is Lavender House? The Longmont Potion Castle Story (screening)
When: Tuesday, 06.18, 6:30 p.m.
Where: Oriental Theater
Why: Longmont Potion Castle is the phone prank wizard extraordinaire of all time. His early use of odd sound processing methods for prank calling in the 80s and early 90s went above and beyond other, perhaps more well-known prank call “comedians.” Still mysterious after all these years someone finally made a documentary about his exploits and it’s screening tonight at the Oriental.

What: Operators w/Doomsquad
When: Tuesday, 06.18, 7 p.m.
Where: Lost Lake
Why: Dan Boeckner is best known for being in some of the most interesting rock bands of the past two decades including Wolf Parade and Divine Fits. But in the past five years and more he’s been in a band that now includes Devojka, Sam Brown and Dustin Hawthorne that has been exploring the use of analog synths to write the kind of bright, brooding pop songs that wouldn’t sound out of place at some weird “New Wave” in the early 80s that hosted the likes of Gary Numan, Sparks and Fad Gadget. Rather than simply ethereal melodies, Operators has a robust low end in its mix giving the music some real power and momentum rather than merely sounding pretty. The quartet is currently touring in support of its 2019 full-length Radiant Dawn.

Wednesday | June 19

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Mastodon, photo by Jimmy Hubbard

What: Wand w/Dreamdecay
When: Wednesday, 06.19, 8 p.m.
Where: Globe Hall
Why: Wand bridged the gap between weirdo, psychedelic lo-fi rock à la Pavement with the heaviest metal but without ever come off live like a metal band. More like indie rock nerds who never had to turn their nose up at the kinds of dynamics and sounds one heard in 70s hard rock, prog, the more inspired jam bands and stuff like Sleep. Currently the group is touring in support of its 2019 album Laughing Matter. On the latter it sounds like the group has been listening to some more post-punk and post-rock like Slint.

What: Mastodon and Coheed and Cambria and Every Time I Die
When: Wednesday, 06.19, 5 p.m.
Where: Fillmore Auditorium
Why: On Mastodon’s 2009 album Crack the Sky the Atlanta-based metal quartet aimed to write their version of a classic rock album with strong melodies and great mood and solid songwriting. True enough the overall tenor of the record with its dynamics out of step with most metal at the time, but anticipating where so many rock bands, not just metal, would go over the next decade. This is sort of a Tenth Anniversary type tour but the band recently recorded an homage to its late manager Nick John called “Stairway to Nick John” that is a cover of the Led Zeppelin song that some people may have heard at some point in their lives. The single was released on Record Store Day and the proceeds are going to benefit the Hirschberg Foundation for Pancreatic Cancer.

Best Shows in Denver 11/29/18 – 12/5/18

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Lingua Ignota performs with Thou, MJ Guider and Blood Incantation at Syntax Physic Opera on Friday, November 30, 2018. Photo by Teddie Taylor.

Thursday | November 29, 2018

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Sliver, photo by Tom Murphy

Who: Sliver, afd, Tuck Knee, Sick World, Wheels
When: Thursday, 11.29, 8 p.m.
Where: Thought//Forms
Why: In the early days, Sliver always wanted to be a Limp Bizkit cover band but singer/guitarist Chris Mercer kept being told he looked like Kurt Cobain on April 6, 1994 and he looked into Nirvana’s music and its roots and got inspired to make a sort of rock music with the raw and somewhat unpredictable quality of punk and the tuneful sensibility of Cobain’s own accessible yet often startlingly honest songwriting. In spite of Mercer’s early influences, Sliver has evolved into one of the better bands out of Denver and sharing the room tonight with like-minded artists operating outside of the trad punk straight jacket.

Who: Gamelan Tunas Mekar
When: Thursday, 11.29, 7 p.m.
Where: Dazzle
Why: Denver-based Gamelan Tunas Mekar is an orchestra of practitioners of the percussive/tonal instrument the gamelan. Lead by Balinese composer and Artist-in-Residence Made Lasmawan, this is probably the most legit performance of traditional Balinese music you’re likely to get to see anytime soon.

Friday | November 30, 2018

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Line Brawl, photo by Tom Murphy

Who: Thou, Lingua Ignota, MJ Guider and Blood Incantation
When: Friday, 11.30, 8 p.m.
Where: Syntax Physic Opera
Why: Thou has built a body of work over the course of the past decade and more that transcends a convenient genre designation for the uninitiated like doom, sludge crust and experimental black metal. Its music fits all of those and more but mostly it’s just a sonically accurate embodiment of human struggle and our collective agony at having to bear the crushing weight of societies and cultures that aren’t geared toward cultivating and nurturing us. But not that abstract. Thou’s music feels deeply personal and coming from a place in the heart that has all but given up hope. Thou is also one of the most prolific bands in heavy music with five releases in 2018 alone. In August the group released Magus on Sacred Bones Records, a typically somber yet colossal collection of anthems suggesting a spiritual purge and awakening a sense of mission in surrendering to an intuition guided by forces larger than the self. Hey, one song is called “Transcending Dualities” and another “The Kingdom of Meaning.”

Lingua Ignota is the name for the language that the twelfth century Christian mystic St. Hildegard of Bingen used in her mystical practice. It was a secret language in which Bingen may have expressed her experiences outside that of typical mortal ken. That association certainly fits the music of Kristin Hayter for the project of the same name. Seemingly tapping into the nightmares of the collective unconscious for her compositions and recordings, Hayter inevitably gets compared to the similarly elemental Diamanda Galas who also employs piano to great dramatic effect alongside disorienting, noisy drones. Fans of Pharmakon and Jarboe will also find a great deal to love in Hayter’s oevre. 2018’s All Bitches Die evokes a kind of modern day experience of the mythological and mystical with both claustrophobic intensity and sublimely spacious compositions that at times are reminiscent of the more transcendent passages of Patti Smith’s misunderstood, experimental 1976 record Radio Ethiopia. All comparison’s aside, Hayter’s music pulls you along and challenges you, it is both uncompromising yet accessible.

MJ Guider is Melissa Guion of New Orleans and her composed environment music is enveloping and otherworldly Her 2016 album Precious Systems is like a visionary post-Snow Crash science fiction album written in music.

Blood Incantation doesn’t do many Colorado shows as the weirdo death metal band has been touring internationally for a few years at this point and can preserve some of its mystique locally.

Who: Glasss Presents: Princess Dewclaw, Rat Bites, Bert Olsen
When: Friday, 11.30, 9 p.m.
Where: Lion’s Lair
Why: Princess Dewclaw somehow sounds like a great, angsty southern California deathrock band from the early 80s with New Wave-y synthesizers mixed with the electrifyingly raw quality of early Babes in Toyland. All without sounded beholden to any of that. Rat Bites is a four-piece punk band that seems to have come out of 90s era garage punk—a little rough around the edges but with an unerring songwriting sense. Like The Dead Boys or Murder City Devils. Bert Olsen is to garage rock what post-punk was, for the most part, to punk: Moodier, sadder, artier and, well, more sensitive and nuanced.

Who: Slapshot w/Line Brawl and Cadaver Dog
When: Friday, 11.30, 7 p.m.
Where: The Oriental Theater
Why: Slapshot is the legendary Boston hardcore band. Good thing the group didn’t get the memo that hardcore was pretty much over by the time it released its ferocious 1986 album Back On The Map. Across its lifespan the group included members of other classic hardcore groups including people from Negative FX, DYS and SS Decontrol. It’s sound had already absorbed a bit of that crossover sound by the time it was releasing recordings but Slapshot’s songwriting remained tight and vicious even up to and including its 2018 album Make America Hate Again. Joining the veteran band on this bill are two of Denver’s best bands, hardcore or otherwise, with Line Brawl and Cadaver Dogs, both of whom are clearly from that Boston lineage of loud, sharp, stark punk.

Saturday | December 1, 2018

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Boys Noize, photo by Glen Han

Who: Nova Fest 6: Fathers, The Burial Plot, Under Auburn Skies, It’s Just Bugs and Saving Verona
When: Saturday, 12.1, 8 p.m.
Where: Hi-Dive
Why: This festival basically showcases some of the harder-edged bands that some might call metal or hardcore or post-hardcore but none of which truly fit into a single heavy music genre slot. Especially It’s Just Bugs, which is a confrontational hip-hop group that utilizes industrial beats and noise in evoking the challenges of the modern urban experience and the tension of trying to eke out an existence in a time when the economic and political climate makes it so being working class is harder than it’s been since the Great Depression. Fathers is the post-hardcore super group includes, among others, former members of Lords of Fuzz and Cult of the Lost Cause. Years ago The Burial Plot was a heavy band that was breaking to the national scene when it split but it’s now back and actively performing around the Denver area.

Who: Boys Noize w/Sergio Santana and T-Rx
When: Saturday, 12.1, 9 p.m.
Where: Beta Nightclub
Why: Alexander Ridha has been DJing as Boys Noize for nearly a decade and a half at this point. His upbeat remixes of a broad range of artists from Snoop Dog to Depeche Mode and David Lynch are noteworthy for the same reason his DJ sets are worth a listen or, in the case tonight with Beta and its Funktion-One—Ridha’s ability to weave together multiple genres in a set that sound like genres of their own. And it’s not just the tired EDM clichés that started killing off that world of music. He’s not afraid to bring in some menacing and distorted sounds and beats that one might more rightfully hear in a darkwave band or party bangers that aren’t eyeroll-worthy. Ridha is a versatile artist who seems to seek to expand his own musical vocabulary and methods regularly and it has resulted in a freshness to his sets and his recorded output.

Sunday | December 2, 2018

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Rotten Reputation circa 2016, photo by Tom Murphy

Who: Rotten Reputation w/Viqueen, Claudzilla and Rat Bites
When: Sunday, 12.2, 7 p.m.
Where: Lost Lake
Why: San Francisco’s Viqueen (pronounced like Viking but not “king”) makes a stop in Denver with its metallic punk reminiscent of L7, Tribe 8 and maybe a less chaotic Blatz. Also on the bill is the political expressed as the personal (and vice versa) poppy punk quartet Rotten Reputation. With its sarcasm and sharp humor game strong, Rotten Reputation has treated us to two full-length albums’ worth of creative vitriol with its 2017 album Nancy and 2018’s Castration Station. Claudzilla may not be punk in the traditional sense of the sound but in spirit, anyone that irreverent and, not to put too fine a point on it, weird is in the realm of punk and her keytar rock/pop songs will probably alienate the right people but the rest of us can revel in its strangeness. Rat Bites, as mentioned earlier in this column, is a noisy punk band that fans of Murder City Devils, New Bomb Turks and Jawbreaker might enjoy.

Who: Black Marlin w/Hail Satan, Dead Characters and Totochtin
When: Sunday, 12.2, 7 p.m.
Where: Larimer Lounge
Why: Black Marlin is a Denver band with a proclivity for blending the technical musical sensibility of prog and math rock with thrash. Hail Satan is an out and out, no bones about it thrash band but one that could only come out of a certain degree of self-awareness but without any irony in its love for the music. Totochtin is a sludgy but not doomy noisy metal band. It might be a safe bet the guys in the group listened to a few Unsane, Yob and Thou records but you never know. With names like Little Foot, Grease Trap and Big Trash, instrumental metal band Dead Characters bridge the gap between surf rock and sludge metal.

Tuesday | December 4, 2018

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VNV Nation, photo courtesy the artist

Who: VNV Nation w/Holygram and The Rain Within
When: Tuesday, 12.4, 6 p.m.
Where: The Oriental Theater
Why: VNV Nation is a group that has been a bit polarizing in the community of industrial music fans. Its particular EBM aesthetic has certainly influenced the sound and style of the futurepop and EBM music of the late 90s and 2000s—that samey, fake dark and intense post-industrial music with emo-esque vocals and fairly uninspired production. Nevertheless, VNV Nation’s records have had a creative cohesive vision that can be found in the music of its mid-era EBM peers like Covenant, Apoptygma Berzerk and Aseemblage 23 and not so much in many of the bands they all inspired. The project has been driven by Ronan Harris’ songwriting and composition since the beginning and his fusion of synth pop with the hard-edged beats of German industrial acts is is not for everyone. But, especially with the 2018 album Noire, Harris demonstrates his command of the underpinnings of the music that influenced him and informs his own work where an instinct for connecting classical music structure, classic pop songcraft and experiments in electronic sounds can yield interesting results.

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Holygram, photo by Yves Christelsohn

Cologne, Germany’s Holygram masterful matching of post-punk moodiness and driving bass lines with industrial beats and synth work has been compared to The Cure from the arc of albums from Seventeen Seconds to Pornography. Brooding but bright and urgent. The outfit’s 2018 album Modern Cults has that hazy headlong quality coupled with haunted vocals and a taut emotional flavor that is part of what makes The Soft Moon so appealing as well.

Who: Minus the Bear farewell tour w/Tera Melos
When: Tuesday, 12.4, 7 p.m.
Where: The Ogden Theatre
Why: Minus the Bear is calling it quits after seventeen years and several records. Formed in Seattle in 2001 the group’s membership has included then current and former members of prominent post-hardcore bands in America including Botch, Kill Sadie, Circa Survive and These Arms Are Snakes. Minus the Bear’s music required a different kind of technical precision with its idiosyncratic take on math rock – sparkling melodies, intricate guitar work employed with a sort of minimalist approach. That Tera Melos is on the tour is only fitting as that group’s own imaginative math rock is also more focused on songwriting than pure technique.

Who: Childish Gambino w/Vince Staples
When: Tuesday, 12.4, 6:30 p.m.
Where: Pepsi Center
Why: Childish Gambino caused quite a stir with the spring 2018 release of the video for the song “This Is America.” Often poorly, sometimes cringe-worthily so, imitated by several people, the song and video is a brilliant commentary on racism in America today. Donald Glover’s accomplishments as a comedian are better written about elsewhere but his musical output has been equally as interesting and respectable. His 2016 album Awaken, My Love! is one of the better psychedelic soul and funk albums of the past few years. But his promotion of the album with the app that took uses to space with a view back to earth before crash landing in Joshua Tree followed by a list of tour dates and links to get tickets was, to put it mildly, unconventional. But it’s just Glover keeping with his usual attempts to keep things fresh and interesting for him and anyone who wants to be along for the ride. Also on this bill is Vince Staples whose own music may be hip-hop but his musical interests are far broader and you can hear it in his extensive use of synths, samples, production and vocal delivery. Staples’ incisive and evocative words bring attention to a neglected America that isn’t much talked about by politicians and their lapdogs trying to put a good face on the fake economic boom that is really only benefiting the upper one percent before it crashes hard in the next decade. At least that’s what his 2018 opus FM! seems to discuss among other issues.

Wednesday | December 5, 2018

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Chief White Lightning, photo by Jack Grisham

Who: Chief White Lightning w/The Corner Girls and …And The Black Feathers
When: Wednesday, 12.5, 8 p.m.
Where: Lost Lake
Why: Even though that wave of bands trying to mine classic rock glory and songwriting has crashed and dissolved (whether they know it or not) as has the umpteenth psychedelic rock revival, some artists will survive the trend on strong songwriting and having something else to offer than a nostalgia trip appeal. One of those is Josh Logan who is Chief White Lightning. Yeah, boogie rock, blues rock, honky tonk and pop. But Logan brings a great deal of personality to his performances and songwriting and that makes all the difference. …And the Black Feathers from Denver are coming from a similar place but its own songs have an expansive quality that gives its songwriting a broad emotional range even when the songs seem to draw on familiar rock and roll themes. It would be weird if The Corner Girls went more in a blues punk direction or whatever after honing its whole “pastel punk” and surf rock thing but you’ll have to go to see.

Best Shows in Denver and Beyond 8/30/18 – 9/5/18

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CJ Boyd performs at various venues in Colorado this weekend. Photo circa 2008 by Tom Murphy

Thursday | August 30, 2018

Who: A.M. Pleasure Assassins and CJ Boyd
When: Thursday, 08.30, 7 p.m.
Where: Downtown Artery, Fort Collins
Why: Fort Collins’ great lo-fi post-punkers A.M. Pleasure Assassins share the stage with internationally renowned avant-garde punk/folk/ambient/one-man pastoral classical artist C.J. Boyd. The latter is one of the few artists in general that has played in all fifty of the United States. For a decade, Boyd has traversed the country and collaborated with artists from every state and written some of the most accessible and evocative experimental music that defies any absolute categorization. Pick up at any point in his extensive catalog and you’re in for something interesting that will stretch your musical horizons in some fashion. Boyd is playing other shows in Colorado on this leg of his tour and if you’re not able to make this Fort Collins gig it would be worth seeking out where those other shows are happening whether in a house or a DIY space in Colorado Springs like the new Flux Capacitor.

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Smokescreens, photo by Gina Clyne

Who: Smokescreens, The Molochs and American Culture
When: Thursday, 08.30, 8 p.m.
Where: Hi-Dive
Why: Chris Rosi and Corey Cunningham were once members of Plateaus and Terry Malts having toured together during the ascent of the garage/psych revival. But by mid-decade both moved to Los Angeles where they formed Smokescreens out of a mutual love for the off-standard melodic strategy of American pop and more in the vein of New Zealand weirdo, jangle-y punk bands of the 80s on the Flying Nun imprint as well as noisier American music like The Velvet Underground and The Aislers Set. One might make a good case for some influence of The Feelies and a touch of Jay Reatard and No Age in there. All of those influences would mean nothing if the songwriters weren’t capable of doing anything interesting or original out of their own skill set. The band’s 2018 album Used to Yesterday is proof that Smokescreens is making some of the more sonically interesting, guitar-driven pop music today. Combining a tenderness and delicacy of tone and texture with great momentum and energy, Smokescreens is a band that is as idiosyncratic as its influences, which is no mean feat given Flying Nun’s catalog of unique greatness alone.

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The Magpie Salute, photo by David McLister

Who: The Magpie Salute w/Brent Cowles
When: Thursday, 08.30, 7 p.m.
Where: Boulder Theater
Why: Formed in 2016 by former members of Black Crowes including Rich Robinson, Marc Ford and Sven Pipien, The Magpie Salute is perhaps less beholden to the blues rock that was the bedrock of Black Crowes. At least if the band’s new album, 2018’s High Water 1 is any indication. Sure, some of the structure and tones are there but the sonic palette is broader with the band at this point. The title track suggests psych Americana but the album refreshingly doesn’t get stuck in a single mode, mood or dynamic. There’s a 70s feel to the record but one that gives you a greater appreciation for the details that make that songwriting style compelling even today even if you’re heard enough of that sort of thing. Robinson and his bandmates grew up with and within those musical traditions and with this band they’re giving those influences a renewed vitality that is oft-imitated and rarely manifested with this degree of credibility because it doesn’t feel forced and the highly developed songcraft born out of years playing in other bands speaks for itself.

Who: Equine, Tunica Externa, biostatic
When: Thursday, 08.30, 8 p.m.
Where: Mutiny Information Café
Why: Depth of sound field throughout this show with the guitar drones and tone sculpting of Equine, Tunica Externa’s super minimal soundscapes with guitar and loops and biostatic’s synth, live sampled trumpet and processed sounds. None of the artists is much alike, uses very different methods of making their sounds but all have grounded in a way of making music that isn’t rooted in any particular, pre-established style, which should be recommendation enough for going to this show if you’re looking for something well outside the mainstream.

Friday | August 31, 2018

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Brotherhood of Machines, photo by Tom Murphy

Who: Under the Floorboards Celebration: Midwife, Bigawatt, Brotherhood of Machines, Curta and Multicast
When: Friday, 08.31, 8:30 p.m.
Where: Syntax Physic Opera
Why: KGNU’s Under the Floorboards program showcases music that is decidedly left field. So this show will include the minimalist, ambient folk/lo fi production of Midwife, Bigawatt’s operatic avant-post-punk paired with experimental drummer Death Pose, Brotherhood of Machines’ Popol Vuh/dub techno-esque ambient in collaboration with Jake Danna of hip-hop duo Curta. And Multicast, which has been doing ambient music in Colorado for longer than most of the people in Colorado’s quite large ambient scene. With biostatic hosting and serving as a DJ for the night.

Who: Sympathy F
When: Friday, 08.31, 8 p.m.
Where: Goosetown Tavern
Why: Sympathy F came on to Denver stages during the early days of the alternative rock era. Early members of the band included current guitarists Doug Seaman and Tony Morales (who has also been a vocalist in the band from the beginning) and both lived in a building in the Capitol Hill neighborhood called The Blenheim, notable for its gateway looking like something from a medieval urban house, where they lived across the hall from future and current vocalist Elizabeth Rose who became fast friends with the two musicians who one day heard her singing along to the music they were writing. The band became a bit of a fixture in the local scene throughout the 90s, releasing one, self-titled album and a handful of cassette and compilation releases before the focus of the musicians went to other projects even though Sympathy F never disbanded. Over the past decade or so, the group has been more active and in 2016 releases its first album in over twenty years with its second self-titled album. It was a compilation of new and older recordings and demos that the members of the band rendered for a more modern release augmented by overdubs and a proper mixing and mastering treatment. At that time the band had intended to release a double album to get its backlog of material out into the world but that didn’t make sense and now the group is releasing what would have been the second half of the double album with a couple of new tracks that reflect new musical ideas that hint at where the group may go in the future with electronics a part of its lushly atmospheric, moody hard rock.The new album, available tonight, is The Blenheim, a nod to the band’s roots and the creative frisson that launched its fruitful and prolific, if not widely available on a recording until recently, career. See our upcoming interview with Seaman on the history of the band and its recent painstaking recording of at least one of its new songs.

Who: EVP w/Pearls and Perils and Gold Trash
When: Friday, 08.31, 9 p.m.
Where: BarFly
Why: Glasss Records occupies BarFly for the night. EVP’s pointed personal/political commentary informing its impassioned industrial noise pop will bring some edge to the laid back environs. Gold Trash’s noise-scape-y, beats collage electroclash will demonstrate how you can keep it weird and confrontational yet fun. Pearls and Perils makes downtempo R&B with a rich emotional quality and theatrical stage presence that is impossible to ignore.

Saturday | September 1, 2018

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Church Fire, photo by Tom Murphy

What: Temple Tantrum Day 1
When: Saturday, 09.1, 12 p.m., music starts 1 p.m. runs to 10 p.m.
Where: The Temple Studios
Why: Temple Tantrium is a two day festival that encourages attendees to arrive in costume and join in the festivities with twenty musical acts, fourteen art installations, comedy and performance art. For list of artists featured see below.
Music: Council of Word, Porcelain, F-ether, Halo Halo, Ginger Perry, JL Kane, R A R E B Y R D $, Princess Dewclaw, Church Fire, Plantrae

Visual/installation Artists: Ancient.Future, Charles Russel, Alex Anderson, Kat Nechleba, Kristina Rolander, Ryan Wurst, Izzy Jarvis, Regan Rosberg, Queen City Harlequinade, Kelly ShortNQueer, Tara Worley, Suchitra Mattai, Katine Lowe, Marsha Mack, Sandra Fettingus, Naomi Scheck, Joanne Shminke, Lori Owicz, Brendan Macleod.

Performance art and comedy: No Gods No Masters, Punketry, Gallagher Fest, Jessica L’Whor, Jaguar Morning Show

Who: Big Business w/Simulators and Quits
When: Saturday, 09.1, 8:30 p.m.
Where: Larimer Lounge
Why: Big Business is the sludge metal/noise rock band from Seattle comprised of former KARP and Murder City Devils members Jared Warren and Coady Willis. The duo spent a handful of years playing in Melvins where its bombastic, playful and joyous sound fit in with Melvins’ sense of the absurd. For this show the duo will be joined by sharp-edged post-punk band Simulators and eruptive noise rock supergroup Quits which includes former members of Denver-based noise rock outfits Sparkles and Hot White.

Who: Pink Fuzz LP release w/Love Gang and Boot Gun
When: Saturday, 09.1, 8 p.m.
Where: Lost Lake
Why: BANDITS from Boulder honed its hard blues rock sound for a few years under that name before adopting its new moniker, Pink Fuzz. The group releases what may be it’s first full-length record tonight. Though not a stoner rock band, fans of bands like Fu Manchu and Nebula will probably find a lot to like here.

Sunday | September 2, 2018

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The Speedholes circa 2001, photo by Rebecca Bauer

What: Temple Tantrum Day 2
When: Saturday, 09.1, 12 p.m., music starts 1 p.m. runs to 10 p.m.
Where: The Temple Studios
Why: See the entry for this event above on September 1, 2018. The list of visual/installation artists and performance art and comedy is the same. But musical guests for this day include: Machu Linea, MEEK, Entrancer, ETERNAL, Baby Tony & The Teenies, L.A. Zwicky, Oxeye Daisy, Vic N’ The Narwhals, NEEFF, Nasty Nachos and Pictureplane.

Who: Merrick 25th Anniversary Party with debut of Rocket Dust, Vashion Seeds and Sam & Catherine from AKA Belle
When: Sunday, 09.2, 5 p.m.
Where: Globe Hall
Why: Kelly and Dan Merrick were members of noisy garage punk band The Speedholes in the 90s and early 2000s and were active participants in the vibrant Denver punk scene of that time. Both had roots in the Seattle underground scene of the 80s and 90s and were impacted by Denver musicians who made it to the Pacific Northwest regularly or even made it a home like maybe The Derelicts but certainly The Fluid and Spell. They’re celebrating their twenty-fifth wedding anniversary with the debut of their new band Rocket Dust with this show at Globe Hall.

Tuesday | September 5, 2018

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Mondo Obscura, photo by Tom Murphy

Who: Mondo Obscura and The Counselor (DJ set)
When: Tuesday, 09.5, 7 p.m.
Where: Chiba Bar | Colorado Springs
Why: Denver futuristic new age/ambient band Mondo Obscura lands in Colorado Springs for a two hour live set followed by DJ set from local weirdo The Counselor at a Japanese themed bar. Fortunately it won’t be the “Chiba City Blues” but if some guy named Case shows up looking like he might be hyped on stims and babbles something about Molly Millions and the Panther Moderns just be glad for the distraction and ask him how Acacia Park is treating him.

Wednesday | September 5, 2018

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Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever, photo by Warwick Baker

Who: Rolling Blackouts Coast Fever w/Jo Passed
When: Wednesday, 09.5, 7 p.m.
Where: Larimer Lounge
Why: On the strength of the material on its first two EPs, 2016’s Talk Tight and 2017’s The French Press, Melbourne, Australia’s Rolling Blackouts Coast Fever drew favorable comparison by critics like Robert Christgau and Stephen Deusner to influential Australian jangle pop band The Go-Betweens. With the sparkling guitar tone and effluvient, often urgent, dynamics the comparison seems apt. But the band never really sounds like a throwback and especially not so on its 2018 full length Hope Downs wherein the guitar play weaves hanging chords into its bright melodies to convey more fully melancholic undertones and introspective moods. Like American indie rock band LVL UP, RBCF has a real knack for writing songs with a depth of composition using dissonance, textural rhythms and percussive melodies alongside more straightforward guitar work. Live the group performs with a nervy energy that gives what might otherwise be simply solid pop songs a palpable intensity.

Who: Weird Wednesday: KRBS (from Ludlow), Bonnie Weimer, Whimsically Macabre Music
When: Wednesday, 09.5, 9 p.m.
Where: 3 Kings Tavern
Why: This latest edition of Weird Wednesday features artists whose music doesn’t necessarily scream out “weird” but in the larger musical sense really is. Bonnie Weimer whose spare, banjo songs are reminiscent of Maureen Tucker solo or on her rare and excellent vocal performances in The Velvet Underground (particularly “After Hours”). Meaning it’s intimate, powerful and a bit mysterious. Presumably KRBS is Josh Kirby from the great Colorado folk/punk band Ludlow doing a solo performance. Kirby has an offbeat, often surreal sense of humor so that’s bound to be part of the set too. Whimsically Macabre Music is a solo piano project of Stacy Fahrion. The music doesn’t hit you over the head with its strangeness. In that sense it has more in common with how many Erik Satie pieces are haunting or various Shirley Jackson novels have an atmosphere just off enough to get under your skin without having to resort to cheap thrills.

Best Shows in Denver 08/9/18 – 08/15/18

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Echo Beds album release Sunday, August 12, 2018 at Mutiny Information Café

Thursday | August 9, 2018

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Lady Gang, photo courtesy Jen Korte

Who: Lady Gang EP release w/Venus Cruz & Ginger Perry and R A R E B Y R D $
When: Thursday, 08.9, 9 p.m.
Where: Syntax Physic Opera
Why: Jen Korte has long been known as a respected and talented songwriter in Denver with her inventive songwriting and vivid lyrics. Known mostly for her Americana solo output and her brilliant collaborations with other artists including stints in Gin Doctors and as a guitarist in experimental rock band Teacup Gorilla. Lady Gang is Korte branching out as a songwriter and, this time around, as a producer. It’s a solo project in which Korte uses “a beat machine, a loop pedal, bass guitar, electric guitar and her signature voice.” That voice has some grit, character and confidence. The project’s new EP, released tonight, is Simple Truths, is truth in advertising with Korte finding direct ways of discussing the world in its incredible disarray. The songs resist simple classification. “How Do You Sound” has elements of bluesy psychedelia and hip-hop as interpreted through someone like MC 900 Foot Jesus. “Preface This” like a long lost Helium track with its electro-lounge and mysterious melodic strains. Sharing the stage for the occasion of this release is a collaborative set with two of Denver’s most noteworthy musical figures in jazz/soul/hip-hop phenom Venus Cruz, host of the Jazz Odyssey program on KUVO (one of the most forward thinking radio programs in Denver) and Ginger Perry, one of the Mile High City’s great DJs and not just the kind that shows up with a simple playlist. Oh, and R A R E B Y R D $, one of the most interesting hip-hop crews going that’s injecting a rich spectrum of quality imagination and emotional content into the genre.

Who: Lupe Fiasco w/Mickey Factz, Bill Blue, Dylan Montayne, Connor Ray
When: Thursday, 08.9, 7 p.m.
Where: The Ogden Theatre
Why: It’s for the best that Lupe Fiasco didn’t actually quit music as he had intended in 2016 after the controversy over “N.E.R.D.” and the infamously supposed anti-Semitic line. In a time when white supremacy has made a curious rise in American political life, it’s essential to have voices who are articulate and unabashed critics of such nonsense not to mention Fiasco’s sharp critique of the down side of America’s actions on the international stage. Initially shelved, 2017’s Drogas Light was described as a prequel to the 2011 album Lasers. Perhaps for this tour Lupe Fiasco will unveil a bit of his new direction as creatively moving forward certainly suits him.

Who: Angélique Kidjo’s Remain In Light and Femi Kuti & Positive Force
When: Thursday, 08.9, 6:30 p.m.
Where: Denver Botanic Gardens (York Street)
Why: Two giants of world music on one bill in a beautiful setting? Both Kidjo and Kuti have deep roots in the development of world music in general but Afrobeat in particular. Obviously Femi Kuti’s father Fela was the founder of Afrobeat and Femi played in Fela’s band starting in his teen years. Kidjo was “discovered” as a jazz musician in Paris but quickly made a name for herself internationally for her powerful voice and inimitable personal style. A rare opportunity in Denver.

Friday | August 10, 2018

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Meet The Giant, photo by Tom Murphy

Who: Meet the Giant vinyl release w/Church Fire and The Patient Zeros
When: Friday, 08.10, 9 p.m.
Where: Syntax Physic Opera
Why: Denver-based rock band Meet the Giant releases the vinyl edition of its self-titled debut album tonight with a show at Syntax. The record is a synthesis of moody, deeply atmospheric dream pop, downtempo and fuzzy hard rock. Live the band’s songs have a mysterious yet emotionally vibrant quality accented by a broad dynamic range between the trio’s players. For the occasion Meet the Giant is joined by two of Denver’s best bands. The Patient Zeros emerged from the glut of neo-classic rock, throwback 60s psych-nostalgia and garage rock that seemed to dominate the past several years with its own musical identity and more bluesy like Cream and not a cut-rate Brian Jonestown Massacre. Church Fire is the rare band that bridges electronic dance music, noise, industrial and synth pop and infuses it with a passionate intensity and shamanic stage presence.

Who: Melvins w/WE Are The Asteroid
When: Friday, 08.10, 7:30 p.m.
Where: Gothic Theatre
Why: Melvins have managed to spend its 35 years as a band not just developing its signature sludgy, heavy rock and influencing generations of musicians, it has taken the opportunity to collaborate with other artists in various realms of music. Whether that’s with experimental electronic artist Lustmord or Jello Biafra, Melvins seem to have long realized that you have to keep doing stuff you find interesting and following your curiosity and trying different things along the way. 2017’s A Walk With Love and Death was a double album with half of it being a noisy soundtrack to a forthcoming film in which the band is involved. Now, Melvins are touring its latest record, 2018’s Pinkus Abortion Technician. Reliably great live, do yourself a favor and see Melvins this weekend or if not this weekend sometime if you’ve not before.

Who: Witch Mountain w/False Cathedrals and Wild Call
When: Friday, 08.10, 8 p.m.
Where: Hi-Dive
Why: Witch Mountain is a doom band from Portland, Oregon currently touring in support of its recently-released self-titled album. The quartet has technically been around since the late 90s but with an early 2000s hiatus giving band members some time to pursue other projects, the group reconvened this past decade with female lead singers who really help coalesce the drifty heavy riffs into mythical anthems. Also on board for the show is Denver doom band False Cathedrals and Wild Call who, while not doom, more psych or shoegaze, have an edge and heaviness to its atmospheric rock that will fit right in.

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Parker Millsap, photo by James Coreas

Who: Parker Millsap w/Plain Faraday
When: Friday, 08.10, 8 p.m.
Where: The Bluebird Theater
Why: Parker Millsap is definitely operating with a tradition of music that includes blues rock artists of his youth like Eric Clapton and Stevie Ray Vaughan who were doing their level best to tap into the original blues artists of the American South and Midwest. But instead of getting stuck there, it’s obvious Millsap took some time to explore traditional folk and country and more modern practitioners of that art who brought their own ghosts and haunted quality and soul to their own music. Like Townes Van Zandt and Jeff Buckley. Millsap’s own voice and playing has a an impressive subtlety and spectrum of detail, texture and emotional colorings and has established himself as a real talent in his realm of music. In May 2018 he released his latest record Other Arrangements.

Saturday | August 10, 2018

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Itchy-O, photo by Christopher Cleary

Who: Itchy-O Record Release w/Codename: Carter
When: Saturday, 08.11, 8 p.m.
Where: Gothic Theatre
Why: The Itchy-O’s new full-length Mystic Spy | Psykho Dojo, like any recorded work, could never fully capture the exuberant mayhem and visceral impact of a thirty plus member band in elaborate costumes generating an orchestra of rhythms and tones designed to disorient and inspire. Nevertheless, the new album offers listeners a foray into deep sound design that conveys the sheer detail and atmospheric experience of the band in a different context. It’s the band’s most forward thinking set of songs to date and rendered in a way that is as easy to get lost in on its own terms as the band is live. Each of the band’s albums have been impressive works in their own right in terms of recording and execution as a separate experience from the live show but Mystic Spy | Psykho Dojo is much more than an addendum to an Itchy-O concert, it is the realization of the concept of an esoteric spy film soundtrack and sonic training rhythms for tribal psychics to manifest a more vital future. Joining Itchy-O for this occasion is spy rock/surf band extraordinaire Codename: Carter.

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Princess Dewclaw, photo by Tom Murphy

What: Washout Fest at Globe Hall: Muscle Beach, Rotten Reputation, Sliver, Moon Pussy, Princess Dewclaw, Sonic Vomit, Morlox, Ultraviolet, Eraserhead Fuckers, Bert Olsen, Juice Up, Lepidoptera, Fever Dreams, Saddy, Freak//When//Scene, Monty O’Blivio, Clutch Plague, Television Generation, King Slug and Wayward Sun
When: Saturday, 08.11, 12 p.m.
Where: Globe Hall
Why: Hands down the most eclectic music festival to happen in Denver in 2018. While many try to encapsulate too many genres with not enough interesting artists, others focus on indie rock and NPR-friendly pop, yet others an uninspired and obvious selection of popular artists and token local artists who aren’t going to ruffle any feathers, the organizers of Washout Fest have dug a little deeper. But more than that, not just artists on the Glasss imprint. It includes notable local noise artist Morlox, ambient project Lepidoptera, noisy psych punk group Princess Dewclaw, the industrial noise rock of Moon Pussy, dream psych pop group Fever Dreams, experimental metal band Sonic Vomit, unconventional punk bands Rotten Reputation and Muscle Beach, fuzz rock bands Sliver and Television Generation, noise hip-hop weirdo Eraserhead Fuckers and much more. The more conventionally-minded festivals have their place, especially when they have a local focus like The UMS and Westword Music Showcase, but this is one where radio-friendly wasn’t the consideration, just quality and putting one’s reputation on the line for declaring the bands as such.

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Valley Queen, photo by Pooneh Ghana

Who: Valley Queen w/Tyto Alba
When: Saturday, 08.11, 8:30 p.m.
Where: Lost Lake
Why: Valley Queen has been honing its live show and songwriting for four years with numerous national tours under its belt to road test its music. Its gift for reinventing a type of rock music that isn’t part of a subgenre and isn’t necessarily trying to remanifest some older style of music is impressive. The band may have borrowed some from its retro peers and 2000s indie rock but with the release of its debut album, Supergiant (2018), the Los-Angeles based band demonstrated it’s perfectly capable of establishing a signature sound of layered melodies and Natalie Carol’s commanding vocals. Valley Queen is no stranger to Denver having made the Mile High City a regular stop on its tours and tonight the group will share the stage with one of America’s most promising rock bands, the warmly moody and emotionally stirring Tyto Alba from Denver.

Who: Great American House Fire and Sophisticated Boom Boom split release
When: Saturday, 08.11, 8 p.m.
Where: Bowman’s Vinyl and Lounge
Why: It wouldn’t be accurate to say that Great American House Fire and Sophisticated Boom Boom are punk but its roots lie in a similar Denver punk and emo scene of the past two decades. GAHF has a bit more soul and Americana in its sound while SBB is more in the vein of power pop. Both celebrate the release of their split seven inch tonight at Bowman’s.

Who: GhostPulse (single premiere) w/Plume Varia and Ramakhandra
When: Saturday, 08.11, 8 p.m.
Where: Syntax Physic Opera
Why: GhostPulse is premiering its new single “Dreaming In Hypersleep” tonight. The song is a leap forward for a band that was evolving out of its roots in excellent post-rock/instrumental rock band Lucida Tela. The more electronic, soundscape-y sound of its newer material is very welcome in a city where music rooted in mundane reality currently dominates. Plume Varia will compliment the evening well with its own downtempo dream pop and space jazz/Flying Lotus/Gil Scott-Heron-esque band Ramakhandra will keep things in the outer realms of the imagination as well.

Who: Melvins w/WE Are The Asteroid
When: Saturday, 08.11, 8 p.m.
Where: The Aggie Theatre
Why: See above for 8.10 on Melvins.

Sunday | August 12, 2018

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Cannons circa 2010, photo by Tom Murphy

Who: Goon, faim, Soul Vice
When: Sunday, 08.12, 6 p.m.
Where: Mutiny Information Café
Why: This benefit for the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition features some of the more interesting local hardcore acts including Goom and Faim from Denver and Soul Vice from Colorado Springs. Yes, the bands are doing a benefit for a political organization but their own songwriting is non-didactic and address social and interpersonal issues in a poignant and powerful way. For instance, faim’s great song “All Talk” takes to task the people in its own world and scene who talk a big game and make a major display of what they want people to think they’re about without doing anything concrete in the real world and in their own lives to address those issues in meaningful way.

Who: Cannons w/Echo Beds (album release), Limbwrecker, In The Company of Serpents
When: Sunday, 08.12, 9 p.m.
Where: Mutiny Information Café
Why: Over two years after the release of its debut full-length New Icons of a Vile Faith, Denver’s Echo Beds finds its starkly menacing clamor evolving in new directions with its 2018 album Buried Language (officially out on 8.17 through The Flenser). Still in place is the physicality of the music and its inventive and visceral use of percussion and rhythmic sound but added to the mix is a greater sense of the use of production in executing that aesthetic in a way that is an even more full spectrum stimulation of the senses. This show is a bit of a record release and tour kickoff for the band but also a chance to share the stage with like-minded acts. Cannons was an excellent noise rock/post-hardcore act that was most active nearly a decade ago in Denver. In the Company of Serpents is a doom band but its wall of sound is so colossal and caustic it’s almost more like death metal or grindcore slowed down to the pace of magma. Limbwrecker could be said to be a powerviolence band with a sense of humor.

Tuesday | August 14, 2018

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The Chamanas, photo by Brett Muñoz

Who: The Chamanas w/Picture the Waves, Vic N’ The Narwhals, Los Mocochetes and Ghost Tapes
When: Tuesday, 08.14, 7 p.m.
Where: Globe Hall
Why: The Chamanas is an indie pop band if indie pop were born out of being influenced by not just the type of music that formed the DNA of C86 and American indie pop bands of the 90s (garage rock, psychedelia, folk, noise etc.) but if the folk underpinnings of that music included traditional Mexican music, the various pop traditions of Latin America and Cuban dance music. It’s that mixture that gives the band’s music not only a uniquely eclectic flavor but one that has an immediate connection for fans of earlier and more modern indie pop. Manuel Calderon and Hector Carreon met as sound engineers at Sonic Ranch near El Paso, Texas and after working on projects by other artists the two finally issued their own album as The Chamanas in 2015, Once Once. In 2017 the band released its second album, NEA, titled after the nickname of Carreon’s brother who had recently passed with songs that reflected that loss. With 2018’s NEA II, The Chamanas re-rendered several of NEA‘s songs with five new tracks. Also on this bill are some of the best bands in the Denver music scene whose own music is a brilliant synthesis of musical traditions in Vic N’ The Narwhals, Los Mocochetes and Ghost Tapes.

Who: Wino, Xasthur and Phallic Meditation
When: Tuesday, 08.14, 9 p.m.
Where: 3 Kings Tavern
Why: Robert “Wino” Weinrich will perform some of his starkly evocative solo material at this show. Better known, perhaps, for his tenure in doom legends Saint Vitus and The Obsessed, his solo acoustic material showcases his raw gift for songwriting. Xasthur’s spare black metal with acoustic instrumentation came to Denver in 2017 with a haunting performance capable of deep musical darkness without the usual instrumentation and sound one associates with a similar aesthetic. Denver’s Phallic Meditation is more a doomy psychedelic band but with some experimental noisiness that sets it apart from similarly-minded groups.

Who: Lil Ugly Mane, Kahlil Cezanne, Curta, Cadaver Dog, Many Blessings, Videodrome
When: Tuesday, 08.14, 8 p.m.
Where: Hi-Dive
Why: When Travis Miller released his debut album as Lil Ugly Mane, 2012’s Mista Thug Isolation, he had already garnered some praise from members of the Odd Future collective for his absurdist imagery and inventive production that really didn’t obey then mainstream hip-hop conventions with his use of noise and black metal soundscapes/samples in some of the beats. So it’s fitting that on this bill are experimental/noise hip-hop artist Curta, hardcore bands Cadaver Dog and Videodrome and noise soundscaper Many Blessings. If there’s a show demonstrating how all those worlds and their various aesthetics aren’t so far apart this whole year so far, this is it.

Wednesday | August 8, 2018

Aseethe-by-Karlee-Barr
Aseethe, photo by Karlee Barr

Who: Yakuza, Aseethe, Oryx, Terminator 2
When: Tuesday, 08.14, 8 p.m.
Where: Hi-Dive
Why: Aseethe’s 2017 album Hopes of Failure is a great example of how one can create an immersive experience with heavy music if you’re willing to go beyond how that music has often been conceived in an earlier era. Not just doom or a subgenre of that subgenre, Aseethe’s music is now more like sound design in the form of songs to render an experience through sound and, live, through the visceral dynamics of how that sound is executed. It would be imprecise and wannabe inclusive to call it ambient. It’s not that. It’s not music that can be easily shuffled off into the background if you wish. Aseethe is in good company for this show with Chicago’s Yakuza, a band that has long been pushing the boundaries of heavy music and Denver’s Oryx and Terminator 2 who both don’t just make experimental metal but whose own songs expand what heavy music can be and the forms it can take when the dynamics aren’t essentially the same trying to fit into what doom or grind are “supposed” to sound like.

Who: Beach House w/Sound of Ceres
When: Tuesday, 08.14, 8 p.m.
Where: The Ogden Theatre
Why: It could be argued that Beach House has been in something of a creative rut since 2012’s Bloom, or, less charitably, sine 2008’s Devotion. While it’s albums have been enjoyable and yielding worthwhile songs, and the live shows have been reliably moving, the songwriting was starting to get a little stale. With 2018’s 7, it’s like the band reinvented itself. Maybe with the help of producer Sonic Boom, former member of Spacemen 3 and Spectrum, but this set of songs sounds like Victoria Legrand and Alex Scally recognized a need to break their own boundaries as the songs are far more experimental and adventurous than the duo has ever been. The band’s previous two albums were nice but Beach House is better than merely nice and has now proven it. Sound of Ceres is now based out of New York but the band is originally from Fort Collins, Colorado and its own dreamlike pop music shares the quality of intimate sound and mood and personal mythology that has made Beach House’s music so resonant for anyone with a rich inner life and imagination.

Who: Father John Misty with TV On the Radio
When: Tuesday, 08.14, 6:30 p.m.
Where: Red Rocks
Why: Love him, hate him or find him mundane, at least Father John Misty has some self-awareness of his own creative output. Joshua Tillman, Misty, recently released his new album God’s Favorite Customer and ditched the unifying concept approach to writing the album, which Tillman told Consequence of Sound in April 2018 was “pretentious.” You have to honor that level of frankness and honesty in an artist. Whatever intentionality went into God’s Favorite Customer, the record is a sonically and emotionally rich listen with collaborations with the likes of Haxan Cloak and Weyes Blood. That visionary art rock/downtempo/experimental R&B band TV On the Radio is on the bill too is more than just a bonus.