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.

Meet Post-Punk Band Lot Lizard from Sioux Falls

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Lot Lizard, photo by James Dean

Lot Lizard is a post-punk band from Sioux Falls, South Dakota. If you’ve not been to South Dakota maybe you only think of the Badlands or Mount Rushmore and that scene from North By Northwest and not a place from which interesting music hails but it’s long been a fact that relatively isolated areas is where you find a good deal of spark and originality as creative people there have to be more or less self-inspirational. Also, one of America’s great record stores is located in Sioux Falls: Total Drag. The latter has been the regional stop for touring bands on the underground/DIY circuit since opening its doors around half a decade ago.

Lot Lizard’s sound is haunted, ethereal yet brooding and urgent. Like a goth-y Pere Ubu or resonant with the eclectic roots of newer bands like later period Iceage and Protomartyr. Currently the group is on a tour with Frankie and the Witch Fingers with dates in Colorado listed below before the interview. The band is nearly finished with its debut full length with an anticipated release on vinyl through both Different Folk Records and Total Drag Records. Patrick Nelson, the group’s bassist, recently answered some questions for Queen City Sounds illuminating some of the band’s history and how he got into post-punk.

February 25 | Lot Lizard with Charioteer at Side Door | Colorado Springs

February 26 | Lot Lizard with Frankie and the Witch Fingers and Eye and the Arrow at Hi-Dive | Denver

February 27 | Lot Lizard with Frankie and the Witch Fingers and Its Just Bugs at Surfside 7

Queen City Sounds: Sioux Falls, South Dakota is not the first place people think of when it comes to post-punk. What brought your band together and what kinds of places did you play locally before branching beyond?

Patrick Nelson: It’s true, South Dakota is not a place know for its post-punk (or insert any genre) bands or for its boundary pushing culture in general. This band was brought together essentially by our drummer Brogan who basically reached out to all of us separately about the idea of starting a new band. All of us, at the very least, knew of each other and had seen each other around at shows and/or in other bands. We started playing the typical places available to bands: small clubs/bars, basement shows, and most importantly our local record store that doubles as an all ages DIY space.

How did you get into post-punk and noise rock (referencing Lord Bronc’s mention of Jesus Lizard on your Bandcamp page)?

That’s a good question.. I’m sure the answer would vary greatly per member. Post-punk was a weird one for me as it took me quite a while to “grow into.” An acquired taste if you will. To a 15-year-old me it was just kind of weird boring music that I didn’t get at the time. When you’re that age and full of youthful insanity blasting, I don’t know, classic early punk from NY, LA and the UK or early hardcore stuff like Minor Threat or Black Flag, bands like The Fall or Joy Division are just kind of weird and out there sounding. Not energetic or shocking enough. Of course you grow up a little bit and figure it out and realize you were totally wrong.

Noise rock on the other hand was something that grabbed me right away and was part of my musical experience at a young age. I think that has to do with that it was having a sort of heyday in my formative years. Like that whole Amphetamine Reptile scene or bands like Butthole Surfers, Sonic Youth or Jesus Lizard. All super abrasive in their own way but were getting press, major label contracts etc.. I was lucky enough to see Jesus Lizard AND Sonic Youth at Lollapalooza in 1995. It’s always interesting to see what other bands people link your band to. I don’t really see the Jesus Lizard but we’ve gotten it more than once. Although I won’t deny the influence of that rhythm section on my playing and I can see a connection with Ben’s guitar work as well.

Did you play different kinds of music before starting this band? What bands? What kind of music?

Oh yeah. I’ve played in plenty. In addition to this project I’m currently involved in a moody post-hardcore project called Roman Ships. Prior to that I’ve played quite a bit of guitar and a little bass in projects that range from street-punk/power-pop to new-wave/space rock, to even a ska band back in the 90s. I can honestly say I’ve been a fan of at least one band every one of the other guys has been in. Lindy had this killer Goth/death-rock project called Angie Hosh. Ben fronted a cool noisy post-rock band called Talk Rock. Brogan’s been involved in a ton of bands (as drummers in this town, and presumably most towns, are known to do). Most recently a garage project called Weathers Rest and in the early 2000’s a chaotic screamo band called Sinking Steps…Rising Eyes.

What made what you do now more interesting for you initially? I know, it’s not as cut and dry and by the numbers like that. That live video you sent and your demos reminded me a little of another band whose post-punk and other musical roots come from a little different direction as well and that is Protomartyr. Did you start out sounding sort of like that? Did you evolve into that sort of sound?

This has been an interesting ride so far for many reasons including the fact that song writing has been very organic. We didn’t go into this with the idea that we would create something that sounds like band A crossed with band B sprinkled with layers of C and D. Of course we talked a bit about bands we liked and such… but that can be an exhaustive conversation with this crew as we all like a huge variety of music and have a lot of respect for different styles. The Protomartyr connection is interesting to me in the fact that I think most of this first record was created without everyone in the band really knowing about that band and their records…. That being said I can see some similarities particularly the idea that much of the music is rhythmically driven via the bass and drums while the guitar often textures in these tasteful atmospheric licks. I think at this point I can speak for everyone and say we are indeed fans of that band now though. Recently saw them live, they killed.

Is there an active local music world that you connect to right now? What is life like for a band like yours in South Dakota in terms of playing shows and connecting with other artists to share bills? How did you get hooked up with those shows in Colorado?

The Sioux Falls music scene is doing pretty well currently. In terms of venues/spaces hosting live original music I think we’re thriving, the best we’ve been in over a decade! Whether people realize that and get out to support live music as much as they should is certainly up for debate. We’re a small city and so it’s tight knit and for the most part I think we try to support each other. The city is growing fast, and has been for [many] years now, so I’m very interested to see where we end up in 5 or 10 years.

As for connecting with other artists and how we got connected to the Colorado shows, we played a gig with Frankie and the Witch Fingers in Sioux Falls a little over a year ago. They dug our band and on top of that had the next day off so we became friends and were lucky enough to connect with them in Denver and Ft. Collins.

Like-minded or at least adjacently-minded bands we should know about or hear that maybe no one outside of South Dakota or regionally?

There’s plenty of talented musicians here that’s for sure. Two I’m particularly excited about are Bodega Sushi and Velcro Ultrasound (both are in the middle of full length albums). Rifflord and Green Alter are some other friends, both in the heavier realm of things, that are working hard and deserve a shout.

“Lot Lizard” is a term I grew up knowing (as a child of the 70s and 80s), is there a story behind why you chose that name or a significance to the name that has come to fit your band and its music?

Ha, yeah there’s a bit of a story. So I had written this bass line and had an idea in mind for how I wanted the song to sound sonically. I was describing it to the guys at practice and tried to put them into this landscape, this frame of mind. I believe it went, “Like some lot lizard out of gas and stranded in the middle of nowhere on some desert highway.” To which Brogan said, “What did you say? What’s a lot lizard?” And after a laugh and an explanation on my end he responded, “That’s it, that’s the band name.” There was definitely a little apprehension as we weren’t trying to be overtly offensive or whatever. We asked for outside opinions, including those of our girlfriends/wives. It stuck. And I think it fits. It’s also fun to forget about the social term and just use it as more literal in terms of reptiles. And the alliteration. I mean heck, it might just be the perfect band name.

How did you get connected with Total Drag and why is that a significant place for your band and maybe for the local underground music world?

Brogan [Costa], our drummer, actually helped open and is a part owner of Total Drag. On top of that I’ve know Dan and Liz [Nissen] for as long as I can remember. We’ve attended and played a lot of gigs together over the years. Total Drag is an integral part of what is happening in Sioux Falls. Lot Lizard played our first gig there and it continues to be the place we most often play locally.

In any city the importance of a space that hosts all ages shows cannot be stressed enough. At a most primal level, a music scene will have a hard time surviving without it. Music is evolved by the youth. A scene being engaged by youthful energy and ideas will hopefully foster growth and longevity.

Best Shows in Denver 12/6/18 – 12/12/18

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CupcakKe at Summit Music Hall, Saturday, December 8, 2018. Photo courtesy the artist

Thursday | December 6, 2018

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Quits circa Spring 2018, photo by Tom Murphy

Who: Red Fang w/Telekinetic Yeti and Quits
When: Thursday, 12.6, 7 p.m.
Where: Larimer Lounge
Why: Red Fang is a “stoner rock” band from Portland, Oregon that started out when that form of music was a big trend in underground metal. But Red Fang’s knack for writing a solid melody and its self-awareness and sense of humor set it apart from early on. After all, who gets über metal nerd comedian Brian Posehn to cameo in your music video (“Wires) unless you’re somewhat legit but don’t take yourself too seriously. It’s been a couple of years since the band’s most recent album but in 2018 it released an interesting choice for a single in Tubeway Army’s “Listen to the Sirens.” Opening the show are two fairly different kinds of bands. Dubuque, Iowa’s Telekinet Yeti makes a sort of groove-oriented doom-sludge, like a more psychedelic Fu Manchu. Quits from Denver is a noise rock juggernaut whose membership includes Luke Fairchild of Git Some fame, Doug Mioducki (formerly of indie pop band Felt Pilotes and noise rock groups Sparkles, Witchdoctor and CP-208) and Darren Kulback (ex-Hot White and Poison Rites). When the band started former Hot White vocalist/bassist Tiana Bernard brought her emotional intensity and charisma to the band but since she moved out of state, Neil Keener has stepped in with his considerable abilities honed in projects like Planes Mistaken For Stars, Git Some and Woven Hand.

Friday | December 7, 2018

 

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Godflesh, photo courtesy the artist

Who: Godflesh w/In The Company of Serpents
When: Friday, 12.7, 7 p.m.
Where: The Oriental Theater
Why: Godflesh was oft-cited as an early grindcore band by the national music press in the late 80s when the group’s landmark industrial metal album Streetcleaner was released in 1989. That same year other significant records in the realm of what came to be called alternative music emerged with Nine Inch Nail’s Pretty Hate Machine, Soundgarden’s Louder Than Love and Pixies’ Doolittle. The combination of scorching, grinding, forbidding guitar and bass work backed by beats generated through drum machines was not in line with metal orthodoxy and too abrasive even for most fairly adventurous radio stations. Though in being explicitly against the tough guy stance in its lyrics, Godflesh was certainly articulating an ethos that was in opposition to the hypermasculine rock and roll image and rhetoric of the time.

Fast forward decades and the duo has experimented with atmosphere and dynamics, expanding the palette of Godflesh overall while not dispensing with a style of music that reflects the harshness of the world as a sort of sonic totem against it. Guitarist Justin Broadrick has also explored various musical interests including forays into the realms of electronic music not always present in his work with Godflesh including the projects Techno Animal, Jesu, Pale Sketcher, Final and Scorn, among others. Bassist G.C. Green, who founded Godflesh with Broaderick in the mid-80s when the latter was a teenager whose pioneering guitar work on the first half of the 1987 Napalm Death album Scum was one of the blueprints for extreme metal generally and grindcore in particular, has also contributed more than his fair share to experimental music with his contributions to Final and Main. All the biographical details aside, Godflesh as a live duo is even more beautifully brutal than the records might suggest and as powerfully menacing.

Opening the show is the excellent Denver doom/extreme metal band In the Company of Serpents. The group has evolved quite a bit over the years from an early sort of high contrast death-grind doom sound and now Grant Netzorg’s songwriting has folded in his inspirations from dark Americana, Swans and Earth. It’s still towering riffs and gritty vocals but with a more song-oriented approach rather than what could at times seem conceptual.

Who: The Number 12 Looks Like You, Rolo Tomassi, Arsonists Get All the Girls
When: Friday, 12.7, 7 p.m.
Where: Lost Lake
Why: The Number 12 Looks Like You melded together an instinct for amped emotional expression and math rock and by not sounding like every other screamo and post-hardcore band, established a bit of a cult status for its inventive sound that fans of Hella and Blood Brothers might find incredibly appealing. After breaking up in 2010, the group returned to active status in 2016 with this its first appearance in Denver since reconvening.

Who: Weaponizer w/Rotstrotter and Flight of Sleipnir
When: Friday, 12.7, 6:30 p.m.
Where: Bannock Street Garage
Why: Weaponizer’s blackened thrash has surprisingly keen songwriting as though the guys in the band grew up listening to metal but not getting lost in just the making sounds their parents might hate and actually writing songs that will probably endure past the time it’s no longer active. This show celebrates guitarist Justin Kelly’s fortieth birthday and the band will be joined by deathgrind band Rotstrotter and Flight of Sleipnir who seem to draw some major inspiration from Scandinavian, transcendental metal bands and perhaps people in the band have read Egil’s Saga or Heimskringla or any of the old Viking epics.

Saturday | December 8, 2018

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Calm. circa 2016, photo by Tom Murphy

Who: CupcakKe
When: Saturday, 12.8, 7 p.m.
Where: The Summit Music Hall
Why: Maybe CupcakKe is considered a “dirty rap” artist because of the sexual content of her raps. But she’s no more so than many artists who haven’t been similarly dubbed. Her creatively layered beats alone would make her an artist of note but even among the unapologetic, sometimes boastful, stream of words, CupcakKe actually makes some interesting, insightful and poignant truthful commentary about life. Her fourth album, 2018’s Eden, may be a bit moodier on a few tracks than some of her previous releases but it just demonstrates her range as an artist and nowhere on the album is the IDGAF about foolishness attitude in short supply.

Who: Calm. album release w/Extra Kool, Joe Alan and Cosmicam the Cosmos
When: Saturday, 12.8, 7 p.m.
Where: The Summit Music Hall
Why: Two of Denver’s underground hip-hop greats, Calm. and Extra Kool, perform tonight to raise awareness of the issues facing the homeless by inviting those who show up to donate coats and other warm gear to Denver Homeless Outloud which also dedicates its efforts to stop the city’s misguided and destructive camping ban. Calm. also releases its incendiary new album Things I Learned While Dying in Denver on this night as well.

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Anthony Ruptak, photo by Nick Velharticky

Who: Anthony Ruptak release of A Place That Never Changes w/Los Mocochetes and Kramies
When: Saturday, 12.8, 8 p.m.
Where: Hi-Dive
Why: Anthony Ruptak’s new album A Place That Never Changes nearly didn’t happen when all his music gear, songbooks and money for recording was stolen from his home. But years of good karma playing in the Mile High City and running one of the best open mic nights in town meant the community came to his aid and helped him to complete the debut LP. The record is never just one flavor. There are bits of freak folk, indie pop, chamber rock and pastoral country but it all comes together as a statement, in the form of vignettes, on a how life and your surroundings change even if you feel as though it never really, in essence, does. Ruptak brilliantly explores the frustrations, the worries, the aspirations, the fantasies and yearnings of a generation and a society that seems to be stalled out and assaulted by forces seemingly beyond our control. All while suggesting we can work around the situation if we open ourselves up to our own imagination and share the angst and struggles with others even if just a little. Fans of Mercury Rev, My Morning Jacket and Iron & Wine will find much to love about A Place That Never Changes.

Monday | December 10, 2018

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Protomartyr, photo by Daniel Topete

Who: Protomartyr and Preoccupations w/Teeth of the Hydra
When: Monday, 12.10, 7 p.m.
Where: The Bluebird Theater
Why: On a short list of the great post-punk/art punk bands of today would have to include Detroit-based noise rock weirdos Protomartyr and Preoccupations from Alberta, Canada and its brooding yet expansive atmospheric guitar rock. So it’s only fitting that the two bands are touring together and releasing a split single on which each band covered the other. Preoccupations’ interpretation of Protomartyr’s “Pontiac 87” from that band’s 2015 album The Agent Intellect is brimming with a moving, haunted sense of resignation. Whereas Protomartyr’s cover of “Forbidden” from Preoccupations’ 2016 self-titled album honors the somber grit that gives way to elevated emotional states that made the original so compelling. Both bands have a gift for using atmosphere with an emotional push and intensity coupled with layered musical textures and dynamics that even when each hits a hypnotic peak of repetition it remains heady until the end. Each band would be worth seeing alone but a bill together makes it potentially one of the great shows in Denver of 2018.

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Middle Kids, photo by Maclay Heriot

Who: Middle Kids w/The Shacks
When: Monday, 12.10, 7 p.m.
Where: Larimer Lounge
Why: Australian rock band Middle Kids released its debut full-length, Lost Kids, in 2018 and did us all a favor by showing how one can be pretty much unabashedly influenced by music that one’s peers made trendy and do something more interesting with it. The songs seem to be rooted in a sort of folk rock songwriting mode, twinges of 70s Laurel Canyon haunting its edges, while incorporating elements of fuzzy 90s rock. But with uncommonly thoughtful and wise lyrics that are nostalgic yet self-conscious of the tendency to romanticize when the bare truth can often be more poetic than a sanitized personal revision of one’s life.

Tuesday | December 11, 2018

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The Helio Sequence (Benjamin Weikel), photo by Ana Pupulin

Who: The Helio Sequence w/Wild Pink
When: Tuesday, 12.11, 7 p.m.
Where: Globe Hall
Why: The Helio Sequence were exploring spacious melodies and daydream tones when it wasn’t too widely present in modern music outside of IDM acts like Boards of Canada and Clark. As a duo, the band had to be creative and efficient in their execution of sounds so there is a fairly different sound from other bands that are often placed under the banner of indie rock. Before the latter was a clumsily vague banner term The Helio Sequence was often described as being within the realm of psychedelic rock and shoegaze, which is true enough, but its musical roots also stretch to Pacific Northwest underground rock, drummer Benjamin Weikel even having drummed on the 2004 Modest Mouse record Good News for People Who Love Bad News. In 2008 The Helio Sequence released its second, and breakthrough, album Keep Your Eyes Ahead. It represented a more overtly well-composed pop direction that band would expound upon thereafter—soaring melodies, introspective lyrics and always inventive soundscaping. For this tour the project is celebrating the ten year anniversary of the album that propelled it into a circle of success wider than underground cult status.

Who: Demoncassettecult w/Machu Linea and Mirror Fears
When: Tuesday, 12.11, 8 p.m.
Where: Lion’s Lair
Why: Beat driven, noise influenced experimental electronic music is the theme for this show. Demoncassettecult combines industrial soul samples (close enough) with R&B vocals for something that shouldn’t exist but completely makes sense live and on the projects recordings. Machu Linea is the latest project from Armando Garibay who was a member of The Circus House, a sort of avant-garde psychedelic pop band that included former Ancient Elk vocalist Anna Smith. Machu Linea is like downtempo deep house reminiscent of Sunday 8PM-period Faithless but updated. Same dusky, beautifully moody, hip-hop-inflected dance music. Machu Linea’s 2018 album GIRL would be in the upper echelons of a best of dance music list for the year if the wider world was aware of it. Mirror Fears, of course, has been pushing the envelope of electronic music in Denver without being an electronic dance artist per se. Not that dance beats and programming aren’t part of her sound because they are but she also comes to the music from the perspective of someone who spent time in a dream pop band as well as being steeped in the local noise and experimental music scenes. Lately her songwriting has delved further into beat-driven electronic composition.

Who: John Grant w/Two Medicine
When: Tuesday, 12.11, 7 p.m.
Where: The Bluebird Theater
Why: John Grant’s Denver music history is pretty respectable as the keyboard player of an early incarnation of gloom rock legends Twice Wilted and then as the lead singer/pianist of dream pop band The Czars. But upon leaving Denver to pursue his artistic fortunes elsewhere, Grant embarked upon a critically acclaimed career under his own name beginning with 2010’s excellent Queen of Denmark. His command of electronic music composition in the context of artier pop songwriting has made all of his solo albums worth listening to on their own. That his lyrics are thoughtful, even insightful, and relevant to the vagaries of modern life has kept his songs fresh and striking. Currently Grant is touring in support of his 2018 album Love is Magic.

Who: S A D Nois, Lipglo$$, Equine and more
When: Tuesday, 12.11, 7:30 p.m.
Where: Seventh Circle Music Collective
Why: S A D Nois and its sound sits somewhere at the intersection of modern classical, noise and textured environment sound composition. Lipglo$$ is sort of like a weird, ambient, noise take on trap and profane and hypnotic. Maybe influenced by video game music and Tim & Eric. Equine is Kevin Richards’ use of his mastery of weird jazz chords and phrases, minimalism and processing both in fascinating directions.

Wednesday | December 12, 2018

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Allout Helter circa 2016, photo by Tom Murphy

Who: La Armada w/Allout Helter, Targets, No Sign of Remose and others
When: Wednesday, 12.12, 7 p.m.
Where: Seventh Circle Music Collective
Why: La Armada from Santo Domingo in the Domincan Republic is one of the most popular hardcore bands in the country and it has made an impact throughout the North American underground with its crossover sound and political lyrics. The quintet is in good company for this bill with Denver’s Allout Helter and Targets. The former shares some of the thrash sound of the latter and a bit of the grindcore edge of the latter.

Who: Kid Astronaut w/Kayla Marque, Dylan Streight, Shalom Dubas
When: Wednesday, 12.12, 7 p.m.
Where: Globe Hall
Why: Jon Shockness is moving to London soon to explore what the wider world of music outside of Denver and outside the United States has to offer his eclectic and considerable talent. He was once a member of the late great hip-hop group Air Dubai and a graduate of Denver School of the Arts where he recently told Colorado Public Radio he was able to be taken seriously even as a young artist, providing a solid foundation for his efforts sine. In 2018, as Kid Astronaut, Shockness released the project’s debut full-length, the sultry, powerful and imaginative Full Moon.

Best Shows in Denver 3/15/18 – 3/21/18

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Mint Field performs at Lost Lake on March 21. Photo by Maria Fernanda Molins

 

Who: Protomartyr w/Ned Garthe Explosion
When: Thursday, 03.15, 7 p.m.
Where: Globe Hall
Why: Protomartyr apparently didn’t get the memo on what post-punk bands in the current era are supposed to sound like. The vocal delivery hits at weird angles to the fluid rhythms and jagged yet expressive and atmospheric guitar work like Nick Cave singing for a hybrid of The Fall and Sleaford Mods. Its latest record is 2017’s Relatives in Descent. It’s a bit moodier than the group’s earlier albums yet has a headlong quality as though the band is embracing the chaos and disorientation of the world now to see where the broken machine ultimately lands. Ned Garthe Explosion is more of a psychedelic rock band but one of the most gloriously ragged around the edges and one for which you never quite know where the show will go in a way we need to see more often.

Who: Alonerly, R A R E B Y R D $, Claudzilla
When: Thursday, 03.15, 10 p.m.
Where: Mutiny Information Café
Why: Alonerly is the solo project of Antonia Montoya from Albuquerque. Using upright bass, soulful vocals and beats, Montoya creates the kind of spacious yet intimate music that probably gets lumped, and not unjustifiably so, with jazz and hip-hop but is in the end its own thing, a rarity in a time when many musical artists are trying to tap a little too much into an established musical genre. She won’t be alone in bringing something not quite like anything else with keytar weirdo Claudzilla and hypnotic and highly evocative hip-hop/noise crew R A R E B Y R D $.

Friday | March 16, 2018

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Bad Licks, photo by Tom Murphy

Who: Bad Licks 7 inch release w/Vic ‘n’ the Narwhals, The Corner Girls and Soulfax DJs
When: Friday, 03.16, 8:30 p.m.
Where: Hi-Dive
Why: Bad Licks includes former members of The Blue Rider so there’s plenty of the subtle weirdness to the undertones of its psychedelic garage rock. The group is celebrating the release of its latest seven inch of its excellent Lies EP. Because people in the band are very much into genuinely experimental music, the record is worth listening to beyond obvious genre trappings. Joined this night by pastel/surf punks The Corner Girls and surf/blues punk band Vic ‘n’ the Narwhals. All around a post-garage rock genre-bending extravaganza because all of these bands put on an energetic performance.

Who: Clan of Xymox w/Voicecoil and Radio Scarlet w/DJ Svipal
When: Friday, 03.16, 7 p.m.
Where: Bluebird Theater
Why: Clan of Xymox formed in Amsterdam near the height of the first wave of post-punk in 1981. The band’s sound including more extensive use of synths was more in line with groups like Comsat Angels, The Sound, Killing Joke and The Chameleons. Clan of Xymox’s first three albums are considered foundational for what has come to be known as “darkwave” – the blending of early synth pop aesthetics with post-punk. Xymox and contemporaries like Anne Clark, Fad Gadget and Depeche Mode made what might have been considered weird and avant-garde accessible to a broad audience. By the early 90s, however, the band splintered and Ronnie Moorings continued in a direction inspired by the acid house music popular in dance clubs in the late 80s and early 90s. But apparently the project’s fanbase wasn’t into that sound and it didn’t translate well to the rave crowd. And yet Xymox hadn’t completely lost its darkwave cachet and throughout the 90s Moorings experimented with a return to that sort of sound while absorbing the industrial music of bands he had in part influenced. Over the past decade darkwave, industrial and gothic rock has been enjoying the most extensive genuine revival since the first time around and Xymox has enjoyed a little of its own renaissance being invited to festivals catering to the aforementioned genres and with its last eight albums, including 2017’s Days of Black, released or re-issued on Metropolis. Why did the music matter? As someone once said about Joy Division, despite and because of its sometimes gloomy, brooding, emotionally urgent and intense sounds, Xymox and its contemporaries had to come along to articulate complex and sometimes conflicting emotions with a clarity, power and poignancy that wasn’t happening with a lot of rock and roll.

Monday | March 19, 2018

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Yardsss, photo by Tom Murphy

Who: Screwtape, Wander, Young Lovers, Ridgeway, Yardsss, Brother Saturn
When: Monday, 03.19, 6:30 p.m.
Where: Seventh Circle Music Collective
Why: One of the great things about shows at Seventh Circle is that even if it’s all supposed to be all one thing it never really is. Tonight proves that as local hardcore heroes Screwtape are performing alongside mostly post-rock/shoegaze bands. Brother Saturn’s collage of guitar sounds tracing the outsides of daydreams made up of soothingly hypnotic layers of atmosphere is a good fit with California based post-rock bands Wander, Young Lovers and Ridgeway to send them back home from SXSW in a welcoming show halfway through that journey. Yardsss from Portland, Oregon has a diverse sonic palette but broadly speaking, the band’s core sounds are rooted in droning atmospheres, noise and improvisational electronic composition. Fans of more experimental industrial music will find much to like in Yardsss’ darkly evocative aesthetic.

Who: Mimicking Birds, The Raven and the Writing Desk and Haley Heynderickx
When: Monday, 03.19, 7 p.m.
Where: Globe Hall
Why: Indie rock band Mimicking Birds are making a stop in Denver on their way to Treefort Music Fest (we’ll be featuring some advance coverage in the next few days as well as post-fest coverage in the following weeks). The group recently released its new album, the gorgeously lush and pastoral Layers of Us. If you’re not making it out to Treefort for the 7:40 p.m. set at El Korah Shrine, catch the Portland, Oregon-based band tonight with the like-minded The Raven and the Writing Desk. The latter is one of Denver’s best kept secrets in music as a band that has really pushed itself to explore new vistas in its own sound and breaking with its own musical past in order to make something interesting and fresh. A rarity.

Tuesday | March 20, 2018

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GGOOLLDD, photo by Kelly Bolter

Who: OMD w/GGOOLLDD
When: Tuesday, 03.20, 7 p.m.
Where: The Ogden Theatre
Why: Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, often referred to as OMD, were, like fellow UK artists Gary Numan and Human League as well as Berlin in the USA, instrumental in establishing what became synth pop. After seeing an mid-70s Kraftwerk concert, bassist and vocalist Andy McCluskey started OMD with some friends and from early on the band separated itself from many other bands of the era in having no guitars and but a visceral live show. OMD enjoyed its share of commercial popularity in the UK and the US at various points in its career but artistically it’s arguably greatest achievement was the 1983 album Dazzle Ships. But the mainstream audience didn’t seem to be much into the truly boundary pushing pop compositions. Today the album is considered by many fans to be its best alongside its 1981 predecessor, Architecture & Morality. Now recognized as innovators as well talented masters of pop songcraft, OMD will be headlining a show at The Ogden Theatre with the Milwaukee, Wisconsin-based GGOOLLDD. The latter, fronted by the dynamic and talented Margaret Butler, recently released the TEETH EP in December 2017. Part synth pop, part theatrical glam band, GGOOLLDD has always put on a large theater show in small, even intimate venues, so catch a great, newer band opening for a group in a similar lineage of imaginative yet sincere music.

What: Faster Than Light Fest: Obtuse (1st), Blue Lane Frontier, Old Sport, Granddad (AK/MN), Closer is a Band (Brooklyn), Alien Boy (Portland), Runaway Brother (Cleveland)
When: Tuesday, 03.20, 5 p.m.
Where: Seventh Circle Music Collective
Why: This is a festival put together for bands on their way from SXSW or going through and happening to converge in Denver for one date. It’s also a good cross section of the modern punk/emo/math rock underground in America and naturally it’s at Seventh Circle where a lot of touring if that stripe often plays in Denver these days. Locals Obtuse, Old Sport and Blue Lane Frontier represent a rebirth for the kind of punk that both embraces pop punk, screamo, indie rock and math rock but also advances where that music could have gone had it converged and evolved. Portland’s Alien Boy gets points for naming itself after a Wipers song but also for embodying the kind of moody punk with thoughtful, sometimes wryly humorous, lyrics and the kind of darkness and intensity, not to say anger, that a lot of punk frankly lacks.

Wednesday | March 21, 2018

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Kelly Lee Owens, photo by Kim Hiorthøy

Who: Kelly Lee Owens
When: Wednesday, 03.21, 9 p.m.
Where: Bar Standard
Why: With her 2017 self-titled full-length, Kelly Lee Owens displayed a keen ear for electronic composition and a knack for translating that into accessible dance tracks. Her mastery of mixing hypnotic and deep low end with melodic drones interweaving with her ethereal vocals across the record was stunning. Fans of IDM, dub techno and deep house, do yourself a favor and at a minimum pick up the album. Also, fans of dream pop/shoegaze acts unafraid of jumping straight into abstract atmospheres such as Slowdive, Seefeel and Sound of Ceres will find much to like with Owens’ output as well. Owens performs tonight at Bar Standard before setting off for Treefort Music Fest in Boise, Idaho where she performs Thursday night 3.22 at 12:30 a.m. at Neurolux

Who: Mint Field w/Neighbor Lady and American Grandma
When: Wednesday, 03.21, 7 p.m.
Where: Lost Lake
Why: Mint Field’s 2018 debut album Pasar De Las Luces is being touted as a great modern shoegaze album. And it is, but it is one that isn’t particularly beholden to an older sound. The minimalist aesthetic of the music bears a stronger resemblance to ambient and downtempo dance music than to rock. At its most “rock” the band comes off as more post-punk and Krautrock like Neu! or Faust than worshippers of Lush or My Bloody Valentine. Although the band is from Tijuana its gauzy layers and swirling melodies are a far cry from that city’s reputation as one of the party capitals of the world. Mint Field also performs at Treefort Music Fest in Boise, Idaho on Saturday, March 24 at 6:30 p.m. at Boise All Ages Movement.

Who: U.S. Girls w/Rubedo and Michael Rault
When: Wednesday, 03.21, 7 p.m.
Where: Larimer Lounge
Why: Meghan Remy’s U.S. Girls has thankfully been pretty much impossible to chalk up to a single genre of music since the project’s inception. It’s always pop songs whether those have a leg in noise, punk, garage rock or whatever. Her latest album, 2018’s In a Poem Unlimited, sounds, interestingly enough, like a reinvention of 90s hip-hop as a funk and soul record. It has that lush production with grit and a melancholic undertone. “Pearly Gates” in particular is reminiscent of Warren G’s 1994 hit “Regulate.” Which, considering the themes of the album, is an interesting allusion. But whatever ideas and sounds informed the record, it is a literate and insightful exploration the various manifestations of toxic masculinity, its effects throughout culture and society and what life might be like without it’s wearying, destructive influence.

Who: Ed Schrader’s Music Beat w/Naked Giants and Hairclub
When: Wednesday, 03.21, 8 p.m.
Where: Hi-Dive
Why: If you listened to Ed Schrader’s Music Beat’s albums and other recorded releases prior to 2018 and didn’t see live, the appeal can be a bit of a head scratcher. A floor tom, scream-ish vocals and bass? Live it all made sense and the records relatable. But the band put out its most accessible album to date with Riddles. Having worked with Dan Deacon didn’t hurt and as the band’s producer, Deacon helped to shape a sound that took the duo’s avant-garde urban tribal contradictions and into the level of recorded coherence the project has always warranted. Ed Schrader’s Music Beat also performs at Treefort Music Fest in Boise, Idaho at 10:30 p.m. at Boise All-ages Movement Project.