“The Art of Losing” by Summer With Monica is a Wistful Pop Song About Learning to Stop Struggling Against Yourself

Summer With Monica, photo courtesy the artist

Summer With Monica is the solo project of Julien Staartjes, guitarist for the Amsterdam-based band The Vagary. For his song “The Art of Losing” Staartjes was inspired by Elizabeth Bishop’s 1976 poem “One Art.” The jangle-y pop song is reminiscent of a more folk The Soft Boys or Robyn Hitchcock’s solo with its easy pace and poetic phrasing. Maybe a bit of the early music of The Church can be heard echoing there too. Though melancholic in tone at times the sense of the song is one of a kind of hope born of learning to overcome the habits of ego that end up causing us misery even as we think we’re pursuing what’s best for us when at times we should not cling so tightly to notions, dreams and desires that no longer suit us. The chorus of “It’s not so hard, it’s not so hard to let go, to let go” is like a mantra and the closing passage of the song in which Staatjes describes someone who has seemingly hit bottom but who is finally at a place where the ego bound mandates held back his real potential have been washed away in the rain is the fulfillment of an evolving realization that sometimes when you’re struggling the hardest you’re actually fighting your own forward progress. Listen to “The Art of Losing” on Soundcloud and follow Summer With Monica at the links below.

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCbXK43yzpziI6fwja53-ZsQ
https://www.instagram.com/summerwmonica

Best Shows in Denver 3/12/20 – 3/18/20

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Robyn Hitchcock performs at Swallow Hill on March 13, photo by Emma Swift

Due to the Coronavirus-related cancellations we will include the shows we already had planned for coverage but indicate that they are cancelled as appropriate and as that information is available.

Thursday | March 12

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Thundercat circa 2017, photo by Tom Murphy

What: Thundercat w/Guapdad 4000
When: Thursday, 3.12, 7 p.m.
Where: Ogden Theatre
Why: Stephen Lee Bruner, aka Thundercat, has been the go-to bass playing genius in the hip-hop world and beyond for over a decade including performing on albums by Kendrick Lamar, Erykah Badu, Kamasi Washington and Flying Lotus. His own music is equally distinguished for its surreal creativity.

What: Harry Tuft and Brad Corrigan (of Dispatch)
When: Thursday, 3.12, 6:30 p.m.
Where: Swallow Hill Quinlan Cafe
Why: Harry Tuft was instrumental in cultivating and fostering the folk music scene in Denver through first the Denver Folklore Center and then through Swallow Hill. He is also one of the great interpreters of that music and a talented artist in his own right and this intimate show will be a good setting to catch him in action.

What: Dwight Yoakam w/Tennessee Jet
When: Thursday, 3.12, 7 p.m.
Where: Mission Ballroom

What: Joe Sampson w/Ben Kronberg and Adam Baumeister
When: Thursday, 3.12, 8 p.m.
Where: Hi-Dive

Friday | March 13

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Mayhem, photo by Tom Murphy

What: Cancelled The Decibel Magazine Tour: Mayhem and Abbath w/Gatecreeper and Idle Hands
When: Friday, 3.13, 6 p.m.
Where: Ogden Theatre
Why: Mayhem is the legendary/notorious black metal band from Norway whose early history was the subject of the 2019 biopic Lords of Chaos. But the current band is equal parts occult rock theater and crushing black metal of devastating power.

What: Robyn Hitchcock
When: Friday, 3.13, 7 p.m.
Where: Daniels Hall at Swallow Hill
Why: Robyn Hitchcock first came to public attention as a member of post-punk band Soft Boys in the early 80s but later in the decade through to today he has established himself as one of the most consistently creative, thoughtful and wryly humorous songwriters of the modern era. With an eclectic songwriting style that weaves in elements of jangle rock (which he helped to pioneer) and psychedelia, Hitchcock’s observational story songs articulate vividly snapshots of the core human zeitgeist of the moment through his lens of an Englishman who has remained open to the world.

Why: Concert for Indigent Defense/Death Penalty Repeal Party: Tokyo Rodeo, Cyclo Sonic and The Slacks
When: Friday, 3.13, 9 p.m.
Where: Skylark Lounge
Why: Tokyo Rodeo is a rock band that by not tying its songwriting to a trendy aesthetic or some classic style has been able to cultivate its own voice in writing songs that delve into the personally meaningful in the musical language of a rock and roll universality. Cyclo-Sonic is a Denver punk super group with former members of Rok Tots, The Fluid, Frantix and The Choosey Mothers. But pedigree is not enough. Fortunately Cyclo-Sonic’s unvarnished rock theater and strong songwriting recommends itself.

What: Snakes w/Colfax Speed Queen and No Gossip in Braille
When: Friday, 3.13, 8 p.m.
Where: Hi-Dive
Why: Snakes is a band that includes George Cessna as well as Brian Buck of High Plains Honky and Kim Baxter of several bands including Gun Street Ghost. Sharing the stage for this inaugural show is psychedelic garage rock powerhouse Colfax Speed Queen and the radically vulnerable post-punk stylings of No Gossip in Braille.

Saturday | March 14

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Ned Garthe Explosion circa 2014, photo by Tom Murphy

What: Ladies Night, Ned Garthe Explosion, Slugger, Despair Jordan
When: Saturday, 3.14, 8 p.m.
Where: Hi-Dive
Why: Ned Garthe Explosion could have a career as a comedy band but its songwriting is too strong and clever for being a mere novelty act. Its nearly unhinged psychedelic rock is always surprisingly compelling. Slugger somehow managed to emerge over the last few years influenced by 70s rock and psychedelic garage rock without sounding like a rehash of a rehash, instead, vital and visceral.

Sunday | March 15

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Ásgeir, photo by Anna Maggý

What: Bolonium, Damn Selene and Gort Vs. Goom
When: Sunday, 3.15, 7 p.m.
Where: Hi-Dive
Why: Bolonium is part weirdo pop band and game show including a section involving audience participation. Damn Selene’s mixes underground hip-hop, darkwave, noise and industrial music. Gort Vs. Goom is like if the Minutemen fully embraced prog rock and Blue Oyster Cult.

What: POSTPONED Ásgeir
When: Sunday, 3.15, 7 p.m.
Where: Bluebird Theater
Why: Ásgeir is an Icelandic songwriter whose blend of folk with electronic production has garnered him a bit of an audience in his home country and abroad. His falsetto combines a sense of intimacy and transcendence couched in transporting tones and grounding musical textures. Currently the artist is touring in support of his latest album Bury the Moon.

Monday | March 16

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Wax Lead, photo by Kristi Fox Fräzier

What: Cancelled Wax Lead, Vio\ator, Voices Under the Mirror and Voight
When: Monday, 3.16, 7:30 p.m.
Where: Seventh Circle Music Collective
Why: Minneapolis-based post-punk band Wax Lead brews its catharsis from lushly brooding female vocals and bass-driven minimalism and a willingness to pointedly tackle social and political issues. Also on the bill is the great, Denver-based industrial post-punk band Voight and one of the few good local EBM acts Voices Under the Mirror and its emotionally rich vocals and songwriting.

What: CANCELLED Destroyer w/Nap Eyes
When: Monday, 3.16, 7 p.m.
Where: Bluebird Theater

Tuesday | March 17

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Kronos Quartet, photo by Jay Blakesberg

What: CANCELLED or POSTPONED Kronos Quartet
When: Tuesday, 3.17, 7:30 p.m.
Where: Newman Center
Why: Kronos Quartet has helped to make classical music cool and relevant since its founding in Seattle in 1973 through creative interpretation of foundational works and the contemporary avant-garde. The Quartet has also been known to indulge in fascinating covers of music in genres beyond its presumed wheelhouse as well as working with noted artists like Laurie Anderson and Pat Metheny.

What: POSTPONED Elohim
When: Tuesday, 3.17, 7 p.m.
Where: Bluebird Theater

What: Bear Hands and Irontom
When: Tuesday, 3.17, 7 p.m.
Where: Globe Hall

Wednesday | March 18

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Jonathan Wilson, photo by Louis Rodiger

What: CANCELLED Jonathan Wilson w/Other Worlds
When: Wednesday, 3.18, 7 p.m.
Where: Bluebird Theater
Why: Songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and producer Jonathan Wilson (Erykah Badu, Father John Misty, Laura Marling etc.) brings a lot of skill, experience and talent to bear on his new album Dixie Blur which he didn’t record at his studio in Los Angeles, where he has produced plenty of high quality material, but in Nashville to be closer to his Southern roots as a musician who grew up in North Carolina. Whether setting matters much in an ultimate sense, the record and lead single “Oh Girl” is informed by a warmth and sensitivity that elevates songs that are already noteworthy for their diverse dynamics and broad palette of emotional coloring.

Best Shows in Denver 3/28/19 – 4/3/19

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Dilly Dally performs Friday 3/29 at Larimer Lounge. Photo by Michelle Homonylo

Thursday | March 28

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Eugene Chadbourne, photo courtesy the artistEugene Chadbourne

Who: Creative Music Works Fundraiser: Special guest Eugene Chadbourne
When: Thursday, 03.28, 7-9 p.m.
Where: Mighty Fine Productions
Why: Creative Music Works is, according to the event page, a “nonprofit organizartion providing educational and performance opportunities for musical innovators.” Meaning the organization furthers the endeavors of artists whose work often falls outside the traditional commercial and popular music environment—the people pushing the boundaries with form, method and conceptualization. CMW members Janet Feder, Mark Harris, Scott Kinnamon, Elena Carmerin Young and Isaac Linder will contribute to a performance as well as avant-garde music legend Eugene Chadbourne.

Who: Starjammer w/Bianca Mikahn
When: Thursday, 03.28, 4-7 p.m.
Where: 3 Kings Tavern
Why: Starjammer’s “avant-garde dub reggae”/performance art/home made instrument rig glory is paired tonight with one of Denver’s poetry greats and forward thinking hip-hop experimentalists, Bianca Mikahn.

Who: Rob Sonic w/The Maybe So’s, Brett Gretzky and Hakeem Furious
When: Thursday, 03.28, 8 p.m.
Where: Ophelia’s Electric Soapbox
Why: Rob Sonic has had a fairly distinguished career for his innovative hip-hop projects Sonic Sum and Hail Mary Mallon (which included Aesop Rock and DJ Big Wiz). What has made his various efforts interesting is his use of a fairly different palette of sounds from many of his peers. His 2018 album Defriender lays out moods and textures that wouldn’t be out of place on a post-punk or deep house track or an industrial noise song. Denver’s The Maybe So’s is a duo that also weaves in unconventional electronic music and samples of organic percussion into its flow of beats and poetry.

Friday | March 29

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American Culture, photo by Tom Murphy

Who: Dilly Dally w/Chastity and American Culture
When: Friday, 03.29, 8 p.m.
Where: Larimer Lounge
Why: On Dilly Dally’s 2015 album Sore the group sounded like a bit like a weird mixture of Bully and Courtney Barnett. But to be fair, it was probably something in the universe/confluence of influences across a broad swath of the collective musical consciousness. But with the 2018 album Heaven, Dilly Dally has expanded its range as a band and there is more brooding, atmospheric darkness flowing through its fuzz-laden riffs. It’s song “Doom” is more doom in tone and emotional resonance than a lot of what passes for such in the doom genre. But its inherently introspective yet expansive melodies keep the music from wallowing in stagnation. Along for this date is fellow Canadian band Chastity who are definitely more well within the realm of doomy noise rock. American Culture lately has straddled the line between indie pop, post-punk and psych country jam rock minus the wacktitude.

Who: Furbie Cakes, Space Monkey Mafia (MN), MTHirst, Fancy Pantz, Shocker Mom, Luxury Hearse and Wooflet
When: Friday, 03.29, 8 p.m.
Where: Your Mom’s House
Why: A show chock full of weirdo electronic bands, ambient and noise. And then Shocker Mom who is making the most heartwarming and healing sad beats currently being made.

Saturday | March 30

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Hand Habits, photo by Jacob Boll

Who: Hand Habits w/Tomberlin and Porlolo
When: Saturday, 03.30, 8 p.m.
Where: Larimer Lounge
Why: Meg Duffy may be more well-known for being a touring member of Kevin Morby’s band. But with the release of her album placeholder under the moniker Hand Habits should garner her plenty of attention for her own creative efforts. Superficially its mid-tempo moody indie folk but her words go deep into thoughts and feelings we don’t want to entertain but must face honestly. Not necessarily obvious and brutal trauma but the subtler pains that can deeply haunt you every day and from which are more elusive in evading. Disappointment in self, reflecting on one’s suddenly seemingly damning mistakes and the cognitive dissonance of the complexity of conflicting feelings about people, situations, existential ponderings and life in general that are all valid. Her tonal choices are all interesting and the perfect companion to explicating and maybe untangling and processing the aforementioned.

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Robyn Hitchcock, photo courtesy the artist

Who: Robyn Hitchcock
When: Saturday, 03.30, 7 p.m.
Where: Swallow Hill – Daniels Hall
Why: One thing that isn’t so obvious about seeing Robyn Hitchcock playing solo or with collaborators is how his simple but richly detailed guitar work is creatively varied and incorporates percussive elements with an expressive delicacy that focuses the emotional impact of his songwriting. He seems to be an endless well of interesting and poetic stories that make even what some may consider his lesser records worth a listen. Pick a point in Hitchcock’s career and you’ll find some of the best songwriting of that period whether while he was a member of The Soft Boys, his work with The Egyptians or The Venus 3. Like a magical-realist (emphasis on realist) novelist, Hitchcock’s songs offer observational insight into the human psyche through an intensely personal window.

Who: Jeff Carey, Sigtrygur Sigmarsson, Diffuser, Flesh Buzzard, Joshua Westerman. Sunk Cost and Page 27
When: Saturday, 03.30, 8 p.m.
Where: Thought//Forms
Why: Noise shows are pretty infrequent in Denver these days but this one is a showcase for some of the best noise acts going and not in the vein of the cliché harsh noise/shakebox feedback sculpting mode. Much more craft, imagination and originality here with Denver noise legends Page 27, former Austin-based noise prankster Sunk Cost, Adam Rojo of Voight’s Diffuser noise-scaping pieces and raw noise punk Flesh Buzzard. Among others.

Who: Black Dots, SPELLS, Lawsuit Models, Girl Scout Heroine and Good Family
When: Saturday, 03.30, 7 p.m.
Where: Seventh Circle Music Collective
Why: A fairly traditional punk show with less of the fashion victim thing than usual. SPELLS wears costumes and get a solid B for the music but hey, that’s better than you get a lot of the time. Girl Scout Heroine includes former members of The Geds and The Blast-Off Heads.

Who: King Buffalo w/Pale Sun and The Lycan
When: Saturday, 03.30, 8:30 p.m.
Where: Lost Lake
Why: What King Buffalo is doing, to some extent, we’ve seen a lot of over the past decade—drone-y, blues-y, doom-y psychedelia. But to give the band its due, if 2018’s Longing To Be The Mountain is any indication, it didn’t just adopt some motorik beats, it takes that sonic vehicle to places of heightened emotional impact beyond just hypnotic drive with occasional flourishes. Also it’s songwriting is much more creative and not grinding away at the same vibe and pace for an entire record. King Buffalo often reaches moments of true sonic sublimity in a way that transcends any genre associations. Pale Sun will bring a different kind of atmospheric heavy as the trio’s finely honed space rock has similar roots as King Buffalo but whose music touches subconscious places in the mind with both tone, rhythm and emotional vibrancy. Vocalist/guitarist Jeff Suthers channels the visceral quality of the music well with his singing but he’s also tapping into something in the collective consciousness in the performance as well.

Monday | April 1

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Olivia O’Brien, photo courtesy the artist

Who: Olivia O’Brien w/Kevin George
When: Monday, 04.01, 7 p.m.
Where: Larimer Lounge
Why: Olivia O’Brien was about fifteen years old when she got a boost up as a singer and songwriter after garnering the attention of Australian pop artist gnash who discovered her through her posting of a cover of one of his songs on Soundcloud. Over the past four years, O’Brien has recorded with gnash and released a string of singles. “Trust Issues” from 2016 revealed a thoughtful sensibility and self-awareness that can be uncommon in general but definitely in a teenager. O’Brien’s R&B and soul inflected pop and commanding, emotionally nuanced, stage presence will probably find a wider audience after this current tour and the April 26 release of her debut full-length Was It Even Real? For now, you can see her at a small club like Larimer Lounge.

Tuesday | April 2

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Ten Fé, photo by Eleanor Hardwick

Who: Ten Fé w/Ten Miles South and Paul Kimbiris & The Dark Side of Pearl
When: Tuesday, 04.02, 7 p.m.
Where: Globe Hall
Why: Been Moorhouse and Leo Duncan got their start busking in London before recording their 2017 debut album Hit the Light. Before taking the music on the road, the duo brought on board a band to fill out the sonic details. The group’s 2019 album Future Perfect, Present Tense sounds remarkably sophisticated for a relatively new band. Its particular incorporation of synth into songwriting might remind some listeners of The Call or later-era The Sound, but without the punk edge. That’s no knock on the music because its softness doesn’t quite wax into the 70s Laurel Canyon worship that’s been en vogue of late. Rather its the sound of a band exploring and refining where it will go next while perfecting an exquisitely lush minimalism without sacrificing the textural details that have made its songwriting noteworthy up to now.

Who: Vanilla Milkshakes digital album release show
When: Tuesday, 04.02, 7 p.m.
Where: Mutiny Information Café
Why: Its been four years since Vanilla Milkshakes released Tall People Have No Feelings. Line up changes and a release of a cover of “Breed” by Nirvana in 2018 later, the grunge-y pop-punk band (singer/guitarist David McGhee makes no bones about being influenced by The Offspring) has released its best record with Punching Cows. Recorded with Jack Endino and guitars tracked through one of Kurt Cobain’s old amps, on the record McGhee’s vocals are clearer and stronger, the songwriting more focused. But the idiosyncratic quality of the lyrics and McGhee’s vocals, which is one reason none of this comes off like a band that would be playing that final Warped Tour. The sense of melody and tight rhythms give even the most melancholy of the songs (“Mommy Said to Get a Job” and “Green And Sober” for instance) a buoyant quality that doesn’t seem to downplay the real feelings and experiences that likely inspired the song. There are enough rough edges to keep the record interesting throughout. The band performs infrequently these days so this is a good opportunity to see the Vanilla Milkshakes in a small venue with the jokes from stage inserted between songs. Besides, drummer Frank Registrato is a wizard at helping keep things on track with no heavy hand and the sheer finesse and power of his playing.

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Hop Along, photo by Matt Allen, OctFest

Who: Hop Along w/Summer Cannibals
When: Tuesday, 04.02, 7 p.m.
Where: Bluebird Theater
Why: Frances Quinlan performed in early versions of Hop Along as a solo acoustic act for the first four or five years until putting together a fledgling band around 2009. Even before signing to Saddle Creek Records in 2014, Quinlan’s songwriting was not short on imaginative storytelling like she was imagining the lives and situations she encountered in either her everyday life in Philadelphia or on the road and extrapolating it into colorful imagery and a keen sensitivity and insight into the subjects of her songs even when the inspiration is drawn directly from her own life. Any band that names its album Bark Your Head Off, Dog (2018) has a healthy sense of humor and the absurd without drifting into self-parody.

Wednesday | April 3

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Gort Vs. Goom circa 2014, photo by Tom Murphy

Who: Weird Wednesday: Gort Vs. Goom, The Far Stairs, The Pollution
When: Wednesday, 04.03, 7 p.m.
Where: 3 Kings Tavern
Why: None more weird for Weird Wednesday. Gort Vs. Goom are like the post-Devo, prog punk version of The Fugs. The Far Stairs is a deconstructionist pop project that sounds like more well-crafted pop than most bands trying to fool us into thinking they’re not utter frauds. Plus sometimes there’s a Robyn Hitchcock cover involved which bespeaks of an unspoken artistic ambition far beyond the usual. The Pollution got back to punk through burning through on hardcore, psychedelic rock, krautrock and Kiwi rock and taking bits and pieces of each to put together a Frankenstein’s Monster of music where you can’t find the sutures.