Polly Urethane is the performance moniker of Amber Benton. She started performing under that name in 2021 and garnered some attention in certain Denver underground music circles for her performance art style shows in which she breaks the stage and audience barrier pretty much every show at this point. Her music combines classical music in her piano work and operatic vocals, electronic composition, musique concrète and industrial soundscaping. In 2021 Polly Urethane released her collaborative album Altruism with Rusty Steve who some may know from his work in futuristic hip-hop glam project N3PTUNE. It showcased a shared knack for pop songcraft that fused darkwave, hyperpop, industrial and R&B. Though Polly Urethane’s presentation can be confrontational the intention is to shake up expectations and arbitrary norms of the performer and audience relationship and is informed by a spirit of humor and the absurd in the intensity and mysterious aesthetic of the performance.
Listen to our interview with Polly Urethane on Bandcamp linked below and go see the band at Down in Denver Fest on Friday, 8/19/22 at 9:45 pm. For more information on the festival and on Polly Urethane visit one of the links beneath the interview.
Like many other musical projects A Place To Bury Strangers emerged from the early phase of the global pandemic a different band, certainly with a different membership other than guitarist and singer Oliver Ackermann. Following the highly experimental, even by APTBS standards, 2018 album Pinned the group probably had to have a different approach and lineup to avoid coasting into too familiar territory and musical habits. So we heard Hologram (2021) and what seemed more pop and garage rock in structure and sonics. Then the new full-length See Through You (2022) which felt like a reconciliation of Ackermann’s songwriting and soundcrafting instincts and channeling that through new creative filters and doing a sort of self-remix of a sound to expose a raw core that sometimes, if not for the obvious level of creative development, sounded like an early demo from a time before a band has settled on a sound that might appeal to some more conventionally-minded record label type. Then again APTBS doesn’t seem to have kowtowed that direction with any of its records. But whatever the motivations in assembling these sounds for the new record and whatever the methods for achieving these sounds both jagged and vulnerable how would this version of APTBS translate live.
For this leg of the tour Florida-based post-punk band Glove was to have opened the dates but something went sidewise in its camp and that left only the Denver-based openers Polly Urethane & Rusty Steve. It’s a relatively new musical entity though Polly Urethane at a minimum has garnered attention and praise and even recommendation in the local scene with unexpected people telling me I should check out her work and initially thinking it was Polyurethane of Zach Reini vintage, the Godflesh-esque industrial grind duo, upon listening to Polly Urethane’s 2021 EP Altruism with Rusty Steve, Altruism, it was obvious this was going to be something very different. The lush production of the EP and the emotionally refined and powerful vocals hit with greater dramatic effect and force live bolstered by Amber Benton decked out in a white, gauzy dress and long, black hair lending an aspect of one of those vengeful female spirits of Japanese folklore. When Benton crawled up top of some cases on the side of the stage and sang from there as well as going out into the crowd she broke the convention of the audience and performer barrier with a seeming fearlessness but also the intention of transgressing unspoken rules that protect nothing but a subconscious status quo.
The music combined with the theater of the performance was reminiscent of Zola Jesus and her own fusion of classical music and ethereal yet cathartic, darkly electronic pop. And Benton’s persona has to be compared to that of Diamanda Galás—that intensity and conviction perfected melded with a musical sophistication that helps to elevate aspects of the show some less charitable types that aren’t open to witnessing something different might call gimmicky to a realm of high art. At the beginning of the performance there was a projection of a the great, highly political collage artist Barbara Kruger—looked specifically like her 1990/2018 “Untitled (Questions)” piece—that calls into questions assumptions about society, challenging power and privilege. Seemed entirely appropriate to the current political climate even before the Supreme Court started to in full force dismantle civil rights in America. The performance seemed informed by the spirit of Kruger’s piece and if you take the time to give the EP a listen it’s a deeply personal and emotionally rich expression of the fallout of authoritarian influence on culture on the psyche. Really, an unforgettable performance that wasn’t the typical local band opening for someone with whom their music might fit.
From the flood of colored lights projected in shifting arrays and textures to the sheer controlled caustic sonics and brutally syncopated rhythms A Place to Bury Strangers unleashed its steady flow of electrifying sound and launched into “We’ve Come So Far” and didn’t much let up minus some breaks between songs and an unexpected and brilliant interlude toward the end of the set. It felt like being elevated into a different psychological space where your brain is stimulated in with a bright and dense energy pulsing with a driving momentum until we were let down at the end. The guitar and rhythm section just had that kind of rare synergy that is pretty much impossible to ignore with sounds that hit different parts of your listening spectrum.
Even songs you already know and have heard many times over several years had a heightened freshness like the band had learned to rediscover its music to deliver in a way that still felt exciting for them. Most bands probably do this especially after roughly two years of not being able to play live shows. Seeing the outfit going back to 2008 when it came through Denver and played the Larimer Lounge with its gloriously disorienting, scorching swaths of sound this performance felt like the trio was connecting to a new source of inspiration.
At one point toward the latter half of the set the band came off the stage to the center of the room where Ackermann had set up what looked like a self-contained sound generating device through which he could process vocals and his bandmates brought instruments to join in what certainly had to be a familiar experience for anyone who got to go to DIY spaces in America circa 2006-2012 akin to Ackermann’s own venue and studio in New York City, Death By Audio. In taking the show to people off stage in this way it was like the band recreated that experience in a more commercial venue thereby injecting the situation with some of that free form and free flowing spontaneous spirit and energy of the DIY world pre-Ghost Ship and pre-complete corporate/private equity firm takeover of the real estate market nationwide more or less ending that era completely into the foreseeable future. For that alone, this show felt exceptional and subversive. But of course there was more to come including the familiar strains of the always epic and enveloping “Ocean.” But the whole set came off like a scrubbing away of the mundane world and getting reconnected to one’s own raw emotions as expressed through this band that is inaccurately called a shoegaze band or noise rock or simply noise or dream pop or industrial. It’s all of that and beyond that. When the show was over that purging of regular life lingered for long afterward from two sets of deeply imaginative and creative music that directly challenged convention and that’s a gift no one should take for granted.
Partial Set List We’ve Come So Far (Transfixiation) You Are The One (Worship) My Head Is Bleeding (See Through You) Hold On Tight (See Through You) Everything Always Goes Wrong (Exploding Head) Let’s See Each Other (See Through You) Never Coming Back (Pinned) End of the Night (Hologram) In Your Heart (Exploding Head) I Live My Life to Stand in the Shadow of Your Heart (Exploding Head) Have You Ever Been In Love (new song) Ocean (s/t)
Thursday | 12.03 What: Spyderland, Princess Dewclaw and Connie When: 10 p.m. Where: Broadway Roxy Why: Spyderland is the more soulful synth pop side of the songwriting of Marie Litton (Lil’ Thunder, Ghost Buffalo) and Drew McClellan. The duo’s 2021 album There’s Monsters Outside is an evocation of the challenging social and political landscape of America during a time of impending crises with no real leadership to face them with honesty and conviction leaving us to scramble as best we can while not surrendering to despair. Princess Dewclaw is like if a punk band with strident yet righteous political convictions freely associated musical ideas and didn’t bother to think electronic music can’t be part of a punk aesthetic.
Friday | 12.03 What: Old Sport w/Midwife and Seer Believer When: 7/8 p.m. Where: HQ Why: Old Sport emerges from its long hiatus to bring its emo flavored punk to local stages again this time sharing that space with Midwife and that project’s deeply emotional, hazy art folk darkwave-esque dream pop.
Saturday | 12.04 What:…And You Will Know Us By The Trail of Dead w/Death Valley Girls When: 8/9 p.m. Where: Larimer Lounge Why: Forming in Austin, Texas in 1994, …And You Will Know Us By The Trail of Dead has been one of the more interesting guitar rock bands out of the underground that somehow both exerted an influence on modern indie rock while remaining a bit of a cult band. Its 2002 album Source Tags & Codes defied easy classification with its eclectic and inventive range of sounds, a pattern the band maintains up to and including its 2020 album X: The Godless Void and Other Stories. Known for its incendiary live shows contrasted with thoughtful and often high concept lyrics, Trail of Dead may be underrated but always surprisingly vital. Opening the show is the psychedelic post-punk band Death Valley Girls whose own unpredictable and imaginative live shows and music is a fascinating pairing with the veteran band.
Monday | 12.06 What:She Past Away w/Radio Scarlett When: 7/8 p.m. Where: Oriental Theater Why: She Past Away isn’t just a great post-punk band from Istanbul but one of the best bands out of that realm of music operating today. Its energetic and bright yet darkly moody music reconciles the brooding of Sisters of Mercy at their most melancholy with early Cure guitar work. Connoisseurs of post-punk may hear hints of the influence of Russian post-punk legends Kino in the music as well. Radio Scarlett is Denver’s premier death rock band.
Tuesday | 12.07 What: GWAR w/Napalm Death and Eyehategod When: 6/7 p.m. Where: Oriental Theater Why: Yeah, it’s that GWAR with the absurd costumes as intergalactic scumdogs playing bombastic thrash punk and still giving the middle finger to uptight, conservative American culture and sensibilities in their inimitable and outrageous manner. One might think the highly political Napalm Death is without humor but oh no, the band that is known to play their less than 2 second song “You Suffer” multiple times in a row in case anyone missed it and otherwise have fun eviscerating and sending up the horrific realities of life under late capitalism. Eyehategod will bring a similarly informed and compassionate perspective on human suffering and survival with its own darkly psychedelic sludgy heavy music.
Tuesday | 12.07 What:Thundercat w/Channel Tres at Mission Ballroom When: 7/8 p.m. Where: Mission Ballroom Why: Thundercat is the brilliant trickster bassist of renown whose skills have helped make many other musicians sound better including Kendrick Lamar, Flying Lotus and Kamasi Washington. But his solo albums are mind-altering musical journeys in their own right and as a band leader, Thundercat ably conjures jazz-funk alchemy with deep creativity.
Thursday | 12.09 What: New Standards Men, Moon Pussy, SPELLS and Alien Neighborhood When: 7/8 p.m. Where: Hi-Dive Why: This is the dual album release from art rock weirdos New Standards Men and Alien Neighborhood. The former never got to celebrate the release of its epic psychedelic jazz prog 2020 masterpiece I Was A Starship in 2020 for obvious reasons but the timing of the release of its companion album Spain’s First Astronaut in 2021 as well as the reissue of the earlier record on Snappy Little Numbers worked out for 2021. For the bill the group is joined by label mates and pop-punk band SPELLS and Alien Neighborhood as well as noise rock legends in the making Moon Pussy. Fans of bands on the Amphetamine Reptile imprint, Big Black/Shellac and outfits on the late GSL label or 31G will definitely have a heavy appreciation for Moon Pussy.
Friday | 12.10 What:N3PTUNE w/Rusty Steve and Hex Kitten When: 8/9 p.m. Where: Hi-Dive Why: N3PTUNE has already made great waves beyond Denver with a brash and sophisticated body of work that transcends easy categorization with roots seemingly in funk, R&B, soul and rock. It is perhaps facile to compare him to Prince and maybe Yves Tumor but it’s also not far off the mark. This night celebrates the release of his EP The Black and White Ball on which N3PTUNE goes deep singing about intense subject matter with a hearty honesty.
Friday | 12.10 What: Joy’s Kitchen Benefit Show: Screwtape, Ukko’s Hammer, Destiny Bond, Broken Record When: 7/8 p.m. Where: Mutiny Information Café Why: This will be a different kind of hardcore show benefiting Joy’s Kitchen. It also signals the return of the great local hardcore group Screwtape to live performance.
Saturday | 12.11 What:Volk w/White Rose Motor Oil When: 9:30/10 p.m. Where: HQ Why: Volk is a cowpunk duo from Nashville, Tennessee. Its 2021 album Cashville is refreshingly raw and catches your attention immediately with an attitude that’s reminiscent of Big Boys when that band went off the standard punk rock rails it never traversed in the first place. Also on the bill are local country rock greats White Rose Motor Oil whose 2020 album You Can’t Kill Ghosts was both a stripped down affair but one that really emphasized the essentials of the group’s songwriting with no filler. It’s more recent releases feature spirited and creative interpretations of the duo’s influences.
Friday | 12.17 What: Flaming Tongues Above, Divingbell and Discontinued Flavors When: 7/8 p.m. Where: Seventh Circle Music Collective Why: Formerly known as 50 Miles of Elbow Room, Flaming Tongues Above is the solo, experimental folk and musique concrète project of Amos Helvey of Old Sport. Divingbell is the solo project of Angus Smith whose own take on what might be considered a kind of folk-flavored post-rock is reminiscent of what might have happened if Jeff Buckley had joined early Low.
Friday | 12.17 What:Riddy Arman w/The Local Honeys When: 8/9 p.m. Where: Hi-Dive Why: Riddy Arman’s 2021 self-titled debut album on La Honda Records puts the emphasis on the Montana-based songwriter’s vivid storytelling through her powerful vocals. But her expressive and creative guitar work backed by finely accented percussion and a touch of pedal steel frame the stories with a beautifully reflective quality. One of modern country’s rising stars who you can see in small venue early in her career.
Monday | December 20 What: Lindsey Buckingham w/Sammy Brue When: 7/8 p.m. Where: Boulder Theater Why: Lindsey Buckingham is perhaps best known for his contributions to the best era of rock and pop band Fleetwood Mac. But Buckingham’s work and songwriting outside of the Mac has been noteworthy as well (see his recent performance on SNL with Halsey). Currently the songwriter is touring in support of his 2021 self-titled album, a record that displays Buckingham in fine form as a crafter of pop songs not short on sophistication, economy and emotionally resonant lyrics.
Thursday | 12.23 What:Church Fire, Hex Cassette, Horse Girl and Verhoffst When: 7/8 p.m. Where: Hi-Dive Why: Church Fire has long been one of the most powerful, dark synth pop bands in Denver and anywhere with songs that don’t shy away from commenting on political and social issues with poetry and emotional force. But also on the bill are other artists in the realm of local darkwave with Hex Cassette’s brooding synthesis of synth pop and EBM and Horse Girl’s transcendent dream pop.
Friday | 12.31 What: Fear w/Potato Pirates, Direct Threat and Cease Fire When: 7/8 p.m. Where: Gothic Theatre Why: FEAR is the legendary Los Angeles punk band that helped define an entire lineage of that style of music. The group took great pleasure in taunting self-righteous punks and conservative American culture equally with its irreverently humorous, sometimes nihilistic, lyrics and outrageous performances with lead singer Lee Ving commanding the stage like an insult comedian. The band was featured in Penelope Spheeris’ classic 1981 punk documentary The Decline of Western Civilization as well as the infamous 1981 Halloween episode of Saturday Night Live arranged by show writer Michael O’Donoghue and former SNL star and then cinema luminary John Belushi. On the show the band performed and the audience included members of Minor Threat, Cro-mags, The Meatmen and Negative Approach and mayhem ensued including profanity broadcast before the live feed was cut. So plenty of anticipation was in place when The Record came out on Slash in 1982 and it delivered some of the most caustic and boisterous punk in an era not short on such offerings. Since that time FEAR has released a handful of records, the final being 2000’s American Beer, and occasionally toured and still worth showing up to see. But with Ving turning 72 next year this may be one of your last chances, if not your last chance, to catch these heroes of punk before Ving calls it a day.