Queen City Sounds and Art Best Albums of 2019

All Your Sisters | Trust Ruins

This best of list was intended for publication in 2020 and parts of the entries with comments were published in my year end best list for the print edition of Birdy magazine in Denver for the December 2019 issue. The full best of list is presented here with those short reviews included with the appropriate album and the rest included without comment and several album covers shared as well. The album of the year was All Your Sisters’ Trust Ruins (listed first) because it encapsulated the mood of the year and the band put on one of the best shows of 2019 and the record felt like a leap forward in style and execution for the band. Soon I’ll publish the full best of 2020 list too in a similar format with the commentary for those items that made it into the print edition of Birdy for December 2020.

All Your Sisters | Trust Ruins | The Flenser
A brutal, maximalist summation of the turmoil, conflict, sense of chaos and confusion, rage and frustration and overwhelming flood of negative input from world and societal events of the previous few years. In articulating those feelings and experiences and more alone as powerfully as it does, this album by All Your Sisters transcends genre by providing an example of how industrial and darkwave music can burst beyond established conventions with the sharp-edged and precise percussion framing and channeling the fiery energy at the core of the songwriting.

Adia Victoria | Silences | Atlantic

Adrianna Krikl | Celestial | Self-released

Aldous Harding | Designer | 4AD

Alex Cameron | Miami Memory | Secretly Canadian

Altas | All I Ever Wanted Was | Self-released
A lush deepening of the band’s sweeping, cinematic aesthetic.

Anamanaguchi | [USA] | Polyvinyl

Andre Cactus | Dune Juice | Multidim Records

Andy Stott | It Should Be Us | Modern Love

Angel Olsen | All Mirrors | Jagjaguwar
Poignantly dreamlike examination of identity in an age of universal scrutiny.

Bestial Mouths | INSHROUDSS | Rune & Ruin

Bellhoss | Geraniums | Self-released
Buoyant, lo-fi slowcore love songs for inner awkward nerd.

Bethlehem Steel | s/t | Exploding in Sound
The utter exorcism of oppression through bursts of melodic/atonal poetry.

Big Dopes | Crimes Against Gratitude | Self-released
Captivating indie pop earworm vingettes of American malaise and hope.

Big Thief | U.F.O.F. / Two Hands | 4AD

Bison Bone | Take Up the Trouble | Self-released

Black Belt Eagle Scout | At The Party With My Brown Friends | Saddle Creek

black midi | Schlagenheim | Rough Trade Records
A primer for the new avant-guitar rock revolution.

Black Mountain | Destroyer | Jagjaguwar

Blanck Mass | Animated Violence Mild | Sacred Bones

Blood Incantation | Hidden History of the Human Race | Dark Descent

Boy Scouts | Free Company | ANTI-

Briffaut | A Maritime Odyssey: Heaven is Only a Boat Race Away | GROUPHUG

Calexico and Iron and Wine | Years to Burn | Subpop

Cat Tyson Hughes | Gentle Encounters With Things | Self-released
Ambient, aural snapshots of memory fragments from the hypnogogic state.

Cau5er | The Tower | Self-released

Ceremony | In the Spirit World Now | Relapse Records

Chastity Belt | Chastity Belt | Hardly Art

Cheap Perfume | Burn It Down | Snappy Little Numbers

Chella and the Charm | Good Gal | Self-released

Chelsea Wolfe | Birth of Violence | Sargent House

Chimney Choir | (light shadow) | Self-released

Chromatics | Closer to Grey | Italians Do It Better

clipping. | There Existed an Addiction to Blood | Sub Pop

Consumer | In Computers | The Flenser

Control Top | Covert Contracts | Get Better Records

Cop Circles | Vacation for Hurt | Self-released
Subversive, Laurie Anderson-esque, New Age, No Wave send-up of corporate seminar jingles.

Cosey Fanni Tutti | Tutti | Conspiracy International
Heavy and hypnotic industrial rave autobiography through sound.

Curse | Metamorphism | Fake Crab Records
Eight, powerful, darkwave, prophetic warnings of our potential future.

Danny Brown | uknowhatimsayin¿ | Warp Records
Relentlessly inventive beats and tragicomedic, self-immolating swagger, sci-fi autobiography.

Davi Valois | Bátraquio | Space Cow Music

Deafkids | Metaprogramação | Neurot Recordings
Immersive, ambient-industrial death grind.

Doo Crowder | One For the Losers (& Other Pilgrims) | Self-released
The greatest art pop record since the death of Harry Nilsson.

Dog Basketball | s/t | Self-released

Drab Majesty | Modern Mirror | Dais Records
Moodily heartbreaking deep dive into the essence of love, memory and beauty.

Drowse | Light Mirror/Second Self | The Flenser

Dude York | Falling | Hardly Art

Earl Sweatshirt | FEET OF CLAY | Tan Cressida

Elizabeth Colour Wheel | Nocebo | The Flenser
Majestic, urban-tribal, noise-sludge dream psych.

Empath | Active Listening: Night On Earth | Get Better Records

Entrancer | Downgrade | Multidim Records

Ex Hex | It’s Real | Merge Records
Cosmic New Wave power pop gems beginning to end.

Facs | Lifelike | Trouble In Mind

FEELS / Shannon Lay | Post Earth / August | Wichita / Sub Pop

FM Cubgod | Handsome? | Self-released

Foxes in Fiction | Trillium Killer | Orchid Tapes

Frankie Cosmos | Close It Quietly | Sub Pop

French Kettle Station | Over X Millennia | Self-released
Retro-furturist, New Age pop shade jams on contemporary wack culture.

Future Sound of London | Yage | Fsol Digital

Gila Teen | Doesn’t | Self-released

Glissline | Digital Bipolarism | Multidim Records

Gold Trash | Quiet Violence | Glasss Records
Collage glitch industrial hip-hop daggers into misogynist culture.

Goon | Natural Evil | Convulse Records

Guerilla Toss | What Would The Odd Do? | DFA
Mind-altering, subtropical, disco punk dance pop.

Guidon Bear | Downwardly Mobile: Steel Accelerator | Antiquated Future Records

Gun Street Ghost | Battles | Self-released

Half Shadow | Dream Weather Its Electric Song | Illusion Florist

Haunted Horses | Dead Meat | SIXWIX

Have a Nice Life | Sea of Worry | The Flenser

HEALTH | Slaves of Fear Vol. 4 | Loma Vista Recordings

HIDE | Hell is Here | Dais Records

Holly Herndon | Proto | 4AD

HTRK | Venus In Leo | Ghostly International
Love songs from downtempo dance clubs in the future urban decay.

Jamila Woods | Legacy! Legacy! | Jagjaguwar

Jenny Hval | The Practice of Love | Sacred Bones

Kal Marks | Let the Shit House Burn Down | Exploding in Sound

Kid Mask | dead sore(s) | Self-released
Dispatches from the industrial glitch techno hard rave revolution.

Kim Gordon | No Home Record | Matador Records
Scathing jazz cool poetry set to hip-hop-inflected noise.

Kristin Hersh | Possible Dust Clouds | Fire Records

Kyle Emerson | Only Coming Down | Swoon City Music

Larians | Looming Boy EP | Self-released
Loneliness and isolation distilled as shimmering IDM nuggets.

Legendary Pink Dots | Angel in the Detail | Metropolis Records
A brilliant synthesis of classical sonic architecture, emotionally charged ambient and deep social critique.

Lightning Cult | EP 2: Ether Waves | Cloud Command Sound

Lingua Ignota | Caligula | Profound Lore
Caustic, industrial fusillade against patriarchal fragility.

Lisa Prank | Perfect Love Song | Father/Daughter Records

Little Fyodor | Pithy Romantic Ballads | Self-released
Arch punk cynic and curmudgeon begrudgingly admits affection and survives.

Lot Lizard | s/t | Different Folk Records

Lower Dens | The Competition | Ribbon Music

Malibu Ken | s/t | Rhymesayers

Mannequin Pussy | Patience | Epitaph

Mdou Moctar | Ilana: The Creator | Sahel Sounds
Intricate African prog suffused with the joy of the creative act.

Moon Pussy | Band Meating | Self-released
Eruptive, searing, angular, anti-pop exorcisms.

Muscle Beach | Charms | Sailor Records

Necropanther | The Doomed City | Self-released

New Standards Men | Field Recordings From Late Capitalism Vol. 10 | Self-released

No Gossip in Braille | Bend Toward Perfect Light | Cercle Social Records
The transmogrification of sorrow into transcendent melodies.

NoSwoon | s/t | Substitute Scene Records
Effervescent yet introspective dark wave synth pop.

Nots | 3 | Goner Records

Nuancer | I Hardly Know Her | Self-released

Obtuse | Who’s Askin’? | Self-released
Gloriously earnestly meaningful, off-the-cuff, utterly unpretentious pop punk.

Oh, Rose | While My Father Sleeps | Park The Van

Oko Tygra | Assistoma | Grey Market Records
Masterfully executed emotionally stirring downtempo dream pop.

Old Time Relijun | See Now And Know | K Records

Orbit Service | The Door to the Sky | Self-released

Pedestrian Deposit | Dyers’ Hands | Monorail Trespassing
The sonic analog of places we don’t want to visit but are drawn to anyway.

Pharmakon | Devour | Sacred Bones

Pinkish Black | Concept Unification | Relapse Records

Pile | Green and Gray | Exploding in Sound
Furiously poetic, orchestral and thoughtful blueprint for arty, noisy post-punk to come.

Plaid | Polymer | Warp Records

Pop. 1280 | Way Station | Weyrd Son Records

POW! | Shift | Castle Face Records

Priests | The Seduction of Kansas | Sister Polygon

Redwing Blackbird | Too Klaus For Comfort | Self-released

Rowboat | Birchwood Halls | Self-released

Secret Shame | Dark Synthetics | Portrayal of Guilt Records

Sheer Mag | A Distant Call | Wilsuns Recording Company
Modern blues punk’s equivalent of Judas Priest’s Stained Class.

She Past Away | Disko Anksiyete | Metropolis Records / Fabrika Records

ShitKid | DETENTION | PNKSLM Recordings

Silence in the Snow | Levitation Chamber | Prophecy Productions

Sleaford Mods | Eton Alive | Extreme Eating Records

Sleater-Kinney | The Center Won’t Hold | Mom + Pop

Slugger | Is Real | Self-released

Sole & DJ Pain 1 | No God Nor Country | Black Box Tapes

somesurprises | s/t | Drawing Room Records

Spirettes | Esoteria | Self-released
An ethereal distillation of deep yearning and determination.

SRSQ | Temporal Love/Unkept | Dais Records

Stonefield | Bent | Flightless

Strange Ranger | Remembering The Rockets | Tiny Engines

Studded Left | Popular Intuition | S/L INTNL.
Psychedelic post-punk portraits of life and love in our dystopic USA.

Summer Cannibals | Can’t Tell Me No | Tiny Engines

SunnO))) | Life Metal and Pyroclasts | Southern Lord

Swans | leaving meaning. | Young God

Tacocat | This Mess Is A Place | Sub Pop

Telefon Tel Aviv | Dreams Are Not Enough | Ghostly International

The Coathangers | The Devil You Know | Suicide Squeeze

The Hecks | My Star | Trouble In Mind Records

The Ocean Blue | Kings and Queens / Knaves and Thieves | Korda Records

The Paranoyds | Carnage Bargain | Suicide Squeeze

The Stargazer Lilies | Occabot | Rad Cult

The Twilight Sad | It Won/t Be Like This All the Time | Rock Action
The sound of a valiant struggle against existential failure.

The Vanilla Milkshakes | Punching Cows | Self-released
Humorous and heartfelt pop grunge odes to perpetual outsider status.

Total Trash | Field Guide | Self-released
Melancholic, post-psychedelic, slowcore, glitter jams.

Turvy Organ | The Ghost at the Feast | GROUPHUG

Tyler The Creator | Igor | Columbia
Dense, gritty, hazy beats and meta-exploration of identity as human and artist.

We Are Not a Glum Lot | The Price of Simply Existing | Self-released
Gripping, emo-inflected, math-y, post-punk bummercore.

Weeping Icon | s/t | Fire Talk
Cathartic, thorny, darkwave doom garage.

Whipporwill | The Nature of Storms | Self-released

Wreck and Reference | Absolute Still Life | The Flenser

Xeno & Oaklander | Hypnos | Dais Records
Heavy/heavenly techno for the dance club on Mount Olympus.

Xiu Xiu | Girl with Basket of Fruit | Polyvinyl

Zealot | The Book of Ramifications | Self-released

Best Shows in Denver 09/12/19 – 09/18/19

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Summer Cannibals perform at Lost Lake on September 13, photo by Jason Quigley

Thursday | September 12

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Sheer Mag circa 2017, photo by Tom Murphy

What: Sheer Mag w/Tweens and The Born Readies
When: Thursday, 09.12, 7 p.m.
Where: Larimer Lounge
Why: Sheer Mag sounds like a band that grew up listening mostly to Thin Lizzy, 70s power pop and AC/DC but invented punk rock without ever having heard it. It’s new record A Distant Call finds the band having refined some of its raw power without blunting it.

Friday | September 13

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Dub Trio, photo by William Felch

What: Soulless Maneater, Sweetness Itself, Sad Bug
When: Friday, 09.13, 8 p.m.
Where: Mutiny Information Café
Why: Sad Bug is sort of a neo-emo pop punk band. Sweetness Itself might come off as a bit of a fuzzy psychedelic band but sometimes Cyrena Rosati’s guitar work verves into bendy waves akin to something you might hear from My Bloody Valentine via No Joy. Which is to say gloriously loud and noisy but also tied to tight songwriting and accessible hooks. Soulless Maneater is what happens when you give doom metal more of an abrasive edge and more pointed and political lyrics aimed at where a critical eye belongs.

What: Summer Cannibals w/Mr. Atomic and Knuckle Pups
When: Friday, 09.13, 8 p.m.
Where: Lost Lake
Why: Summer Cannibals have for the past seven years charted a path out of the neo-garage rock that dominated American underground rock for several years. Its own songwriting more fluid and dynamic than just the adolescent release and raw, youthful enthusiasm that was both what was exciting but ultimately limiting and tiresome about the new garage bands. Summer Cannibals didn’t just have a healthy sense of humor but the band also seemed to take seriously its songcraft but without overthinking it. Its new album, 2019’s Can’t Tell Me No is Summer Cannibals in high form with its contrast of melodic vocals, grit, attitude and confessional lyrics.

What: Dub Trio w/Incubus
When: Friday, 09.13, 7 p.m.
Where: Fillmore Auditorium
Why: It shouldn’t work and maybe for some it doesn’t, but Brooklyn’s Dub Trio took inspiration from King Tubby and applied the principles of dub to heavier music in terms of shaping sound, production and signal processing. Surface level, the group comes across like an arty doom band and it has served as part of the backing band for Mike Patton on the 2006 Peeping Tom tour and on its new album The Shape of Jazz to Come, it worked with Buzz Osborne of Melvins fame. But the bass is sculpted in a way to sync up with the sampled and manipulated sounds fed back into the mix for a disorienting yet hypnotic effect. Sure, opening for a pretty famous nü metal band but worth going to see for their set alone.

Saturday | September 14

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Strand of Oaks, photo by Alysse Gafkajen

What: Dub Trio w/Incubus
When: Saturday, 09.14, 7 p.m.
Where: Fillmore Auditorium
Why: For Dub Trio see above on 9.14.

What: Day of the Green Fish: Emerald Siam, Pale Sun, No Gossip In Braille, Wild Call, Kilonova and Palehorse/Palerider
When: Saturday, 09.14, 7 p.m.
Where: Rhinoceropolis
Why: Really a showcase for some of Denver’s greatest practitioners of darkly atmospheric rock from the post-punk, shoegaze, tribal drone and psychedelic underground.

What: Test Dept w/Acidbat, eHpH and DJ Dave Vendetta
When: Saturday, 09.14, 7 p.m.
Where: Antero Hall (formerly Eck’s Saloon)
Why: Test Dept is indeed the legendary early industrial band from London touring through Denver before it performs at the Cold Waves festival in Chicago. Percussion heavy, full, mind-altering assault to the senses in the vein of those early industrial groups of the 80s. Different from but definitely for fans of Einstürzende Neubauten and Crash Worship.

What: Total Trash, Vampire Squids From Hell, Lords of Howling
When: Saturday, 09.14, 8 p.m.
Where: The People’s Building
Why: September’s Get Your Ears Swoll will include “doom surf” band Vampire Squids From Hell, avant-folk Lords of Howling and psychedelic indie rock phenoms Total Trash.

What: Strand of Oaks w/Apex Manor
When: Saturday, 09.14, 8 p.m.
Where: Globe Hall
Why: As Strand of Oaks, Timothy Showalter has had a prolific career writing delicate and thoughtful, introspective, folk-inflected pop songs. One might call it pastoral but by candlelight. There’s an intimacy to Showalter’s songwriting that sets it apart from some other songwriters exploring similar sonic territory. That and Showalter’s attention to the rhythm side of the music so that all parts compliment each other well. His new album, 2019’s Eraserland, was never supposed to happen until some friends convinced him to get back into the studio to write the record and it’s a particularly touching testament to rediscovering the strength to continue on and do what you love even if it feels to you at the time pointless and hopeless. It’s a personal reinvention with music that feels gently reinvigorating as well.

What: KGNU Quarterly Showcase, Smash it Back Edition: Sputnik Slovenia, Little Fyodor & Babushka and The Hinckleys – DJ Andy Z
When: Saturday, 09.14, 8 p.m.
Where: Lion’s Lair
Why: This edition of the KGNU Quaterly showcase features Jim Yelnick of hardcore band Pitch Invasion playing his solo material and probably treating you to some unusual humor. And of course the great, avant-garde punk band Little Fyodor & Babushka will be putting in a, these days, rare appearance and demonstrate how punk can push the boundaries of the songwriting and subject matter while writing incredibly catchy music. There is no fashion victim type stuff with Fyodor because he already looks like an accountant who burned down his office and started a cable access show about underground culture and the impending collapse of civilization.

Sunday | September 16

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Altas, photo by Evan Semoìn

What: RETIFest: Los Mocochetes, iZCALLi, Roka Hueka, El Cro, Altas, Sierra Leon, 2MX2, Modulor, Puete Libre
When: Sunday, 09.15, 10 a.m.
Where: Mile High Flea Market
Why: This is sort of an all day festival featuring some of Denver’s best bands whose membership is largely of Latinx extraction from the psychedelic funk band Los Mocochetes, hard rock group iZCALLi, experimental post-rock powerhouse Altas and hip-hop crew 2MX2.

Monday | September 16

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Lower Dens, photo by Torso

What: Of Monsters and Men w/Lower Dens
When: Monday, 09.16, 6:30 p.m.
Where: The Mission Ballroom
Why: Icelandic pop band Of Monsters and Men are currently touring in support of its 2019 album Fever Dream and will provide the expansive, emotional, melodic songs made for the larger club setting. Opening the show is experimental dream pop band Lower Dens. The group’s earlier albums were in the realm of dub-inflected post-punk but its newer material, particularly on its new record The Competition, combines its lush melodies with an almost disco flavored adult contemporary sound. Like Jana Hunter and company mined 80s pop music and removed the cheese but kept the solid songwriting and production.

What: Roselit Bone, High Plains Honky and Erika Ryann
When: Monday, 09.16, 7 p.m.
Where: Lost Lake
Why: Roselit Bone is like a honky tonk, cow boy high desert Gun Club and visually reminiscent of the same. Intense live performances and riveting storytelling. Its new album Crisis Actor is a storybook of American skullduggery, misdeeds and a celebration of life.

Tuesday | September 17

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GRLwood, photo by Mickie Winters

What: Man Man w/GRLwood
When: Tuesday, 09.17, 7 p.m.
Where: Globe Hall
Why: GRLwood from Louisville, Kentucky sound like an emotionally nuanced math-y emo band on its 2018 album Daddy. Though there is a smoldering sensibility to the vocals the band is able to reconcile powerful feelings with actually feeling its hurt and transforming that into a melancholic catharsis that bursts forth in fiery riffs and introspective passages. And it will contrast well with Man Man, the psychedelic art rock band formerly form Philadelphia who made it “indie big” in the 2000s with its ambitious albums and theatrical and bombastic live shows.

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Hatchie, photo by Alex Wall

What: Hatchie w/Orchin and Slow Caves
When: Tuesday, 09.17, 7 p.m.
Where: Larimer Lounge
Why: Hatchie’s 2019 debut full length Keepsake is the rare dream pop offering of late with a keen ear for the low end to give the music some weightiness and drive. Maybe there’s no surprise there since Harriet Pilbeam has played bass and guitar in her musical career up to now and the songwriting on Keepsake reflects an appreciation for a broad spectrum of how the music can stimulate your emotions. It’s breezy in dynamic and Pilbeam’s vocals warmly melodic but the songs always seem to be reaching forward to draw you in.

Wednesday | September 18

Torche Band
Torche, photo by Dan Almasy

What: Kælan Mikla (Iceland), No Gossip in Braille, French Kettle Station and Shadows Tranquil
When: Wednesday, 09.18, 8 p.m.
Where: Rhinoceropolis
Why: Kælan Mikla is an Icelandic post-punk band whose desperate vocals paired with lush, brooding bass and synth tracks are an entrancing contrast. Definitely for fans of Tollund Men.

What: Torche w/Pinkish Black and Green Druid
When: Wednesday, 09.18, 7 p.m.
Where: Larimer Lounge
Why: Torche formed in 2004 in Miami and came out of the heavy music underground of the 90s when Steve Brooks and former member Juan Montoya were members of doom/sludge legends Floor. Torche was a different animal and as the band has developed over the years it is difficult to really call it a sludge or doom band, especially with its 2019 album Admission with its sometimes shimmery and gritty melodies, expansive vocal dynamic and sinuous rhythms. The fuzzy drones seem to have more in common with the likes of Swervedriver than what you’re likely to hear on a doom record and yet often enough Torche employs a colossally blunt riff but then sends it spiralling in different trajectories giving the songs a sound like what might happen if a psychedelic metal band left behind its limiting tropes and explored the inherent possibilities of its sound palette.

What: Man Man w/GRLwood
When: Wednesday, 09.18, 7 p.m.
Where: Globe Hall
Why: See above on 9/17 for Man Man and GRLwood.

Best Shows in Denver 10/5/17 – 10/11/17

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Sheer Mag, photo by Marie Lin

 

October has long traditionally been the busiest month for shows coming to Denver and keeping up with them much less catching everything you’d like to witness is challenging even if money and time aren’t big considerations. Here are not even close to all the cool concerts in the Mile High City and the surrounding area through October 11, 2017.

Who: Tennyson w/Photay
When: Thursday, 10.05, 7 p.m.
Where: Globe Hall
Why: Tennyson is a duo from Canada that seems to have found a way to fully synthesize jazz, IDM, pop and dub techno into lush pop songs that get under your skin and into your psyche. Difficult to compare them to anyone other than maybe artists on the Ghostly International imprint because so many of them are breaking conventions in general as well. If Lusine, Thundercat and Boards of Canada collaborated on a pop album it might sound like Tennyson but Tennyson’s beautiful, finely crafted compositions don’t feel like a real nod to anyone else, a true rarity in modern music. Its new EP, Uh Oh!, is a perfect introduction to what this brother and sister project has to offer.

Who: 1865668232 (Ithaca), Distance Research, Sunk Cost, Matt Struck, Hypnotic Turtle simulcast
When: Thursday, 10.05, 9 p.m.
Where: The Skylark
Why: Musical Mayhem is a bi-weekly event at The Skylark Lounge hosted by Claudia Woodman who also does Weird Wednesdays at 3 Kings Tavern.This week it’s noise and ambient night with harsh noise sculptor extraordinaire, Jonathan Cash, performing as Sunk Cost. Distance Research is the analog/modular synth project of sound and visual artist Sean Faling. The guy has more synths at his place than anyone but maybe Gabriel Temeyosa of Kuxaan-Sum and he crafts his sets around various arrangements of gear meaning every show is a little different but always excellent. 1865668232 is based out of Ithaca, New York and traveling with a show in Denver of sound collage atmospheres.

Who: Glacial Tomb, Nightwraith, Space in Time, Urn
When: Thursday, 10.05, 7 p.m.
Where: Hi-Dive
Why: Sort of a doom and stoner rock/psychedelic metal night at the Hi-Dive with Glacial Tomb which includes members of Khemmis and Cult of the Lost Cause. Urn is basically a new version of the great Denver sludge psych band Skully Mammoth. Nightwraith is a melodic doom band whose recent self-titled EP is ripe with crunchy riffing and post-hardcore-esque black metal vocals. Space in Time is what happens when talented musicians from punk, country and pop bands update trippy heavy rock from the 70s like Captain Beyond and Uriah Heep.

Who: Palehound w/Down Time and Mr. Atomic
When: Thursday, 10.05, 7 p.m.
Where: Lost Lake
Why: Ellen Kempner somehow takes the kind of folk-inflected, confessional indie rock song and injects it with new life through a compelling and moving vulnerability and poetic honesty. In some ways her music is reminiscent of a modern day Melanie—well crafted yet raw songwriting. The 2017 album, A Place I’ll Always Go, has more of a full band sound and filled out with more electronic soundscapes but without losing any of the sense Kempner’s revealing her deepest loves, fears and wishes.

Who: Ghost Tapes album release of Mad Props w/Fed Rez, Sur Ellz and DJ Soulrane
When: Friday, 10.06, 7 p.m.
Where: Syntax Physic Opera
Why: Ghost Tapes if finally releasing its debut album, Mad Props. The quintet’s sound is somewhere between soul and smooth jazz minus any cheese factor. Rather, its music is the sort of thing you might expect to hear if you stopped in to some hip coffee shop off the Pacific Coast Highway and caught the house band doing its music and poetry residency outside its usual gig of touring the country in a successful indie rock band. Perhaps that’s a tortured metaphor but there is something intimate and beautiful about a Ghost Tapes performance that will fit in well with Syntax Physic Opera. Also on the bill are two of Denver’s best experimental hip-hop projects: the more jazz-inflected Fed Rez and the lushly loop/beat driven Sur Ellz.

Who: Sympathy F and JL Universe
When: Friday, 10.06, 8 p.m.
Where: The Walnut Room
Why: Sympathy F is one of the longest running bands in Denver. It would be too facile to say the band is merely dream pop because it incorporates singer Elizabeth Rose’s jazz chops honed in her solo side project and the other players make rock music with the fluid dynamics of a improv jazz band with a dreamlike quality that draws you into the group’s storytelling. Really, Sympathy F’s music recreates the feel of Denver pre-LoDo when there was a shadowy, gritty and haunting yet comfortable vibe to a place where while there was potential danger around every corner there was also a sense of wide openness and untapped possibility. The band’s next album, its third in 26 years, is due out later this year.

Who: Sheer Mag w/Tenement and American Culture
When: Saturday, 10.07, 8 p.m.
Where: Larimer Lounge
Why: One of the most anticipated punk tours of recent years not being undertaken by an established name includes two of the genre’s most acclaimed acts, Sheer Mag and Tenement. Sheer Mag might be compared to the Minutemen for current punk not because the bands sound anything alike. But because both had/have musicians with chops who aren’t afraid to let that show in the songwriting out of some misguided adherence to standard punk aesthetics. Both also were unabashed admirers of older music many of their peers think/thought wack. Vocalist Tina Halladay sounds like Janis Joplin fronting a garage rpunk band that listened to a lot of James Gang and The Allman Brothers. Should be completely dumb but it really works and the live band is a force to be reckoned with. Tenement sounds like a snotty power pop band with a raw melodic sense reminiscent of maybe Teenage Fanclub or pre-1983 The Replacements. Local openers American Culture should be as known as the other bands on the bill on a national scale but its own rawly melodic and glittery take on punk might be too big a leap for some to accept in the same realm of music. But its own impassioned performances speak otherwise and the lyrics about being an eternal outsider in a world of fake sophistication and a yearning for authentic choices for living a life worth living are clearly the stuff of which great punk songs are made.

Who: Ought w/US Weekly and Male Blonding
When: Tuesday, 10.10, 7 p.m.
Where: Larimer Lounge
Why: Ought’s noisy, Fall-esque, whorling melodies reminiscent of Television driven by steady, hypnotic rhythms set it apart from a lot of other post-punk bands of the current decade. Was it aware that Protomartyr had got off the ground in Detroit three years before its own formation? That Women had developed its Wire-esque, spiky yet deeply atmospheric aesthetic before that? Hardly matters as Ought sounds like neither band but there is a strong resonance between the music of all those bands. With Ought there is also a sense of urgency to its music and an ability to draw you into its gritty, dreamlike compositions before you know you’re under their spell. Austin-based no-wave/post-hardcore/noise rock band US Weekly may be difficult to track down using conventional search engine methods but it’ll be worth it. Because these guys are a bit like Flipper on fast mode. Denver’s Male Blonding garnered some influence from Canadian post-punk of the 2000s but its rhythm section takes the music into a different realm of sound. Coupled with the group’s imaginative dual guitar work and Noah Simons’ commanding vocals, Male Blonding is simply carving its own path and not easily planted in the realms of post-punk or indie rock.

Who: Big Thief w/Little Wings and Mega Bog
When: Tuesday, 10.10, 7 p.m.
Where: Globe Hall
Why: Big Thief’s new record, Capacity, is a pleasant and thoughtful enough listen. But Adrianne Lenker’s tender vocal delivery is what makes the songs because even if she’s conventionally melodic she brings a sense of melancholic yearning that’s pretty compelling. Definitely for fans of Jenny Lewis solo or during her tenure with Rilo Kiley. Mega Bog has been one of America’s best kept musical secrets for too long. Originally from the Pacific Northwest, Mega Bog now resides in New York City where it now doubt rubbed shoulders with Big Thief. Singer/songwriter Erin Birgy and her bandmates aren’t really working in a genre unless you count “good drum.” Its latest record, Happy Together, is an eclectic affair that will remind some people of Laurie Anderson (especially “London” to Anderson’s “Blue Lagoon”). It’s part jazz and part seemingly lifting otherworldly atmospherics from Birgy’s dreams.

Who: Worriers, Thin Lips, Cheap Perfume, Lawsuit Models
When: Tuesday, 10.10, 7 p.m.
Where: The Moon Room
Why: Worriers are the bouncy, melodic punk band of former The Measure (SA) guitarist and singer Lauren Denitzio. The band’s 2015 album, Imaginary Life, produced by Laura Jane Grace of Against Me!, is a charming mixture of irreverent self-examination cataloging life’s downbeats, playfully pointed social commentary and genuinely clever wordplay. Cheap Perfume shares Denitzio’s sense of humor, politics and energy and earlier this year the band debuted the video for a song called “It’s Okay (To Punch Nazis).” And given Richard Spencer’s recent turn with a ten minute or so protest revisiting Charlottesville it’s difficult for any normal person to disagree with the sentiment even if you’re not inclined to act on the song literally.

Who: Touché Amoré w/Single Mothers, Gouge Away, Muscle Beach
When: Tuesday, 10.10, 7 p.m.
Where: The Moon Room
Why: Touché Amoré may have kind of a silly name but its melodic post-hardcore while still heavy hitting has a kind of uplifting quality at times that has more in common with late 90s emo. But it’s all part of the same punk world so of course several bands have overlapping musical interests, Touché Amoré just integrated it all as well as expansive, shimmering atmospheric passages that sound like post-rock angels hovering at the edges of its core songs. And it’s kind of a big deal for 2000s post-hardcore fans that London, Ontario post-hardcore legends Single Mothers are playing in Denver. No downside on the bill including Denver’s own Muscle Beach who have found a truly sweet spot between metallic post-hardcore and fluid noise rock.

Who: Haujobb w/Blackcell and DJ Niq V
When: Tuesday, 10.10, 8 p.m.
Where: 3 Kings Tavern
Why: Haujobb came about at time when there was a great deal of overlap between underground electronic music genres with Meat Beat Manifesto synthesizing EBM, techno and early drum and bass, The Orb creating dance music too weird for most dance clubs, Rabbit in the Moon embodying trance and house and indulging creative breakbeats. Haujobb’s own music was more grounded in EBM and industrial and darker than most of the music that would provide the soundtracks to raves and night-long parties in Ibiza even though its methods of creation wasn’t so far apart from the “electronic” acts who were its peers. Blackcell is one of Denver’s longest running bands in general and certainly out of the electronic and industrial music world going back to its origins in the early 90s when the project was more in the vein of noise with tape collages and samples alongside its synthesizer experiments. These days the duo uses mostly hardware synths, sequencers, drum machines and samplers to craft its richly layered, entrancing soundscapes.

 

Who: The Church w/The Heliosequence
When: Wednesday, 10.11, 7 p.m.
Where: Gothic Theatre
Why: Many rock bands get stuck in a perpetual revisiting of teenage themes, hedonism and concerns bespeaking of a state of stunted personal development. The Church has never really been that band. Before becoming famous in the U.S. in the wake of the release of its 1988 album Starfish and hit single “Under the Milky Way,” The Church had been crafting albums of exquisite beauty that took the pop and rock song format in interesting directions both sonically and thematically. There was a literary quality to the band’s lyrics that more than hinted at thoughtfulness in the songwriting that aimed at a poetic understanding of life and human interactions beyond the rote clichés of art aiming at little more than entertainment. And with The Church it wasn’t purely intellectual or of the head and its powerful live shows became and remain a powerful shared experience of artist and audience alike. In 2014, The Church released arguably its best record to date with Further/Deeper. The title was a pitch perfect summary of an album in which the band was finding itself having to reinvent itself after the departure of founding guitarist Marty Wilson-Piper but also to continue making relevant music that wasn’t a retread of past glory—something, surprisingly, The Church has never really done, each album being a worthwhile listen. Futher/Deeper was also one of the few rock records written by musicians from an adult perspective without sounding jaded or safe. In 2017 The Church released its latest album Man Woman Life Death Infinity. The Helio Sequence probably gets lumped in with modern shoegaze and dream pop but the band was doing fascinating experiments with electronic music and an expanded sense of psychedelic music early in its career. These days the band is perfecting affecting soundscapes and lyrics that reach well beyond the realm of the mundane. A perfect pairing of bands in a year when that’s not been such a rarity.

Who: The Mercury Tree, Hamster Theatre and Neil Haverstick
When: Wednesday, 10.11, 7 p.m.
Where: The Walnut Room
Why: Portland, Oregon’s The Mercury Tree is proof that progressive rock need not be over intellectualized as its layered atmospheres and rhythms, intricate in composition, are a heady and expansive listening experience. And that band would be worthy enough of attending the show but also a rare Denver appearance by Denver avant-garde rock/jazz legends Hamster Theatre and microtonal guitar wizard Neil Haverstick.

Who: GZA w/Low Hanging Fruit
When: Wednesday, 10.11, 7 p.m.
Where: Fox Theatre
Why: The GZA at The Fox? Sure enough. As a founding member of Wu-Tang Clan, GZA has exerted a broad influence on much of the hip-hop to have come along since. But GZA’s lyrical brilliance paired with RZA’s production has impacted some of the most interesting electronic music made since the release of his landmark 1995 album Liquid Swords. That album transcended genre and its echoes can be heard in much of alternative and underground hip-hop today.