“Dot” is A Beacon School’s first release in three years and its free flowing swirl of colorful tones promise some deeply imaginative soundscaping in the forthcoming album due out sometime in the hopefully non-too distant future. Its gentle psychedelia and expansive dynamic is an interesting choice for a song that blends a contemplation on creating a work of art and a reflection on one’s own life. The way one creates say a visual work or a song from conceptualization stage to execution in sketches and stages, parts and passages and going through life considering what paths to take, small choices that establish an overall pattern that you hope you can consciously guide or set in motion in ways that unfold to one’s satisfaction. In both cases imagining you’ve discovered a new method, a new aesthetic, a dramatic breakthrough in one’s creative work and life only to discover patterns that emerge from the character you’ve made for yourself. And yet in that realization is the consciousness of ways to work with instincts and habits and break or transform them in ways that seem viable and sustainable. And ideally through multiple iterations of these attempts we can establish more rewarding patterns in art and in life. Musically the layers of synth and flow of textures is reminiscent of the dream pop of Sound of Ceres and the main melodic line in the song strongly resonates with that of Stereolab’s “Blue Milk” so that an unconventional free jazz element provides an informal structure to the way the song organically resolves in a way that keeps your attention to the end. Listen to “Dot” on YouTube and follow A Beacon School at the links provided.
The menacing bass line and almost motorik beat that opens “Wishbone” by Husbands and the way the song unfolds with disparate streams of sound is reminiscent of pop weirdo Russ Ballard. The song weaves together strands of post-punk, Krautrock, synth pop and experimental psychedelic rock across it’s duration. The distorted vocals, processed to sound robotic, cuts through the mix and then gives way to moody harmonies that contemplate the dissociative aspects of modern American culture. The fractured guitar solo in the first half of the song sounds like society or at least one’s psyche on the verge of fragmenting while the synth work mid-song touches on the warped, dreamlike soundscapes of Black Moth Super Rainbow. As the song plays visions of Stereolab collaborating Black Angels on a cover of Ballard’s 1984 hit “Voices” is hard to shake which just makes “Wishbone” a bit of an earworm in the end. Listen to the song on Spotify and connect with Husbands at the links provided.
On “LA Egypt” Vinyl Williams invokes the blend of classic pop, lounge and psychedelia as embodied by The Free Design (which the somewhat like-minded Stereolab invoked on its own song of the same name from 1999’s Cobra and Phases Group Play Voltage in the Milky Night) and Brazilian Bossa Nova, jazz funk legend Arthur Verocai. The colorful and hypnotic video parallels the hazy, layered aesthetic that hits you gently but is simultaneously rich in content. It offers a view into an imaginative alternative reality in which shifting between inner and outer space is effortless and offers a path to creating a kind of non-invasive Utopia that anyone can access at will. What makes the track remarkable is that while it is very rooted in a way to previous forms of music and established styles it is not trapped by their conventions. It is equally informed by the well-crafted chill of the previously mentioned artists as it is by the recent wave of psychedelia and dream pop. But you don’t hear it and immediately think it’s basically a decent imitation of Tame Impala or Sound of Ceres. The guitars swirl perfectly into the stream of keyboards, synth and ethereal vocals. There is a at times a disciplined, Krautrock-esque rhythm but one that gives way to an abstract flow into infinite horizons. It is also a fine introduction to Vinyl Williams’ latest album Azure LP which released June 5, 2020 on Requiem Pour Un Twister as Williams once again takes us on an aural journey we didn’t know we needed but glad we undertook. For the album art Williams combined over twenty-five paintings as a cognate of the attention to detail and focused creativity that went into composing the music within. Watch the video for “LA Egypt” on YouTube and connect with Vinyl Williams at the links provided include that for the interactive version of the video.
Interactive version of LA Egypt here: https://laegypt.vinylwilliams.com
In the annals of weirdo, psychedelic, noisy rock Chrome (performing tonight, March 31 at Larimer Lounge) stands out as one of the true originals. Innovators of an art/acid damaged sound that fully blended synthesizers and rock music, Chrome is often considered one of the progenitors of industrial music. Butthole Surfers freely admit the influence, so did Stereolab. One has to assume Arab On Radar drew on Chrome’s proto-sampling, recontextualizing, deconstructionist impulses as well. When Chrome released its debut album The Visitation in 1976 it must have seemed as alien as its closest musical cousin in the early solo albums of Brian Eno. Ned Raggett Allmusic Guide described it as “Brian Eno meets Santana.” The latter probably because of the fluttery, bluesy leads that are the hallmark of part of the guitar sound on the record alongside the fuzzy, spidery melodies. The band might have continued to develop along that path if bassist Gary Spain hadn’t been playing violin in a band prior to The Visitation’s release with future Chrome guitarist Helios Creed, mentioning he was in a band called Chrome.
“I asked if I could hear it when it was done,” says Creed. “He gave me a copy and I liked the record, The Visitation, but I guess the record wasn’t selling at all and everybody quit. Then I auditioned and me and Damon [Edge] got along really well. It ended up just being me and him after a while. I played the bass on the first three records [after I was in Chrome]. When I heard that [first] record I [told them I] felt like they needed me and I was right.”
Creed had grown up in the 50s, 60s and 70s listening to, among other bands, Black Sabbath, Iron Butterfly, The Doors and Blue Cheer. “I went to go see Black Sabbath on acid and I sort of felt like I knew what I wanted to do, in a way,” says Creed. To Chrome, Creed brought another dimension to the band’s spirit of experimentation and a guitar sound that was as energetic as it was corrosive and both jagged and serpentine.
Starting with Alien Soundtracks, originally titled Ultra Soundtrack when it was a soundtrack project for what might be called an avant-garde strip show in San Francisco. But the music was considered too weird even for an endeavor like that in a city where strange art had long been embraced. From the opening track, “Chromosome Damage” to the last, “Magnetic Dwarf Reptile,” it is obvious that Chrome had absorbed obvious influences like Blue Cheer, Black Sabbath, Hendrix, Stooges and Hawkwind and allowed that to mutate and stew into something that sounded like what cyberpunk authors like William Gibson, John Shirley and Bruce Sterling were trying to capture when they took the spirit of J.G. Ballard’s visionary, dystopian science fiction and its influence on punk in brilliant new directions. Chrome albums have consistently seemed like science fiction novels and movies no one has yet written or made. “Yeah, we got sci-fi ideas and integrated it with the feel of the music,” says Creed. “Or a sterile, dehumanizing, robotic society. We had a lot of different kinds of inspirations. That movie Carrie? Alien, the first one. Blade Runner and A Clockwork Orange–the feel of those movies really inspired us.”
Although based in the Bay Area, Chrome didn’t exactly play live shows in a city where the avant-garde or any kind of strange, eccentric art seemed to find a home. The band had garnered critical acclaim abroad with Alien Soundtracks and its follow-up, 1979’s Half Machine Lip Moves but it wasn’t until 1981 that the group performed live for the first time.
“We didn’t play until Blood on the Moon came out,” says Creed. “That was our first show and we played in Italy at a music festival in Bologna. We played all new songs but they dug it. We played the whole Blood on the Moon album. There’s a live record of that show somewhere.”
The lineup with both Edge and Creed produced some of the most interesting and unusual music of the era including 1980’s more synth-infused Red Exposure, the aforementioned 1981 album Blood on the Moon and 1982’s 3rd From the Sun. With more electronic elements including drum machines, those records, dark and clearly taking cues from no one beyond the dictates of active and restless imaginations, Chrome’s sinister psychedelia was not destined to fit in with the fake positivism of the 1980s mainstream culture. Thank goodness. However, the Edge/Creed era of Chrome ended by the mid-80s and Edge moved to Paris with his wife and collaborator, Fabienne Shine. Edge released albums as Chrome into the 90s before he died of heart failure in 1995. Around that time he had reconnected with Creed with notions of doing Chrome together again.
After Chrome, Creed continued as a solo artist and collaborator with current synth and guitar player Tommy Grenas (from bands Farflung and Pressurehead) who connected Creed with former Hawkwind member Nik Turner with whom Creed and Grenas worked on a 1993 re-recording of Turner’s 1978 solo album Sphynx and the 1994 Nik Turner record Prophets of Time. Creed and Turner now have a band with Jay Tausig called Chromium Hawk Machine that put out an album called Annunaki in 2017 on Massimo Gasperini’s Black Widow Records imprint. “Massimo is into the whole Zecharia Sitchin theory about Nibiru so we made a record about it.”
Rumor had it that Grenas was able to get a hold of Edge’s original synth rig after the musician passed. Turns out the rumors were true.
“I met Damon before I met Helios,” reveals Grenas. “When Damon passed away I had the opportunity to buy his stuff when [his sister] Sharon put it up for sale and I bought it before anyone else did. I bought Damon’s [Moog] Liberation and the [Electro-Harmonix] Micro Synth and something else. I used it on the first tour but a lot of that stuff is too fragile to take on the road.”
Grenas used some of the older gear for the Chrome records that have come out since the turn of the century. Right now the band is touring in support of 2014’s Feel It Like a Scientist and 2017’s Techromancy. While the methods and means of making sound have changed, Chrome still seems off the frequency of mundane normalcy with songs about an ominous, dystopian future society.
“It seems like we’re on the brink of going right into that with machines and robots taking over,” says Creed. “So maybe they’ll just kill us, I guess. We’re going to be obsolete. ‘You must go to this room here and wait for destruction.’ We also have songs of hope.”
In spite of the overt sound of the band and the subject matter of the lyrics, Creed’s sharp and playful sense of humor is infused into the music as well and so is his willingness to explore the dark underbelly of American culture that is often simply dismissed as folklore. Although Creed grew up in Long Beach, California and lived in the San Francisco Bay area for much of his life, he did spend some years in the American Midwest where lurid stories of local figures and events are not in short supply.
“I was living in Manhattan, Kansas, twenty miles from Stull,” says Creed. “Supposedly it’s one of the gateways to Hell. That’s the scuttlebutt. Supposedly the Pope won’t fly over it when he comes to America. Every Halloween apparently the Goth people and witchy kind of people show up there thinking they’re talking to the dark ones. But really all it is is just a burned out church. [So the story goes,] a bunch of rednecks who hated blacks, and really everyone, put people in that church and burned it down and opened a vortex to hell. You know how the old west was. Where I was living in Kansas they used to cut the heads of slaves if they didn’t like them. All this stuff never gets written about but I know the history of Kansas is very dark. It ain’t no Wizard of Oz place, I’ll tell you that much.”
If, like many of us, you aren’t super flush with money and couldn’t sell enough blood plasma this past year to afford half the ticket price of the Depeche Mode show tonight at Pepsi Center, you have plenty of options should the live music experience be what you’re seeking. Not just the Titwrench festival at the Mercury Café starting tonight August 25, continuing tomorrow, August 26, but plenty of others including the following.
Who: Itchy-O and SPELLS
When: Saturday, 8.26, 9 p.m.
Where: Gothic Theatre
Why: Itchy-O, the cult/sprawling experimental band/spectacle including over thirty members, has toured America, played in Tasmania and is arguably the most well-known weirdo band from Denver. Now the group is finally releasing its sophomore record, From the Overflowing, the follow up to 2014’s Burn the Navigator. Both albums have a home at Jello Biafra’s long-running indie label Alternative Tentacles but you can buy one in person this night and experience Itchy-O’s ever evolving live show. You can also catch openers, SPELLS, fronted by comedian Ben Roy who, with any luck, will do and say something memorably ridiculous.
Who: Sliver, Television Generation, Quantum Creep and Stasis of Seasons
When: Saturday, 8.26, 9 p.m.
Where: Moe’s Original Bar B Que
Why: Sliver and Television generation play together often but that’s no bad thing because both groups have managed to basically reinvent grunge for the Rocky Mountain West. 20 years ago, maybe you would roll your eyes at such a throwback impulse in sound. But both bands are energetic and seem to be coming from a sincere and pure place that bypasses notions of misguided nostalgia. TG even worked with grunge scene engineer par excellence Jack Endino on its 2015 Digital Static EP. Quantum Creep is a noise pop band that is comprised of veteran members of Denver area indie rock and indie pop bands. Rather than just basically retreading prior efforts, the members of Quantum Creep challenged themselves to focus not just on solid songwriting but in expanding what indie rock can and should sound like. Also, kudos for the nerdly science reference, people!
Who: Laetitia Sadier Source Ensemble w/Heather Trost and Pattern Language
When: Saturday, 8.26, 8 p.m.
Where: Lost Lake
Why: Laetitia Sadier was once the charismatic frontwoman of Stereolab, a band that combined Krautrock, avant-garde electronic music, bossa nova, punk and pop for an otherworldly listening experience with every record. Since that group split up nearly a decade ago, Sadier has forged her own music path with songs creatively worthy of Stereolab but more a reflection of her nuanced, further exploration of a cross-cultural blend of sounds and thoughtful commentary on life and the modern political landscape. Heather Trost, whom some may know for being in A Hawk and a Hacksaw, perfectly compliments Sadier’s own blend of diverse influences. The what one might call electronica exotica of Boulder, Colorado’s Pattern Language, as one can find on the 2017 EP Total Squaresville, is a great introduction to the whole evening.
Who: Kevin Morby and Shannon Lay
When: Saturday, 8.26, 9 p.m.
Where: Globe Hall
Why: Before ever joining experimental folk band Woods on bass in 2009, Kevin Morby was writing his own music from a very young age. After leaving Woods in 2013 to forge his own way, Morby has proven himself to be a gifted crafter of introspective pop songs with a rare full use of low end in his compositions. Currently on tour in support of 2017’s City Music, Morby is finally writing and performing with the confidence that comes from not making music in the shadow of his previous musical projects.
Who: Speakeasy Series: EVP and Nighttimeschoolbus
When: Saturday, 8.26, 6-9 p.m.
Where: Hooked On Colfax
Why: Nighttimeschoolbus is not too well known in Denver, much less elsewhere, but if quality of music is ever an indicator of success in that realm it should be. However, the duo comprised of Robin Walker and Toby Hendricks has few widely available recordings. They play few shows and don’t seem to have a shred of the careerist ambitions that bands trying to “make it” in any way seem to need to go beyond being asked by friends to play small shows. Walker, one of Colorado’s most talented musicians and vocalists, released solo albums in the past and with her indie pop band Cougarpants. Hendricks has several releases under his solo hip-hop moniker Otem Rellik. And together it’s an amalgamation of that underground hip-hop beatmaking and Walker’s avant-garde pop sensibilities. Also on this bill is EVP, another duo, but in this case, the band has elements of industrial music, witch house and post-punk. Amanda Baker’s vocals are reminiscent of Gitane Demone and the music has an 80s death rock vibe informed by a modern dance music production sensibillity.
Who: Reggae on the Rocks featuring Sublime With Rome, The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, Fishbone, Inner Circle, Landon McNamara and Judge Roughneck
When: Sunday, 8.27, 2 p.m.
Where: Red Rocks
Why: In an annual tradition going back several years, Reggae on the Rocks will get started early Sunday afternoon. Whether the musical form is your thing, or whether or not all of these bands appeal to you, there’s not likely to be another chance to see punk/reggae legends Fishbone, much less a worthy band they influenced like The Mighty Mighty Bosstones on the same bill. Maybe some people will even figure out that Inner Circle has excellent songs beyond “Bad Boys.” The band, after all, has roots in the earliest days of reggae and had a whole career before 1986 when its most famous song was released. Local reggae powerhouse Judge Roughneck is also on the bill. While much local reggae is deservedly the butt of scorn and disdain, Judge Roughneck has garnered respect for its own music which never seems like a misguided appropriation.
Who: Bleached w/Springtime Carnivores and The Corner Girls
When: Sunday, 8.27, 7 p.m.
Where: Larimer Lounge
Why: Jennifer and Jessica Clavin were once members of the great art punk band Mika Miko. When they formed Bleached in the wake of the dissolution of the latter, they embraced a kind of songwriting style that reflected the myth of Southern California—bright and easy melodies—while never trying to pretend there isn’t a darker side to California or a more gritty aspect of everyday living. The group’s latest album, 2016’s Welcome the Worms, is a heavy album that manages not to weigh you down. Denver’s The Corner Girls also take a sort of punk and surf rock aesthetic and make it a vehicle for commenting on serious issues in a way that doesn’t sugarcoat anything but also doesn’t unproductively wallow in despair.
Who: Silver Face w/Mugen Hoso and Palo Santo
When: Monday, 8.28, 9 p.m.
Where: Silver Spur Saloon
Why: Tokyo’s Mugen Hoso could be a punk band or a rockabilly band but in fine Japanese tradition, distinct categories don’t matter and the art statement of kind of cutting loose in a culture that frowns on such emotive gestures is plenty rebellious on its own. Silver Face, the Denver psychedelic rock band, is also on the bill. By not trying to be a psych band in the same mold as so many bands have in the last 10 years when more people discovered that music by listening to the Black Angels and realizing that The Brian Jonestown Massacre is a great band and not just a living caricature of a band in the excellent 2004 documentary Dig!, Silver Face is writing valid songs with real roots in an earlier era of rock and roll.
Who: The Cutthroat Drifters (final show) w/The Patient Zeros and To Be Astronauts
When: Wednesday, 8.30, 7:30 p.m.
Where: Larimer Lounge
Why: Since around 2003 way too many bands have mined the “classic rock” sound and attitude. Like Civil War recreation societies for rock and roll. The results have been mixed. The guys in Cutthroat Drifters, though, never seemed to forget that it’s not enough to play music inspired by that era of great songwriting or to just live an irresponsible lifestyle. These Drifters wrote many a worthy rock and roll song of their own and the live show was surprisingly forceful with a talented vocalist and frontman in Nicolas Kjolhede who danced with an unaffected yet theatrical flair as his equally skilled bandmates provided the context for that performance to work. After nearly a decade of rocking and sweating on multiple Denver stages, this is their last show. We hardly knew ye, Drifters.
Who: Wovenhand with Emma Ruth Rundle and Jaye Jayle
When: Thursday, 8.31, 8 p.m.
Where: The Marquis Theater
Why: Wovenhand has evolved into a more noisy, haunted, post-punk band from its more Gothic Americana beginnings a decade and a half ago. Live, the band’s music is a journey through harrowing emotional landscapes guided by singer David Eugene Edwards’ dark vision aiming toward spiritual catharsis. Sharing the bill are Emma Ruth Rundle and Jaye Jayle. The two songwriters had a collaborative album earlier this year but separately, Rundle has a ghostly purity at the heart of her dark, moody songs that evokes Julee Cruise while sounding more like Marissa Nadler. As a member of Red Sparrowes with roots in folk music, Rundle masterfully navigates a broad and deep vista of emotional expression. Evan Patterson, Jay Jayle, is no stranger to heavy music himself as a member of Young Widows and Breather Resist, and his burnished blues folk is the stuff of Jodorowsky soundtracks.