Queen City Sounds and Art Best Albums of 2020

Sex Swing | Type II | Rocket Recordings

This sprawling best of list was intended for publication in January 2021 but other priorities got in the way and I had written about many of these in brief in my year end best column for the December 2020 print edition of Birdy magazine in December. Others I wrote up for Birdy throughout the year. All of that text is here hopefully not in a form with my errors edited back in. At any rate it begins with what I’m going to call the album of the year, Type II by UK post-punk experimentalists Sex Swing. It not only stretched post-punk beyond the usual boundaries these days and it articulated the conflict, the outage and confusion of a world coming to terms with the great shortcomings of modern, international capitalism, the inadequacy of the conservative/far right and neoliberal government to address the needs of people across decades and most painfully and poignantly in the moment. That agony and anomie can be heard throughout the album but even separate from that context it’s just a great, experimental rock album. The original verbiage for the Birdy piece reads “An uncomromisingly mind-altering psychedelic noise rock ride through 2020 hell.” With any luck we’ll see the band in North America sooner than later and see for ourselves if the live show delivers. What follows is the rest of the best of list for 2020.

A.M. Pleasure Assassins | Careless Laughter | Self-released
This latest EP from Fort Collins-based, math-y post-punk band A.M. Pleasure Assassins sounds like it  was written after a long period of contemplation and self-imposed exile from one’s usual social activities. “Said Yer Outta Gas” is imbued with a rush of exuberance reflected in its words about emerging from winter into a period of new beginnings. “Get It Right” finds the band waxing into the warped garage punk territory like something one would expect out of Memphis, Tennessee the past two decades — raw and ragged yet bracing. “Cain Was Killing Abel” strikes a more contemplative tone and the sprawling “Pretty Dead Beat” creates a beautifully hypnotic pulse of sounds with bell tones processed through reverb and distorted drones for an effect like a late 90s Yo La Tengo track. The four songs give the impression of nostalgic reflection, but one where you see and feel deeply the joys and pains of a good time in your life  that you are wise enough now to know to enjoy in its full measure rather than through the lens of selective romanticism.

Abrams | Modern Ways | Sailor Records

Adulkt Life | Book of Curses | What’s Your Rupture?

ADULT. | Perception Is/As/Of Deception | Dais Records
Darkly urgent industrial dance anthems to purge today’s desperation, confusion and chaos.

Angel Olsen | Whole New Mess | Secretly Group
A tender yet bracingly fragile portrait of the realization that you can never adequately prepare for everything life might throw your way.

Anna von Hausswolff | Sacro Bosco | Southern Lord

A Shoreline Dream | Melting | Late Night Weeknight
With its first release since 2018’s Waitout EP, A Shoreline Dream presents a set of songs that seems less  ethereal than their previous output. From opening track “Turned Too Slow” to closing song “Atheris  Hispida” the progressive shoegaze duo has seemingly focused its attention on the texture and  physicality of the music. One is tempted to say the guitars are more like hard rock, but only if your idea of  hard rock is more in the vein of Swervedriver. But “Downstairs Sundays” has more in common with folk  music in its intricate guitar interplay though threading through an uplifting, introspective drone. A  Shoreline Dream still gives us its usual transporting melodies, but this time its astral realms are  more focused and vivid as though coming out of its musical dreamstate into a phase of making those  dreams real. 

Autechre | Sign | Warp Records
Cleanses the mind with textural tones and hypnotically immersive, abstract rhythms.

Bambara | Stray | Wharf Cat Records

Bestial Mouths | RESURRECTEDINBLACK | RUNE & RUIN

Bison Bone | Find Your Way Out | self-released

Black Wing | No Moon | The Flenser

blackcell | Burn the Ashes | self-released
Denver-based EBM/IDM band Blackcell returns with its first full- length album since 2013’s In the Key of  Black. Matt Jones’ processed, distorted vocals sound as ever like a dispossessed human resisting an ever increasing mechanization of life. These dark dance songs articulate so well the struggles of the human  condition and seem so resonant for today as meaningful choices and control over your own life are  leeched away into increasing labor defined by a gig economy, subscription and streaming services in the  modern equivalent of pay-per-view, and a failing political and economic system that has channeled all the  world’s wealth into fewer and fewer hands, nickeled and dimed to death and expected to take it like it is or  not to streamline the technocratic wealth pipeline. Blackcell offers no answers but this time, its Gary  Numan-esque end of the world techno feels particularly cathartic right now.  

BleakHeart | Dream Griever | Sailor Records

Body Double | Milk Fed | Zum
Vignettes of personal psychological horror expressed as seething, angular post-punk pop.

Body Negative | Fragments | Track Number Records

Bootblacks | Thin Skies | Artoffact Records
Soaring synths and guitar sketch a vivid image of a deep yearning for personal transcendence and rebirth.

Boris and Merzbow | 2R012P0 | Relapse Records
Alien soundscapes of stunning immediacy that challenge preconceptions of all artists involved.

Botanist | Photosynthesis | The Flenser

Cabaret Voltaire | Shadow of Fear | Mute

Camila Fuchs | Kids Talk Sun | Felte Records
Avant-garde, psychedelic synth pop for tropical vacations in parallel dimensions.

Causer | Hellebore: Demos | self-released

Chicano Batman | Invisible People | ATO Records
Un-ironic, un-corny psych Tropicalia love songs for an inclusive future of unified humanity.

Choir Boy | Gathering Swans | Dais Records
Every song is an introspective Goth R&B ode to radical self care.

Church Fire | Some Lonely Wip | self-released
This collection of “unfinished/unmixed/unmastered/instrumentals” bridges the gap between Nine Inch  Nails and Crystal Castles with their raw, lo-fi, maximalist glitch. Without the highly emotive and cathartic  vocals that have been part of Church Fire’s signature sound we are invited to visit the soundscapes that  give those vocals a powerful musical context. What is obvious here is the band’s playfulness and gift for  pairing dark tonal choices and buoyant rhythms anchored by spare textural elements. On “pixie death  tickle” there are wisps of voices but they serve as more a musical aside from the strong, bright, urgent  main passages. The “wip” in the title may refer to “works-in-progress” but these songs would work as  mood pieces in a soundtrack to the inevitable English language Inio Asano manga film in mirroring that  artist’s talent for simultaneously expressing melancholia and joy.  

cindygod | EP 2 | Fire Talk

Clipping. | Visions of Bodies Being Burned | Sub Pop
Brooding, seething, menacing industrial hip-hop horror stories from an all too near future.

Cyclo Sonic | Pile of Bones EP | self-released

Damn Selene | Nobody By That Name Lives Here Anymore | self-released

Dan Deacon | Mystic Familiar | Domino Records

Dead Voices On Air | Stone Cross Shuttle Worn | self-released

Deafbrick (Deafkids + Pet Brick) | s/t | Rocket Recordings

Death Bells | New Signs Of Life | Dais Records
Atmospheric post-punk brimming with an infectious sense of hope after a time of struggle.

Death Valley Girls | Under the Spell of Joy | Suicide Squeeze
Acid jazz flavored garage psych with an ear for emotionally rich infinite horizons.

Deerhoof | Teenage Cave Artists | Joyful Noise
Reliably Beefheartian, lo-fi No Wave-esque, boundary-breaking avant-pop.

Down Time | Hurts Being Alive | self-released

Drew Danburry | Icarus Phoenix A Sides and B Sides 2020 | Telos

Drew McDowell | Angalma | Dais Records

Dyad | Dormant | self-released
Charles Ballas and Jeremy Averitt are perhaps better known for their participation in acts like  Howling Hex and Esmé Patterson’s live band respectively as well as their production work for  Echo Beds. But DORMANT from their long-running collaborative project DYAD showcases  their mutual knack for genre-bending IDM-esque soundscapes. DYAD freely blends elements of  non-Western polyrhythms, intricate and textured instrumentation, luminous jazz keyboard  progressions and tasteful electronic arrangements that convey an eclectic and international flavor.  Imagine music equally influenced by Herbie Hancock, 80s Ethiopian synth pop, Daft Punk,  Warp Records artists and informed by a deep sense of play, and you will have some idea of the  soothing and imagination stirring quality of this music and its brilliantly new age downtempo  future jazz sounds. 

eHpH | Infrared | self-released
This Denver-based electro-industrial duo minces no words on the opening track “Idiot” in its  introductory sample “I’m gonna say one thing, fuck Trump.” And then on to choice  sampling of 45s words and those of journalists cataloging some of his offenses against humanity.  The menacing descending synth bass progression and minimalistic percussion puts the focus on  the words. The rest of the album is less explicitly and specifically topical but it is the band’s most  fully realized and focused effort yet. The pulsing pace and Fernando Altonaga’s distorted vocals  draw you into meditations on the perils of creeping authoritarianism on “Tarnished.” The  pastoral pace and deep melancholy of “Forever Haunted” resonates with the artfully despairing  tones of the Closer period of Joy Division the way its circular guitar line and synth melody rides  a wave of personal revelation and the contemplation of an unrelievedly bleak future. EhpH  has long been one of the more interesting modern EBM bands but Infrared demonstrates that the  group of Altonaga and Angelo Atencio have fully integrated those roots with a more  contemporary post-punk and darkwave sensibility, thus never sounding stuck in the  past. 

Emerald Siam | Inventions of Ascension | self-released

Emma Ruth Rundle & Thou | May Our Chambers Be Full | Sacred Bones Records

Emmy The Great | April / 月音 | Bella Union

Entrancer | Decline Vol. 4 | Multidim
In constructing this latest installment in Entrancer’s Decline series Ryan McRyhew utilized Rob  Hordijik’s DIY synth, the Benjolin, as well as the Make Noise Shared System. Though both are modular  synthesis devices and visually look complex, McRyhew, in naming the equipment on the Bandcamp  page, takes some of the technological mystery out of music making with synths  and puts the emphasis on the creativity end. For twenty-seven minutes forty-four seconds of the single  track of this album, “Decline XVI,” we travel with McRyhew through the sonic analog of the distorted  ebb and flow of civilizational decay that we seem to be experiencing right now. Yet at the  heart of the piece we hear a separation of more industrial sounds and those more organic like the  inevitability of nature reasserting its primacy in our own consciousnesses and in the entire world.

Equine | Light Wa/orship | Noise Pelican

Eve Maret | Stars Aligned | White Supulchre Records

Eyebeams | It Means Trouble | Hot Congress

Eyedress | Let’s Skip to the Wedding | Lex Records

Eye of Nix | Ligeia | Scry Recordings
Uplifting, psychedelic, blackened noise doom journey to a pagan underworld and back.

Facs | Void Moments | Trouble In Mind
The post-punk equivalent of crime jazz’s subterranean menace.

Faim | Hollow Hope | Deathwish

Fearing | Shadow | Funeral Party

Fire-Toolz | Rainbow Bridge | Hausu Mountain Records

Flaming Lips | American Head | Warner Records
Overflowing with compassion and musical salves for the pain and despair of the fractured American psyche.

French Kettle Station | Spirit Mode | Slagwerk

Future Islands | As Long As You Are | 4AD
A soulfully soothing and transporting examination of the roots of one’s melancholic impulses.

Galleries | Resolve | self-released

Ganser | Just Look at That Sky | Felte Records
Incandescent yet contemplative post-punk dense with conceptual content and poignant social commentary.

Gold Cage | Social Crutch | Felte Records

Hard to Be a Killer: A Tribute to Ralph Gean
In an alternate universe Ralph Gean is a beloved rock and roll hero widely known for his  brilliantly unique and off-beat songwriting. But the British Invasion derailed that trajectory and  Gean instead has since become a bit of a legendary figure with a cult following in Denver music  who has periodically played shows and championed by figures as politically disparate as Boyd  Rice (who compiled a collection of Gean’s work in 2007) and Jello Biafra. That fandom is  reflected on this sprawling tribute album assembled by Arlo White of Hypnotic Turtle Radio and  bands like Deadbubbles and The Buckingham Squares. Every interpretation of Gean’s songs is a  worthy listen and a fine showcase for his sheer breadth as an artist. Contributions from local,  experimental eccentrics like Little Fyodor & Babushka, Claudzilla and The Babysitters lovingly  capture Gean’s essential appeal as an artist with an unvarnished charm and humor. Eric Allen of  The Apples in Stereo fame highlights the science fiction cowboy persona that Gean could convey while White’s band Diablo Montalban with the late, great eccentric DJ and Denver cultural figure  Frank Bell give “Switzerland” a real dark exotica treatment reminiscent of weirder moments in  Tom Waits’ catalog. A fascinating portrait of an important yet often overlooked artist.

H Lite | Green Youth Heattech | self-released
Anton Kruger has been known for his inventive, hyperkinetic electronic and experimental music. But for  this new EP he took a deep dive into contemplative realms of sound. Elegant, heavenly strings, luminous  swells of tone and crystalline percussion embody the title of the song “Light Language.” The spacious  sound design aspect of all the song’s on the album are reminiscent of Plaid in the enigmatic playfulness  and the stretching consciousness to find inspiration through creative work. Every song brings forth a  singular and imaginative portrait of tone, texture and rhythm that takes you on a journey to alien spaces  that strike one as familiar and ultimately comforting like a dream. It is post-glitchcore IDM that dispenses  with the anxiety in favor of a soothing spirit.

Houses of Heaven | Silent Places | Felte Records
Gloomy street tribal dance anthems fortified with dark, minor chord melodies.

Human Impact | s/t | Ipecac Recordings

In The Company Of Serpents | Lux | self-released
In the Company of Serpents has long been a band that has aimed to infuse its music with its  interest in cinema, esoteric knowledge, literature, and with all of those come out of directi human experience, emotion and an attempt to make sense of life and imbue it with  meaning. Lux is the fullest manifestation of those aims written into its most sonically dynamic  set of songs to date. The crushing yet fluid heaviness of its sound is paired perfectly with  elements of song that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Spaghetti Western soundtrack. “The  Fool’s Journey” opens the record as a sort of map for the path set before us ending with the  enigmatic “Prima Materia.” It’s a musically diverse and rich album that places In the Company  of Serpents apart from a mere doom band and more in the realm of Swans’ and Neurosis’ own  heavy explorations of the human psyche. 

IDLES | Ultra Mono | Partisan
Pointed yet loving politi-punk built on a hip-hop framework.

Insect Ark | The Vanishing | Profound Lore Records
A seething and entrancing hybrid of a Junji Ito manga and industrial psychedelic doom.

Jarv Is | Beyond the Pale | Rough Trade Records

jOoHS UhP | Big Glasss | Records
This record is so irreverent and self-deprecating it uses the swagger language of much of hip-hop to make  statements that are the opposite of anything some other artists would brag about. The irony runs so deep  even the elements of the music sounds like swagger. There is a song called  
“NoWeDon’tWannaMakeGoodMusic.WeTriedAndIt’sBoring.” The glitchy, industrial beats are so  unconventional and eccentric you would never confuse this duo with anything resembling traditional hip-hop. It all has more in common with Renaldo & The Loaf and The Residents  than even a weirdo like Kanye. Though often confrontational and obnoxious there’s no denying the  relentless creativity of the production and glorious seeming lack of regard for how a song is supposed to  sound. 

Juliet Mission | Surren | self-released
Surren is the third EP from Denver-based post-punk band Juliet Mission. As with previous releases the  trio’s command of blending layers of atmosphere with strong rhythms and a contemplative melancholy is  impressive. The short title track actually has three movements that flow from existential introspection to  passages of dark realization to a mood of uneasy acceptance. All four songs in their brooding beauty  demonstrate, as have the most recent albums from The Church, that you can write vital and engrossing  rock songs from an adult point of view with elegance and grace, and without defaulting to an adolescent,  and thus thematically limited, perspective. 

Jupiter Sprites| Holographic | Jupiter Sprites Records

Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith | The Mosaic of Transformation | Ghostly International

Killd By | Neotropical (tape reissue) | Noumenal Loom

King Krule | Man Alive! | Matador
Like The Fall gone hip-hop chillout lounge post-bad trip horror movie dreaming.

Klara Lewis | Ingrid | Editions Mego
Distorted melancholic cello drones like the glitched image memories of past life regression.

KoKo La | Curriculum Vitae | self-released
Koko La has long already established herself as an artist of note as one of the MCs and producers in the  hip-hop group R A R E B Y R D $. Her soulful voice and presence often draws out subconscious  emotions and gives them form in the music and performance. Curriculum Vitae finds Koko La exploring  the experiences that have shaped her. Aided by Machete Mouth and Kitty Opinion$ on a couple of tracks,  Koko La excels here with shining a light on those experiences that challenge you in various ways, while  at the same time, giving you a better sense of self and the boundaries you must draw the border for people who might seek to dismiss you as a human or otherwise put you in your place. The trap beats and  hushed atmospheres provide a fascinating listening experience, like you’re honoring the subconscious  thoughts and feelings that affect your waking life by giving them an identifiable form that also allows you  to comprehend, embrace and reconcile the wounded sides of yourself. 

Lazarus Horse | Oh the Guilt! | self-released

Lithics | Tower of Age | Trouble In Mind
Surreal, minimalist post-punk funk disintegrating into disorder like American democracy.

Lone Dancer | Temporal Smearing | Multidim

Mamaleek | Come and See | The Flenser

Many Blessings | Emanation Body | Translation Loss Records
Ethan McCarthy of Primitive Man renown returns to his ongoing noise soundscapes with the enigmatic  and forbidding Many Blessings. In typical fashion this set of five pieces stretches beyond what McCarthy  has done with the project in the past. Throughout this album there is not the harsh noise and deconstructed  drones of some earlier work. Rather, it is layered collages of sound that give voice to the raw angst and  anxieties that sit as a background hum of modern civilization eating away at our collective  unconsciousness. The concluding track “Harm Signal” is like a symbol for the whole effort — a flow of  sounds, a frequency, that we usually ignore but which causes untold destruction to our existence.  These songs identify and give expression to energies and forces we’ve bypassed our whole lives but which  are now impossible to ignore, like a sound art metaphor for the social and political forces that have come  home to roost of late. 

Marissa Nadler | Moons | self-released

Melkbelly | PITH | Carpark Records/Wax Nine

Memory Bell | Solace | self-released

Metz | Atlas Vending | Sub Pop

Midwife | Forever | The Flenser
Madeline Johnston wrote Forever during one of the darkest times of the Denver DIY music  and art community. Her community was scattered and challenged in the wake of the Ghost Ship fire with  so many lives seeming to be on hold with no hint about when thatdespairing period would end. And  the 2018 death of Colin Ward hit everyone whose lives he touched so deeply that it seems like the kind of  hurt that will never fully heal. Johnston’s almost ghostly, delicate and vulnerable vocals and distorted,  ethereal guitar seem to drift together in an effort to make some sense of those feelings with a nuance and  sensitivity that always comes across as emerging directly from those places of acute pain and ache  and loss, and honoring the need to just feel all of that whenever the need strikes and for however long into  your life it lasts even if that is, indeed, forever. An especially touching and evocative tribute to a uniquely  restless and creative yet sensitive and emotionally refined person in Colin Ward, Forever is a tender and  heartbreaking, healing catharsis in the listen. 

Mild Wild | Mild Wild, Vol. 1 | self-released
Intensely personal, imaginatively lo-fi aural snapshots of daydreams and poetic observations.

Mint Field | Sentimiento Mundial | Felte Records
Dream pop slow burner illuminating and warming the inner regions of the melancholic heart.

Moby | All Visible Objects | Mute Records
Retro rave and chillout lounge songs mourning our collective loss, yearning for a hopeful future.

Molchat Doma | Monument | Sacred Bones Records
Introspective, elegantly minimalistic, lo-fi, Belarusian gloom pop.

Mong Tong | Mystery | Guruguru Brain

Moodie Black | FUZZ | Fake Four

Moon Pussy | Hurt Wrist | The Ghost Is Clear Records
Guitar riffs like swarms of angry insects sweeping through. Syncopated percussion like start- and- stop  jackhammers. Bass lines like a half- ton coil being struck and emitting a menacing fluidity. Tortured  vocals erupt with Brutalist, post-hardcore poetry. All of this helps to make this latest Moon Pussy record  the perfect companion and reaction to a radically uncertain world seemingly in perpetual crisis mode and  on the verge of we know not what. Fans of bands on the Amphetamine Reptile imprint or Touch and Go  will be thrilled with the band’s seemingly endless supply of inspired, aggressive and savage noise rock  riffs and the ability to articulate directly from a place of desperation and outrage. “Fail Better” should be  the theme song of these United States.  

Mr. Bungle | The Raging Wrath of the Easter Bunny Demo | Ipecac

Mr. Gnome | The Day You Flew Away | El Marko Records

Mrs. Piss | Self-Surgery | Sargent House

Napalm Death | Throes of Joy in the Jaws of Defeatism | Century Media

New Standards Men | I Was A Spaceship | self-released

Night of the Living Shred | Return of the Night of the Living Shred | self-released
The name of this album of course invokes the title of the 1985 horror comedy Return of the Living Dead.  And the Colorado Springs-based metal group has taken the opportunity to give us an unusual and eclectic  record that not only reflects its members’ broad taste in music but a deeply healthy sense of humor about  the world and themselves. “Shred Shoppe Quartert” is an a cappella song in the style of a barbershop  quartet. There are rap, punks, death metal, doom and grindcore songs. All of it performed with  a charming exuberance even though the entire track list reads like something out of a heavy metal version  of Mad Magazine. “We Get it, Mike Patton Is a Musical Genius” with screaming like a cover of  something by Naked City with lyrics mocking that? That’s genius. Even though the record is largely a put  on in one way or another, the fact that it has so much variety makes it eminently listenable.  

No Age | Goons Be Gone | Drag City

Of Feather And Bone | Sulfuric Disintegration | Profound Lore Records

Oneohtrix Point Never | Magic Oneohtrix Point Never | Warp Records

Otzi | Storm | Artoffact Records
Emotionally intense post-punk at the intersection of Sleater-Kinney and The Cure.

Perry Weissman 3 | Backlog | self-released

Plack Blague | Wear Your Body Out | self-released

Plague Garden | LEFT IN THE GRAVE | self-released

Pod Blotz | Transdimensional System | Dais Records

Pole | Fading | Mute Records

Primitive Man | Immersion | Relapse Records

Princess Dewclaw | Wild Sugar | Glasss Records
On the Wild Sugar EP Princess Dewclaw has reinvented itself as a gritty, industrial darkwave band. That  element was there on its 2017 album Walk of Shame (in fact the songs “Walk of Shame” and “Into the  Words” have carried over in a significantly different form), but there seems more of an edge here. The  vocals come more directly from channeling anxiety and pain into catharsis. Rather than acoustic  drums the electronic and programmed drums sync more closely with the cutting synth work. The effect is  like a caustic and politically charged take on a pop song with mainstream appeal. In that way it has an  appeal similar to that of Alice Glass’s emotionally raw solo offerings.

Protomartyr | Ultimate Success Today | Domino Records
Burning poems songs evoking a Jim Thompson-esque modern America in slashing/clashing post-punk.

Public Memory | Ripped Apparition | Felte Records
If Tarkovksy and Jarmusch could team up to make a cyberpunk movie this would be the soundtrack.

Rafael Anton Irisarri | Peripeteia | Dais Records

Raspberry Bulbs | Before the Age of Mirrors | Relapse Records

Reverb And The Verse | RESONATE | self-released
Since 1999 Reverb & The Verse has been developing and writing some of the most imaginative hip-hop  out of Denver. The groupput their songwriting on this ninth record through  a rigorous process of experimentation and weeding out the material deemed not quite  there. Though steeped in classic MC wordplay, the beats and expertly crafted synth work and rhythms  seem as informed by the likes of Minneapolis alternative hip-hop that came out of the 90s as it does 80s  and 90s synth pop. All of these elements make for a sonically rich and diverse listen a bit like a cross  between Clipse and Meat Beat Manifesto. 

Riki | s/t | Dais Records
Goth synth pop for skate rink parties in abandoned malls.

Run The Jewels | RTJ4 | Jewel Runners

Shabazz Palaces | The Don of Diamond Dreams | Sub Pop

Shitkid | 20/20 | PNKSLM
An unlikely and fascinating hybrid of garage rock and soulful synth pop.

Shocker Mom | The Mediocre Depression | self-released

Sightless Pit | Grave of a Dog | Thrill Jockey
Sublime and caustic, often claustrophobic, soundscapes of terrifying and transcendent beauty.

SNAD/Jackson Lee| Jargon/Syntax Error 12” EP | Deep Club Records

SPELLS | Stimulants & Sedatives | Snappy Little Numbers
This record is raw even by SPELLS standards. But it’s perfect for 11 songs about the messiness of  adulthood with lyrics that frankly go for the jugular. This isn’t new for this pop punk band and its  anthemic choruses, but it’s always interesting to hear the contrast between the primal pop of the  songwriting and incisive portraits of American life that dispense with the soul-destroying niceties. “We  Can’t Relate” is a pointed declaration of the disconnect between the culture of the wealthy and the  working class. “I’m Sorry I’m Not Sorry” is something of an apology song for being how you have to be  in a world that demands essentially unacceptable compromises. Imagine an amalgam of Blatz, Stiff Little  Fingers and The Replacements and you have an idea of the sound, the vibe and the sentiments expressed  throughout. 

Spice | s/t | Dais Records

Sprain | As Lost Through Collision | The Flenser
Colossal, sprawling, slowcore deep dives into the catharsis of anxiety and rootlessness.

Spunsugar | Drive-Through Chapel | Adrian Recordings

Squarepusher | Be Up a Hello | Warner Records

Stay Tuned | Remote Control | self-released
Brilliantly sampling from American media and entertainment culture, both musically and thematically,  Stay Tuned has produced not just a signature song with this arc of eleven tracks but a signature album.  Dense with content each song uses the format of autobiography to comment on aspects of society like the  shallowness of celebrity culture and the way we formulate our dreams and aspirations in terms and  frameworks taken from preexisting constructs like television shows, movies, video games and other  media — of course expressed through the corporate controlled channels we most often use to  communicate with one another. But in free associating musical and other media references in a collage of  sounds in the beat, Stay Tuned uses media tropes and collective myths and imagery to showcase how we  can subvert the prevailing power relationships and the monopolistic paradigms of our time.  

Stephen Malkmus | Traditional Techniques | Matador

Studded Left | Sidewalk Vitamins | Girlgang Music

Stūrī Zēvele | Labvakar | self-released
An endearing indie pop manifestation of the essence of close and warm friendships.

Sumac | May You Be Held | Thrill Jockey

Suo and Data Rainbow | s/t | Multidim

SUUNS | FICTION EP | Joyful Noise

Syko Friend | Fontanelle | Post Present Medium

The Drood | Totally Comfortable | self-released

The High Water Marks | Ecstasy Rhymes | Minty Fresh

The Microphones | The Microphones In 2020 | P.W. Elverum & Sun

The Paranoyds | Pet Cemetery EP | Suicide Squeeze

The White Swan | Nocturnal Transmission | CockThermos

Through Flames | Through Flames | self-released
Riveting, radical experiments in political poetry and sound design.

TI-83 | Demo | self-released

Time | These Songs Kill Fascists | Dirty Laboratory
Hip-hop artist Chris “Time” Steele displays a true gift for fusing autobiography and lived experience with  historical context and knowledge of political theory on this album. He’s always been a brilliant lyricist  whose expert wordplay has seemingly effortlessly combined his sharp sense of humor with a wide ranging curiosity about the world and a growing body of knowledge of history, culture and politics. On  These Songs Kill Fascists, Steele works with Daiba, Mick Jenkins, long time producer AwareNess,  Giuseppe, Ron Miles, JXSHYB, Cat Soup and Psalm One to create a jazz-inflected story cycle  commenting astutely on social issues now getting some focus. While a riveting listen purely as a well crafted album, These Songs Kill Fascists does not function as merely socially conscious entertainment, it  seems to have been crafted as a form of praxis that challenges artist and listener in a dialectic of critical  pedagogy that mutually encourages ongoing personal growth and social transformation.

Tobacco | Hot, Wet & Sassy | Ghostly International
Bright, bombastic, noisy synths paired with darkly humorous musings disrupt the album’s aesthetic of nostalgic comfort sounds.

Torres | Silver Tongue | Merge Records

Uniform | Shame | Sacred Bones Records
Scorching and thrillingly diverse industrial hardcore inspired by noir literature.

Usaisamonster | Amikwag | Yeggs Records

Vivian | The Warped Glimmer | self-released

Voight | s/t | self-released
Maybe it’s Chase Dobson’s treatments and mixing and mastering after Adam Rojo and Nick Salmon wrote  and recorded this album, but the self-titled Voight album is the closest the duo has come to sounding like  it’s blurring the line between its rock and electronic aesthetics. Guitar chords burn and shimmer out,  percussion flurries and traces out a minimalist beat and Salmon’s vocals float through the songs like a  person who was once lost but is now rediscovering his ability to feel and to express those emotions with a  coherent self-awareness. Every song has an expansive quality reminiscent of Clan of Xymox and The Twilight Sad. The tone of the album perfectly walks the line between urgency and introspection without  ever compromising an underlying delicacy of spirit and emotional refinement.

Wayfarer | A Romance With Violence | Profound Lore Records

Wetware | Flail | Dais Recordings

White Rose Motor Oil | You Can’t Kill Ghosts | self-released

Windy & Carl | Allegiance and Conviction | Kranky

WL | ADHD | Beacon Sound

Wolf Parade | Thin Mind | Sub Pop

Yves Tumor | Heaven To A Tortured Mind | Warp Records
Futuristic, effervescent, downtempo, synth pop-inflected, R&B informed non-binary funk.

Best Shows in Denver 5/24/18 – 05/30/18

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High Plains Honky, photo by David Sands

Thursday | May 24, 2018

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Bianca Mikahn, photo by Tom Murphy

Who: Glasss Presents The Speakeasy Series Season 2: Left Handed Electronics, Grrrl, Bianca Mikahn
When: Thursday, 05.24, 7 p.m.
Where: Hooked On Colfax
Why: Bianca Mikahn’s combination of almost free verse poetry and beats should be well within the canon of hip-hop and ultimately is. But her delivery and her crafting of her songs has as much in common with the kind of hippie-ish, open mic, slam poetry world as it does with any hip-hop context. Mikahn’s ability to critique society at large while speaking to those issues with a compassion and positive spirit minus any note of insincerity sets her apart from most other artists. That her beats contains elements of noise and melodic ambient music makes her immediately accessible music an otherworldly dimension even as the songs are grounded in fairly earthbound experiences.

Who: High Plains Honky 7” release w/Casey James Prestwood and the Burning Angels Band and Danny Dodge & The Dodge Gang
When: Thursday, 05.24, 8 p.m.
Where: Hi-Dive
Why: If Ronnie Milsap had gone a little more honky tonk with a grittier voice, the results might sound a bit like High Plains Honky. The group is releasing its latest seven inch record tonight at the Hi-Dive joined by a couple of other bands who are no slouches in the local country scene. Maybe comparing a Denver band to a best selling artist like Milsap seems like a bit much to some but what made him such a compelling songwriter beyond the masterful combination of musicianship and an ear for catchy and evocative melodies is the vivid storytelling. High Plains Honky have both qualities as well as no holding up of the nose at pop conventions used in a country context. “Goin’ All The Way” and “I Know Where You Go,” the two sides of the record, seem so relatable even if country music isn’t your thing. A tastefully tiny hint of psychedelia haunts the edges of the music and the aspirational, anthemic quality of the stories suggest a deep knowledge of personal reality but needing to write the songs to escape being too bogged down by current circumstances to go after what you really want while also honoring the emotions subsequent to the potential disappointment, pain and lack of resolution that is a part of everyday life. High Plains Honky invites its listeners to dream just a little bit and to embrace their heartsickness.

What: Girls Rock Denver: Showcase series 7-11 p.m.: Dressy Bessy, Rotten Reputation, Contender, Cheap Perfume, Surf Mom, The Catcalls and Mirror Fears
When: Thursday, 05.24, 6:30 p.m.
Where: Hi-Dive
Why: This is a fundraiser for Girls Rock Denver to give some of the young women who want to be involved a scholarship to this summer’s programme and beyond. For your donation you get to see some of the best local bands from the indie pop legends Dressy Bessy, punk rock phenoms Rotten Reputation and Cheap Perfume, fuzz rock feminist rock band Surf Mom and electronic dream pop start Mirror Fears.

Who: DOA and MDC
When: Thursday, 05.24, 8 p.m.
Where: Streets of London
Why: In the annals of hardcore outside of American coastal cities, DOA and MDC have to be considered two of the most important acts out of that movement. DOA from Vancouver, British Columbia, was one of the hardest touring bands for years, spreading the gospel of hardcore across the continent and whose album Hardcore ’81 is, perhaps apocryphally, is often cited as the first use of the term in connection to the musical movement. DOA’s political songs struck personal tones in Joe Keithley’s deft songwriting allowing the band’s music to have an appeal beyond agreeing with every iota of the band’s politics. MDC started in Austin, Texas as The Stains with similarly political punk songs that were more left than most of its peers at the time. It didn’t hurt that singer Dave Dictor seemed to havea personal agenda to push the envelope with fans in his stage persona as the ultimate freak and always with the aim of challenging reductive notions of animal and human rights. Listen to that first MDC album and it’s clear that Dictor was an unabashed critic of police brutality and creeping fascism in a way that makes those songs and their specific anti-authoritarian tone even more relevant now.

Who: The Blackouts w/Adrian Conner (Hell’s Belles) and We Are Invisible and Wild Call
When: Thursday, 05.24, 8 p.m.
Where: 3 Kings Tavern
Why: The Blackouts are an all female rock band that really shows how you can have a fairly straightforward hard rock band and not fall to the boring tropes that happen with too many bands with roots in punk and metal. Adrian Conner from the great all-female AC/DC cover band Hell’s Bells is also playing this show as well as Wild Call, a band whose forthcoming album is reminiscent of White Hills and Medicine.

Who: Amy Shark and Tomi globehall.com/event/1663566-amy-shark-denver
When: Thursday, 05.24, 7 p.m.
Where: Globe Hall
Why: Amy Shark is a pop songwriter from Australia whose 2016 single “Adore” caught the attention of tastemakers in Australia and the song was reissued by Sony Music Australia. That Shark was either in her late 20s or 30 when the song came out explains a bit how her voice and the perspective present in the song had a bit of depth and more of the weight of experience than would be the case of a pop artist a decade or more younger. Shark’s debut full-length, Love Monster, will drop in July 2018 so you can catch her live tonight at Globe Hall before everyone has heard of her.

Friday | May 25, 2018

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Demo Taped, photo by Savannah Ogburn

Who: Amber Mark w/Demo Taped and Adiel Mitchell
When: Friday, 05.25, 8 p.m.
Where: Marquis Theater
Why: Amber Mark seemed to come out of nowhere when she uploaded her song “S P A C E” to Soundcloud in February 2016. Her voice strong and assured, drawing immediate comparisons to Sade for those qualities and a soulfulness one rarely hears in someone just twenty-two years old. But Mark had something to say and in subsequent singles like “Monsoon,” Mark revealed herself to be a brilliantly poetic songwriter. The 3:33 a.m. EP followed in 2017 and in 2018 Mark released the EP Conexão. Joining her on the Denver date of the tour is Adam Alexander, aka Demo Taped. His electronic pop songs are bright and upbeat but the subject matter of his songs run a broad range of subjects including struggles with anxiety and insecurity. His nuanced and layered songwriting manifested especially strongly on his 2018 EP Momentary.

Who: Orbit Service, Church Fire, The Drood and DJ Mudwulf
When: Friday, 05.25, 9 p.m.
Where: Lion’s Lair
Why: Denver ambient/space rock legends Orbit Service don’t play many shows these days and even less often at a dive bar like Lion’s Lair. The project’s primary figure, Randall Frazier, has been responsible for maintaining and putting together some of the best live sound in Denver rooms like Walnut Room and Ophelia’s Electric Soapbox as well as championing experimental music in the local scene and collaborating with Edward Ka-Spel of Legendary Pink Dots fame. And that would be reason enough to go to this show but also on the bill are Church Fire, a band one might describe as industrial synth pop but its inspired and emotionally fiery performances elevates what could be considered excellent dance music to a higher level. Also, The Drood, a dark, psychedelic, avant-garde prog band.

Who: How To Measure the Weather: Tobias Fike, Ryan Wade Ruehlen, Kari Treadwell, Scott Ferguson
When: Friday, 05.25, 6:30 – 7:30 p.m.
Where: Emmanuel Gallery
Why: This show has been described as a “migratory sound installation” meaning the performers, members of the Flinching Eye Collective, will move their respective sound-making rigs to take advantage of the Emmanuel Gallery on Auraria campus, one of the oldest buildings in Denver, and its architecture to provide a truly unique, one-off environmental sonic experience.

Who: Muscle Beach w/Colfax Speed Queen, Kenaima and Voight
When: Friday, 05.25, 8 p.m.
Where: Hi-Dive
Why: Confrontational, arty hardcore. Furious post-psych garage punk. Crushing, post-hardcore noise rock. Emotionally-charged, industrial post-punk. Also, four of Denver’s best, most interesting and always compelling and entertaining live bands.

Who: Super Bummer album release w/Eye and the Arrow and King Eddie
When: Friday, 05.25, 8 p.m.
Where: Syntax Physic Opera
Why: Super Bummer may be both one of the most ironic and yet accurate names in Denver underground music. The band’s melancholy compositions sure do articulate life’s downbeats with sincerity and self-deprecating humor—a rare combination. Its new album, Big Ambition, out on GROUPHUG, comes out tonight at Syntax where the band will share the stage with the broodingly melodic Americana band Eye and the Arrow and King Eddie, whose 2017 album Holographic Universe is a rabbit hole of beautifully enigmatic sounds and ideas to get lost in across its nine tracks.

Who: La Luz w/Savila and The Kinky Fingers
When: Friday, 05.25, 8:30 p.m.
Where: Larimer Lounge
Why: La Luz may have originally been (and continue to be) inspired by 60s surf rock giants and the great girl groups of the era. But the Los Angeles-based group have long since made their own mark in music, especially with its 2018 album Floating Features, out on Hardly Art. Spooky and soulful, La Luz have mastered the art of nuanced emotional textures and mood so that its songs can be urgent and spend passages of sound swirling in the sweeping heat of a memory that unexpectedly rushes back into your consciousness triggered some moment or detail you encounter in the present. Denver’s The Kinky Fingers possess similar powers of evoking vivid emotions and imagery with their own surf-rooted rock songs.

Saturday | May 26, 2018

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Victoria Lundy, photo by Tom Murphy

Who: Victoria Lundy, Snails and Oysters, Sporehive, Denizens of the Deep and Floating Cave, DJ sets by Franklin Bell and visuals by Orchidz3ro
When: Saturday, 05.26, 2:30 p.m.
Where: Mutiny Information Café
Why: An entire afternoon of some of Denver’s most interesting experimental and avant-garde bands. For instance, Snails and Oysters used to be just Joe Mills but is now a duo creating organic ambient music using rock instruments in unconventional ways. A project that cites psych folk legend Sandy Bull, the artist that did an arrangement of Carl Orff’s symphonic opera masterpiece “Carmina Burana” for five-string banjo and released it on a debut album in 1963, is definitely not coming from predictable places. While every act on the bill is worth checking out and nothing really much like each other, the star of the show is Victoria Lundy who at one time people might have said is better known for being the Theremin player in The Inactivists. But by now she has established herself locally as a gifted composer of electronic and ambient music with the Theremin and synth. One thing that sets Lundy apart is that her music tends to be free of transient, modern culture reference tropes and is rooted in 20th century classical and the first wave electronic music avant-garde. And yet, Lundy makes her music accessible and emotionally engaging. There is plenty of intellect going into the making of the music and the craft and technology but the art comes from the heart.

Who: 102 Wires
When: Saturday, 05.26, 5 p.m.
Where: Bar Max
Why: This is a celebration of the possibilities of guitar in music beyond the typical use of the instrument in popular or even experimental music. Read our interview with organizer Kevin Richards here.

Sunday | May 27, 2018

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eHpH, photo by Tom Murphy

What: A Life Celebration For Steve Gordon
When: Sunday, 05.27, 1 – 4 p.m.
Where: Mercury Café
Why: This will be an event honoring the late, great, Steve Gordon. Steve was a visual artist, sculptor and musician who contributed greatly to the local avant-garde improvisational and ambient music scenes in Denver. Steve passed away in early May following a prolonged battle with cancer but as a widely admired figure, his legacy of excellence, originality, humanity and humor will continue to have an impact in the Denver art world for years to come. For the event friends and collaborators will share stories, music, poetry, food and drink. Read Lauri Lynnxe Murphy’s excellent piece on Steve for Westword here and our own interview with the artist from November 2017 here.

Who: Textures featuring Tunica Externa, paperbark, Lepidoptera
When: Sunday, 05.27, 7 p.m.
Where: Mutiny Information Café
Why: This will be John Mulville’s last show in Denver for a while as he’s moving back to Minneapolis for the duration. His ambient project paperbark has brought some of the most compelling, textured to grace Denver spaces in recent years. Generating sounds with treated modular synth tones, Mulville’s compositions suggest natural spaces with a physicality suggested by the earlier reference to texture. It’s like you experience a tactile sensation through a creative crafting of atmosphere. Though Mulville will be back through town, we won’t have the luxury of catching any of his soothingly hypnotic sets regularly.

Who: ManifestiV, Bloodied, eHpH and Keldari Station
When: Sunday, 05.27, 7 p.m.
Where: Seventh Circle Music Collective
Why: ManifestiV from Vallejo, California sounds like it came out of the intersection of the burner community that embraces both industrial music, electronic dance and New Age concepts in the use of sound. But it works though at times you expect it to be the soundtrack to some kind of hippie-esque cyberpunk video game. But who wouldn’t want to play that game? Denver’s Keldari Station sounds like it’s coming from a similar place but its own music is more pop, has more elements of dub and old school glam rock. eHpH, like the other bands on this bill, is a duo with a penchant for dark, atmospheric music. Except this duo has managed to combine EBM with industrial rock without sounding like they’re trying to fit in with the tired old Goth scene sound of the 90s and 2000s. The band’s music is more experimental, more nuanced in its emotional expressions, than bands who really want to be a new version of Suicide Commando.

Tuesday | May 29, 2018

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King Tuff, photo by Olivia Bee

Who: King Tuff w/Cut Worms and Sasami
When: Tuesday, 05.29, 7 p.m.
Where: Globe Hall
Why: At the end of his last tour, Kyle Thomas was sick of the party monster persona he had cultivated for years as King Tuff. The pressure to live up to something you’re not because it benefits you professionally and to some extent artistically erodes you more than a little on the inside and Thomas was feeling it. “I was a lost soul,” Thomas posted on his website regarding the release of his 2018 album The Other. “I didn’t know who I was anymore.” The new record is certainly a bit of a departure for Thomas. Any trace of the garage rock that informed his earlier releases is pretty much gone. There is a soulfulness and an overt spirit of experimentation running through all the songs for the release. In moments its tinge of futuristic funk and glam prog are reminiscent of I Robot period The Alan Parsons Project.

Also playing this show is Cut Worms. The band’s main creative force is Max Clarke who seems tapped into a mid-60s pop sort of sound and aesthetic. There is a simplicity and clarity of melody and songwriting that we’ve heard plenty of, likely, in this era of mining past decades for artistic inspiration. But especially on Clarke’s 2018 album Hollow Ground the subject matter isn’t so clean and tidy and his songs, like the era it perhaps sonically echoes, reflect a self-aware sense of social anxiety, a painful yearning but struggling with real or endlessly imagined inability to not fuck things up somehow and a willingness to stumble and scrape through even if life doesn’t always, or never does, turn out as planned or hoped. The brilliance comes in striking that balance—being real alongside the sounds of a time many romanticize in spite of the dark and grisly underbelly of people’s lives and the culture itself.

Who: Broncho w/The Paranoyds and Valen
When: Tuesday, 05.29, 8:30 p.m.
Where: Lost Lake
Why: Broncho formed in 2010 in the wake of the dissolution of indie pop weirdos Starlight Mints. Ryan Lindsey of the latter, went on to play guitars, keys and perform lead vocal duties in Broncho. The four-piece has always been kind of an outsider in the music world in that it never really fit in with any emerging trend and was probably too weird to hit it big time in the mainstream. But Lindsey knows he doesn’t belong there. At this point, Lindsay has already done his time deconstructing pop in Starlight Mints and it’s obvious that subverting the tropes of indie, garage and psych rock this past decade isn’t as interesting as it might have been a few years ago. 2016’s Double Vanity found Broncho excavating and exploring some of the sonic ideas that Phil Elverum was onto on those final two The Microphones records, 2001’s The Glow Pt. 2 and 2003’s Mount Eerie. But without imitating Elverum’s richly imaginative and innovative soundscaping. With any luck, this version of Broncho will represent the band’s next phase of its injecting the pop format with expansive ideas and sounds.

Wednesday | May 30, 2018

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Gang of Youths, photo by Sergey Osipov

Who: Gang of Youths w/Hannah Wicklund & The Steppin Stones
When: Wednesday, 05.29, 7 p.m.
Where: Globe Hall
Why: Gang of Youths’ 2017 sophomore album Go Farther in Lightness garnered near universal acclaim in the band’s home country of Australia. Rightfully so. It has the poetic insight and depth of early Bruce Springsteen and more recent from Titus Andronicus. Like both of those artists, Gang of Youths has a gift for taking the mythical/universal aspect of everyday experiences and giving it a poignantly personal expression. There’s a song called “What Can I Do If the Fire Goes Out?” that goes beyond that whole rediscovering your bliss and your passion nonsense. But it’s a whole record of songs that might seem like a collection of trite platitudes but in the end are the exact opposite. It’s highly energetic indie rock but the emotional and intellectual content run a lot deeper with Gang of Youths.

Who: Nunofyrbeeswax w/Open to the Hound, Claudzilla and Rat Bites
When: Wednesday, 05.30, 8 p.m.
Where: 3 Kings Tavern
Why: Berlin’s Nunofyrbeeswax brings together aspects of indie pop, naïve lo-fi rock and outsider pop in its music. Good thing its on a bill with local weirdos in keytar punk Claudzilla, gritty indie pop outfit Open to the Hound and Germs-esque noise punkers Rat Bites.

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White Hills, photo by Simona Dalla Valle

Who: Ufomammut w/White Hills and Tjutjuna
When: Wednesday, 05.30, 8 p.m.
Where: Hi-Dive
Why: Saying Ufomammut is a doom metal band from Italy is a bit like saying that Neurosis is a post-hardcore band from the Bay Area. Clearly Neurosis found some kinship with the trio from Tortona, Italy because Neurot Recordings issued the group’s most recent four records in the USA. Ufomammut’s music has elements of doom and sludge metal but its psychedelic drones and industrial sounds have more in common with the other bands on the bill than a straightforward doom band.

New York City’s White Hills has been exploring past settled territories of modern psychedelic rock since its 2003 inception. The duo of Dave W and Ego Sensation use drum machins and sampled rhythms to set a frame in which each can weave a mind-altering and hypnotic soundscape of vivid tones and dark atmospheres. The band’s storytelling and Dave’s vocals are reminiscent of what one might hear on a Legendary Pink Dots or Skinny Puppy album in which there’s no rockist self-aggrandizement or empty calories rhetoric. Dave has something to say, observations to make and narratives to give in his songs that are frankly worth listening to in themselves but couched in an immersive experience in the listening and especially so in the live setting. The group’s 2017 album Stop Mute Defeat, out on Thrill Jockey, is a major leap forward in terms of capturing the band’s masterful use of mood, texture and atmosphere to craft psychological experiences in the form of song.

Denver’s Tjutjuna rarely plays live shows these days, but the band and its talent for krautrock-inspired mind-expanding drones and percussion was always ahead of the curve of so-called “psychedelic rock” bands in the Mile High City. Like White Hills, Tjutjuna is no stranger to employing motorik beats except with a live drummer and the clear melding of the aesthetics of psych, noise and the avant-garde sets the group galaxies ahead of indie rockers who recently discovered how to maybe use reverb pedals with chorus. Quaint. Tjutjuna? Not so much.