Best Shows in Denver March 2022

Nation of Language, photo by Robin Laananen
Monolord, photo by Josefine Larsson

Wednesday | 03.09
What: Monolord w/Firebreather and The Munsens
When: 7 p.m.
Where: Marquis Theater
Why: Monolord formed in 2013 at a time when the whole wave of stoner rock was pretty much over and before doom metal hits its ascendency later in that decade. Its members had been part of a more boogie rock oriented band Marulk but at rehearsal had riffed in more drawn out dynamics and sustained atmospherics while incorporating those impulses into coherent songwriting. So its current sound while rooted in what is now called doom metal contains melodic elements lend its crushing rhythmic leads an accessibility that sounds more like an updated version of power metal. The group’s 2021 album Your Time to Shine is arguably its most streamlined manifestation of an aesthetic that draws on the psychedelic heaviness of Sleep and Kylesa and infuses it with its own impulse to impart a mood of catharsis and triumph to its listeners.

Owosso, photo by Tom Murphy

Friday | 03.11
What: Owosso, Moon Pussy, Church Van and Gestapo Pussy Ranch
When: 9 p.m. doors, 9:30 p.m. show
Where: Lion’s Lair
Why: Moon Pussy’s scorched earth noise rock and underpinnings in musical experimentation can be disorienting in the best way. Like Big Black with creatively expressive human drums instead of a drum machine. This will be Owosso’s first show. The group is comprised of veterans of the local punk/post-hardcore and indie rock scenes including people from Modern Goon. The group was been described as “post indie wook rock” but it’s hopefully safe to assume it’s not some ironic jam band with punk roots. Though if it is it’ll probably be alright anyway considering the band’s lineage.

Saturday | 03.12
What: Mitski w/Michelle
When: 8 p.m.
Where: Mission Ballroom
Why: Mitski released her latest album Laurel Hell in 2022 and it is arguably her most vulnerable and raw album while also her most poignantly melancholic. Few other artists have articulated the disillusionment of the current era and the perils of an over mediated culture with as much precision and resonance as Mitski over the course of her two most recent records. As a live performer Mitski always has something different in her repertoire like on her most recent tour in 2019 when she had stage sets and a costume that looked like somewhere between a workout suit and a martial arts dancer uniform.

Saturday | 03.12
What: Jen Korte & The Loss, Mike Clark & The Sugar Sounds and Heated Bones
Where: Hi-Dive
Why: Jen Korte & The Loss this time out is basically her excellent experimental singer-songwriter project Lady Gang but with a full band instead of pulling off the full range of sounds herself. But it’ll still be Korte deep diving into emotionally rich explorations of hurt, resilience and the complex nuances of human experiences and relationships. Korte’s imaginative musicianship and songwriting elevates her work beyond the usual expectations one might have when one thinks of singer-songwriter. Her body of work is eclectic and runs a range of Americana, indie rock, folk and what might be described as experimental pop with loops and electronics. Many artists reach a point where they rest on their laurels and Korte hasn’t done so.

Saturday | 03.12
What: Mayhem w/Watain and Midnight
Where: Summit Music Hall
Why: Mayhem is indeed the legendary black metal band from Norway whose lore and history is worth looking into for the lurid details alone. It makes for a fascinating origin story. But the music and its harrowing and heavy sweeps of epic storytelling speaks for itself as does the unforgettable stage presence of frontman Attila Csihar who always brings a deep sense of theater and performance art to every one of his performances whether with Mayhem or SunnO))). The show will be worth it to see what he does alone and that chilling, sepulchral, operatic voice.

Sunday | 03.13
What: Drug Church, One Step Closer, Soul Blind and Lurk
When: 6:30 p.m.
Where: Hi-Dive
Why: Drug Church is a band that has managed to bridge the sonic worlds of pop punk, hardcore and noise rock with super catchy hooks and made powerful and meaningful music in the process. Currently touring in support of its forthcoming album Hygiene out March 11, 2022.

SUMAC, photo by Reid Haithcock

Sunday | 03.13
What: Sumac w/Blood Spore and Patrick Shiroishi
When: 7 p.m.
Where: Marquis Theater
Why: SUMAC formed in 2014 when Kurt Ballou of Converge connected guitarist Aaron Turner (Isis, Old Man Gloom, Mammifer, House of Low Culture) who had written the initial elements of songs with Baptists drummer Nick Yacyshyn to help realize Turner’s vision of crafting the heaviest music of his career then thus far. Brian Cook of Russian Circles and formerly of These Arms Are Snakes and Botch rounded out the classic and current line-up in time for the group’s debut album. The resulting four albums since (The Deal from 2015, What One Becomes in 2016, Love in Shadow out 2018 and May You Be Held released in 2020) are indeed some of the heaviest records of recent years. But as with Turner’s other projects it’s never just heavy for the sake of that quality, it’s intricate and imaginative, emotionally charged soundscapes in which the contributions of all the players seems to be highlighted. Certainly with the most recent album it’s not relentlessly crushing dynamics but a flood of textures seemingly elevated in a suspended and sustained whirlpool of sound that rushes through you and then out like experiencing a state of being. Calling it post-metal or sludge metal is one way of giving people an idea of what they’re in for but the music itself has more in common with artists like Neurosis and SunnO))) than with some other bands lumped under those genre designations. Perhaps it is conceived of as a mind-altering experience to perform and thus witness when you’re in the room with it live. The fact that SUMAC has collaborative albums with noise legend Keiji Haino who is highly selective with whom he does work speaks much to how SUMAC isn’t merely a metal or heavy band.

Turner has long been a champion of forward thinking underground music since the 90s with his label Hydra Head Records which issued releases from the likes of Boris, Big Business, Cave In, Daughters, Dälek, Jesu, Kayo Dot, Oxbow, Khanate, Harvey Milk, Xasthur and The VSS. Its roster is a kind of who’s who of heavier experimental music of its heyday. Through the label and touring Turner has had a vehicle for exploring his creative interests in music and visual art which brings an added dimension to SUMAC’s releases as well and the ethos with which the band operates. On its current tour the group will be joined by purveyors of death doom Blood Spore and Los Angeles-based avant-garde saxophonist Patrick Shiroishi. Listen to our interview with Aaron Turner on Bandcamp.

Lala Lala, photo by Miwah Lee

Monday | 03.14
What: Lala Lala w/Elton Aura
When: 7 p.m.
Where: Larimer Lounge
Why: Lillie West was already stretching the boundaries of music that might loosely grouped under the vague term “indie rock” earlier in her career with imaginative pop songwriting. But with her 2021 album I Want The Door To Open with Yoni Wolf as co-producer she finely tunes her soundscapes as perfect complements to her expressively ethereal vocals andan exploration of themes of where an artist fits in with a world in which they often need to make their own lives the fodder for some of their most meaningful work and how that can affect your sense of self. It’s a bit like synth pop for fans of Holly Herndon or Virginia Wing.

Monday | 03.14
What: Portrayal of Guilt w/End, Yashira and Wake
When: 7:30 p.m.
Where: HQ
Why: Portrayal of Guilt might be described as a post-hardcore, grindcore adjacent noise rock band with the visceral live quality all that implies. But there is a bit of the irreverent trickster to their presentation and their 2021 album Christfucker was sent out in a jacket that displayed the letters “ST” like “Self-Titled” so that maybe the record could be stealth sold at record stores in more conservative areas of the country and as a signal to fans of the ridiculousness of actual censorship and not the myth of it perpetrated by bad faith actors. Wake from Calgary, Alberta is of like mind and its 202 album Devouring Ruin is like a psychedelic flavor of later era Napalm Death.

Choir Boy, photo by Jordan Utley

Tuesday | 03.15
What: Choir Boy w/Riki
When: 7 p.m.
Where: Lost Lake
Why: Choir Boy is a post-punk band from Salt Lake City that has garnered a bit of a cult following in recent years for its tender, synth-pop ballads about loss and desire recalling the likes of the more melancholic end of Thompson Twins and Felt. Riki sounds like she came from an alternate dimension where she had a career making sensual pop songs for David Lynch movies with her soulfully expressive voice. Elements like cool jazz saxophone and chimes that might sound cheesy and dates in the music of other people just sounds perfect for the mood Riki has evoked of late night adventures in secret Bohemian dives across two albums: her 2020 self-titled and Gold from 2021. Not many artists have a maintained a mystique to them but Niff Nawor aka Riki certain has.

Wayfarer, photo courtesy the artists

Thursday | 03.17
What: Wayfarer w/Midwife and Snakes
Where: Bluebird Theater
Why: Denver’s Wayfarer is finally getting to celebrate the release of its 2020 album A Romance With Violence and bringing its flavor of dark Americana, at turns spaghetti western and doomy black metal, to stage bigger stages. This night the band’s guests are Midwife and her intensely evocative and poignant ambient folk and art country/dark pop supergroup Snakes.

Thursday | 03.17
What: Ellen Allien w/Mr. Frick and Mort.Domed
Where: Bar Standard
Why: Ellen Allien aka Ellen Fraatz makes a rare appearance in Denver and brings her experimental style of techno that is somewhere between minimal, IDM and acid house with an imaginative flair that can seem subtle until you listen to her work alongside other artists in similar realms of music.

Squirrel Flower, photo courtesy the artist

Thursday | 03.17
What: Squirrel Flower w/Tenci
When: 7 p.m.
Where: Lost Lake
Why: Ella Williams aka Squirrel Flower recently released Planet EP, the follow-up to her acclaimed 2021 sophomore album Planet (i). Her gritty yet introspective songs like “Hurt A Fly” are so honest and real about her mistakes and shortcomings you feel that deeply in your own heart. Williams really has a gift for creating strong imagery and emotional impressions and matching it with songwriting that is simultaneously forceful and vulnerable like she respects your time with the music and wants it to be a fortifying experience to give it a listen.

NightWraith, photo by Holden Kudla

Friday | 03.18
What: NightWraith album release w/Space in Time, Ghosts of Glaciers and Ashes For the Mute
When: 8 p.m.
Where: Hi-Dive
Why: Calling any band a “supergroup” is a bit of a misnomer but Denver’s NightWraith has a major pedigree of Denver metal and art rock luminaries including the following with their past and current bands in parentheses as applicable: Benjamin Pitts (To Be Eaten, The New Rome, False Cathedrals, Vimana, Black Sleep of Kali, In The Company of Serpents, Giant Eyeball and others), Igor Panasewicz (Valiomierda, Vimana, Necrosophik Abyss, Abhoria), Isidro “Spy” Soto (Ashes For The Mute, Primitive Man), Caleb Tardio (I Sank Molly Brown) and Jerry Hilger (who is just the affable guy you run into in the scene regularly and wonder when he was going to be in a band). In 2019 NightWraith put out its excellent self-titled debut but on this night the outfit celebrates the unleashing of its new record Offering (available digitally, on CD and limited edition vinyl starting March 25). The early singles highlight the way this quintet brings together melodic riffs with epic sensibilities and black metal grit for an orchestral display of a particularly glorious brand of heavy metal. There is a playfulness to the songs that also doesn’t detract from the heaviness of the riffs and the elegantly precise dynamics. Also on the bill is the psychedelic hard rock and metal of Space In Time whose own hybrid influences from the likes of Hawkwind, Deep Purple and Uriah Heep has resulted in an always surprisingly powerful performance. You also get to see the instrumental post-metal band Ghosts of Glaciers and cosmic black metal outfit Ashes For The Mute in which “Spy” will be doing double duty for the night. Clearly the best metal show of the week.

Lost Walks, photo courtesy the band

Friday | 03.18
What: Lost Walks w/Friends of Slim Cessna and f-ether
When: 7 p.m.
Where: LFX Filmworks
Why: Lost Walks released its weighty and harrowing new album Blood Lantern in December 2021. The theatrical, dark Americana of Wolf, Woman, Man, its 2017 debut album, is still at the root of this new batch of music but the band which collaborates with a regular dance troupe for its performances shed some of the folk and blues aspects of its prior musical incarnation in any obvious ways and sounds now more like Neurosis except that Dameon Merkl still sounds like the mysterious and charismatic figure you want to narrate a future documentary about H.P. Lovecraft. Also for this show you get to see members of Slim Cessna’s Auto Club bring their own imaginative and compelling style of gritty old time music and theater while f-ether performs his own highly refined and stylized techno and house-informed electronic soundscapes. Considering the venue expect more than a touch of theater to the show.

Friday | 03.18
What: Daikaiju w/TripLip and De Gringos y Gremmies
When: 8 p.m.
Where: The Squire Lounge
Why: Daikaiju is a surf rock revival band originally based out of Huntsville, Alabama but now out of Houston. But that doesn’t quite do justice to the legend of this band that you hear from anyone that has seen them from not just the kaiju (giant monsters in Japanese popular culture i.e. Godzilla, Rodan, Mothra, Gamera and others not so well known) aesthetic and themes but also the kabuki masks, the use of fire when they can and energetic/borderline unhinged live performances that are part of the lore of the group as well. But make no mistake, yeah, a surf rock revival band but one with chops and imagination and not the rote surf rock that has plagued the indie underground for way too long. Think more like Man Or Astro-man or The Mermen. As for TripLip, some journalist wrote this about them in 2013 and they are a much neglected local institution: “A drum and bass instrumental duo (not in the EDM sense, of course), TripLip can’t be said to fit into any particular musical subgenre. Reminiscent only of a a band these two guys have probably never heard of — Denver’s The Hellmen, because of its perfect fusion of jazz, punk, noise rock and surf with flourishes of improvisational funk — it can safely be said that TripLip isn’t following any trends, local or otherwise, because there’s nothing trendy about what the act is doing. The outfit’s solid musicianship and sonic creativity is refreshingly out of time and place, and it’s always interesting. – Tom Murphy, Westword. 11/24/2013”

Saturday | 03.19
What: Lost Walks w/Friends of Slim Cessna and Florea
When: 7 p.m.
Where: LF Filmworks
Why: See above on 3.19 but for this show the introspective and dusky folk of Florea will open the proceedings.

Circle Jerks, photo by Atiba Jefferson

Saturday | 03.19
What: Circle Jerks w/Negative Approach and 7 Seconds
When: 8 p.m.
Where: Ogden Theatre
Why: Circle Jerks were one of the earliest and one of the most enduringly influential hardcore bands out of Southern California in the late 70s with former Black Flag frontman Keith Morris. Morris’ surreal and absurdly wry sense of humor and self-deprecating social commentary informed much of the band’s material which can be lost in flood of energy of the live show and Morris’ exuberant energy as a vocalist. This tour is technically the 40 year reunion tour that was supposed to happen in 2020 but everyone knows what happens there so here’s your chance to see the Jerks in high form with Morris, guitarist Greg Hetson, bassist Zander Schloss and Joey Castillo formerly of Queens of the Stone Age joining on drums. But wait, there’s more. Negative Approach is also one of the pioneering bands of hardcore having formed in Detroit and fronted by one of the most elemental vocalists of our time in John Brannon. Brutal, nihilistic and desperate in lyrics and crushing and devastating in sound. And then of course 7 Seconds from Reno, Nevada also helped to lay the foundations of hardcore beginning in 1980 with the fast and hard dynamics with a core of catchy melodicism that helped shape a body of work that in itself has inspired generations of punk bands since.

Saturday | 03.19
What: Daikiju, TripLip and friends
When: 7:15 p.m.
Where: The Matchbox
Why: See above on 3.18 for this show in case you had to miss that performance.

Monday | 03.21
What: Daikaiju w/TripLip and Ego Death
When: 7 p.m.
Where: Seventh Circle Music Collective
Why: Final chance to catch Daikaiju with TripLip before the touring band hits the road for places out west.

Monday | March 21
What: W.I.T.C.H. w/Night Beats and Mauskovic Dance Band
When: 7 p.m.
Where: Bluebird Theater
Why: Incredibly W.I.T.C.H. is the Zamrock band formed in the 1970s meaning of course that they’re pioneers of the unique flavor of psychedelic rock that happened in Zambia during that decade before multiple forces led to the demise of the movement by the mid-1980s. Articles have written about the movement and vinyl reissues of classics by Witch and of course Ngozi Family lead to a resurgence in interest in that era of music and the reunion of Witch in 2012. Not often you get to catch legends like this in the flesh. But also on the bill is the great psychedelic garage rock band Night Beats from Seattle who were always weirder and more interesting than most of the recent wave of American psychedelia. Also opening is Mauskovic Dance Band whose blend of cumbia, Afro-Cuban rhythms and Krautrock sensibilities will fit right in with the headliners.

Jawbox, photo by Pete Duvall

Tuesday | 03.22
What: Jawbox w/despAIR Jordan
When: 7 p.m.
Where: Marquis Theater
Why: Jawbox emerged from the vibrant late 80s and early 90s post-punk/post-hardcore DC punk scene to go on to become one of the most influential guitar bands of the 90s and beyond. Its 1991 debut album Grippe is like the missing link between Dinosaur Jr and midwest post-punk and hardcore like Articles of Faith and Naked Raygun. But the beautifully atonal and angular “Savory” from the 1994 album For Your Own Special Sweetheart, the band’s major label debut, was a surprise hit during that era before the alternative rock being championed by major labels was a watered down version of the music seemingly flooding forth in the early part of the decade. Jawbox split in 1997 and didn’t reunite except briefly in 2009 until 2019 though in 2021 founding member Bill Barbot left the group replaced by War on Women guitarist and singer Brooks Harlan. Opening the show is Denver’s despAIR Jordan whose own post-punk flavor is as informed by melodic hardcore as it is the atmospheric, melancholic variety.

Tuesday | 03.22
What: Yves Tumor
When: 7 p.m.
Where: Boulder Theater
Why: Yves Tumor is like the Prince of experimental electronic music whose exuberant stage presence is as colorful as Bowie at peak weirdness but whose sensibilities and aesthetic are very much of the present. That their music has been coming out on Warp Records is saying something about the forward thinking quality of the songcraft and for someone who many might consider a weird hip-hop artist, Tumor has cited Throbbing Gristle as a major influence.

Tuesday | 03.22
What: New Candys and Mint Field w/Wave Decay
When: 7 p.m.
Where: Hi-Dive
Why: New Candys from Venice, Italy released Vyvyd in 2021 and it proved to be one of the best psychedelic rock albums of the year with its hybrid of krautrock and shoegaze. Mexico City’s Mint Field brings its own ambient/shoegaze soundscapes to the show with touches of psych folk and cinematic aesthetics making what can often be abstract music that transports you to other spaces into something that feels deeply personal. Wave Decay’s soothing dream pop sound combines motorik beats with gossamer melodies.

Indigo De Souza, photo by Charlie Boss

Tuesday | 03.22
What: Indigo De Souza w/Field Medic
When: 7 p.m.
Where: Fox Theatre
Why: North Carolina-based singer and songwriter Indigo De Souza recently released her latest album Any Shape You Take on Saddle Creek in August 2021. Though its neo-soul and pop sound is somewhat stylistically different from her fantastic 2018 debut album I Love My Mom with its introspective, guitar pop songs it goes further into an approach of radical vulnerability in plumbing the depths of emotional trauma, self-doubt and the use of creativity as a path out of the darkest places of the mind. The gentle touch of the songs have an unconventional power through honoring wounded feelings with a compassionate honesty that informs the songwriting in general.

Wombo, photo by Fallon

Wednesday | 03.23
What: Ed Schrader’s Music Beat w/Wombo, Apollo Shortwave and H-Lite
When: 8 p.m.
Where: Hi-Dive
Why: Ed Schrader’s Music Beat has been a fixture of underground American art punk. Somewhere between angular post-punk, funk and jazz, the duo’s releases have been varied and always interesting with viscerally impactful and fun live shows. Its forthcoming album Nightclub Daydreaming has all the hallmarks of a great Ed Schrader offering with intricate rhythmic minimalism but decidedly moodier and more atmospheric than we’ve come to expect from the project’s rich sonic palette. Wombo’s psychedelic alternative rock with the dispassionate vocals have been one of the more consistently interesting left field bands out of the indie milieu of recent years that fans of Dry Cleaning and Ganser might appreciate. H-Lite’s electronic experiments unites minimal techno with a more playful and expansive type of glitchcore.

Lightning Bolt, photo by Nick Sayers

Wednesday | 03.23
What: Lightning Bolt w/Problems
When: 7 p.m.
Where: Lost Lake
Why: Saying that Lightning Bolt is a noise rock duo is a little like saying a hurricane is a storm. Doesn’t quite cover it. Though only a duo, Lightning Bolt seems to produce more sound than one might expect from just two people and its aggressive rhythms and explosive live performances are like small scale riot of their own. Which one might expect from a group from Providence, Rhode Island where some of the wildest and noisiest bands of the modern era (Mind Flayer, Arab on Radar, Six Finger Satellite and The Body to name a few) have come from over the past 30 years. Sonic Citadel, the band’s 2019 and latest album, is a masterclass of constant motion and barely controlled chaos and inspired weirdness. In place are also the usual rambunctious soundscape of intense yet modulated drums, processed vocals, distorted bass played both for rhythm and as accents in a call and response dynamic with lyrics sung with a nearly unhinged style. If you’ve never seen Lightning Bolt be prepared for pretty much anything to happen except that it’ll be more fun than you can usually have in a small rock club. Problems is the strange yet also fascinating techno house music project of Darren Keen based out of Lincoln, Nebraska whose 2020 album Ought Not Be Overthought is worth a listen for anyone interested in electronic music that doesn’t have obvious connections to what anyone else is doing yet remains accessible to most people.

Wednesday | 03.23
What: Dance With The Dead & Magic Sword w/Das Mortal
When: 6 p.m.
Where: Oriental Theater
Why: Dance With The Dead is a synthwave band currently touring on the festival circuit and in support of its new album Driven To Madness. But a major reason to go to this show is to see Boise’s Magic Sword whose own mix of fantasy and science fiction imagery and hard rock synthwave is on another level than most like-minded artists as the band members perform as space knights and other than differently colored costume lights largely anonymously. With a handful of albums out and their own comic, Magic Sword is consistently entertaining and its music though technically born out of a gimmick has an appeal far beyond that like the kind of retro science fiction action movie soundtrack for a film that has yet to be made.

Yob, photo courtesy the artists

Thursday | 03.24
What: Yob w/True Widow and Glacial Tomb
When: 7 p.m.
Where: Marquis Theater
Why: Yob guitarist/vocalist Mike Scheidt founded Yob in 1996 after spending some years in hardcore bands in Eugene, Oregon. The mid-90s weren’t exactly the height of the popularity for metal of any kind but in embracing the kind of heavy music that was being called “stoner rock” in the 90s but today the sludgy, sometimes psychedelic, metal might be called doom or post-metal depending on where on the stylistic spectrum the music falls. But whatever genre tags one might put on what Yob has done at this point its newer music as having emerged on both Clearing the Path to Ascend and Our Raw Heart has more than a little in common with experimental heavy artists like Neurosis and Isis (the former having been released on Neurot Recordings). Despite the sometimes cosmic bent of the lyrics and themes of mortality and struggle there is a real joy to the band’s live performances that draws you in for a shared catharsis. Denver death doom band Glacial Tomb opens the show and in the middle is True Widow from Dallas whose blend of doom and shoegaze is entrancingly melodic and moody.

Friday | 03.25
What: Gary Numan w/I Speak Machine
When: 8 p.m.
Where: Gothic Theatre
Why: Gary Numan is a pioneer of synth pop whose work with his old band Tubeway Army along with the likes of Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, Fad Gadget and Human League brought a sophistication of creative vision, nuanced social commentary and inventive incorporation of synthesizers into well-crafted pop songs proved influential on a generations of other artists. Numan forged a solo career for himself with 1979’s The Pleasure Principle and the hit single “Cars.” Since that time Numan has reliably experimented with technology and his own songwriting approach in ways that proved to be an influence on many of the more popular industrial bands of the 80s and 90s including Nine Inch Nails. Pick up anywhere in Numan’s recent catalog and there is worthwhile material including his 2021 album Intruder with its thoughtful commentary on climate change and its impact on the world and not just one human civilization. I Speak Machine is an electronic artist of recent years whose own synthscapes recall the era of music Numan helped to establish with horror cinema aesthetics and a live show to match. Definitely for fans of ADULT. and Xeno and Oaklander.

Saturday | 03.26
What: Quits w/Endless Nameless, Sell Farm and Pythian Whispers
When: 8 p.m.
Where: Hi-Dive
Why: Quits is like the Hasil Adkins of post-hardcore noise rock. Endless Nameless are like the Iceburn collective of post-Canadian instrumental art shoegaze. Sell Farm is the Townes Van Zandt of doom industrial twee. Pythian Whispers is the Hüsker Dü of elevated Krautrock. These absurd characterizations are true in spirit so come on down and see for yourself. Full disclosure, the author of this bit is in Pythian Whispers.

Dust City Opera, photo by Gracie Meier

Saturday | 03.26
What: Dust City Opera w/Split Lips
When: 9 p.m.
Where: Lion’s Lair
Why: Albuquerque’s Dust City Opera recently released its new album Alien Summer with its colorful story arc of science fiction, horror and the drama of the human experience. The sound mixes a bit of the group’s dark Americana with fuzzy rock grit to lend all of the songs more of an edge than one might assume given the band’s theatrical presentation. The new album sounds like something that could have come out of the later era indiepop bands steeped in the 90s version of that music like Beulah or Red Pony Clock but with a bit more refinement of sound.

Sunday | 03.27
What: Kat Von D w/Prayers
When: 7 p.m.
Where: Bluebird Theater
Why: Kat Von D is perhaps best known as a tattoo artist who has been in a couple of reality shows related to the profession. But in 2021 she released her debut album Love Made Me Do It and its mix of darkwave and synthpop is surprisingly accomplished. Her set alone with be worth seeing but opening is her husband Rafael Reyes’ band Prayers who garnered a good deal of attention as a “Cholo Goth” band when really Prayers is just one of the best modern electronic post-punk bands with a bit more actual edge to go along with the moody soundscapes and intense and dramatic lyrics.

The Spirit of the Beehive, photo courtesy the artists

Monday | 03.28
What: The Spirit of the Beehive w/Deeper
When: 8 p.m.
Where: Hi-Dive
Why: Spirit of the Beehive probably seemed like a slightly weird indie rock/pop band early in its career but anyone that has been paying attention across the arc of its albums it’s like the Philadelphia-based group has been pulling back the veils of normalcy and convention with every album. Pleasure Suck and its hazy atmospherics and melodic left turns was reminiscent of something Black Moth Super Rainbow or Stargazer Lilies might do. This shifting to more experimental songwriting continued on 2018’s Hypnic Jerks with an approach to songwriting and structure reminiscent of cinema rather than simply music. With Entertainment, Death (2021), The Spirit of the Beehive is further opening its Pandora’s Box of unexpected tonal experiments, textures and raw sound composition to craft pop songs unlike much of anything anyone is making, even genius weirdos like Deerhoof. Often the songs sound like you’re stepping into a room in a horror movie funhouse and not sure where to find the exit and find you like it there. Deeper is one of Chicago’s bright post-punk stars and their album Auto Pain is something akin to music The Cure might have done if they had gone the route of angular art rock and emerged in the 2010s having been impacted by The Rapture and Women.

Monday | 03.28
What: Blunt Bangs (Athens, GA), Supreme Joy, Moodlighting and Public Opinion
When: 7 p.m.
Where: Mutiny Information Café
Why: Blunt Bangs from Athens, GA includes Reggie Youngblood formerly of buzz indie band Black Kids. But this project is like power pop with a touch of soul. The Big Star influence is obvious but the self-aware lyrics are very much in tune with the social environment of today and the cultural touchstones and lingo of the moment and a poignant portrait of the struggles young people have navigating relationships and a world that seems to make most aspects of life challenging for everyone. Blunt Bangs also includes Eli Saragoussi formerly of psychedelic garage rock phenoms Hair Cult. Also on the bill are Ryan Wong’s lo-fi post-punk band Supreme Joy and twee dream pop outfit Moodlighting who are set to release their new album Boy Wonder with a show at the Hi-Dive on May 5, 2022.

Glove, photo by Ivana Cajin

Tuesday | 03.29
What: Nation of Language w/Glove and Ducks Ltd.
When: 7 p.m.
Where: Bluebird Theater
Why: Nation of Language released its debut album Introduction, Presence in 2020 at a time when no one could or did tour but its bass-driven, moody synth pop songs were reminiscent of early OMD in a way worthy of that obvious influence. The group’s 2021 album A Way Forward was aptly named because the synthesizers came more to the front for a starker yet richer sound overall. It initially recalled Magnetic Fields’ 1995 album Get Lost and its rhythms and pacing seemed to draw on Krautrock influences like Kraftwerk, Cluster, Harmonia and Ashra. And an exploration of OMD’s 1983 artpop masterpiece Dazzle Ships. But whatever the influences or inspirations, Nation of Language has fused the avant-garde with pop in a way with modern methods that draw you in and induce a mood of looking toward a future of possibilities. Glove is a post-punk/darkwave band from Tampa, Florida, a city rightfully more well known for its influential death metal milieu. But Glove’s knack for composing songs that wed energetic rhythms with pulsing low end to melancholic mood may do something toward changing that impression. Its new album Boom Nights breaks free from the cookie cutter darkwave sound that has emerged with more lo-fi recordings. Glove’s album has not slick production so much as strong. Reminiscent of The Prids and Modern English circa Mesh & Lace. Ducks Ltd. from Toronto, Ontario released Modern Fiction on Carpark in 2021 and its ebullient jangle pop sounded like a mix of New Order, all that great 80s Kiwi rock and groups out of the C86 movement of that era. But the content of the songs were inspired by an examination of modern human civilization in decay and its impacts on our lives on a very personal level. The songwriters also took some cues from the fiction of Graham Greene whose life in MI6 and fiction were likely the model of spy fiction to follow.

Greet Death, photo from Bandcamp

Tuesday | 03.29
What: Dummy, Greet Death, Infant Island, American Culture, Dirt Sucker, Candy Apple
When: 7 p.m.
Where: Hi-Dive
Why: [Greet Death and Infant Island show moved to this event due to issues with Meadowlark Bar] Dummy from Los Angeles released its latest album Mandatory Enjoyment in 2021 and immediately established itself as a band to watch with its consistently fascinating soundscapes somewhere betwixt post-punk, Krautrock, indie pop and whatever avant-garde mix of all that you’d call Stereolab. Greet Death is the kind of modern shoegaze band that sounds like its members came up through post-hardcore or some kind of punk or metal as its guitar work has some nice sharp edges even as its soundscapes sound like the shattered glass of disappointed emotions. Its 2019 album New Hell is overflowing with a sublime catharsis that genre bends in ways that one doesn’t hear much in this realm of music. Unless you’re listening to Drowse or another band with seemingly similar roots and an ear for vulnerable emotional expressions put very much forward. American Culture from Denver is no stranger to these hybrid musical impulses and singer Chris Adolf has been someone who never limits himself to a narrow genre though an innovator in indiepop going back to the 90s with bands like Love Letter Band, Bad Weather California, V-Tech Orchid and the various musical incarnations of American Culture with its Cure-esque guitar soundscapes and raw yet tenderly executed vocals. Candy Apple from Denver might be considered hardcore but only if you include the influence of early Christian Death and maybe Jesus and Mary Chain.

Video Vision, photo from Bandcamp

Tuesday | 03.29
What: Video Vision w/DJ Julian Black and DJ Niq V
When: 9 p.m.
Where: HQ
Why: Video Vision is a post-punk/deathrock band from Athens, Georgia whose 2021 album Inked in Red feels both melodramatic and intimately rendered. Sounds like something plucked from the early 80s except for the synth treatments which feel very modern. The male and female vocals recall the dynamics you’d hear in a 45 Grave song but with more ethereal music, just that grit and confidence seems very much in place.

Wilderado, photo by Grant Spanier

Wednesday and Thursday | 03.30 and 03.31
What: Wilderado w/flipturn
When: 7 p.m.
Where: Aggie Theatre and Bluebird Theater
Why: Though Wilderado released its self-titled debut album in October 2021, the band originally based in Tulsa, Oklahoma, now out of Los Angeles, has put in its time over the last seven years honing its songcraft and performances through regular touring. Its sounds sound like they were written with acoustic guitar in a living room contemplating a feeling or a thought that strikes you so strongly you end up writing it down or committing it to memory as best you can. But those skeletons of songs get the full-fledged manifestation across an album of lively pop songs that are stronger for having been worked out before any adornments and embellishments are added.

Wednesday | 03.30
What: Black Ends (Seattle), Sell Farm, Joseph Lamar and Fainting Dreams (members of Endless Nameless, Direct Threat and Asbestos)
When: 7 p.m.
Where: Seventh Circle Music Collective
Why: Black Ends and its “gunk pop” sounds like something you’d get if you took an experimental punk band and found a way to deconstruct the traditional sounds and structures into this melted mutant version. Meaning it’s more original than most things you’ll see actually on tour and would have found a home on Siltbreeze in the 2000s alongside Pink Reason, Eat Skull and the like. Sell Farm is a dub-industrial-indie pop band whose own sound experiments in real time pretty much place it outside all trendy styles happening right now which is always a reason to go see a band. Joseph Lamar is a glam R&B space alien whose soulful vocals can’t be constrained by convention either and his songwriting while hyper tuneful also colors outside the lines of expectation. If Fainting Dreams includes members of Endless Nameless, Direct Threat and Asbestos and still playing this show they’re probably using their considerable musical talents and chops to make something unusual and interesting as well.

Thursday | 03.31
What: Prism Bitch w/Horse Girl and Bud Bronson & The Good Timers
When: 7 p.m.
Where: Lost Lake
Why: Prism Bitch from Albuquerque, New Mexico fuses synth pop with garage rock in unpredictable ways while not compromising solid pop songwriting yet coming off very unfiltered and punk. Horse Girl is part inspired performance art and art pop with a show that always breaks that barrier between the spectator and performer in creative ways. Brilliant weirdos, always. Bud Bronson & The Good Timers is the best power pop band out of Denver. Full stop.

Princess Goes to the Butterfly Museum, photo courtesy the artists

Thursday | 03.31
What: Princess Goes to the Butterfly Museum
When: 8 p.m.
Where: Oriental Theater
Why: Oftentimes when actors get into making music it’s either quaint, ill-considered our insufferable. But Princess Goes to the Butterfly Museum which includes Michael C. Hall (Dexter, Six Feet Under, Hedwig and the Angry Inch) alongside Peter Yanowitz (The Wallflowers, Morningwood) and Matt Katz-Bohen (Blondie) is shockingly good. Like a synth pop glam rock band. Its debut album THANKS FOR COMING comes off more like an art rock concept record the likes of which you’d expect more from the 1970s with strong ideas and commentary on life and society and ambitious songwriting. But with modern sensibilities like the musicians are well aware that Radiohead and Arcade Fire already happened. Its tonal exercises are poignant and evocative and the songs cinematic.

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.

Queen City Sounds’ Picks for UMS 2019

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Tessa Violet performs at the UMS on Sunday, July 28, 5:45 p.m.

The UMS is back for its 2019 edition running from July 26 through July 28 in the Baker Neighborhood in Denver, Colorado. The festival is unarguably the easiest way to take in the largest representative slice of the local underground music scene with the emphasis on indie rock and some choice representation from the city’s worlds of metal, hip-hop, electronic music and punk. Some years you might even run across more than a couple of the city’s rich experimental/avant-garde, darkwave and noise scenes but not so much this year aside from the Glasss Records showcase Sunday afternoon from 12-5 p.m. which is a well-curated sampling of Denver music’s weird side.

What follows is a guide to my picks for ten of the most interesting acts not from Denver performing at the festival. There will be no local band guide because I already write up enough about local bands throughout most of the year and you can see many of them the rest of the year and I encourage you to visit the UMS website and sample any and all of the bands that look interesting and see them because there are hundred. If you’re from out of town and coming to the UMS, refer back to any of the Best Shows lists I’ve done up to now. Other sites have provided their guides so you can consult those if you’re looking for specific recommendations. For tickets please visit the UMS website and thanks for reading.


Who: Black Mountain
When: Friday, July 26, 8:30-10 p.m.
Where: Showcase Stage
Why: This Canadian, heavy psychedelic rock band combines 70s psychedelic prog, stoner rock and all the excess and transporting soundscaping that implies. The group released its new album Destroyer in 2019, the first with ex-Sleepy Sun member Rachel Fannan and Adam Bulgasem from Soft Kill. Synth player Jeremy Schmidt has a side project called Sinoia Caves which did the darkly beautiful and unsettling soundtrack to the experimental science fiction horror film Beyond the Black Rainbow.

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Chicano Batman circa 2017, photo by Josue Rivas

Who: Chicano Batman
When: Saturday, July 27, 5-6 p.m.
Where: Showcase Stage
Why: Chicano Batman embodies a true synthesis of 60s Chicano rock, Tropicália and psychedelia. Like those 60s bands, this Los Angeles-based quartet performs in matching outfits to provide that level of rock theater and it’s songs a fantastic blend of rock and roll and melancholic atmospheres.


Who: Drama
When: Saturday, July 27, 6:20-7 p.m.
Where: Showcase Stage
Why: A blend of R&B and synthwave, Drama’s songs and videos reflect the multicultural side of American culture and breaking stereotypes of what people look like that make lush, melodic electronic pop music and how that’s presented to the world.


Who: Empress Of
When: Sunday. July 28, 7-7:45 p.m.
Where: Showcase Stage
Why: Lorely Rodriguez took this project name from a tarot card reading and her synth pop/experimental R&B is bilingual with vocals that traverse registers with finesse. Imagine something like a combination of Cocteau Twins (who Rodriguez cites as an influence) and Toni Braxton and you’re in the right territory.

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Gardens & Villa circa 2011, photo by Tom Murphy

Who: Gardens & Villa
When: Friday, July 26, 5:20-6 p.m.
Where: Showcase Stage
Why: This band from Santa Barbara, California is probably lumped in with the whole synth pop thing but it’s a way stranger and more experimental band in the vocals and in its songwriting having more in common with Big Black Delta, Fad Gadget and TR/ST than the chillwave that was in vogue when the band started in 2008. Its songs tend to be darker and more willing to indulge sharper edged dynamics than groups going for maximum soft tunefulness.


Who: Leikeli47
When: Friday, July 26, 8:30-10 p.m.
Where: Odyssey Stage
Why: Leikeli47 performs with some kind of head covering and otherwise conceals her true identity like a hip-hop super hero. Her unusual style of music is heavy on swagger and accented beats. At times her songs sound like she listened to a lot of Suicide, Death Grips, M.I.A. as well as dub. But it also means she doesn’t really sound much like anyone else and capable of surprising you.


Who: Tessa Violet
When: Sunday, July 28, 5:45-6:30 p.m.
Where: Showcase Stage
Why: Tessa Violet’s breezy, sonically rich synth pop is so accessible it’s almost easy to forget what a sharp wit is behind the songwriting. After all she has a song called “I Like (the idea of) You.” But it’s not all reverence and her songwriting style itself is fairly broad and endearingly frank in the realm of pop music and her videos colorful and imaginative.

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Tuxedo, photo by Andi Elloway

Who: Tuxedo
When: Sunday, July 28, 8:15-9:45 p.m.
Where: Showcase Stage
Why: Mayer Hawthorne made a respectable career for himself in the 2000s for his retro soul style and big stage persona. Teaming up with Jake One he’s part of Tuxedo, a funk and electro R&B band that was ahead of the current trend of all of that, which Hawthorne was already presaging when a lot of people dismissed him as something of an eccentric despite his undeniable cool.

Who: Y La Bamba – photo on website
When: Sunday, July 28, 6:20-7 p.m.
Where: Knockout Stage
Why: Luz Elena Mendoza found a unique place as a songwriter in Portland, Oregon who is making a kind of folk-rooted pop. Her music and outlook comes out of the Mexican folk tradition inspired in part from a young age by mariachis. Her songs use her heritage to explore personal as well as collective struggles with an elegance and creativity that reconciles the dark side of life with hope and joy informed by grace and patience for the process.


Who: Yves Tumor
When: Saturday, July 27, 7:20-8 p.m.
Where: Showcase Stage
Why: Yves Tumor cites Throbbing Gristle as an influence for its hypnotic qualities. And Yves Tumor’s music is not short on ambient noise, confrontational sounds and political consciousness within the context of fairly accessible electronic pop music. For my ears and tastes, the most interesting and boundaries pushing act not from Denver playing the festival and a must see if you’re there on Saturday.