Starting a new job can suck – especially for your online magazine. That’s the explanation for my long absence on the ‘Thread – and I’m stickin’ with it. Now to get back into the swing, and get you readers some well-deserved regularity…
But on with the news: This week we’re presenting three fantastic albums, starting with one that’s won my mind and heart, even though it’s about a year old, in Matt Shupe’s “The Greying Heart.” Then get a load of the beauty of Thurston Moore’s new solo work, “Demolished Thoughts,” and finally the grandiloquent metal/thrash of Il Cattivo’s “To Bring Low An Empire.”
Matt Shupe may be Denver’s answer to Syd Barrett. His latest record, The Greying Heart, while it doesn’t necessarily lead you to believe that Shupe’s traveling down a rabbit hole into agoraphobic obscurity, sure leaves a magical taste. The flavor starts with Barrett, but also adds a touch of Neil Young that brings the quiet up to a rock sound the former could never really approach. Take a listen to “Holdout” and its sad lament and try to avoid any thought of Young’s work on the Dead Man soundtrack, or a dip beneath Harvest Moon. The record’s opener, “Hart’s Island Babies,” oozes The Cure (from around Seventeen Seconds) through a filter of Opal at its folky base, and “Reality Song” is a quiet, melancholy breakup story that sits comfortably in the space between Dinosaur Jr. and Sebadoh. Each of these songs has a hook – some more intimate than others, but all a little infectious. “Holyoke,” easily the record’s highlight, perfectly combines the magic of Shupe’s storytelling with a traditional pop-folk, and recalls the easy psychedelia of Donavan in trio with Simon & Garfunkel in its sway. Listen below for yourself – and try not to feel like you’re on your way to some small hamlet in a wooded clearing, expecting leathered flasks filled with mead-y beer.
Shupe has a long history in Denver, playing for a few of Denver’s most influential bands – like, for instance, the seminal Denver Gentlemen – but seems to remain under known overall – unfairly. He did appear on Deadbubbles’ tribute album, Reclamation Now!, with a pristine cover of “Zoo Kicker and I” that wins the “sounds most like a sober Robert Pollard” award.
I hope Shupe has plans to expand, ‘cause when this record catches a few more ears, it’s sure to take off.
[wpaudio url="http://www.denverthread.com/wp-content/themes/mimbo/sounds/MAtt_Shupe_Holyoke.mp3" text="Matt Shupe - Holyoke"]
Sonic Youth has been a major subconscious aquifer in my life since I first saw them, here in Denver at the German House (behind the Fillmore Auditorium off of Colfax, for all you young’uns) in 1986. For the longest time, noise-freak that I was, I was under the impression that it was Lee Renaldo’s noisy constructions that I always hooked me so deeply. Thurston Moore seemed, to my early-twenties, jaded and anti-pop (anti-construction, anti-song, anti-you-name-it) sensibilities, to be the more traditional of the two. He was the one that brought the pop to songs like “Cool Thing,” “100%” and “Teenage Riot.” Moore was always the Mick Jones to Renaldo’s Joe Strummer. Part of this impression probably came out of the experimental discs I’d found from Renaldo overseas and in NYC.
Then, when 1994’s “Experimental Jet Set, Trash, and No Star” came out, I suspected I was dead wrong. As I located and consumed more of Moore and company’s experimental work – particularly the SYR Series – I knew I was not only wrong, but being just unfair. Moore has always brought an indelible experimentalism to Sonic Youth, but it’s been anything but pop. If anything, it was Moore who used to play chords and tunings that recalled the type I’d play on endless loop as I was playing with noises myself way back then – because they were so addictive, so fuckin’ cool.
Moore’s Catalyzing Continues
And now, “Demolished Thoughts,” Moore’s latest solo effort, has proven beyond any doubt that my early delusions about the two guitarists were dead wrong. Not so much reversed – more that they both had their unique hooks, and both have always had tremendous hold on their musical genius – they’ve just always catalyzed impossibly well. And Moore’s musical catalyzing continues unabated, and reaches another new level on this album, with Beck in the producer (and sometimes participant) position.
“Demolished Thoughts,” to add to the earlier water metaphor, holds a super-clear, purified beauty that Moore’s compositions have always alluded to – and that they have sometimes achieved, underneath and throughout the noise of Sonic Youth. His melodies have always bracketed his simple, yet incredibly powerful imagism. Beck’s involvement may have influenced the more symphonic, almost melancholy air of the record, but it positively seeps with Moore’s creative personality form deep inside every track. These tunes are enveloped beautifully by the beauty from violinist Samara Lubelski and Mary Lattimore’s incredibly sensuous harp. Together, all three make up a sound that comes close to what Moore does with his guitars alone – without mimicking those sounds in the least – and it works perfectly in the acoustic. The occasional addition of the other players – drummer Joey Waronker, guitarist Bill Nace and bassist Bram Inscore, and Beck as well – adds an almost a passing waft of flavor to an already overwhelmingly seasoned mix.
Lyrics like “Sunday lights/Come take my nights/And I’ll bend down/To my knees and die./Illuminate/My soul to take/Illuminine/Your clear cool wine,” from “lluminine” (probably the best song on the album – at least it’s the most indicative) leave a feeling of late Sunday afternoons, either inside from snow or outside in a leaf-strewn gully. Check it out below for yourself.
[wpaudio url="http://www.denverthread.com/wp-content/themes/mimbo/sounds/Thurston_Moore_Illuminine.mp3" text="Thurston Moore - Illumine"]
Is it just me, or does it seem that Denver’s scene is crawling with “supergroups” nowadays?
From Fairchildren (made up of Nathaniel Rateliff’s The Wheel (itself one of the guilty), Bela Karoli and The Centennial - plus more multitasking talent), to Houses (with members of Hearts of Palm, Harpoontang, Widowers, Blue Million Miles and others), to last year’s UMS champs Snake Rattle Rattle Snake (with members of members of Bad Luck City, Monofog, Mr. Pacman and Hawks of Paradise), the musical incest seems to have grown rampant. Of course Denver’s scene, like many another cities’ strong, fervent and highly talented ones, has always swung that way – to a degree. It just seems more infectious now than it has. Denver, it seems, is ready for one of Pete Frame’s famous family trees.
I could be wrong.
But here’s another to add to the list anyway: Il Cattivo. (And, for the record, this one wins. Just plain wins. Period.) Il Cattivo features members of former and current bands including Black Lamb (Brian Hagman), Plains Mistaken For Stars (Matt Bellinger), Ghost Buffalo (Jed Koop), Machine Gun Blues (Holland Rock-Garden) and Taun Taun (Matty Clark). All of these guys are Denver metal/thrash/punk heroes, and all of their associated bands hold various legendary places in the Mile Hi Metal Pantheon (such that it is, or exists, or whatever). But in Il Cattivo, the best of their best has been magnified, intensified, codified and perfectified (as of now a word). The result is something the loose, bluesy thrash bombast side of Denver has been stretching, growing and just missing for far too long.
Il Cattivo’s first effort, To Bring Low An Empire, proves it. From Hagman’s opening wails help to start “Long Gone John” the mood is set – and it’s too late, you’re already drunk. The Rock-Garden and Bellinger guitar assault rides hard and sloppy on Kopp and Clark’s (drums and bass, respectively) thrusting, tank-driven rhythms, all over the road – and sometimes off – until the whole thing comes to a twisting, tumbling halt. This is when you know you’re probably not going to remember where the bruises came from in the morning – between songs – until it starts up again.
Mid-record, “Salt Skinned Girls” fools you with a quickly broken promise of a little accessible respite, until Hagman’s huge voice opens the ground and swallows you up in his signature, mesmerizing howls. The record climaxes with the thick, fast sludge of “Serenity Prayer” (at one time aptly titled “Good Friday, Motherfucker!”) and then gets even louder and faster.
Actually, “Serenity Prayer” isn’t the only climax, but enough spoilers. Listen below to that one, and then go get the record to fill your metal hole.
[wpaudio url="http://www.denverthread.com/wp-content/themes/mimbo/sounds/Il_Cattivo_Good_Friday_Motherfucker.mp3" text="Il Cattivo - Serenity Prayer"]
Keep Comin’ back!
Keep your ears and eyes open, and check back to DenverThread about every two weeks for more reviews!
(This time I’ll keep it up! I Promise!)