New Music Threads – Local heroes Veronica & The Raven & The Writing Desk offer up fun and surreal tunes, and live shows to fill your holiday nights
Veronica – Emerging From Troubled Days
Veronica‘s first full length “Emerging From Troubled Days” is a damned great personification of the passion and direction behind the Denver music scene, and behind the DenverThread to boot. Three veteran Denver artists, all previous members of bands that have long since passed into legendary status – and that enjoyed that status off and on during their active years as well – have pooled their talents and love of straight ahead punk/indie rock with a simple aesthetic and an indelible stripe of mischievous humor and made a record that just about everyone can fall in love with, and have loads of fun through all of its just over 30 minutes.
Ted Thacker and John Call – wicked guitarist and gigantic drummer, respectively, who both played in Baldo Rex in the ’90s – joined with Andrew Koch , formerly of Tiger Beat, on bass to finally record 12 songs, many of which have been mainstays for the trio’s sporadic shows over recent years, and have released it independently. The title is apropos, as they’ve all three been immersed in the ephemera of becoming – including a family addition for Thacker and partner LauraBell, among many other things – while the band has frequently taken a back seat. But, thanks to their dedication (and maybe a little help from the gods of awesome rock), the album has finally come together – and it’s worth every week of the time it took.
From the churning opening of “Allison & Andrew” (which you can stream below, right now) the playlist wanders from a ballad about the murderous potential in cars and hurricanes, through memories of serial killers ruining what should have been carefree pre-adolescent summers in “Summer,” wild joyrides in Tokyo in “Kawasaki Dirt Bike,” and into the bombastic “Rattle” and the sad, beguiling “What’s With Your Hair,” and ends way too soon. That third of the record may stand out, but the whole thing holds up as well.
“Summer” starts off like the best Clash songs, with a giant guitar sound and monster rock beat that leads right into the frantic mess of “I’m In Trouble” and “Kawasaki Dirt Bike.” The three coax the feeling of a whole summer out of you, primed by the desperately lovelorn “Lightbulb Girl,” also recalling the fun of Hüsker Dü in the seed of each. With “Frivolous Thing,” “Cry Baby” and “Rattle” the record begins to change tone slightly, picking up a Peter Buck guitar style (from about the time REM released “Life’s Rich Pageant”), before some of the tunes slow a little more into a perfect denouement.
One of the most brilliant touches to this record is the hilarious ease with which the music is presented. Pay attention – with headphones if possible – to the spaces between songs, where all the live action of recording takes place: snippets of conversations, a call on (I think) Thacker’s cell phone at the end of “Lightbulb Girl,” or his fingers letting go the strings of his guitar – loudly. Listen to the fun the trio is having as they belt out these fantastically quick and witted tunes – the repetition of “Kill, kill, kill, kill, kill” during “Allison and Andrew” is simply brilliant, for example. It makes sense – after all, Thacker’s songwriting prowess is an underground legend. Listen to his tune “I Cried Like A Silly Boy,” covered so sweetly by Denver’s DeVotchKa on their 2006 EP “Curse Your Little Heart.” Listen to Thacker’s version HERE, for a real treat.
“Frederick,” a ballad about the death and afterlife of The MC5s Frederick Smith rife with images of he and wife Patty Smith dancing in the streets of Manhattan as the Late Johnny Thunders seranades them, starts with Thacker wrangling a guitar in a style vaguely reminiscent of Santana. “What’s With Your Hair,” about bad perms and adolescent love from across the classroom leaves a salty taste of young tears, as does the Koch’s wonderfully naive sounding “If You Were Me.”
Throughout the record, these boys harmonize both traditionally and experimentally, but always with solid intent and fervent results that inspire uncontrollable grins, heartfelt chortles and an excitement akin to the anticipation of a graduation party with an open bar. Deep, guttural screams like “Otamachi!” and “Joy Ridin’!” (from “Kawasaki Dirt Bike”) and the free-wheeling fun they exhude bring back a feel of the roots these heroes have in the ’90s Denver scene. But only a little – this record more than stands just fine on its own merits.
And that foundation for this trio grows out of an endlessly fun atmosphere – and one that listening to “Emerging From Troubled Days” will infect you with almost immediately. Thacker and the boys will be holding a CD release at Wax Trax on Saturday, December 4 at 3:00. Get there – and in the meantime stream these two from the record. You’ll be glad you did!
[wpaudio url=”http://www.denverthread.com/wp-content/themes/mimbo/sounds/Allison_And_Andrew.m4a” text=”Veronica – Allison & Andrew”] [wpaudio url=”http://www.denverthread.com/wp-content/themes/mimbo/sounds/Summer.m4a” text=” Veronica – Summer”]
“Summer” starts off like the best Clash songs, with a giant guitar sound and monster rock beat that leads right into the frantic mess of “I’m In Trouble” and “Kawasaki Dirt Bike.”The three coax the feeling of a whole summer out of you, primed by the desperately lovelorn “Lightbulb Girl,” also recalling the fun of Hüsker Dü in the seed of each. With “Frivolous Thing,” “Cry Baby” and “Rattle” the record begins to change tone slightly, picking up a Peter Buck guitar style (from about the time REM released “Life’s Rich Pageant”), before some of the tunes slow a little more into a perfect denouement.
Recidivist – The Raven and the Writing Desk
The debut from Denver band The Raven and The Writing Desk, “Recidivist,” took time to grow on me – but I’m glad I let it. On first listen I thought the record’s 8 songs would have some trouble floating out of a typical too-folky, hip and indie vibe – something Denver has plenty of, and too much of it is depressingly average. After setting the collection aside for a while, though, I found myself haunted by some of the music’s undercurrents, and succumbed to further exploration. Good thing, because the record has grown on me after delving further in and, though it still suffers at times in the way most freshman efforts do, I’m intrigued, more satisfied, and look forward to watching them grow in Denver.
From the opening piano of the appropriately surrealistic “Somnambulist,” coursing and swirling through complex as it leads to Julia LiBassi’s throaty callout to the murder ballad’s main character, to the pleading, whisper-like wail at the close of “I Will Make You Mine,” this six-piece leads listeners through a just-off-kilter journey across LiBassi’s marginally twisted lyrics and eldritch musical concoctions. Guitarist Scott Conroy plays distorted, psychedelic melodies and backing leads almost too quietly – yet loud enough to invoke the deep surrealism the entire record exhudes. The accompaniment to Adrienne Short’s confident violin is perfect, but shouldn’t work – which creates a tension that pulls out Ryan Self’s solid bass melodies. Drummer Danny Slavec and percussionist/toy master Neil Mitchell fill up the band’s sound with an added eeriness and resplendent puzzling while they pound out complex rhythms.
But it’s the defining force behind this music, LiBassi’s vocals, that deserve constant attention. Her voice, powerful, hauntingly smokey and sometimes panting, sensual, occasionally recalls Kate Bush and Sinéad O’Connor (from the siren’s early “Heroine” days) and sometimes invokes a decidedly Edie Brickell tone as she unfolds ballad after ballad. There are times when her stories give off a warm, moist creepiness that approaches some of the damage and paranoia that flows through Lisa Germano’s work as well – though LiBassi never quite lets herself spill over entirely into the fantasies.
Standouts include “Firefly,” one that in my book is likely to gain more airplay than others by its simple accessibility and anthemic harmonies, and “Walk in the Water,” which starts drawing you in with a Procol Harum organ, only to pull you down with the “Join us . . .” chorus, and then follows with throbbing, cathartic howls bookended with Cure-like chords. In “The Haunting” (check it out by streaming it below) the band hits a stride that will likely power them through loads of success – if they keep up the weight and beauty of their style. The soft, passionate descent comes with the musing “I Will Make You Mine,” when LiBassi breathes colorful poetry over an alternately gothic and pastoral piano line. It feels like she’s in the room with you, talking to you, but not moving her mouth.
According to the band, “Recidivist,” recounts stories of souls in various levels of evolution, all traveling around karmic wheels and repeating, revisiting and relearning lives. In the same way, R&WD are in an early stage in their evolution as a band, but have already achieved a promising start. Though there are a few times on the record when they seem to withhold their innovative attitude in favor of an often too-heavy pop sensibility, “Marionette, “Space Grenade” and “Wooden Lover” for example, everything else on the record bodes well for a solid, ingenious future.
R&WD will be holding a CD release show at The Walnut Room on Friday, December 10. Do yourself two favors and stream “The Haunting” below, and make it to the show to see what you’re missing.
[wpaudio url=”http://www.denverthread.com/wp-content/themes/mimbo/sounds/The_Haunting.m4a” text=”Raven & the Writing Desk – The Haunting”]