Tag Archives: Smoothbore

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Gangcharger and Smoothbore – two Denver bands release new tunes, noise in a new direction

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Gangcharger – Free Exhaust

Gangcharger - Free Exhaust

Gangcharger's new record proves that rebuilding depends on the right parts coming together.

There aren’t too many bands that can withstand an entire personnel change and keep going. There are even less that come back stronger for it – but Gangcharger is one that has. Ethan Ward’s love child – with huge emphasis on the love – has not only rebounded after being abandoned by virtually every member of the band over the course of late 2009, he’s driven the rebuilt band beyond anyone’s expectations, maybe beyond his own – and definitely miles beyond the previous lineup’s promise – with their latest release, “Free Exhaust.”

In the past, Gangcharger has been labeled “a poor man’s Sonic Youth,” mostly in relation to Ethan’s noisy, borderline atonal and effects-laden guitar work – and in the past that description hasn’t been entirely wrong. But with the band’s new album “Free Exhaust,” that pigeon-holing has proven far too limiting. Ethan still tends to walk the same musical and noise paths as Lee Ranaldo with his guitar – and even sounds a lot like Ranaldo when he takes over vocals for half the record, but these songs contain a rough brightness not readily apparent in Sonic Youth’s work. Much of this record does sound like a departure from the “Death Valley ’69” era, but it maintains a consistency – and a distinct simplicity – that was soon lost in the Youth repertoire. Add the vocals, and static from her “noise blaster,” that Paige Peterson brings to the mix, and Gangcharger’s sound then takes a completely different interstate out of that valley.

Rounding out the lineup, Adam Rojo (also guitarist for Denver’s post-punk heroes Ideal Fathers) and Dan Barnett form an often swooping, often driving – but always essential – rhythm section, where Barnett’s drumming approaches a pipeline-surfing intensity. But the addition of Rojo’s considerable – and heavily guitar-imprinted – talent on the bass adds a slight but significant melodic quotient to the mix. That melody mirrors Ethan’s feral and calculated sound, and brings it to a depth that Gangcharger’s earlier lineup was never quite able to reach.

From the opening stick cracks of “All My Shirts Are Black,” this record takes you on a journey through alternately frantic and foggy landscapes, sometimes slipping through high speed, pitch black, steep chases (“Vapor,” “Secret Destroyer,” “The New Split”), sometimes swirling in smoke-filled bars amidst scantily and loosely dressed lounge lizards (“Filters,” “Soaking Quiet,” “Narrower”). On the latter tunes, Peterson’s lead vocals – sultry and strong, panting and forceful –  bring a minuscule tint of Portishead to the band, while the guitar wails and dirges scrape out a huge cavern to house their noise. Her “noise blaster” (basically a collection of musical pre-school toys run through some damaged sound pedals) adds the perfect amount of frantic static to keep a mosquito-at-night type of buzz prevalent. It’s just right to draw you in and keep you just frustrated enough to maintain the songs’ eros.

“Free Exhaust” is a great listen, and a triumphant evolutionary step in Ward’s music – and it’s great to see Gangcharger back alive after losing everyone. Both Ethan and Denver deserve this type of reward.

Catch Gangcharger at the Gathering of the Clouds event as they headline the opening night at the Overcasters’ Weather Center – 1401 Zuni – on Thursday, October 21. The locally-focused festival will feature ten Denver bands between Thursday and Saturday, and focuses on CD releases from both Gangcharger and Overcasters.

Smoothbore – Red Lines

Smoothbore - Red Lines

Smoothbore brings a heavy, measured sound to Denver with their double-bass attack.

Denver’s got plenty of experimental bands, and plenty that are great and getting better, as they feel their way through new musical terrain and depend on the curiosity of the more intrepid and deeper-digging listener for their survival. With Smoothbore, they – and we – have found a band that more than pays for the dedication with an austere, minimal – yet bulldozing, completely destructive – hard rock sound.

And all that without a single six-string guitar (much to the chagrin, I’m sure, of all the hair metal guitar hero gods).

Smoothbore is a three piece that carries some hipster weight, and promises to use that presence to add momentum to an already growing post rock/post post punk scene. Drummer Scott Lewis – formerly of the hilarious and fantastic Black Smiths (a tribute band that focused on a mixture of Black Sabbath and The Smiths tunes) – lays the groundwork from behind his massive-sounding trap set for the trio, upon which dueling bassists Sonja Decman (formerly from The Symptoms) and Matt Flanagan (of Boss 302) lay a thick weave of bass and vocals that’s unmet by any other Denver band of the moment – maybe just about anywhere.

It’s the distinct lack of guitar that starts to draw in the listener – even before putting the needle into the first groove – maybe from a place of disbelief. But soon after the first song, “I See You” begins, that guitar is not only far from missed, it turns out to be a relief. The music becomes uncluttered, and less demanding, without the (what you soon realize has become) the constant, pre-adolescent whining for attention that most guitarists seem to be crowing in virtually all other rock. Instead of feeling sold short – or even confused – by the omission of what has become such a bedrock staple of Rock, I felt clear. While Decman’s bass tends to focus on some slightly more traditional bass constructions (but only slightly), Flanagan’s bass takes on something approaching a lead guitar, but stops masterfully short, leaving the difference to speak even more ridiculously loud about the often overbearing guitar – and it’s uselessness.

Lewis’ drumming is always spot on, and even more evident without the guitar hero distraction. Playing rhythm section with dueling basses seems to suit him well, and gives Smoothbore’s sound a simultaneously stripped down and layered feel. Kind of reminiscent of secret shows played in abandoned warehouses and on closed factory or meat-packing floors – spacious, but still crowded with lack of use, feeling both old and scary, new and treacherous. Their overall sound recalls a feeling of late ’80s New York City No Wave – without the anti-structure ideal. It brings to mind Live Skull, or some of Lydia Lunch & Rowland S. Howard’s work from back then.

The one possible drawback to the bass-only constructions may be a tendency to follow a quiet-loud-quiet-loud pattern, but it feels more like a stage in the band’s growth. Melody and lead from Flanagan, along with Decman’s caustic vocals and lower end bass hold promise for some exciting and vital material.


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Ideal Fathers plays a smart, thrilling, fast-paced style that lends itself to high-intensity slasher films, especially if they're made in Japan. (Photo: MySpace/Ideal Fathers)

The “Denver Sound,” long dead, makes room for lighter, noisier, funner genres in the scene

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Ideal Fathers plays a smart, thrilling, fast-paced style that lends itself to high-intensity slasher films, especially if they're made in Japan. (Photo: Jerry Goff)

Ideal Fathers plays a smart, thrilling, fast-paced style that lends itself to high-intensity slasher films, especially if they're made in Japan. (Photo: Jerry Goff)

The world-famous “Denver Sound” has petered out.

Which is not to say that the beautiful, often over-the-top and heavy handed gothic alt-country sound isn’t significant anymore – not at all. That sound helped put Denver back on the musical globe in the ’80s and ‘90s, and still attracts its fair share of fans. It’s still appreciated world-wide, and many remain ravenous for it – especially  in Europe.

But it exists currently in a type of atrophy in Denver – it’s taken a back seat that has allowed an insurgence of more than a few different genres to begin to flourish, or re-flourish, as the case may be. Denver has a strong music scene – perhaps the strongest in the US (at the moment) – and part of its strength comes from its wide variety. So if the sometimes overbearing popularity of the “Denver Sound”  – indeed the often overweighted nature of the sound itself – is waning, it can only be good news for the lighter, the more pop-y, the innovative and indie, or the more aggressive and punkier genres.

And that’s exactly what’s happening in the bar, dive, club, backyard and warehouse scene right now.

From straight up power-pop, to country, to arty prog-rock, to freak folk, metal, noise,  thrash and punk, there are red hot and lukewarm representatives of just about every genre filling up the glut of venues our city currently enjoys. Out of those genres, the punk/metal/noise/thrash scene currently seems to be surging.

Even the Meadowlark, the basement/backyard venue that recently had been known for favoring more acoustic, indie and folk sets, has begun booking louder and more aggressive acts in the past few months. Git Some, probably Denver’s loudest band (with a sound akin to a cement mixer barreling out of control down I-70, and rapidly filling up your rearview) played for the first time at Meadowlark in January, to a nearly over-filled house. Titwrench, a local  group that holds an annual lady-centered rock festival of local acts, also books a regular show at Meadowlark that features brand new and emerging artists and bands called “Surfacing.” Thanks to the new Punk/Techno promoters in 43rd St. Zoo, the Lions Lair is booking Sunday nights with new acts with a punk feel, or high BPM techno roots. Other dives like Bar Bar and Old Curtis St. are thriving (musically, at least) on a steady diet of metal, thrash and noise bands – almost all of which are strictly local – adding to the already flush, loud and often metal schedules of bars like the Larimer Lounge and 3 Kings Tavern.

What follows is a few glimpses of some of the better punk, noise and thrash bands that have graced Denver venues over the past few weeks. Try and get out to see these bands, and start to wash the stale flavor of the old Denver scene out of your mouth. They’re perfect pallet cleansers, and promise to be main courses sooner than you might think:

Ideal Fathers, Makeout Point, Cadillacula, GlassHits at the Meadowlark,
Saturday, February 6, 2010

Jesse Hunsaker of Ideal Fathers (Photo: Jerry Goff)

Jesse Hunsaker of Ideal Fathers (Photo: Jerry Goff)

Almost as if to prove our point, Meadowlark booked a show on Saturday, February 6th that exemplified a span of punky genres including metal/grunge with Glass Hits, roots-punk with Cadillacula, power-pop with Makeout Point and aggressively provocative postpunk noise with Ideal Fathers. The mixture of local bands proved volatile, fun and sometimes pretty explosive. It also tested the venue pretty ferociously. Glass Hits started the night with a set of sweeping grunge-core, mixing a noise reminiscent of Big Black mixed with Bleach-era Nirvana, and just a touch of PIL – particularly in the vocals. This band enjoyed one of the larger audiences of the night, showing that currently their popularity is on the rise. Next, Cadillacula  tore up a set of Cramps-meets-Danzig punk, in refreshingly sloppy style, for about 30 minutes, before Makeout Point entered and played sparkling power pop reminiscent of Throwing Muses or Breeders.

Headliners Ideal Fathers ended the late night with some brilliant slasher-movie metal that could be personified by a fictional youngster raised by Devo and driven to and from school by David Yow, with Shellac constantly on the eight-track. These boys – Jesse Hunsaker on vocals, Adam Rojo on guitar, Mike King on bass and Mike Perfetti on drums – know where their roots are, and show it. Rojo channeled  a lot of Andy Gill and more than a little East Bay Ray in his frenetic noodling, when he wasn’t crushing chords at hardcore speed, and was equally matched by King’s funk-punk bass lines and Perfetti’s chaotically synchronous drumming. Hunsaker tied it all together nicely with a scream that visibly thrust blood vessels out of both his throat and forehead, and encompassed the Japanese gore film ethos in many of the songs’ lyrics. Together, they played a tight, ultra-fun and danceable set that had a full house jumping, laughing and screaming for more.

Hunsaker and Adam Rojo onstage at a recent show (Photo: Jerry Goff)

Hunsaker and Adam Rojo onstage at a recent show (Photo: Jerry Goff)

If shows like these are a hint at where Meadowlark is heading in their overall booking, I’m excited, as we should all be – though I’m sure they’ll still feature plenty of Denver’s more traditional tunesmiths, without a doubt . The venue continuously shows a savvy familiarity with what’s about to be hot in Denver, and there are plenty of bands to fill the bill.

Smoothbore at Old Curtis St. Bar, Thursday, February 11, 2010
Leaning more into the noise side of Denver’s local scene, Smoothbore played a raucous set at Old Curtis St. Bar last Thursday night and showed off a penchant for  vital noise that recalled the “No-Wave” scene from New York in the early ’80s mixed with a touch of Runaways-ers Joan Jett.

Sonya Decman of Smoothbore plays one of two basses in the guitarless band (Photo: MySpace/Smoothbore)

Sonya Decman of Smoothbore plays one of two basses in the guitarless band (Photo: MySpace/Smoothbore)

The trio provided a varied set of truly innovative songwriting, as well as a solid grasp of noise, featuring no guitar, and instead relying on Matt Flanagan’s (formerly from Black Smiths and Boss 302) “lead” bass, Scott Lewis’s (also formerly from Black Smiths, as well as Derailed) drumming and Sonya Decman’s (formerly from Symptoms and Tar Mints – an old-school personal fave –  among other local bands) “bass” bass. Throw in Decman’s wild and powerful vocals, and the result is something close to ‘80s New York No Wave band Live Skull and early “Death Valley ’69” Sonic Youth, with Runaways’ Joan Jett tinted vocals. In a word, stunning. When Decman raises her voice from the typically smooth, forceful threat to it’s highest pitch, you almost find yourself cringing in fear of her wrath. Their lyrics were smart, sexy and provocative, and the delivery was perfect. This trio shows quite a bit of promise, poised to take top seating in the local scene – if they can keep up with themselves.

Smoothbore at a recent Lions Lair gig (Photo: MySpace)

Smoothbore at a recent Lions Lair gig (Photo: MySpace)

Murder Ranks and Veronica at Meadowlark, Saturday, February 19, 2010

Again, Meadowlark comes through with a few of Denver’s most exciting bands – though these two largely feature some pretty popular names from Denver’s punk past. Nonetheless, they’re playing some of the more innovative and truly fun rock you’re going to find on the club scene.

Veronica is the musical brainchild of Ted Thacker and John Call, both formerly of the legendary Denver punk troupe Baldo Rex, along with Andrew Kotch, formerly of Tiger Beat. They flooded the Meadowlark that Saturday night with an exciting, sloppy-yet-ultra-tight sound that mixed faster Television with he instrumentation of Meat Puppets – though that only approximates the total experience slightly.

Veronica plays some of the smartest, raucous rock in the Denver scene - and has for a while (Photo: MySpace)

Veronica plays some of the smartest, raucous rock in the Denver scene - and has for a while (Photo: MySpace)

Thacker’s wild gesticulations entertained a small crowd – complete with at least three drunken college newbies (I’d be tempted to claim they belonged to a frat, but heard no Greek callouts – although plenty of happily spooned out derision amongst the three) – while he masterfully manhandled an old style acoustic with a simple attached pickup. Meanwhile Kotch fingered through some complex rhythmic melodies on the bass and Call flailed characteristically on the drums. The mix had the entire bar hooting, laughing, bouncing – you name it – all in an air thick with adrenalized euphoria.

After Veronica, Murder Ranks took over the Meadowlark. Dan Wanush’s (aka King Scratchie from the immortal Warlock Pinchers) vision that draws on Sandinista-era Clash dub, punk and dancehall, proved both intoxicating and addictive. Joined by typically echo-drenched reggae guitar played by Mike Buckley (from Nightshark), super dub bass played by Ben Williams (from Ghost Buffalo) and thick reggae drumming from Nate Weaver, Wanush took that Brit-Caribbean musical zygote and formed a clone of something even more powerful, more fun, and imminently danceable. The four piece all bounced in unison through an hour-long set, in which Wanush rapped, dribbled, spat and warbled often hilarious lyrics, occasionally run through an echo pedal for the perfect added flair.

Murder Ranks is re-igniting a fire for the fun of hard dub and dancehall, full of humor, fun and style. (Photo: MySpace/Murder Ranks)

Murder Ranks is re-igniting a fire for the fun of hard dub and dancehall, full of humor, fun and style. (Photo: MySpace/Murder Ranks)

These shows are just a few examples of the type of entertainment the Denver scene is offering, as it continues to transform itself yet again. The elasticity of this scene,  its adaptability and the level of general talent in town is what makes this scene the strongest in the country. While it keeps getting bigger, better and more exciting, it’s us in the audience that truly get to enjoy it.

So get out and see these bands. They deserve it, and will probably change your mind about the music you’ve come to know Denver for – for the better.


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