It’s a pretty bold statement, to be sure. But I’ll stand by it. The UMS – taking place this week from Thursday, July 28 through Sunday, July 31 in over 15 venues on South Broadway and featuring upwards of 400 bands (the vast majority of which are local Denver acts) – is, in fact, the only festival that matters. And here’s why….
I just had the pleasure of taking a class taught by none other than Sonic Youth co-founder Thurston Moore at Boulder’s Naropa University, a part of their famous and influential Summer Writing Program (SWP). The class itself – titled “Rock ‘n Roll Consciousness” – was a mindblowing, bucket-list-kicking, poetic and musical experience I’ll never forget. It was also largely about influences, roots of some of my favorite bands, originators of punk, post punk, and more.
In this digital age, where so many music lovers are unfamiliar with the concept of “listening to an album,” let alone actually owning one, local music scenes, and local shows are effectively the only thing close to the Cutout Bin.
I remember sitting in the class – I myself a few decades older than most of my classmates (well, except Clark Coolidge – a regular teacher and contributor to the SWP since its inception in 1974) – listening to Moore explain to a group made up largely of millennials what a “Cutout Bin” actually was, and grinning nostalgically.
The Cutout Bin = The Holy Grail
So you know, the Cutout Bin was a place that bloated, greedy (and dying) record companies would dump hundreds, even thousands of records that they couldn’t sell, usually in supermarkets, department stores, even record stores, to allow these outlets to sell them at a deep, deep discount (like, ¢.99). For whatever reason, if a label spent the money to record and produce, say, 150,000 copies of some band’s record, and sales came up short, they’d write off the vinyl copies and deliver them to the retailers.
These retailers would usually cut out a corner, or drill a hole in the label, or slice the upper corner of the record, and dump them all into a bin – sometimes hidden in the back side of the electronics section, but just as often even up in the front of the store. Record collectors – mostly teens with very limited access to very limited funds (like myself) – often found these bins the perfect place to discover new music, and build their record collections.
Moore explained how, in his youth growing up in Connecticut, he would mine the cutout bins and found such treasures as Stooges records – something he (and we) might have never heard if it weren’t for the Cutout Bin.
The UMS is your cool friend and is put together once a year to bring you the best of the best from the local scene, mixed with a whole pile of national underground bands that might have also found themselves represented in the Cutout Bin 40 (or so) years ago. The UMS is your opportunity to catch bands that will be the ones you’ll be introducing your grandkids to as the originators of the beats they’re torturing you with while they refuse to get off your lawn. These bands are the next Stooges, the next 13th Floor Elevators, maybe even the next Beatles.
And, for your convenience, we at DenverThread will be providing band recommendations for EACH. Hour. Of. Each. Day. Check back in every morning, before you head out into the maelstrom of hundreds of bands, and chek out our expert opinions on who we think you should see every hour. You’re welcome.
Night of Joy, Achille Lauro, Black Postcards (Local); Lee Ranaldo, Willis Earl Beal, Jeffrey Lewis (not local)
Well – This post we’ve got a bucket of sounds, and none too soon (having missed a while – our apologies)…. This one features a slew of locals – two from the same label (Hot Congress) and another totally DIY group that’s almost too new … but has promise. It also features a pile of national acts – a few coming to town soon, but all should be traversing your grey matter between you headphones – if not already, then soon….
Almost forcefully thrust through the 12 songs by a sledgehammered rhythm section laid out by bassist Bree Davies and drummer Fez Garcia, guitarist/vocalist Valerie Franz pulls sounds out of her guitar that make it seem like it’s been yanked into to life – and it’s none too happy. The squealing strings, impossible, hammered chords and purposely sloppy licks compliment her passionate, screeching, perfectly rough vocals.
At first Franz’s ambitious gravel growl could be mistaken for a posturing, Sleater-Kinney-esque anger. Wrong. She’s simply, forcefully passionate about these 12 songs – and it feels like she’s pretty passionate about the life behind them as well – and the vocals match the stringwork perfectly. Hardcore Girls is an ambitious, strong debut – also recalling a just a little Misfits and Minutemen as well as a little Sonic Youth in song construction – and, more than anything, it bleeds with the fun the trio obviously had making it.
Tip: Get a load of Davies’ Kim-Deal-eat-your-heart-out vocals in the twelfth song – a brilliant cover of one of The Breeders’ best. It started a whole week (and running) vinyl & CD revival of the Deal sisters’ work around here…
Check out Night of Joy’s video for the single John Candy below:
Achille Lauro are another band that’s been pretty active in Denver for a while – albiet a little longer than Night of Joy. They’ve built a pretty strong local fan base, too – a result of relentless gig-booking and local activism, no doubt. Well, that, and the fact that their music is imminently danceable, and actually makes you feel good – in an almost this-John-Hughes-tale-is-for-real way. The quartet’s latest record, Flight or Flight, also available from Hot Congress now, is a strong example of sweet, atmospheric rock, and replicates a sound that’s as much based in Sting’s jazz as Bjork and Yeasayer psyche-pop.
Live, the Mossman brothers – Luke on guitar/vocals and Ben on drums/vocals, along with Matt Close (guitar) and Jon Evans (vocals/bass) – make probably Denver’s best party band. That sound – hopeful, fun, careless – is caught pretty well on Flight, as as the songs’ clean, well-formed constructions. “Low Cha Cha” serves as a cautionary tail, the story of a clueless entourage-crasher, that stretches just a little too long – a brilliant echo of the annoying, time-wasting character. “Lightning” is destined to make more than a few party mixes – it evokes the perfect early Spring/Summer feeling of getting out into the quad and soak up the sun and throw around a frisbee. “Goddess an Island” is also a standout, begging for a top-down ride through middle of the city as the lights begin to go out in earnest. The whole record elicits unbidden feelings of relief, a “fuck it all, let’s just enjoy what we have now” feeling – without the impending fear of hangover.
Get your copy on Hot Congress’s website, and take a breather, then catch Achille Lauro at the Larimer Lounge on April 3. Meanwhile, enjoy this clip of “Lightning.”
Black Postcards - Inside the Shadow Box EP
Black Postcards – Inside the Shadow Box EP
The first EP from a local group just getting off the ground, “Inside the Shadow Box” shows a great deal of promise for Black Postcards. It’s definitely a good, somewhat psychedelic, heavily guitar-based work that showcases Candace Horgan’s skill. Horgan seems to wield the guitar like a fountain pen, writing strong, emotional prose in calligraphy, and then pure technical jargon with the same panache.
The single downside to the band’s overall sound is an unfortunately inescapable vocal comparison to Cat Stevens or Steve Winwood – which stand apart from the really strong songwriting and composition. In and of itself, vocalist Justin Newport’s performance is great – solid, strong, confident. But it just doesn’t go with the style of music Horgan and bassist/drummer/guitarist Adam Brinkman have worked together into such an appealing mix.
That said, the three songs ( and a remix) on this CD are inescapably infectious – and can hook you from the first listen. Maybe there’s a method to Newport’s unique pairing with the catchy guitar licks?
But that’s what first EPs are for, right? Listen to the EP opener, “Let Go…” and see what you think.
[wpaudio url=”http://www.denverthread.com/wp-content/themes/mimbo/sounds/Let Go ….mp3″ text=”Black Postcards – Let Go …”]
And now, on to more National releases that stand out about now:
Jeffrey Lewis - A Turn in the Dream - Songs
Jeffrey Lewis – A Turn in the Dream – Songs
(This one’s not so new – having been released last October – but is new to us, and worth a discussion. Sometimes even we have to circle back.)
If you remember Steven Tunney – also known as Dogbowl – with any sort of affection, you’re likely to warm up to Jeffrey Lewis. And, of course, if you’re a fan of Moldy Peaches (they “discovered” Lewis for Rough Trade around 2002), you’re probably already in his living room. Lewis, like Tunney, weaves childlike stories behind folky, singalong instrumentation led by his acoustic guitar that reflect heartbreak, rumination, rights-of-passage and commentary in the vernacular of strict adolescent logic. At least on the surface.
By his own admission, this collection of tunes is Lewis’s first time really wrangling pop songs – and he does the hook musically, it turns out, just about as well as he has lyrically and comically in the past.
Each of these 13 songs are small, poignant and incredibly catchy experiences in themselves, begging to be compared to Daniel Johnston’s brilliant lovesongs – and the comparison is valid. But Lewis comes across just a tad more conceived, rather than just spit out the way Johnston’s come across (perhaps the result of less medication, and an ultra-hip Brooklyn upbringing). Take the brilliant “Time Trades,” “Cult Boyfriend” and “When You’re By Yourself,” for example. These three are typical of the record, and fundamentally easier to swallow (even) than his earlier work – simultaneously more and less Mountain Goats, if you know what I mean. And the destined-for-classic “Krongu Green Slime.” To say too much about this one would be automatic spoiler material.
And – if you’re not familiar with Steven Tunney (Dogbowl, remember?) – but like Lewis, here’s a tip: Trey and find “Tit: An Opera,” or – even more grandiose and ridiculous – the novel Flan, and its accompanying CD of songs about the destruction of one person’s world, from a 6-year-old-in a 30-year-old-body’s perspective.
Here’s Lewis’s “Cult Boyfriend” from the record:
Lee Ranaldo - Between The Times And The Tides
Lee Ranaldo – Between the Time and the Tides
The fact that Lee Ranaldo’s latest solo work opens with the line “Coming in from Colorado” should be enough for the uninitiated – at least here in Denver – to listen to it, and then stay for the characteristic guitar work and solid song writing. After a simple, unassuming noodle, the opener “Waiting On A Dream” almost immediately explodes into something you’d almost expect on the next Sonic Youth record. It’s a perfect way to start this one, though, and it gives way to a truly varied, confident effort for the longtime noise innovator.
And that, actually, brings up a thought I couldn’t stop entertaining as I listened – over and over – to this record: With the uncertain status of Sonic Youth, as a result of Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore’s breakup, and the fact that both Moore and Ranaldo have released strong solo efforts in the past year, how many of these songs would have been on the next SY record? In that light, it could have been difficult to listen to “Between the Times and the Tides” objectively… but the songs stand so well on their own.
The album’s first apex, “Xtina As I Knew Her” is a seven-minute anthem that recounts a story of heady post-adolescent house-partying, reminiscent of the film “The Virgin Suicides,” but more sinister. It also brings back a feel of “Daydream Nation” in its balladry, with a backdrop of wicked, looping guitar licks on what sounds like hundreds of channels. “Angles” carries a slight nod to Dinosaur Jr., with some extra noisy jamming that evokes ‘70s rock, and “Fire Island (phases)” and “Lost (planet Nice)” both add a solid accessibility to the record with their strong, guitar-based pop hooks.
To balance any sign of levity, though, Ranaldo has included two psychedelic, biographic ballads in “Hammer Blows” and “Stranded,” acoustic numbers that – while they won’t likely define this record – show his introspective side, and a shade of Neil Young while he’s at it.
This is a solid, addictive record – whether you’re a Sonic Youth fan or not – and hopefully stands as a hint to what we can see from Ranaldo in the future, regardless of that other band’s status.
Check out the album’s opener, “Waiting On A Dream,” here.
[wpaudio url=”http://www.denverthread.com/wp-content/themes/mimbo/sounds/Waiting On A Dream.mp3″ text=”Lee Ranaldo – Waiting On A Dream”]
Willis Earl Beal - Acousmatic Sorcery
Willis Earl Beal – Acousmatic Sorcery
The spectacle of Willis Earl Beal is on the rise, and deservedly so. Beal recently told Pitchfork that he wants to be “the black Tom Waits,” and if the position’s open, he’s a shoe-in. Add a dash of Jay-Z (if he recorded in a bathroom stall in the back of a dive), and more Jandek than Daniel Johnston, and you have an idea of where Beal is coming from.
He lives with his grandmother in the South side of Chicago, and is locally famous for posting hand-drawn flyers (now replicated on his website) that invite you to call him for a song, or write him to receive a drawing (and the drawings aren’t bad at all, either – look at the video below). His debut record, Acousmatic Sorcery, will drop on April 3, from Hot Charity – an imprint of the Adele-infused XL Records indie label – and it’s one to definitely watch for.
Painfully D.I.Y. (and by “painfully,” I mean something more akin to “brilliantly”), the 11 songs will lead you through a mind and spirit that knows no real reason not to do what he’s doing, and that’s what may give it it’s most endearing power. Acousmatic Sorcery is replete with a tantalizing lack of pretense, and feels real, rough and honest in a way not too many records feel nowadays. “Cosmic Queries” is a meditation that brings to mind both the late Gil-Scott Heron (vocally) and John Coltrane (evangelically). “Evening’s Kiss” is innocent, summer longing, and pairs well with the spiritual backyard soliloquy of “Monotony,” while “Sambo Joe From the Rainbow” evokes a young Nat King Cole, crooning in an afternoon hotel room over a ukelele.
Beal’s music is so easily visceral it’s almost hard not to have very specific visions in response.
Beal will be opening for SBTRKT on April 10, at Boulder’s Fox Theater, on his first tour. Check him out – and take a look at the video below for a teaser.
Kevin Greenspon plays with light at the same time. (Photo: Kevin Greenspon)
So I guess it’s customary to pull a quote from the interview in question for an appropriate headline – but I didn’t. I pulled this headline out of the feeling I got from reading Kevin Greenspon‘s answers to my questions this evening, while being washed with his compositions.
I came across Greenspon’s work as a result of a Facebook post about his tour from my friend Crawford Philleo (of local upstarts Vitamins), which has a stop here tonight at Rhinoceropolis. After sampling a few moments, I was intrigued, to say the least. Greenspon’s ambient constructions, accented often and effectively with miniature bouts of cacophonous noise, immediately led my mind back into the experimental music of Glenn Branca and the NYC No Wave scene of the ’70s, and simultaneously recalled the new feeling of Brian Eno‘s earliest ambient work. But it also sounded improvisational, unintentional, and yet anything but.
I was also reminded of pianist Keith Jarret‘s unforgettable works, spiritual and cathartic as any music I’d ever heard, that I explored in my late teens – and that undoubtedly led later to my deep appreciation for the beauty of incongruous, atonal, arrhythmic and insolent noise – something over which I’ve never gotten, and that I hope I never will.
As I said, there’s nothing improvisational about these pieces. Like a great director or painter, Greenspon is always 100% in control, ahead, and can account for every crest and trough of each sound wave he’s passing along.
I immediately fired off a few questions to Greenspon after hearing some of his work, and he answered quickly. Read on to get a glimpse into the workings of the musician and artist behind this intense music.
And the GO SEE HIS SHOW AT RHINOCEROPOLIS – TONIGHT.
Here’s a sample of what you’re in for – to enjoy while you read…
DenverThread (DT) – I wonder if many critics are quick to put you in the Brian Eno camp of ambient, or Thurston Moore/Beck noise. But I hear a more Philip Glass/John Cage compositional influence (and what I heard today has had me listening to Glenn Branca again). Who do you count as your major influences?
Kevin Greenspon KG – On tours and in emails, I’ve actually received several comparisons to each of the artists you’ve mentioned among many others in the more present canon. Most people find it strange when I explain that while I’m familiar with their work, they’re not actually in my typical listening regimen. For the most part, I try not to repeatedly listen to too much music in those veins with any regularity. Naturally, I am influenced by contemporaries and pioneers in the field of experimental subgenres but focusing on them too much can be limiting to one’s own work.
Truth be told, I derive a lot of ideas from more conventional pop music and the radio. One of the elements of mainstream or accessible music that greatly interests me is pacing: the rhythm of how songs ebb and flow between sections, such as verses, choruses and bridges. A large proportion of ambient and experimental composition music invests heavily in long-form pieces that develop slower than most popular music. For the most part, I’ve found this to be somewhat inhibiting for me. This has led me to develop an interest in assembling songs that capture the glacial feel of music that falls under the ambient umbrella but also to condense them into a succinct pacing that is more akin to something you’d hear on top 40 radio: albums rife with 3 minute pieces in which sections change in patterns and timings quickly, with a familiar rhythm.
DT – I know you’ve said that you put a ton of work into your compositions/performances and that they’re not “just improvisational.” That said, how much weight do you put on the spirit behind them? Do you identify with Keith Jarrett, in that the feeling drives the sound, and if you find one you love you dig into it and explore it?
KG – I put a high value on the spirit or character behind the music. For me, feeling and sound are symbiotic; one cannot simply drive the other. It’s more of a tug-of-war or balance in which the two constantly play off each other. In this sense, writing, recording and performing can not be solely rooted in either feeling or sound. Different blends of the two are what stimulates the process of developing or reworking compositions.
For example, near the start of “Threshold” from my Common Objects LP, there is an arpeggiated guitar part that I fade in while tapping the frets on my guitar. The tones, note sequences and timing on the recorded version are different from when I perform it live. I feel the difference in the situation of listening to the record in a comfortable setting at home beckons a slower and more relaxed delivery. Live, this song is most commonly performed as a crossfade out of and into different songs than on the sequence of the album. Because of this change of feeling that is based in the order of songs (and what moods they convey) when performed live, I opt for a more urgent delivery of those notes as a prelude to the quick progression that follows shortly after in the live suite. There’s even a section where I have a sequence that taps along the lower strings, which is not even on the record, and all this happens in about 45 seconds as the first section of the song comes into it’s own. There are numerous situations like this that help me shape the performance of pieces that are already defined as songs on record, but take on a different character simply out of the feeling that comes from being in a live performance space, so the feeling and music are definitely dependent on each other.
Furthermore, I may arrive at a show and feel that certain songs won’t work in the feeling of a particular venue or situation, and omit them from a set in lieu of something more appropriate to the circumstance, such as when weighing the differences of performing in an art gallery or living room house show. The feeling of the spaces themselves is different and this can also factor into the music.
DT – It’s easy to attach a soundtrack feel to instrumental music, and that’s mostly (I find) unfair. Do you have any literate, cinematic or theatrical themes that you attach to your music, or that you build from?
KG – There is a storytelling nature that I find important in this sort of music. It’s a quality that gives certain albums a relatable feel as opposed to general experimentation or sounds without reason. However, I don’t want to subject audiences to specific ideas like they are hard-and-fast boundaries that define my songs. For example, I’ve seen a lot of albums that are intended as a “soundtrack to a non-existent film” which strikes me as odd. To me, that sort of thing implies there is something you may be missing when listening to it. My idea is to have listeners and live audiences develop their own stories, and for the music to be a vehicle for self-narration and not a defined road I put people on. This is why I opt to not use titles such as “And Then The Rain Fell On Our Weary Backs Like Diamonds From Trees” which is sadly too common in instrumental music. I prefer vaguer titles that fit together on an album as pieces of a conceptual puzzle, pieces whose shape and imagery is developed by listeners. The word associations are general guides along a path that is specific for myself, but offer different routes for audiences.
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…
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.
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”]
Il Cattivo - To Bring Low An Empire - The sound for what eats you, and then spits you out, molten.
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.
Sonic Youth provided a beautiful, otherworldly set heavy with tunes from last year's "The Eternal," as well as some older, immutable bits of genius last Monday night. (Photo: DenverThread.com)
After last Monday night’s show at the Ogden Theater, I’m convinced that Sonic Youth are immortals – beings that refuse to age. What else explains their uncanny ability to remain constantly relevant, prescient – and continuously young – in the face of a culture hell bent on replication of the popular, and often the most vapid? Of course, we could agree that the members of this group of musicians – more a family than a band, really, after nearly 30 years – are intuitive charlatans, well-versed in manipulation of guitar strings, effects, anti-rhythms and atonality, but also steeped in the pop ethos that breeds automatic acceptance – or intrinsic danceability.
But then, you’d also have to explain short lives of other bands that sprung from that same NYC, post-post-punk, “no-wave” noise scene that attempted to espouse that same musical ethos. The truth is, Sonic Youth has proven they’re not only the only surviving band from that movement – but that they’re the most deserving.
Kim Gordon, Thurston Moore, Steve Shelley, Lee Ranaldo and Mark Ibold add to the surreal feeling of Monday night's show with a more than appropriate soundtrack. (Photo: DenverThread.com)
They’re the only band that mastered the ability to turn pop sensibility on its ear, wrestle it through dissonant filters, and still know how to present the outcome in an irresistibly accessible way, without giving up any of their D.I.Y., no-wave roots.
Gangcharger played a secret show under an assumed name last Thursday night, and brought thier big, flourishing sound to an underprepared Skylark Lounge. (Photo: MySpace/Gangcharger)
There’s nothing like jumping back into the mix head-on, fearless and furious, ready to unleash a new set – and an entirely new lineup – on the local scene. Damn the torpedoes, you’ve practiced enough, and the new band knows all their parts! Fuck it! Get a show booked and get back on track!
Unless . . . you can sneak in a live rehearsal before actually letting the band out of the bag. . . . y’know, just in case . . .
And that’s what Gangcharger did last Thursday night in the Skylark Lounge. They booked themselves for the lounge’s “Indie Night,” a sort of open mic night, under the moniker Katie Hydel Cartel, and unleashed a brand new lineup, though, fortunately, not an entirely new sound, on fans that were savvy enough to be there. The Skylark crowd of about seven – a group of the bar regulars, friends of other performers, and a few unfortunate passersby who unwittingly stopped in for a drink – was tripled by 11:00pm to easily more than 21 as Gangcharger, erm, KHC, set up onstage.
“I hope so! Unless everyone quits . . . again . . .” – Ethan Ward, commenting on the likelihood that the current Gangcharger lineup will remain consistent for a while.
Ethan Ward, the band’s soundmaster, frontman and guitarist, is now the only remaining member of the version of Gangcharger that celebrated the release of their latest record Metal Sun, produced the typically thick, coiled and beautiful sound he coaxes out of his guitar and a suitcase full of effects for about 45 minutes with the rest of his new lineup. Including Paige Peterson, formerly of Boulder band Good Housekeeping, on vocals and synth, Adam Rojo, still guitarist for Ideal Fathers, on bass and new drummer Dan Barnett, the four piece almost literally blew the doors off of the venue. When Ward was ready to start, he threatened to keep from playing until the growing crowd moved up front, close and comfortable. They complied, but by the third song they had all retreated towards the booths and bar, a good 8 – 10 feet from the foot of the low stage, simultaneously awash in, and cowering from, the volume.
Putting on a secret show may sooth the nerves of a band in its early stages, and that’s a good thing, but Gang charger needn’t have worried. If anything, this lineup proved even tighter and more creative than the last. Those of us who knew enough to be there (many of us found out only the afternoon of the show) saw a Gangcharger onstage that has mastered not only its sound, but also its whole rhythmic philosophy. The sound entwines early, frantic and noisy Sonic Youth rhythms inside Kevin Shields chord habits and unleashes a sound that feels like it’s locked you in the trunk of a 1981 Camaro, as it drives at 145 MPH deep into the Western Slope towards Utah, and forces you to enjoy every minute of it.
The set’s few drawbacks could be attributed to the sound signature of the Skylark – it’s not really built for this kind of Great China-sized wall of noise – and the live, last minute open mic mix. The result was an occasional muddiness, and some random buzzing from the PA. I have to assume that the poor mix led to some of Peterson’s occasional caterwauling at just left of the intended key – which wasn’t a bad thing in the end anyway. A little work to make her voice as transfixing as it can be, and as central to the sound as her synth work is, and the band will continue to roll over and into the scene as it has been the recent past.
If this show was merely a toe-dipping in the playing-out water, I’m excited to see the whole body dive in. Gangcharger are set to debut their new lineup at Larimer Lounge – as Gangcharger rather than Katie Hydel Cartel – on Thursday, April 8, 2010. Catch them while they’re still underground – they’re worth it.
. . . the five-piece showed the surging Denver throng that it has reached a sort of musical plateau, one where it can perform just about any collection of new, old and really old material with aplomb and brilliance. They can whip any crowd into a throbbing fury, and then easily coax it back into placidity.