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….
Let’s dive in – locals first:
Night of Joy – Hardcore Girls are a Hoax
Night of Joy has been around the Denver scene doing everything themselves for a bit – and have always been mighty impressive. Pulling its sound from somewhere amidst the part of New York’s late ‘70s No-Wave scene led by Lydia Lunch’s Teenage Jesus & the Jerks, Glenn Branca’s Theoretical Girls and of ‘80s Post-punk like UT and Big Black, and ‘90s The Breeders and Bikini Kill, Hardcore Girls are a Hoax (available now on Hot Congress Records’ site, officially released March 21st) is a solid, visceral ride.
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 – Flight or Flight
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
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.
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And now, on to more National releases that stand out about now:
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 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.
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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.