Sounds from Colorado: The Centennial State is a Hole

After the death of Ron Miles in 2022, Colorado has little to offer. Local networks are deficient, show spaces generally relegated to Denver, with the state as a whole treated as an after-thought on bloated touring schedules needing to check-off the western market.

Trying to get to the heart of any local scene since I first arrived in Colorado has been fruitless. My long time go-to’s for finding local acts is through mom’n’pop record stores. Whether I’m on tour or visiting family, if you’re looking for ‘the good stuff’ in a local music scene there is no better place to turn than the town’s record shops. Yet, here ‘local’ sections in record stores are usually limited to 5 lackluster CD-rs and/or include bands from a fair share of any non-coastal, non-southern states (Illinois in one instance).

There is nearly no-point in talking about music outside the sprawl that is Denver because the state itself seemingly refuses to acknowledge it- exceptions for legacy acts playing at Red Rocks and the occasional rumblings of a house-show once had in Fort Collins, of course.

Talk is guarded in Boulder county, fair. The Boulder PD have raided shows before. Yet there is a heightened culture of individualism which is conducive to scene-killing. Is it pretension? Is it cool detachment? 

Atop this is the transient nature of Colorado residency (eg. college students, tech industry diaspora). A vicious cycle to cultural growth efforts, few people ever seem to live in the state longer than 5 years. How can local scenes and sounds grow organically in such a high turnaround environment?

Detached from significant touring networks, Colorado isn’t a feasible touring option for smaller acts from outside the immediate region. Those who can make it are more significantly backed, big enough to draw festival spots and bigger guarantees.

So it’s been everywhere in all facets of music that instagramable moment-making approaches to showmanship triumphs over solid musical performances or artistic ingenuity. Cost of living in Colorado has been and continues to be incredibly high, making the travel to shows even more costly. All of this discourages new and old residents alike from going to smaller shows in neighboring towns with bands they haven’t heard of before.

Given Colorado’s general inaccessibility and the internet age’s low bar for content, jam music- whose devotees are seemingly always willing to have an excuse to drop out for a few hours- and legacy acts have conquered the public sphere of music in Colorado. This proliferation of established acts only contributes to the nagging feeling that Colorado is culturally 10 years behind the rest of the country in many, many ways.

Colorado is a destination for musicians no more. The 1970s are over, yet it still clings to the past. Unless the guards of local scenes adopt a militant ‘high tide raises all ships’ approach to growing Colorado’s internal and regional music networks, The Centennial State’s music scenes will remain under a doomspell.

The Centennial State is a hole.

REVIEW: Thriftwicker Audio Society – VOLUME IV – HOW TO LIVE A ZESTY LIFE (2021)

Like Kraftwerk at a lower bit-rate, this crunchy lil’ synth piece was self-released by Thriftwicker Audio Society in 2021. How To Live A Zesty Life (like a lot of art-brutish music) doesn’t attract the listener with any particular song as well as it functions as a background mood piece to play [insert activity] to.

For me, this might be playing a video game I’ve played a million times before. For others this could be anything. Too distracting to be ‘ambience’, too aloof to be engaging.

Thriftwicker Audio Society’s own take on plunderphonic’ absurdist humor is textbook, but not ineffective (track Thinker’s Milk and TURBOPUKE definitely got a chuckle out of me on the first two listens). Absurdist lyrics- phrases such as ‘drink your oatmeal and often’- are looped and manipulated over cellphone-sounding rhythms. How To Live A Zesty Life is fun and light on cynicism, which helps it stand out from more dense or pretentious punderphonic works emulating the genre’s classics.

These songs revel in a holdover of what we expect ‘digital’ to sound like- a holdover of oversimplified synth lines and looped drum machine rhythms that could easily be a false memory of the music on Bill Nye the Science Guy. More Chick Vekters than Macintosh Plus- it’s an interesting take on the 80s/90s nostalgia that has otherwise been played to death (and now feels insincere) within vaporwave.

If they wanted to, I have a feeling Thiftwicker Audio Society could handle an album of more typically written of songs while remaining true to their sonic palette, and create a very memorable album in the process.

For fans of: Men’s Recovery Project, John Oswald, Strawberry Blonde

Like Thriftwicker Audio Society? Give these a listen: Acetantina, Nostalgianoid, Will Powers

REVIEW: Client_03 – Ur_Luv / Interpersonal Relationship Assessment (2021)

“It sounds a lot like you’re the one assessing us”, the ‘interviewer’ says. So what does that make this?

B-side track Interpersonal Relationship Assessment is a 12 minute sound play of the character that is Client_03 being ‘assessed’; a therapy-like interplay in which a feminine robotic voice answers a down pitched interviewer’s questions. All and all, it’s a not-so veiled comment on Neo-liberal capitalism (or ‘late-stage’ capitalism as Mark Fisher put it) in which ‘the artist as character’ acts as a comment on our collective humanity drowned out in the pursuit of productivity.

There isn’t much out there on the ‘sentient computer program’ character that is Client_03, and that’s probably how Charlie Fieber intends it to be.

Screenshot taken on 4/08/2022 from video 'Client_03 - Ur_Luv' uploaded 9/12/2021 on Youtube by Supermarkt.
Screenshot taken on 4/08/2022 from video ‘Client_03 – Ur_Luv’ uploaded 9/12/2021 on Youtube by Supermarkt.

Fieber, better known as Fracture, is an electronic musician from the UK and is one of the founders of the Astrophonica label. And while it isn’t immediately confirmable, it seems pretty likely that they’re one and the same. You didn’t really believe AI music programs were flippin’ samples this well, did you?

Nevermind all that.

A-side track Ur_Luv is an absolute Electro jam. Pitched out and glitched out, Client_03’s flip of Collapse’s Hold Me in Your Arms vocal track grabs the listener’s attention by the ears and never lets go. Swishy drum machine rhythms and punchy kicks keep on stepping as a fat synth acts as the minimal but deep groove needed to push this track to perfection.

Ur_Luv is complete Electro bliss.

Go grab it while it’s still online.

For fans of: Fracture, Adam F, DJ Solo

Like Client_03? Give these a listen: A_GIM, Siu Mata, Phasmid

REVIEW: Slow Blink – Time Constant (2022)

In a buzzy glow of lo-fi warmth comes Slow Blink’s Time Constant. Released last week on April 1st, 2022, Time Constant is the 4th full-length album by Chattanooga, TN’s Amanda Haswell through their Ambient project Slow Blink.

Performed live at Stove Works in Chattanooga on March 18th, and while less doom-laden than their former live album Pangea, Time Constant manages to enchant and haunt the listener in a doom spell of earthly contemplation.

The warmth of the analog tape loops mimic the environmental noise that one comes across in nature- be it deep in the woods, up in the mountains, by the ocean, or standing in a median of a parking lot looking at little strands of grass. Chords warp and swell past. Live instrumentation atop tape loops, like glockenspiel on the titular closing track Time Constant, is classic Haswell modus operandi.

In its exploration of time, Time Constant displays an absolutely mature, haunting beauty. If you enjoy lo-fi Ambient, you absolutely need to hear this album.

For fans of: Tim Hecker, Grouper, Susumu Yokota

Like Slow Blink? Give these a listen: Robert Chamberlain, Music For Sleep, Brian J Davis

The Resurrection of Goonew, + Brief Thoughts on Grief

Grief is an inevitable part of life. How we each handle grief is a whole other bag.

Metro area rapper Goonew (given name Markelle Antonio Morrow) died late last month on March 18th at the age of 24. Shot in Prince George’s County, Maryland, he died later that night at an unspecified hospital.

So why is our cruel ‘chew’em’up spit’em’out’ news cycle returning to him a few weeks later?

On Sunday, April 3rd, Goonew’s embalmed body was propped up at Bliss Club in Washington, DC. The headlines ran something like this:

“Body of slain Maryland rapper Goonew propped up on nightclub stage in ‘horrifying’ display for public showing: reports” – Brian Linder, PennLive Patriot News 4/04/2022

Club Responds to Backlash for Goonew’s Deceased Body Standing on Stage” – Trent Fitzgerald, XXL 4/04/2022

“Corpse Propped up In Nightclub … On Display During Funeral” – n/a, TMZ 4/04/2022

You can almost hear the disappointed mumbling on the [relatively] sobering TMZ headline.

Some reports made more clear of the event’s purpose. Billed as The Final Show, some articles make a point to call the event at Bliss Club a memorial or a funeral and not just a general club night or concert. While I haven’t found any promotional materials (flyers, graphics, etc.), how the event was promoted will likely gauge the intended effect of the show, be it anything from a loving final send off to a Barnum-esque promotional stunt.

It’s a tricky situation in which we don’t know all the details. Speculation leads to accusation and justification; the fascination with death, the pursuit of wealth, internal and communal grief collide.

If you’ve ever had a friend that’s been drunk, or just feeling goofy, they’ve probably said something along the lines of ‘when I die, do _____’: some non-traditional funeral process like shooting them into outer space, burying them in a corvette, etc.

We, the speculating public, don’t know what Goonew asked for or would have wanted. And so it’s important to remember as we wait for things to uncover: Markelle Morrow was a person, and in being so lived a life that ought to be considered equally grievable to all others.

Let his family and friends go through what they need to go through, let his community go through what they need to go through. If they want you to party, they’ll come out and say it.

Rest in Peace.

REVIEW: Tokyo Wanderer – Incubus (2019)

Tokyo Wanderer crosses the connections between all the ‘wave’-genres of the late naughts and teens; Synthwave, Outrun, Chillwave and Future Funk blend in and out across the album. Only Vaporwave fails to make an overt appearance.

Incubus is clinically cold. Synth lines and ‘glitched’ out chops are warped through phasers, both standing as foundational sonic elements. Big, spacious guitar solos mimicking 80s corporate rock inject a liveliness to the early tracks- helping the songs shift and morph in a more organic direction as they go. It is all very sonically pleasing.

But as the first 3 tracks roll over into the album’s latter half featuring guest musicians (mostly vocalists), Tokyo Wanderer is lead astray. 4th track and album midway point Loveless, featuring vocalist Lavera, is a delightfully poppy track, reminiscent of Kali Uchis’s first album. But with a tight EP contained in the album’s first 4 songs, Incubus tanks into grievously bad territory.

First offender, the song Drown, features singers Phaun and Nuno Renato Guerreiro. Tokyo Wonderer’s guitar work turn to softer, 90s style-alternative; warbling and burning up under tremolo and overdrive while Phaun contributes a somewhat lifeless Pop vocal performance. Crossing into the final third of the song, the predictive Pop stylings of breakdown-bridge to turn around show. It’s all pretty standard, until Nuno Renato Guerreiro comes roaring in with the most powerless, processed, and airy guttural vocal delivery I’ve heard in a long time. It’s a vocal style so terribly out of place anywhere on the album that it came as a shock. Science asked if it could, but it never asked if it should.

Following this, the song Hurt kicks off with 4 minutes of what sounds like someone taking direct inspiration of Miyazaki’s go-to composer Joe Hisaishi and British Industrial Metal legends Godflesh. Not bad if I do say so myself. The album’s lengthiest song at 7 minutes 58 seconds, I actually quite enjoyed it. But at 4 minutes and 12 seconds in- and still reeling from the prior track- I was sonically accosted by Nameless Warning. Having been silent up until this point, I began to assume they were contributing something other than vocals- perhaps part of the new ‘Doom-y’ guitar elements. But no.

Sounding like a yassified Microsoft Sam, ‘just popping in’ to deliver you a ‘sad boy’ shtick of lyrics, this might be the biggest upset in recorded music history.

The titular closing track features Sola The Luva, Shrouded Serenity, Indyadvant, and a second vocal feature from Phaun. The corporate Rock guitar soloing is back and this time it’s less pleasant. Incubus makes a brief detour into trap territory before arriving at the song’s (and I guess, in turn, the album’s) final destination: chunky Alternative Metal.

That’s all that ought to be said.

For fans of: android52, Washed Out, Slime Girls

Like Tokyo Wonderer? Give these a listen: Pachinko, Warpaint, Neon Indian

REVIEW: Sierra Ferrell – Long Time Coming (2021)

Released on Rounder Records in 2021, Long Time Coming is the third full-length album by Nasheville, Tennessee-based Sierra Ferrell. The musicianship is impressive, but can’t get me far enough away from this nagging lack of interest. The songs, their compositions and performances are very pretty, but lack conviction or something to really grab hold of.

It general, Long Time Coming is a grab bag of American busker stylings put to a full band and sung real pretty. There isn’t much else to say. It’s too straight forward to be cheesy, too mundane to be interesting.

Entering the latter half of Long Time Coming, a new infusion of calypso instrumentation breaks from the album’s previously established Ragtime Americana. But by the end, Ferrell changes directions again for a sound more ‘Country’- whatever that means to you, the reader. Pedal steel comes blubbering in like it’s holding back a tear on tenth track In Dreams, then dips out before two final schmaltzy tunes.

It’s for someone, probably, but there isn’t much to sink one’s teeth into.

For fans of: Nick Shoulders, Albanie Falletta, Rosali

Like Sierra Ferrell? Give these a listen: Carolina Catskins, Frank Hurricane, Tatiana Hargreaves

REVIEW: Christian Mistress – To Your Death (2015)

One thing that contemporary Rock never shed from its predecessors was overt-cheesiness. So a Hard Rock / Heavy Metal retro act coming out of Olympia, Washington in 2008? An element of cheesiness is a certainty.

Released on Relapse Records in 2015, To Your Death immediately embraces such cheese on opening track Neon, containing lyrical moments like “can’t escape the knife of the neon lights burnin’ out the stars” and “…just a teenage dream lookin’ for a scene and falling apart.” But the vocals wail, the solos shred, and the rhythm section chugs along as Christian Mistress carve their groove.

The album opens up new territory, daring to break away from its retro reservations. Songs like Eclipse and Open Road are absolute standout tracks. Hefty and vivid songs with which Christian Mistress provides vigorous performances. As praised elsewhere, vocalist Christine Davis is excellent, and delivers a powerful and dynamic performance.

With exception to a slight gothic element on Lone Wild, To Your Death is a Hard Rock / Heavy Metal album and the guitars want you to know it. Little flairs and outbursts decorate otherwise rhythmic-centric sections, where the instrumental track titled ‘III’ displays a profane excess of guitar overdubbing- no one guitar standing out or particularly saying anything. There is nothing left to be implied, and certainly no room for it.

To Your Death understates Christian Mistress’s rhythm section. If you’ve spent any time drumming or playing bass than you can can tell Reuben Storey (drums) and Jonny Wulf (bass) have a wealth of talent that isn’t even close to being explored.

Ultimately, To Your Death is a fun and debaucherous Rock record otherwise held back by an imbalance of its rhythmic core and melodic ornamentation. To Your Death …by a million guitar licks.

For fans of: Heart, Queens of The Stone Age, Acid King

Like Christian Mistress? Give these a listen: Bundle of Hiss, Raging Slab, Lions

Sounds from Osaka: Exploring Punk, Indie, and Alternative Music from Osaka, Japan (Framtid, Kung-Fu Girl, Junky58%)

Sounds from Osaka is our first article in a series highlighting local scenes in multiple ‘postcard length’ album reviews. We’re looking to do more of these scene focused articles in the future! Go to our contact page and let us know about your local scene and we may just cover it. Till then, consider this article ‘postmarked’ March 27th, 2022!

That said, is this list looking a little incomplete? Because we’re sure it is. There may be more pivotal bands in the Osaka scene, but we’ve decided to go with what stuck out to us via Bandcamp, recommendations, and liner note skimming, so Skate Punk bands like The Skippers or Manchester School (M.A. School) won’t be on this list. Consider this a small round up of Punk, Indie and Alternative bands from Osaka, Japan.

Diskover – The End Has No End (2018)

Noisy and nasally Pop Punk, The End Has No End is a lilting and lo-fi record worth a listen. The 3-track EP by Diskover has all the melancholic emotional weight one could hope for from Pop Punk and Power Pop. There isn’t much readily known about them, but they’ve had one release since: a self-titled 7” EP available through nearly a dozen smaller record outlets. You can also find it through the Punk & Destroy record shop and distro, located in Osaka.

Argue Damnation – The Situation In Society Is Worse Than Before, It Is Getting Worse. Direct Action Now Demo (2021)

The medium is the message- and so too, in this case, is the album title. Not ones’ to waste space, Argue Damnation’s ‘The Situation…’ is a collection of demos for what was their third and final album Direct Action Now, recorded and released in 2000. Tracks like Direct Action Now, Number People, and 反新安保 (‘Anti-New Security’) break out of the tight mold of D-Beat and Crust for something more expressive than many of their contemporaries, while Up The Punx gets as close to ‘punk anthem’ material as possible without getting too corny.

Argue Damnation were active from 1994 to 2003, but their music still resonates.

Shonen Knife – Pop Tune (2012)

While I never promised a comprehensive list, I would feel remiss for not including Shonen Knife. Take it from their Bandcamp artist-bio:

“Shonen Knife was formed in 1981 by Naoko Yamano, her friend Michie and sister Atsuko. 35 Years, 19 albums and well over 1000 gigs later the band is as strong, fun and original as ever…”

For this list I’m pulling their 2012 album Pop Tune, whose titular track is so satisfyingly bubbly and fun. People more in tune with the D-Beat and Crust bands on this list may roll their eyes, but Shonen Knife’s Phil Spector and Ramones inspired Alternative Rock’n’Roll sound is a delightful and uplifting force in the cross-cultural milieu of our ever increasingly interconnected lives.

Junky58% – おい、ミルクじゃなくて酒よこせバブー (2020)

おい、ミルクじゃなくて酒よこせバブー, or Don’t Milk, I Want to Alcohol (Google translated to ‘Hey, Give Me Sake, Not Milk.’) is a pumped up Pop Punk EP by Osaka’s Junky58%. Their early Green Day influence might be most noticeable on midway track Junky Band, but flows through the album’s joyous celebration of alcoholic shenanigans (and chocolate cookies?); a high-spirited step away from some of their more melancholy-tinted peers. As someone generally uninterested with alcohol-centric Punk and Rock music, I still found ‘Don’t Milk,…’ a worthwhile and fun record, going near the top of my wishlist.

OXZ – Along Ago: 1981-1989 (2020)

OXZ (pronounced ‘awk-zed’) are in a Post-Punk vein of their own creation, but could be roughly triangulated with bands like Suburban Lawns, Ausgang, and The Passions. OXZ weren’t afraid to include big spacial synthesizers on otherwise dry recordings. This makes for a rare listening experience, especially in the midst of the slog of ‘Post-Punk’ and ‘Goth’ worship bands coming out of the Anglosphere currently.

The compilation, released by the NYC independent label Captured Tracks, shows OXZ’s artistic progression across the band’s 3 EPs and single released during their band’s original run. It’s incredibly satisfying hearing where they took things as their song writing grew stronger and stronger. Personal favorite tracks from Along Ago: 1981-1989 include Vivian, Boy Boy, and Is Life.

Framtid – Under The Ashes (2002)

Crust is universal, so it seems. So I’m not surprised to find heavy hitters Framtid among the crowd. The band’s 2002 release Under The Ashes features members Makino (vocals), Takayama (drums), Ryota “Jacky” Watanabe (guitar), Ina (bass) and Chuma on bass for tracks 12-21. Under The Ashes is unrelenting. With each track fading into the next one, the chaos never stops. I definitely recommend Framtid to fans of Crucifix and Napalm Death.

Kung-Fu Girl – Cassette Tapes Series Vol.1 (2021)

Cassette Tapes Series Vol.1 is a single release by the lo-fi Pop Punk band Kung-Fu Girl. A-side Rabuka might be my favorite, as it stood out to me immediately with its melancholic bubbliness. It’s absolutely something for fans of Full of Fancy or Bluffing. But b-side Ghost Girlfriend incorporates Power Pop sensibilities with raw Punk energy. It’s incredible, and a fun break from more D-Beat oriented bands.

Potato Headz – Potato Headz (2018)

Seeing “POTATO HEADZ” in a varsity font on a black and white concert pic, I wouldn’t have expected something so sonically interesting. Through and through, it’s your ‘classic hXc’ style beatdown Hardcore, but with just enough off-kilter weirdness and goofball energy to make it an incredibly fun album.

The riffs: chunky. The drums: hunky.

I’m all into it.

The Harriets – The Harriets 1st Demo (2019)

The laid back Indie jams of The Harriets’ 2019 self-titled first demo are easy on the ears, but don’t take that to mean ‘light listening’. The Harriets are made up of members Milk (guitar), Nana (drums), and Fumi (bass) with all 3 members contributing vocals. This relax-adaisical demo single features the a-side track Last Night backed with the fuzzed out I Don’t Care.

There’s an element to The Harriets that might make them an easy shoe-in for fans of bands like Slant 6 or Apocalypse Meow. The songs are minimal and well written, invoking an easy going feeling while keeping sonic vitality.

I would like to note The Harriets and the American band Frankie Cosmos as an ‘ideal’ double-billing for a tour. Seriously, can we make that happen?

Beverly Hills Ketsukon Hactyo (2004) [compilation]

Beverly Hills Ketsukon Hactyo is a compilation released by Centralscum in 2004 celebrating the marriage of WonWons bassist Mami and Haruo Ishihara (owner of Lost Frog Productions, “the oldest Japanese netlabel in existence”).

Beverly Hills Ketsukon Hactyo is a short but stylistically mixed bag. The lo-fi indie jam and titular track Beverly Hills Ketsukon Hactyo by Morino Jun (Moaco) is a fun and sloppy melancholic song in the style of Magnetic Fields. The album is balanced out with off-kilter Indie Electronic in a style similar to the UK group The Sons of Silence.

But by far, Loggins Alive by Izumi Headache of UltraFuckers is an immediate favorite. Thumping drum machines pound away under the clatter of metallic guitar noise and pitched and processed vocals that sound like the Max Headroom Incident. It’s a hair too wacky to be considered a Big Black tribute, but likely ‘just right’ for Men’s Recovery Project fans.

Keep your eyes peeled for an upcoming +Brief Thoughts article with a follow up to Beverly Hills Ketsukon Hactyo as well as Shock Rock in Japan and the USA.

REVIEW: Primeval Well – Talkin’ in Tongues with Mountain Spirits (2021)

Metal is one of those precious genres that can be dropped into any culture across the world and it will just work. Egyptian Black Metal? Brad Sanders wrote about it. Extreme Metal in China? Josh Feola got you covered.

But never had I heard something so uniquely Southern in the Metal genre until now. Nor had I expected to hear an ol’ time snare shuffle on a Black Metal album. But let me tell you, I’m glad I did.

Talkin’ in Tongues with Mountain Spirits is the second full-length album by Nasheville, TN outfit Primeval Well. Taking the more raw, atmospheric sound that is Black Metal’s specialty, Primeval Well experiment with Post-Punk guitar melodies, shuffled Country/Folk jaunts which break out into full blast beats, and plenty of twang. This band is the Wire of Appalachian Black Metal and I’ve never been happier.

Nearly every track is a hefty 8-10 minutes, but how Primeval Well weaves through movements keeps each composition feeling engaging and lively (not a term usually associated with Black Metal, but it’s time). The second half of the album incorporates certain elements of Stoner Metal, fuzzed out thick riffs and a faint wah-wah element.

Talkin’ in Tongues with Mountain Spirits is melodic in unexpected ways, blending and bleeding soul with haunting atmosphere. If you’re looking for something different, Primeval Well is for you.

For fans of: Negură Bunget, Bathory, Windhand

Like Primeval Well? Give these a listen: Batushka, Vile Haint, Colin Stetson / Sarah Neufeld Duo

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