I’ve been writing about music for five years, and today (26th July 2015) it’s over. It’s been such a thrill for me to advocate for and enjoy the music of so many talented folks over the years. Thanks to all who shared music with me, read and shared my reviews, and loved the scenes with me. Time for me to chase some melodies of my own again. My reviews will remain live for the benefit of the musicians they are about, but I won’t be responding to new inquiries for reviews. Love to all. See you out there. – Darren Thornberry
Montoneros: Bikini Largo (in review)
Something different this fine Friday. Denver math rockers Montoneros today release their new single, Bikini Largo, which you can hear below. Man, this song lifted me out of a pit of musical boredom. I get that way sometimes … everything starts to sound the same.
But math rock’s another critter. You can’t casually listen to a song like this. For starters, it’s sung in Spanish (LOVE IT), and its time signatures are too shifty to just bob along. Jazzy syncopation. Rhythm leads where it’s led. The song has a killer beach vibe, but the lyrics belie any sunshine.
This is an exciting time to catch on to Montoneros: Gastón Leone (voice, guitar), Logan Boyd (guitar), Brandon Brook (drums) and Jeremy Crawley (bass, voice). Last year’s debut album, “If You Think You’re In The Wrong Place, You’re Probably Here,” was voted one of year’s best by Westword Magazine.
I’m just getting into Montoneros’ music, but what I’ve heard so far is completely refreshing me as the doldrums of summer threaten to put me into a musical coma. This isn’t quite the right comparison to make, but the feeling is something like the first time I heard The Mars Volta. Totally intrigued, completely engaged.
Check out Montoneros at Denver’s Underground Music Showcase on Sunday, July 26th, 9 p.m., at Moe’s BBQ. Until then, if you’ve got 69 cents burning a hole in your pocket, buy Bikini Largo here and let your new jam begin.
Teacup Gorilla: The Holes They Leave (In Review)
It’s not quite minimalist, not sparse enough for that. It’s not an explosion in the sky, either. No, the debut e.p. by Denver’s Teacup Gorilla – The Holes They Leave – occupies a middle place that immediately brings solace to the weary ear. You know when you’re sipping your Pabst at the venue and the band is chopping away, and you catch yourself watching intently as well as bobbing your head almost in slow motion? That’s what this is. In drink terms, we’d call it a “Franzy Reed,” which is an imaginary blended music beverage consisting of Lou Reed’s warbly chat and Franz Ferdinand’s staccato chisel riffs. With an Ian Curtis olive and a Dean Wareham cherry clinging to the same tiny umbrella. All good ingredients.
Please check out Riding SideSaddle*. I so love it when musicians have their hands in other creative works that then come back around to benefit the tunes.
The e.p.’s five songs are pretty seamless in style. There’s a ton of breathing room. Strumming and single-note picking, glock sprinkles, and spoken vocals. To my ear, the bass is the anchor of the project. It stays put so everything else can explore. Without (and perhaps with) previous knowledge of the novel, the lyrics are pretty heavy. They hang, wet blanket style, over the music bed and damn it works. Eby says the band members’ vocals have always been a mix of spoken and sung, even in previous projects.
RELEASE GIG THIS WEEK: Thursday, July 9, at Hi-Dive with Bad Luck City, Coastal Wives, and special guest Jen Korte. Can’t make it Thursday? Then get to The Bakery on Friday!
Teacup Gorilla will also be touring the Midwest for two weeks in August, promoting both the album and the novel.
Todd Adelman: Highways & Lowways (in review)
Funny, the people I meet sometimes. I crossed paths with Todd Adelman in a most unmusical way: a business meeting. But the gods decreed that I should find out about his music, and now I’m no less than stoked to report on his latest album.
Todd lives and runs The Mountain House studio up in Nederland. You might know Nederland from the storied Caribou Ranch studio that brought many a musical icon to this tiny town. These days, Nederland is still home to musicians a’plenty, and the legendary Pioneer Inn is as good as it gets for a pint, a band, and some chin-wagging.
“Highways and Lowways” is officially my summer jam. Music lovers in Colorado tend to go pretty nuts for the blues this time of year, and I can hear these tunes bouncing off the mountains at every festival from Telluride to Trinidad. Anchored by 14 original songs by Todd, the album was recorded at The Mountain House by a bevy of A-list players including Andy Hess (Black Crowes), Diego Voglino (Marshall Crenshaw), Doug Pettibone (Lucinda Williams), Kelvin Holly (Little Richard) and Pete Rubens (The Old Nationals). Chad Hailey (JJ Cale, Neil Young) and Brandon Bell (Alison Krauss, Darrell Scott) engineered and mixed it to tape.
I could stop right there, and you’d be scrambling to pull this album up online.
These melodies range from 12 bar blues to rock and country with folk sprinkles. I don’t know that I’d call this an Alt-country album. To me, the collective tone of these songs lacks a certain smugness (and I’m glad) that often comes with that label. One man’s opinion. Todd’s a one-man band on his own, playing guitar, piano, harmonica and of course singing, but wow the band kicks ass.
“Save Your Tears (For When I Say Goodbye)” is a jangly piano-driven ballad with bang-on performances on electric guitar and pedal steel. Todd turns some great phrases in this lyrical kiss-off, too.
My favorite track is “Ghost Train,” a straight-ahead song of lament lifted by a subtle horn section and delicate backing vocals set perfectly in the mix. Who among us isn’t haunted sometimes? A song like this grabs the heart and says what you perhaps cannot.
The lead single, “Cold Mississippi Blues,” is the one that’ll get you on your feet. It can hang with anything Drivin’ n Cryin’ is throwing down and summons just a hint of classic Skynyrd. I’m a sucker for songs with place names, too, so I can imagine sweatin’ out this love-gone-bad way down in the Delta.
Front to back, this album bends every note into submission on the way to becoming the sound of Colorado. There are nuanced surprises waiting; it’s a near-to-complete work when heard as a rhythm n’ blues record.
Todd Adelman and The Country Mile, his current band, have a number of gigs booked a little later in the summer. It would be well worth your time to seek them out and hear the live interpretations of these killer tunes. It’s summer – time to rock n’ roll.
Bad(ass) Case of The UGLYS
The UGLYS have been a band for nigh on three years, yet they performed live for the first time this February. Just imagine … three years of crafting tunes, exploring the sonic palette, before any stage time. I wish more bands would give their songs that much time to incubate, to evolve, to become. The UGLYS are Zach Kane (guitar, drums, voice), Jared Kane (bass … and brother), and Victor Jadlow (guitar, voice).
Now, things have gotten too legit for The UGLYS and their fans as the band is due to release its “High as Heaven, Drunk as Hell” e.p. on June 26th. It was recorded by former Suicide Squeeze artist Tim Gerak (The Photo Atlas, InnerOceans) at Mammoth Cave Studios in Denver.
The UGLYS are a post hardcore stoner/punk band. I think that distinction is right on. There are too many tempo changes and heavy, heavy riffs to be punk in the Ramones sense of the word. How about this: If The Mars Volta, Screaming Trees, SOAD, Royal Blood and Rancid could somehow all parent one musical child, it might – might – sound a little like The UGLYS. That’s my take. I’m happy to hear something this aggressive that’s anchored by some theory chops. Keeps it interesting. I’m a fan.
“High as Heaven, Drunk as Hell” is a 20-minute blitzkrieg of styles in four blistering tracks. Zach Kane: “Our style is heavily influenced by the post-hardcore bands of the early 2000s, i.e. The Blood Brothers, At the Drive In, Underoath, etc., balanced with late 80s/early90s post-punk Fugazi, The Talking Heads, Liars. Then we threw in some stoner metal to seal in the mix (Sleep, Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats, Bison BC).” Preview a couple of tracks here.
The Denver release gig is on July 17th at Hi-Dive. This is gonna be a serious knockout event. Whiplash warning: Don’t come to mosh without getting limber first. The beat’s too hot for your safety.
Way Out West with Anthony Ruptak & The Midnight Friends
Arizona, California, Idaho, New Mexico, Oregon, and Washington, you’re welcome. Denver is lending you one of its best and most beloved bands. You are not entitled to keep Anthony Ruptak & The Midnight Friends, but you may enjoy their brilliant tunes as they embark on their first tour of western states this summer with Jacob Russo.
Don’t know Ruptak? From the bio: Anthony Ruptak is a proto-folk-rock band featuring the sounds of bowed upright bass, ambient electric guitar, unconventional standing cocktail drum kit, and acoustic finger-picking driven melodies. Eclectic and passionate vocals convey Ruptak’s mature and stark storytelling.
There is a live track here, recorded at The Walnut Room in Denver, that’s an excellent introduction to the band.
As others have noted, there’s the slightest Ben Gibbard quality to Ruptak’s voice and singing cadence, but unlike Death Cab’s frontman, he bellows like a Fleet Fox with a tail of fire.
When the Midnight Friends lock into their groove, it creates a really inclusive space for audience and band, which is part of the reason audiences are so quick to sing along. Ruptak’s melodies beg for a chorus of voices. Straightforward songs with nuanced playing that straddles the line between folk and ambience.
The band has shared the stage with the likes of A. Tom Collins, Paper Bird, The Yawpers, Slim Cessna’s Auto Club, The Tinder Box, Nathaniel Rateliff, and dozens more. They even went to pre-political-thaw Cuba to entertain U.S. troops.
Now, western brethren, they’re heading your way. We know you’ll love ’em, so tell your friends the Midnight Riders are coming.
The tour kicks off at home at Lion’s Lair on June 26th with Poet’s Row and Tree Machines.
7/3 – Portland, OR ~ The Velo Cult Bike Shop & Tavern
7/4 – Tacoma, WA ~ Independence Day BBQ show w/ Sporty Lee
7/5 – Seattle, WA ~ The Blue Moon w/ Sporty Lee and Medicine Bows
7/6 – Portland, OR ~ The White Eagle
7/7 – Chico, CA ~ 1078 Gallery w/ Jeb Draper
7/8 – Sacramento, CA ~ The Torch Club
7/9 – Sacramento, CA ~ The Shady Lady
7/10 – San Francisco, CA ~ Optical Underground
7/11 – Los Angeles, CA ~ Genghis Cohen
7/12 – San Diego, CA ~ The Tin Roof
7/13 – Phoenix, AZ ~ The Trunk Space
7/15 – Tempe, AZ ~ Yucca Tap Room
7/16 – Tucson, AZ – The Fly Catcher
7/17 – Santa Fe, NM – GHOST (diy space) w/ Cole Bee Wilson
7/18 – Grand Junction, CO – The Local w/ Mount Orchid
7/19 – Montrose, CO – Town Hall Tavern
Helicopter Copter: Denver Collaboration Uplifts, Refreshes, Challenges
Musicians and music writers alike do get tired of the same. old. thing. Our fingers, usually so merrily picking and typing, grind to a halt. Our songs stop coming. Words don’t flow. Finding new ways to interact with art is, I’d say, essential to creating art.
On a day when my inbox was flooded with coverage requests from bands flitting through Denver on their way to bigger and better, something homegrown caught my eye: an art project I would come to realize is remarkable.
I became acquainted with Michael John McKee when writing a previous review of Glowing House, a band among several for which he is drummer. Michael is now the mind and heart behind “Helicopter Copter” – a mixed media art project incorporating “adventurous processes, materials, and collaborations.”
McKee, under his aircraft-ish art moniker, started an experimental song-to-video collaboration among four Denver artists called “Whisper Down the Lane.” The players are McKee (drums), Ian Argys (guitar), Neil McCormick (bass) and Merne Judson III (videos). Here’s what happened, in his words:
Each of three musicians recorded two primary tracks (thematic musical ideas) and passed one to each other musician. Having received two primary tracks, each musician recorded secondary tracks onto the primary tracks. Secondary tracks were passed again, and tertiary tracks were recorded. All recorded layers were then passed to a videographer for visual content, recorded in Colorado. One video was released each week, between March 26 and April 30, 2015.
Helicopter Copter describes itself as a “sound experience,” exploring the ways in which music and sound is created and perceived. Challenging musical paradigms. Asking where music lives and dies, how it consumes and is consumed. The evolution of the songs and attached videos unfolds right here.
I love to imagine the second musician listening to what the first had recorded. The sparks igniting in his musical heart as he considers what comes next. There is a certain solitude that comes through loudly for me when I watch the videos. The way the images roll along, the absence of voice … there’s a melancholy thread to each film. I like to believe it just happens to feel that way as a glorious, unrehearsed consequence of the method used to create the songs.
There are standouts in each film: Ian Argys’ innovative, clutterless riffs in #1, Neil McCormick’s driving bass line in #2, Michael McKee’s jazz session drums in #3, Judson’s shimmering nightscape in #4 … aaahhh. Throughout, there is plenty of Colorado snow that, to me, stands in for the vocal – a mute witness to each scene. I think the best way to take them in is all at once, headphones in, lights down, somewhere that you won’t be disturbed.
What do you take from the series? What might you and the band do different the next time the muse taps your shoulder? Perhaps Helicopter Copter can illuminate the possibilities. A beacon, if you like, that points to unknown musical shores.
Read another good review of the project on Westword.
Roma Ransom: A Colorado Original
I met Roma Ransom two years ago when they participated in the Mountain Acoustic Music Association’s Acoustic Idol songwriting and performance competition in Woodland Park, Colo. I was taken with their craft, their infectious joy, and their chemistry. Hearing them, I was transported back to my travels through eastern Europe and to my previous home in Edinburgh, Scotland, where sea shanties rang out through the pubs on a nightly basis. They’ve been on my radar ever since, and I’m happy to present their music and their story to you. Gordon Lewis’ remarks are included on the band’s behalf. – Darren
A chance encounter
Gordon Lewis and Grace Easley met in Springfield, Mo., busking in the downtown square. I was riding in a pedicab playing my banjo, and Grace signaled for me to come over to her and play some music and that’s where it began! We started traveling, somewhat like vagabonds, making money busking and getting whatever gigs we could.
At a Santa Fe gig in July 2011, someone broke into Gordon’s car and stole all their busking money. On the heels of that disappointment, the duo came to Colorado Springs and got teaching jobs. They found the local music scene to be very welcoming and tight-knit, so they stuck around.
The Music, The Muse
The band’s self titled album is for sale at gigs and online.
We have a tough time describing our sound since Grace’s and my musical backgrounds are drastically different. The music we create is a giant conglomeration of styles we have picked up throughout the years. I call our style ‘Eclectic Bohemian World Folk.’
That sweet band name, though …
We’re not true Roma, so I felt like we are ‘ransoming’ the music from the Roma culture, obviously with no intent for the Roma people having to get the music back from us. I also feel that the term ‘gypsy’ is very derogatory to Romani people so I did not want to use that in our name. I see the Roma culture being destroyed in the media … so I wanted to use our band name as a statement to raise some awareness about the culture as well as the music. And if you flip the word Roma, it spells Amor, which translates to ‘Love Ransom.’ So there you have it – many meanings!
A rich musical heritage
Grace started playing violin at age 7 and picked up the viola as a teenager. She also plays melodica, cello, harp, ukulele and lap dulcimer and is a tremendous singer. Grace was classically trained in St. Louis and was a part of the St. Louis Youth Symphony.
Gordon began playing saxophone at age 10 and guitar at age 12. He took piano lessons in his teen years as well as band and choir. He had heavy doses of gospel and bluegrass growing up, but he also played in metal and punk bands. Gordon is a multi-instrumentalist, too, playing trombone, trumpet, clarinet, flute, bulbul tarang, harmonica, banjo, accordion, oboe, balalaika, bouzouki, bass, assorted hand percussion, violin, and any other instrument he can get his hands on. For live gigs, he mostly plays accordion and guitar but he has also been incorporating cajon, foot percussion, looping brass and woodwinds.
The Colorado Springs Scene
We love the Colorado Springs scene and are grateful for the musicians here and the help they gave us to make sure that we got gigs. We love to see new places, meet new people and try to make the most of our youth while we still have it! Playing music is still very fun for us so we figure we might as well keep doing it as long as we enjoy it. Lots of coffee and yerba mate keep us going!
It’s hard to say what our favorite place is to play. One cool spot we recently fell in love with was the Cloud Station in Crestone. It had a great vibe and was very fitting for our style of music. In Colorado Springs we always enjoy playing at The Wild Goose Meeting House, Coquette’s, Bristol Brewing and Rico’s, just to name a few.
On Songwriting as a Duo
Our process in writing a song is usually me coming up with a chord progression/rhythmic idea that’s typically influenced by a certain style I am into at the time. Then Grace will come up with a melody on the violin, and we will usually go through numerous variations on one theme to determine what our favorite parts are.
Augustus (and everything after)
*image above by Becky Guidera
See what I did there?
So, look. Most of my reviews are about Denver bands. Mile High has a lot going on, musically, and really it becomes a numbers game. There are so many bands to highlight, and most of them have the secret sauce.
But I have a secret, too. Despite being a fierce advocate for Denver happenings, I hang my hat in Boulder County. And I’m delighted when I can bang the drum for a really great Boulder band. So readers please give a warm Stubborn Sounds welcome to AUGUSTUS. I don’t know why they’re only now on my radar (my fault).
Augustus is a modern Americana trio featuring Colin Kelly on voice and guitar, Jesse Wright on cello, and Jim Herlihy on banjo, guitar, and drums. In 2014, they dropped “The Common Collapse” e.p., which you can pick up at their shows, online, at Absolute Vinyl and at Bart’s Music in Boulder.
I’m generally not smitten with band bios (sorry bands), but I was pretty blown away by the poetry of Augustus’ own description of its sound: “Harvested from the most significant American musical movements—bluegrass, folk, blues, and jazz—Augustus music reminds one of a time gone by that probably never existed, but one wishes it had. And while it is aligned with a current trend—the return to Americana: banjos, cellos, a kick drum, and a soulful singer … Augustus remains distinct, as do all groups that root themselves in truly great songwriting.”
I’m going to let that description do the work because I simply can’t say it any better. However, I do have an observation. Sometimes I get lost when searching for the Boulder sound. The positive of that is there’s plenty of variety in the Republic. The downside is that bands struggle to stand out. When I imagine what a pillar of the Boulder music scene might sound like, it should echo into the night sky. It should feel human. It should not shy from gravitas or joy. Lyrics are sung honestly, without affect. Someone’s truth, accessible to all. I have found this in Augustus.
“North” is the lead song on the e.p., and it’s been a hit for the band. It’s a stompin’ bluesy dirge that Robert Randolph could get down with – a complete foot stomper/head bobber making fine use of that distinct banjo sound. The e.p. is a moody, funky, genre-jumping trip with anchors in Americana.
Too bad for everyone already shaving their ‘tache and wagging fingers at “acoustic bands.” To you I say that when the apocalypse comes and you can’t plug in your Moog, Boulder will be clamoring for its sound, a musical belief system, and Augustus will provide it.
In the meantime, Augustus is playing around Boulder every couple of weeks, so go support and tell ’em I sent ya.
The Still Tide: Stirring new e.p. just released, tour underway
Man oh man, Denver is blessed with a glut of great bands, many of which consist of artists who came here from somewhere else. (The native Coloradan is an endangered species.) Such is true of The Still Tide – a local trio by way of the Big Apple. You’ll know Anna Morsett, singer and songwriter, from Ark Life, Kaki King, and These United States; Jacob Miller, lead guitar, via Anthony Ruptak and The Kissing Club; and Aaron Latos, drums and keyboards, for James Fearnley, These United States, and Karl Berger. Guest member Natalie Tate also appears on recordings and at various Colorado gigs.
The gang of three previously toured and recorded as Yet Cut Breath, and The Still Tide was a solo outlet for Morsett in the wake of helping to create Ark Life and while nurturing other projects, too. Fate saw that the three should reunite over the past year and craft the sound that led to the March release of the “Half Empty Rooms” 4-song e.p. and subsequent tour.
I am emotionally caught up in this recording. “Field of Bells” is a tightly-wound, melancholy tune that dips into deliciously minor keys. I might be hearing a glockenspiel or chimes, and I really love Anna’s vocal delivery. It’s given softly, not forcefully, which causes me to pay closer attention to the lyrics. Some singers play tricks, having written something completely lighthearted that sounds utterly sad. But this is no trick.
In “Empire,” the initial guitar swell makes me think of Bedhead, which is always a good thing. The melody flows like a lazy river, nodding to jazz chords while ascending into a blur of fuzz about three minutes in and then reducing itself again to a quiet beat. The feeling of this song is like waking up to a sweet-smelling rain.
The rest, you can discover on your own. Sadly, you’ve missed the e.p. launch, and you’ll have to be in Europe to catch a live show from now until June (unless you’re in Brooklyn on Friday night – The Living Room, 9 pm). But The Still Tide’s dreamy tunes will be echoing again in Denver soon enough. Patience, friends.