While the rest of the world was tucked away in blankets sipping hot chocolate, roughly 70 people trekked out to downtown Denver in the cold, dreary weather to see one of Denver’s most non-dreary bands. Headlining at the Hi Dive, the Photo Atlas, along with the openers 1090 Club and The Forecast, put on a show that made all the hassle of driving through the downpour worth it.
As I waited for the show to start, I struck up a conversation with one of the maybe 10 people there (the rest showed up after the concert started). He said he used to write for Chicago’s version of Westword, a newspaper that especially spotlights local music. He made it a point to get to this show specifically for the first opening band, The Forecast. Hailing from Peoria, Illinois, The Forecast could best be described as a Midwest punk band straight from the mid-90′s. With the volume cranked up (almost to the point of discomfort), The Forecast blazed through songs with considerable skill as they mixed the vocals of both male and female lead singers with the ever-driving guitar. Their sound rang quite familiar since they come out of a well-explored genre. However, the songs were still distinct and there were no dead points to the set.
Next up was a band quite familiar to this blog, 1090 Club. The first content we put up here was a review of The Appleseed Cast concert where 1090 Club opened, shortly followed by a review of the album Natural Selection, which has since been released. Starting strong, the band kept a steady pace with their heart-felt vocals. Their unconventional mix including a piano and a violin, but lacking a bass, worked nicely for them. Similar to The Forecast, 1090 Club had mixed vocals frequently through their music. The darker sound of 1090 Club transitioned perfectly from the upbeat riffs of The Forecast to the minor tone of The Photo Atlas.
No newcomer to the Denver music scene, The Photo Atlas has a unique sound that can best be described as “dance punk.” Even my friend from Chicago knew of The Photo Atlas’ reputation around Denver. With an invitation for the spread-out crowd to come in closer “so we can all dance together,” The Photo Atlas started with their typical rock sound that broke down into a dance beat for the chorus. The complex guitar riffs, often reminding me of Saosin, tied songs together from start till finish. Vocals, closer to melodic yelling than anything else, fit well with their style of music. It was rather strange the first time the dance beats came in since it’s not expected at a rock concert. However, as the set progressed, people started moving more and more. Old songs and new fell together, pulling music from throughout their career. Time flew as the band played, making the end of the 45-minute set seem like it was still the beginning.
I pity all who decided against this $8 show because of the weather. We’ll keep you informed of other chances to see these guys. Video interviews with all three of these bands to follow…
Colour Revolt is a group with a European sounding name touring, living, and making music in Oxford, Mississippi. They were given their first chance to turn heads in 2006, when they toured with emo-rock giants Brand New during the summer months. During that time they were sporting a shiny new self-titled EP, which received praise from many critics in the music world. This spring, the boys in Colour Revolt have come back with a full length album.
Unlike their first EP, Colour Revolt’s Plunder, Beg & Curse is a more laid back disc. Rather than attempting to captivate minds through music and lyrics with just six tracks, the band paces itself for a full-length experience. From the opening track “Naked And Red,” the original and bold style with which the group plays is easily heard, but not quickly discerned. A flurry of electric guitars and raw vocals ring out in a style that is reminiscent of other musicians, yet hard to define by those terms.
Lyrically, Plunder, Beg & Curse is similar to a long modern poem written about classic topics. “A Siren” is a track about temptations and the fleeting nature of depending on other tempted people. “Moses of The South,” a song about suffering and realization, showcases the softer side of Colour Revolt as acoustic guitars take the foreground and reverberating echoes of electric instruments ring out in the background.
“If God is good why can’t I be?” are the deep words that open the closing track “What Will Come of Us?” As the album comes to an end, thoughts about the frailty of humanity and connection to greater purposes still resonate. The ability to cause people to stop and think is a powerful tool, and Colour Revolt uses it not only effectively, but beautifully as well. While they have yet to make a big name for themselves, Colour Revolt is on its way with their new album.
Since 1988, Pennywise have been turning heads with their straightforward style of punk rock. Nearly two decades since their humble beginnings, the Hermosa Beach, CA punks have come into the spotlight with their new album Reason To Believe, and their non-conformist distribution plans.
Fletcher Dragge, Pennywise’s lead guitarist, in a recent blog, said, “We know that this will piss off a lot of people in the music industry, and what do we say to that? ‘Who cares?’ We’ve been pissing people off for 18 years. Why stop now? We have been telling people to get our records by any mean [sic] necessary for 17 years. As a band, we decided that it was time to come to terms with the facts. There are a lot of people out there who want their music for free, so we got proactive and with the help of MySpace Records and Textango we found a way to make it happen…we couldn’t be more stoked…PENNYWISE FREE TO THE PEOPLE.” Until April 8, the new record is available for free via MySpace, but does the album stand up to its publicity? Pennywise have released eight albums prior to Reason To Believe, so they have developed their sound into what has become a standard for the So-Cal punk scene. Each song follows their straightforward, high-energy format; the only difference between tracks really lies at the lyrical level. Unlike their past works, Pennywise doesn’t focus on changing the government through protest, but rather seeks to cause change within individuals through the new album.
“Goodbye tomorrow, no need to follow, I live my own way, I won’t go back ’til my last day, wake up and lead!” are the lyrics that ring out on “Faith And Hope,” an anthem about self realization and individuality. The single “The Western World” is a highlight that lies in the middle part of the album. A critique of stereotypes and western culture, the song pries at the faults of popular culture. The in-depth self-examination continues on “Confusion,” wherein the singer deals with issues of disillusionment and truth.
Pennywise has come to a realization that much of the music industry is still trying to find: music, like ideas, should not be controlled by distribution markets and economic gains. The band members pride themselves on allowing their music to be heard by anyone anywhere, which is an admirable aspect to the new album. For a punk record it sounds very much like what should be expected, heavy guitars and speed drumming, so in that aspect it is not a let down. The only issue with the record is that it does sound incredibly similar to older Pennywise.
Murder By Death is a group that does not fit into categories easily. Perhaps that is what makes their music appealing. The quartet from Bloomington, Indiana, draw their specific sound from an eclectic mix of cello, electric guitars, vocals similar to those heard on old Johnny Cash records, and lyrics that are oftentimes morose, dark, and thought provoking. They have toured with the likes of post-hardcore pioneers Thursday, punk rockers Against Me!, and rock-a-billy giant Reverend Horton Heat.
Murder By Death debuted on Eyeball Records with their first album Like The Exorcist, But More Breakdancing, followed by 2003′s Who Will Survive, And What Will Be Left of Them? These releases garnered the band some attention, but their big breakthrough came with their 2006 album In Bocca al Lupo, a concept album about the ideas of sin and punishment in the old west. In 2007 Murder By Death signed to punk and emo label Vagrant Records, releasing their newest album Red of Tooth and Claw earlier this month.
Adam Turla’s deep, resounding vocals fill the first track as he begins with the words, “By the light of the moon, I’m coming home.” The story that unfolds on the disc has been described by Turla as a “Homer’s Odyssey of revenge, only without the honorable character at the center.” An old fashioned mix of western beats and piano fill “Ball & Chain,” giving a bit of contrast to the album’s first single “Fuego!” At this point in the story, a woman with a fiery personality and passion enters the scene. The protagonist fervently seeks the woman, but fears that he won’t find true love with her. The haunting instrumental track “Theme (For Ennio Morricone)” follows, and sounds like it could have been the background track to an epic western film. Seeking revenge of one variety or another, the protagonist becomes a merciless spectator to the demise of his enemies on “A Second Opinion.”
The story takes a turn as the protagonist convinces his nameless lover to run away with him on “Steal Away.” Fire comes back into the story line as flames engulf the protagonist’s home and possessions on “Ash.” He learns about the other side of vengeance and loss through the last part of the album. His best friend is doomed on “The Black Spot” and he runs away yet again in “’52 Ford.” The story comes to an end on “Spring Break 1899,” when the protagonist snaps out of his violent tendencies and sobers up. He tries to cover his pain with a variety of quick fixes, never finding contentment.
Murder By Death is one of the most intriguing bands performing today. Their music is deep and not easily digested, but does tell an epic story about the price of revenge and the pursuit of happiness.
St. Patrick’s Day has come early this year, break out the Irish beer, wear green clothing and listen to Flogging Molly’s newest album Float. Mines students may remember that Flogging Molly headlined the 2007 E-Days festival concert, which was one of the most popular parts of the festivities. Since last spring, the L.A. based Irish-punk rockers have been busy touring and recording. The newest disc from Flogging Molly is a return to form as they blend So-Cal punk with traditional Irish instrumentation.
“There’s a government whip cracked across your back!” are politically charged lyrics that start the album on the track “Requiem For A Dying Song.” Banjos, tin whistles, electric guitars and heavy drums fill the speakers in one of the most upbeat requiems ever heard. Moving from funeral songs to lamentations, “Paddy’s Lament” references a traditional Irish tune about immigration and exile in America. “Float,” the title track for the album, remains laid back and does not break into all out punk beats, but gives the listener a chance to hear the lyrics.
Similar to past albums, Flogging Molly focuses their lyrics on drinking, the lives of sailors, the enchantment of the sea, and occasionally politics. The pace of the album picks up again with “You Won’t Make A Fool Out of Me” and continues through until the closing track “The Story So Far.” A highlight of the second half of the album is “Between A Man And A Woman,” a track that originally appeared as a live track on Flogging Molly’s first release Alive Behind The Green Door.
Float is an enjoyable listen because of its high energy drinking songs and unique style. Flogging Molly have not changed their sound since the late 90′s, however they have not become stale in their approach to music. Of the handful of Irish-punk bands, Flogging Molly rises above others with their newest release.
Nada who? Casual music fans may not be familiar with Nada Surf, an alternative rock band from New York City, but they have been the unsung staple of college radio stations for over 10 years. Nada Surf’s 1996 semi-hit single “Popular” was the launching block for a new movement of rock music. Bands like Weezer and R.E.M. gained widespread notoriety and success during this time, while Nada Surf remained in the shadows, working on new material and slowly gaining a larger fan base. Their 2005 album The Weight Is A Gift, produced by Chris Walla, continued Nada Surf’s breakthrough to the mainstream. With their latest release Lucky, Nada Surf shows how far they’ve come and exhibits the sound they have developed over the last decade.
The record begins with “See Them Bones,” a moderately paced song with several layers. First, a simple guitar, bass, and drum ensemble fills the speakers, slowly complemented by strings and vocals (featuring a guest appearance from Death Cab For Cutie’s Ben Gibbard.) Next is “Whose Authority,” an upbeat tune that hearkens back to the glory days of 90′s college radio. “Beautiful Beat” fits its name with both strong drum tracking and great harmonies on the chorus. Nada Surf’s now polished sound continues through the middle part of the album. Highlights of the middle include the guitar driven “Weightless,” the laid back “Are You Lightning?” and the catchy “From Now On.” The album ends on “The Film Did Not Go ‘Round,” a softer, acoustic piece. The lyrics, “Girl I hate to see you go, but the sunlight follows you on down the road,” impart a sense of closure as the disc comes to an end.
Although large portions of the album blend together into a seamless conglomeration of 90′s-esque college radio pop, there are still pockets of innovation and boldness. Lyrically, Nada Surf has words that are catchy and sometimes thoughtful, although never overly-emotional. Taken all together, Lucky is a decent listen and a testament to the roots of modern indie-pop music.
Now that January has come and gone, the music industry is willing to release new albums, and for fans of Death Cab For Cutie, Chris Walla’s Field Manual is a must have. Walla currently plays guitar for Death Cab For Cutie, and has recorded and produced records with The Decemberists, Nada Surf, and Hot Hot Heat. The story behind the release of this album actually started last year when the laptop that contained the mastered tracks was seized by Homeland Security as Walla was crossing through the Canadian border. Apparently this confiscation was a mistake and he got his computer back soon after. As for the music itself, don’t be surprised to hear the ghosts of old Death Cab For Cutie albums show up on this disc.
The album begins with “Two-Fifty,” a mix of reverb laden vocals and computer sampled beats. This stands as a contrast to the pop melodies that drive “The Score” and Field Manual’s first single “Sing Again.” Walla, a current Portland resident, asks “Colorado are you listening? Do you hear me? Do you even care?” on “A Bird Is A Song,” a softer, stripped down tune. “Geometry & C” begins with an intro that almost sounds like “Crooked Teeth” from Death Cab For Cutie’s 2005 album Plans, but is distinctly a Walla original. Through the middle of the album Walla sticks to his pop-indie sound until “It’s Unsustainable,” which once again sounds like a b-side to Plans. Finally, “Holes” closes the album simply yet beautifully.
As far as lyrics go, Chris Walla is definitely not standing in Ben Gibbard’s, or anyone else’s, shadow. “Sing Again” is just catchy, yet so simple, but still manages to speak to human resolve with these lyrics: “Here’s to poison, you will hear the noises, you will fear the breaking, it’s all yours for the taking.” Walla’s questions about Colorado listening and caring really hit home, especially for residents of the Centennial State, because he poses his question in a poetic way.
Taken all together, Field Manual is a breath of fresh air for a year that hasn’t heard much in the area of decent new music releases. Chris Walla is innovative, yet still true to the sounds he has developed through years of playing and producing.
In a music scene filled to the brim with singer/songwriters who experiment with new sounds, Andrew Bird stands out for his straightforward style. Some critics placed Bird’s 2007 release Armchair Apocrypha on their top ten lists, a good reason to give it a listen.
Armchair Apocrypha begins with “Fiery Crash,” an up-tempo number with energetic, slightly-distorted guitars, and Bird’s subtle voice. “Imitosis” follows, but shifts into a European mix of strings and classical instruments, surrounded by slow Latin beats. Andrew Bird refuses to be categorized as he pushes into the deep middle part of the album. “Heretics” through “Armchairs” sound like a conglomeration of The Shins, Coldplay, and Wilco, but Bird still adds a component that is entirely original.
Radiohead-esque rhythms and falsetto vocals appear on “Simple X.” The last part of the record is heralded by “The Supine,” a baroque mix of violin plucking, cellos, and acoustic guitar. “Cataracts” follows and maintains an incredibly stripped down sound. The album ends on an instrumental note with “Yawny At The Apocalypse,” a mix of recordings of wild birds, along with a constant background of cello, ending on a natural tone.
As far as lyrical content is concerned, Bird focuses on traditional folk concepts. Many of the songs sound like conversations tempered with poetry. There are no overly catchy choruses on this CD, however this can be seen as a plus. This is not the type of music you would expect to hear on a top 40 pop radio station. Taken all together, the disc has a timeless quality, heard through Bird’s lyrics and choice of instrumentation. This album is a refreshing listen for fans of more traditional modern folk-indie because Bird remains true to using natural sounds while avoiding too much experimentation.
2007 was a fantastic year for music, but unfortunately the first part of January is not a popular time for musicians to release new material. This week some digging was done to find an album suitable for review and a disc from 2006 made the cut.
Atlanta may be a city known for its hip-hop scene, but amidst the grills and spinners resides a rock band that has been gaining momentum. Manchester Orchestra came from mere obscurity and landed an opening position on a spring tour in 2007 with punk-emo heavyweights Brand New. Since then, Manchester Orchestra has ceaselessly continued touring and promoting their album, I’m Like A Virgin Losing A Child.
The album itself has been described, by the band, as the story of one man’s life. Old photos grace the cover and liner notes of the disc, following the man until his wedding night (featured on the cover). Though the story is rather vague, reflecting back on relationships and the idea of “home” are hot topics for lyrical content.
Although they are not actually an orchestra, Manchester Orchestra starts the album off with a multi-layered mix of instruments on “Wolves At Night.” The song’s high energy continues into “Now That You’re Home” until “The Neighborhood Is Bleeding,” where the album begins to take on a sort of nostalgic melancholy sound. Lead man Andy Hull grapples with issues of faith, death, and commitment through the middle part of the album. The haunting “Sleeper 1972″ maintains a simple style mixed with powerfully emotional lyrics. The protagonist of Virgin arrives at the climax with the realization that he can never return to his old lifestyle on “Golden Ticket.” The album picks up from there as Hull’s lyrics become more thoughtful and less emotional, ending with “Colly Strings,” the denouement of the story and a loud instrumental anthem.
Manchester Orchestra may have received a boost in fame from opening for the likes of Brand New, Kings of Leon, and mewithoutYou, but their album is the primary reason they’ve gained the attention they deserve. Musically it is a treat to hear musicians doing what they enjoy, while lyrically, the words sung are timeless. A person could easily listen to this album 10 or even 20 years from now and still find some sort of meaning.
Musicians have been a popular subject for filmmakers through the years. During the last 40 years, Bob Dylan has been a staple of the American music scene. He accomplished this feat by writing and performing songs that have inspired modern musicians, poets, and film producers. The biographical movie I’m Not There has only seen limited release, but its soundtrack is already available nationwide. The two disc set is 34 tracks of Dylan’s music performed by some of the most popular folk and indie bands today.
Taking the album as a whole is a shifting experience as each performer takes Dylan’s songs and gives them a contemporary twist. However, Dylan’s distinct slurred vocal sound is emulated on quite a few of the tracks, this is especially evident on “Goin’ To Acapulco” played by Jim James. The alternative-rock rendition of “I’m Not There” by Sonic Youth stands as an interesting comparison to Richie Havens’s country style cover of “Tombstone Blues.” Yo La Tengo’s Georgia Hubley sounds like a young Joan Baez on “Fourth Time Around,” leading into Iron & Wine’s experimental rendition of “Dark Eyes.” Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy, who cites the likes of Bob Dylan and Neil Young as his influences, also makes an appearance on the first disc with “Simple Twist of Fate.” Closing the first half of the album is Willie Nelson, with his soulful country version of “Señor (Tales of Yankee Power).”
Sufjan Stevens’s folk-orchestral style and soft voice are the overarching forces behind “Ring Them Bells,” providing an interesting comparison to Jack Johnson’s stripped down “Mama You’ve Been On My Mind.” Glen Hansard & Marketa Irglova, of Once fame, make an appearance with “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere,” which also happens to be one of the few songs featuring extensive harmonica parts, an integral part of Dylan’s style. The entire album ends with Bob Dylan himself singing the title track “I’m Not There,” providing perspective on the entire compilation.
The soundtrack to I’m Not There reminds listeners why Bob Dylan has been popular for so long. His lyrics are original, even sometimes odd. His sound is distinct and his style has been emulated by scores of musicians through the years.