When I started this job almost four years ago, there were only a handful of things you could have told me about my future that would have given me even a moment's pause. That I'd soon be speaking of my father in the past tense -- and eventually getting used to it. That I'd join the ranks of the militant non-smoking nazis -- willingly. And that my iPod playlist would consist entirely of local music -- as it does right now. Had some prescient friend predicted that last one, I would have first asserted that I'd never have the wherewithal to purchase one of them thar newfangled devices, and then proclaimed that there would never be that much good local music. And this was before I'd had a chance to become, you know, like, all jaded and cynical and shit.
As I remember it, some exceptional local music was being made at the time -- but it was definitely more the exception than the rule. Of course, I'm a notoriously picky bastard, and the records that I consider to be genuinely brilliant...well, let's just say they're few and far between. Back then, most of my faves -- the stuff I listened to when I was off the clock -- had originated outside the provincial zip codes and could be traced back before the millennium. For a local release to rank inclusion in that pantheon, it really had to strike a chord -- say, measure up to discs like The Ugly People Vs. the Beautiful People or Fun Trick Noisemaker. And even those -- as inspired and transcendent as I found them -- barely generated sound waves strong enough to be heard outside city limits by anyone other than the indie cognoscenti.
Things were different then. Today it may seem like these streets were always paved with platinum, but they weren't. The change began a couple of years ago, as people started taking notice of our little scene. Suddenly, glossy national publications started running full-page spreads hyping our town. Folks from across the country started moving here in droves. Madison Avenue started co-opting our indigenous style and selling it back to us. MTV even saw fit to use the city as a backdrop for its long-running reality show. No, wait, that was Seattle in the '90s. Nevermind.
But that's precisely what we hoped would happen in Mootown, right?
In fact, local bands soon started getting better and better. The music became infinitely more listenable. Production improved exponentially, and labels sprouted up left and right. Local bills suddenly earned must-see status -- and when anyone got national attention, we all rejoiced.
Fast-forward to today. Denver has a homegrown act that's one of the biggest in the country -- and as proof positive that our scene has really made it, that band has no shortage of detractors. Haters. There's more to Denver than the Fray, they posit. For chrissakes, if someone would just pay attention, we could be the next Seattle.
But we're not, and you know what? I'm cool with that. In the sage words of Garth Brooks (and Pat Alger and Larry Bastian), some of God's greatest gifts are unanswered prayers. The longer I'm in this business (and as much as I hate to admit it, that's exactly what this is), the clearer that becomes. Don't get me wrong; I'm as eager as the next guy to see Denver get its shine. As a native, I have mad love for the Mile High City. Always have, always will. It's in my marrow; I didn't move here from someplace else. And it goes without saying -- or at least I hope it does -- that I'm passionate about the scene.
At times, though, it seems like a pretty one-sided love affair. Like last week, when Westword printed a letter from a local musician essentially asserting that I'm an outsider in my own town. Funny thing, I used to be that guy -- a 23-year-old musician all full of piss and vinegar. Only I used to whine about Michael Roberts and then Laura Bond -- whom I viewed as a bona fide outsider because she came from Arizona. In retrospect, I realize I was just bent because those Backbeat editors never recognized my friends -- at least, not as often as I thought they should.
Oh, the irony. All these years later, and now I'm that guy. The one who's not willing to give the music a free pass just because it comes from here or because it's made by people I know. But I'm not running some kind of Citizen of the Month program here; there are no green ribbons handed out just for showing up. When I took the reins of this section (see the June 19, 2003, Beatdown), I promised to weigh in only on those acts that produced art that provoked some sort of emotion one way or the other. The woefully mediocre will be ignored, I think is how I put it. And I haven't deviated from that. It's not my job to put a band's name in print so that it can fatten its press kit. The music has to stand on its own.
Just like I don't want to see the Broncos win the Super Bowl on a questionable play or some technicality, I want it to be irrefutable that Denver has the most exciting, vibrant and diverse scene in the country, one that produces great albums. Not "great albums, considering" -- great albums, period. When it comes down to it, I want to be an evangelist, not an apologist. And today, I'm spreading the word: Denver music has arrived. Breathtaking local albums are being released with such regularity that coming across three in one month (which I just did) isn't outrageous. Nowadays, I have to go out of my way to find shit that's underwhelming -- not too far, mind you, but far enough.
Right now, every last byte of my iPod -- admittedly, one of those antiquated chewing-gum-sized shuffles that only holds 500 megabytes worth of data -- is claimed by local music. I'm obsessing over Tifah's Safe & Sound, which at times sounds so much like the work of Joni Mitchell that I have to continually remind myself it's not. And then there's Nathan & Stephen's The Everyone EP: My judgment may be a little skewed since I'm a sucker for horns and strings, and Nathan McGarvey's voice reminds me of the late, great Gene Eugene (Adam Again), but songs from that disc are in constant rotation, too. So are cuts from Born in the Flood's latest, If This Thing Should Spill, which is a masterpiece. Just past the midway point on the disc, Nathaniel Rateliff fervently bellows the lines, "This is an anthem/I hope you hear me." Loud and clear, Mr. Rateliff.
Elsewhere on the iPod, I have Cowboy Curse's Nod Up and Down (to the Simulcast Singing), which has helped make the most brutal winter in memory somewhat tolerable. Ditto songs from DeVotchka and the Heyday, which could cure the worst case of SAD. Come to think of it, I've loaded the thing with songs for every occasion. Angie Stevens for times when I'm feeling contemplative, Nightshark's self-titled disc for when I just want to zone out and get lost in a blurry, glorious cavalcade of sounds and vibrations, like listening to a lost Wally Shoup and Sonic Youth collaboration.
And with new releases pending from the likes of Love Me Destroyer, Kingdom of Magic, Ian Cooke, the Heyday, the Swayback and Gregory Alan Isakov, I may need to get a new iPod. It's only February, and my year-end list for 2007 is already filling up.
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene each week with music news, trends, artist interviews and concert listings. We'll also send you special ticket offers and music deals.