In the book Those Magnificent Mountain Women, author Janet Robinson recalls the ways in which, in the mid- and late-1800s, brave ladies would snowshoe or ride horseback across the formidable Colorado terrain, walking or riding for hundreds of miles before settling among the pines to "fetch a bite of cheese stored in one's scarf." Now it's summertime in Colorado, an almost spiritual season, some might say, during which kayaking, biking, hiking and simply staring into fire pits and crackling red coals for prolonged periods of time can take on an almost ritualistic importance. Of course, you've got to get to those mountains somehow -- and unlike the deprived mountain folk who lived before car stereos, your long drive is the perfect way to catch up on some local releases. Just be sure to check the oil...and the cheese.
It might be worth a couple of bones to watch the Gamits engage in a fistfight with Green Day, the band that used to specialize in perfect pop-punk numbers before scoring the soundtrack for Seinfeld and assorted teen-booby films. Thankfully, the Gamits haven't strayed from the art form. Endorsed by You, a twelve-song disc that clocks in at under forty minutes, is a hooky, frantic affair that has as much to do with the Beach Boys as Bad Religion (the first track, "15 Minutes," might well induce epileptic seizures in people who have innate aversions to double-time drums and hurky-jerky chord progressions; speed demons, however, will love it). The fabulously titled "Last of the Mullets" (say it ain't so!) is more catchy than germs on a preschool doorknob, with its chorus of harmonic yelping and up-and-down-the-heartstrings chord progressions, and the narrative "Audrey's Davenport," the story of a kept woman, displays the band's interest in singing about something other than the tired party themes currently plaguing much of punk rock. While many bands of this genre lean toward a scrappy production aesthetic, this disc is really aided by its slick recording (courtesy of Gamits bassist Matt Vanleuven, who operates the 8 Houses studio). Vanleuven's smart placement of little details -- a "woo-woo-woo" bridge on "Mullets," lots of multilayered vocals throughout -- adds depth and a layer of creativity that freshens the familiar territory traversed by the Gamits. (Available at area record stores, or by writing Suburban Home Records, P.O. Box 40757, Denver, CO 80204, or via thegamits.com.)
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The Cosmic Soul Surfers also toil on familiar sonic ground in Second Generation, an eight-song marriage of jazz fusion, funk and world rhythms. Unfortunately, that sound is largely desecrated by this Denver-based four-piece, whose moments of originality (the jazzy keyboard interludes on "Take My Song Away," the instrumental interlude on "Less Is More") are marred by a look-what-we-can-do feel that often eschews melody for exhibitionism. The Surfers' trump card is probably the agility of Chuck Churchman, who mans both bass and guitar on a double-necked contraption known as a Biaxe -- and while it's an impressive feat, Churchman never lets us forget it, filling in nearly every moment with a slap-happiness that feels showy and often out of melodic context. And while the Cosmic fellows clearly know their way around their instruments, their gifts of songwriting are not so well-refined. (The breezy, directed "Light Me Up," written by ex-Surfer Mike Ballard -- now of Michelle and the Book of Runes -- is the disc's exception, evidence that the band might've tried harder to keep Ballard in the Cosmos with them.) This music seems meant to appeal to Jerry's kids, folks who found something redemptive, or at least danceable, in all those extended space jams. The rest might wish the Soul Surfers had heeded their own advice: Less is more. (Write 10626 West Seventh Avenue, Apt. 202, Lakewood, CO 80215, or call 303-237-7981.)
More serotonin might benefit Gary Bragg and Eric Moon, the force behind the Sons of Igor, whose self-titled release is the strangest recording to blow into these parts in some time. But there's good strange and bad strange, and these Sons are most certainly the former. "State vs. Johnson" is a quasi-industrial lament of "the fucked up world" that comes off like an unlikely mixture of Nine Inch Nails and Jethro Tull, complete with lyrics that read like a sinister Dr. Seuss: "Hangin' with Treefrog in a white Chevy van/We got us a Chinese girl, smells like a vegetarian/Gonna go to the playground and fall in love/I don't need no help, what I need is bus fare." And "You Got What It Takes, Roy" leads with a loop of what sounds like a player-piano run through an effects pedal; other samples include someone talking about a Bugs Bunny motel while Bragg commands: "Tie me up/Use those feathers like you mean it, boy." With Sons of Igor, Bragg and Moon -- who are joined by numerous guest vocalists as well as Mark Harris on woodwinds and Ron Miles on trumpet -- attempt, and attain, a sweeping piece of musical theatrics -- shifting from light, Zappa-esque playfulness to the foreboding darkness of tunes like "Danger": "A different kind of circumstance, it could have been a fine romance/This isn't love, it is madness." (Bragg, who most recently wrote and performed music for a live variation on Pink Floyd's The Wall, is no stranger to musical theater: He penned the rock opera Before I Wake.) This is a truly diverse album, and it works -- more like the product of a rock orchestra (that also utilizes samples and jazz) than a "band." This is music for headphones, and the imagination. (Butthusker Music, Inc., P.O. Box 101075, Denver, CO 80250.)
Brotherhood P dubs its first full-length offering Street Performer MC's, though it's difficult to believe the sounds on the album (recorded in a studio that brother Chris de Lay, aka Cornbread, built in his basement) could easily be duplicated in a live setting. Though the emphasis in this three-man crew (which also includes Patrick de Lay, aka MC Revolve, and "Cordless" Mike Brown), is on smooth rapping and microphone work, the CD is chock full of samples, scratches and instrumental loops that wind around like a sonic serpent. Clearly influenced by artists like A Tribe Called Quest and the shaolinisms of the Wu-Tang Clan, the crew's knack for compiling sounds as a supplement for its solid MC performances, rather than as a substitute for them, also aligns it with L.A.-based scratch outfits like the Beat Junkies and the Invisible Skratch Piklz. It's a pretty progressive combination, especially when compared to many local artists who tend toward less creative aspects of rap and hip-hop (i.e., gangsta and machismo themes). Deft producers, the de Lay brothers demonstrate both verbal prowess and a personality that distinguishes them as a surprise -- and welcome -- presence on the local hip-hop scene. (Available through brotherhoodproject.com, or by calling 720-890-1078.)
There's really no way to know if those scooter-riding folks who were present when the ska movement really caught on in England and then America had any idea that -- twenty years later -- the kids would still be lacing up and getting down while trumpets and trombones skanked into infinity. The genre has survived and weathered numerous mutations (two words: No Doubt) along the way, and Five Iron Frenzy might represent one of the most unlikely shifts in skadom. The nine-piece, a Colorado band that's gained sizable audiences outside of our state, employs the usual skronking ska formulas, as well as pop hooks, Moog synths and the occasional bit of Latin percussion. What's somewhat unusual about Hype, though, is the fact that the band places lyrical emphasis on sunny themes, positivity and You Know Who ("We all climb/all of God's children/in God's own time," from "Solidarity," for example). An outfit that wears its Christian affiliation on its sleeve, Five Iron still displays a playfulness that indicates it is doin' its gosh darndest to prove that God can be Cool, too. Lyrically, the band also has a fresh spin on social issues, even adopting views that differ from many Christian doctrines. "Fahrenheit" finds vocalist Reese Roper reflecting on the death of Freddie Mercury, and how it changed his perceptions of gays and AIDS. Perhaps more important, the Five Iron kids can play. This music isn't likely to appeal to cynical people -- it's perhaps more suited to an outdoor abstinence fest at a local high school. Of course, if you don't dig this kind of thing -- thematically or musically -- you can always turn the other cheek.