Oriental Theater
Promotions can be a nasty business. The competition is rabid, cutthroat and full of enough shit-talking to make Simon Cowell cringe. So who ever thought that rival promoters could actually work together instead of against each other? To prove that harmonious unions are always better than pretentious bidding wars, the heads behind the Oriental Theater have teamed up with the infamous Deadhead Bianchi Brothers -- who run the Sancho's/Dulcinea's/Cervantes'/Quixote's empire -- to form a totally killer booking alliance. The merger allows the individual promoters access to each other's venues for special events and also includes a cross-promotion deal to maximize advertising exposure for everyone's shows. Smart move.
Landlordland used to be that weird indie-pop band that didn't fit in with the other indie-pop bands. The act had a little too much rock and roll in its blood, and its use of samples seemed to be at odds with its more conventionally melodic brethren. As a result, the group's live shows sometimes came off a little stilted and messy. Then one night last November, Landlordland cast off its awkwardness and played with a glorious disregard for its own safety, creatively and emotionally. With a newer rhythm section consisting of Ben Williams on bass and Jed Kopp behind the kit, the band emerged from its artistic cocoon with a fury -- kinda like a power-pop Blues Brothers, with Sylas Cooley as John Belushi and Darren Dunn as a not-at-all-inhibited Dan Aykroyd. It was one of the most intense and electrifying performances in recent years.
Dynamic lead guitarist Dustin Bingham left Eyes Caught Fire in the fall of 2005, which seemed to end the band's long run as one of the most well-regarded acts from Colorado Springs. Though relatively unknown in Denver, Eyes had built a strong regional reputation for its hauntingly cathartic live show. Despite encouragement from peers and fans, nothing was heard from the group for more than a year, and most assumed it was gone for good. But Eyes surprised everyone by taking the stage again in November 2006, and although its members had entertained the idea of going forward without the irreplaceable Bingham, it didn't really seem like a viable option. Bingham ultimately returned, and Eyes Caught Fire has been warming hearts with inspiring performances of its unique brand of shoegaze/trip-hop ever since.
Dameon Merkl looks like the tall, handsome son of Orson Welles and has the dark vocal intensity of Nick Cave. His deep voice has a presence and timbre that late-night jazz radio-show hosts would kill for, but even an easy laugh from him carries an undercurrent of menace. As the brooding yet diabolically humorous frontman for Bad Luck City, Merkl is the kind of character you'd root for whether he was the president or the head of a crime family. The stories he weaves in song are spun from the urban-underbelly mythos of film noir, Cormac McCarthy and James Ellroy. In years past, Merkl's sometimes abrasive and guttural voice could seem monochromatic. Lately, though, he's learned to channel it to match his band's rich emotional tapestries. A natural showman, Merkl masterfully straddles the realms of avant-punk and lurid lounge.
You just knew that if the woman who made the sax scream, howl and sing in Nightshark ever put her lungs to use as a vocalist, she'd probably be pretty great. With the edgy, ferocious presence of early Patti Smith and the fearless spirit of Teenage Jesus and the Jerks-era Lydia Lunch on her side, Becca Mhalek is a daunting presence on stage. Her words come forth like steady but unpredictable bursts of volcanic lava while her tortured voice strains at its boundaries and seethes with a rage born of unresolved emotions. Although her thick, dark hair hides her eyes, you can imagine them wild or squeezed tightly shut with the force of the dark, electric energy flowing through her every pore. Mhalek embodies the uncompromising sound of MVP with an enviable conviction and raw power.
The artistic ambition behind Drop the Fear, Ryan Policky and Gabriel Ratliff's previous band, was undeniable, but the act's music felt unfinished. When Avoiding the Consequences swept into stores last fall, all of the hyperbolic critical accolades seemed a bit premature. However, the dreamy, moody atmosphere of this album firmly establishes the band as heirs apparent of acts Sigur Rs, Slowdive and M83. Songs like "Love Is a Ghost in America," which recalls Kevin Shields's sleepy yet gently moving work for Lost in Translation, drift in like warm, spectral winds in places untainted by recent human presence. Elsewhere, "Zoning" whispers softly before hypnotically soaring into the neglected regions of the imagination. Throughout the album, inspiring vistas of melody and electronically generated sound are flawlessly melded with expertly nuanced rhythms. Easily on the same level of musical sophistication as their influences, the members of A Shoreline Dream prove that their vision is one worth sharing.
The Autokinoton has been around for, like, ever. But constant lineup changes -- including the very recent departure of guitarist Shaun Herrera -- have recessed the band again and again over the years. In spite of this, the act has taken on each subsequent incarnation with a musical fervor and energy that course through each recording. The Furnace Room Demos, although technically a preview disc by name, is a marked exodus from the outfit's screamo-laden hardcore beginnings. Fully instrumental and totally epic in scope, it's like a Godspeed You! Black Emperor album reworked by scenester metal kids -- but without the frilly nuances that plague groups such as Ocean or Bossk. Demos spans only four songs, but the abrasive fretwork makes it feel as if it's reaching toward a breathless eternity. If it ever does come to an end, the Auto-K will see it through.
The old cliche about too many chefs spoiling the soup became an old cliche for the usual reason: In the vast majority of cases, it's true. But the men and women of Rabbit Is a Sphere are the exception that proves the rule. Robert Rutherford, Natalie Winslow and Christopher Nelsen all sing lead, and along with Georgina Guidotti, they contribute to the compositions that make up Laps in the Sleep Saloon. As a result, the disc is busy instrumentally, with various guitars and keyboards taking roads less traveled, and the lyrics, which aim for poetry rather than settling for mere rhymes, echo with multiple voices. That's typically a recipe for chaos, yet the musicians' disparate sensibilities combine to make "Cough and Convince," "Newscasters on Cocaine" and the rest of the Sphere's songs stronger than if they'd been delivered by a single individual. The group demonstrates that some mighty tasty fare can emerge from a crowded kitchen.
It's not always pretty to look Fear in the face. Late last year, for instance, David Marion, the group's frontman, got whacked upside the mug with a bass headstock, resulting in a hole in his cheek "that you could fit a small rodent through," according to a post on the band's website. But Marion's ew-inducing injury was the only thing that's slowed the Marchers, whose rapid creative development was codified by their latest CD. Tunes such as "Drowning the Old Hag" and "Taking Cassandra to the End of the World Party" are far more ambitious and intricate than the outfit's early material -- and while they showcase instrumental acumen and a sound that's progressive in every sense of the word, they still crackle with the passion and power for which the players have always been known. By now, no doubt, Marion's wound is a thing of the past. But with luck, The Always Open Mouth will never close.
Turner is no axman-come-lately. When the late Tommy Bolin decided to leave Zephyr circa the early '70s, Turner took his place -- and he subsequently played guitar for the Legendary 4-Nikators and bluesman supreme Otis Taylor, whose 1996-2003 platters gained much of their power from Turner's searing riffs. However, he didn't truly step into the spotlight until the release of Rise, a solo disc on the NorthernBlues imprint that earned this same honor in 2005, and The Turner Diaries is even better. On offerings like "Dangerous," "I'm a Man, I'm a Man" and "I'm Tore Down," Turner displays tremendous instrumental range, reeling out licks that stir emotions of every description, and producer Kenny Passarelli, who oversaw much of Taylor's seminal work, makes sure the tracks hang together as songs instead of deteriorating into pyrotechnical showcases. After more than three decades, Turner remains a master of fast-fingered frenzy. These Diaries are definitely worth keeping.

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