SFTSTPS' Nick Houde returns to Denver for a great night of music with friends

SFTSTPS • Pollination Population
Hideous Men • No Funeral • Married in Berdichev
08.20.10 | Rhinoceropolis, Denver
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For this show, Kate Ersing, who performs under the name Pollination Population, draped a string of tiny red lights along the edges of her performance area, around the myriad tape machines and other electronic devices. On her head, she wore a something comprised of interlinking tubes that formed triangular patterns, like a crown or a headdress.

The music started with a sampled piano looped before Ersing introduced other sounds, either found or created, into the mix. In a tapestry of noise and sounds layered atop one another, withdrawn and replaced by other pieces of sonic patchwork, this Pollination Population set was much more focused on ambient composition and arrangement rather than conventional songwriting. Rather than guitar, drums, bass or even synth and computer, Ersing drew on sounds one might record off the street from a basement apartment or surreptitiously while walking down the street.

The huge, enveloping sound of Hideous Men shouldn't come as a surprise but it always does, because instead of it being an attempt to overwhelm you with the power of the band, it's an invitation into an alternate reality. Kristi Schaefer figuratively and physically stepped into the stream of sounds with her earnestly soothing , vocoded voice and signature dance moves for an untrained yet graceful, improvisational set of movements that seem to interpret the mood of the songs.

A powerful version of "Talons" was followed by what Ryan Mcryhew said was a new song that sounded like a mixture of IDM and whatever the solo work of cEvin Key can be called -- dark, driving and uplifting. The set ended with a song that was melodic, breezy and transporting, with Schaefer reminding us that so many things that plague us are temporary.

When Nick Houde was in BDRMPPL with Ryan Mcryhew, the two had embarked on a fascinating fusion of electronic musical styles and high-minded ideals. With SFTSTPS, and with Hideous Men, the two have taken those ideas, individually, a step forward. SFTSTPS seemed to be an alloy of noise, industrial, dub and confrontational punk rock.

Houde was like Guy Picciotto in his relentless energy and intensity. The guy didn't lack for that in Transistor Radio Sound or his later projects, but it seems as though Baltimore has forced him to take things up a notch or three in terms of delivering music that sets a new standard.

When Houde bounced up and down while hunched over his electronic array, head rocking back and forward it seemed certain he would have whiplash but it didn't even slow the guy down. The textured rhythms, contorted tones and sonic density, varied at just the right times, made for a heady experience being in the room with all of those sounds coursing through the air. Before No Funeral got started, Warren Bedell filled the room with fog to the point where it felt like you were at a SunnO))) show. When Bedell kicked into his short set of forceful yet almost cheesily melodic electronic -- for lack of a better word -- pop music, he was all but obscured by the choking haze from the fog machine. Even so, you could still make out the colored lights Bedell uses for this project, and close up, you could even make out his silhouette in the fog. Maybe "pop" isn't the word for what No Funeral is, but it's a far cry from the harsh noise and experimental rock music Bedell has done in the past.

The fog from the No Funeral set still lingered strongly in the air by the time Brittany Gould got up to perform, but it seemed to set the mood for her unique style of creating a song with constructed layers of ambiance. Building drones with her voice stretched out through delay and loops, Gould began her set with impressionistic tones like will-o-wisps seen from outside a fog-enshrouded fen. Her lyrics came forth like bits of a dream journal recalling bright skies and endless horizons while adrift on a raft in the south Pacific, perhaps near the Tahiti of Melville's recollections.

Echoing tones, waves of half-heard sounds rippling outward settled in the middle-distance of each of Gould's three songs. At one point there was a noise that sounded like it had to be a synthesizer but you quickly realized was Gould's voice manipulated in the mix and not a sample or other instrument. In the end, Gould shed a few tears with the emotional sweep of a song about letting go. Good thing no one had to go after her because nothing else could have measured up.

CRITIC'S NOTEBOOK Personal Bias: I'm a fan of the current crop of experimental electronic artists in Denver. Random Detail: Met Elena Stonaker, one of the two artists behind the "cosmic woman" art installation/performance art piece at Titwrench (the other, Alicia Ordal, was at the show, too). By the Way: SFTSTPS had cassette for sale at the show.

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