Queen City Sounds: June 2024 by Tom Murphy

Published Issue 125, May 2024

Fern Roberts – A Multitude All at Once

Some of the musical touchstones for this latest Fern Roberts album are easy enough to trace in the introspective and existential pop of The National, the atmospheric and gritty post-punk of Arctic Monkeys, and the spare delicacy, emotional immediacy and attention to detailed soundscapes of Grandaddy. But this record unfolds as a series of stories, each with a unique experiment in songwriting and lyricism, with the composition’s sound design aimed at capturing the essence of an existential experience. It follows an arc in which one becomes overwhelmed by the pressure of trying to do something important and meaningful in life. Coming to terms with the reality of what that means, they cultivate the inner strength to put in sustained effort to weather the disappointments, the discouraging experiences and the seeming lack of immediate payoff for attempting to do so. The album interweaves the messaging into multiple realms of one’s life and concludes on the necessity of being willing to start again and reinvent as essential to the whole process. Creatively it’s a big leap forward for the band. And as a loose concept album, it invites repeated exploration.

Jeffrey Wentworth Stevens – songs performed in the style of haiku [winter]

These 10 short pieces follow the traditional haiku form of 5-7-5. Most are under a minute long with the longest at a minute-30. Yet each is a complete musical and emotional experience conjuring a succinct textural and tonal impression inspired by the stark and minimalist beauty of winter landscapes. Stevens limited his tools of composition to a Casio SK-1 and a Casio SK-5, so there is a unity of sonic frequencies and an imposition of working within the limitations of a narrow palette. But the results are an entrancing listen that doesn’t actually demand so much of your time, yet feels like an enduring and immersive listening experience resonant with the more abstract end of Boards of Canada, Labradford and Stars of the Lid delivered in more concise segments.

My Blue Heart – Masquerade

My Blue Heart is refreshingly out of step with most of what you’ll hear from Denver these days. Its eclectic style fuses blues rock, psychedelia, prog and Americana in an art pop style that often comes across like members of the band have a background in musical theater. Like the songs are written with the performance aspect in mind, including stage costumes and orchestrated lighting. Michelle Petersen’s vocals are melodramatic and framed by music that feels like something from another era, as though one or more members of the band listened to a bit of Carla Bley and Susan James. The production on the album fully represents the rich array of sounds in the songwriting and adds to a sense that the music was ambitiously written to transcend narrow genre considerations. By the end of the record, you feel like you’ve listened to pop songs crafted for a Broadway production.

Solohawk – Rio Grande

Recorded at The TANK Center for Sonic Arts in a night of capturing a distinct mood across five songs, Rio Grande has a distinctively haunting vibe. Utilizing no effects for the recording, the music takes advantage of the rich reverb of the room and the way it elongates every tone into near infinity. The project is Til Willis and Steve Faceman, with recordings for this session done by Michael Van Wagoner, mixing by Willis and mastering by John Hruska (of Fucking Orange and Double Plus Down). Between the raw recordings and subsequent treatments, there is a mystery and majesty to the songs that do not detract from what might be described as a cosmic intimacy of the resonant emotional expressions Willis and Faceman conjure, as though channeling the energy and spirits of the setting. It is ambient, avant-folk with a core of emotional intensity that fans of the Microphones will appreciate.   

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Tom Murphy is a Denver-based music writer and science fiction/fantasy/horror creator. He is also a musician, historian and itinerant filmmaker.

Check out Tom’s May install of Queen City Sounds in case you missed it, or head to our Explore section to see more of his past reviews.