Queen City Sounds
By Tom Murphy
Published Issue 116, August 2023
Brother Saturn – Silence Your Heart
Drew Miller as Brother Saturn has long channeled processed guitar, loops and keyboard into the abstraction of ambient composition, teasing out complex and sometimes messy emotions into a form that both processes them and transforms that locked up psychological energy into transcendent forms of sound. On this album we journey in echoing fadeouts of tone through streams of hazy sparkling and rippling passages, as on “A Terraform,” into drifts of pulsing, sonic incandescence past and through slow cascading tangles of resonant feeling. The songs seem to express a way to let anxiety and trauma dissolve into the distant past, blurred out of significance and at best a faint memory. Each of the eight compositions is a testament to how these musical rituals are a process, but one that can be gentle rather than jarring. For fans of Stars of the Lid, The Dead Texan or Pan American.
Calm. – All The Dreams I Ever Had
Written and recorded in a week, this concept album was created to be a single, long song like a modern version of a James Joyce novel mixed with a Carlos Castaneda-esque voyage into cultural mythical spaces and the musical mysticism of A Tribe Called Quest’s Midnight Marauders. Except this is a mature manifestation of alternative hip-hop that comments on the current era when it seems our civilization’s various chickens have come to roost all at once, and the yearning to make meaning in a time of chaos, impending doom and rising fascism. It’s also a deep dive into the assessment of the life rapper Time aka Chris Steele has tried to live with honesty and integrity and connected with a larger societal narrative grounded in life in Denver. Steele has long been a gifted lyricist of incredible personal and sociological insight, but with this sprawling set of songs with AwareNess’s own endlessly inspired production, the duo as Calm. has far exceeded its already exceptional previous releases. Reconciling the project’s collective literary, musical and conceptual interests, this album is a truly poignant and important statement on American culture and its failure to dream in new ways, providing a valid pathway for collective achievements that nurture and benefit all.
Extra Kool – Giallo Argento
Danny Vincennie named this album in part after his favorite film director, Dario Argento, and the genre of horror cinema called giallo that he helped bring to its highest form. Vincennie as Extra Kool always seems to be able to distill the most painful feelings and lingering psychological agony into arresting musical form and fluidly forceful lyrics that work both as vivid storytelling and confessional emotional release. We hear menacing beats and the rapper’s inventive rhythms — solo and in collaboration with peers like Satyre and Time — as he revisits themes from across his career seemingly cast in the sonic sheen of horror movies which, for many fans, are a compelling artform that doesn’t try to sugarcoat and can encompass all other genres of film. Vincennie deftly employs that chameleonic quality in seven tracks that get under your skin with the honest and deeply real sentiments cast as cathartic experiences, moving forward with perhaps the pain and traumas we all know slightly lessened.
Midwife & Vyva Melinkolya – Orbweaving
This collaborative album came about through a friendship between Madeline Johnston (Midwife) and Angel Diaz (Vyva Melinkolya) that formed in that strange year of 2020. A musical bond became more personal when the two musicians met in 2021 when Diaz came to do some recording in Johnston’s New Mexico studio. At night they went herping (a search for snakes and amphibians) along roads near Las Cruces. These journeys that yielded the discovery of rattlesnakes, roadkill and orb-weaver spiders also made it possible for the two artists to combine their mutual genius for evocative soundscaping. Together they crafted an interconnected body of music that articulates with a patient elegance of tone and texture the complexity and nuance of isolation and connection between people and the mystical beauty and horror of the world we all occupy and of which we are an inseparable part, honoring the transcendent fragility of existence.
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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.