Jul 042013

I’ve heard so many hyphenated names trying to describe this band’s sound that it’s almost funny. Art-rock. Avant-pop. Orchestra-rock. Chamber-pop. I referred to their sound as “musical literature” in my first post about them. I could come up with a few others, too: cabaret-pop-rock, avant-goth-pop…you get the idea. Or do you? That’s kind of the point…

Whatever hyphen-heavy terms you grab from the vocabulary arsenal, Denver-based band The Raven and the Writing Desk have carved out a niche for themselves with a collective sound so diverse it obviously requires a writer like me to keep a thesaurus handy. And they have carried this trend even further with the release of their latest, a split EP called Scavenger/Bonedale.

Existing TRATWD fans will recognize at least half the songs on this 6-track record. That’s the “Bonedale” part, essentially a re-working of their earlier Bonedale EP, previously available only in digital form. The “Scavenger” part consists of three new songs (hence, the “split” EP). Put them together, and the band pack more energy into those six songs than you’ll find in many full-lengths.

A listen to the record is much like watching them live. It goes sort of like this: one minute, you’re hearing a gypsy-tinged dance number that makes you want to practice your high kicks. (That is, if you had high kicks to begin with. Which I don’t.). The next, you’re diving into a satisfying, soul-scratching blues-rock riff courtesy of guitarist Scott Conroy. Tasty marimba (never thought I’d use those two words together) from Neil Mitchell and haunting violin parts courtesy of Adrienne Short fill out the sound, and Julia LiBassi’s vocals flow with such expression and emotion that they belie the fact that she’s actually sitting behind a keyboard rather than flying across the stage. It’s theater, vaudeville, carnival, circus, orchestra, and rock-and-roll all rolled into one, and somehow this sextet makes everything sound like it all is supposed to go together. (Can you see why the hyphens are necessary?)

The thing is this, and I think I’ve said this somewhere before: The Raven and the Writing Desk are better listened to and experienced than described and talked about. Which makes me feel kind of stupid as a blogger, since describing them is exactly what I’m trying to do. (Seriously, I think the band has made a habit of collecting hyphens. I think they get a kick out of defying description.)

So I’ll shut up now. Just listen to this.

The Raven and the Writing Desk is:

Julia Libassi – songstress, lead vocals, keyboards
Scott Conroy – guitars
Neil Mitchell – marimba, percussion
Adrienne Short – violins, harmonies
Kramer Kelling – bass
Matt Murphy – drums

May 062013

It took me awhile to get around to this band from Denver, but I can tell indie-rock act Medic is going to be staying in my head for some time to come.

As I listen to this band, there are two words that come to mind: passion and promise. The passion part is because there is a solid sense of conviction in the way they play and sing. They believe what they are doing wholeheartedly, so I believe them, too. There is an emotion in their sound that reminds me a lot of Mae, with perhaps a bit more pop/rock sensibility. But the passion is unmistakable.

As to the promise part–well, you just have to listen to them to know what I’m talking about. These guys are going someplace.

So far, the only music available from Medic is a five-song EP, Grace and Gravity, which can be purchased from their Bandcamp site or from iTunes. But those five songs will leave you wanting more. Check out the video below for their single “Everything We Have” and see what you think.

Feb 272013

Sometimes the best opportunities come from the oddest circumstances.

While major news outlets were obsessing over Morrissey’s recent snub of Jimmy Kimmel because he didn’t want to share the show with Duck Dynasty, only a few were paying attention to the band quietly tapped to fill the opening slot on Kimmel’s show last night: Denver’s own Churchill.

Recently signed to A&M Octone Records, Churchill had been spending the past few weeks in Los Angeles recording their new full-length record with producers Brendan O’Brien and Ryan Tedder. As a result of Morrissey’s refusal to appear, the band got to spend their last evening in Los Angeles making their national television debut as the musical guests on Jimmy Kimmel Live. It was just the latest in a string of fortunate events for a band for whom things have been going very, very well lately. Take a look at their performance below.

Churchill arrived back in Denver today for a few days in advance of their headlining show at the Ogden Theatre March 8. Besides their much-anticipated record release this spring, the band are slated to tour with Phillip Phillips, and overseas with Pink on her European tour. Meanwhile, Churchill has also remade their official video for their chart-climing single “Change.” Take a look!

Aug 212012

This one falls under the category of I-don’t-know-why-more-people-don’t-know-this-band. (It also falls under the category of I-should-have-known-about-them-sooner.)

Anyhow, a few months ago, Alabama-based indie-folk band Fire Mountain shared their EP Of the Dust with me, and alas, amid tackling the learning curve of a huge new writing project, it didn’t get listened to before now. I’m so glad they didn’t fall through the cracks.

“Black Heart,” the opening track of the EP, captured me with the first few notes, and kept my attention throughout with its haunting melody and lyricism. The rest of the record is also worth a listen. Fire Mountain has a sound that is simple yet captivating, and frontman Perry Brown’s slightly raspy voice fills things in nicely. Brown is a gifted songwriter with something to say.

The video for “Black Heart” (also very well done) is embedded below. If you like what you see/hear, the band is currently offering the EP on their Bandcamp page on a “name your price” basis.

Fire Mountain – Black Heart from Fire Mountain on Vimeo.

Jul 182012

Photo: Christopher Kuehl

Continuing our preview of Denver locals featured at this year’s Underground Music Showcase (which starts TOMORROW! WOOT!)…

Denver pop/rock songstress Rachel James has been quite busy lately. Since releasing some great new songs last fall (0ne of which made my top picks for 2011), Rachel has launched a new act called Rachel and the Kings, and is preparing to release a new album with the band this fall. Shortly after forming, Rachel and the Kings beat out 700 bands nationwide to win Ford’s 2nd Annual “Gimme the Gig” competition in Los Angeles, California. The prize: a $55,000 video shoot and a track recorded by legendary producer Don Was.


Rachel and the Kings will be sharing some of their new material with the Denver crowd at the UMS. You can catch them on the main stage (behind Goodwill) on Sunday evening at 5:00 p.m. (Interestingly, the night before, the band will be featured on the Gimme the Gig special slated for broadcast on KTLA-TV in Los Angeles–but we UMS attendees get to see them live.)

Jul 182012

Photo: Adrian/photoroadies.com

As the Denver Post Underground Music Showcase approaches, I’m highlighting a few of my favorite local acts that I think you should come out and see.


I first profiled The Raven and the Writing Desk here in January 2011, and their overall sound and vibe has continued to evolve since then. Loosely falling into the category of “indie chamber pop”, their collective sound is actually quite diverse, blending classical and rock elements together into something that sounds much bigger than the band’s six members. Epic, cinematic, literary, the music itself seems to tell a story.


I’ve seen this band perform live several times, and my experience is that TRATWD’s sound is enhanced in an acoustically live environment. For that, they’ve been perfectly slotted at South Broadway Christian Church (where they played at last year’s UMS), for Friday, July 20 at 8:00 p.m. Trust me–hearing The Raven and the Writing Desk perform in this room is an experience. You won’t want to miss it.

Jul 172012

Photo: Ron James Photography.

In gearing up for this year’s Underground Music Showcase in Denver, I’ll be previewing a few of my favorite local acts here over the next couple of days.

I first wrote about Take to the Oars here in February 2011, reviewing their album American Volume. Since that time, I’ve seen had the privilege of interviewing a couple of the band mates and have seen them perform numerous times. With Ryan Gombeski vocalizing into that retro-mic of his, and Mike Trujillo’s flailing hair (oh, and his guitar playing, too), this band puts on quite a live show–which prompted me to include them in my list of Bands to Watch in 2012 for Examiner.com.

Take to the Oars has shared the stage with the likes of Sleeper Agent, Rooney, Young the Giant and others. If you’re coming to the UMS (which you should), you can catch TTTO’s set at The Skylark Lounge on Saturday, July 21 at 8:00 p.m. In the meantime, check out their video “Bar Talk” below.

May 062012

Hailing from Cincinnati, OH, indie-rock duo Bad Veins is one of those acts that doesn’t necessarily sound like you’d expect them to. Perhaps part of the reason is that this “duo” is more like a “trio”: there’s lead vocalist/guitarist/keyboardist Benjamin Davis; there’s drummer Sebastien Schultz; and then there’s “Irene,” a reel-to-reel tape recorder the band uses for extra tracking, both in the studio and on stage. The end result is a richer, fuller, more diverse sound that blends indie rock with pop and electronic influences reminiscent of one of several British invasions.

The Mess We’ve Made is a bit of an ironic title for Bad Veins’ sophomore LP, because the record itself is anything but messy. In song after song, the band blends multiple layers into an overall sound that is quite easy on the ears, with Davis’ Brand0n Flowers-esque voice overlaying it all.

That said, the band does have a bit of tweaking to do. The primary flaw I see with the record is basically that once you’ve heard the first three songs, you’ve pretty much got the band figured out, and there’s not much more to keep your interest. Yeah, nice layers, nice sound, nice voice–Bad Veins has that part down. Now they need better songs–songs with hooks that make you want to hit “repeat.” Bridge that gap, and you’ve got a force to be reckoned with.

The opening track of The Mess We’ve Made (“Dont’ Run,” streamable below) gives you a good idea of what to expect from the band, but I have a feeling the record itself doesn’t do justice to a live performance. Word on the street is that Bad Veins is outstanding as a live band, so I’ve also put some upcoming tour dates down below. (If you’re in the Denver area, they’re due to swing by the Hi-Dive on May 19.)

Bad Veins: “Don’t Run”


05/18 – Lawrence, KS @ Replay Lounge
05/19 – Denver, CO @ Hi Dive
05/20 – Salt Lake City, UT @ Kilby Court
05/22 – Seattle, WA @ Barboza
05/23 – Portland, OR @ Bunk Bar
05/24 – San Francisco, CA @ Bottom of the Hill
05/25 – Santa Cruz, CA @ The Crepe Place
05/26 – Los Angeles, CA @ The Echo
05/27 – San Diego, CA @ Bar Pink
05/29 – Tempe, AZ @ The Sail Inn

Feb 202012

One of the things I love about music blogging is when I come across “hidden treasures”–bands with a unique vibe and memorable sound that not many people know about–but should. In my view, Brooklyn-based Palomino is one of those bands.

Citing influences from late 70’s/early 80’s post-punk, this 3-piece band has a raw, sparse sound that will actually appeal to a variety of listeners. In the video below (the song “Ponte Vecchio”), I definitely hear the punk elements, but also a bit of alt-country, early alternative, and just plain rock. But most of all (and this is the main reason why I like ’em)–I hear a great song. Catchy, stick-in-your-head music. Lead vocalist/guitarist Elijah Campbell’s unpolished voice reminds me quite a bit of Michael Roe of the 77’s (extra credit if you know who I’m talking about).

I get plenty of submissions from bands who don’t have a huge following, and to be completely honest, when I listen to their music, I understand why. In this case, I’m baffled. Listening to this stuff, I do not understand why more people don’t know about Palomino yet–and I definitely hope a lot more people will.

Palomino just released an EP (simply called The Palomino EP), which can be streamed at their Bandcamp site. If you dig “Ponte Vecchio,” as I do, they’re currently offering that tune as a free download.


Jan 212012

When the Fairfax, VA-based band Escape the Armada hit me up to listen to their recent release Monsters, I have to tell you that I didn’t know what to expect–but I didn’t expect this. It’s a great blend of powerpop, rock, electro, dance and even rap–pretty much everything that makes pop music “popular” these days.

From the opening notes of the opening track, the immediate impression I had was the fantastic production value. This band is currently unsigned, but you’d never know it from the record. The blend, the mix, and the overall sound easily matches anything you’d hear on Top-40 radio–plus solid rhythms and great hooks that make you want to dance and sing. Everything the way it should be.


Here’s the only critique I have about the record: it’s great, but it’s not new. The music and the songs are catchy, but I didn’t hear anything on the record that I haven’t heard in some version elsewhere. Don’t get me wrong, Monsters is not “mediocre,” not by any stretch; it’s really good, it’s worth a listen, and it’s lots of fun. It’s just that this band has done an excellent job doing what pretty much everybody else in their field is doing–and in an already over-saturated market, it’s not enough just to make really good pop music. Without some extra “oomph” to make them stand out from the throng, I think it’s really a crap shoot as to whether their vibe is going to take them very far in this market.

If I were coaching this band, I’d say Escape the Armada has laid a really good foundation thus far; now it’s just time to take the next steps. The question in front of them isn’t what makes them good, but what makes them different.

But heck, that’s just my opinion. Here’s my personal favorite track off the record, “Without You.” Listen for yourself and see what you think.