Dec 302013

Andy-Palmer-Hazard-of-the-Die-Cover1I’m waaay behind on my music listening this year (watch for some changes to The Oomph in the upcoming months), but I could not let 2013 go by without letting you know about one of the best folk-rock releases to come out of Denver this year: Andy Palmer’s Hazard of the Die.

I first introduced you to Andy Palmer’s gravelly, Tom Waits-esque voice a couple of years back. Since that time, Palmer has continued to mature both in sound and in songwriting, and the proof is found in Hazard, carrying an innovative blend of folk and rock elements (evidenced by everything from a plucky string bass to some searing electric guitar work), and a storytelling songwriting style that belies Palmer’s age. (I don’t actually know his age, just that he’s younger than me. I think.) The record clocks in at just around 30 minutes (a long EP or a short LP, take your pick), but each of the eight songs is packed with character and will merit repeat listens. Favorite moments for me include “The Monk,” “Heart of Colfax” (which contains some of that searing guitar work I mentioned), and “The Defendant,” a colorful look through the eyes of the accused (“Luck is hard if you have my life / And a man in a robe…is rolling my dice.” Love that!) Oh, and the production work from industry vet Warren Huart (Aerosmith, The Fray, Howie Day) doesn’t hurt one bit.

Andy Palmer is currently offering Hazard of the Die on a name-your-price basis on his Bandcamp page–and it’s definitely worth naming a decent price. Meanwhile, check out the video for “The Monk” below and see what you think.


Oct 282013

glowing house albumOkay, I have to say a couple of things for disclosure purposes about the video I’m about to share. First–I have family involved in the project (it was directed by my son, Joshua McQuilkin). Second–I consider the band in the video, Glowing House, to be among my personal friends. (Okay, the second disclosure isn’t that big a deal–I’m friends with a lot of the bands I cover.)

At any rate, it’s been a good year for Glowing House. Not only did they release some of their best work to date in the form of their latest EP The Down and Out, but their single “Nobody Follow Me” from that EP found a song placement in the VH1 television show Couple’s Therapy. Not to mention that at the time of this writing, the husband-and-wife core of the group (Jess Parsons and Steve Varney), are within days of becoming first-time parents. Yeah–that sounds like a pretty good year. :)

Anyhow, despite whatever involvement I or my family members may or may not have had in the project, I think “Nobody Follow Me” is a great song, and I think the official video does it proud–even if I do have a reason to be a little biased. :) See what you think.


Sep 132013

covenhovenMany in the Denver area are familiar with Joel Van Horne as the frontman for atmospheric indie-rock act Carbon Choir (whom I’ve profiled here on this blog from time to time). Carbon Choir has since called it quits, and in the meantime Van Horne has taken a completely different direction–toward folk.

His new album is being released under the moniker Covenhoven, named after the log cabin in Wyoming built by his grandfather, where Van Horne spent summers as a kid. “Some of the best and lasting memories of my life are from this place,” writes Van Horne on the Covenhoven website.  “This music comes from that place… this refuge that I hold dear.”

Indeed, the songs on the record call to mind the places of natural beauty and the fond memories evoked by such a place. With an understated, reflective style reminiscent of Bon Iver, in effect, Van Horne transports the listener to his childhood, allowing us to experience the feeling of a place most of us will never actually see–and yet, we can relate to it because many of us have such a place within our own memories. This is music that is real, because it comes from a very real place, both physically and emotionally.


Photo: Lucia de Giovanni

I have to say, I really like this turn Van Horne has taken. I’ve had the opportunity to hear him perform acoustic sets from time to time, and have really liked his songwriting style, even while playing unplugged versions of Carbon Choir tunes. While it might seem on the outside to be a drastic change of course, those of us familiar with Van Horne and his songwriting abilities can see this is a natural evolution for him.

Covenhoven will see its official release with a show on Friday, Sept. 20 at The Walnut Room in Denver, but you can sneak a listen to the entire album this week over at OpenAirCPR from Colorado Public Radio. You’ll be glad you did.

May 152010

Hailing from LA, Snow & Voices is the creative partnership of vocalist Lauri Kranz and multi-instrumentalist Jebin Bruni. Their third effort, Anything that Moves, is set to release on May 25.

Downtempo, atmospheric and haunting, Anything that Moves is a keyboard-heavy collection of songs, carried by simple drum and bass and overlaid by Kranz’s beautifully understated vocals.  A roster of top LA musicians round out the recording as well.

Check out the song, “I Am a Storm” below; see what you think.

Snow & Voices: “I Am a Storm”

Dec 022009

This is expanded coverage from my article on
As I begin to write this, I’m sitting at Arvada’s popular D-Note, watching a young band called iconoClass.

Basically all they’ve done for the past 45 minutes is jam. Almost all of it is guitar solos over rock beats and repetitive chords. There is one microphone set up, but nary a lyric has been sung. Which is okay–if your instrumentation carries it. But being an instrumental-only band takes more concentration, in-depth songwriting and technical skill than most folks realize. And iconoClass isn’t there–at least, not yet.
I went into this gig not knowing anything about iconoClass except their name, because I’d seen some flyers around town. At first, after a song or two, I was tempted to say I had nothing to write about. When I write reviews, especially of local talent, I tend to steer clear of guys who are just jamming to have fun and don’t really care whether they go places. But I don’t get the impression that this is what iconoClass is about; I think they want to go places. As I’ve sat here listening to them (and writing), I have actually heard some good musicianship, some awesome rhythms, some striking sounds from these guys. Right now, they’re four guys taking up space and time on a stage–but there is actually potential here. If I were to fast forward a couple of years–who knows where these guys might be?

So I decided I have something to write about after all: bands in formative stages. Because this is the best way I could describe iconoClass. It’s like I’ve caught a glimpse of an embryo band, or a band in an incubator. Put another way, iconoClass is still in their garage phase. A group of guys who can sort of play, and have found out they can make some really cool sounds–but haven’t really learned yet how to be a band.

But it’s not like these guys are just gonna stay off the map. That remains to be seen. They could really become a band people would want to come out and see. It’s just too early to tell.

Since I began writing this post, the band has wrapped up, and I went and talked to a couple of the guys–and found out I was exactly right in my assessment of them. They are a band in the embryonic stage; they’ve been playing together for six months, and this was their debut public performance. The reason no one sang is that their bass player hasn’t worked up to it yet.

But what impresses me–and I’ll explain this momentarily–is that these guys have no delusions about where they are at. They know they are a band in formation, and they don’t think they are better than they are–and they want to grow. That impresses me because when musicians don’t see their weaknesses honestly, they can’t grow. Frankly, I have little regard for bands who think they are more than they are.

The fact that these guys know their weaknesses tells me iconoClass will go places. How far they go, will still be up to them.

So here is some free advice for my new friends in iconoClass (I told them I was going to post this):

  • Yes. Get some vocals going. You won’t be able to carry an audience without them. And be willing to explore some options with vocals, and don’t be afraid to admit if your vocals suck. :) Again, being honest with yourselves will help you grow.
  • Concentrate on playing with one another. Listen to each other. This is happening a little, especially with your drum/bass combo, but it needs to happen more. Practice a bit more give and take with one another–when someone has the lead, everyone back off a bit and give them room.
  • Network with other bands; form some relationships with local bands you respect, and try to open for them. Being around musicians who are more advanced will challenge you.

So for the rest of you who were listening in on my iconoClass pep talk–the band will be playing their next show at Old Curtis Street Bar in downtown Denver on January 7, 2010. Don’t take my word for it; go hear a band in formation. (They promised the audience here they would sing next time.)

Best to you guys. Looking forward to watching your journey…

Nov 132009
Photo source:
I got this from Heather, who got it from Adrian.

I must admit I’d never heard of The Rural Alberta Advantage before today. Their website is unassuming, no hype. Their concept is simple and uncluttered. They don’t promote their act by sheer hype. But they are going everywhere (they were even in Denver last summer).

The clip below is a live, backstage, after-the-show spontaneous moment by one of the bandmates, Nils Edenloff, in San Francisco. The other two had already left.

Sometimes in music, it isn’t the most innovative, experimental thing that knocks you off your feet. Sometimes it’s just the pure, simple emotion of the moment.

In the Summertime (backstage at Bottom of the Hill, SF)

You can buy the original version here.

Oct 272009

So last Saturday I went to the Meadowlark to catch Danielle Ate the Sandwich (whom I profiled here and here). Her set was great, as expected. Go see her. Buy her records–“or die!” (as she comically warned the audience).

But that’s not what I want to talk about. I pretty much knew Danielle would be entertaining. The surprise of the night was these guys shown in the video below–an indie band from Wisconsin called The Daredevil Christopher Wright, who breezed in for the night and opened the bill.

Several things impressed me about this band. First, they pretty much defied labeling–you just haven’t heard anyone quite like them, and none of their songs seems to sound quite the same. There is a retro vibe pervading their stuff, but also a great deal of innovation and integration of styles. It was sort of like Buddy Holley meets Death Cab for Cutie, and together they sort of crash into an unknown rockabilly band. In the jungle. And this is what comes out. I dig that.

Second–they were tight and accurate. Despite the hodgepodge of styles and experimentation, they were on beat together, and were playing together, not separately. The mark of great musicianship.

Third–I love it when bands focus on their vocals. Too many upstarts just want to jam on their guitars and think that if they play loud enough, no one will notice their vocals suck. These guys not only sing well, but they all sing well together. Three strong vocals, on pitch and on cue. You just don’t see that very often.

I’m not saying everyone will like them. But they are interesting. Don’t you think?

The only downside: none of them is named Christopher Wright. Kind of confusing.

Not really. :)

OOMPH Scale: 6.8

Oct 202009

I like indie music. And apparently a lot of other people do, too.

All you have to do is browse through the music section of MySpace, or spend a little time on YouTube, to see how the indie music wave is growing. (For newbies…indie music is a nickname for independent music, meaning the music was produced and released without the backing of a major label or corporation–essentially from the “outside” of the established industry.) Although the musical styles are wide and varied, indie music itself has pretty much become its own genre. And although not too many indie artists are getting rich (yet), I think they are part of more than a trend–I think indie music is set to reshape the musical landscape. It’s a grassroots shift that we haven’t seen in music since rock-n-roll was born in Sam Phillips’ little Memphis studio.

There are a lot of dynamics all feeding into the indie music phenomenon–for example, modern technology, postmodernism, even designer coffee!–but among the different musical streams, indie music is the only one truly maximizing the positive benefits of these cultural changes. In short–indie music is doing everything right at the moment.

Having said all that…here are four specific reasons why I think indie music represents the future of music in general:

REASON ONE: The music industry machine is set in its ways.

Generally speaking, the music business–the community of major record labels, distributors, and decision-makers, the “movers and shakers”–hasn’t been “moving and shaking” in quite some time. They have become a fairly exclusive club–the “establishment”, if you will. They are in business to make money from music sales, and they have certain formulas they follow to bring in predictable results. The industry majors take fewer and fewer risks; these days, an artist has to generate a huge buzz, to prove he/she can sell records, before the big guys will even look at them. The creativity and risk-taking spirit that built the industry is seen more and more as a liability, and musical innovation must take a back seat to the tried-and-true methods of selling records. The end result is–all the music is starting to run together. High-quality production, excellent recordings, and lots of marketing–but standout artists are getting much harder to find.
The point is, the industry has rules, and those rules take precedence over creativity. Play ball, and they’ll help you sell records; otherwise, you’re on your own. When the vehicle that should be encouraging creativity in new artists actually becomes the obstacle standing in their way–creativity will find a way around it. And that’s really what’s happening with indie music. People are finding alternate ways of delivering their music to the public, without industry bigwigs deciding what can and cannot be tried. And because the music industry product is becoming more and more stale–the fresh sounds coming out of the indie camp are a breath of fresh air to more and more listeners.

REASON TWO: Modern technology has made it easier to self-publish.

The rise of cheap digital technology and the Internet could not have come at a more opportune time for indie artists. Who could have predicted that one day people could record their music on their laptop, make a video of themselves with a webcam, post their stuff on places like PureVolume, MySpace and YouTube, spread it virally through the social networks, and gain an international following–all without the help of the music industry? We’re seeing it happen more and more; smarter computers and the self-published Internet are creating new celebrities simply by giving them an unprecedented level of access to the public. True enough, there is a lot of garbage and mediocrity out there to weed through, and you can’t be a star just by posting on YouTube (artists still have to create something people want to hear). But these things are the marketing tools of the 21st Century–and they are in the hands of indie artists. Through the Internet, the public can hear and enjoy indie bands, buy their music online, find out where they are playing live, and go support them. The growth of indie music wouldn’t be happening without this.

REASON THREE: Our culture is tribalizing.

What this means is that as a people, we are identifying less and less with our larger national identities, and more and more with smaller segments of society. We are forming new “tribes”, if you will, over our shared interests and passions. This is especially true of the younger generation, and it’s affecting our tastes and preferences. We are getting jaded by the constant bombardment of highly-polished mass-marketing messages, and we’re beginning to react by leaning more toward the organic, the grassroots, the less-than-perfect–the diamonds in the rough. This is a perfect breeding ground for indie music, which appeals to smaller fan bases, is less polished, is promoted at the ground level, and has a definite “underdog” appeal. Even as the larger industry is turning out fewer “superstars”, it may also be that the age of the music “superstar” is on its way out. The younger generation is beginning to favor the unknowns and the lesser-knowns, and more bands may be reaching out to smaller audiences. This dynamic also favors the indie scene, because smaller audiences means there is plenty of room for new bands and artists to emerge.

REASON FOUR: The public is hungry for creativity.

This really ties in with the first point, but is probably the single-most important factor in the rise of indie music. The tight control the music industry/establishment exercises over its artists, by definition, squelches creativity; being creative is all about doing something differently than before, finding fresh ways to express ideas. The thing is, it isn’t just about the artists having the inspiration and freedom to create; we, the people, draw inspiration from their inspiration! We need the artist’s creativity, too. Because creativity is ebbing in the mainstream, the overall output is getting stale–and we’re getting hungry, even desperate, to hear something new. Indie music is now beginning to meet that need in us where mainstream music is not.

Now, none of this is to suggest that people aren’t still buying music by Britney Spears, Beyonce or Nickelback, because they are. Even with the piracy problems in the age of the Internet–by sheer volume, the mainstream music industry still rakes in billions of dollars a year, and won’t necessarily be going the way of the dinosaur overnight. But the cracks in the foundation are showing, and due to the unique combination of trends we’ve just discussed…the industry bigwigs are no longer holding all the cards. If an artist is overlooked or dismissed by the major labels, or just doesn’t want to jump through the hoops–there are now other options, other ways of getting things done. And that’s probably the biggest reason why more and more musicians are now “going indie”: because they can. If these trends continue–barring a major overhaul of the music industry–I think it spells a huge shift in the way music is produced, bought and sold, and a shift of creative control from label to artist. As it is with any major change–those who will adapt, will survive. Those who will not, won’t.

Indie music is riding the wave of change in a nearly perfect manner. Beyond just adapting to the moment–it seems this moment was made for the indie artist. And that’s why I think indie music is the future of music.