Oct 202010

Here’s an indie band that’s been getting a lot of attention in their part of the world–which just happens to be New Jersey.  In fact, Bern & the Brights has been nominated locally for two Hoboken Music Awards, for Outstanding Band and Outstanding EP.

The EP for which they’ve been nominated, Swing Shift Maisies, was released back in July.  I’ve had a chance to listen to it, and I can see to some extent what the stir is about.  Bern & the Brights have a distinctive sound, with elements of roots, rock and progressive country, overlaid with lead singer Bernadette Malavarca’s eclectic vocal quality. Their sound sets them apart from the pack, and is definitely their strongest asset.

Perhaps the one weakness I found with Swing Shift Maisies is that although there are definitely catchy moments on the record, there was also some melodic “dead space”–times when their amazing sound actually didn’t seem to be going anywhere due to a bland melodic line. It wasn’t that I felt the band lacks potential–more like I felt there were places where the potential wasn’t fully reached.  Bern & the Brights is definitely a promising band; what they need to take them over the top, IMHO, is simply a few more strong songs in their arsenal to carry their distinct sound.

That said, this is a band well on their way.  Take a listen and see what you think.

Bern & the Brights:
Bernadette Malavarca – lead guitar/vocals/percussion
Catherine McGowan – acoustic guitar/vocals
Nicole Scorsone – violin
Shawn Fafara – bass
Jose Ulloa – drums

Bern & the Brights: “Sangria Peaches”

 Buy the EP on itunes:


Aug 212010

Dan Craig Band

Maybe you’ve heard of Dan Craig, or maybe not.  If you are into the Denver local music scene, chances are you have.  He’s been building a following the past several years here in Denver with his indie blend of folk-rock that is reminiscent of Josh Ritter, or maybe Ryan Adams with slightly less twang.

Last night at the Bluebird Theater, Dan Craig and his Band played a show to release what is quite possibly their best studio project to date: Alchemy.

I’ve been playing my advance copy of the record for several weeks now, and have had to proverbially bite my tongue to keep from sharing a track or two with readers here until I had permission to do so.  Dan’s got a gift for both lyric and music, in my opinion, and with his gravelly voice and jangly guitar (and a solid band to back him up), the “alchemy” of this record just works for me. The whole record is strong, from the collection of songs to the instrumentation–but for me the songwriting is what puts it over the top.  Dan Craig has conclusively proven that it is possible to write alt-indie-folk songs with a clearly identifiable hook.

If you don’t know the Dan Craig Band, you really should. The alchemy of this record is too good for just one town to enjoy.

Dan Craig Band: “Alchemy”

Buy the whole album at iTunes:

Aug 162010

I recently shared some music from Denver indie-rock band Carbon Choir’s recent full-length record High Beams.  It turns out the band thought four songs originally considered for that record would do better on their own–so this week they are releasing a new EP called Cut from the Cloth.  This record, though, is anything but a set of B-sides.  The band’s lead singer Joel Van Horne tells me that they saved these tunes purposely because of their strengths, not their weaknesses. 

Listening to the songs, I can understand what he means. This band is growing on me the more I sit with their music.  I’m not a huge fan of experimental rock in general, but I really like the emotion these guys are able to bring to their complex arrangements.  I think they’re going someplace.

With the band’s permission, I’ve posted one of the EP tracks below. If you like what you hear, check the band’s website in a few days to see how to get a copy of the EP–or, if you’re in the Denver/Boulder area, you can attend a CD release show this Friday night at the Fox Theatre in Boulder and get a copy there.  In fact, if you’re there early enough, you might get it free!  (First 100 in the door get a free copy.)

Carbon Choir: “Bird with Broken Wings”

Jul 262010

Well, I suppose it was bound to happen.

I commented here on Friday about all the roots-acoustic-indie bands at the UMS, and quipped how I was surprised nobody pulled out a washboard. 

You know what’s coming, don’t you?

During Ayo Awosika’s solo set Saturday night, she announced that she and singer/songwriter Megan Burtt had started a duo called Travel By Skylark and were having their debut performance Sunday night–and among the instruments she said they’d be playing?


Obviously I had to go and see this spectacle.  So on this Sunday, I swapped out some of my scheduled stops at the UMS to watch the official launch of Travel By Skylark at The Irish Rover.  Sure enough, they pulled out a washboard for one of the songs.  They even dedicated the song to me.

Yeah, I went and told Megan about my snide bloggy remark.  Me and my big mouth. :)

Fun and games aside, though–Travel By Skylark’s debut performance went very well.  They won over the crowd from the first song, and the response remained enthusiastic throughout. Their sound together is folky, but not retro–even with the washboard, which Ayo played quite well, BTW. It was a great experience to see these two young women, both highly talented artists in their own right, coming together for the fun of it to play new material, just because they enjoy playing together.  Travel by Skylark gets my mark as Sunday’s highlight of the day–and not just because they dedicated the song to me.  (Believe what you want.  My vote can’t be bought with song dedications–only with cold, hard cash.)

That was a joke, too.  You’ll just have to get used to that.  Can you tell I’m a little loopy this morning?

I was moving a lot slower Sunday, so I didn’t catch as many acts as the other days. But I did manage to catch most of an informative panel discussion on indie bands and recording studios, and I also managed to stop in and see:

  • Rachel James and Brighton Boulevard (pop/rock)
  • Maudlin (indie-rock)
  • Annie Lynch (folk)
  • Josh Novak (pop/rock)

I tried to catch Hello Kavita, but apparently illness prevented the band from playing.  Their replacement was The Photo Atlas, whom I’d seen before, so I chose to move on and try to catch someone I hadn’t seen.

Before wrapping up my journal of this year’s UMS, an honorable mention also goes to Rachel James and Brighton Boulevard, who played in a small venue to a sparse crowd, but did a great job.

Looking forward to next year!

Jul 252010

The Rouge at the UMS 2010.

Day 3 of the UMS started off with some panel discussions in a church basement. I caught the last few minutes of a discussion with three members of local bands who have had some experience with record labels. I learned more in those few minutes than any of a number of books I’ve read.

Today was just a great, not-too-hot Denver day for walking Broadway and hearing the streets filled with music. One band I saw literally had set up their gear on the sidewalk and were playing to a gathering crowd of passers-by. Quite good, actually.

Acts I caught today:

  • The Rouge–alternative rock
  • The Yes We Cans–punk
  • Angela Jane–indie rock
  • Kal Cahoone & the Dirty Pretty–acoustic alternative
  • Annie Lynch–folk
  • Varlet (with Lilly Scott)–indie
  • Megan Burtt–acoustic country/rock
  • Andrea Ball–indie
  • Ayo Awosika–jazz/soul
  • Dan Craig Band–indie rock
  • Science Partner–folk
  • Churchill–acoustic rock

So many acts, I actually have two favorite picks for today, followed by some honorable mentions:

PICK ONE:  Dan Craig Band
I first heard Dan Craig opening for John Common.  Dan was quite sick at the time, and his voice reflected it–although he was a good sport.  Tonight I could hear the band without the handicap.  Great songs, powerful sound.  Be looking  for a review of the band’s upcoming CD.

PICK TWO: Annie Lynch
I happened on Annie quite by accident. She heads a folk band from Brooklyn called Annie and the Beekeepers, but is playing solo at the UMS. The church building where I started the afternoon also happens to be one of the venues, and she was playing there. Simple, pure vocals with acoustic guitar, set in the live acoustics of the church–it was one of those moments. (Annie gave me permission to share a song from her band’s latest EP–you can find it at the end of this post.  If you are local, you can catch her at the UMS again Sunday night at 7PM at the Irish Rover on S. Broadway.)

HONORABLE MENTIONS: I can always count on Megan Burtt and Churchill to give solid performances. I was also pleased to see the way Churchill is gaining momentum as a band. Their 11PM set packed out Moe’s Bar-B-Q.  Another shout-out goes to Science Partner, just for being quirky and entertaining.

We’re still not done yet…

Annie & the Beekeepers: “Again and Again”

Jul 242010

The UMS got into full swing Friday as more bands played in more venues. If you’re into this kind of thing (like me), it’s akin to being a kid in a whole row of candy stores.  All you have to do is walk down South Broadway, and music of many different kinds pours out into the streets from the various indoor (and outdoor) stages.

For me, Friday evening  for some reason was mainly retro night.  I even Tweeted about the irony that indie music is supposed to be progressive, but most of what I heard sounded like it had come from 4 to 8 decades ago. 

Forget 60’s retro–that’s so ’90s. No, this stuff sounded like it comes out of the Dust Bowl.  (One of my Facebook friends joked about the recession stirring the collective memory.)

Forget electric guitar; that’s so early 2000’s.  The bands that are truly chic today use string basses, banjos and mandolins. (I’m surprised no one has thought to throw in some washboard.)

My tongue is in my cheek, of course. Not all the indie bands are doing this, though the ones who are doing so are actually pretty good. The beauty of indie music is you’re free to play what inspires you, and there is a lot of diversity (I just happened upon a slew of acoustic acts tonight).  I just couldn’t help but chuckle at the thought of these twenty-somethings writing and playing music my grandparents would have liked.

The acts I caught all or part of tonight were:

  • Natural and the Disasters–indie folk/rock/something-or-other
  • Speakeasy Tiger–pop/rock with a retro ’80s glam vibe
  • Tim Bruns (frontman for Churchill)–country
  • Paper Bird–acoustic indie/folk with a bit of doo-wop thrown in
  • The Beaten Sea–alt-country/folk
  • The Centennial (formerly Meese)–atmospheric pop? (I covered this one for Examiner.com here.)
  • Carbon Choir–indie-rock

And my pick for the evening:  Tim Bruns of Churchill.

Admittedly, I had some bias here; Churchill is my current favorite local band. But left to himself, Tim has a country-leaning style all his own, and his lyrics are intelligent, emotional and thought provoking.

Carbon Choir ran a close second–but I could only catch the last few minutes of their act.

More to come…

Jul 232010

So this weekend in Denver, over 300 indie bands (both locals and passers-thru) are gracing 20-plus stages along South Broadway in the Underground Music Showcase. Often billed as Denver’s version of SXSW, it’s a great deal for music lovers.  Forty bucks for four days of music.  Not bad. :)  I have a lot of friends playing the showcase this year, so between showing them some love and catching new bands I haven’t seen yet, I’ve got my boat loaded.

So what am I doing in my few minutes of down time?  Blogging about it. :)

Seriously, I thought I’d keep a running diary through the four days, giving a few of my impressions, and a “top pick” for my favorite act each night.  So here goes…

DAY 1 (Thursday, July 22)

The UMS box office is in a vacant lot next to one of the many venues on S. Broadway.  I pick up my wristband, and discover that it’s one of those small plastic you-can-drink-in-the-bars kind of bands that is NOT refastenable, so if you take it off, you ruin it.  And it’s good for all four days, and you HAVE to wear it, not just carry it around.  This means I have to either keep it on for four days, or figure a way to re-fasten it day to day.  I choose option 2.

Opening night is the slowest, with only a few venues and artists starting off.  Still, I’m able to catch all or part of the sets of five acts, and I’m already impressed with the diversity just within the music I heard.  These are the acts I caught, and the best genre that describes them for me:

  • Alan Baird Project–indie rock
  • Chella Negro–Americana
  • Sarah Slaton–indie/acoustic
  • Paean–experimental/atmopheric
  • Jeremy Messersmith–indie/acoustic

My pick of the night: Paean

I had some prior experience with Paean, having reviewed their record. The down side of their set was that they are a larger band and were packed onto a tiny stage like so many sardines, and some of the bandmates had to have their backs to the crowd just to fit onstage.  Also, the vocals were too low in the mix, and when I could hear the lead singer, it was that strange, half-singing-half-screaming, I-am-in-great-pain kind of sound I’ve talked about before.  But there is a passion and vibe in the music of this band that is absolutely captivating, with songs that tend to start minimalistically, and crescendo to a fever pitch.  Once again, I found myself forgiving the vocals in favor of the music.

More to come!

Jul 102010

In the many attempts of indie music to break the mold created by the mainstream and come up with something new, I hear a lot of experimental rock that sounds more like chaos than anything else.  When you get a lot of these bands exploring all this new ground, ironically, they all tend to run together in their experimentalism.

But when Denver-Boulder band Carbon Choir sent me a copy of their latest release, High Beams, I was refreshingly surprised by their particular flavor of atmospheric rock.  Yes, it’s out of the mainstream, and yes, it’s experimental.  But it’s also highly intelligent music, blending reflective falsetto vocals with ethereal guitars and intricate (yet accurate) rhythms in a sonic mix that actually works.  You’ll probably hear Radiohead and Coldplay influences, but this is definitely not a carbon copy band. 

I look forward to hearing these guys play live, and since they are local, I expect I will soon.

Take a listen for yourself.

Carbon Choir: “Measure of Your Madness”

Download the record from itunes here: High Beams – Carbon Choir

May 212010

I don’t know if there’s an official genre called retro-country.  (If there isn’t, I’m sure we could just make it up.  You can do that these days, you know.)

Anywho…if retro-country is a genre, that’s the best way to describe the sound of Denver locals The Hollyfelds.  (That’s FELDS, not FIELDS.)  Hearing their music and/or seeing them play live definitely reminds you of days gone by, when country was country-western, not just rock & roll put out to pasture.

And yet, there’s a modern element in there as well.  It doesn’t sound exactly like old-school country; there’s a distinct alt-indie vibe in there. Almost like an indie band went back in time to the fifties, attended a hoe-down (the retro meaning–keep it clean, folks) and came back sounding like this.  Or maybe the other way around, like a 50’s country band came to the future, picked up some alternative vibes, and went back…well, make up your own mind.  You get the idea. Either way, they are a fun band to listen to.

True to the retro vibe, the Hollyfelds are releasing a two-song “EP” this weekend, entitled, Lo Bueno, Lo Malo, Lo Feo, on 7″ vinyl record–just like the 45-speed records my kid once thought were just oversized CDs.  AND…true to the modern vibe that is also part of The Hollyfelds…the two songs will also be available by digital download.  You can hear one of the songs below.

The Hollyfelds: “How To Be Gone”

BTW…that EP title.  It sort of makes me want to whistle the theme song of a Clint Eastwood spaghetti western.  In Spanish. :)

If you’re in Denver this weekend, you can catch the Hollyfeld’s EP release party this Saturday, May 22, at the Meadowlark Bar.  Details are posted on my weekend picks on Examiner.com.

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”