Tag Archives: music from Denver (Colorado – USA)

An American summer/fall tour for The Collection and Lowland Hum

20 Aug
the Collection tune up...

the Collection tune up…

Today the Collection begin a two-month American tour. Veering mostly around the South, the Midwest, the West Coast and the Pacific North-Western states, it takes in (bar a mid-tour rendezvous with the Viper Room in Los Angeles) the kind of intimate, audience-engaging venues I’d love to discover on an American road trip of my own – assorted music bars, small theatres, coffee shops. This is in keeping with the band’s stated ethos – based in Greensboro, North Carolina, the Collection describe themselves less as a band and more of “a community of artists, nurses, farmers, students, and everyone in between doing life together.” According to bandleader David Wimbish, “we don’t want fans, we want family. It’s incredible to us that people would even listen to our music, and it’s so much more important for us to connect with those people than to figure out how to get fans.”

The second Collection album, ‘Ars Moriendi’, was released last summer but only crossed my ears recently via a brief and now-expired Noisetrade offer (you can still go there and pick up a free sampler if you want to). I love discovering inspiring records by accident, and ‘Ars Moriendi’ is one of the more emotionally commanding works I’ve heard for a good while. Swelling up from a core of seven people to as many as twenty-five on record, the Collection dip into rock, folk, gospel, barndance, bluegrass, soul and mariachi. Adding banjo, brass, strings, reeds, autoharps, and didgeridoos to the usual pianos, guitar and drums results in a heady grand-medicine-show of a sound.

This in itself isn’t new. There are plenty of expansive Americana folk-rock ensembles peppered with diverse instrumentation; and (either by coincidence, intent or just common feeling) the Collection echo strains of music which we’ve already heard via The Polyphonic Spree, Arcade Fire, Sufjan Stevens and Guillemots; not to mention The Band and Mercury Rev, or the reedy, distracted, keening tones David shares with Damien Rice. What gives them the Collection their particular edge is the driving verve and commitment with which they play. Despite their hollering utopian tendencies of their singalongs they’re unconcerned with party robes or cute, culty psychedelic trappings. Instead, their music is imbued with communitarian impulses and a fumbling, ever-hopeful sense of personal connections.

Integral to this is the band’s Christianity. Almost every one of David Wimbish’s songs is studded and seeded with Biblical allusions and resonances, yet he’s never rendered complacent and conformist by his faith. Rather, he’s caught up in it – a tender-hearted radical questioning and examining his beliefs, challenging his own conscience and the orthodoxy, compelled to decry the church’s seams of bigotry and exceptionalism whenever he stumbles over them. At the same time, David is clearly fascinated by the church’s central mystery of life renewed, setting it (with some pain and trepidation) against the deaths of friends and family that cut grief-lines into his songs and filter both darkness and weight into the Collection’s music. Like me, you don’t have to actually be a believer to be moved by David’s explorations and exhortations as he travels from exuberance to despair, from buoyant encouragement to audible tear-swallowing. After all, the best Christian music is always a little wracked and cracked: something in which their faith reveals people to themselves, and perhaps a little more of their humanity to others.

 

On this tour, the Collection will be accompanied by two of their Greensboro compatriots – husband-and-wife duo Daniel and Lauren Goans, a.k.a. Lowland Hum. Fond of the intimacy of house concerts, they ought to make a good foil and complement to the Collection’s inclusive spirit. Hopefully Daniel and Lauren will get the chance to carry out their usual immersive, synaesthesic gig experience – staging and dressing the playing environment with props and essential oil burners, passing out hand-bound lyric books to their audience, and generally eliding the boundaries between the many ways a person can experience a concert.

Lowland Hum get immersed (photo by Griffin Hart Davis)

Lowland Hum get immersed (photo by Griffin Hart Davis)

Even if not, there’s still the music from their eponymous debut album (released in April this year) to consider. ‘Lowland Hum’ is an enthrallingly American art-pop record in which country-duo harmonies and Atlantic folk guitar intertwines with multi-instrumental Portishead/Mandalay trip hop, and in which songs flick unsettlingly between sports arena scale and backyard porch intimacy in the space of a breath. Lyrical preoccupations (fragmented but lucid) span ageing, the shifting internal perspective of growing and growth, or suburban disassociations; or cover the life of Toulouse-Lautrec in ten short scattered lines.

Sharing voices, instrumentation and production between them, Lauren and Dan sometimes seem to phase in and out of each other (as on Rolling And Rolling, a touching first-person meditation on a boy’s budding adolescence on which both singers take turns to voice his slipping thoughts). Similarly, they move through genres like purposeful ghosts. A song like Jack Of Hearts (a study of the dangers of power and charisma) can begin as a country cautionary, fray into psychedelic folk, clatters its sticks into complications and end up as a layered ambient march.

 
On a couple of dates the Collection and Lowland Hum will be joined by other performers. In Birmingham, Alabama, they’ll be playing with folk-rock trio War Jacket (who describe themselves as both warm and haunted, like their hometown); in San Francisco by Gothic-tinged chamber-pop crooner (and Stephen Merritt collaborator) Jon DeRosa; and in Greely, Colorado by both the Denver art-and-music collective Giants & Pilgrims and the outlaw-country cowpunker Matt Davis.

 

 

 

 

Full tour dates below:

  • Ashland Coffee and Tea, 100 North Railroad Avenue, Ashland, Virginia, USA, Thursday 20th August 2015
  • Twisted Branch Tea Bazaar, 414 E Main St, Charlottesville, Virginia, USA, Friday 21st August 2015
  • Hanesbrands Theater @ Milton Rhodes Centre for the Arts, 251 Spruce Street North, Winston-Salem, North Carolina, USA, Saturday 22nd August 2015
  • Local 506, 506 West Franklin St, Chapel Hill, North Carolina, USA, Sunday 23rd August 2015
  • The Pour House, 1977 Maybank Highway, Charleston, South Carolina, USA, Monday 24th August 2015
  • The Camp House, 832 Georgia Avenue, Chattanooga, Tennessee, USA, Wednesday 26th August 2015
  • Eddie’s Attic, 515 North McDonough Street, Decatur, Georgia, USA, Thursday 27th August 2015
  • The Nick, 2514 10th Avenue South, Birmingham, Alabama, USA,
    Friday 28th August 2015
    (supported by War Jacket)
  • The Beatnik, 615 Toulouse Street, New Orleans, Louisiana, USA, Saturday 29th August 2015
  • Common Grounds, 1123 South 8th Street, Waco, Texas, USA, Sunday 30th August 2015
  • (House Show), 407 Mignon Lane, Houston, Texas, USA, Monday 31st August 2015 (ticketed – apply via link)
  • Mohawk, 912 Red River Street, Austin, Texas, USA, Wednesday 2nd September 2015
  • The Viper Room, 8852 West Sunset Boulevard, West Hollywood, Los Angeles, California, USA, Sunday 6th September 2015
  • Hotel Utah, 500 4th Street, San Francisco, California, USA, Wednesday 9th September 2015 (supported by Jon DeRosa)
  • Fremont Abbey, 4272 Fremont Avenue North, Seattle, Washington, USA, Friday 11th September 2015
  • Kelly’s Olympian, 426 SW Washington Street, Portland, Oregon, USA, Sunday 13th September 2015
  • Old Nick’s Pub , 211 Washington Street, Eugene, Oregon, USA, Tuesday 15th September 2015
  • Reef, 105 South 6th Street, Boise, Idaho, USA, Thursday 17th September 2015
  • The Dawg Pound, 3550 South State Street, Salt Lake City, Utah, USA, Saturday 19th September 2015
  • Moxi Theatre, 802 9th Street, Greeley, Colorado, USA, Monday 21st September 2015 (supported by Giants & Pilgrims, Matt Davis)
  • Downtown Artery, 252 Linden Street, Fort Collins, Colorado, USA, Tuesday 22nd September 2015
  • Hi-Dive, 7 South Broadway, Denver, Colorado, USA, Wednesday 23rd September 2015
  • The Tank Room, 1813 Grand Boulevard, Kansas City, Missouri, USA, Thursday 24th September 2015

Woven in and out of this tour, Lowland Hum will be playing some separate headlining dates of their own (shared, on one North Carolinan occasion, by church-and-country songwriter Josiah Early).

  • Horizon Records, 2-A West Stone Avenue, Greenville, South Carolina, USA, Tuesday 25th August 2015
  • Westmont College, 955 La Paz Road, Santa Barbara, California, Saturday 5th September 2015
  • Old Orchard Church, 640 Amelia Avenue, Webster Groves, St Louis, Missouri, USA, Saturday 26th September 2015
  • The Grey Eagle, 185 Clingman Avenue, Asheville, North Carolina, USA, Sunday 25th October 2015 (supported by Josiah Early)

 

The Collection/Lowland Hum, summer/fall US tour 2015
 

 

REVIEW – Cceruleann: ‘Hearts Stop’ single, 2012 (“uneasy allure”)

30 Jul

Cceruleann: 'Hearts Stop'

Cceruleann: ‘Hearts Stop’

Cceruleann’s previous, provocatively-titled pop single – ‘Fucking Wind‘ – seemed to be playing games with us. The soft, romantic sound versus that crude title. That sugary innocence, prancing onwards; oblivious to a silent looming hammer of anger. When I heard it, I thought it was supposed to be listened to from outside – that it was about the fury we sometimes feel towards the complacent and self-centred. It was as if the song had built a gun to point, teasingly, at its own head.

Hearts Stop doesn’t play the same shifting cards; but there’s still an odd, artful twist to Cceruleann’s songcraft, which means that anything even slightly unusual about them becomes loaded with significance. The fact that babydoll-voiced singer Marilyn and instrumentalist Elliot are siblings; that they live half a globe apart in Denver and in London; that together they’re writing these peculiar, minimal and contradictory electro-pop songs with their pretty little coatings… All of it adds to the uneasy allure.

This time, the artwork is a swarming beehive. Marching on an incongruous, thunderous hip-hop drumbeat and tuneful electropop bleeps, Hearts Stop is built around a slim haiku of lyric which Marilyn chants against a skein of wineglass warbles: “We can fly forever, / but we will fall when our hearts stop. / The fall will break us.” During the breakdowns, her multi-tracked voice twines coyly around itself, as new blips and patters worm their way into the skein. A distorted female laugh bubbles up in the mix, and stays there. A sampler dices and hiccups out the song title (two-and-a-half syllables of the haiku).

It’s as simple as that. And maybe it is as simple as that. Maybe there’s no more decoding to be done, and the bees are only wrapped around the single for effect. Maybe Cceruleann have just written another synth-pop anthem about love, broken hearts and death in the overblown way it’s supposed to go, so that we can keep singing songs about it.

Unless, perhaps, Cceruleann aren’t singing about love and heartbreak at all. Perhaps they’re actually making a point about work and obsession; about how we’re driven on by what we believe we ought to do, whether it’s grinding our lives to dust in a thankless job or slowly crushing ourselves to exhaustion against people and causes which simply don’t love us back. In this light, the song shifts into something different and more ambivalent – a sweet-sounding lemming-march, a chant for the worker bees who strive until they stumble and end and are swept aside for the next ones. Perhaps I’m imagining it. If so, it’s only because I don’t ever quite trust Cceruleann to play straight.

Cceruleann: ‘Hearts Stop’
Holy Underground Recordings/Bandcamp
Download-only single
Released: 10th July 2012

Buy it from:
Bandcamp

Cceruleann online:
Facebook Twitter Soundcloud Bandcamp

REVIEW – Cceruleann: ‘Fucking Wind’ single, 2012 (“waiting to be wrong-footed”)

6 Jun
Cceruleann: 'Fucking Wind'

Cceruleann: ‘Fucking Wind’

In love and on the road: it should be sweet. Instead, you’re continually waiting to be wrong-footed.

First, there’s the music – electronic dream-pop of a multiple-nostalgic kind. The tune is balmy. The blipping synth lines, the crude keyboard beats, the hiccuping voice cut-ups are all from ’80s sample pop. That dazed, wet-gossamer female vocal and the smudge of stretched-out organ goo (swirling from speaker to speaker), draws inspiration from shoegazery and similar blissful-nauseous mid-’90s psychedelia. The puffed hints of melodica and the yawns of bass swim in from first-generation post-punk; or perhaps I’ve just been drawn into the dream, and am imagining them.

Then there’s the song itself. A girl in a car, savouring the moment, coos the simplest, most sugary lover’s line. “It’s OK, baby, don’t worry / ‘cos we’re driving with the summer breeze in my face.” That’s it. There are four more words in the entire lyric, one of which is “ethereal.”

Finally, lurking around the corner like a mugger-in-waiting, there’s that blunt instrument of a title. It’s already plastered all over the cover art. You keep expecting it to come down hard and smash the reverie. Or, alternatively, for everything to turn metaphysical and carnal as the gale hits, the cuteness ends, the car pulls over and everyone starts rutting in the back seat.

For something so light and fluffy on the surface, Cceruleann’s debut single throws up plenty of confusion. Even more subtext gets plastered in when you discover that the band are a brother-and-sister duo (instrumentalist Elliot, singer Marilyn). If I were you, I’d do my best to ignore that for now. In some ways, that’s easy to carry out: though moving together in musical step, Elliott and Marilyn sound as if they’re musing in different worlds. Along the way, some of Marilyn’s words are caught up and shredded, then tossed like happy litter in the wake of the tune. As for that title, it never arrives in the song. The f-bomb remains undetonated. Have they scammed us? Did they just get sick of their own song and punish it with a sarcastic name?

Or perhaps we’re looking in the wrong place. Maybe the real story is about the other person who’s out on that drive – perhaps listening to this endless burble of contentment and seething, their knuckles clenched white on the wheel or wrapped tight around the knees, wondering once again why it’s so impossible to see how another person sees, to feel their feelings, comprehend their tastes… even to understand how you can get through a single day of being with them anymore. Maybe the romance of the playful summer wind is lost along with that. As it teases and strokes at cheekbones, perhaps on the other side of the car it’s whipping petulantly at a cowlick; and while fringe blows aggressively into eyes, and as love heads into the sour spot for good, perhaps something vile is being muttered into that uncaring breeze.

Cceruleann: ‘Fucking Wind’
Holy Underground Recordings/Bandcamp
Download-only single
released 14 May 2012

Buy it from:
Bandcamp

Cceruleann online:
Facebook Twitter Soundcloud Bandcamp

REVIEW – Pale Boy: ‘Pale Boy’ album, 2000 (“transparent as blown newsprint”)

6 Jun
Pale Boy: 'Pale Boy'

Pale Boy: ‘Pale Boy’

Apparently what fires Seth Geltman up is Astor Piazolla – fiery, complex, challenging music, stirring feet into instinctive dance. But it’s a stiller, smaller flame that Piazolla has lit in Geltman’s heart. His own songwriting is a more reserved thing altogether. You could compare what Seth Geltman and Thomas Blomster do with Pale Boy to what Stephen Merritt does with Magnetic Fields: “from the brain straight through the heart – the shortest distance”, as Geltman puts it.

Although not as accessible (or Broadway-bound) as Merritt’s, Geltman’s songwriting is similarly sophisticated. It’s cerebral, and sometimes difficult for ears attuned to pure pop. Dark closeted harmonies abound; melodies fade into shadowy doubts rather than aspiring. An air of introversion and dry, wounded carefulness is always present. If Spice Girls had Geltman’s number, they wouldn’t call it. If Stephen Sondheim had it, he might.

Pale Boy’s delicate and mannered debut is loaded with thought and detail. Life is constantly being breathed in by Blomster’s exquisite arrangements: a chamber-orchestra palette of fluttering jazz and flamenco guitars, violins, reeds and brass plus Blomster’s own piano, ever-crisp drumming and knack for tuned percussion. Drawing on latter-day classical, jazz, and the area where the two blend together, this is music fleshed out with the same kind of light, miniaturist detail as Penguin Cafe Orchestra. Seth handles most of the singing himself – his light bloodless voice as untouchable and inflection-free as Leonard Cohen’s and as transparent as blown newsprint.

Although Pale Boy are Denver-based, their spiritual home is European – either an autumnal and imaginary Paris of skating rinks, cafe culture and falling leaves, or the ascerbic Germany that Brecht and Weil knew. Or, perhaps, a hundred points between Moscow and San Francisco where dispossessed Old Worlders with shabby coats and battered instrument cases laid down their baggage and played for a while… Think that. Then factor in a touch of Smog, with trailer parks, shitty hotels and bad teeth replaced by faded, once-grand apartments and battered books. That nails the Pale Boy world as closely as anything.

The other occasional touchstone is Love’s ‘Forever Changes’ – intricate folk strumming, surging orchestras, and dreamy heads running up against barriers. Just A Thought (in which Seth, up to his knees in toil, casts his mind free over slinking brass and woodwind) hints at Aloneagainor in its mingled innocence and frustration – “There’s so much more than the grind every day – / there’s the blue, and the cats, and the letter K. / Far from the chatter and the money hunt, / there’s a thought of an autumn afternoon.”

A darker taste of Love, mingled with twelve-tone operetta, enters Promise Me, shading into a moody resignation: “Promise me obscurity / Turn out the spotlight… / Come and go but never leave. / Let me make my best guess how to ride your slippery lines, / you fleeting joking prayer.” Best of all are the sweet express-train violins, budding trumpets and John Adams throb of It’s Good, the point where Pale Boy succumb to instinct (“Over all this sprawling mess, / rising slow in the abdomen, / taking hold of what we know. / Is this another fine mess / or an opulent waltz in the wrong direction?”) and where a new note of assurance enters Seth’s voice: “Yes, it’s good. / Just sit tight, / wait for light…”

Here and everywhere in this painstakingly adult music you can sense the presence of those cracks and draughts which betray us each time we succumb to the unexpected currents and shamings that toy with stable lives and clean ambitions. “Facts march all over an ordinary day / Paper’s got nothing to say except scandals, sports, atrocities… / Scattered friction everywhere.” The understated title track might bury itself under a forgettable melody, but its vivid lyric (of lost directions, of a hectoring young man engulfed by a stifling fence) penetrates deeper. Acrobat is cutting and unforgiving, a bored audience turning away from a “gaudy little crackpot showing off with all his might” and ignoring him as he heads into his fatal fall. Bossa-nova and muted brass line the music of October Hat, a surreal ballet of a song in which one scribbled sonnet, lost to the sea, signifies one man’s misdirected attempt to capture and circumscribe the sense of his own life.

“Well, you made your point, / and the only audience that mattered never showed up” Geltman murmurs pointedly on Hum In The Clouds. Storm-tossed lounge jazz rolls around him, wrestling with a Reich-ian xylophone, and the debris of divorce bangs into both. “What did you think would happen? Why did you leave so soon? / Do you know how much was missed and lost on those Saturday afternoons?” Throughout the record, mixed feelings and shifting views struggle for dominance; as in Wearing Your Time Out, when patient drudgery gives way to “the corner of your eye / going suddenly awry / after getting lost on lines of reason.”

This ambiguity is best caught in the trio of songs sung by Jeana Dodge. Her restrained classical soprano lends them an affectingly uptight and anxious yearning. The light, mournful marriage waltz of Almost illustrates profoundly thankful love, yet ever-so-slightly sullied by restlessness and defensiveness – “Almost a connection that couldn’t exist. / Almost all I need to subsist.” On Underside Of A Terrible Thought, an unspecified angst is picked apart with determination, disgust and fascination – “Hold it high in the muddy light… / Hold your nose and hold it very tight… / It warms your brain and quickens your blood… / this twisted tangled orphan.” The polite cadences and lullaby-vibraphone of All We’re Left With show compressed resentment seeping from the civilised rubble of a relationship – “Kept my patience, bought the flowers, went to college, put out fires… / brought home bacon, / scrubbed the windows… / and I followed the rules.”

Less successful are attempts at straightforward anger, which only sap Pale Boy of both spirit and tunes. I Hate You greys out into dull minimalism (in spite of precise, venomous lyrics (and Blomster’s poignant arrangement of funeral reeds), and while Ton Of Blue gropes at the lovelorn existential dread of the deepest blues, it only ends up sulking, morose and snappish, in its conservatoire setting. No – Pale Boy’s understated emotions fare better with  subtler, yet more complex  bonds and empathies. An endearing, awkward eroticism nibbles at the floating, detached spring-dream of Shy Beast. The wistful, tear-jerking strings and muffled brass of I Know What You’re Thinking make it a Scott Walker fall-apart thing. Here, Seth singing at his gentlest. “I know you’ve been drinking / from the oldest hope that ever was. Rising up through your spine, / flowing through the brain and through the heart, the part glowing… / And I know what you’re thinking – / ‘Get me through this jagged night’.”

At the end, Stay Hidden makes a quiet and wary bid for intimacy, with Seth pursuing truth with all the extra senses of the once-bitten. “It leaks its news through unsuspecting clues, / it lies in wait for all of us.” By this time, those cracks and gaps have been assuaged by something. Perhaps it was the still, small sound of a hopeful trumpet. This album’s not for everyone; but if you’ve silently burned, quietly frayed or seen something dear to you stretch out of your gentle grasp, it’ll strike up a little chord in you.

Pale Boy: ‘Pale Boy’
Kale Music, ERG82299 (no barcode)
CD-only album
Released: 18th April 2000

Buy it from:
CD Baby

Pale Boy (Seth Geltman) online:
Homepage

Glowing House: ‘Taming Lions’ single (“beating time on a tumbledown shack”)

12 May

Out at the helm of Glowing House, Steve Varney is raw, ruffled, hollering and sounds born to run. This is just as well. Trouble is hot on his tail. “I don’t think there is a gauge that will save me – / somehow they overpower gunpowder, like it’s easy…”

The head-up single for the second Glowing House album, Taming Lions is all about the incipient, savage disaster that’s just about to crash down on Steve’s head. The band’s fall-apart folky acoustic noise catches the feeling perfectly. They sound like the kind of band which survives credit crunches, small nuclear wars and the collapse of most of the functional parts of civilization. You can see yawing flashes of light straight through the gaps in the barefoot, wind-tossed rhythms.

Besides the cluck and clunk of Steve’s banjo, the song’s a superb stomping wobble of school piano, Salvation Army brass, foggy rasps of accordion and dirty cello, and someone beating time on a tumbledown shack with a handful of big sticks. (I checked back on this – it’s actually a third of the band playing on church pews. Talk about muscular Christianity…) At the top of his carrying, celebratory bruise of a voice, Steve’s making it quite clear that he’s stuck in a rigged and increasingly dangerous game. “They gave me a ten-minute head start, and they started counting. / I need a top-notch hiding spot I can hide out in. / Don’t be fooled they’ll give you space in the chase for a reason – / they wait for the perfect minute to stop the healing.”

Off he hurtles; firing a cartoon blunderbuss for cover, and to no great effect. They keep coming. As the song bounces on, there are more than a few suggestions that what Steve’s actually fleeing are his own demons, bouncing after him like a tin can tied to his ankle. Not much hope in escaping that way. But the sheer vigor of the band – of the song itself – suggests that they’re people who thrive on this kind of peril and the energy it kicks up. This is enormous fun. Keeping one step ahead of disaster rarely sounded so lively.

Glowing House: ‘Taming Lions’
Bandcamp
download-only single
released: 8th May 2012

Get it from:
Free download from Bandcamp

Glowing House online:

Homepage Facebook Twitter Soundcloud Bandcamp

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