But even the end of the world needs a soundtrack.
In these past few weeks, the novel coronavirus spread quickly throughout the United States, causing all manner of changes to flatten the curve, avoid a complete healthcare system breakdown, and lessen unnecessary deaths. Life feels completely different than it did just two weeks ago, with social distancing as the new norm. Restaurants are closed and shows are cancelled or postponed. Live music for the foreseeable future will be a memory.
But even the end of the world needs a soundtrack.
Another year, another year-end review. 2019 though, was a really, really difficult year for me -- likely the worst calendar year of my life. (And I’m not even considering politics in that statement!)
Because I was in a not-great state most of the year, I didn’t discover or listen to that much new music, see much live music, or write about much either, unfortunately. From mysterious and chronic health issues and endless, stressful work, to a lot of travel, the death of a beloved dog, and deep heartbreak, I had a lot of lows, over and over. Mental health has also been a continuous struggle since the start of 2019. The music that I listened to this year then functioned either as emotional support and comfort, or inspirational and motivational -- to celebrate the good things that did happen, because those happened, too.
Good things included: seeing Bad Suns live (amazing show), finally seeing Tomberlin live (I cried so much), seeing Buke and Gase live (underwhelming, sadly), photographing UMS in Denver, getting retweeted by Empress Of and Liza Anne, buying new vinyl, finally meeting Dessa at a book signing, Ryan Adams getting revealed as the absolute shit that he is, The Envy Corps released new music (!!), I saw David Bazan live at one of his super small secret shows and got to chat with him (!!!), I found another venue I like in Denver (Summit Music Hall) and got to photograph Clairo there, and the amazing women of the Minneapolis music scene got featured in the Star Tribune.
So there was good with the bad, but listening to these specific albums helped me immensely, and I don’t know what I would have done without them. So artists, if you're on this list: 1. I can't thank you enough for making this music, 2. I'm buying these albums, if I have not already, and 3. I can't wait to hear more of what you make in the years to come.
For even more new music this year, check out Bearded Gentlemen Music’s list!
I kept hearing about this one festival in Denver ever since I moved out here three years ago. “You’ve got to go to UMS!!” my friend Kevin would insist every time we talked about music. “Put it on your calendar, don’t miss it. You’ll love it.”
But that’s in July, I would protest, when we talked in October, December, March, and so on. Sounds great, but that’s down the road, and I’ll plan for it when it gets closer. And how good could this local showcase be anyway?
It turns out the Underground Music Showcase is probably the best thing you could do all year in Denver. Mark your calendars, people! Yes, a whole year in advance. Here’s why:
Music has this amazing power to shape your life, by simply being its soundtrack. In the moment, it can serve as strength, inspiration, comfort, or simply helpful white noise. Years later, you will hear a song you used to listen to, and it will trigger memories of people, places, or emotions. A song or an album becomes a placeholder, a marker in one’s life – for better or for worse.
I find it ironic then, that Kiltro’s debut album, Creatures of Habit, was recorded during one of the worst years of my life – because since its release, it’s become one of my all-time favorites.
Andrew Thoreen is a prolific songwriter and musician based in the Twin Cities, who has been doing this whole "making music" thing for a long while now. You might know him from his work with J.E. Sunde, his own band Har-di-Har (with partner Julie), his individual work under andandending, as a trombone player, or just as someone you've met in the music scene around Minneapolis or St. Paul. Yet he took time this past year to remove himself from this social network, to work on making new music – an endeavor often fraught with depression, anxiety, and isolation, despite the stereotypical glamorous appeal and reputation of being a musician.
The resulting EP, Songs of Isolation for Rock Quartet, dips its toes in the water today with its first single, "I Know What It Takes." But instead of trying to cover up the perils of this creative journey, Thoreen admits them openly. The song itself is all about his struggle to keep making music, learning new skills needed to do so, and the doubts and obstacles that consistently get in the way. He illustrates this self-directed pep-talk with a lush sonic landscape of vocal harmonies, driving guitar chords, and perfectly mixed and mastered drums. You can hear his experimentation in the composition: taps of cymbals play along with messy guitar licks, echoes of his own lyrics chase him like the thoughts in his own head. Things fall apart and come back together perfectly in sync, the layers hang loose and then line up again. This track is like a trip in his own head: we hear the doubts, but also the persistence, the genuine desire driving him to keep going, to keep making – and the satisfying feeling when things actually come together. Or as he says: "Cause I know when it breaks down, we've gotta make something good."
To listen to "I Know What It Takes" and read from Thoreen himself about how it came into being, hit "read more."