The Longest Day of the Year – Turn into the Ground

By Marlee Keeven

Scrape out the dirty grit encrusted into the soles of your cowboy boots and mix it with the purtiest thing you done heard of, and you’ll get yourself some fine music from local Boulder band The Longest Day of the Year. This alt-country band is full of pleasant surprises. Their sound feels easy, natural and soulful – they have an understated complexity that proves their talent. The album is a well-done synchronicity of tunes reaching from beautiful and melodic to down and dirty. Don’t think you have to like country music to like these guys, either – their songs hit so many different notes and the musicianship is so solid that you’ll want to give The Longest Day of the Year a listen no matter what.

High Wire Walker – High Wire Walker

By Marlee Keeven

As a progressive rock band, High Wire Walker rocks. But the amount that they rock is definitely still in the early stages of progression. The album doesn’t start out very convincingly, but it quickly picks up the pace with more likeable songs. It’s immediately clear that Amy LaMotte (lead singer) has a talented voice, but it’s hard to hear past her background in musical theater. When guitarist Josh Louis sings back-up, the meshing of his voice with LaMotte’s makes the band much more credible as a rock band – the songs become fiercer and more focused. Like many bands’ first albums, this one is shaky – some songs lack soul, but others are solid and energetic. High Wire Walker shows promise as a group, however, and I will look forward to their next release.

The Magic Beans – The Magic Beans

By Marlee Keeven

Many jam bands fall into a one-note category because they become too distracted with, well, jamming out. Many of these kinds of jam bands exist, and they can sometimes give this genre a bad name. The Magic Beans, however, take you on a journey – and then they bring you back home. Their music comes full circle, and they are certainly a band of many notes.

Coming from the Boulder/Fourmile Canyon area, The Magic Beans have only been together one year and they have already released a pretty darn cohesive and professional-sounding self-titled album.
As an electro-acoustic roots fusion band, they might remind you of bands such as The String Cheese Incident (especially on track #2) or Umphrey’s McGee…until the vocals chime in. The vocals are a group effort – with everyone (most of the time) singing along, they give the music a feeling of camaraderie. At times it sounds like a bunch of drunken people singing/yelling to a song in a bar, but for some reason these guys are able to pull it off, and it sounds great.

At no time will your face wrinkle up or your eyebrows furrow – the instrumentals and the songs flow nicely into the ears. The album as a whole is danceable and funky (especially “Lazer Lady”). These guys know how to jam out, but they are careful to keep it focused and meaningful (especially with their 12-minute jam, “Adonde”).

I imagine that The Magic Beans would put on a great live show, so check them out at Whistler’s Café in Nederland on December 17, and be sure to download their album for free on Bandcamp.

Michael Garfield – A Million Anniversaries: CyberAcoustic Guitar

By Marlee Keeven

Take a journey far and wide into a land of love and light. This two-disc album sets the mood for exploring one’s spirituality and finding inner peace. Garfield is an acoustic-electronic guitarist from Boulder, loosely fusing Indian, Middle Eastern, Spanish, tribal and modern electronic. The result is sometimes intense, sometimes relaxing and sometimes mind-numbing.

The only reason this album might not be appreciated is if you don’t have a musical ear. It’s hard to pick out specific songs that are amazingly awesome because the album is meant to be listened to as a whole. And even though the songs are non-verbal and contain the same types of trippy noises and mind-expanding themes, don’t take this to mean that each tune sounds just like its neighbor.

It’s as if the songs, and thus the listener, go in and out of consciousness. It can be very spacy and ambient, but the instrumentals are smart.

Garfield also does live art at shows and festivals, and his music is a sort of testament of this. His music would be a great companion for painting, studying, writing or even lovemaking. It might be a better accompaniment to creativity than a live show headliner (because the audience would have to be so specific and open-minded), but this is the only complaint. But, really, is that much of a complaint?

If you’re heading to Burning Man then be sure to catch Garfield there through September 5. Otherwise, keep your eyes peeled for more dates to come.

Various Artists – Reclamation Now! A Tribute to Deadbubbles

By Marlee Keeven

Just because fourteen Colorado musicians put together a tribute album full of covers for Denver-based band Deadbubbles, don’t assume that they’re a rock ‘n’ roll band of yore.

Also, just because Deadbubbles has a raw sound reminiscent of seventies bands such as The Stooges and The Cramps, don’t assume that they actually came from the seventies.

In reality, Deadbubbles started up in 2006. However, many local artists thought highly enough of them to do a tribute album only five years after the group’s conception.

Reclamation Now! captures Deadbubbles’ psychobilly madness. However, the musicans take away some of the garage punk qualities, while keeping the rawness and adding in a bit more of an indie twist, making the music of Deadbubbles even more lovable for today’s hipsters.

Some songs, such as “Zoo Kicker and I,” are done better the second time around. There are two different versions of this song on the album – one by The Firebird 4000 Project and one done acoustically by Matt Shupe.

Multiple bands covered the same song on the album, such as “Soldier of Misfortune.” The version by Manotaur sounds like a Fraggle Rock version of the original, and the other, by Dave Rosset, stands alone as a sort of slam poetry performance with tribal drums.

These fourteen artists truly know the art of creating a good cover, so check out the album, and check out the originals, too! The songs are catchy and crawling with the creamy crust of seventies garage rock.

Fort Calling – Digital Mixtape Volume I

By Marlee Keeven

From rock ‘n’ roll to punk rock to indie folk to jam to electronic and even to random oceanic symphonic noises, Fort Calling truly showcases the widespread talent that Fort Collins’ musicians have to offer.

One of the best songs on side A is “Snakes with Castanets” by Federal Art Project. It’s an instrumental piece with Tool-like guitar riffs, an electronic backbeat and ghostly echoes in the background. With pleasant vocal harmonization and soft instrumentals making for a dreamlike musical experience, “Part Three: Awake” by Habitat is another highlight on side A.

If your musical taste yearns for something a bit quirkier, side B might suit you better.

“Taking Over” by Neon Knights is chuckle-worthy. It’s a mix between modern dubstep and eighties synth pop music with the wonderful inclusion of a robot repeating, “Neon Knights are taking over.”

Incredibly raw and reminiscent of new wave garage punk, “Slowdown…It’s Gone” by Painted Snake is one of the album’s best.

The main complaint about this compilation is the incorporation of Ambassador Engine, Luggage and Ocean Bump!. All three bands deliver very similar songs – noises of nature and the ocean. They sound kind of cool and would be great for meditation or sleeping, but the album could have done with one or none rather than three.

All in all, Fort Calling has done a great job creating an eclectic compilation of local independent music. Download this album for free at their website, below.

Churchill – Happy/Sad

By Marlee Keeven

The members of Denver-based indie band Churchill doesn’t need to worry about petty things such as publicizing their music or building a fanbase – they have already achieved local fame and then some. And to think, their full-length debut album, Happy/Sad, was only released on February 8.

With Coldplay-like piano buildups and sweet sounds of mandolin, this is soulful and catchy music that’s likeable for the masses. It’s also mellow, feel-good music that speaks to those who have seen love and heartbreak alike.

The beginning of Happy/Sad doesn’t do the rest of the album justice, however – the first song should maybe take the last song’s place – but this is one of the few faults of this album. In fact, the album gets better and better as it goes, instead of the usual other way around.

The album especially picks up when the voice of Bethany Kelly joins in, about three songs in. Without her, Churchill’s sound wouldn’t be nearly as interesting. One of the best songs on the album, “We Used to be Happy,” features only Bethany’s voice, and it’s sure to catch your attention. Of course, the band would be nothing without Tim Bruns’ lead vocals as well, but at times his voice sounds all too familiar within the music industry today.

Happy/Sad is a giant step for Churchill, and if this is what they have to offer for their first full-length album, then they’re definitely on the road to success as a popular band.

Elephant Revival – Break in the Clouds

By Marlee Keeven

Elephant Revival stays true to themselves in their second studio release, Break in the Clouds. Not much has changed stylistically, but musically they’ve become more and more refined.

They are self-proclaimed “transcendental folk,” and this truly describes the band’s sound. Vocally, this doesn’t sound like your typical folk band, but that’s what makes Elephant Revival stand out.

The way in which they match the vocals to the instrumentals creates magic – they all sing with a soft, breathy whisper that makes their sound different from any other when combined with the folk instrumentals.

Elephant Revival is not afraid of letting all their talents shine – all band members sing and most members play multiple instruments (including many string instruments: fiddle, viola, double-bass, guitar, banjo and mandolin), and not to mention a musical saw and washboard, among others.

In some songs, such as “Feathers Rise” and “Black and Silver,” Bridget Law plays fiddle like a classical violin, which serves a role in the band’s overall refined sound. In addition, the fiddle and viola played simultaneously adds to this classical effect throughout the album.

Old time music is always nice, but usually these kinds of bands fail to stand out if they don’t possess some sort of modern edge. Fortunately, Elephant Revival surpasses the test of time. So far they’re not set to play again until February in Telluride and Aspen, but keep an eye on their tour schedule because these guys are best heard live.

The Varmints – Night Bloom

By Marlee Keeven

The Varmints are one of those bands that make classification difficult. This Windsor-based band’s newest release, Night Bloom, is rock first and foremost, but also encompasses elements of metal, grunge, psychedelic and even jam rock.

Zach Mercer, guitarist and lead vocalist, has quite the talented voice – similar to John Bell of Widespread Panic when hitting the higher notes, and similar to Layne Staley of Alice in Chains when hitting the lower ones. To have a voice similar to two famously distinct voices in rock history says a lot for Zach.

Even though Night Bloom only contains five songs, each one boasts length and energy. “Loose Your Lust” begins with a two-minute long classic metal instrumental intro. It is fast-paced and it rings true to early rock ‘n’ roll and metal music, such as Black Sabbath. Then Zach’s voice collides into the song, catching you off guard but leaving you wanting more.

Each song contains great instrumentals. “Winter Woes,” a ten-minute song, features epic instrumental/vocal switches, as any song this long should. Just when the vocals become a little too slow, the instruments kick in a little louder and go on to steal the spotlight for a couple minutes.

Zach’s voice and the modern sound quality are the only two things that make The Varmints seem modern; otherwise their roots remain among their predecessors. These guys truly have some talent to offer to the music industry, so check them out if your heart strings tend toward the raw rock ‘n’ roll of yore.