Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Sunn O))): Droners That Do It

Stephen O’Malley and Greg Anderson, the duo known as Sunn O))), don’t play songs as much as they craft noise, piecing together immense dreg-tone guitar chords one after the other. On Metal’s family tree, they exist on a branch opposing the earth-blistering riff-freaks like Motorhead and Metallica; Sunn O))) is simply a purveyor of Drone-Metal, with an approach disposing of just about every convention of composition.

Sunn O))) tracks truly are open for interpretation. Most fans praise the duo for peeling Metal back to its most intrinsic elements and presenting it as music, of which they enjoy for what it is: sustained distorted chords with a variety of overlaying druidic noises ultimately shaping out a dark minimalist trance. On the other hand, naysayers typically sum it up as pretentious, preposterous or just out-and-out bland.

The two, longhaired harbingers met in inner city Seattle in 1991. Sunn O))), named after the amplifier brand and pronounced simply as “Sunn,” came about in 1998 after both played separately in a handful of underground Metal acts across America. Since then, they’ve released seven studio albums under their self-owned Southern Lord label, the latest being 2009’s Monoliths & Dimensions, where a worldly cadre of experimental collaborators bring strings, horns and a choir of sirens to the ambiance.

In a 2006 interview with The New York Times Magazine, Stephen O’Malley summed up the three types of attendees of any given Sunn O))) show: the music lovers, the spectacle seekers and then the “people who are more interested in the physical aspect of it … the people who are just like, I'm going to stand at the front of the stage for an hour and a half – can I take it? Will I wet my pants? Will I puke? I'm going to be at the very front, in front of these amps for 75 minutes, and then when it's done I'll feel liberated, or I'll feel like I've beaten the band or whatever, no matter how torturous it is."

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Singer-songwriter Danielle Ate the Sandwich takes a bite out of YouTube

Originally published in The Rocky Mountain Collegian, April 30, 2009

Alongside a few million Americans, Danielle Anderson is looking for work.

"I got a call back from K-Mart," she says. "It's like, 'Really? K-Mart?' But things are getting a little grim. I really have to think about this."

Customer greeter might be the best option for the singer-songwriter during the downturn. It's not exactly easy turning a living playing gigs and selling albums, even if her fanbase is in the thousands. Most of those fans don't know of her financial worries, let alone her real name. To them, she is simply Danielle Ate the Sandwich, a bespectacled goofball with a golden voice and evocative lyrics.

They visit her MySpace page, buy her songs off iTunes and watch her YouTube videos. When she does get out of her apartment to perform for them, be it in New York City, Los Angeles or Fort Collins' The Alley Cat, they come to watch.

Danielle represents a new breed of musician, the kind who utilizes the constructs of Web 2.0 to establish herself on a national scale. Her popularity is measured in page views (over 160,000 each for her MySpace page and YouTube channel), and her indie cred is bolstered by blog posts (Boing Boing, Westword's Backbeat Online, Anti-Gravity Bunny.)

The internet fame is starting to spill out into reality; the Fort Collins Musician's Association recently named her the city's Best Female Singer-Songwriter, and she's lined up what'll be her biggest gig yet at Denver's Monolith Festival this September. It's all happened for her over the past four months, a speedy succession that likely never would've happened for any young artist 10 years ago. This CSU grad just happens to be in the right place at the right time.

But for now, a day job might help.

Raising bread
The biggest musical influences for Danielle have been the "older songwriters who said really complicated things in really simple ways": Bob Dylan, Woody Guthrie, Joni Mitchell. Looking back at her earliest days, one must wonder if Raffi played his part, too.

He was, after all, among the first artists she listened to in the Nebraskan household run by her music teacher mother, Sally. Danielle would learn to play piano, violin and clarinet within the span of elementary school, taking up choir in middle school. She moved to Colorado in the eighth grade, attended Arapahoe High School for four years and then enrolled at CSU.

She kept at music during her college years, even started up a band -- Backdraft: The Musical. Bandmate Brandon Wright gave her the ukulele she plays as Danielle Ate the Sandwich.

The instrument is a quaint aspect of her persona. Danielle says the uke is her ideal musicmaker, its tuning and clean-toned sound much to her liking. It's present on most of her recently released second album, "Things People Do," yet she says she's always been adamant about not being pigeonholed into the role of "Girl Who Plays The Ukulele."

Considering her warm, soulful alto, developed over years of school choir, that's unlikely.

"Not only does she have the fundamentals down, but she's got a unique honest voice, not manipulated at all," Greta Cornett, FoCoMA president, says. "It's got that kind of indie feel to it, like you'd expect to hear it on the 'Juno' soundtrack."

As far as lyricism, Danielle tends to write from her own life. Each song is injected with personal experiences, sometimes crossing a certain boundary into sensitive subject matter. Like most songwriters, the characters of her songs are nameless -- not that those close to her don't pick up on who's who.

She's written about family members in ways that can be (and have been) interpreted as negative portrayals, as well as the on-and-off relationship she's had with her so-called "manfriend" over the past two years. He's not the type to take things the wrong way, though, she says.

"A lot of the songs I've written about him, it's not necessarily the truth. It's more about my interpretations, my insecurities, my emotions," she says.

However: "It must be weird for him to hear songs about other boyfriends."

Double layer
Danielle says there is no story behind her stagename.

"I didn't want to call myself Danielle Anderson because people just pass over a name like that," she says. "I would. I just made something up."

She was surprised when the name wound up on the front page of YouTube last December, her video performance of "Conversations With Dead People" under the Featured Videos tab. For about a year up to that point, she'd just been using her friend's webcam to make her own videos.

"I love it," she says. "Combining acting with singing is like heaven in a burrito for me."

She's nearly made 30 of them. The most popular include her 4 a.m. performance of "Ode to Optophobia" and a refrigerator-backed cover of "Dream A Little Dream," in which she gives shout outs to syrup and cheddar-melt topping. Her jokey antics contrast the more serious tone of her music, and Danielle has come to find that some fans would rather see her acting silly then singing a song. She pokes fun at them in her video for "Born in the Wrong Body" with a pre-song skit, imitating an acronym-spewing browser in search of a quick laugh.

"Danielle Ate the Sandwich is more of a performer," she says. "Danielle Anderson is kind of a loner, antisocial, would rather be doing arts and crafts then out drinking with my so-called friends." She adds: "But at the same time, it's given me what I want, gotten me where I've wanted. I'll take it."

The Internet's judgment of Danielle hasn't gone without the occasional rude or lewd comment. Danielle isn't bothered by it -- but her mom is.

"It's like, why would they even say that?" Sally Anderson says. "But I also see that some people, they love her. I've told her that what she does gives so much to so many people -- some an escape, some an opportunity to reflect on their lives. To be able to give that gift is a pretty great thing."

Danielle received her degree in apparel design and production from CSU about a year ago. She's always been a fan of craft making; she sewed the cloth pouches that case the CD versions of her self-titled debut. She'll be selling some of her craft items -- as well as performing at 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. -- at Everyday Joe's craft fair this Saturday.She's thinking about moving to Washington in July, citing a need for change. But people tell her she ought to stay in Denver, a budding music hot spot, so she feels conflicted.

Wherever she may go, she says she'll still be making songs. And videos.

"I want to be well-known but not quite famous," she says, adding with a laugh: "I think I'd sell out quick."

Thursday, April 23, 2009

The rich joyous song of Paean

Despite inclusion in the list of genre labels that seem contradictory or downright dumb (a list that starts with Afropunk and ends somewhere around Wizard Rock), Folk Rock really just might be the best label to stick to the sound of Paean.

To describe Paean (pronounced pee-en, named after the ancient Greek term used to describe a joyous song) in greater detail would be to remark on the rich orchestral flavoring of their sound and literary lyrics. Frontman Dave Maddocks (who, by the way, is just fine with a two-word description) has been playing music since his days at Fort Collins High School where he played straightforward Rock ᾿n Roll.

But it wasn’t long before he strayed from the track into Acoustic territory, writing and recording songs at his home recording studio, The Barn. Shortly thereafter, the project snowballed, bringing on instrumentalists Marty Albertz and Jonathan Alonzo, as well as Dave’s high school friend and bassist Andrew Hendrickson. Paean has also grown into something of a Maddocks’ family affair: Dave’s brother and sister, drummer Tim Maddocks and violinist Anna Maddocks, as well as his brother-in-law Adam Delorme on banjo.

Paean dropped its debut, a split with fellow FoCo act Sour Boy Bitter Girl, last summer to some acclaim (Scene critic Matthew Azrael Martin deemed it “the summer 2008 soundtrack.”) Next up is a full-length, due next month. This year’s Paean is much like last year’s Paean as far as musicality, but in terms of songwriting, the band has shifted into a democratic collective as opposed to Dave writing for each instrument as he did early on. “Even if I plan everything and try to write parts for everyone, I’m not good enough,” he says. “Everyone has strengths that I don’t.”

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Immortal Dominion Does the Evolution

Originally published in Colorado Music Buzz, April 2009
They look like they rose out of some subterranean sludge, but Immortal Dominion’s origin story actually begins in the house of God. It was at a youth-oriented ministry, complete with Rock music and laser lights, where drummer Ben Huntwork met guitarist/vocalist Brian Villers and vocalist/guitarist Ray Smith. The three’s membership in the church would be short-lived but the friendship stuck.

Fifteen years later, the Rock continues to Roll as the Death Metal quartet drops their new album, Primortal, this month. As a band, they’ve experienced the typical challenges and lineup changes including the addition of current bassist Ed Schmidt in June 2007, but no time before was comparable to the rollercoaster ride journey of the past four years.

The week following the release of their last full-length, Awakening: The Revelation, then-ex-bassist Stephen Sherwood shot and killed his wife – Villers’ sister-in-law – and himself. Two years later, fortunes were reversed when five songs off Awakening were added to the soundtrack of “Teeth,” a coming-of-age horror film centered on a shark-toothed vagina. Inclusion in the instant-cult flick brought the band considerable attention from the Metal press and a re-release of the album.

Eager to start work on the next album and press on to the next level of the industry, Villers scanned album jackets for producers who’d worked with his favorite artists, shooting out emails to gauge interest. Returning the call would be the name on the back of Hellyeah’s self-titled debut, Sterling Winfield. Winfield has produced for several celebrated Metal acts in his time, Pantera and King Diamond to name a few. Entering the studio with a group whose previous recordings were strung together with little professional guidance presented a “unique experience” for the Texan producer.

“They didn’t have a whole lot of studio experience, yet they wanted to make an album that sounded like they had a whole lot of studio experience,” he says. “I had my work cut out for me on this one.”

Winfield had the band reorganize its recording schedule and pushed the group to develop a keener musicianship. It was, at times, a butt-kicking; the kind of learning experience the four had hoped for.

“I think we get trapped in our bubble here in the local scene sometimes,” Villers says. “To get a more worldly perspective was really interesting.”

Early tracks indicate Primortal will be more accessible than previous works. The guitars are heavier and the instrumentation is more precisely packaged, and the frontman is mixing it up, too. “I do a different vocal styles now,” Smith says. “I can’t really do the high stuff anymore like I used to, it’s a lot of work if I try.”

If it sounds as though this is the making of an entirely different Dominion, don’t fret; Villers assures us that the Death Metal aesthetic has not been compromised. “We’ve always had a lot of these songs in us,” he says. “But when you’re standing up in front of 200 Death Metal kids, you don’t want to be playing a ballad.”

Saturday, April 4, 2009

what will be left when you really have 'seen it all'

Sioux City Pete and the Beggars were a group of long-haired mean-eyed Seattleites who had walked into Goodbye Blue Monday, one of Brooklyn’s many free cover music bars, intent on rocking the shit out of me.

It didn’t happen, but they were a fun band to watch. Scraggly scrawny frontman Pete and his buxom red-wigged bassist scowled at one another as they swayed inches apart in consistent sexual rhythm, his thrusting hip nearly impeding her single-chord strumming. The glitter vest drummer and dreadlocked lead guitarist played along, their overindulgent prog-metal melody really mere background music at this point. It was the kind of spectacle that would’ve caused Colorado Springs to implode.

Thirteen minutes later, when the song ended and all eleven patrons applauded, an unsmiling Pete nodded in appreciation. He then told us: “This next song is about having sex with children,” and the band immediately stormed into the next freak fit.

Surrounded by a circle of newfound New York University friends, I scoffed, rolled my eyes, all the necessary showings of disapproval. But truth be told, Pete’s inflammatory remark had filled me with glee (“Look at me, watching the present-day Sex Pistols, I’d never see this back in Colorado.”) The New York kids, meanwhile, watched on stone-faced, no reaction apparent. I was terrified that my attempts to fit in had exposed myself as the outsider I was. But no one seemed to notice.

But I had to wonder what was going on with them. Were they, dwellers of a city that is easily a full year ahead of the rest of the world in the culture curve, already desensitized to (hopefully) tongue-in-cheek references to pedophilia? If so, what does that mean for the rest of us? How long do we have before every shock and surprise has been used up?

In retrospect, this outsider probably shouldn’t have been shocked either. I do, after all, belong to the generation of 2 Girls, 1 Cup. The internet has given us an instant window to the vilest corners of existence and few of us have resisted the urge to keep from at least peeking. It’s been great fun seeing messy dismemberment and puppies thrown off cliffs and gaping buttholes, but it has taken our sense of surprise and compressed it into JPEG format.

Now, not every taboo in the book has been worn down. Human imagination will always expand on ideas. There’ll always be trends. But I don’t think it takes long for long-term NYC residents to stumble across everything there is to see in life within city limits. And if the aforementioned culture curve really does exist, then the morality’s rapid decay will be a global phenomenon by 2017 and nothing will be “shocking” ever again. Enjoy your filth while it’s fun.

It’s disappointing realizing this, but I’m content with the fact that I’m experiencing the last vestiges of inner city shock firsthand instead of on YouTube like all you Northern Colorado losers.

Last month, for example, I caught Les Savy Fav at the Brooklyn Masonic Temple. Frontman Tim Harrington does his darndest trying to be different from other indie rock acts and even if not being anything new, he is immensely entertaining. He would parade through the audience wearing his not-so-tighty-whities and confront individuals mid-song, shoving his microphone in their face even if they didn’t know the lyrics or tried to avoid him.

For the encore, he disappeared into his dressing room before sneaking back into the audience. In his raggedy overcoat and all-too-familiar hockey mask, the heavyset Harrington made for a pretty convincing Jason impression. He surfed the crowd to the stage to announce that “the makers of the Friday the 13th remake are sponsoring us tonight,” he joked, waving his rubber machete. “Go out and see it after the show.”

Corporate sponsors getting plugged on stage? Welcome to the last days of edgy.

Sunday, March 1, 2009


Artist: T-Pain
Song: “Can’t Believe It
Rating: B+

T-Pain is the world’s most hated clown. The top hat hood inarguably soiled the current hip-hop market by reintroducing Auto-Tune, that computer program that can make just about anyone pitch-perfect (only at the cost of a little soul.) I kind of detest T-Pain for having had such an influence on the best rappers of present-day (Kanye and Lil’ Wayne, there is no others) and he is an artist of the R&B, a genre I’ll probably never enjoy. BUT the guy knows how to make a good video. And the day will come when Auto-Tune just ain't what it used to be.

I bet T-Pain made this song thinking ‘Damn this is a good song to sip bubbly/Cris to.’ The scenes barely pause, which can cheapen the value of the images but this video has a pleasurable effervescing effect in that regard; not exactly original concepts in this world operated by hard drives. But at least T-Pain is trying out some different artists, some different visions.

As he promises his lovely lady a world of materials and other assorted goods, the viewer sails through a fantasy world of starry nights and white-hot automobiles. And Wiscansin. As far as I’m concerned, I’m having a much better time taking a ride through this wonderworld than I would be just chilling around in your average R&B video, with color-coordinated backdrops and lounging honeys rolling around looking sexy or shirtless shots of the fine-as-hell artist (which T-Pain is not.)

Saturday, February 28, 2009


Artist: Sebastian Teller
Song: “Divine”
Rating: B

Robert Moog must’ve had quite a future planned out when he introduced to the world a keyboard machine that made warm electronic hums. Surely he must’ve realized he would become the figure in the history of music; these were sounds man had previously been unable to create.

Okay, so maybe my understanding of the instrument (backed only by Wikipedia) is flawed, but the point I’m stretching to make is as such: synthesizers have had an irrevocable effect on music. The synthesizer became a bridge between popular music and the largely unexplored world of computer music. I have only recently given much thought to the subject until my recent infatuation with Animal Collective blossomed. Just as they are stepping past capabilities and traditional boundaries of song construction and while they’re still bound to some rules of melody, I guess.

But this is really isn’t anything like that; this is a throwback song/video. While there’s a significant chunk of throwback synth ballads that are simply ostentatious, the right kind of artist can access just the right aspects without looking out of place.

Here we have the sex-tacious Sebastian Teller in his white suit, bygone Rush shades and (faux?) full beard. In this video, he’s having fun and as a modern man, I don’t really detest him as much as I want to be him He looks like he’s got some cash and he’s even got a pretty girl in bed with him at one point. The song, somewhat kitschy in its on respect, is superbly presented in this video. It’s not overdone. The joke is not forced down and maybe it’s even easy to digest. I respect that.

And the surfing shot… I think Sebastian can get away with putting it in her for comedic effect, but he’s absolutely the last guy ever that can get away with this.

Friday, February 27, 2009


Artist: White Zombie
Song: “More Human Than Human”
Rating: C-

Leave it to Rob Zombie and his former gang to attempt a disturbing interplay of archival amusement park/Halloween footage (taken from Mr. Zombie’s better days) and the typical jamming band scene. You’d expect this kind of video listening to a song like “More Human Than Human.” You can, seemingly forever and always, expect this kind of aesthetic from an artist like Rob Zombie: scratchy grindhouse horror that leans with both arms against the 1970’s. Same as it ever was, same as it ever is.

The best part of this video is the robot astronaut, which I find to be slightly unsettling. I really can’t put my finger as to why. That’s how you know it’s scary.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

It's about funky, smelly people

Artist: Del The Funkee Homosapien
Song: “If You Must”
Rating: D-

I don’t know if Del’s trying out for the Plain-Faced Respectable Video Channel or what’s going on in this video but there’s one thing that it establishes within 30 seconds: this video is horrible.
It’s a combination of boring and confusing while being one of those infuriating videos that “kind of” sets up a story but everyone just runs around and acts wacky and nothing gets established and everyone goes home disappointed, realizing they weren’t being creative, just childish and subsequently shallow.

Del’s lips don’t even come close to synchronizing with the lyrics. Del’s geek posse shows off some “retro-rad” break dancing moves from 1995 (this video dropped in 2000 for the historians out there, so yeah my insult sticks). The only bit of this whole thing that appeals to me at all is the plaster monstrosity that drops in at the halfway mark. I laughed at the sight of that thing and you will too.

I guess my biggest problem with this video is the simple fact that SO MUCH COULD’VE BEEN DONE AND SO MUCH WAS WASTED. You drop some great rhymes, but drop a couple of dollars and get someone who graduated from junior high to put together all future videos.

FAKE UPDATE: Oh, you got some college super-senior's project? Almost there Del.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Recessed Memories

Artist: Pavement
Song: “Major Leagues”
Rating: B+

When I think about the end of the summer, I think about miniature golf and guitar and the hammy mug of Steven Malkmus! It’s a recipe for a Pavement coordinated an ideal bummer smoothie here. The stock footage invokes nostalgia, a common ailiment in Americans over the age of 16 these days. But hell, isn’t that what Malkmus is singing about? Bring on the Major Leagues! The big time! The next step. Growing up is inevitable so why not just accept it with a goofy grin- you are still allowed to be goofy and joke about what an asshole your boss/partner/probation officer is. I guess I didn’t give this video an A because I m a little uncomfortable at the sight of rock-humping. Yeah, I understand that he’s just being goofy Stephen, trying to climb up a flat rock but it’s really not working for this pompous manchild.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Click Here to be Cool

Artist: Animal Collective
Song: “My Girls”
Rating: B

Pleasantly colorful, even with the hackneyed iPod commercial tendencies, the first video for Animal Collective’s recent instant-classic Merriweather Post Pavilion is a pleasant example of the aural translated into the visual.

Aquatics abound! Mood ring landscapes! And those next-gen Rolling Stones’ lips…it’s a well-packaged serving of eye candy. It’s a must-watch on any stoner’s “To Do While High” list, following a listening session of the album itself.

There’s a great deal of talk on how this band will influence the next decade in music, and I believe it. There really never has been a band like Animal Collective, and there really isn’t anything like their music out now. And yet as transcendental as it may be, I appreciate this music for the simplicity exercised in it’s meaning: They just want four walls and adobe slats for their “girls”, their daughters. This a band of dads, remember.

So I suppose I should say I should be happy with the fairly simple concept of this video, but what we see here pales in comparison to the images conjured behind closed eyes during a simple listening session. I know that as an “indie” band, Animal Collective will never see the kinds of financial resources necessary for ahead-of-the-curve directors to play out the canvases of their hyper-minds on video.

Don’t get me wrong; a dance-party on the edge of the universe is cool. It's just not “A” material.

Monday, January 26, 2009

CD Review: Frogs Gone Fishin'

Colorado has done gone blue! To quote Martha Stewart, “it’s a good thing.” Not only did voters back Obama, but they even dragged self-righteous congresswoman/supervillain Marilyn Musgrave kicking and screaming from her congressional seat.

But living in the land of the liberal isn’t all wine and arugula. When tolerance and respect for the environment are in full swing, there will be the inevitable jam band resurgence, not exactly something to celebrate in a music scene once oversaturated with those messy guitar solos and super-laid-back attitudes. As long as groups like Frogs Gone Fishin’ are leading the charge, maybe things won’t get too stinky.

The Denver quartet’s debut, Tell Me True, is decent enough for a potential forerunner, hefty with summery instrumental fills and vocals that wiggle between Jack Johnson (“Life In A Magazine”) and The Meters (“735”). Standout track “Mexico” is the best of both worlds: funky guitar and Corona-cool singing build into an aromatic “Na-Na-Na-Na” chorus.

Beyond that, the going gets generic. Tell Me True isn’t a bad album by any means, but to call it anything beyond decent is a bit of a stretch. A good portion of the album is just dull, piled on with the same bargain bin sounds available at your local Wal-Mart for a buck-ninety-nine.

Cornball lyrics make matters worse, as is the case in Tell Me True’s title track: “Tell me all you care about is oil, tell me all you care about is greed, the man tells me what to care about… and knocks us on our knees.” Even Republicans have displayed sharper creativity.