New Threads – From Denver: Deadbubbles, The Outfit; from Oakland: tUnE-yArDs

New Threads – From Denver: Deadbubbles, The Outfit; from Oakland: tUnE-yArDs

April 18, 2011 Off By Billy Thieme

This week we offer a look at a few new threads that run the gamut in sound and intention, and we like just about all of it. From a well-deserved (if awfully early in the their life) tribute to Denver’s Deadbubbles, to The Outfit’s indecipherably titled debut – still full of promise, to tUnE-yArDs, an act that needs to be in your headphones by virtue of both its innovation and unlikely attraction – or maybe its sheer weirdness. Read on, and listen to a few – we’ll leave that last judgement up to you.

Deadbubbles' Tribute - "Reclamation Now!"

Deadbubbles' Tribute - "Reclamation Now!"

Deadbubbles – Reclamation Now! A Tribute to Deadbubbles

Deadbubbles‘ frontman Arlo White tends toward gritty, proto-punk sort of vision, one that fits his look, spirit and personality to a “tee.” When it’s not reeling from drummer changes on a Spinal Tap-ian scale, his band has  been a perfect mashup of early Stooges-era proto-punk with a glam attitude and White’s appreciation (read: obsession, at least reputedly) for Guided By Voices’ Robert Pollard. The songs on the band’s two releases are short, simple and powerful anthems based around Paul Humphrey’s resilient power chords stapled onto no-nonsense rhythms and White’s ‘70s rock vocals.

And, in the true egomaniacal form you might say is intrinsic to the visionary lifestyle, White recently began soliciting local bands to appear on a tribute album. No matter that the band had then only been in existence since 2006 – homage knows no time limit. The result: Reclamation Now!, a strong disc that features a collection of thirteen covers (plus one hidden live track from a 2007 show White did with Drowning Dolphins) by local bands that not only pays tribute to Deadbubbles, but in some cases even lends even more legitimacy to some of the band’s work.

The gamut of musicianship in itself on the disc is impressive enough to get a copy, and it features a widely varied mix of genres. The Babysitters’ opening cover of “Dream Hard!” from Deadbubbles’ debut album “Reclamation Forklift Provider,” starts off as a pretty close mimic of the original, but evolves quickly into a Breeders-esque version with even more inspiration than White was able to put behind it. The childish jaunt of “Zoo Kicker and I” is covered twice, and both are wildly different.  While Matt Shupe’s version floats along in an almost Echo & The Bunnymen-meets-Jonathan Richman folkiness, The Firebird 4000 Project pull off a version that recalls early Beck four-track mixes with an almost Elephant Six flair.

Twelve of the thirteen covers on the record came from Deadbubbles first album – which likey attests to the strength of the more indie nature behind it. The one tune from “Frienemies” that is covered is a brilliant homage to the Stooges-ian punk by local legend and Elvis Presley pal Ralph Gean. Take a listen to both and see what you think.

[wpaudio url=” (Ralph Gean).m4a” text=”Straightliner – by Ralph Gean”]


[wpaudio url=”″ text=”Deadbubbles – Straightliner”]

As a tribute, “Reclamation Now!” works well, and paints a great picture of Deadbubbles’ comedic complexity. Better, as just a disc, the project makes for an impressively entertaining listen – whether or not you’re the least bit familiar with the band.

Stay tuned for an upcoming feature on the tribute and the re-birth of Deadbubbles this Spring and Summer. This band is still clawing its way into fullness, and we’re counting them as one to watch in the Denver scene.


The Outfit - Broken West Wishbone Test

The Outfit - Broken West Wishbone Test

The Outfit – Broken West Wishbone Test

The Outfit want to “. . . make music that people can connect to and, possibly, move to.” With their debut album, “Broken West Wishbone Test,” which comes out next month,  they’ve moved a whole lot closer to succeeding on both accounts. This four piece of locals makes a huge sound on the new record, thrown up into a wild cyclonic pitch by Casey Banker’s signature big guitar sound and Eric Johnston’s wailing, but anchored by Pat Lawless’s relentless bass and RJ Powers’ locomotive drumming (for the record, Mike King is now the bass player for the band, and has been for quite some time. Long story is that, for the recording of the record, Lawless joined the band in LA in ’09, but then quit, and was replaced by King. Whew!). Unfortunately, but not surprisingly for a young group, they seem to get a little lost in that conquest for bigness. It’s only a momentary lapse, but it is one toward which the album’s incomprehensible title seems to hint.

From the wholly misleading guitar flicker at the first seconds of “Intro,” clear through the multi-catharsis of “Out of the City” the rhythms are solid, pounding and growing. Johnston’s vocals start to recall Mark Lanegan (from ‘90s Seattle band Screaming Trees) and Kings of Leon‘s Caleb Followill – low, smoother, mostly confident in the lyrics. Meanwhile, Banker flails overtop with his signature Buzzcocks-featuring-J-Mascis guitar and King and Powers build, destroy and rebuild the foundation.

Overall, the result is a strong record, though it seesaws in and out of focus, and shows some derivative  – two minor drawbacks that should just be chalked up to freshman jitters.

When they’re strong, the songs feel invincible, but the band begins to meander at time and loses momentum, which is picked up again in another song. “The Cold,” for instance (which they’ve posted for your perusal on their Facebook page) is full of poppy hooks, and just the right length. It’s a palate cleanser after the sometimes too-heavy “Old Riot” that just seems a hair short of the angry, exhausted mark it seems to be trying to hit. “Strange Bones” is another piece that comes close, but just falters with a little too much of Banker’s constant, though always impressive, axe presence. After the frenetic riffs of “Softsided” wipe that clumsiness away, the rise and fall between great and almost-there songs continues. Heaviness drowns “Hi-Lo,” which is just a tad too close toKings of Leon for me, but the Strokes-induced “Washed Out” redeems the flow. The melancholy of “Cavalier” thankfully succumbs to the pogo of “Crave,” and so on.

The Outfit are currently involved in a kind of collision that’s hard to take your eyes off – it’s a good thing, not a cataclysm  – and I wouldn’t recommend looking away just yet. This record shows a band ready to explode, just as soon as they polish a few thorny inconsistencies.

The Outfit will be celebrating the release of “Broken West Wishbone Test” at a party onMay 6th at Larimer Lounge, along with local bands Colfax Speed Queen, The Knew and The Dig.

Check out “Crave” while you buy your tickets for the release show!

[wpaudio url=”″ text=”The Outfit – Crave”]


tUnE-yArDs - w h o k i l l (out April 19, 2011)

tUnE-yArDs - w h o k i l l (out April 19, 2011)

tUnE-yArDs – w h o k i l l

Could you put together a more seemingly incongruent mix than John Cage, John Coltrane and a ukelele? The thought brings to mind a project infused with Laurie Anderson/Yoko Ono innovation and frolic. Unique? intriguing? Sure. But entertaining? Not always. In fact, more likely frustrating.

Yet, Oakland’s Merrill Garbus and her band tUnE-yArDs make the mixture a perfect emulsion, and add strong Afro-pop rhythms behind millions of time signatures along with a sexy and ironic wit to boot.

Garbus’ project – named with the goofy upper-lower casing shown – released their sophomore w h o k i l l” (also punctuated and spelled EXACTLY in that challenging way) on April 19 (TODAY!), and had already been making plenty of waves on NPR, SXSW and in other rock worlds, mostly because they simply don’t fit.


But that lack of correlation, often so easily frustrating, actually provides a comfortable match, almost from first listen.

Once you get past the initial double-takes and knee jerks that prevent you from leaving the record’s sphere of sound, its charm is already subcutaneous. Garbus coos, howls, whispers, whistles, whoops and hollers, recalling vocalists as disparate as Nina Simone, Harry Bellafonte and Elizabeth Frasier, as well as an entire African chorus. The melodies, full of ukelele, horns and more – clashing early on – are strung wildly across and through discordant rhythms peppered with all kinds of drums, sticks, bells and other percussion instruments.

It shouldn’t work.

Like a lot of Coltrane’s meditative improvisation, it should sound like a mess, at least at first. Unlike Coltrane, though, tUnE-yArDs doesn’t require that you learn to scuff off rational thought to truly feel the groove they’re laying down. All you need to do is let it take over, and in this case it’s simple. Almost immediately addictive, “w h o k i l l” is good enough to even outweigh the frustration of typing the title. If ever a band’s sound came close to replicating the semantic universe verbally illustrated by e. e. cummings, this one may be it.

tUnE-yArDs will visit Denver for a show at the Hi-Dive on May 4. listen to “Gangsta” and get a dose of Merrill’s universe, then go and see it.

[wpaudio url=”″ text=”tUnE-yArDs – Gangsta”]





  • Billy Thieme

    Aging punk rocker with a deep of all things musical and artistic, enough to remain constantly young and perpetually mystified. Billy has journalistic dreams, but of a decidedly pastoral, Scottish nature.