Full disclosure: I did not get a chance to see the first band due to my tardiness combined with a serious desire for tacos, my apologies. Therefore, I will begin with the first act that I got to see: Ancient Elk.
Ancient Elk plays quirky folk-pop infused with psych rock leanings. The psych influence is not surprising, considering that two of Ancient Elk’s members also play in the Denver-based psych rock quartet Wild High. The notable difference between the two bands is that Wild High’s focus appears to be heavily riff-based, while Ancient Elk is all about compelling vocal harmonies. Anna Smith and Megan Crooks both play guitar and sing, but their power came from the symbiosis of their polished voices – ebbing and flowing together, never over one another, forming the pristine harmonies that propelled Ancient Elk’s songs. It was a beautiful set for the recent winners of the Westword Music Showcase for best “avant-garde” act.
I came in knowing very little about Inner Oceans; I left wanting to know everything. Inner Oceans is surprisingly complex yet easily accessible – occasional flirting with elements of psych rock and chillwave, but never straying too far from their primary vein of keyboard-driven, heavily-layered synth pop. Vocalist Griff Snyder gave us his best Samuel T. Herring impersonation, passionately crooning while simultaneously displaying some silky smooth dad moves. My favorite parts of the set recalled elements of Peter Gabriel’s songwriting style – eclectic, glitchy tones and odd vocal rhythms, but maintaining groove-driven songs with catchy melodies. This was my first time seeing Inner Oceans, but it definitely will not be the last.
Finding artist comparisons for Freaky North is somewhat of a lost cause, and I mean that in the best possible way. The band is self-described as “art rock, freak folk, psychedelic rock, noise rock, experimental” – even though this seems like a broad group of genres, it is entirely apt. Exhibit A: the first track off of their freshly released EP entitled “New Age” – a jangly, creepy guitar-loop intro leads into vocalist Kris Becker’s unconventionally structured verses. His vocal effects seemed to be a bit stronger live than on the album – although this concealed some of the lyrical content, it also brought to mind the eerie vibes associated with Connan Mockassin, which is impressive in its own right.
While the complexity of the music is notable, the apparent ease with which Freaky North plays is fun to watch. Guitarist Julia Mendiolea (who also plays bass/keys in Inner Oceans) provided a great vocal contrast to Becker’s heavily distorted lead, with crisp backing harmonies and even taking lead vocal duties for one song. Rodrigo Valdez’s minimalistic yet highly self-aware drumming style is a perfect fit for Becker’s oddball song structures – every drum hit is maximized, and his disciplined pauses only highlight the chemistry that Freaky North is working with.
It is not often that a local bill provides such interesting song-writing and instrumentation, but last night’s evening at Larimer Lounge truly stood out. I am thrilled about the eclectic scene that Denver continues to develop, and Freaky North is the latest manifestation of Denver’s vibrancy.
You can listen to their new EP and give them all your moneys here: