Monday, Nov. 28
Denver-based noise-pop band Gauntlet Hair is one of those chance discoveries that makes covering music worthwhile (among, let’s face it, the many other things that make it worthwhile). I traveled down to Bloomington's The Bishop on Monday night specifically to catch Chandelier Ballroom because I missed their show at the White Rabbit last week. I didn’t even know who was headlining the show much less did I know who Gauntlet Hair was when I saw their name splashed across the poster outside the bar.
Originally formed in Chicago by high school pals Andy R. and Craig Nice, the band has since relocated to the Denver area, signed with Bloomington-based label Dead Oceans, toured with Dodos (this past summer) and released their debut self-titled album just a month ago. Monday’s show at The Bishop was, in fact, the first show on their way out to the East Coast.
It’s been two full days since I saw this band at The Bishop and I’m still trying to process it. My notes look like the scribblings of a three-year-old child or, at least, those of someone trying hopelessly to capture—on paper—what it feels like to be inundated with beats and sounds that conjure up a million different thoughts and comparisons, while still trying to enjoy the music. There was just so damned much going on…
Bathed in moody green stage lights light, GH took on an almost mystical kind of feeling as they played what essentially adds up to bass- and beat-heavy, experimental synth-pop vibe. But to call them synth-pop is to oversimplify things; their halting rhythms and layered sounds lend a dirtier, harder-edged feeling than you usually associate with the more clean, shrink-wrapped nature of that genre. Comparisons with Animal Collective and Neon Indian are rife, but even those fall a bit short.
The thing about their sound is its depth; they’ve got the whole spectrum covered from the floor to the ceiling. The bass and drums always provide a solid structure on the low-end, on which the band layers a variety of grungy effects and quickly-repeated guitar riffs, while Andy R.’s high-pitched, atmospheric yelp provides a removed, distant feeling of long-calculated emotion. The effect is a wall of sound that never seems to last quite long enough for one to grasp everything. Frankly, I can’t even conjure up the name of a single song from Monday night—lyrics aren’t especially easy to translate through this sound barrage—but “Top Bunk,” from their album is a good starting point.
Chandelier Ballroom, though not having quite as a cohesive a sound as Gauntlet Hair just yet, are certainly pushing the boundaries of experimentation in a variety of interesting directions. At times they come off sounding distinctly proggy, other times straying into space funk territory, with walking bass lines; still, at other times, it seems a jazz influence starts to bleed through. Whatever the case, they do manage to walk that fine line between experimenting and retaining melody.
Again, this band accomplishes a sonic depth that’s impossible to understate, but the bass is all-important; to my mind, it looked like bassist Cam Thompson was working harder than anyone on stage and the effect was noticeable. Between that, the strong drum work, wild synth effects, and Steve Elmlinger’s falsetto, there’s not a bare frequency or a moment of wasted space.
The band played a few tracks of their recent EP Long Division, such as “Man on the Altar” and “Long Division,” both songs coming off a bit looser and more textured than the recorded versions. Seeming at once wild and yet reined-in; "Man on the Altar" seems to typify this band’s combination of innovation and traditional song structure; they can get weird while still writing a catchy song. It was fun to see them start improvising and spacing out a little bit, and then pulling the songs back into standard time signatures.
"Man on the Altar," Chandelier Ballroom