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Guitar virtuoso Kaki King is coming to the Ent Center 

click to enlarge Listeners are lucky that Have a Nice Life, an experimental duo out of Connecticut, didn’t fade into obscurity. Catch a rare live performance in Denver on July 15. - COURTESY ENEMIES LIST HOME RECORDINGS
  • Courtesy Enemies List Home Recordings
  • Listeners are lucky that Have a Nice Life, an experimental duo out of Connecticut, didn’t fade into obscurity. Catch a rare live performance in Denver on July 15.

Guitar virtuosos can receive a bad rap. On one hand, one could be forgiven for not extending considerable sympathy in their direction — there are plenty of guitarists out there for whom technicality will, by rule, trump concerns such as a connection with the audience, and to those not “in the know,” it can quickly sound merely like an effort to fit in as many notes as time will allow.

On the other hand, however, there still exist artists who continually redefine the use of the instrument, and for whom it remains an avenue of limitless expression. Brooklyn-based guitarist Kaki King falls firmly in the latter category, and she brings her inventive playing to UCCS’ Chapman Foundations Recital Hall in the Ent Center for the Arts on June 28 and 29.

Originally a drummer, King’s guitar style is influenced by the likes of Preston Reed and Michael Hedges. She frequently showcases a percussive tapping technique, which she can deftly apply to sonic realms everywhere from classical minimalism to gentle folk to vibrant jazz fusion. Her 2003 debut LP, Everybody Loves You, still stands as a definitive document of King’s singular talents, and since then, she’s collaborated with a variety of artists, including The Mountain Goats, the Foo Fighters, and Tegan and Sara.

King’s 2015 album The Neck is a Bridge to the Body, on which she collaborated with trumpeter Dan Brantigan and the ETHEL String Quartet, was conceived as a multimedia production marrying her music and projected artwork. The work debuted to acclaim at Brooklyn’s BRIC Theater in 2014, and attendees at King’s UCCS appearances will get the chance to experience it for themselves.

Meanwhile, music released in the age of widespread home recording and digital distribution often finds itself at the center of a debate about so-called “gatekeeping.” If anyone out there can record and release an album with relative ease, is this new freedom of expression for the masses a good thing, or does it simply result in a musical logjam?

In a way, it seems like a frivolous debate. If one were to search through all the new releases on, say, Bandcamp for one day, both statistics and conventional wisdom would tell you that you’re unlikely to stumble across a “masterpiece” of an album. But music has never really been about those things, and the history of rock ’n’ roll is filled with seemingly accidental masterworks that have the potential to reshape entire musical landscapes despite being poised to fall through the cracks.

Connecticut-based band Have a Nice Life, who perform at Denver’s Hi-Dive on July 15, self-recorded their debut LP Deathconsciousness over a five-year span from 2002 to 2007. At this point, the band was a duo, Dan Barrett and Tim Macuga, who had previously performed acoustic songs at area open mic nights. The total cost of the entire album was around $1,000, most of which went toward printing CDs and an accompanying book of faux-academic essays surrounding a fictional, heretical cult. (Even if you walk in knowing this, by the way, it’s still a deeply disconcerting read and feels like a cursed artifact.)

Have a Nice Life’s story could very well have ended there, with the duo remaining an obscure pair of minds recording in rural Connecticut bedrooms. However, their music — a dense, layered concoction inspired by black metal and doom metal, shoegaze and post-punk, received rave reviews in various internet music communities. Six years later, Vice proclaimed the album “arguably one of the greatest double LPs of all time.”

Probably not what one might expect for such an unwieldy first project, recorded with consumer-grade equipment. I mean, a debut double-album with unrelentingly bleak subject matter, where the opening track is an almost eight-minute-long, swirling near-instrumental titled “A Quick One Before the Eternal Worm Devours Connecticut”? 

But, honestly, Have a Nice Life’s music simply demands to be heard. Barrett’s impassioned, frequently soaring vocals refuse to be suppressed by the layers of reverb and distortion on tracks like “Bloodhail” and “Earthmover,” giving their rarified genre mashups an immediate and deeply intimate point of contact for the listener. Their sophomore effort, 2014’s The Unnatural World, continued the pair’s experimentalism, giving the world the vicious goth crunch of “Defenestration Song,” the swirling vortex of “Burial Society,” and the outright terrifying sound collage “Cropsey.” 

Barrett and Macuga are set to release a third LP, Sea of Worry, later this year, and have very occasionally played shows over the years, albeit shows met with feverish audience response. Their Denver appearance, therefore, offers a very rare opportunity to catch Have a Nice Life both in a full band configuration and somewhere other than the U.S. coasts.

While their music may initially seem obtuse and labyrinthine to outsiders, the band’s outsider success should serve as an inspiration to any artist operating in the digital landscape — a reminder that not all the myths and legends have already been written.

Send news, photos, and music to collin@csindy.com.

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