This was a difficult list to write. Boise is more than just a stop between Salt Lake City and Portland, with a vibrant scene for almost every kind of music imaginable. We’re perhaps best known for Built To Spill, Finn Riggins, Caustic Resin, and, most recently, Youth Lagoon, but there is a whole world of Boise music to explore. It wasn’t difficult coming up with ten great bands; it was difficult to choose ONLY ten bands. I could have just as easily written ’10 Boise Punk Bands You Should Know About’ or narrowed it down to nearly any other genre. With that disclaimer out of the way, let’s dive into a list of 10 of Boise’s best (in no particular order)!
10. Hillfolk Noir
Hillfolk Noir is one of those rare bands whose name perfectly describes them. The band is composed of the husband and wife duo of Travis and Alison Ward, plus Mike Waite and Jared Goodpastor. Hillfolk Noir plays dark, rural folk music that might one moment embrace praising the lord while loading your Winchester, and the next moment flirt with drinking sour mash from a jagged mason jar while the devil looks over your shoulder. Hillfolk Noir uses traditional instruments such as guitars, drums and a stand-up bass but also uses washboards, singing saws and kazoos. Hillfolk Noir would be perfectly suited to compose the soundtrack for a modern black and white period piece about a man slowly going crazy from moonshine sickness in his grandmother’s cabin in the Idaho wilderness. For all of their old-timey charm, the band also writes gigantic pop hooks laden with sweet vocal harmonies. Fans of folk music, creative instrumentation and dark visions of insanity will find a lot to love in Hillfolk Noir.
9. Le Fleur
Le Fleur is still blazing new trails, even though there’s not much they haven’t already accomplished as a band. They’ve self released both an EP and an LP, played every venue worth playing in Boise, and toured with Built to Spill. Despite their accomplishments, Le Fleur is still planning their next step– all the while staying humble and true to their roots. Le Fleur plays sweeping, haunting indie rock with two guitars, keyboards, bass, and drums. Bassist Ivy Meissner shares vocal duties with Keyboardist Zach Jones, which allows them to pound out anthemic rockers like “Stone Cold Eagle” and smoky blues numbers like “Brother” with equal proficiency. The band works so well because the musicians know exactly when and how to let one another’s work breathe and shine. Beware: Le Fleur’s lyrics are their real secret weapon. Meissner is capable of building a musical netherworld full of living, thirsty shorelines; and unlike other lyricists, it’s not the same song repeated dozens of times. Le Fleur is currently working on a new LP.
Boise has an active Basque population, and Basque culture informs Boise’s culture to a large degree. Though Gernika is not a Basque band, they are named after Boise’s Sister City: a city that was mercilessly bombed by Hitler’s Luftwaffe in 1937. The name Gernika, therefore, conjures very concrete images of beauty, peace, war, and terror to residents of Boise– which makes it a perfect name for this band. Musically, Gernika sounds like the band Last Exit went through 90 days of grueling boot camp with Dave Verellen acting as drill sergeant. Gernika is a ferocious hardcore band propelled by American avant jazz and demonic sounds from another dimension. I once saw Gernika play in the hot Idaho desert, drunk as hell, stripped down to just their briefs and shoes. Even as audience members poured beer down the singer’s underwear and he writhed around in the dirt, the band was tight, frightening, and other-worldly. Gernika is a band that’s intimately connected to both Boise and some strange parallel universe in which Sun Ra and Jacob Bannon are best friends.
7. The Bare Bones
Though their music is sometimes shadowy and sinister, The Bare Bones pride themselves on making friends with audiences and other musicians. A two-man band composed of two all-around good dudes, The Bare Bones play music simply to create captivating songs and put on a good show. The Bare Bones is equal parts simple blues stomp and complex indie rock pageantry — it works remarkably well. Chris Brock’s guitar work is always sharp and inventive, whether he’s playing a tortured, distorted instrumental passage or laying down a bouncy blues riff for his smooth, clean vocals to soar over. Likewise, drummer Aaron Bossart knows when to keep the beat laid back and when to apply his virtuoso percussion chops to their full extent. The Bare Bones just completed their first single, which should be released very soon.
6. Hotel Chelsea
Hotel Chelsea has one amazing talent: pushing the boundaries of what a four piece band can do with a simple pop punk song. The band sprinkles its three-to-five chords with insidiously infectious guitar leads that punctuate their rhythm guitar riffs and vocals perfectly. Armed with a sardonic sense of humor and an armful of unlikely pop culture references, Hotel Chelsea has updated the ’90s pop punk recipe to include modern ingredients (e.g., swap out coffee for well whiskey) in order to feed an increasingly cynical audience. Every member of the band is astoundingly talented at his instrument, but that’s not exactly what makes Hotel Chelsea special. Instead, it’s the fact that they live in a world that constantly tests their tolerance for humanity itself and that same disdain produces amazing pop punk songs that will still be played at sweaty basement parties 20 years from now.
Krystos is an old school metalhead’s most vivid blood-soaked wet dream. Their brand of thrash is agile and muscular at the same time and remains punishing despite its accessibility. Every member of Krystos is an astoundingly talented musician, the kind that makes playing an instrument look as effortless as burping after drinking half a can of Pabst. There’s no question that their body of work will become part of the thrash metal canon. It’s as if they converted a black, cast iron demon locomotive into a time machine and went back to the early ’80s, armed with their knowledge of modern music, to learn the art of thrash from some kind of heavy metal alchemist that resides in a shrine atop the tallest mountain. Really, they’re that good.
4. Junior Rocket Scientist
Junior Rocket Scientist plays aggressive pop music. Every song has at least one menacing element: when the vocals are smooth and soaring, the bass bashes out fuzzy bursts of eighth notes that might intimidate the gnarliest metal band. When the drums and keys are uptempo and bouncy, the vocals come out in a twisted shout. The band plays pop music that’s suited for scaring parents into hiding inside of a broom closet during their teenager’s pizza party. It would be an easy matter for Junior Rocket Scientist to market themselves as a quirky punk band or a noisy indie pop band, but they are content to carve out their own giddily ferocious nook in the world of music. Simply put, Junior Rocket Scientist is a band with a bottle of cheap champagne in one hand and a loaded crossbow in the other.
RAID is an eilite, finely-honed hardcore punk unit. Featuring members of Septic Death and Gordie Howe Trio Unit, they’re converting kids twenty years younger than them to the cult of punk rock. They wear their ’80s hardcore influences on their sleeve, but they are also unafraid to tear that sleeve right off of their jacket if the situation calls for it. RAID is the modern incarnation of the bogeyman that the PMRC was so afraid of 20 years ago–they play mind-bendingly fast and loud punk rock that cannot be tamed by mainstream society or social norms. RAID is the band that will convince your 15-year-old to shave his hair into a green mohawk, trade his heirloom chess set for a cheap Telecaster and get detention at least once a week. RAID is the band that carries the torch for the Northwest’s unique brand of hardcore punk.
Radillac is the brilliant mind of Dr. Bruce Banner trapped inside the gamma-powered body of the Incredible Hulk. Everyone sees the bright green behemoth that wears purple pants, crushes tanks, destroys buildings, and leads the army on wild chases through the desert. What they don’t see is the cool, calculating brain that pulses underneath the surface. Radillac plays a brand of loud, offensive mutant music that has one foot in garage punk and the other in balls-out party rock. Sure, Radillac writes songs about strippers, whiskey, and restraining orders but they’re executed with such raw, hooky brilliance that there must be the brain of a world-famous scientist lurking somewhere in that mass of radioactive muscle. God willing, Radillac’s new album “Classy as F**k” is due out in 2012.
Photo by Nathan Congleton
Blackcloud plays a brand of heavy hardcore that’s difficult to describe. Just as often as they revel in dirgy, downtempo passages that threaten to destroy any PA system they’re playing through, they seem to produce floating, ringing guitar lines that cut through their 20-ton gallop. Blackcloud is a complex and layered band. They are skull-shatteringly loud, their songs are littered with segments that are so dense they’re nearly impenetrable, and vocalist Thomas Wilson is often confrontational on stage. Despite this, Blackcloud is a great band because they don’t cling tightly to hardcore tropes and cliches. There is no such thing as a predictable Blackcloud song. There are moments when a reverberating guitar melody shines through the brutal dissonance, when Wilson’s frenzied growl becomes a fragile, spoken plea, when the guitar and bass come together for just a few seconds for a riff that demands a raised fist–and these moments happen constantly. Blackcloud will never be tamed and will never take orders, which is exactly how a good hardcore band needs to be.