With Superbowl XLVIII’s kick-off imminent, the rivalry between the Seattle Seahawks and Denver Broncos is approaching fever pitch. Not content to leave it to the players on the field, however, the battle has even reached as far as the cities’ music scenes. With local stations in Denver refusing to play Seattle artists in the run-up to the game, it’s created a whole new rivalry in the process.
But when it comes down to it, who comes out on top in the Seattle/Denver Battle of the Bands?
Seattle Team Roster
It hardly seems fair to include the likes of Nirvana, Soundgarden, and Alice in Chains in the list. The Seattle grunge scene in the late 80s and early 90s was not so much a landmark for the city, as a turning point for the music industry as a whole. From the depths of the city’s underground clubs and garages emerged a wave of bands whose combination of dirty, scuzzed-out sounds and brilliance as performers put the Rain City on the musical map in a way that no band ever had before, bringing MTV and a whole new generation of rock fans along with them.
Band of Horses
Formed in Seattle back in 2004, the post-rock quintet were snapped up by Seattle’s legendary SubPop record label after impressing executives as the local support act for Iron & Wine. Their blend of melancholic vocals and stadium choruses has served them well over the course of their four full-length LPs. While the band themselves were formed and based in Seattle, lead singer and founder Ben Bridewell grew up in North Carolina. He’s previous commented that, “I feel that I was always a tourist in Seattle in a way; that it was out of my comfort zone in a way that I would like to revisit. The moodiness of that place seeped into my bones more than where I live currently so in a way I wish it was gloomier sometimes in South Carolina just for the inspirational aspects of it.”
Grammy-winning superstars Macklemore and Ryan Lewis are both Washington-state natives, meeting in 2006 when Lewis took promo photographs for the then underground rapper. Seven years and a few hit singles later, the pair have drawn the world’ attention to Seattle’s hip-hop scene in a way that hasn’t been done since Sir Mix-A-Lot released perhaps the greatest tribute to vertebrates the world has ever known, ‘Baby Got Back’. With the tour for their critically-acclaimed album The Heist all but wrapped up, they will start work on their follow-up in early 2014.
Another SubPop signing, Fleet Foxes first came into being when Robin Pecknold and Skyler Skjelset met as students at Lake Washington High School, Seattle. Originally forming a band under the moniker of ‘The Pineapples’, they eventually settled on their current band name in time to record their first official demo in 2006. Their blend of lush, three-part harmonies and 60s-influenced sound saw them scooped up by SubPop in 2008. With speculation rife about when fans can expect to hear their long-awaited third album, hopes are high that they will return in 2014.
Death Cab for Cutie
Benjamin Gibbard’s divorce from Zooey Deschanel may have reignited the fantasies of adolescent boys everywhere, but it was as the lead singer of Death Cab for Cutie that he first started playing with people’s hearts. While they began as one of many acoustic, emo-tinged acts that emerged in the late nineties, their sound continued to develop as many of their peers began to stagnate. Following on from the beautiful soundscapes of Plans, their 2008 album Narrow Stairs was a departure for the band. Its darker, more experimental musical arrangements and raw lyricism saw it become their first album to reach number 1 in the Billboard top 100.
Minus the Bear
Since forming in 2001, Minus the Bear have built a loyal following with their brand of highly original indie-rock. Their atypical time signatures and dexterity on the fret board have seen them praised as the saviours of the genre, earning critical acclaim both in the US and beyond. 2012’s Infinity Overhead was heralded as a return to form for the Seattle natives, following the mixed reception for 2010’s Omni. Whether or not you were a fan of the latter, there’s no denying the band are pushing the boundaries of indie rock in a way that few others have managed.
The Head and the Heart
While the band’s individual members may stem from all over the USA, folk-rockers The Head and the Heart first met while attending Open Mic nights in Seattle’s Conor Byrne pub. One of the key players in the popular folk revival that has swept through the English-speaking world in the last few years, the band are yet another of SubPop’s local finds, signing to the label back in 2009. Their music, a warm and inviting mix of country instrumentation and indie-rock melodies, has been used on How I Met Your Mother, Chuck, and on the theatrical trailer for The Silver Linings Playbook.
Denver Team Roster
Another folk-revival act, The Lumineers formed in New Jersey in 2005, but are now based out of Denver, Colorado. Their inescapably popular single ‘Ho Hey’ was one of the biggest hits of the summer, featuring on endless adverts and ensuring that the band’s self-titled debut reached number 8 in the UK album charts, and number 2 in the Billboard charts. While the band often draw on bluegrass and Americana influences, these are tempered by their pop sensibilities, leaving a sound that captures the atmospheric nature of American folk, without losing mainstream, international appeal.
Named after the Russian word for “Girl”, DeVotchKa are one of Denver’s most popular musical exports. Their blend of gypsy-punk and stadium rock has not been confined to their own records, however, as the band also wrote and performed the film scores for indie hits Little Miss Sunshine and I Love You, Philip Morris. Their most recent album, 100 Lovers, was released back in 2011, and with only a live album to tide fans over in the mean time, hopes are high for a new LP in 2014.
Rock/hip-hop collaborative Flobots may have been together since 2000, but it was with their major label debut Fight With Tools that the band entered the national and international consciousness. Their single ‘Handlebars’ was an infectious alternative/hip-hop combo that combined melancholic, counter-culture lyrics with distorted guitars and ska-infused horns. While they slipped back under the radar after that initial wave of success, the band are still going strong, releasing their most recent album, The Circle in the Square, in 2012, and touring across the USA.
Husband and wife pair Alaina Moore and Patrick Riley met while studying philosophy at college in Denver. Their debut album, Cape Dory, chronicles a seven-month long sailing trip the pair embarked upon, attracting critical praise for its combination of lo-fi production, high-brow lyricism and surf-rock melodies. Follow up Young and Old was mixed by Black Keys’ drummer Patrick Carney, who added a little more edge to their sometimes sickly-sweet sound. Their Small Sound EP is released on February 3rd.
International superstars from the moment they released debut album How to Save a Life, Denver’s The Fray are probably the city’s most famous sons. Their brand of folksy stadium rock may not rank amongst the most interesting or unique music to emerge from the Mile-High City, but there’s no denying its popular appeal. Their follow-up, self-titled album went straight in at number one on the Billboard charts, earning them a Grammy nomination and gold certifications in America, Canada and Australia. Having spent the last half of 2013 recording their fourth studio album, it is expected to be released later this year.
The Final Score?
For our two cents, it would have to be Seattle coming out on top in this battle. It’s hard to argue with the sheer weight of history behind the city’s music scene. Certainly, Denver has produced its fair share of talented and successful musicians whose work has reached audiences well beyond the Chicago state lines. However, Seattle’s past and on-going reputation as one of the US’s music hot beds is irrefutable.
So, as we count down to kick-off, have a listen to our full line-up, and let’s see how the real thing plays out.