All Mixed Up

The year's best local music becomes the soundtrack of our lives.

Remember that song "Last Night, a Year-End Top Ten List Saved My Life"? Of course you don't. The music itself -- not some perfunctory list -- is what makes you laugh, pulls on your heartstrings and gets you thinking. Aside from mix tapes made by old lovers and friends, an enumeration of someone else's favorite music isn't going to move you. So this year we've taken a more pragmatic approach to sharing our favorite local releases. We've assembled track lists with the best songs from the best albums and artists for situations you may encounter in the coming year -- a custom set of mix tapes from us to you.

Top Ten Songs While You're Waiting for the Light to Change
By Dave Herrera

Whether you're stranded in the mobile parking lot known as T-Rex or stuck in an endless loop of red lights, these tracks are so tuneful and profound that before long, you'll be romanticizing the mundane moments in life and drumming on the steering wheel, and you'll forget all about raging against the machines.

1. "Don't Ask Me" from the Seattle Sessions by Love.45 (Self-released)
"Don't Ask Me" kicks off thirteen minutes of pure power-pop bliss on Love.45's latest disc. Sure, the fellas have followed the radio-rock formula down to the letter, but it's rarely been done this well or sounded this good. By the second chorus you'll be fingering the rewind button instead of saluting your fellow motorists.

2. "Waking Up the Stars" from Too Many Fires,by Carolyn's Mother (Arc Weld Records)
This anthemic ditty is an apt introduction to the best material the venerable ensemble has produced. On "Waking Up the Stars," a shimmery six-string skitters across a thundering, omnipresent bass line while Rhett Lee's soaring vox instantly captivates, conjuring images of a place where the streets have no name -- and probably no traffic.

3. "Vienna" from the Reason EP by the Fray (Self-released)
Subtle guitar flourishes spread like a fine mist over this piano-heavy arrangement, creating a fitting backdrop for a lamentation to lost love. "Vienna" is a hauntingly beautiful track from an EP already brimming with brilliance, and it will relax you like a warm flood of seratonin.

4. "Poison Tester" from Jump the Hedges First, by Against Tomorrow's Sky (Universal Warning Records)
From a band that took its moniker and album title from a Van Morrison song ("Sweet Thing"), this is exactly what you'd expect: an epochal musing taking you deeper into the mystic. Like Morrison's "Cypress Avenue," "Poison Tester" is a bit ambiguous. By the time you've deciphered its true meaning, you'll probably be home.

5. "By the Sea Shore" from Ambient Frequencies, by Five Style Fist (Self-released)
"By the Sea Shore" is a six-minute audio sedative from an outfit that otherwise treads on the hybrid trail blazed by 311. If this serene instrumental doesn't lower your blood pressure dramatically, a few anger-management classes would probably do you a world of good.

6. "Me and Wade" from Famous American, by The Late Jack Redell (Satire Records)
Armed with a trademark twang and a penchant for storytelling, Redell has the makings of a classic American songwriter. Part Springsteen and part Cash, he crafts organic tunes that are perfect for driving, whether you're barreling down the road with the windows down or at a dead stop.

7. "What You're Thinking" from Applause of the Rain, by Christopher Jak (440 Records)
What the hell is that guy in the SUV smiling about? Why isn't he red-faced and white-knuckled like you? Obviously, unlike this guy, you don't know Jak -- because if you did, you'd be smiling, too, and people would be wondering "What You're Thinking." With a voice that falls somewhere between those of David Wilcox and John Gorka, this newcomer is a welcome addition to the scene.

8. "1963" from the compilation The Acoustic Circus, by Ordinary Poets (Fall of Order Records)
"1963" is a jangly ode waxing on the familiar theme of it being better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all. The masterful vocal work will take you back in time to the days before you could drive. Whatever happened to that girl, anyway?

9. "Diesel Man" from Last Call Scars, by Rexway (Hapi Skratch Records)
Instead of cursing that jackass in the Peterbilt for driving at half speed in the fast lane and making broad right turns, "Diesel Man" implores you to respect those "brought up on this highwayman's life." After all, they "built us our America."

10. "Sirens" from Untying the Not, by the String Cheese Incident
The dynamic tension of "Sirens" -- dark minor-chord progressions in the verses and sunny, major-chord changes in the chorus -- mimics bumper-to-bumper stop-and-go traffic. Just as things start loosening up, they bottleneck and the cycle repeats itself.

Top Ten Songs to Scare Off a Potential Girlfriend/Boyfriend
By Jason Heller

Traditionally, mix tapes have been used to lure and woo significant others -- kind of like a bouquet of music or something dumb like that. Occasionally, though, new relationships hit the crapper fast and you just gotta bail. That's where this mix tape comes in: Give a copy to your would-be paramour and watch him or her turn tail and run screaming toward the nearest episode of ElimiDATE.

1. "Pessimicity" from the Sisyphean Slope EP by Pariah Caste (Not Bad)
A blast of bleak, jagged angst that would have made At the Drive In proud, this paean to suspicion and ulterior motives is the perfect way to let that special someone know you're lugging around a shit ton of baggage.

2. "Carnisaur Vs. Unicorn" from Killball, by Friends Forever (Load)
Nothing shouts "I don't get out of my mom's basement much" louder than this absurd yet brutal barrage of keyboards, spaceship effects and lyrics about -- you guessed it -- a carnivorous dinosaur battling a unicorn.

3. "Subtle Way" from Maybe Waltz, by Patrick Porter (Self-released)
Currently on sabbatical in upstate New York, this Bailey-bred songsmith carves out the most delicate, desolate romantic scenarios since Big Star's Sister Lovers. "Subtle Way" is true to form, sounding a bit like Elliott Smith just a few seconds before his self-performed bypass operation.

4. "The Dirge" from the self-titled album by Call Sign Cobra (Not Bad)
Call Sign Cobra hangs up the horns and slams on the breaks for this one, a dark and grinding rock-and-roll anthem about despair, self-abuse, booze and the existential pitfalls of fucking. Positively, well, dirge-like.

5. "My Virus" from Black Heart Affair, by Love Me Destroyer (Symbiotic Disharmony)
There's nothing like an STD scare to kill a fledgling romance; unfortunately, "My Virus" is a dark punk scream-along about nightmares and revenge rather than genital lesions. Still ought to do the trick, though.

6. "Alaskan Jihad" from Squirting Flower, by Perry Weissman 3 (Shrat)
The moods swing as hard as the rhythm section on this spectral, aching jazz cut. The jarring crescendos and creeping dissonance whipped up by Apple in Stereo Eric Allen and crew is a good way to tip someone off to your severe bipolar disorder.

7. "River" from the self-titled EP by Dartanian (Self-released)
Hardcore kids pumping out epic, Maiden-style metal complete with an acoustic intro and gloriously histrionic vocals. This should drive a wedge into your co-dependency -- that is, unless your lover looks like an extra from The Decline of Western Civilization Part 2.

8. "You'll Find Lady Luck to Be a Hooker and You're All Out of Cash" from Pattern = Application, by My Calculus Beats Your Algebra (Self-released)
Though the whole disc sounds like a midair collision between Suicide and Throbbing Gristle, this 45-second blitz of abrasive drones and chilling piano should be enough to make any budding valentine think twice before getting all Pepe LePew on your ass.

9. "The Lisbon Girls, Oh the Lisbon Girls" from Odd How People Shake, by Fear Before the March of Flames (Rise)
With lacerating guitars and a twin-vocal attack reminiscent of the Blood Brothers, "Lisbon Girls" sounds like a jealous, violent tiff in song form. Not only will this one get rid of an unwelcome squeeze, but it just might get you slapped with a restraining order.

10. "Dreams Are for Pussies" from the compilation Notes From Thee Real Underground Volume 4, by Sparkles (Underground Inc.)
Sparkles, one of Denver's most promising and incendiary bands, melted down earlier this year, leaving only this track as an epitaph. Like a cocktail of puke and kerosene, "Dreams Are for Pussies" is exactly what its title would lead you to expect: a nerve-bashing tour de force of cataclysmic hopelessness. If this doesn't drive your suitor away, you might as well give it up and go ring shopping.

Top Ten Songs for Someone With a Multiple Musicality Disorder
By Michael Roberts

Be yourself, they tell you. But what "self" should you be today? The alternative-music-loving intellectual? The jazz-obsessed boho? The punk-rocking wildman? Or how about all of the above -- simultaneously? If it was good enough for Sybil, shouldn't it be good enough for you?

1. "Village Secret" from Songs to Lynch, by Sci-Fi Uterus (HyperHead Records)
With this album-length nod to filmmaker David Lynch, the Uterans give birth to a mutant strain of synth pop that's retro and nouveau at precisely the same time. The "Village Secret" here consists of the occasional classical flourish and a heaping helping of creepiness.

2. "My Cliney" from The Modus, by Don Bläs (Mobstyle Records)
Stylistically, there's nothing new about Bläs's gangsta throwdowns, which are built upon familiar tales of locking and loading. But from a performance and production standpoint, the disc -- and particularly "My Cliney," featuring cameos by Jadakiss and Styles P. -- breaks new ground for Colorado hip-hop.

3. "My Dad's a Fuckin' Alcoholic" from My Dad's a Fuckin' Alcoholic, by the Frantix (Afterburn Records)
How typical that the year's best reissue of Colorado music comes from an indie label in Australia. Still, it's great that the disc's title track is available again, since the tune's raucous and riotous nihilism puts punk pretenders to shame. (For more information, e-mail afterburn @>ihug.com.au.)

4. "Blown Apart" from A History of Madness, by Thinking Plague (Cuneiform Records)
Colorado's longest-surviving art-rock aggregation checks in with another thoroughly worthy opus courtesy of mastermind Mike Johnson and a batch of mad conspirators. "Blown Apart" is more than eight minutes' worth of stops, starts, eccentric time signatures and mind-bending surprises.

5. "Mr. & Mrs. Clef Take a Vacation" from Extended Family, by Fred Hess (Tapestry)
The latest by saxophonist Hess adds to his laudable catalogue of post-bop jazz. As its playful title implies, "Clef," Family's central cut, is an extended improvisation in which Hess and company engage in the sort of musical telepathy that makes traditional song structure seem unnecessary.

6. "X-Photo" from Go Slowly All the Way Round the Outside, by Blusom (Second Nature Recordings)
On "X-Photo," the majestic high point of a consistently impressive disc, Mike Behrenson and Jme (aka Jamie White) draw from a wealth of ingredients: acoustic plucking, electronic touches, bold lyrics, sincere vocals and tender melodicism. The result is irony-free modern music at its finest.

7. "Thunderbolt" from Loneliness Knows My Name, by Patrick Park (Hollywood Records)
Park, a Denver alum who was once in Idle Mind, steps onto a larger stage with a sweetly melancholy album. "Thunderbolt," marked by warm strings, forlorn harmonica and rhymes equating a lover to guns and fire, wraps up the disc's strengths in one tidy package.

8. "Benjamin Bowmaneer" from Trad., by Colcannon (Oxford Road Records)
Anyone who believes that Celtic music from Colorado is inauthentic by definition will have to revise his thinking after spinning this CD. "Benjamin Bowmaneer," an English folk song that doubles as an anti-war satire, feels as timeless as Stonehenge.

9. "House of the Crosses" from Truth Is Not Fiction, by Otis Taylor (Telarc)
Most contemporary blues lack the dark power the music once routinely exuded -- but Taylor's work is a big exception. "Crosses," a gripping saga of murder, rape and retribution set in Russia, of all places, shows that he's capable of walking shoulder to shoulder with the genre's greats.

10. "San Andreas" from Faultline, by Victoria Woodworth (Self-released)
Woodworth's version of country avoids the slick, pre-processed sound currently associated with Nashville in favor of raw emotion and vocals delivered straight from the gut. If "San Andreas" doesn't shake you up, it's nobody's fault but yours.

Top Ten Songs for Rollin' in Your '64 on the Way to a Think Tank Discussion on the "Extraterrestrial Problem"
By James Mayo

There are telltale signs everywhere that Whitley Strieber wasn't playing. According to recent reports, there has been a rash of UFO carjackings. Entice the aliens to jack your shit by bumping the best of Mile High hip-hop as you pop the hydraulics on your hooptie.

1. "M.H.C" from Future ID, by Ground Zero Movement (Response Records)
It's been a busy year for Ground Zero Movement, and the band caused a tectonic-plate shift with this Mile High anthem. GZM's steady flow of consistent product and relentless performances has helped elevate the reputation of Colorado hip-hop.

2. "We Gotta" from ...As Iron Sharpens Iron, by the Procussions (Basementalism Records)
Colorado Springs natives celebrate the elements of hip-hop in this forward-thinking, Pete Rock and CL Smooth-sounding affair. The Procussions may have relocated to L.A., but their heart is here in Colorado.

3. "The 'G' Show" from The Modus, by Don Bläs (Mobstyle Records)
Don Bläs shows why he's the don of Denver's street-oriented reality rap. His reputation extends well beyond Colorado's borders, though, and collaborations with the likes of Jadakiss and Styles have helped earn this MC some major spins on commercial radio.

4. "Rapstarr" from Rapstarr, by Sista D (Kut-N-Kru Records)
This Latina MC puts the muzzle on the haters who think women can't rap. It's been a while since D put out a record, but on cuts like "Rapstarr," she proves that she's still the Queen of Mile High hip-hop.

5. "Malfunction Disorder" from Subliminal Teachings, by Dojo, featuring Extra Kool (Self-released)
Industrial beats and otherworldly rhymes perfectly mirror the dystopia surrounding this sci-fi tale of a dying robot. Good work by talented artists with the best handles in Denver: Selecta Roswell and Analog Suspect.

6. "Mo Jail & No Bail" from Slangin Keyz, by Sacrifice (Tay Records)
Rapping about "court dates and jail mates," this Montbello MC tells the all-too-familiar tale of a young G getting caught up in the trials and tribulations of the street life.

7. "Street Poetry" from Street Poetry, by Derrius (Self-released)
All natural, no filler. On "Street Poetry," Derrius strips rap down to its essence, just drums and bass and a lyrical no-nonsense rhyme flow that recalls a young Rakim.

8. "Time for a Change" from Iseer, by Iseer (D.U.G.)
Iseer and his D.U.G. entertainment family trumpet the call for a conscious reawakening in one of the year's more spiritually uplifting offerings.

9. "Love Sick" from Hard Block: The Compilation, by L.O.C. (Kut-N-Kru Records)
Complemented by stellar production, L.O.C. spins a tragic narrative of two young street kids who end up infected with HIV. The song closes with an optimistic message of hope for young people: "Hold on to your self-respect and aspirations, and we can make it right for the next generations."

10. "Crack It Open" from Hilltop Klick, by Hilltop Klick (Po'No'Mo Entertainment)
Doughboy of the Hilltop Klick expects to play this party-starter to celebrate what he sees as the inevitable Denver Broncos Super Bowl victory in the New Year. Part of the local scene for over a decade, this Park Hill group has seen a lot of lineup changes, but one thing has stayed the same: the consistent high quality of the Klick's music.

Top Ten Songs for Playing Dress-Up
By John La Briola

Where would rock and roll be without leather jackets, rhinestone jumpsuits, love beads, platform shoes, gold chains or baggy pants? Probably stuck in an endless loop of The Twilight Zone, with Pat Boone and Doris Day wearing cardigans, sharing a vanilla malt and being serenaded by a barbershop quartet until they lose their fucking minds. Thankfully, the Front Range scene offers not only its share of exceptional music, but a unique and freewheeling sense of fashion, as well. Here, ranging from chic to shabby, exquisite to ridiculous, is a ten-gun salute to Colorado's haute couture.

1. "Cops in Hi-Tops" from Now Bring That Here, by Skinner (Sparky the Dog Records)
If they're not bumped down to vice squad for violating dress code, the lawmen depicted in this amusing back-porch ditty from pro-femme songstress Hilary Skinner could probably moonlight as semi-approachable bouncers. There's something about a man in uniform.

2. "Hair Pants" from Audiophile, by Mike Colin (4EVR Oblio Music)
Upping the ante on how uncomfortable life in a monastery can get, prolific four-tracker Colin whispers his way through a somber (and exceedingly scratchy) meditation on fear, faith and suicide. Wonder if those happy slacks come with pleats and pockets?

3. "The Ballad of the Cowboy Clown" from I Love My Toys, by Jesse Smith
An epic, synthesized spaghetti Western pits our oddly attired, orange-haired hero against Billy the Clown at high noon. Their choice of weapons? Unicycles, juggling pins and balloon-twisting at fifty paces. Replete with sound effects and surprises, this delightful children's song from a local comedy writer/voice artist fills some mighty big shoes.

4. "Gonna Wear Red" from Gonna Wear Red, by Wendy Woo (Hapi Skratch)
Whether it's Scarlet O' Hara or Little Red Riding Hood, when a female dons her ruby-hued ensemble, look out! Woo's Lilith-approved ballad combines fierce femininity with a independent sense of adventure -- like Rosie the Riveter at the high school prom.

5. "Glass Eye" from Woven Hand, by Woven Hand (Soundsfamilyre)
Eschewing a fashionable eye patch, David Eugene Edwards crafts a curious banjo-fueled hoedown that trembles before Jesus as it dabbles in taxidermy. Even though the spirit might be willing, the flesh is still weak -- making mortal fools of all of God's children, even Sammy Davis Jr.

6. "Psychedelic Black Man" from Laughing Barrel, by Ron Miles (Sterling Circle)
Ultra-stylish in melting silk the color of cool jazz, a cosmopolitan trumpeter chases white rabbits through a nocturnal hall of mirrors. Cut from the same introspective cloth as his hard-bop forefathers, virtuoso Miles gives acid-laced fusion a new wrinkle.

7. "Venus in Furs" from Triple X Tango, by DeVotchKa (Cicero)
This rare, exotic remake of the Velvet Underground's classic tale of boy-meets-whip finds leather-clad gypsies crashing an S&M polka party. Towering in thigh-high boots, Ms. Venus strides down the runway like a sable-cloaked goddess. Meow!

8. "Panama Hat" from Where the Dark Road Starts, David Williams (Trapdoor Records)
Inspired by Ecuador's famed, hand-woven sun lid, this breezy acoustic rumba blends equal jiggers of Bacardi and Ry Cooder. Backed by the Hot Club of the Rockies, Williams branches out from singing animal songs to get drunk and model beachwear.

9. "Chrome Baby" from IZ, by Iz (Infinite 7)
Dressed in hand-me-down diapers and black fingernail polish, Mike Serviolo's aggressive instrumental squalls like a newborn with colic. Elliptic guitar scorch and heart-attack drumming combine for a flashy, sonic punch both lustrous and metallic.

10. "Little People Sex Workers" from I Want to Be a Billionaire, by Gregory Ego.
The industrious streetwalkers who frequent the Royal Court Motel are barely legal, barely dressed and barely three foot five. Down on their heels in torn fishnets with mismatching cuffs and collars, these tiny burlap sisters can all attest to one thing: "We're not in Kansas anymore."

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