By Bree Davies
By Emerald O'Brien
By Gina Tron
By Jon Solomon
By Drew Ailes
By Courtney Harrell
By Kyra Scrimgeour
It's been an amazing year for music in Denver. In a recent note, the Swayback's Eric Halborg put it best: "This place is on fire. I've been trying to whisper that into anyone's ear that I thought could take the message in the bottle out of Denver. But it's obvious, and you know that it's true when you are more excited to see your friend's band than the national acts or find your friend's lyrics tastier than anything you've heard in a while."
Well said; we couldn't agree more. In fact, this year, when Backbeat writers put together lists of their favorite local albums, we had trouble narrowing our choices down into something manageable. These are the records we'd reach for first -- even when we're not on the clock.
Soapy Argyle, Sycamore (Sparky the Dog Records). Soapy Argyle (Greg Hill) describes himself as an "inventor of the binary logic box and writer of quirk" -- which almost explains his approach to music. Argyle digs flowers and Tiny Tim, rides his bike in the snow, raps, and has no problem donning the goat horns of a confused lounge singer. But underneath that chameleonic exterior beats the heart of a charmingly experimental goofball. -- John La Briola
Arkansas Bo, Porch Thinkin' (Lites Out Entertainment). This Arkansas transplant bombed the scene with his debut this year, making a name for himself that's hard to ignore. Bo comes with top-notch production, witty in-depth rhymes and a flow that will keep you coming back for more. Look out, because this cat is about to blow. -- Quibian Salazar-Moreno
Atlas, Ways You Once Thought Were Short Cuts (Self-released). Everyone from Gang of Four to Hoover is getting back together. But why revive post-punk's arthritic ancestry when you can hear a group of local kids crank out their own sparse and sinuous attack? Steeped in abandon and angst, Atlas's debut EP takes an inherently calculated style and wrings from it raw pathos, chaotic geometry and a vicious, vital purity. -- Jason Heller
Black Black Ocean, Eaglemaniac (Action Driver). What happens when you stick nice Christian kids, crazed blow fiends and ornithology fetishists together in a band? Hard to say. But it could be hypothesized that the result might resemble Black Black Ocean's Eaglemaniac. Like the Blood Brothers sucking face with Les Savy Fav in a bubble bath of cough syrup. Yum. -- Heller
Black Lamb, Hang the Moon (Self-released). Not since the era of the Fluid has this town witnessed rock and roll on such a thunderous scale. Dodging Deep Purple-spawned riffs and a wah pedal that snaps like the jaws of a tyrannosaur, singer Brian Hagman wields a beefy snarl rivaled only by that of Danzig himself -- at least before the latter got his ass whupped. -- Heller
Break Mechanics, Break Mechanics (Self-released). Break Mechanics, the much-lauded hip-hop band that's been burning up clubs for some time, finally released its self-titled debut this year. Ranging from jazzed-out riffs to head-banging boom bap, it's one of the best hip-hop albums to come out of Denver in recent memory. We can't wait for the next one. -- Salazar-Moreno
Breezy Porticos, Keep It Crisp (Best Friends). Stranded at Six Flags over Nowhere, the Breezies keep their eye peeled on cloud nine, happy as kids chomping big wads of bubblegum. Infusing classic pop structures with jangle, flutter and plenty of three-part harmonies, the trio keeps its formula simple and sweet. Maybe it's the mathletes who shall inherit the earth. -- La Briola
Bright Channel, Bright Channel (Flight Approved). Space -- both inner and outer -- is Bright Channel's biosphere. Laced with science-fiction imagery and psychedelic ambience, the group's debut sets Joy Division adrift in Bardo Pond, and the production by Steve Albini encloses all that gaseous matter in a steely shell of treble and menace. Less shoegazer than stargazer, Bright Channel will turn your iPod into an escape pod. -- Heller
Ron Bucknam, Jiggery Pokery in the Year of the Ox (Homemade Hurricane). Fractured, unpredictable and synthetic tones dominate this amusing batch of so-called electronic folk music by improvisational yukster Ron Bucknam. A remarkable guitarist and conga player (and former bandmate of one Richard Gere), Bucknam explores the digital possibilities of a highly tempermental electronic drum. The results vary, from lullabies for worker ants to dance music for bats. -- La Briola
Carrier,Finally Over Water (Hideaway Records). Marc Benning isn't afraid of heights. On his latest disc, the once and future leader of 34 Satellite soars with the help of keening vocals and a guitar that regularly smacks the stratosphere. Featuring the inspired playing of sidemen such as Flaming Lips drummer Kliph Scurlock, Flying Over Water takes listeners on a mind-bending journey. Buckle up for safety. -- Michael Roberts
The Cinematic Underground, Annasthesia (Cut Narrative Records).
Annasthesia is the unparalleled masterwork of Nathan Johnson, a Denver expatriate who leads the artistic collective responsible for this headphone masterpiece. The best concept album this side of Lift to Experience's The Texas-Jerusalem Crossroads, Johnson's existential tale unfolds over thirteen expansive tracks that intermittently evoke Mark Kozelek, Sparklehorse and Radiohead. (www.cinematicunderground.com) -- Dave Herrera