Moovers and Shakers 2005

Backbeat scribes weigh in on their favorite new releases from the past year.

This year, more and more listeners beyond Colorado's borders have discovered what area fans have known for a long time: There are some damned fine performers here. But for every act that's receiving a national push, there are a lot of others making music that deserves to be heard by the masses, too, and not just their friends and family.

Big names such as Vaux and the Fray are represented in the list below, as they should be. Just as exciting, though, are entries from less celebrated but equally talented local heroes who encompass a huge range of sounds and styles. In fact, there's only one category we've skipped: recordings that suck. So listen up, Denver. You're sure to find it a mooving experience.

Across Tundras, Divides (Feeling Faint). Dividesis like a bruise: The longer you live with it, the deeper the hurt sinks in and the more vivid all those ugly colors get. Besides being one of the most gorgeously packaged local discs in memory, this four-song micro-epic has Across Tundras unleashing a drone-metal onslaught as elemental as those of Earth, sunn0))) and Ocean -- only a tad bit frostbitten. Anything to numb the pain. -- Jason Heller

Judith Avers, Strong Hands (Satire Records). This past spring, Judith Avers quietly left Denver for the hills of West Virginia. Sadly, she moved before folks really got a chance to know her, but at least she left behind this achingly beautiful disc to remember her by. Strong Hand's sparse arrangements allow Avers's beguiling voice to take center stage. If only those hands were strong enough to keep her here. -- Dave Herrera

badpenny, Special Racer (Self-released). Confidence radiates from badpenny, a brawny three-piece fronted by Sandeigh Barrett. The likes of "Half Way Gone" and "Waste of Time" (which most certainly isn't) rock in a no-jive manner that pays dividends with each repeat listen. Such a strategy only works if a band's got the goods. This one does. -- Michael Roberts

Black Pegasus, Knuckle Up (Brass Knuckle Entertainment). Representing Colorado Springs, Black P has developed into one of Colorado's more charismatic MCs. While opening summer concerts for Nas and Immortal Technique, he proved equal to the task, winning over an initially apathetic crowd with his energetic stage presence -- not to mention soulful raps from this impressive sophomore release. -- James Mayo

Blusom, The Metapolitan(Second Nature Recordings). Michael Behrenhausen and Jaime "Jme" White are an ideal match -- a singer-songwriter unafraid to give listeners a glimpse of his soul and a low-key production whiz who's equally comfortable in acoustic and electronic settings. Their bold blend of heartfelt balladry and aural adventurousness makes The Metapolitan the place to be. -- Roberts

Born in the Flood, The Fear That We May Not Be (Self-released). Born in the Flood's watermark has risen remarkably in the past year, riding a wave of transcendental performances by the four-piece. But Flood is much more than just a compelling live act, as evidenced by this latest effort. A stunning progression from its earlier work, The Fear That We May Not Be boasts the band's strongest songwriting to date. Immerse yourself. -- Herrera

Cephalic Carnage, Anomalies (Relapse). What Anomalies lacks in... Wait a second: Anomaliesdoesn't lack in anything. For the first time, the band has made an album that totally lives up to its chops, intelligence and international repute -- aided by local producer Dave Otero, who wrung some massive sounds and feverish inspiration out of the sick brain of Cephalic. -- Heller

Cession, Until the World Goes... (Mpact Records). World has uncommon depth for a debut CD, and for good reason: Exavier "Marte" Russell Swain and Terrence "Smoke" McGinnis worked together for more than a decade before dropping this batch of knowledge with the help of partner Joseph "Fuqua" Jones. Together the Cession players furnish a hip-hop production that's built to last. -- Roberts

Constellations, Sistering (Self-released). Examining the shed chrysalis of an insect can reveal a lot about what it's morphed into. Since Sisteringwas released at the start of 2005, Constellations has changed its lineup and shifted its focus, but the disc still stands as an intriguing document of Denver's most exciting and spastic post-punk work in progress. -- Heller

Dead Heaven Cowboys, Dead Heaven Cowboys (Fist Music). Dead Heaven Cowboys' self-titled sophomore release is a bleak, riff-laden excursion that bridges the gap between the sleazy underbelly of the late '80s and the Dirt-ier days of the early '90s. Immaculately recorded by Mark Obermeyer and Jim Strickler, with a guest appearance by Dick Meis, Dead is easily among the best hard-rock releases of 2005. -- Herrera

The Dearly Beloved, Strap-on Halo (Self-released). 'Tis a pity that this fun-loving fringe-folk trio disbanded last fall. But at least Jennifer Waters, Whitney Rehr and Laura Coleman hung together long enough to release Strap-on Halo, a simmering, smoky slab of blues-infused goodness that speaks to the goddess in all of us. Somewhere, Sappho is smiling. -- John La Briola

(die) Pilot, Radiation, Weather, Art (Self-released). Radiation, Weather, Art is the sprawling masterwork of Eugene Brown, a transplant from Kentucky. Instantly captivating, (die) Pilot's inaugural disc finds Brown and company infusing quietly meditative songs with interstellar bursts of ambience. If Mark Kozelek reimagined the work of Mazzy Star as filtered through vintage Floyd, it might sound something like this. -- Herrera

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