Moovers and Shakers 2006

Backbeat writers sound off on the best local releases of 2006.

Thanks to MTV, which is using Denver as a backdrop for the current installment of The Real World, our town will be seared into the public consciousness for the next several months. And with two of our most celebrated homegrown acts up for Grammy awards, it's safe to say that the national spotlight has never burned brighter or hotter on our fair city.

Rest assured, Denver is ready for its close-up. The scene continues to evolve, with old favorites calling it a day and promising new acts stepping up to the forefront. And the level of artistry improves with each permutation, with sharper songwriting and better production. So weighing in on the best music coming out of the local scene this past year was a cinch; the sheer number of quality releases issued over the past twelve months is staggering.

As much as things have progressed, though, one constant remains: Our greatest asset is our diversity. Denver doesn't have a definitive sound, and that's good. Instead -- as you'll see from the 2006 incarnation of our annual Moovers and Shakers list below -- we have a slew of free-thinking auteurs following their own muse, making music that matters.

-- Dave Herrera

8traC, Falling Up (Open Channel Records). Plenty of good-time bands have difficulty translating the entertaining vibe they generate in clubs to the average boombox. Not so 8traC, a horn-happy bunch that combines impeccable musicianship with some mighty funky grooves. Whether they're pushing the tempo on "Let's Do It" or laying back on "All I Know," these players keep the party going. -- Michael Roberts

A Shoreline Dream, Avoiding the Consequences (Latenight Weeknight Records). Critics of the Dreamers dismiss the outfit's echo-laden vocals and gossamer instrumentals as pretentious and indulgent -- descriptors that are occasionally justified. Yet the sprawling soundscapes spun by Ryan Policky and his co-conspirators are frequently gorgeous and damnably difficult to resist. Only the terminally cynical will be able to avoid Consequences. -- Roberts

Astrophagus, Casualite (Helmet r00m Recordings). Not that many years ago, a majority of musicians tended to segregate traditional and electronic instrumentation. Fortunately, Astrophagus's Jason and Joshua Cain are more enlightened performers. On tracks such as "Square Parts of Houses," the Cains' juxtaposition of guitar and piano with computer-generated beats and blips offers a bracing argument for stylistic integration. -- Roberts

The Autokinoton, The Furnace Room Demos (Self-released). Sans a vocalist for the first time in many years, the Auto-K boys have triumphantly shot themselves full throttle into the deepest and darkest regions of instrumental space. Like getting spaghettified into a black hole, the band sucks you in hard toward its immeasurably tone-heavy gravitational center. Go forth, space monkeys! -- Tuyet Nguyen

badpenny, Cowboy vs. Skeleton (Self-released). Sandeigh Barrett talks in a slow Texas drawl and croons like a punked-out babe caught crushing on Hank Williams. Cowboy isn't your ma's country -- hell, it ain't even today's country -- but it is a sincere banjo-plucking, bass-thumping, dance-hall good time that'll lyrically break your heart and help you glue it back together. -- Nguyen

BaSheBa Earth, Mothership (Arketype Records). It's no surprise that BaSheBa Earth holds her own in a mike-to-mike showdown with Public Enemy's Chuck D on "Bladez of Tongue." She's an intelligent lyricist who knows there's a lot more to hip-hop than boasting about bling, and she verifies it on "Miked," a cut that's emblematic of her cool, conscious approach. -- Roberts

Bright Channel, Self-Propelled (Flight Approved). Like a tornado on the horizon, Bright Channel's latest is portentous and ominously exhilarating. Self-Propelled perfectly captures the bottomless whirlpools and soaring swells of sound that have made both the band's shows and its records endlessly awe-inspiring. Burningly ethereal apocalyptic rock for those unafraid to gaze into the abyss. -- Tom Murphy

John Common, Good to Be Born (Free School Records). The auspicious debut of former Rainville frontman John Common shares intellectual shelf space with mid-period Remy Zero and Radiohead. With supple vocals that glide from intoxicating purrs to forceful croons, Common weaves his way through intelligent, cinematic material that's thoughtfully augmented by well-placed samples, subtle brass accompaniment and murmuring keys. -- Herrera

Cowboy Curse, Nod Up and Down (to the Simulcast Singing) (Public Service Records). Seasonal Affective Disorder sufferers, take note: Cowboy Curse's debut full-length is like your own private sunbeam. Glowing with mellifluous melodies and harmonies, the trio's whimsical, lo-fi retro-pop is guaranteed to improve your mood immeasurably, even in its less upbeat moments. If there was a more enjoyable local disc released this year, I haven't heard it. -- Herrera

Deux Process, In Deux Time (Avatar). Following in the footsteps of their Procussion brethren, Vice Versa and Chief Nek bounced to L.A., signed a deal with Avatar Records and dropped a fresh album. In Deux Time celebrates hip-hop and life in general without the fellas taking themselves too seriously. Mostly self-produced, the record is a good step for Colorado hip-hop. -- Quibian Salazar-Moreno

DeVotchKa, Curse Your Little Heart (Ace Fu). DeVotchKa, which was just nominated for a Grammy for its contribution to the Little Miss Sunshine soundtrack, released this striking six-song set back in May. With covers of songs by Baldo Rex's Ted Thacker, Siouxsie and the Banshees and the Velvet Underground, as well as a traditional and a new take on the title track, Curse is devastatingly beautiful. -- Herrera

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