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Moovers & Shakers 2008: Backbeat scribes weigh in on their favorite local releases of the year

Last week on Mile High Fidelity, my new show on 101.5 FM, I marveled at how we'd seamlessly segued from the station's regular programming to our all-local music mix. In the not-too-distant past, listeners might have made unconscious concessions for the homegrown work, assuming that the production and songwriting would be inferior. But these days, they're not. At all.

And that's a testament to the caliber of talent in this town, with its seemingly endless stream of gifted songwriters and musicians, not to mention producers, engineers and studios. That there's enough quality music being made here to sustain our weekly two-hour show — not to mention a half-dozen others — is beyond impressive.

As my colleague Eryc Eyl is so fond of saying, Denver has an embarrassment of riches. Only there's nothing to be embarrassed about. This has been another year for great music in the Mile High City, as you'll see from the write-ups below. While there were innumerable releases, these are the ones that stirred us the most, and often caused the most heated haggling over who got to weigh in on what — another testament. (For more picks visit blogs.westword.com/backbeat) Dave Herrera

Abracastabya, Knees Together Ankles Crossed (Self-released). The poetic nonsense titles give just a hint of the thoughtfulness and sweeping emotionalism contained within each song. Impressively diverse yet sonically cohesive, this record owes a bit to Little Earthquakes while also showcasing the band's creative ambition. Fragile and intense, wise and brash, Abstab waste not a moment of your time. — Tom Murphy

Achille Lauro, Achille Lauro (Self-released). On its sophomore effort, the outstanding followup to You're Going to Live (And Other Nice Things to Hear), Achille Lauro continues to inject welcome strains of jazz into indie rock's well-worn template. Matt Close's smoky vocals sound as beguiling as ever against the warm Rhodes inflections, subtle rhythms and vibrant guitar lines. — Herrera

Action Packed Thrill Ride, A Loose Leaf Script (Self-released). In summoning the best backwoods hollers and chants from classic country recordings, Action Packed Thrill Ride also provides moments of soaring sensitivity and structural complexity uncommon to most imitators. Tunes like "Something Tells Me" break down alt-country barriers and stake out new musical ground. — A.H. Goldstein

Adai, ...I Carry (Radar Recordings). Adai self-released ...I Carry in 2006, but even most locals didn't know about it until Radar Recordings wisely picked it up for national distribution this year. Now hard-rock fans here and beyond can revel in the achievement of Devin Mendoza and Justin Trujillo, whose blisteringly forceful approach can hold its own against the work of any guitar-wielding post-mathematician. — Michael Roberts

Astrophagus, For Boating (Bocumast Records). With its second full-length, Astrophagus cultivates a sound that is simultaneously simpler and more complex than its previous work. The experimentalism and noise that occasionally punctuated earlier recordings have been replaced by a laser-sharp focus on music and lyrics that get out of their own way and leave room for the songs to breathe deeply. — Eryc Eyl

Bad Luck City, Adelaide (Self-released). One of Denver's most consistently satisfying live acts follows its dark muses into shadowy stairwells and condemned motel rooms with nihilistic nonchalance. Andrew Warner, Gregor Kammerer, Josh Perry, Kelly O'Dea and Jeremy Ziehe heighten the suspense and fill in the horrifying blanks of Dameon Merkl's stories of decadence, dissipation and deviance. — Eyl

Andrea Ball, Beat Beat Pound (Self-released). Singer-songwriter Ball isn't tilling new soil, stylistically speaking. But she's confident enough in her expressive vocals, not to mention her guitar- and keyboard-playing ability, that she doesn't tart up Beat Beat Pound with intrusive instrumentation or faux melodrama. Her material, which ranges from the amusing "Machine" to the heartfelt "Funeral," is varied and smart enough to overcome its familiarity. — Roberts

Bottesini Project, Bottesini (CMW Records). Saxophonist Paul Riola has a knack for including high-caliber players in his purely improvisational shows, and on this two-disc live set, he pulled out all the stops, bringing in top-notch talent like Tortoise guitarist Jeff Parker, Nels Cline Singers drummer Scott Amendola, cornetist Ron Miles and DJ Olive. — Jon Solomon

Jason Cain, Endless Rolling Sea (Bocumast Records). Cain's sob-roughened vocals and bittersweet melodies have never sounded better than in this stripped-down solo set. Isolated from the sonic fleshiness of Astrophagus, his songs take on an even deeper shade of blue. The brief running time of the record (less than fifteen minutes) saves it from indulgent self-pity. — Eyl

Catch Lungs, Food for the Famished (Self-released). Catch Lungs is like Peyton Hillis busting through the scene, a rookie with a rapid-fire flow that's well showcased on his first project. It's a great taste of what hip-hop fans may get when his full-length album drops in 2009. — Quibian Salazar-Moreno

Dave Corbus, Sound Down (Jazzed Media). It's been five years since jazz guitarist Corbus released his debut, Trios Time, but Sound Down was worth the wait. He's sounding more fluid and confident on this date, recalling Lenny Breau on "Bluesette" and Pat Metheny on "Oleo de Mujer Con Sombrero" and the thoroughly swinging "Running Scared." — Solomon

Crowboy, Making Up for Lost Time, (Self-released). You can feel the swagger in the steady rhythms and speedy solos on this album, as Todd Redmond and Christopher Smith invoke the golden age of country-Western music. With equal nods to Waylon Jennings and Johnny Cash, the songs relate tales of crimes committed, drinks imbibed and muddy roads traveled. It's the perfect country formula. — Goldstein

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