Mesita: If you haven't heard of Mesita, don't feel bad. Even though James Cooley issued three records and two singles over the past three years, only a handful of astute local music writers such as John Wenzel seem to be aware of him. That could be because he doesn't really play shows — which is almost criminal, because Cooley is making some of the finest music around these parts. With a breathtaking falsetto croon that recalls Bon Iver, he plays a gorgeous brand of folk that will, well, take your breath away. Even more impressive, he performs every instrument on the recordings, which he engineers and produces himself. Download his entire discography thus far for free on his website and then look for his new album, Here's to Nowhere, later this year. (

Mr. Midas: The self-proclaimed "Son of the Crack Era," Mr. Midas is originally from Long Beach but now calls the Mile High City home. With a disarmingly casual delivery and the keen, unflinching observational skills of a journalist, Midas examines the crack epidemic in his latest effort, Son of the Crack Era; he reflects not just on his own experience but the experiences of his friends and family, with notable finesse and swagger. From his insightful narratives to his impressive "Run This Town" video, Mr. Midas has the touch. (

Pina Chulada, Force Publique, Flashlights: Here are three more acts each carving out their own niche, but of similar size (they're duos), vintage and stature (although they've all been making music for a while, they only recently started making a stir). And they all create somewhat kindred music; Force Publique and Flashlights even appear on a split cassette set for release February 23 at the Larimer Lounge. But each of these acts is also noteworthy on its own. Pina Chulada, comprised of Jen Villalobos and Brent Smith, is the most delicate; Villalobos's dreamy delivery, imbued with a casual, windswept beauty that recalls an electro-fied Mazzy Star, really stands out. As Flashlights, Ethan Converse and Sam Martin produce a swirling, reverb-drenched synth-based sound that's slightly more upbeat and dance-oriented. And the music of Force Publique, with members James Wayne and Cassie McNeil, is driven by a notably more forceful, mechanized sound, enhanced by McNeil's vocals, which have an enchanting, disembodied feel. (,,

Look for Glowing House to light up the scene this year.
Look for Glowing House to light up the scene this year.

Caleb Slade: Being the brother of Isaac Slade, frontman for the Fray, gives Caleb Slade an instant leg up; his last name alone opens doors that might otherwise stay closed. But that would mean nothing if Caleb wasn't a capable songwriter in his own right — and he proves that he deserves all the attention with his excellent debut EP, Victory in Defeat, in which he takes a wide-screen approach to post-Brit pop, the kind made famous by Radiohead and U2 and their numerous antecedents. Lyrically, he manages to be earnest, literate and reflective without getting mired in treacly digressions. (

The Sunshine House: If ornate chamber folk pop is your thing, do not miss the Sunshine House, whose six-song, self-titled debut EP is a work of absolute splendor. Not quite a year old, the Fort Collins-based sextet — named on a whim when members drove past a daycare center — is led by the hushed vocals of singer-guitarist Philip Waggoner and the achingly sweet harmonies of Becky Raab. Together the musicians have crafted a delicate, finely tuned sound that rests on gently swelling strings, glimmering guitar lines and the distant murmur of horns. Listen to the entire EP on Bandcamp, then catch the Sunshine House this Friday, February 25, at the Denver Art Museum. (

Tyler Ward and Julia Sheer: Although they're not currently working together, Tyler Ward and Julia Sheer made for one of the most natural, ideal pairings this side of Jason Reeves and Colbie Caillat. Ward is an immensely gifted singer-songwriter/producer/multi-instrumentalist who's made a name for himself on the web mostly by covering other people's songs (his YouTube channel just passed the ten-million-views mark). But as evidenced by the originals he's written, particularly those with (and for) Julia Sheer, he's a damn fine songwriter himself. And Sheer, just eighteen, has all the makings of a country pop superstar on par with Taylor Swift — an obvious touchstone. Her voice exudes warmth and believability. ( and

You'll definitely be hearing more from the Class of 2011: We're going to invite the members to participate in a brand-new, multimedia series we're about to launch on the Backbeat blog called Anatomy of a Song. Every month, one of these acts will get the chance to record a song at Side 3 Studios — Adelio Lombardi's world-class studio at Seventh and Mariposa, which has been featured in Mix magazine and has hosted such high-profile artists as Kanye West, Ryan Tedder of OneRepublic and Faith Hill — while we document the entire process, from composing and rehearsals to pre-production and recording. At the end of the month, we'll present you with a free, exclusive download.

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Bill Thomas
Bill Thomas

I'd add Rebel Tongue to the list. We are working on the debut disc from this brand new Denver band and the tracks are coming out amazing. Rebel Tongue, Yes!


On the country side of things the hottest up and new-comer is Bonnie & the Clydes ... featuring Bonnie Simms. Delectable trad-country with a new cd.


glowing house is amazing!

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