A look back at past Best New Band winners
Our annual Best of Denver issue hits stands today. It's a painstaking issue to put together each year, but one that everyone looks forward to. This edition is even more significant, however, as it's the thirtieth edition. It's also a minor milestone for Backbeat, as it marks the tenth edition since we established the Best New Band category, when we started singling out the local act that made the biggest impression on us in the previous year. Looking back, it's quite an esteemed list. Continue on for a look back at the Best New Bands from the past decade. -- Dave Herrera
THE DIRTY FEW (2013) With the constant influx of great new bands that flood the scene every year, it's tough to pick the best of them. But the Dirty Few made that task infinitely easier this year. The trio makes the kind of fun, no-frills, boisterous, beer-can-foisting rock that you thought didn't exist anymore. The bouncy bombast could inspire even the most bashful of wallflowers to spring up and raise their fists without a moment's hesitation. And while the music itself is 100 percent pure exuberance, the group's live shows are even more energetic and engaging. Get Loose, Have Fun is the act's debut album title -- and motto -- but it also describes the attitude adjustment you'll experience after a dose of the Dirty Few.
SPIRES (2012) It's hard to recall a band in recent memory that made as much of an impression as Spires, a quartet that appeared quietly but instantly engaged us with its auspicious four-song debut, which was far too short for our tastes. Somehow the group's lush, atmospheric dream-pop sound -- which has plenty in common with acts like the 77's and Slowdive, as Spires itself acknowledges -- manages to be familiar enough that you can identify the well it draws from without it seeming like some blatant carbon copy. Of all the year's new acts, Spires is the most promising.
BLKHRTS (2011) BLKHRTS has been around, at least in theory, for the better part of a year -- but it wasn't until this past January that it really found its legs. Until then, BLKHRTS (formerly Black Hearts) was rightly considered by most to be just a side project of Yonnas Abraham, and the group -- Abraham, FOE, Karma and Catch Lungs -- only made occasional cameos at Abraham's performances with the Pirate Signal. This year, however, brought BLKHRTS' debut recording, BLK S BTFL , an utterly riveting rap-rock hybrid that centers on Abraham's retro-futuristic production, which is both unique and progressive. And live, the crew brings an unbridled energy that's as ferocious as Onyx, as primal as Body Count and as frenzied and unhinged as Bad Brains. BLKHRTS is clearly no longer anybody's side anything. Here's what it is: the most exciting band to emerge in the past year.
SNAKE RATTLE RATTLE SNAKE (2010) Since its name suggests motion and lethal grace, it shouldn't be surprising that this band -- which includes former members of Monofog, Red Cloud and Space Team Electra -- would make music to match. Arch lyrics accompanying dynamic polyrhythms and hazily incandescent atmospheres combine in vibrantly fluid songs that are a marvel in blended contradictions. Frontwoman Hayley Helmericks cuts a figure both savage and sensitive while shifting between darkly melodic singing and forcefully declarative statements. Don't be surprised if this Snake stretches far from Denver over the course of the year: The act's talent more than measures up to its ambition.
YOUNG COYOTES (2009) Young Coyotes has been around for less than a year. In that short time, however, the act has released two EPs, embarked on several cross-country tours, recorded a Daytrotter session, been hailed on numerous blogs and attracted a high-powered manager in Blee Music's Brian Swartz (Rose Hill Drive). Seemingly milliseconds after forming, the band went from playing Saturday matinee sets at places like LIFEspot last summer to garnering choice gigs at Monolith's VIP party and Hot IQs' annual holiday party -- which led to discriminating music fans across the city howling for Young Coyotes. Why all the fuss? That's easy: The music, which is sparse but fiery and melodic, like Akron/Family channeling the best moments of the Shins with the vitality and conviction of Arcade Fire.
WIDOWERS (2008) The current lineup of Widowers looks an awful lot like the now-in-limbo Constellations, with two-thirds of the same people, but Mike Marchant's tight songwriting -- with just the right blend of pop smarts and psychedelic swirls -- and Cory Brown's melodic drumming signal that this outfit is up to something very different. In just over a year of live shows, the act's sound has evolved into a sticky, infectious garage-pop hybrid that's accessible enough to draw a crowd, but just unique enough to stand out in that crowd. Guitarist Davey Hart flails and wails hypnotically at the edge of the stage while Marchant -- all doe eyes and Julian Casablancas come-ons -- purrs his abstruse lyrics and twists his guitar into new and interesting shapes. Meanwhile, Mark Shusterman's fractured, flickering Rhodes adds just the right amount of sparkle. Driven home by subtle, insistent and undeniably sexy rhythms, Widowers melodies linger long after the last string stops vibrating.
NATHAN & STEPHEN (2007) At first glance, declaring Nathan & Stephen Denver's best new band looks like a misprint. But while Nathan McGarvey and Stephen Till initially began performing together as an acoustic duo, their project has blossomed into a bulging-at-the-seams nonet thanks to the addition of another seven players, including three (Jonathan, Matthew and Leanor) who share Stephen's last name. Moreover, another Till -- Anna -- contributes vocals to The Everyone E.P. , which packs more hooky melodies into fifteen brief minutes than can be found in the average double album. Although tracks such as the aptly titled pop-gospel workout "Brothers & Sisters" and "Happier," replete with a chorus guaranteed to induce smiles, feature plenty of instrumentation (keyboards, brass and more), they are, at their base, rousing sing-alongs that brim with good feelings and camaraderie. No doubt these songs would charm in a stripped-down setting, too. Still, there's something to be said for a family affair.
GHOST BUFFALO (2006) With so many recent shakeups, it's surprising that Ghost Buffalo isn't a ghost of itself. But despite that fact that founding guitarist Matt Bellinger left his main band, Planes Mistaken for Stars, right around the time that Planes drummer Mike Ricketts left Ghost Buffalo, GB landed on its feet -- and put all its muscle behind its self-titled, full-length debut on Suburban Home. The disc proves what fans of the quintet's live show have known all along: Ghost Buffalo is poised to become Denver's next breakout indie band. The disc melts indie pop, moody country and even a sliver of vintage goth into the dulcet strums and sighs of leader Marie Litton. With new drummer Andy Thomas -- not to mention a stunning video and yet another national tour on the horizon -- Ghost Buffalo has a whole new lease on the afterlife.
MATSON JONES (2005) Fort Collins-based Matson Jones has been around for a couple of years, but it's only in the last few months that the group has really started carving out its empire. Not that the co-ed quartet seems crassly ambitious; instead, it's wholly focused on creating music that obliterates expectation even as it captures the brain and heart. With a lineup comprising two cellos, stand-up bass and drums, the outfit crafts a seething, tense tangle of sound resembling that of a chamber-punk PJ Harvey. Newly signed to Sympathy for the Record Industry, the indie label that launched the White Stripes, Matson Jones stands poised to whip its captivating whisper into a full-on roar.
THE FRAY (2004) Reason , the Fray's second EP, is a fitting introduction to an outfit that came out of nowhere and quickly rose to prominence. Though technically founded in 2002, the quintet didn't hit its stride -- or gig much, for that matter -- until around the time Reason was released, late last year. Led by two ridiculously talented vocalists, Joe King and Isaac Slade, and bolstered by anthemic, piano-driven material that could hold its own with anything from across the pond, the Fray is the undisputed valedictorian of the class of 2003. For more from our Best of Denver issue, take a look at this year's Arts & Entertainment winners.
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