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Denver's best music releases of 2011

It's that time again, when we reflect on all of our favorite local releases from the past twelve months — the ones that garnered the most time on our individual playlists. Once again, the Mile High City had absolutely no shortage of compelling releases from across a wide variety of genres. As a result, we had no trouble whatsoever coming up with a comprehensive list. Truth is, we had a far more difficult time figuring out who would get to write about what. After sorting through all our picks, here are our favorite albums from 2011 — at least the ones we had room to highlight (stop by backbeatblog.com for more).

A Shoreline Dream, Losing Them All to This Time (Latenight Weeknight Records). This album is the perfect balance of organic textures, melodic hooks and drifting, luminous atmospheres. The band branches into wider territories with Middle Eastern rhythms on songs like "Marrakech," and the alloy of electronic composition and expansive rock soundscaping is further solidified on tracks like "Fault 67" and "London." — Tom Murphy

A. Tom Collins, Oh No! (Pygmy Mountain Music). The stylistic scope of the tracks on Oh No! is the album's most impressive feature. Seamlessly incorporating New Orleans horn lines, grizzled vocals and dexterous stand-up bass melodies, the release benefits from a dizzying array of influences. Aaron Collins's lyrical musings may owe a lot to Tom Waits, but it's the band's supplementary shout-outs to styles ranging from ragtime to blues that make the album special. — A.H. Goldstein

Accordion Crimes, Songs to Drive Wives Away (Cash Cow Productions). With shouty vocals, lumbering bass lines and frenetic guitars, Accordion Crimes dials back the clock to the zenith of the post-hardcore era on Songs to Drive Wives Away (mastered by Bob Westin of Shellac) while still sounding completely relevant today. A bracing listen. — Dave Herrera

Achille Lauro, Low Cha-Cha (Hot Congress). Low Cha-Cha may be much briefer than 2010's Indiscretions, but the EP's tunes offer just as much energy and freshness as that watershed release from Achille Lauro. Both the title track and "Hands of Sand" hint at new directions for one of Denver's most compelling outfits, with the infusion of Latin rhythms and a new use of samples and contours from frontman Matthew Close. — Goldstein

Action Friend, For You the World (Pelvic Thrust). This album is what you might get if Brion Gysin were set loose in the studio after preliminary recordings were done, to cut and splice to his heart's content — and the resulting tracks were then re-learned and re-recorded by the band: a fully realized, jazzy art-rock album with stylistic nods to Naked City and Mr. Bungle. — Murphy

Air Dubai, Day Escape (Self-released). Day Escape, Air Dubai's six-song followup to last year's Wonder Age, produced by Sylvia Massy (Tool), contains the outfit's most polished songs to date. As they continue to progress as songwriters, Julian Thomas and Jon Shockness have forged a stronger chemistry with each other and their bandmates, who are in dependably fine form here. — Herrera

Alphabets, Pirate Life, Co Ed, Sunpowr3, Wet Dollar$, Spooky Sports Mixtape (Self-released). The entity known as Alphabets is a fluctuating collaboration between Colin Ward and Stephan Herrera, with the majority of the duo's glorious and prolific synthesized output coming from Ward. Like a never-ending flow of Ward's glittery thoughts transcribed by Korg, each primal track and mixtape varies in emotive speed and texture. An expert percussionist, Ward manipulates and tames his glitches and tones to suit all moods while sometimes giving his subtle voice a chance to shine. — Bree Davies

Bad Weather California, Demos and Live Takes for the Fans (St. Ives). How this band manages to be jammy while completely avoiding jam cliches is still a mystery. But the westward-facing punks noodle and slide and shout over a seamless and stable rhythm section that never lets the groove wander. Demos and Live Takes encapsulates the best part of BWC: the strength in bandleader Chris Adolph's call-and-response sing-alongs for the ages. — Davies

BLKHRTS, BLK S BTFL (Self-released). BLK S BTFL is one of best records of any genre this year. Driven by the progressive production of Yonnas Abraham, who flips samples of everything from pre-Joy Division Warsaw to Erasurehead, BLK is thoroughly engaging from beginning to end, thanks to the confident cadence of Abraham and the husky barks of his cohorts, Karma and FOE. A must-hear. — Herrera

Carmen Sandim Sextet, Brand New (Dazzle Recordings). Recorded live at Dazzle, Brand New showcases ten of pianist and composer Carmen Sandim's outstanding works, some sprawling and others complex, which all primarily draw from jazz but also incorporate influences from Western classical and her native Brazil. The songs also work as vehicles for some fine soloing from trumpeter Ron Miles, guitarist Matt Fuller and saxophonist Danny Meyer. — Jon Solomon

Catch Lungs, Awake in a Dream (LaGalerieDeMusique). As a member of Fresh Breath Committee, Catch Lungs has always shown promise, but here he shines brightly as a monster MC in his own right, standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the album's bold-faced features, One Be Lo, Elzhi, Guilty Simpson and Blu. — Herrera

Churchill, Happy/Sad (Self-released). Happy/Sad is a gorgeously constructed, folk-based album that pivots on the measured melodies of Tim Bruns, Michael Morter and Bethany Kelly and their ruminations on the monumental fleeting moments of love and the romanticism attached. Mellifluous and melancholic in equal measure, Happy/Sad is aptly titled. — Herrera

Collapse, Collapse (Self-released). Given the prodigious pedigrees of this band's members on paper, it seemed there was no way this project could be anything less than mind-blowing. Sure enough, led by the stupifying fretwork of Zac Joe (Cephalic Carnage), the menacing growl of Ben Pitts (To Be Eaten) and the furious drumming of Eric Brown (Vale of Pnath), Collapse delivered the best metal album of the year. — Herrera

The Conjugal Visits, Pet Snakes (Self-released). While other bands can only aim to seem rough around the edges, the Conjugal Visits really are. Here the Colorado Springs quartet takes the squandered rawness of garage rock and makes it new again. "No Ghosts" is cartoonish and gnarly, cut with bloodcurdling screams and a ton of crash and ride. The only thing that makes this record better is that it was written and recorded at the band's home, Wiener Demon Castle. — Davies

Ian Cooke, Fortitude (Self-released). With Fortitude, the eagerly anticipated followup to The Fall I Fell, Ian Cooke has managed to craft an album that's even more impressive than his auspicious, universally lauded debut. The arrangements tend to be more adventurous, with pleasing prog-rock passages bolstered by Cooke's distinctive vocals, which are even more expressive here. — Herrera

CougarPants, CougarPants (Self-released). Though an "unofficial" release by this fairly new two-piece, CougarPants' 2011 tour-only EP was too awesome not to mention. Singer and multi-instrumentalist Robin Walker is a force: From underneath layers of watery effects pedals and the rough pickings of a ukulele, her voice comes through like the tattered echo from a tin can. The Pants' other half, Jessica Hughes, has an equally permeating presence on these home recordings, a combination of smiling vocal undertones and haphazardly perfect drumming, fitting like a puzzle piece to Walker's every breathy step. — Davies

D.Girl, Mascara Music Vol. 1 (Self-released). Strictly for the ladies (and the fellas who want to understand the ladies), Mascara Music Vol. 1 finds D.Girl representing hard as nails with themes of independence, sexually explicit lyrics and bad-girl attitude. She tells the boys exactly how she likes it on tracks like "From the Back," and her confidence grows with every lyric she spits, proving the young rapping mistress can't be stopped. — Ru Johnson

Deca, The Veil (Self-released). Propelled by some stellar production and Deca's wicked wordplay and compelling cadence — what he has to say is every bit as captivating as how he says it — The Veil was one of the most rewarding hip-hop listens of the year. Although the MC's travels have taken him to L.A. and NYC, he still has strong Denver ties. — Herrera

The Don'ts and Be Carefuls, Sun Hits (Hot Congress). Sun Hits finds the Don'ts and Be Carefuls playing an utterly exhilarating and vibrant brand of indie pop filled with fuzzed-out bass lines, billowing synths and crystalline vocals that pierce through the mix like beams of sunshine through a blanket of clouds. — Herrera

Dovekins, Alive (Self-released). Dovekins brings a gleeful and giddy energy to its live shows, a frenetic feel that was missing from its freshman release a few years ago. The band's first live album captures all of the chaos, humor and infectious abandon of a typical Dovekins show, and also spotlights the bandmembers' impressive musicianship. — Goldstein

En Stereo, En Stereo (Self-released). Mane Rok and Es-Nine's tribute to the DJ/MC collaboration is easily one of the year's hip-hop highlights. The joints have a strictly hip-hop vibe in both production and lyrics. Es-Nine does well as producer (he also did all the cuts and scratches for the project), and Mane Rok's verses are perfectly crafted around those beats. Be sure to check for Mane's verse on "Beast Mode," with Ichiban and Deca. — Johnson

Fierce Bad Rabbit, Live and Learn (Self-released). Fierce Bad Rabbit is one of the Front Range's most criminally underrated acts. And the quartet, led by Chris Anderson, just keeps getting better. Live and Learn, the three-song followup to Spools of Thread, contains some of the band's best material to date. — Herrera

Fingers of the Sun, Fingers of the Sun (Hot Congress). While many pop bands were stripping down their music and discovering the wonders of reverb, Fingers of the Sun focused on writing a richly varied psych-pop record. This album has surprisingly great musical depth, matched only by Suzi Allegra and Nathan Brasil's gift for vivid imagery and poetic turns of phrase. — Murphy

Flashlights, Hidden Behind Trees (Self-released). Given the mechanized nature of synth-based music, there's often a sanitized resonance to it that, while tuneful, doesn't necessarily lend itself to soulfulness. On Hidden Behind Trees, Flashlights completely dismantles this notion with emotive vocals that levitate the swirling synth work. — Herrera

Foodchain, Brunch (Self-released). Brunch didn't come out until November, but it was well worth the wait. With impeccable beats crafted by in-house producer Mass Prod and Mo Heat, the group treated each track as an integral piece of the puzzle. On "Dear Industry," the guys make it clear to all within earshot that they've come to take the game over, a theme that carries over to the hook-friendly, tongue-in-cheek "Thirsty." Overall, the project is cohesive, creative and entertaining. — Johnson

Future Simple Project, Sacred Somethings (Self-released). On Sacred Somethings, Future Simple Project delivers an eerie clash of world music with a contemporary take on modern dubstep and bass. Just when you think one track might take you higher, the BPMs get taken down a notch, and you're back to weaving through dark tunnels of sound. — Britt Chester

Gauntlet Hair, Gauntlet Hair (Dead Oceans). The songs on this album are the audio equivalent of winter breaking and the hopeful rays of an early spring seeping in through the cloudy skies. Bringing together buoyant, ethereal melodies and hard-driving, dynamic percussion, this debut full-length is the culmination of the band's early sound, with hints of its future. — Murphy

Havok, Time Is Up (Candlelight). On Time Is Up, the followup to Burn, their excellent 2009 Candlelight Records debut, the men of Havok sound even more seasoned than before as they once again channel the best moments of the classic thrash era. These dudes play with such authority, precision and ferocity that you'd never know they were mere babies (or even born yet) when Reign in Blood was issued. — Herrera

Hearts in Space, Already Gone (Self-released). Sunny, wistful, whimsical and urgent in its emotional momentum, this first long-player from Hearts in Space is akin to fond reminiscences over old photographs by someone well into adulthood. These songs are essentially desert psych with emotionally vibrant vocals and an expansive spirit. — Murphy

Hindershot, It's Only Blood (Hot Congress). Hindershot's freshman EP draws from the collective memory and skill of longtime veterans of the Denver scene. Frontman Stuart Confer and fellow Hot Congress players bring their experiences to bear on It's Only Blood, a release that melds danceable rhythms with disturbing lyrical imagery and ominous guitar lines. There's accessibility here, but the disc also offers dark introspection and compositional depth that's revealed as a reward for many plays. — Goldstein

Hideous Men/Milton Melvin Croissant III, Laser Palace 13 split single (Laser Palace). In a perfect world, this sliver of a three-song split would be a full-on collaborative album, where Hideous Men and MMCIII's stars could align in a track-after-track realm of untouched earth, air and space pop. The former's uncanny ability to build out the traditionally hollow trance anthem into a modular emotional love ballad like "Sirens" is only complemented by the latter's straight-up ambience of "Starcraftz." — Davies

Houses, Winter (Self-released). Winter, the fourth and final installment of Houses' series of seasonally themed releases, is the darkest of the bunch. Although a pervasive chill permeates the album, the songs themselves come off as serene and uplifting rather than grim and dour. Listening to them is like marveling at freshly fallen snow from the safe confines of a rustic cabin, sitting in front of a roaring fire. — Herrera

Ideal Fathers, Retail Eyes (Self-released). Seething with a visceral outrage at the predations of the twin devils of corrupt corporate banking interests and international finance on the body politic of America and elsewhere, Retail Eyes is the first great political rock album out of Denver in the current decade. Unbridled post-punk fury burns with righteous inspiration. — Murphy

Il Cattivo, To Bring Low an Empire (126 Records). Bonding over a shared love of acts such as the Afghan Whigs, this murderers' row of musicians from Planes Mistaken for Stars, Black Lamb, TaunTaun, Machine Gun Blues and Ghost Buffalo plays a primal brand of rock that somehow manages to be more compelling than all of those acts combined. — Herrera

The Inactivists, The War on Jazz Hands (Self-released). On their fifth release, the Inactivists declare war on jazz hands by delving into a bunch of other genres. There's enough nerdy and comical art rock here to appease hard-core fans, and it's also quite obvious that if anyone's going to win the win the war on jazz hands, it'll be the Inactivists. — Solomon

Innerstate Ike, Moolah Music (Self-released). Innerstate Ike got loose on Moolah Music and dressed his rhymes with confidence. The production value gives each track a golden touch, and Ike sounds like a champion on standout track "Super Man Buggs Bunny," in which he plays his rich-man character with ease and precision. His 'hood-describing lyrics give each tune an anthemic quality and swagger to spare. — Johnson

Turner Jackson, My Heart Needs Space (Self-released). As far as rappers go, Turner Jackson has a battery in his back that just won't quit. Turner, who released several projects this year, does well with the emo-titled My Heart Needs Space, using his flamboyant flow to produce lyrics that go perfectly with his themes of reality and the craziness of life. Turner Jackson is on some next-level shit. — Johnson

Jim McTurnan & the Kids That Killed the Man, Joie De Vivre (Self-released). On his own, Jim McTurnan has fully realized the potential he first displayed as the co-frontman of Cat-A-Tac. With lush melodies and a strong, swoon-worthy croon, McTurnan sings with notable assuredness on the best set of dreamy pop songs he's penned to date. — Herrera

Karma, Karmarado (Self-released). Karma, one-third of BLKHRTS, struck gold with the release of Karmarado, which provides an exceptional display of the MC's solo talent. Karma lets his gruff voice carry the rhymes through several street anthems, personal stories and other gangster shit, taking listeners on a journey through his world. Features from Innerstate Ike, Foe, Haven the Great and others round out the disc. Solid. — Johnson

Kevin Costner Suicide Pact, Standstill (Self-released). Someday someone will subject the information of brainwaves during a heavy dreaming period to sonification, and the resulting "sound" will be not unlike what Kevin Costner Suicide Pact has done here. It's ambient music that sounds like it has given voice to something deep inside you — the auditory echo of a half-remembered dream. — Murphy

The Love Royale, Love Letters (Self-released). Headed up by singer Heather Larrabee and bassist and Flobots producer Kyle Jones, the Love Royale whips up some of the finest electro-soul in these parts. On Love Letters, the group lays down a number of solid, fluid grooves, a few of which could be ideal tunes for getting to know somebody. Intimately. — Solomon

Lust-Cats of the Gutters, Lust-Cats of the Gutters (Self-released). Lust-Cats of the Gutters are fantastic orators who sing about the dangers of shitty dates, having werewolves for boyfriends and the reality of diving into a really nasty motel swimming pool. The duo produces the songs others joke about writing. This four-song EP is just a tiny piece of the L-Cats' vast comedic fortunes, but still an excellent exercise in the band's searing dual vocals, stompy drumbeats and horror-movie guitar riffs. — Davies

Paul Musso, Tonescapes (Self-released). While jazz guitarist Paul Musso clearly has some exceptional chops, he doesn't flex them all over the place on Tonescapes, instead turning in a more subdued performance. With an understated, fluid and lyrical handle on the guitar, Musso sounds right at home on these seven jazz and bossa nova cuts. — Solomon

Ninth and Lincoln With Cuong Vu, Static Line (Dazzle Recordings). Ninth and Lincoln's leader and composer, Tyler Gilmore, has developed considerably as a composer since the orchestra's 2008's self-titled debut, moving further from jazz and incorporating more twentieth-century classical, minimalist, rock and experimental elements into his pieces. While the new material definitely shines, trumpeter Cuong Vu also adds some outstanding textural work throughout. — Solomon

Octopus Nebula, Through the Next Door (Self-released). Drawing influence from the likes of STS9, Octopus Nebula displays an undeniable confidence on Through the Next Door, mating precise electronic vocal samples with jam-style organic instrumentation. The self-released debut album does an excellent job of capturing what it's like to see the band live, and couldn't speak more to the merging of electronic, jam and rock genres. — Chester

Orbit Service, A Calm Note From the West (Beta-lactam Ring Records). This record provides a perfect, poetic distillation of the fears that plague the adult psyche of anyone both blessed with and cursed by a reflective disposition and a powerful imagination. Musically, the album is like a disorienting walk through darkly beautiful forests populated by the physical manifestation of your worst nightmares. — Murphy

Paper Diamond, Levitate (Elm & Oak Records). Alex Botwin, head of Elm & Oak Records, is no stranger to the capabilities of electronic-music production. His mastering on Levitate is flawless, never allowing a note to pass without total dissection, and the music shines through, perfectly illuminating a growing electronic movement where the bass can't get heavy enough. — Chester

Page 27, Krakatau (Self-released). The godfathers of the Denver noise scene sound like they've re-created what went on in Victor von Frankenstein's laboratory, from the installation of the equipment to the moment he gave life to his monster. Krakatau is initially forbidding for its sheer avalanche of sound, but ultimately rewarding to the adventurous listener. — Murphy

Palmer, Sometime Around (Self-released). Andy Palmer, a former public defender in Brooklyn and river-raft guide in Colorado, seems to bring his impressive life experience to bear on Sometime Around, a release that boasts hints of Leonard Cohen, Tom Waits and Mississippi John Hurt. Thanks to Palmer's heartfelt vocal style and explosive acoustic guitar playing, the tracks have a timeless sound that gives the entire record an epic feel. — Goldstein

Pictureplane, Thee Physical (Lovepump United). In a world where mindless, hyper-glossy club anthems are the norm, Travis Egedy's contribution to the contemporary musical landscape is a welcome one. Here Egedy take his time: Synth lines are deep, melody exists in layers and beats rise and fall with a calculated coolness. Nothing feels rushed, as if Egedy were navigating, in real time, the gender fluidity and sexual revolution he sings about. If the best single of the year could be played long after the club has been torn up, "Real Is a Feeling" would be the choice, post-last-call banger. — Davies

Project Aspect, Put This World on Hold (Gruntworthy). Taking the local electronic-music scene by storm, Project Aspect (aka Jay Jaramillo) released this EP full of glitch, dubstep and hip-hop beats in which he composed and produced all of the tracks, proving once again that Denver is becoming a bass capital and that he's standing at the forefront of it. — Chester

Radical Knitting Circle, When Bees No Longer Fly... (Self-released). Although dauntingly dense at times, When Bees No Longer Fly... is a rewarding listen overall. Like Isaac Brock leading a precocious avant-pop ensemble, with Rowlf from the Muppets pitching in periodically on vocals, Radical Knitting Circle seamlessly stitches together a pleasing patchwork of styles, threading in strands of everything from found sounds and rustic folk to loungy jazz and proggy steampunk. — Herrera

Rockie, Censored (Self-released). Rockie has shown tremendous growth in his rhymes and flow this year, finishing strong with this fourth-quarter release. Censored is the culmination of all things dope. Rockie is most impressive on tracks like "Gold Dreams," with its diversified rhyme pattern, and "Game," in which he executes a cool tone and demeanor while letting his lyrics ride the smooth production. — Johnson

Sauna, The Teen Angst Tape & Rad Shit! (Self-released). Two separate records, one awesome, listenable timeline of a great year for a no-bullshit band. Sauna could be filed in with the "lo-fi, beachy, clangy rock" blah, but the quartet is so much more; unisex vocal duties and bare-beat drums make "Glitter Party" sound like an un-raunchy Gravy Train, while "God Dammit Ethan" resonates with a Teenage Jesus and the Jerks kicky scream. K Records, you need this band on your roster. — Davies

Science Partner, Rocky Mountain News (Larksmith Station Records). Science Partner began as an outlet for Tyler Despres's acoustic material in 2008. The group has since grown into a six-piece, and Despres's songs really flourish in the group format. The sextet includes remarkable vocalists Jess DiNicola and Maria Kohler, who offer wonderful harmonies throughout. Save for a few ballads, Rocky Mountain News finds Despres and company at home in an indie-rock setting. — Solomon

Shel, When the Dragon Came Down (Mad King Records/Moraine Records). After parting ways with Republic Nashville, which just didn't know what to do with them, the women of Shel sound no worse for wear on their latest release. In fact, they sound better than ever on these delicate tunes, which boast the sisters' trademark pristine melodies and pitch-perfect harmonies. — Herrera

The Skivies, Lorem Ipsum (Self-released). The Skivies sound so strong on Lorem Ipsum — which benefits from more robust production than any of its predecessors — it's easy to forget that the band makes truly bizarre music and mistake it for a more conventional rock band. Once again, DJ Von Feldt's lyrics weave unsettling stories with a surrealistic fervor. — Murphy

Caleb Slade, Victory in Defeat (Self-released). On Victory in Defeat, Caleb Slade successfully steps out of the shadow of his famous brother and makes a bold artistic statement of his own. Playing piano-driven post-Brit pop, Slade takes a stoic look at the letdowns of love, but also revels in reflections of the redemptive power it can possess. — Herrera

Slim Cessna's Auto Club, Unentitled (Alternative Tentacles). On Unentitled, Slim Cessna's Auto Club doesn't steer too far from its tried-and-true formula of dark country and gothic Americana, but the group does inject most of the tracks with a decent amount of its live vigor. Unentitled stands out as one of the Auto Club's finest releases and possibly its most accessible release to date. — Solomon

Snake Rattle Rattle Snake, Sineater (Greater Than). Of all the local albums released this year, Sineater was perhaps the most feverishly anticipated — and Snake Rattle Rattle Snake delivered. From Ravi Zupa's stellar cover art to the thick, pall-like clouds these ten songs conjure with their angular guitar lines over pulsing bass and powerful percussion and Hayley Helmericks' enthralling vocals, Sineater is absolutely riveting. — Herrera

Spires, EP (Patient Sounds). On EP, its auspicious four-song debut, Spires plays as though the past two decades and some change had never happened. With breathy vocals and deliberate arrangements, Spires inhabits the textured guitar-driven landscape once occupied by bands like the 77's. Of all this year's freshly minted acts, Spires proved to be one of the most promising, and this first release instantly earned repeated listens. — Herrera

Spoke In Wordz, Beautiful Dead (Self-released). Spoke's Beautiful Dead mixtape, released to coincide with Día de Los Muertos, sounds like a hip-hop prayer of resurrection. The opening poem, performed by Casey Whirl, is a timeline of hip-hop history, while the title track, produced by Es-Nine of Prime Element, showcases Spoke's tenacious rhymes. A fine piece of work, indeed. — Johnson

Sole & the Skyrider Band, Hello Cruel World (Fake Four). Not mere spleen-venting, these thirteen tracks are succinct and poignant commentaries on the diminished conditions and expectations of America below the top socioeconomic rung. They have a surprisingly commercial sound, but that's probably the only way the good medicine of their message can be palatable to the unconverted. — Murphy

Tennis, Cape Dory (Fat Possum). Led by the reverb-drenched guitar work of Patrick Riley and the sturdy vocals and organ playing of Alaina Moore, Tennis produced a pleasing, no-frills blend of retro pop that inspired a tidal wave of attention that crested with the release of Cape Dory, which, hyperbole aside, proved to be a thoroughly enjoyable record. — Herrera

Tollund Men, Demo 1 (Self-released). Like a post-apocalyptic version of Cabaret Voltaire, the music of Tollund Men is akin to grainy, forbidden transmissions from a secret bunker in a former Soviet republic. The songs have a lo-fi grittiness that give them a sound both scrappily robust and bitingly industrial. Think of it as dance music for a cyberpunk version of "The Waste Land." — Murphy

Vale of Pnath, Prodigal Empires (Willowtip). Prodigal Empire is the full-length followup to Vale of Pnath's 2009 self-titled debut, and the recorded introduction of vocalist Ken Serafin, who replaced the act's original singer, David Lercher. Prodigal finds the dudes playing mind-meltingly complex metal that's every bit as ferocious as before, with the added menace of Serafin's more guttural vocals. — Herrera

Varlet, The Drifter (Self-released). The Drifter has a timelessness like some forgotten gem from the era when Gram Parsons and Townes Van Zandt were alive and directly infiltrated the DNA of popular music. Lilly Scott's voice has an ineffable classic quality, and the masterful musicianship on these songs helps it shine brightly. — Murphy

Wil Guice and DJ Ktone, R&Beast (Self-released). Wil Guice uses his golden tone on this mixtape to bring an R&B touch to rap songs. The Kanye and Jay-Z track "HAM" gets a makeover with Guice's vocals and different lyrics, while the recording's original material showcases the crooner's creative-writing side. DJ Ktone brings the hip-hop-DJ feel while Guice maintains the soulful side of things. R&Beast is a solid project and collaborative effort. — Johnson

Woodsman, Rare Forms (Lefse). Beginning with the immediately arresting "Insects," on Rare Forms Woodsman take us on a trip through landscapes surrounded by shining psychedelia passages processed through krautrock drones and experimental electronic music. Imbued with a sense of wonderment, this is the sound of a band fully able to surprise itself as well as its audience. — Murphy

Yo, Sextape (Self-released). Yo (aka Yonnas Abraham) has outdone himself on the first release in the BLKHRTS solo trilogy, Sextape. Naturally, the themes on the project deal with vulnerability and self-exposure, but, frankly, few are actually about sex, save for the explicit "Sybian." Yo frequently recasts himself as whoever he wants to be, and he does so with grace, style and more charisma than most. — Johnson


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