Local Color

Statewide drought be damned, releases from Colorado musicians continue to flow into local retail bins -- and the mailboxes of Backbeat writers. In the first installment of a two-part batch of reviews, we focus on artists whose names fall into the first half of the alphabet; see next week's issue for those in the N-Z camp.

Kelly Aspen
Kelly Aspen

Kelly Aspen is the kind of performer who bolsters the burgeoning theory that talented, musically savvy female singer-songwriters will soon buck Britney and her well-toned teen peers. More a country songbird than an aspiring American Idol, the post-collegiate Aspen sings in pure, nasal-tinged soprano tones that recall Miss Parton herself. Sometimes layered with warbling steel guitars and brush-drum accompaniment, Aspen's music is so gosh-darn squeaky-clean, you might not realize she's exploring themes of desire ("I Want More (of You)," "I Wanna Feel") and coming into womanhood. Hear her roar...er, chirp. (Contact P.O. Box 154, Johnston, CO 80534, www.kellyaspen.com.) -- Laura Bond

DJ Bedz
Mile High Anthem

DJ Bedz (born Cassidy Bednark) survived the mean streets of Boulder before earning a degree in music composition from Occidental College (the setting for Beverly Hills 90210). His collaborative single with local luminaries Kingdom and Don Blas, up-and-comer Bingo and scratch master DJ Chonz blends inventive rhythms and aggressive posturing for amusing results. Cowtown ain't Compton, but, hey -- it's a no coast thang. (Contact White Shadow Productions, 7540 East Harvard Avenue, #104, Denver, CO 80231, www.djbedz.com.) -- John La Briola

Lisa Bell
Dare to Be

After a ten-year hiatus, jazz vocalist Lisa Bell cut her first CD, a collection of popular selections from the Big Book of Jazz Standards. Bell reportedly wrote five originals during the recording process, only one of which made its way onto the disc. That's a pity: "What Can I Do," her co-write with keyboardist Jon Glazer, features a cameo by sax player Nelson Rangell and is one of the album's highlights. And while there's nothing in Bell's readings of traditional tunes to blaspheme their originators, you've got to wonder if the world really needs another reading of, say, "They Can't Take That Away." Still, Bell is stylish, confident, capable and likable enough to pull it off. Lannie, look out. (Released by HapiSkratch Records; contact Lisa Bell, P.O. Box 11224, Boulder, CO 80301, www.lisabellmusic.com.) -- Bond

Black Airr
Black Airr

More than three years after the biggest high school shooting in American history, along comes another musical "tribute" to Littleton's own day of infamy: "Voices: A Tribute to Columbine" is the centerpiece of this six-song effort from MC and house DJ Black Airr. Although he's a charismatic rapper with a natural sense of timing, Black Airr's subject matter feels as tired as some of his couplets (at one point, he rhymes "over" with "my dog Rover"). The rest of the recording is similarly ho-hum, a collection of remixes, bouncing beats and lifeless loops. (Released by Black Trilogy Records, 720-540-5681.) -- Bond

Cedars of Lebanon

Take the rhythm section from local hardcore heroes Planes Mistaken for Stars, toss in a crazy Lebanese dude who's into dead birds and unicorn masks, and add an array of ambient sounds, vocal samples and North African hand percussion. What do you have? Cedars of Lebanon's Archive. This double disc, mostly recorded in abandoned nuclear-missile silos, ebbs with the otherworldly beauty of Muslimgauze or Dead Can Dance: It's neurotic, hypnotic and consuming. (Released by Limited Warfare Laboratories, www.headqrtrs.com.) -- Jason Heller

Away With Words
Negative Progression

Although this style of clear-eyed, earnest, emo-inflected hardcore was already done to death ten years ago (see Avail, Greyhouse, Friction, et al.), Contender has the spunk and spirit to transcend the cliches. One big reason is the lyrics, which are literate, evocative and oh-so-clever in that Jawbreaker sort of way. While the screamed/ sung vocals sound more played out than powerful, the sinewy melodies and solid production more than pick up the slack. (Contact contenderrock@hotmail.com.) -- Heller

Auditory Crash Course

When Acrobat Down fell off the tightrope last year, three-fifths of the revered local indie-rock group reformed as DeNunzio. This disc was recorded just weeks after the band's inception, and it shows: The vocals, shared by all three members, sometimes sound more like demos in progress than fully formed ideas. But there's no denying the assured songwriting and pervasive, Built to Spill-inspired melodies that made Acrobat Down so beloved in the first place. By its next release, the on-disc DeNunzio will surely be as compelling as its live counterpart. (Released by Hej Music; see www.denunzio.net.) -- Heller

The Dinnermints
Love Letters to Our Future Selves

You'd need a very large dust broom to clear all of the fuzz out of this recording -- not that you'd want to. In its first full-length effort, the unabashedly scrappy trio lays down a ten-song tribute to trash pop and white-noise discordia. Vocalist/guitarist Sara Mesmer sing-songs her way through deliciously unadorned ditties about amusement parks, being pretty and a mysterious entity called "Starpats." Though a little same-samey in spots, Love Letters is ultimately a satisfying guilty pleasure. (Released by SpeckRECORDS, 2015 NW Kearney #209, Portland, OR 97209; see thedinnermints.com.) -- Bond

The Enemy in Me
White Tower

Is the Enemy in Me having a goof and hoping the listener will catch on, or could this band really be as sloppy, spastic and inexplicable as White Tower would have us believe? Let the listener decide. Either way, this album abounds with drawn-out, chicken-scratch instrumentals, expressionist lyrical spurts and the occasional bongo interlude. Weenian in spirit, with Dead Milkmen undertones, the Enemy in Me is gonzo funk/punk fusion that's rough as hell but catchy -- and amusing -- in spite of itself. (Contact P.O. Box 8291, Denver, CO 80201-8291.) -- Bond


Back in the day, nothing could top Four. Chaotic, sloppy, retarded and joyous, the band bridged the gap between Crimpshrine's guttural pop punk and Operation Ivy's ska-damaged social relevance (that is, if songs like "Poop Boots" could be considered socially relevant). Now, five years after Four's demise, Discography is a document of all the busted amps, broken strings and ear-ringing memories. (Released by Paco Garden Records, www.pacogardenrecords.com.) -- Heller

Friends Forever
Tidal Wave City

Friends Forever doesn't play in bars or clubs. Actually, the only logical venue for a Friends Forever "concert" is the band's own battered VW bus, accompanied by smoke machines, fireworks and the horrified screams of unsuspecting onlookers. Now, however, discriminating consumers can subject themselves to this Boredoms-fueled, keyboard-and-feedback blitzkrieg in the relative safety of their own homes. Just keep a tight grip on that stereo remote. (Released by N.G.W.T.T. Records, P.O. Box 40183, Denver, CO 80204.) -- Heller

The Good Sirs
The Good Sirs

The Good Sirs move through their music with a sort of Southern swagger, which would make more sense if two of the trio's members -- brothers Dale and D.D. Seaton -- hailed from New Orleans rather than New Mexico. But that's a minor quibble about this generally sturdy collection. (And, hey, were it up to him, Mick Jagger would have us all believing he grew up in the middle of a Mississippi mud bog rather than the Queen's England.) This is pretty straightforward, pop-sensical stuff: guitar driven, verse-chorus-verse meditations on girls, isolation and just being bummed out. Hooky as heck, these are thirteen simple, sing-along tunes for the Herman's Hideaway set. (See www.thegoodsirs.com.) -- Bond

The Gravity Index
The Gravity Index

Tangled, Fugazi-esque guitar lines. Bellowing vocals. Alternating passages of brittle prettiness and full-throttle rock action. Saxophone? The Gravity Index refuses to play it safe on its inaugural EP release, mixing up the requisite At the Drive-In influence with brainy poetics, skronk-choked horns and fluid, dynamic rhythms. The band has also been known to do a mean live cover of Billy Squier's "The Stroke." (Released on Modern Radio Records; see thegravityindex.com.) -- Heller

Marty Jones & the Pork Boilin' Poor Boys
Full Boar

Denver's eternally grinning granddaddy of campy, bare-bones, barn-burnin' hick rock is back with his shit-kickin' posse and a brand-new collection of blues-and-booze ditties. While never failing to ooze down-home charm in a live setting, the Boys' slick packaging hides a homespun, low-fi approach to recording that unfortunately mutes the band's considerable charisma. A cameo by Southern Culture on the Skids's Mary Huff ("Falling Back to Pieces"), as well as a spirited cover of Aerosmith's "Sweet Emotion," keeps things thumping. But live is still where Jones and the Boys thrive. (Released by Big Bender Records; see www.martyjones.net.) -- Patrick Casey

The LaVellas
My Talk With the Dead

There's some nasty debris floating around the LaVellas' soundscape: bombastic drums and guitars fill melodic voids as vocalist Robyn Green probes his own inner space. Bold, sometimes uncomfortably raw lyrics lie atop mopey, pretty, ringing guitar tones in an ambitiously atmospheric song cycle. A couple of bona fide singles -- "Seduction" and the hooky, headstrong "Apathy" -- invite the requisite Radiohead/Galaxie 500 comparisons. Ultimately, though, My Talk With the Dead is a creative, unique discourse among four talented players. (See www.thelavellas.com.) -- Bond

Mama's Boy
Live G.H.U.

Live recordings are a tricky business, as the crowd inevitably becomes a sort of third-party part of the band. Recorded at the Soiled Dove in 2001, Live G.H.U. is basically a showpiece for the guitar-slinging vocalist identified only as "The Outlaw." It's sometimes hard to tell if she's winning the audience members over with her growly, true-believer vocal booms or scaring them away: She's got a tendency to over-emote, which can weigh down quieter moments but works just fine on songs like "Waterskippin'," a hard-rocking, stop-starting speed dirge that exposes Mama's Boy's metal roots. We prefer our Mama down and dirty -- and, possibly, in a studio setting. (See www.mamasboytheband.com.) -- Bond

Mr. Pacman
Turbotron EP

A manic outburst of synthetic prog-punk mayhem, the debut release from Denver's self-styled "Atari rockers" merges Nintendo samples, guest spots (including a shout-out from the formidable Wesley Willis) and a heap of postmodern absurdism into a carrot for both happy feet and funny bones. The nine-track, nineteen-minute Turbotron whets the eardrums for a full-length album, Star Hustler, due later this year. "Welcome to the future," bleats Mr. Pacman on a song of the same name. "It sucks." (Contact Mr. Pacman International, P.O. Box 21493, Boulder, CO 80308, www.mrpacman.com.) -- Eric Peterson


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