Moovers and Shakers

It's been an amazing year for music in Denver. In a recent note, the Swayback's Eric Halborg put it best: "This place is on fire. I've been trying to whisper that into anyone's ear that I thought could take the message in the bottle out of Denver. But it's obvious, and you know that it's true when you are more excited to see your friend's band than the national acts or find your friend's lyrics tastier than anything you've heard in a while."

Well said; we couldn't agree more. In fact, this year, when Backbeat writers put together lists of their favorite local albums, we had trouble narrowing our choices down into something manageable. These are the records we'd reach for first -- even when we're not on the clock.

Soapy Argyle, Sycamore (Sparky the Dog Records). Soapy Argyle (Greg Hill) describes himself as an "inventor of the binary logic box and writer of quirk" -- which almost explains his approach to music. Argyle digs flowers and Tiny Tim, rides his bike in the snow, raps, and has no problem donning the goat horns of a confused lounge singer. But underneath that chameleonic exterior beats the heart of a charmingly experimental goofball. -- John La Briola

Arkansas Bo, Porch Thinkin' (Lites Out Entertainment). This Arkansas transplant bombed the scene with his debut this year, making a name for himself that's hard to ignore. Bo comes with top-notch production, witty in-depth rhymes and a flow that will keep you coming back for more. Look out, because this cat is about to blow. -- Quibian Salazar-Moreno

Atlas, Ways You Once Thought Were Short Cuts (Self-released). Everyone from Gang of Four to Hoover is getting back together. But why revive post-punk's arthritic ancestry when you can hear a group of local kids crank out their own sparse and sinuous attack? Steeped in abandon and angst, Atlas's debut EP takes an inherently calculated style and wrings from it raw pathos, chaotic geometry and a vicious, vital purity. -- Jason Heller

Black Black Ocean, Eaglemaniac (Action Driver). What happens when you stick nice Christian kids, crazed blow fiends and ornithology fetishists together in a band? Hard to say. But it could be hypothesized that the result might resemble Black Black Ocean's Eaglemaniac. Like the Blood Brothers sucking face with Les Savy Fav in a bubble bath of cough syrup. Yum. -- Heller

Black Lamb, Hang the Moon (Self-released). Not since the era of the Fluid has this town witnessed rock and roll on such a thunderous scale. Dodging Deep Purple-spawned riffs and a wah pedal that snaps like the jaws of a tyrannosaur, singer Brian Hagman wields a beefy snarl rivaled only by that of Danzig himself -- at least before the latter got his ass whupped. -- Heller

Break Mechanics, Break Mechanics (Self-released). Break Mechanics, the much-lauded hip-hop band that's been burning up clubs for some time, finally released its self-titled debut this year. Ranging from jazzed-out riffs to head-banging boom bap, it's one of the best hip-hop albums to come out of Denver in recent memory. We can't wait for the next one. -- Salazar-Moreno

Breezy Porticos, Keep It Crisp (Best Friends). Stranded at Six Flags over Nowhere, the Breezies keep their eye peeled on cloud nine, happy as kids chomping big wads of bubblegum. Infusing classic pop structures with jangle, flutter and plenty of three-part harmonies, the trio keeps its formula simple and sweet. Maybe it's the mathletes who shall inherit the earth. -- La Briola

Bright Channel, Bright Channel (Flight Approved). Space -- both inner and outer -- is Bright Channel's biosphere. Laced with science-fiction imagery and psychedelic ambience, the group's debut sets Joy Division adrift in Bardo Pond, and the production by Steve Albini encloses all that gaseous matter in a steely shell of treble and menace. Less shoegazer than stargazer, Bright Channel will turn your iPod into an escape pod. -- Heller

Ron Bucknam, Jiggery Pokery in the Year of the Ox (Homemade Hurricane). Fractured, unpredictable and synthetic tones dominate this amusing batch of so-called electronic folk music by improvisational yukster Ron Bucknam. A remarkable guitarist and conga player (and former bandmate of one Richard Gere), Bucknam explores the digital possibilities of a highly tempermental electronic drum. The results vary, from lullabies for worker ants to dance music for bats. -- La Briola

Carrier, Finally Over Water (Hideaway Records). Marc Benning isn't afraid of heights. On his latest disc, the once and future leader of 34 Satellite soars with the help of keening vocals and a guitar that regularly smacks the stratosphere. Featuring the inspired playing of sidemen such as Flaming Lips drummer Kliph Scurlock, Flying Over Water takes listeners on a mind-bending journey. Buckle up for safety. -- Michael Roberts  

The Cinematic Underground, Annasthesia (Cut Narrative Records).

Annasthesia is the unparalleled masterwork of Nathan Johnson, a Denver expatriate who leads the artistic collective responsible for this headphone masterpiece. The best concept album this side of Lift to Experience's The Texas-Jerusalem Crossroads, Johnson's existential tale unfolds over thirteen expansive tracks that intermittently evoke Mark Kozelek, Sparklehorse and Radiohead. ( -- Dave Herrera

Corruption, Alone (Self-released). Corruption, one of Denver's longest-running metal acts, returned to prominence this year with the release of its first album in seven years. Impeccably recorded by Dave Otero (Cephalic Carnage) in a nine-month span, Alone effectively mates mathletic precision with cantankerous savagery, and the results are staggering. Alone is Corruption's best album yet. -- Herrera

The Denver Gentlemen, The Denver Gentlemen (Self-released). Jeffrey-Paul Norlander's creation has had a big influence on Denver's sound during the past decade or two; Slim Cessna's Auto Club is among the notable acts featuring former Gentlemen. Norlander's latest offering can be downloaded for free at The site is slow, but music this wonderfully eloquent, evocative and spooky is worth the wait. -- Roberts

DeVotchKa, How It Ends (Cicero). Whether cross-pollinating neo-classical tango with Polish polka or creating some new hybrid of norteño-flavored gypsy opera, DeVotchKa shatters musical boundaries with every new release. This time around, studio vet Craig Schumacher (Calexico), helps Denver's most romantic and adventurous quartet do what they it does best: stir the blood, dazzle the senses and make the heart soar. -- La Briola

Drop the Fear, Drop the Fear (Helmetroom Recordings). An infallible release from one of the area's most promising new acts, Drop the Fear is brilliant. From the stellar artwork to the swirling interplay of Sarah Marcogliese's Harriet Wheeler-esque vocals and Ryan Policky's impassioned drones transcending the frigid austerity created by ambient squalls, fractured tones and mechanized beats, this is easily the best album of the year. -- Herrera

Robert Eldridge, Eclectic and Mental Guitar Music Solo Guitar -- Volumes 1 and 2 (Self-released). Next time you're at DIA, you may be fortunate enough to experience the engrossing six-string acoustic wizardry of Zeut sideman Robert Eldridge, who entertains in-transit folks on a monthly basis. But armchair travelers don't have to miss a beat: This exceptional long-player captures the spontaneity and spirit of a guy who clears the runway for blues, classical, ragtime, calypso and bop -- with or without a boarding pass. -- La Briola

Frontside Five, No Pegs (Self-released). Fuck subtlety. With its furious, sing-along full-length, Frontside Five grinds its decks on the '80s skate-thrash spew of the Faction and Jerry's Kids: a fast, pissed fusion of metal-spiked hardcore and sloshed misanthropy. Redeeming social value? No, thanks. -- Heller

The Gamits, Antidote (Suburban Home Records). How typical: Mere months after unleashing their best recording, Chris Fogal and company decided to call it quits. Fortunately, Antidote will live on, even if the band won't. The disc is loaded with songs that are as catchy as they are passionate -- a difficult trick that the Gamits turn with ease. The CD is arguably the finest Denver-spawned effort of 2004, as well as a stirring benediction from a group that died before its time. -- Roberts

The Ground Zero Movement, Writer's Square (Five Points Plan Recordings). Including Writer's Square among 2004's top recordings is a bit of a cheat, since it's not yet commercially available. But the CD's quality totally justifies this case of premature enthusiasm. Building on the momentum of last year's excellent Future I.D. , Dow Jones, Sid Fly, Aseone and D.O. Da Fabulous Drifta trade smart, exciting rhymes over backing tracks that are deeper and more complex than ever before. The area's best hip-hop act just got better. -- Roberts

Neil Haverstick/Barry Wedgle, Improvisations (Exit Records). When two highly technical guitar-noodlers decide to sit down with a laptop and a couple of mikes to improvise, the results might serve for posterity's sake and little else -- especially if they've never met. But when said noodlers are microtonalist Neil Haverstick and flamenco/jazz ace Barry Wedgle, it's a collision course of two distinctive and exciting styles well worth documenting. -- La Briola

Hot IQs, An Argument Between the Brain and Feet (Morning After Records). If you don't dance -- or at least tap your toes -- upon hearing Hot IQs' frolicsome debut, you might want to check to make sure you're still breathing. Eli Mishkin's throaty purr, the album's centerpiece, is perfectly augmented by frenetic, fuzz-laden guitar lines and a brawny yet economical rhythm section, making Argument an instant indie-pop classic. -- Herrera

Laymen Terms, Drive to Nowhere; Verity's Novel (Suburban Home). Unjustly, many recent local releases will get more attention than Laymen Terms' Drive to Nowhere; Verity's Novel. And yet, the disc's complex song arc simultaneously envelops and transcends genres, all the while staying anchored in melody, shivering atmospherics and sheer arena-rock gravity. The Colorado punk scene's answer to Dark Side of the Moon. -- Heller  

Love.45, Love.45 (Rock Ridge). So you say Love.45 is radio-friendly and derivative. Tell us something we don't know. If you listen to Love.45 in its entirety, though, there's no denying that this act has a knack for crafting polished power pop (key word in that descriptor: pop -- you know, a derivative of the word popular), and it's been rewarded accordingly. -- Herrera

Matson Jones, Matson Jones (Self-released). The most unique act to emerge in years, Matson Jones redefines the definition of original music as it stuffs chamber orchestration into a loose-fitting indie-rock girdle. Although this inaugural release doesn't quite capture the kinetic energy of the band's live show, it's an apt introduction and a great listen. -- Herrera

Munly & the Lee Lewis Harlots, Munly & the Lee Lewis Harlots (Alternative Tentacles/ Smooch). Jay Munly presents fifteen gothic chestnuts (captured in Dolby Surround Sound with DVD extras) that feature grandiose string arrangements and stunning vocal harlotry -- including a stellar doo-wop number. Dark, elegant, and utterly original, Munly and company's masterpiece dives headlong into the ninth circle of Hell, aided by homemade liquor and antebellum undergarments. -- La Briola

Mustangs and Madras, Mustangs and Madras (As Is Recordings). Emo's not dead; it's just been really boring and unlistenable since '97. Enter Mustangs and Madras, whose latest platter is a throwback to the Sunny Days before screamo, when Kids used to actually Get Up and rock. Though, back then, nobody could play sax like Nick Krier -- or even thought to, for that matter. -- Herrera

Orbit Service, Twilight (Helmetroom Recordings). Spiraling through a narcodelic haze of electronic mind expansion, Orbit Service steers this brilliant followup to Space & Valium through deeper cosmic stratospheres. Equal parts acoustic dream journal and conceptual dirge, this down-tempo epic makes living on a dying planet seem tolerable. But if space is the final frontier, these guys have a major jump on NASA. -- La Briola

Open Road, ...In the Life (Rounder). At its core, bluegrass is primitive music: raw and plainspoken, but with a structural rigor that requires those who play it to have uncommonly quick fingers. The men of Open Road certainly share the latter characteristic, and because they balance faithfulness to the form with sheer exuberance, their latest disc is richly satisfying from start to finish. Oh, what a Life. -- Roberts

The Pirate Sygnl, Norma(l): Hugh Manchild's American Revolution(s) (Axumite Recordings). Bdbeyond and Yonnas, who dominate the programming on this particular Sygnl, aren't interested in restricting their rhymes to cliched hip-hop subject matter: Bling isn't their thing. Instead, they plunge into topics that deserve deeper examination, mating astringent verses with music by the likes of DJ Psycho that takes the idea of freshness seriously. Norma(l) isn't, and thank goodness. -- Roberts

Planes Mistaken for Stars, Up in Them Guts (No Idea). Planes finally found what it's been trying for all along: a little tenderness. The album's spectral opening ballad and poignant lyrics have deepened its visceral rock/hardcore hybrid. But listen to Gared O'Donnell burn his lips on the line, "My mother bleeds history" and not even the caress of acoustic guitars can pacify the nightmares. -- Heller

Tyler Potts, Selections From 52 Songs (Self-released). Potts' concept -- composing one tune a week for a year -- would be as dull as the top of Jesse Ventura's head if the material was weak. It's a relief, then, that his swatches of sound are a fascinating blend of homemade craft and electronic futurism. Selections is a sample of the work as a whole, and it's already given rise to a sequel, entitled Drift, that's just as worthy as the original effort. Check out to learn more about this inspired project. -- Roberts

The Reals, Majestic (Self-released). All too often, roots music stays at ground level instead of seeking the sun. Not so the cuts that make up Majestic, a disc strong and sturdy enough to weather any season. Siblings Matt and Cheyenne Kowal create songs whose classic arrangements and traditional instrumentation bloom anew due to the quiet fervor of their performances, and prose that's literary without seeming self-important. -- Roberts

Red Cloud, Red Cloud (Not Bad World Industries). Nebraskan Ross Etherton fronts this slow-loping four-piece (which also includes Westword scribe Jason Heller on guitar) with a soft baritone drawl that approximates Mike Watt dragging Crazy Horse through a town with no name. At once desolate and scorching, this is dry-gulch roots rock that creaks the floorboards, cuts to the bone and leaves an ache in the heart. -- La Briola  

The Risk, Street Thunder (Self-released). Simply put, the year's best record by Denver's best band. The Risk was never much for studio bullshit, focusing instead on live shows that spurted pure soul, power pop and rock. But this disc -- think Ted Leo meets the Boss -- is seared with the group's crude and emotive intensity. The Risk, catastrophically, is kaput. Kiss this fossil and cry. -- Heller

Roper, Brace Yourself for the Mediocre (5 Minute Walk Records). The title goes out of its way to deflate expectations, but Brace Yourself is hardly full of hot air. Five Iron Frenzy alum Reese Roper and his comrades, who formerly did time with combos such as Black Black Ocean and Divit, offer up pop that's bouncy, brawny and brimming with a sense of humor exemplified by the name of the first cut: "Hello Lamewads." Mediocre, it's not. -- Roberts

Bambi Lee Savage, Matter of Time (Self-released). Recorded over the course of a decade with help from the Bad Seeds and Daniel Lanois, Matter of Time is also noteworthy for "Darlin'," the hauntingly bittersweet hymn that originally graced the soundtrack to Slingblade. With such a resumé, you'd expect this album to be a vivid work of earthy yet spiritual richness. And you'd be right. -- Heller

Matt Shupe, The Combined Effects of Caffeine and Alcohol (Sparky the Dog Records). Mixing uppers and downers is risky business. But in the hands of multi-instrumentalist Matt Shupe (who enlists pals from Mr. Tree & the Wingnuts and the Denver Gentlemen), humor and heartache make for compatible bedfellows. Easygoing vocals complement clever tunes about lonely pear-shaped girls, Django Reinhardt and a devious dog named Henry Kissinger. -- La Briola

Starfuzz, You Are Food (Self-released). Starfuzz's auspicious debut is nearly immaculate. A kaleidoscopic endeavor that cribs equally from the annals of Brit pop and classic rock, You Are Food will satiate those hungry for the bygone days of album rock -- even though, ironically, Food would have been better suited as an EP than as a full-length. Keep an eye on this rising Star. -- Herrera

Stoli and the Beers, In the Alley (Rocktini). Punk has the capacity to be dumb, drunk and hellaciously mean. And that promise is certainly fulfilled by Stoli and the Beers' raucous debut disc. But amid all the pop-slashed riffs and gut-curdling howls, there's an intelligence and introspection that bumps In the Alley up into that mythic realm of four chords and the truth. -- Heller

The Swayback, The Swayback (Too Bad You're Beautiful Recordings). The Swayback's psychedelic freakout conjures the Stooges driving a stake through the heart of Ink and Dagger -- with the Misfits on their knees, snorting up the powdery vampire dust. Eric Halborg's sinister howls leave puncture wounds in the gritty primordial riffs and stubbly bass lines that encase it, allowing agitated shards of feedback to seep through. -- Herrera

Uversa, Electric Jazz (Subspace Records). Somewhere along the line, jazz fusion got a bad reputation. Guitarist Tim Edwards and bassist Tom Sublett, a pair of veterans from the acidic outfit Windowpane, do their damnedest to restore its good name on Electric Jazz, a set that touches upon jazz, rock, funk and who knows what else. The eclectic sonic mélange is simultaneously challenging and accessible, and doesn't leave a wanky aftertaste. -- Roberts

Vaux, Plague Music (Equal Vision). Vaux's last disc was titled There Must Be Some Way to Stop Them. Clearly there isn't, as evidenced by Plague Music, the act's latest effort. Slabs of metal ferocity are welded to sheets of morose ethereality, as abrasive shrieks from Quentin Smith emit a shower of sparks molten enough to meld the seams together. -- Herrera

Wovenhand, Consider the Birds (Sounds Familyre). David Eugene Edwards's trademark intensity shows no signs of flagging. Although Wovenhand is ostensibly an opportunity for him to take a break from the rigors of 16 Horsepower, the tracks left by Birds are every bit as fierce and profound as the songs he saves for his main gig. Edwards is a man on a mission, and he's accomplished it once again. -- Roberts

Yo, Flaco!, The Skinny (Self-released). Steeped in groove-laden neo-jazz, even without the trio of MCs who make it bounce -- Neil McIntyre, Nate Graham and Derris Miles, among the best in the game -- The Skinny is the smoothest production of the year. -- Herrera

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