Denver's underground rock scene is boiling over right now -- and one of the individuals who's been dutifully stoking the fires is Dan Rutherford of Morning After Records (www.morningafterrecords.com). He envisioned the label while attending South by Southwest last year, and found the perfect flagship band when he got back to Colorado: the indie-pop sensation Hot IQs. The group's debut, An Argument Between the Brain and the Feet, was released in October, peaking at number 75 on the CMJ charts and snagging year-end accolades from local media. And the disc itself? Quite simply, one of the best albums to ever come out of Denver and a sign of great things to come.

Champions of unstructured sound collage and homemade instruments, Backwards Records is home to an array of adventurous laptop jockeys and electronically minded noise artists: Page 27, Blackcell, Robot Mandala, Haunted Sound Lab, Sporadik, Kuxann-Sum and Paraclude, among others. Surviving on the distant fringes of normalcy, the unsung label creates sounds as willfully edgy as they are impossible to pigeonhole. No wonder their motto is "Forward thinking, backwards living."

Best North-of-the-Border Label for Colorado Blues

NorthernBlues Music

Yes, NorthernBlues Music is based in Toronto, but it's got a soft spot for Colorado blues talent. The imprint has put out a number of Otis Taylor's finest efforts, including White African and Respect the Dead, and recently reached out to two other area bluesman: Eddie Turner, who released Rise last year, and Dan Treanor, whose collaboration with vocalist Frankie Lee, African Wind, is extremely impressive as well. O, Canada!

Since launching Hapi Skratch Entertainment ten years ago, Morris Beegle has shaped his label into a hub that supports musicians at all levels. Celebrating a decade of operations this year, this Fort Collins-based company is one of Colorado's foremost purveyors of homegrown music. Over the years, Hapi Skratch and its three offshoot imprints have worked with a diverse array of the area's most prominent musicians in one facet or another -- be it CD production, duplication, distribution and licensing or design work and studio facilitation. At this point, it would be easier to list the artists the company hasn't worked than to compile a roster of those it's helped. Hapi anniversary, Mr. Beegle.

Saxophonist Hess has been a part of Denver-area jazz for so long that it's tempting to take him for granted. Crossed Paths, on Tapestry Records, shows how unwise that would be. The disc, which features bassist Ken Filiano, drummer Matt Wilson and trumpeter Ron Miles (another local treasure), doesn't break any new ground, but it makes spending time in familiar territory incredibly satisfying. Jazz lovers will want to cross these Paths again and again.

This past year, when DJ Quote wasn't mixing things up on the air with Troubleshooter Tom Martino, he was issuing CDs at a frenzied pace. Taking the game to a whole new level, Quote's discs have been hosted by an assortment of noteworthy guests, including MC Serch, Pitbull, DJ Cocoa Chanelle and David Banner, who will introduce Colorado to material from his forthcoming disc, Certified, via song snippets on Quote's latest mix of the same name. And the DJ (aka Quentin Jones) is building a national reputation, as well: Quote recently joined the Core DJs -- a group that lists such lauded jocks as Clinton Sparks, Green Lantern and Baka Boys as members -- and the Bum Squad DJz crew.

Cost of Living, a Denver supergroup featuring ex-members of Qualm, the Departure and Shogun, completed production on its debut in the spring of 2004. But Trample the Weak, Hurdle the Dead wasn't released until last month -- an excruciating eternity for the quintet's fans, many of whom have been rabid devotees of singer Justin Hackl and guitarist Ryan Welter since their days in Qualm. Why the wait? According to Hackl, the band "just wasn't ready yet." But now, with Cost of Living consistently outdrawing most touring punk bands who visit town, it's the perfect time for Trample's melodic, uncompromising assault.

As a showcase of new Colorado music, PS 2 isn't perfect. But it's closer than anyone's ever come before. Ranging from humble to heavy-hitting, the disc amply displays the passion and attention to detail that Ben De-soto and Tim Garvey of Public Service Records bring to this project -- and to the local indie scene as a whole. Everything from digital noise to folk to garage punk is represented here, and the overall flow and excellence of the selections makes PS 2 much more than just a fervently waved banner for Denver rock: It's also a great listen.

Co-founded by Rogue frontman Bill Terrell and Voodoo Productions owner Dave Zaharia, Infexious Recordz is a headbanger's nightmare sprung gloriously to life. In addition to luring national acts like L.A. Guns, Exodus and Pissing Razors to town, Infexious has showcased over a hundred of Denver's own up-and-coming metal acts -- Tyfoid Mary, Kill Syndicate, Mud Crawl and Kronow, among others. Like they say, an eightball of infexion is worth an ounce of cure.

No one has worked as hard to promote the Denver metal scene as Wayne Quigley, the man behind Big Q Productions. From frequently booking shows at the Ogden, Gothic and Bluebird theaters to putting together smaller gigs at Iliff Park and Eck's saloons, Big Q has shone the spotlight on many of the best emerging metal acts in town. Promoting bands -- particularly bands on the way up -- isn't exactly a huge moneymaking endeavor. So we can only deduce that Q is in it for the love of the music. And for that, Mr. Quigley, we give you the horns.

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