BEST DIY LABEL 2006 | Still Soft Recordings | Best of Denver® | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Denver | Westword
Sure, it could be easily argued that all local indie labels are DIY. But the ethos of do-it-yourself are more than just an economic necessity for Still Soft Recordings -- they're its entire raison d'etre. Patterned after national imprints like K and States Rights, Still Soft is the brainchild of Nicholas Houde and Kara Jorge, whose respective bands, Transistor Radio Sound and teamAWESOME!, anchor the label's roster. Also on board are outfits like Mannequin Makeout, Hunter Dragon, Naked Sound and Tetris Art Project, which combine various shades of shaky folk and slipshod electronics for a joyous noise that needs neither widespread attention nor hipster cred to justify itself. With handmade packages and a preference for small, all-ages venues, Still Soft and its constituents aren't just keeping it real -- they're keeping it right.
Founded in the sweltering summer months of 2001, Ash From Sweat Records is a labor of love for brothers Dan and Dennis Phelps. The little label brought big-city DIY to Wheat Ridge, creating a post-hardcore insurrection hub in a most unlikely neighborhood. Since the first few releases were issued on vinyl and cassette, Ash From Sweat products have become punk-rock Martha Stewart masterpieces, characterized by elaborate handmade covers and inserts created by graphic designer/friend Ryan Nee. And although the label has moved to Denver, its growing roster of bands -- including Bailer, Humble Ary, To Be Eaten and My Calculus Beats Your Algebra -- is sure to keep things down-home and good.
Not Bad Records is getting old. Its logo of a fat guy chomping down on a vinyl record has been a stamp on the local scene for almost a decade. The label -- run by Chuck Coffey and Don Bersell -- has been home to some of the town's favorite (but now defunct) punk wonders like Qualm, Pinhead Circus and the Gamits. Also housing many of Coffey and Bersell's own musical projects, Not Bad is a family unit that treats its bands as more than just catalogue numbers. Coffey is the kind of guy who will not only press your record, but also pass out fliers for your show and help you book a tour; hell, he'd probably fill in for your drummer/guitarist if needed. In recent years, the label has branched out to include rock-and-roll cousins Red Cloud West and the recently broken-up Call Sign Cobra. With new releases from Machine Gun Blues and Big Timber already out this year, Not Bad is looking pretty not bad for its age.
Bryan Feuchtinger...Bryan Feuchtinger. Where have you heard that name before? Most likely in the same breath as Hot IQs, the band he plucks the bass guitar in. But there's an even better chance you've run across his moniker in the liner notes of a local CD. Over the past couple of years, Uneven Studio -- a cluster of equipment ensconced in Feuchtinger's modest City Park West house -- has exploded, resulting in stellar recordings from such varied Denver luminaries as the Photo Atlas, Signal to Noise, the Symptoms, d.biddle, Thank God for Astronauts, Ginkins and Hot IQs themselves. The secret? Uneven is inexpensive, hands-on and homey, and Feuchtinger has a natural way of steering bands toward that great sound they've got lurking inside of them. There are a million studios in town bigger and better-equipped -- but none with as much heart or as impressive a recent track record.
Like a time-release capsule of clinical-grade dopamine, Ten Cent Redemption's Worst Plan Ever gets infinitely better with each listen. Americana with tinges of Brit-pop texture, Ten Cent's songs ache and twang with equal abandon and make you forget about the bandmembers' past affiliations -- a remarkable feat when you consider the act's substantial collective DNA. Although "Somewhere in Between" -- on which frontman Rhett Lee thoughtfully pays homage to his previous band, Carolyn's Mother -- is the album's de facto centerpiece, there's no shortage of other stellar cuts, among them "Set Closer," "Bring Your Gun" and "Already Raining," which Lee wrote as his wife was lying in a hospital bed. Redemption has never sounded so good.
If there's a single document that nails the most striking highlights of Denver's burgeoning hip-hop scene, this is it. Despite its title, Low Budget Soul sounds like it cost a fortune to produce. It's all the more stunning, then, to discover that it was birthed in a cramped bedroom studio in east Denver. Produced and assembled by the RRAAHH Foundashun's Dent and Solpowa, the disc showcases some of the Front Range's most talented MCs -- Apostle, ManeRok, Brown Bombers, the Fly and Ground Zero Movement, among others -- in an assorted yet surprisingly integrated fashion. It's scary to think what this pair could produce with a larger budget.
At first glance, it looks like Boulder-based Adventure Records made some pretty lazy choices for its Cuvee 3 compilation: DeVotchKa, Hot IQs, the Swayback, Monofog, the Omens, Bright Channel, Matson Jones. But between all of these heavy-hitters -- none of which contributes exclusive songs -- are more obscure local acts that sparkle like unearthed gems. Among the highlights are tracks by the Portishead-esque Cate Coslor; the moody, rootsy Kettle Black; the seizure-inducing Mannequin Makeout; the post-punky Nightmare Fighters; and the brutally honest and arresting Rachel Pollard, who gives Chan Marshall a run with "The Waiting Song." Ultimately, Cuvee 3 is a real mixed bag, but that's what makes it a great local comp: It draws you in with the obvious, then blows your mind with some left-field risks and pleasant surprises.
The Samples were once among the biggest bands in these parts, yet their music's reggae accents generally had more in common with Sting than with the true giants of the genre. Not so Mr. Anonymous, in which former Sample Jeep MacNichol (always the wild card of the group) infuses his pop compositions with reggae authenticity thanks to an all-star crew. Bounty Killer, Black Uhuru's Michael Rose and the riddim section of Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare keep this Jeep running strong.
Spanish Poets Invading Colorado Streets -- the S.P.I.C.S. for short -- are neither reggaeton-inspired bandwagon-jumpers nor mere mainstream-rap imitators. Rather, Joel-C and Cryme Dawg are proud local Latinos who use the template of gangsta rap to tell their own, unique story. On Mental Advisory, the chant of "Chicanos, Mexicanos" throughout "S.P.I.C.S." echoes with the sort of pride that should inspire residents of any hood.
Good luck pigeonholing vocalist Felisa Herrera. On Sacrificios, she sings in English and Spanish and handles pop, R&B, hip-hop and more with a relaxed confidence that's downright inspiring. The only problem? This 2005 disc was supposed to serve as the introduction to a double-CD set that has yet to arrive. Enough with the teasing, Ms. Herrera. After all, waiting this long for more music is sacrifice enough.

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