When America was released on New Year's Day 2014, it symbolized a new beginning for the Samples. It was the first album featuring the group's new lineup, and it was recorded and released independently, without any kind of label backing. Sean Kelly wrote his freshest batch of songs in years, imbuing America with the hopeful, thoughtful spirit that has always made the man's music so compelling for so many. The sparkly melodies, broad vistas of sound and impressionistic, poetic wordplay suggest a reinvention and the reclaiming of the ability to dream of a better place.

An epic 32-song mixtape, Wet Pizza V: Wet It Be shows off all of what Denver's under-the-radar musicians have to offer. From the stark and minimal modular-synth work on Thug Entrancer's "Sprawl" to Little Fyodor's wild-guitar-and-sloppy-organ ride "It Changes," this collection from local musician Gabe Stoll — also known by his performance-project name, Mystic Bummer — is a perfect cross-section of what's happening in the local scene right now. Dance tracks find a home next to noise pieces, and garage rock gets close to activist-oriented hip-hop in this ultimate Mile High collaboration. If ever there was a "Denver sound," this is it: raw, spastic and full of energy.

Paper gatefold CD packaging is hardly a new thing. And given the current era of weed culture in Colorado, it's only natural that someone would use hemp rather than wood fiber to make cardboard for a CD sleeve — which is exactly what promoter Morris Beegle proposed to Kathryn Ellinger of Sleepers for Drive, the group's first album in nearly a decade. The resulting cover is a revved-up example of the way the music community has taken advantage of our new marijuana economy.

When Matthew Hunzeker of Of Earth and Sun shows up to a venue, most sound people don't really know what to make of him. Sure, he has a sampler and pedals, just like a lot of other artists. But he also has an array of animal bones and horns that he has crafted into noise-making instruments. Like a shaman from the Stone Age, Hunzeker uses these instruments to create otherwordly, trance-inducing soundscapes.

Artist Vincent Comparetto describes his Werk Out Palace project this way: "Imagine if Richard Simmons was the most powerful lesbian in the world who could inspire you to crush your lover into dust with your thighs." Since Colorado is among the fittest states in the country, it was only a matter of time before a band would find a way to get some bodies moving at a show. Werk Out Palace combines its songs with cardio routines, injecting some sass and fun into the proceedings.

Featuring musicians from notable Denver bands like Uphollow, Glass Hits, Cannons and Il Cattivo, Fauxgazi performs near-perfect songs from one of post-punk's most lauded and respected bands: Fugazi. This is one of those tribute bands that fans will go to see because few actually got to see the original act while it was still playing and touring — unlike the replica, which does both. While Fugazi never had a "hit," it built a solid career based on integrity, musicianship and thought-provoking lyrics. The same could be said of the Denver musicians who continue to keep that legacy alive.

Punk is more than forty years old, and it often seems like every nook and cranny of the genre has been discovered and colonized. Yet once in a while, a band comes along that embodies everything that made the genre significant and inspiring in the first place, one whose raw and impassioned performances and effusive energy cut straight to the seething adolescent psyche in all of us. Right now, Future Single Mom is one of those bands. The act's use of keyboards, as well as its tendency to incorporate no wave's disregard for conventional melodies, sets it apart from its putative peers.

Readers' choice: Ark Life

At some recent point in time, people like investment bankers started paying attention to music festivals, and the industry ballooned. Now the summer concert season feels like an arms race between massive promoters rushing to cram more bands, more people and more amenities into any given field or parking lot. You'll find an antidote to all that at RockyGrass, which is held each July on the picturesque grounds of the Planet Bluegrass ranch. For 42 years, the festival has rewarded its exceedingly loyal fan base with a lineup dense with legends and talented up-and-comers playing fiddles, banjos and the like. As an operation, RockyGrass seems determined to leave its attendees relaxed and renewed.

Walking into the posh Temple Buell Theatre to see Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds, fans knew they could expect an extraordinary performance from a band with plenty of sophistication and emotive power. On that score, Cave and company amply delivered. But when Cave waded into the crowd on the backs of seats, it was a surprise that flipped the usual dynamic of performer and audience on its head, in a place where that almost never happens. In that moment, Cave brought us into the realm of his masterful storytelling for an inspired, unforgettable experience.

Readers' choice: Colorado Symphony Orchestra

No Denver band has come as close to perfecting its sound as Snake Rattle Rattle Snake. On the group's latest release, Totem, SRRS builds upon the sinister framework established on 2013's Sineater, adding more melody, urgency and musicality. The rhythm section of bassist Jon Evans and drummer Andrew Warner is so airtight that it's nearly suffocating. Breaths of fresh air are supplied by transcendent synth and guitar flourishes from Doug Spencer and Wilson Helmericks. And Hayley Helmericks continues her vocal onslaught while doubling as a kind of shaman. Totem is no collection of cheap tricks, but rather a carefully crafted bit of magic.

Readers' choice: Falling Faster Than You Can Run, Nathaniel Rateliff

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