Best Music-Education Program 2015 | Youth on Record | Best of Denver® | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Denver | Westword
Brandon Marshall

Although Youth on Record changed its name from and found a new home last year, the group's goal is still the same: empowering young people to use their musical abilities in order to be heard. Local MCs and musicians are at the core of this organization, leading youth through the songwriting, recording, production and performance processes to make music that matters. The organization also hosts music-oriented events, such as this year's question-and-answer session with the members of Sleater-Kinney, which gave young musicians the opportunity to ask real-life rock stars about the ins and outs of the music business.

Being a musician and recording an album for the first time can be a daunting process, but Dryer Plug Studios takes the pressure off. Run by sound engineer Chad Saxton, this full-service studio offers reasonable rates, a room full of gear to work with, and the best in analog and digital recording technology. Rock bands, hip-hop artists, jazz trios and spoken-word performers at all levels of fame and ability get the same treatment at Dryer Plug. The fledgling studio believes in supporting local and national musicians as they grow by producing quality recordings that accommodate a variety of styles and budgets.

OpenAir technically isn't new — it had a good life on the AM dial — but the commercial-free radio station made the big leap to FM this year, and that changed everything. The station's open format allows for a diverse assortment of music programming from the past five decades, but it's OpenAir's contribution to the local scene that is truly groundbreaking. From shows like Mile High Noon, which is devoted solely to local artists, to the regular rotation of Colorado tracks and live sessions featuring key Denver players, locals get heard daily, clearer than ever, on the FM dial.

This is not an underdog story. Gregory Alan Isakov is among Denver's most well-known songwriters, and Laura Goldhamer, who directed the "Amsterdam" video, is a familiar name to anyone with even passing familiarity with the city's creative community. But favorites get that way for a reason, and this clip is proof that both artists deserve their accolades. The song itself is a quiet marvel, and Goldhamer took absolutely no shortcuts in creating a stop-motion accompaniment. In it, a paper Isakov travels the canals of Amsterdam to a strange and beautiful cathedral. There is simplicity and elegance to spare in both the song and the visuals, and they fit together effortlessly.

Readers' choice: "Sizzle Grizzle," The Dendrites

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.

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