The thing about glammy, sleazy hair metal is that in 2016, it's just about the least-cool genre of music you can be involved in. Hell, in 1993 it was the least-cool genre of music that you could be involved in. That's why, in our book, the musicians who have soldiered on while trends have risen and fallen — all the while spraying that product into thinning hair and keeping that gut in check — should be applauded. Grind Cat Grind still opens for just about every former Sunset Strip idol that comes our way, and is still killing it night after night. Some of the members even moonlight in a hair-metal tribute band called Mr. Steak, offering double the fun. Shame on you for laughing: Grind Cat Grind's set is chock-full of excellent anthemic rock and roll, and the bandmembers don't give a crap about what's charting. Gentlemen, we salute you.

facebook.com/grindcatgrind

At this point, everybody in Denver should know how talented Kalyn Heffernan is. The MC with the sharp wit and sharper tongue has got flow for days, and she's an artist first and foremost. Yet it's impossible to ignore the fact that the rapper's also got a keen eye for an outfit. We even ran a photo gallery in 2014 of every outfit Kalyn wore at SXSW, and each one was a head-turner. Whether she's rocking a glamorous dress, a pair of jeans with a tattered jacket and a porkpie hat or Adidas high-tops and a baseball cap, Heffernan makes it work.

With matching leather jackets stitched with "Denver Rock City, USA," songs about Kitty's South and lyrics like "We'll play the hi-dive until the day we die," there's no band that shows more love for its adopted home town than Bud Bronson & the Good Timers. The punk rockers are all too aware of Denver's bro-and-beer culture, and they manage to both embrace and mock it (see "Vapedemic" and "Beer Commercial") with love. Denver-centric songs may not be the path to national success, but then again, Bud Bronson has never wanted to win over the country — just the rowdy South Broadway crowds.

The best music video this year was also probably the bloodiest. Hard rockers the Yawpers released American Man this year, which garnered national attention and the insane video for the single "Doing It Right." The video starts with the main character slitting his wrists, and from there it goes to a cut-off penis, a car chase, and a cameo by Absolute Vinyl owner Doug Gaddy. It's violent and intriguing, and it perfectly represents the Yawpers' balls-to-the-wall attitude. Oh, and the song itself is top-notch, too.

Readers' choice: "S.O.B.," Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats

There were many amazing albums this year. But only one band — with its debut record, at that — managed to sell out Red Rocks, sing the national anthem at a Broncos game, tour Europe and play The Tonight Show...twice. This band of Denver musicians let the world in on a long-kept city secret this year: Nathaniel Rateliff and crew are seriously talented. This is the band that played on its own rooftop at a backyard party. That produced an album that had Denverites singing along months before it was released. That sold out Syntax Physic Opera and the hi-dive in under three hours, then heard a packed crowd chant along to "S.O.B." at both. Yeah, there were many amazing albums released in 2015, but Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats was the best, and now the world knows it.

Readers' choice: Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats

Best Nathaniel Rateliff Song That's Not "S.O.B."

"Howling at Nothing"

Every few months there's a song that becomes a cultural force and is played so often, you feel like you can't avoid it. For the past few months, that song has been "S.O.B.," by Denver's own Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats. It was performed on The Tonight Show, it was in an Apple commercial, and it even made an appearance in a strange Internet video in which Britney Spears writhed around seductively to it. (The response from Rateliff nearly broke the Internet.) While the song is a phenomenon and a carefully crafted pop gem, it could be argued that it's not even the best song on the Night Sweats' self-titled debut album. "Howling at Nothing" is at the other end of the soul spectrum and is a mid-tempo, Otis Redding-style ballad, capable of making existing and prospective couples hold each other close and dance long into the night. While "S.O.B." is what propelled the Night Sweats into the international spotlight, it's Rateliff's depth and diversity on songs like "Howling at Nothing" that should ensure his success long after the buzz dies down.

Luke Thinnes of French Kettle Station showcases songwriting that's almost cunning in its ability to traverse moods. Bitterness cross-fades with hope, and melancholy with an almost anthemic optimism, as his deadpan tenor voice counterbalances bright synth lines that twist through unpredictable but catchy melodies. Live, Thinnes lets his freak flag fly a little more freely, literally hanging from the rafters or screaming into the faces of his fans — poised, like the music itself, between confrontation and camaraderie.

frenchkettlestation.bandcamp.com
Readers' choice: Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats

Denver's population boom has made things more difficult all around. The roads are congested, parking is a challenge, and it's hard to get a table at a restaurant without a really long wait. The influx is not all negative, though, as the boom has brought with it a slew of talented musicians, including a few already formed bands that decided to relocate from other states. Rootbeer and Mermentau, from Lake Charles, Louisiana, sits at the top of the pile of artists who decided to leave their home state in favor of, in this case, snowier pastures. The two-piece garage-rock band combines the throwback fuzz of glam rock with the contemporary swagger of bands like the Strokes, performing with the energy and fervor of groups more than twice its size. While new and exciting acts like this should be considered a positive for a growing city, it's also a warning for all longtime Colorado bands to step up their musical game.

rootbeerandmermentau.bandcamp.com

As one of the flagship indie-pop bands of the '90s, the Apples in Stereo helped define an influential style and aesthetic. The group certainly had an impact on Candy Claws and its current incarnation as Sound of Ceres. Before Claws became Ceres in 2014, John Ferguson, Ben Phelan and Robert Schneider of the Apples had become friendly with the project, recognizing a similar creative spirit and sound. The two acts' shared gift for tapping into a nostalgic otherworldliness places their music outside the trap of being a mere throwback. Sound of Ceres collaborated in 2015 with Schneider, Phelan and Ferguson — as well as Jacob Graham of the Drums — to produce this year's Nostalgia for Infinity, one of the most transporting albums in recent memory.

soundofceres.com
Youth on Record
Brandon Marshall

Under the mentorship of active Denver musicians and artists, students at Youth on Record get firsthand experience in the world of music-making. From the songwriting desk to the studio, Youth on Record walks avid players, MCs and songwriters through the process of making music while connecting them with local and national acts who have seen great success in the industry. It's become a model for similar programs across the country — programs that nurture young musicians' self-worth along with their budding talent. The work these kids do in the studio and on stage is a direct reflection of their teachers' dedication to creating the next generation of informed, active members of the creative community.

youthonrecord.org

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