Best New Band 2016 | French Kettle Station | Best of Denver® | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Denver | Westword

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.
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.

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.
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.

Best Band Fronted by a Television Star


Before he regularly sold out comedy clubs, and before he wrote and starred in his own TV show, Ben Roy was an engaging and energetic frontman and singer. Roy — whose television show Those Who Can't just got greenlighted for a second season by truTV — fronted bands like the 29th Street Disciples and the Fire Drills for years. These days, despite his busy and burgeoning career as a comedian and television star, Roy still finds time to gig, and still approaches it with the same exuberance and abandon he's always shown. His current band, SPELLS, is his best yet, and is in the midst of preparing to release its first full-length. While fronting a punk band and starring in a television show may seem like polar opposites, Roy's genuine approach to both crafts makes them appear seamless.

When David Castillo of Pizza Time and Panaderia launched Bummeroo in 2015 — a music tour that took place only on YouTube, with live performances of bands in settings of their choosing — it seemed like an idea whose time had come. For Bummeroo 2, Luke Thinnes of French Kettle Station decided to take his performance not just out of his bedroom and into the street, but to the Cherry Creek mall, where shoppers were treated to a high-energy performance of upbeat post-punk pop. Filmed by two friends, Thinnes unleashed his raw enthusiasm for music on the unsuspecting audience, taking the concept of the festival and of confrontational performance to a whole new level. Mall security politely turned off his amp once the nine-minute show was over.

A$AP Rocky and Tyler, the Creator are both on major labels, but their roots are firmly in underground and alternative hip-hop. The ability of both artists to bring their 2015 tour to Red Rocks with like-minded artists Danny Brown and Vince Staples may not have signaled a major change in the world of hip-hop, but their elaborate set designs were on par with what you might see at any large-scale concert, short of those by monster acts like Nine Inch Nails, Radiohead or Miley Cyrus. It felt as though experimental hip-hop had finally arrived.

Steely Dan apparently bears the curse of heavy rain during appearances at Red Rocks, and while this proved problematic for anyone trying to actually get into the venue on July 6, 2015, it was not without a certain fascinating quality. In fact, the whole evening seemed like a dream: Banks of thick fog obscured paths and at times imbued the stage with an opaque quality. After the show, the fog cloaked walkways and roads, making visibility tricky at best. But like most concerts at Red Rocks, it was an unforgettable experience that can't be replicated at any indoor venue.

In 2015, more so than in years past, video artists were involved in local shows. Active video artists from VJ Dizy Pixl and Orchidz3ro to Mark Mosher, Kim Shively and Chris Bagley are adding an immersive element to largely experimental music shows. One of the most active is 75 Ohms, a team that comprises Ryan Peru and Cheyenne Grow. Using a combination of digital and analog equipment, 75 Ohms always seems to tap into the vibe of the performers, combining video collage, abstract visuals and live stage-camera imagery to produce a truly unique experience every time.

Bob Rob Medina grew up in Aurora, was exposed to punk rock as a preteen, and started playing in his own punk band by the mid-'80s. Medina took in the significance of the movement and noted that you didn't need to be from someplace special for your version of punk to be special. For a few years, he wrote a blog about his experiences, sharing illustrations he made from photographs and memory. Eventually the blog included interviews, and Medina had on his hands a bona fide oral history of Denver punk in the '80s, which he turned into Denvoid and the Cowtown Punks, a handsome and essential volume on the subject.

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