Best Album Art 2017 | No Big Deal Wheelchair Sports Camp | Best of Denver® | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Denver | Westword

Wheelchair Sports Camp debuted its first full-length album in September 2016. No Big Deal includes contributions by late keyboardist Isaiah "Ikey" Owens, who worked with acts including Jack White and the Mars Volta before his death in 2014. But Owens's mark on the album isn't the only thing that makes it special. Wheelchair Sports Camp enlisted Pat Jensen to design a CD package that includes a 3-D pop-up house, akin to the pop-up art in children's books. The design was meant as a touching send-off for Owens, who pushed Wheelchair Sports Camp far beyond what the group's members thought they were capable of musically, making this record a must-buy.

Fronted by Denver's own "Mr. Music," Virgil Dickerson, the Greater Than Collective organically morphed into a record label, taking the place of Dickerson's previous foray into that world, Suburban Home Records. "It's been really neat, because the goal with the Greater Than Collective is to help these artists achieve that next goal, whatever that may be," Dickerson told us in December. Greater Than has unleashed releases by Snake Rattle Rattle Snake, Adam Cayton-Holland, the Epilogues, and Bud Bronson & the Good Timers, among others, and it's become one of those labels whose releases are worth checking out, even if you don't know anything about the artist.

The resurgence of cassettes may seem like a de-evolution of music listening to some consumers. If you agree, let First Base Tapes change your mind. The Boulder-based label cranks out limited runs of albums on tape, which go for $5 and are available for purchase through the First Base Bandcamp page. Acts like American Grandma, Male Blonding and Beat Soft Pop have put out colorful cartridges, which can also be streamed or downloaded, through the imprint. Many of its releases are recorded at independent, nonprofit station Radio 1190, located on the University of Colorado Boulder campus, where First Base Tapes was born. The label is a network of bands, sound engineers, visual artists and music fans who believe that DIY really means Do It Affordably and Do It Together.

When indie hip-hop label Anticon co-founder Tim Holland, aka Sole, moved to Denver more than a half-decade ago, he immediately became immersed in his new town's music scene. Fast-forward to 2017, when the MC and activist is knee-deep in new releases, this time under his newish online label, Black Box Tapes Trading Company. Along with being a home for Holland's own recordings, Black Box Tapes puts out work by underground giants Church Fire, Echo Beds and Paperbark, and national acts like Jared Paul, Skyrider and Egadz. Far from just a passion project, the record label gives Holland the ability to do what he believes in most: help other artists get their music out into the world and get paid for it. The MC takes supporting his adopted home town seriously by cultivating musicians who make Denver the cool, interesting and weird place that it is.

Jeff Suthers makes magic in his home recording studio. He recorded there as Bright Channel, which strongly influenced Denver's shoegaze and psychedelic scene, and has opened the space up to groups like Volplane, Orbiteer and Pteranodon. One of the most arresting albums to come from his studio — last year's Darkmoonwhiteout, from Suthers's new group, Pale Sun — taps into daydreams, deep emotions and a sense of wonder, proving that homemade is, indeed, better.

Travis Sturm has established himself as the go-to guy for live visuals in Denver's experimental music scene. An industrial- and experimental-electronic musician himself, Sturm creates visual representations of music where others might just hear a tune. Armed with a projection machine, he's worked in DIY spaces, warehouses, bars and movie theaters, easily adapting to each space. Sturm has focused mostly on experimental music, but we hope 2017 brings opportunities to expand his art beyond the niche scene and into a wider variety of musical events.

Barely a year old and already pushing boundaries,105.5 FM The Colorado Sound has embraced a refreshing music-for-many-tastes mentality. From just-released tracks to classic hits, local musicians to global artists, this nonprofit, KUNC-affiliated FM station isn't afraid to take chances with its programming; the Talking Heads, Lumineers, James Brown and the XX all find a home on 105.5. Familiar voices from the state's vast radio landscape can be found here, too, including Ron Bostwick and Keefer, who are just some of the bright personalities lighting up the station. In a time when major-player stations rely on monotonous, recycled playlists, The Colorado Sound is a welcomed entity that makes the FM dial a better place for discerning listeners.

From the moment he opens his show with the gleeful announcement that it is "lunchtime at the Oasis!" it's clear: Arturo Gómez is the best — and happiest — voice on Colorado's airwaves. Each weekday afternoon from 12 to 1 p.m., the disc jockey lays down classic-, modern- and Latin-jazz cuts, peppered with his own deep knowledge of musicians' backstories and the history behind each track. The award-winning music director's influence and experience can be heard all over KUVO's many genre-bending shows. But it's his genuine on-air enthusiasm for the music and his insightful, informative commentary between songs that captures what the nonprofit radio station is all about: jazz. This colorful state is home to one of the few remaining all-jazz stations in the country — with a unique emphasis on local jazz artists, too — and Gómez is an integral part of what keeps KUVO fresh, relevant and enjoyable to listen to.

Debajo del Agua's members hail from all over Latin America, and the dance-inspiring music the group makes is as diverse as it is fun. Mixing hip-hop with Andean folk music, salsa, reggae, samba and reggaetón, the outfit is known for its energetic live shows and its political messages, delivered in multiple languages. The band has plans to release an album this year; watch for the single "Mundo Al Revés" to drop soon.

Grande Orquesta Navarre — pianist Sara Parkinson, double-bassist Susan Cahill, bandoneon and cello player Evan Orman, and Tom Hagerman of DeVotchka on accordion and violin — mostly performs classical pieces. But the group manages to find fascinating selections that fit its lively and versatile performance style. When it played Baur's Listening Lounge last December, the Orquesta's unamplified performance enhanced the intimacy of the show. Grande Orquesta Navarre takes relatively obscure classical music, infuses it with tango and delivers it in a cabaret-style presentation, making it exciting again. In an era when everyone has seen and heard everything, this foursome feels fresh.

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