Best Breakout Musician 2023 | N3ptune | Best of Denver® | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Denver | Westword
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Kori Hazel

N3ptune is one of the few local musicians to play Red Rocks early in his career. The artist, whose captivating earworms are an intoxicating fusion of pop, soul, hip-hop, rock, gospel and more, has wasted no time making big moves since releasing his debut album, RENAISSANCE, in 2021 (and which he just re-released). N3ptune stayed booked and busy throughout 2022, going on an East Coast tour and playing a headlining slot at the Westword Music Showcase. His music pulls listeners in, inspiring them to live more authentically and pursue their own passions, just as he pursues his with vigor. N3ptune could well be the next Colorado name to break worldwide.

n3ptune.com
David Novin

While EVANOFF had been known more for its dream-rock and jam-oriented sound, keyboardist Brennan Forrester, guitarist JJ Evanoff and drummer Jake Hall took a heavy prog-rock direction on their 2022 album, SINGULARITY. The full-length is an energetic, captivating swell of psychedelic rock with eight innovative, instrumental tracks that mix chugging prog metal with sprinklings of dreamy lo-fi and future bass influences. EVANOFF closed out 2022 opening for jamtronic mainstay Papadosio on its Colorado run, and is now embarking on a well-deserved East Coast tour. We're loving this heavier sound from the band, and can't wait to see what directions it takes this year.

evanoffmusic.com

VOLORES is the COVID baby of husband and wife Nathen and Shelby Maxwell, who needed something to occupy their time during the pandemic. Already musicians (Shelby is a singer-songwriter, and Nathen is the bassist for Flogging Molly), the two were able to seamlessly create a sound they call "mountain goth," and they debuted it with the single "Ages" early in 2023, teasing their album of the same name, which was released in February. With Shelby's poetic lyrics and whispery yet soulful vocals soaring over the solid foundation provided by Nathen's intricate bass lines, the album has a classic-rock sound fused with pop and indie influences.

voloresband.com

Best "Ecstatic Satanic Dance" Concerts

Hex Cassette

Duncan McCallum

"In a perfect world, I would die on stage," says Zachary Jordan, aka Hex Cassette. But Jordan's performances are already pretty memorable, with demands for blood sacrifices and slam dancing to his electrifying, darkwave EDM. Although he's decidedly in the DIY scene, Jordan has also played the Crypt, the hi-dive and Lost Lake, and even opened for Cold Cave at the Oriental. He calls his sound "ecstatic satanic dance," reminding listeners that we're all gonna die, so we might as well have a good time while we're here. If goth darkwave and existential dread are your thing, be sure to listen to Hex Cassette's 2022 release, Pomegranate Death.

hexcassette.bandcamp.com
Studio Apocalypse

A show from 57-piece avant-garde marching band itchy-O is less a concert and more a mind-altering, transcendental experience that transports audiences to a whole new realm. Often staged at the Oriental Theater, where the group just produced its Intergalactic Masquerade, itchy-O's conceptual concerts are planned with the highest level of intention and presented as if they were a ceremonial rite. The group even partnered with the Colorado School of Mines last year to create a Söm Säptälahn, a fifty-piece gamelan-esque instrument of gongs and metallophones made from more than 600 pounds of donated metal. Such innovations make Itchy-O's shows riveting sensory events you won't witness anywhere else.

itchyo.com
Courtesy Molina Speaks

Multi-disciplinary artist Molina Speaks has established himself as one of Denver's most indispensable, timeless creatives for his tireless work building community. A writer, poet, playwright, educator, painter and musician, Molina has released more than fifteen DIY albums under various monikers, but the one he produced in 2022, Dreams Life and Times, was more than an album: It was an immersive project meant to showcase his philosophical hip-hop in a listening experience. The pop-up installation debuted at Understudy in December, and Molina hinted that it could be produced again this year.

molinaspeaks.com
Brandon Johnson (@bjohnsonxar)

While GRiZ, aka Grant Kwiecinski, has become a Red Rocks mainstay, that hasn't stopped him from playing pop-up sets at places like Cervantes' Masterpiece Ballroom or Beacon. But perhaps his most memorable set in 2022 was at the Stanley Cup watch party at Auraria's Tivoli Quad on June 18. The Detroit-born, Denver-based producer has consistently released future funk, trip-hop and glitch-hop meant to start parties and keep them going. His latest release, a collaboration with Zeds Dead titled "Ecstasy of Soul," is out now on all streaming platforms.

mynameisgriz.com
Stephanie Parsley

Ricochet is only Maddy O'Neal's second full-length, but its high-profile collaborations prove that she's been destined for greatness since she began producing in 2010. While she focused more on samples in her earlier work, here O'Neal reached out to her contacts to help her compose original instrumentals. Ricochet collaborators include Lettuce trumpeter Benny Bloom, STS9 bassist Alana Rocklin, producer Ryan Montbleau, producer/trumpeter Balkan Bump, rapper Def3 and many more.

maddyonealmusic.com

Chinelo Cary Tyler, who makes music under the name Nelo, first popped up on Colorado's hip-hop scene in early 2020 and has been making waves ever since. Last year he released two EPs, Born Again and Seasonal Depression, a full-length album titled Time Is Limited, and five singles, as well as providing multiple guest verses on other artists' tracks, collaborating with Jay Triiiple, ego n friends, Holiday, DNA Picasso and Rebecca Hartt, to name just a few. Outside of the studio, he and Kerrie Joy co-created the wildly popular Dope $h!t w/ Friends concert series, a set of independently run shows highlighting BIPOC artists. With conscious lyrics heavily inspired by his spirituality (his parents are both in the ministry, and he's an occasional guest speaker at local church services) and funky throwback samples, Nelo's music strikes the balance between easy listening and thought-provoking artistry.

linktr.ee/grnelo
Cleo Mirza

Two Can Play That Game, released in August 2022, is a testament to the versatility of Aurora-based rapper Schama Noel. Across ten tracks, Noel experiments with flavors of pop, R&B, alternative and EDM, all grounded by a love of hip-hop. He is a master of curating a distinct atmosphere with each individual song, from a breezy summer night with your sweetheart (The Rev. da IV-assisted "Bumble Bees") to a rowdy party with your crew ("No Love"). Featuring his viral hit "Sugar Mom," which racked up nearly 275,000 listens on Spotify alone (it's also big on TikTok), the album is Noel's sixth full-length project, and has us looking forward to number seven.

linktr.ee/schamanoel

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