Best Hip-Hop Album 2023 | Two Can Play That GameSchama Noel | Best of Denver® | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Denver | Westword
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.
Natalie Jo Gray

A supergroup of all women musicians, Big Richard formed in 2021 with Bonnie Sims on mandolin, Joy Adams on cello, Emma Rose on bass and guitar and Eve Panning on fiddle. Since then, the quartet has made a splash in the Colorado bluegrass scene with its soothing, virtuosic melodies steeped in folk and Americana sensibilities. Big Richard signed with Thundering Herd Artists in February 2022, and has played festivals such as Telluride Bluegrass, WinterWonderGrass and Big Sky Fest in Montana, with more to come this year. Hear what a full live set from this group is like on its first full-length release, Live From Telluride.
Reggie Ruth Barrett

It had been nearly six years since 51-year-old Geoff Union and his band, Ragged Union, left us hungry for more following the release of 2017's Time Captain — but after a slight change in lineup, the "grassicana" band delivered another delicious down-home album. The nine-track Round Feet, Chrome Smile, which dropped in September, is a feel-good album all the way through, perfect for a drive through the mountains or a get-together with friends.

If you've walked around the 16th Street Mall or the Denver Performing Arts Complex over the past seven years, chances are you've heard the blaring sounds of Brothers of Brass. The New Orleans-style brass band, founded by Khalil Simon, has been trumpeting around Denver since 2016. While it first established itself by busking outside everything from DCPA let-outs to football games at Empower Field to the Phish lot at Dick's, the band is now playing places like Ophelia's Electric Soapbox and Meow Wolf. Brothers of Brass is also steeped in activism, helping to lead protests and encouraging youth engagement by playing local schools. Be on the lookout for its upcoming full-length, set to drop in late April.
Silky Shots

Brandon Theis, aka The Orchestrator, has become one of Denver's most popular artists on the strength of his saxophone-infused wobbly beats, which have nabbed him sold-out headlining slots at Meow Wolf, the Bluebird Theater, the Marquis Theater, Larimer Lounge and Globe Hall. While he has yet to release a full-length, Theis is consistently dropping singles that hint at big things to come. Meanwhile, his energetic live concerts are a wonder of live-music production as he jumps from deejaying to trilling his sax to playing guitar to banging on his drum kits. Theis is diving into hip-hop, too, adding more vocals to his tracks that run the musical gamut, with inspirations in jazz, trip-hop, funk, soul, EDM and more.
Armando Martinez

A Denver jazz-scene mainstay, award-winning composer, arranger and pianist Annie Booth formed her sextet in 2015, creating a multi-generational supergroup with Mile High jazz stalwarts Greg Gisbert (trumpet), Wil Swindler (alto sax), John Gunther (tenor and soprano sax), Patrick McDevitt (bass) and Alejandro Castaño (drums). The group released the soothing, layered Alpenglow last summer after receiving the 2021 Performance Plus Grant from the Doris Duke Foundation and Chamber Music America. Booth composed all the songs, which highlight the varied skills of the seasoned performers.
Courtesy Silver & Gold

The Denver area has always been fertile ground for indie rock. Silver & Gold got its start at the University of Northern Colorado, where all five members were regulars at open mics and earned their music degrees a decade ago. Since then, the band has released a couple of EPs and a debut record in 2018, Point A — Point A. The music of singer/guitarist Devon Hildebrandt, bassist Brandon Vela, guitarist Pie Lombardi, drummer Taylor Drose and keyboardist Claire Jensen is spacey and soothing, even calm, and the band's new EP, Saving Faces, marks the evolution of Silver & Gold into one of the Front Range's most original indie bands.
Brad Stapleton

Elektric Animals has taken Denver by storm since forming in 2018, and released the five-song Channels EP, its much-anticipated debut, in 2022. Songs like "Come Clean" and "Woe Is Me" highlight the indie-rock group's ability to intertwine danceable, catchy hooks with moving, tight guitar solos that trickle over smooth bass lines. The band has worked its way to playing places like the Larimer Lounge and Lost Lake, where it offers high-energy sets that keep the crowd moving from the moment it takes the stage.

Fort Collins just seems to breed punk-rock acts, and Plasma Canvas has been one of the area's most popular punk bands for nearly a decade. After an intoxicating set at the Westword Music Showcase in 2022, the band released an absolutely addicting full-length, DUSK, in February. Showcasing the captivating vocals of lead singer and guitarist Adrienne Rae Ash, the album encapsulates a poetic, cathartic release, all wrapped in a relentlessly rocking punk package.
Courtesy FAIM

Catch FAIM while you can: Denver's most righteous hardcore punk band has announced that 2023 will be its last as a formal group. But the March release of new record Your Life and Nothing Else is evidence that FAIM isn't going quietly into the cold, post-punk rock night. Instead, the band approached this swan song with an anything-goes attitude and churned out the most diverse album of its short yet storied six-year run, proving that it isn't afraid to mix in screamo, shoegaze or crust elements. Listen, then make sure to see FAIM before it's too late.

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