By my count, there are nearly 600 active bands on the Front Range now — 600! And those are just the ones I'm aware of. With that many acts crowding the landscape, an artist has to be compelling as hell to stand out. But as I marveled in my year-end column last month, just when I think we're close to reaching critical mass in terms of quality, a new wave of intriguing artists surfaces. To wit: There are at least a dozen artists I'll be keeping an eye on this year, including these first six (check back next week for the rest).
Paper Bird (www.MySpace.com/paperthebird) is at the very top of my list. I'm hopelessly smitten with the vocals of this trio of ladies (Esmé and Genevieve Patterson and Sarah Anderson) and the pastoral backdrops created by their male counterparts (guitarist Paul DeHaven and Tyler Archuletta and Caleb Summeril, on trombone and banjo, respectively). Imagine a more beguiling Jolie Holland with the sublime, mellifluous, old-timey harmonies of the Chordettes. This is music to fall in love to — or with, as the case may be. Catch Paper Bird this Saturday, February 2, at Old Main on the University of Colorado campus in Boulder.
Ellison Park (www.MySpace.com/ellisonparkmusic) is another artist who will undoubtedly turn heads this year. Although he currently has only a pair of songs posted on his MySpace page, that's more than enough to give you a taste of his expressive and soulful bluesy pop. Equally impressive is Charley Brand (www.MySpace.com/charleybrand), who, coincidentally, started a thread on the DMB last week filled with effusive praise for Park. Fact is, Brand's a hell of a crooner in his own right, offering up an authentic take on neo-soul on par with that of cats like Musiq Soulchild, Maxwell, Craig David and Robin Thicke. I've had Brand in my sights since one of my colleagues told me about him after judging a KHOW talent contest a while back. He's grown immensely since then, and now seems poised to break through, especially on tracks like "Closer."
So does Aloft in the Sundry (www.MySpace.com/aloftinthesundrymusic). More than a year ago, my buddy Guv turned me on to these guys, swearing up and down that I'd dig 'em. I didn't. The material incorporated elements of spoken-word poetry, which struck me as a little too artsy. Fast-forward to now: The outfit just released Modestine, a brand-new album recorded at the Blasting Room, filled with melodramatic, piano-based pop in line with Panic at the Disco that's infinitely more compelling than its previous work.
As hesitant as I am to bolster the notion that our scene's some sort of bastion of piano rock — there's so much more happening here beyond that — there's at least one other outfit on my short list whose music is notably piano-heavy. Splitting the difference between the Heyday and the Fray in its more upbeat moments, Set Forth is the most radio-friendly of the bunch, which comes as no surprise. After all, the act reportedly formed at the urging of KISS-FM program director Chris Kelly, who suggested that Steve Melton and Tyler Ward put something together after seeing them perform individually at the University of Northern Colorado's Idol competition in 2005. Ward eventually parted ways with the group (he briefly gained notoriety for reworking Soulja Boy's "Crank That" during the Rockies' Series run last fall) and seems to be doing just fine on his own (www.MySpace.com/tylerward). So do the remaining members of Set Forth (www.MySpace.com/setforth), who are currently recording at the Blasting Room (which is steadily proving to be the studio). Unfortunately, the outfit doesn't have any songs to sample on its page, but several live videos are floating around on YouTube, if you're so inclined.
Upbeats and beatdowns: Props to Flobots. This past Saturday, KTCL added "Handlebars" to regular rotation, which will undoubtedly attract a flurry of interest. And the crew's already generated a sizable buzz thanks to energetic lives shows showcasing its heady take on hip-hop, as well as its laudable efforts in social and community activism.
As with most everything else in life, though, good news is generally accompanied by bad, and this week proved to be no exception. Two more bands have reached their end: Last week, the Autobiography declared that it is "Dead As F*ck" on its MySpace page, and Fight Like Hell has announced that after one final West Coast tour, it will play its last show on Saturday, March 15, at the Marquis Theater.