When considering the best Denver pop acts of 2018, we had to consider what distinguishes “pop” from all the other music genres. The answer? Nothing, really, since these days, pop music — what you might hear on mainstream, general audience radio stations — isn’t one agreed-upon sound. The acts that populate this list contain elements of psychedelic rock, garage rock, R&B, hip-hop, avant-garde, disco, punk and much more. Yet none of them adhere to genre restrictions — say, the pedal steel and storytelling required of country music — and instead have fun churning influences into irrepressible melodic mixtures. Perhaps the only criteria of true pop is something all of these acts meet: They write songs that get stuck in your head.
In alphabetical order, here are ten of Denver’s best pop acts of 2018:
The alt-rock synth-pop band has been a favorite of Denver radio stations like 93.3 since it broke on the scene in 2014. The quartet has thrived both in Denver and beyond, landing an opener slot on tour with Saint Motel and delivering energetic performances across the country. This year, Brennan Johnson and crew expanded their audience with a set at the inaugural Grandoozy festival. The suit-clad group is planning to kick off 2019 on a different note: unplugged, in a rare acoustic set at Third & James Studio.
After a nearly eight-year break, Dressy Bessy returned in 2016 with Kingsized and has been ramping up energy ever since. The twenty-year power-pop veterans have wielded influence on fizzy garage-pop acts like Tacocat, Bleached and even local band the Corner Girls, but Tammy Ealom and company are as present and urgent as ever. Dressy Bessy’s seventh album is slated for release in 2019, and its candy-coated guitar pop encourages you to hum along as you rage.
Nineteen-year-old Elina Odnoralov began performing under the name Iolite in 2016, and within months was a finalist for 93.3’s Hometown for the Holidays competition. She then moved to Nashville to jump-start her career as a singer-songwriter, gaining success licensing her songs for use in commercials and penning songs for pop artists. In November 2018, Odnoralov was carjacked and then shot, the bullet passing through her torso but miraculously missing vital organs and bones. She’s been recuperating with family in Denver and continuing to make music; latest single “Lonely Bodies” is indicative of her exceptional, evolving dance pop with striking lyrics, a natural way with a hook, and dark sophistication that recalls Lorde.
Lifelong Denverite Kayla Marque weaves her personal experiences — with heartbreak, anxiety, sex, whatever — with sensual grooves, heartfelt vocals and musical cues from folk to soul, indie rock to hip-hop. Voted Denver’s favorite singer-songwriter at the 2018 Westword Music Awards, Marque has been juggling multiple jobs while performing in town.
The Milk Blossoms
The Milk Blossoms released their sophomore album Dry Heave the Heavenly this year, building on the eerie, genre-defying pop sound that first garnered them an attentive audience. Singer and ukulele player Harmony Rose, keyboardist Blair Larson and beatboxer and vocalist Michelle Rocqet all contribute to the band’s distinctive sound: innovative, eclectic, poetic, fragile yet fierce.
Formed in 2016, Oxeye Daisy sprouted bright and beautiful in Denver’s music scene with its self-titled debut in 2018 and has grown to surprising heights already. Self-described as “the Cranberries on acid,” Oxeye Daisy delivers tuneful gems drawn from the sounds of dream pop, doo-wop and ’90s alternative. Lela Roy’s standout vocals power uptempo yet sensitive power pop, but the band is still growing its sound: Stephen Pamas of Hello, Mountain joined on guitar/synths this fall to add “texture and weirder sounds” to the already dynamic songs.
Voted by Westword readers as the Best Pop Act of 2017, synth-pop act Retrofette has continued to gain fans with its keyboard-centric, ’80s-throwback party tunes. When we say keyboard-centric, we mean it: The band has four members and two keyboards. The group’s jams sound like a dance-floor tryst between Rick Astley and Chromeo, with just the right amount of irony.
Duo Tennis has been a stalwart representative of the Denver pop scene since breaking nationally with 2011’s wave-bobbing Cape Dory. Alaina Moore and Patrick Riley’s 2017 album Yours Conditionally includes layered songs like “Ladies Don’t Play Guitar,” which floats pointedly sarcastic lyrics over warm ’70s pop. In early 2018, while touring behind the album, Moore collapsed because of a viral infection and had to cancel some dates. The pair returned to the road this fall with a “Solo in Stereo” set, stripped of a backing band, delivering intimate performances with Moore on piano and built-in time for audience questions.
Wildermiss got its band name when vocalist Emma Cole realized she was literally “missing” the “wilderness” — riding through the mountains while staring at her phone, trying to think of a band name. Everyone seems to be taking note of the quartet’s radio-friendly, Paramore-esque pop rock and its sweet lead single “Carry Your Heart.” Wildermiss broke big in the Mile High City, and seems positioned to venture boldly beyond its borders in 2019.
YaSi, born Yasmin Azimi, is an American-Iranian singer-songwriter who channels a cool yet vulnerable R&B groove and the sensual sonic mash-ups of Ariana Grande — but with harder edges. YaSi has made a name for her music and for herself as an artist by performing at diverse events around the area, including the Westword Music Showcase and Denver Open Media’s Open Music Sessions, even recently selling out the Larimer Lounge.
Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.