Moovers and Shakers 2006

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Local year-end reviews

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, our town will be seared into the public consciousness for the next several months. And with two of our most celebrated homegrown acts up for Grammy awards, it's safe to say that the national spotlight has never burned brighter or hotter on our fair city.

Rest assured, Denver is ready for its close-up. The scene continues to evolve, with old favorites calling it a day and promising new acts stepping up to the forefront. And the level of artistry improves with each permutation, with sharper songwriting and better production. So weighing in on the best music coming out of the local scene this past year was a cinch; the sheer number of quality releases issued over the past twelve months is staggering.

As much as things have progressed, though, one constant remains: Our greatest asset is our diversity. Denver doesn't have a definitive sound, and that's good. Instead -- as you'll see from the 2006 incarnation of our annual Moovers and Shakers list below -- we have a slew of free-thinking auteurs following their own muse, making music that matters.

-- Dave Herrera

8traC, Falling Up (Open Channel Records). Plenty of good-time bands have difficulty translating the entertaining vibe they generate in clubs to the average boombox. Not so 8traC, a horn-happy bunch that combines impeccable musicianship with some mighty funky grooves. Whether they're pushing the tempo on "Let's Do It" or laying back on "All I Know," these players keep the party going. -- Michael Roberts

A Shoreline Dream, Avoiding the Consequences (Latenight Weeknight Records). Critics of the Dreamers dismiss the outfit's echo-laden vocals and gossamer instrumentals as pretentious and indulgent -- descriptors that are occasionally justified. Yet the sprawling soundscapes spun by Ryan Policky and his co-conspirators are frequently gorgeous and damnably difficult to resist. Only the terminally cynical will be able to avoid Consequences. -- Roberts

Astrophagus, Casualite (Helmet r00m Recordings). Not that many years ago, a majority of musicians tended to segregate traditional and electronic instrumentation. Fortunately, Astrophagus's Jason and Joshua Cain are more enlightened performers. On tracks such as "Square Parts of Houses," the Cains' juxtaposition of guitar and piano with computer-generated beats and blips offers a bracing argument for stylistic integration. -- Roberts

The Autokinoton, The Furnace Room Demos (Self-released). Sans a vocalist for the first time in many years, the Auto-K boys have triumphantly shot themselves full throttle into the deepest and darkest regions of instrumental space. Like getting spaghettified into a black hole, the band sucks you in hard toward its immeasurably tone-heavy gravitational center. Go forth, space monkeys! -- Tuyet Nguyen

badpenny, Cowboy vs. Skeleton (Self-released). Sandeigh Barrett talks in a slow Texas drawl and croons like a punked-out babe caught crushing on Hank Williams. Cowboy isn't your ma's country -- hell, it ain't even today's country -- but it is a sincere banjo-plucking, bass-thumping, dance-hall good time that'll lyrically break your heart and help you glue it back together. -- Nguyen

BaSheBa Earth, Mothership (Arketype Records). It's no surprise that BaSheBa Earth holds her own in a mike-to-mike showdown with Public Enemy's Chuck D on "Bladez of Tongue." She's an intelligent lyricist who knows there's a lot more to hip-hop than boasting about bling, and she verifies it on "Miked," a cut that's emblematic of her cool, conscious approach. -- Roberts

Bright Channel, Self-Propelled (Flight Approved). Like a tornado on the horizon, Bright Channel's latest is portentous and ominously exhilarating. Self-Propelled perfectly captures the bottomless whirlpools and soaring swells of sound that have made both the band's shows and its records endlessly awe-inspiring. Burningly ethereal apocalyptic rock for those unafraid to gaze into the abyss. -- Tom Murphy

John Common, Good to Be Born (Free School Records). The auspicious debut of former Rainville frontman John Common shares intellectual shelf space with mid-period Remy Zero and Radiohead. With supple vocals that glide from intoxicating purrs to forceful croons, Common weaves his way through intelligent, cinematic material that's thoughtfully augmented by well-placed samples, subtle brass accompaniment and murmuring keys. -- Herrera

Cowboy Curse, Nod Up and Down (to the Simulcast Singing) (Public Service Records). Seasonal Affective Disorder sufferers, take note: Cowboy Curse's debut full-length is like your own private sunbeam. Glowing with mellifluous melodies and harmonies, the trio's whimsical, lo-fi retro-pop is guaranteed to improve your mood immeasurably, even in its less upbeat moments. If there was a more enjoyable local disc released this year, I haven't heard it. -- Herrera

Deux Process, In Deux Time (Avatar). Following in the footsteps of their Procussion brethren, Vice Versa and Chief Nek bounced to L.A., signed a deal with Avatar Records and dropped a fresh album. In Deux Time celebrates hip-hop and life in general without the fellas taking themselves too seriously. Mostly self-produced, the record is a good step for Colorado hip-hop. -- Quibian Salazar-Moreno

DeVotchKa, Curse Your Little Heart (Ace Fu). DeVotchKa, which was just nominated for a Grammy for its contribution to the Little Miss Sunshine soundtrack, released this striking six-song set back in May. With covers of songs by Baldo Rex's Ted Thacker, Siouxsie and the Banshees and the Velvet Underground, as well as a traditional and a new take on the title track, Curse is devastatingly beautiful. -- Herrera

D.O. the Fabulous Drifter, Industry Guys (5 Points Plan Recordings). This CD's subtitle -- "An In-Depth Look at the Triumph and Tribulations of the Music Industry Through the Eyes of an Industrious Rhyme Veteran" -- hints at a whinefest. But D.O., of Ground Zero Movement fame, is blessed with tremendous flow, and he has such fine taste in backing tracks that even his complaints are worth hearing. -- Roberts

Dork, Suck It! (Self-released). Bryan Knoebel still sings with a voice that sounds like that of a six year-old girl. I'll be damned, though, if he and the rest of the boys don't finally have songs that match their moxie. Suck It is all over the place stylistically, but it represents a giant leap forward for the band in terms of songwriting. -- Herrera

Drag the River, It's Crazy (Suburban Home). Bands are rarely able to succinctly and accurately describe their music. But Drag the River nailed it this past summer when it described its sound for the Westword Music Showcase supplement as "country and Midwestern," meaning country influenced by Midwestern indie-rock bands such as Hüsker Dü and the Replacements. Hell, yeah, buddy! -- Herrera

Drop Dead, Gorgeous, In Vogue (Rise Records). The combustible second release from these precocious suburban wunderkinds was enough to pique the interest of acclaimed knob-turner Ross Robinson and, ultimately, Jordan Schur, who inked the act to Suretone, his new Geffen imprint. Bleak piano interludes, lurching riffs and turbulent squalls create the brutal backdrop for this larynx-mangling scream theater. -- Herrera

Everything Absent or Distorted, The Soft Civil War (Needlepoint). Married to romanticism (and all of the pitfalls that come with it), Civil War is a euphonious bond of pristine lullabied pop and angsty art rock. Maudlin affection runs high on this release, but it does so without caking on the mushy sentiment. Rather, it's a bold, self-reflective admission that all really is fair in love and war. -- Nguyen

Fear Before the March of Flames, The Always Open Mouth (Equal Vision). Open Mouth is filled with brutality and smarts -- an unlikely, and welcome, combination. Rather than stick to a single sound, David Marion and company explore hardcore, prog, emo and more with skill and confidence that's flat-out inspiring. It's not just a great disc by a Colorado band; it's a great disc, period. -- Roberts

Future Jazz Project, True by Design (Self-released). Jazz and hip-hop have hooked up in the past, but the pairing has seldom fared as well as it does on True. Credit excellent musicians led by a couple of Gregs (last names: Harris and Raymond), an impressive rhymer (Big House) and, especially, singer Selina Albright, whose soulful vocalizing sounds great now and in the Future. -- Roberts

Ghost Buffalo, Ghost Buffalo (Suburban Home). The proper full-length debut from Ghost Buffalo is a flawless autobiographical composition of relationship upheavals and downbeats. Marie Litton has written a novel in twelve tracks and bookended it with twangy alt-rock melodies. It's an emotional tale and a wonderfully self-effacing exercise in being a total bummer. Go ahead and cry it all out. -- Nguyen

Git Some, Yes, Have Some (Self-released). Git Some induces a raucous, unpredictable two-chord fury that is as evocative as the angry, early-'80s East Bay/D.C. scene. Almost too punk to be hardcore, but definitely too hardcore to be punk, Git Some actually manages to encompass the steely, ball-busting nerves of both. Get it while it's good. -- Nguyen

Beto Hale, American Mythology (Lalo Records). Raised on Mexican radio, Mexico City native Beto Hale learned early on to appreciate musical diversity -- and it shows on American Mythology, his sophomore effort. Sung half in English and half in Spanish, Mythology is an exotic, breath-taking excursion that finds the Berklee-trained multi-instrumentalist exploring several styles with equal aplomb. -- Herrera

Hamster Theatre, Mister Personality/ Quasi Day Room (Cuneiform Records). Hamster Theatre is known as one of the quirkiest combos ever to hail from these parts, and its recent two-CD recording does nothing to dim that reputation. Personality is an enjoyably odd studio disc that makes a perfect fit with Quasi, a live document that's thoroughly unhinged -- but in a good way. -- Roberts

His Beloved, Everything Is Beautiful (Self-released). Gospel music is seldom compared to anything like the Brand New Heavies, but His Beloved's debut brings a certain soulfulness to gospel that's hardly been seen. Consisting of female vocalists Nicole Walters and Melissa Vaz backed by a five-piece band, His Beloved has made the best soul album of the year. -- Salazar-Moreno

Hot IQs, Dangling Modifier (Yaw Action Records). With such an audacious debut under their belt, the Hot IQs had a lot to live up to on their second disc, Dangling Modifier. And once again, the trio exceeds indie-pop expectations with a brashly charming and intelligent set of songs whose diabolically catchy hooks rock as much as they stick in your head. -- Murphy

Invisible Orange, Valium (Mourning Star Records). The racket made by guitarist Adrian Moore, bassist Bruce Morgan, drummer Jason Brown and singer Donovan Breazeale is every bit as addictive as the medication celebrated in the title of their latest disc. The leviathan guitar patterns and gloriously plodding rhythms of "Sideways," "Black Rail" and the rest are a perfect prescription for stoner-rock junkies. -- Roberts

ION, Arma (Self-released). Sci-fi geeks and fans of 30 Seconds to Mars and A Perfect Circle will devour Ion's latest. Arma is a modern-rock concept album of sorts, based on a futuristic thread spun by drummer Gef Gust involving a female protagonist who leads the resistance against an oppressive new world order. The result is heady, textured and impressive. -- Herrera

Januar, The Way Back Home (Self-released). Reaching deep into the shadowy regions of their souls, the members of Januar expose their personal demons and end up finding peace and reconciliation with the ghosts of the past. The music on Home is delicately vulnerable, beautifully textured and often icily atmospheric. You'd be hard-pressed to find a more heartbreaking, yet hopeful, record this year. -- Murphy

King Rat, Duct Tape and Dreams (Self-released). King Rat's been on the scene for more than a decade, enduring numerous personnel shifts and releasing five albums -- and now it's put together its best work to date. Sticking to an unrelenting, no-frills, bare-knuckled approach, Luke Schmaltz and company sneer their way through a twelve-pack of old-school, three-chord gutter punk. -- Herrera

The Late Jack Redell, Orphanage Road (Satire Records). Although Jack Redell moved to Ohio more than a year ago, the guy's here so often it's like he never left. Not that anyone's complaining. Redell is a rare talent, and his latest disc finds the bard exploring an ambitious narrative style over seventeen tracks, backed by a cast of local luminaries. -- Herrera

Laylights, Laylights (Self-released). Splitting the difference between Longwave and Editors, Laylights Echo early U2, relying on chiming guitars, a driving kick and propulsive bass lines that combine to form a solid foundation for Tyler Haden's soaring vocals. Fine work from one of Denver's most promising bands. -- Herrera

Lion Sized, Lion Sized (Self-released). Lion Sized prides itself on playing a furious set of short songs from beginning to end with no breaks in between for idle chit-chat; the act's self-titled debut EP contains Swami-label-inspired rock that bears out that aesthetic. But it also reveals a surprising amount of nuance and texture performed at a hyperkinetic pace. -- Murphy

Los Dos and the New American Ramblers, Los Dos and the New American Ramblers (Self-released). The boys in Man Alive! have traded their punk-rock boots for some shitkickers and drawn on bluesy, grassroots influences to produce this mature three-song demo. It's down-tempo folk wrapped in an Old West charm that surely rivals any of those hipster hippies in San Francisco. Lo-fi never sounded so good. -- Nguyen

The Love Letter Band, Fear Not My Brothers, Fear Not My Sisters, For I Have Seen the Future and These Dark Clouds Will Part (Happy Happy Birthday to Me Records). Though performed with a fearless vulnerability, these songs hint at a gentle soul warily finding his way in a world of wonder, disappointment and disillusionment. The tenor of much of this release is one of deeply felt melancholy, but there's a defiant spirit at its core that refuses to surrender to cynicism. -- Murphy

Love.45, A Demo Diary (Self-released). When Love.45's debut failed to gain any traction nationally, the act parted ways with its label. But rather than give up the ghost, the quartet reloaded and headed back to Seattle to record this demo, with three songs that are every bit as tuneful and radio-friendly as the last batch. -- Herrera

Machine Gun Blues, Machine Gun Blues (Not Bad Records). Take the manic energy of Ian Svenonius and the volatility of the Giraffes, and attach it to a tattered, bloozy garage sound that conjures the MC5 and Stooges as filtered through the Blues Explosion: That's Machine Gun Blues. Although this EP perfectly captures the sloppy, booze-addled essence of the band's live show, at four songs, it's too short. -- Herrera

Meese, Our Album Year (Self-released). Since earning a nod in Moovers and Shakers 2005, Patrick and Nathan Meese, the group's principal tunesmiths, have progressed significantly as songwriters. This time out, Meese's expertly rendered piano-driven pop benefits from stronger, more memorable melodies, tighter harmonies and an overall better sense of dynamics. -- Herrera

Ron Miles, Stone/Blossom (Sterling Circle Records). In a preview of a CD-release party on page 31, trumpeter Miles describes the differences between this set's two discs: The first captures a moody quartet session, while the second spotlights a larger ensemble tackling material with pop undertones. Nevertheless, the platters share the high quality that listeners have come to expect from this jazz mainstay. -- Roberts

Mood Syrup, Mood Syrup (Self-released). These guys sound for all the world like the Stooges in a head-on collision with Soundgarden, as frontman Lloyd Arcesia's vocals fly above, and roll around in, boiling rhythms and fiery guitars. It's too bad they didn't stick around long enough to make good on the immense promise of this all-too-short release. -- Murphy

The Motet, Instrumental Dissent (Self-released). Led by Dave Watts -- a timekeeper with a yen for traditional African and Cuban rhythms who's known for bashing the skins with skilled abandon -- the Motet's latest release highlights an ongoing ability to embrace new realms by blending breakbeats, house and down-tempo grooves with the group's first loves (Afrobeat and salsa). -- Nick Hutchinson

Motheater, With the Golden Dawn Upon Us, We Knew Our Love Was Doomed (Sleeping Giant). Don't call this band self-indulgent; lead vocalist Mike Reisinger hates that. But it is acceptable to describe Golden Dawn as an intelligent amalgamation of heavy-handed hardcore and self-reflective lyricism. It's audaciously good, and travels the spectrum between doom-esque drudge and delicate hi-fi guitar instrumentation. Okay, maybe it's a little self-indulgent. -- Nguyen

Mustangs and Madras, Le Lechuza (Snake Fork). Who knew that Longmont could churn out such stellar and impassioned musicians? Le Lechuza rocks that mid-'90s post-whatever sound that culls influence from locally popular Midwestern acts such as Ricky Fitts, Ten Grand and Shiner. It's impetuous and smart, but never undermining. Damn, L-town, you did good. -- Nguyen

My Calculus Beats Your Algebra, Shackleton's Dogs (Ash From Sweat). My Calculus isn't so much an overrated act as it is an underappreciated one -- and understandably so. Dogs is the prototypical anti-pop record. Draped in squeals and clicks, it's a grand caravan of noise conceptualized as the soundtrack to a bleak journey across an unforgiving Antarctic landscape. Brrr? Try brrr-illiant. -- Nguyen

My Sister Outlaw, Variations on a Theme (Self-released). Sounding something like Fire Party gone eclectic and, at points, darkly psychedelic, this second offering from My Sister Outlaw showcases the band's richly varied approaches to songwriting. Melodic vocals guide songs that are alternately joyous, lurid, melancholy and brash, with a defiantly energetic edge. -- Murphy

No Fair Fights, No Fair Fights (Self-released). Listening to No Fair Fights' impressive seven-song debut, it's hard to believe this is the same generic pop-punk band I watched audition for Robert Metzgar two years ago at the American Music Auditions. Somehow the act has since assembled a polished, prog-inflected, melodic metalcore sound that nods to Killswitch Engage while capturing the intensity of Underoath. -- Herrera

Orbit Service, Songs of Eta Carinae (Beta-lactam Ring Records). Orbit Service often invokes the feeling of wearied, psyche-shattering angst drowning in a wine-dark sea of isolation. Randall Frazier traces the outlines of a personal hell so bleak it makes The Wall seem cheerful by comparison. The beauty of Songs of Eta Carinae, however, lies in its stark portrayal of emotional depths better left unvisited. -- Murphy

The Pirate Signal, The Pirate Signal (Self-released). The Pirate Signal unexpectedly blew the doors off the local scene this year with its tremendous self-titled EP. Working double time as producer and MC, Yonnas's hunger shows throughout the project, and you can't help but respect his hustle. The upcoming album is expected to be off the chains. -- Salazar-Moreno

Planes Mistaken for Stars, Mercy (Abacus). Planes' latest album is the culmination of almost a decade's worth of recording and touring, a roaring declaration of an act that has always been known as the little band that could. Furious and inspired, infused with rock-and-roll ardor and weighted with emotion, Mercy cries for absolutely no mercy. -- Nguyen

Playalitical, Code Green (Illuminated Records). How strong is Code Green? The guest spot by the Game on "Fade Away" isn't the most notable thing about it. Playalitical is a compelling rapper and wordsmith, and the production heard on the likes of "The New West" and "Doin It Wrong" is worthy of comparison to the work of major playas. -- Roberts

The Procussions, 5 Sparrows for 2 Cents (Rawkus). Although they may not be considered local anymore since they now reside in L.A., the Procussions continue to represent Colorado everywhere they go. With uplifting and meaningful content, 5 Sparrows, the Pros' Rawkus debut, continues in the spirit of their last outing and illustrates their maturity with exceptional production and song structure. -- Salazar-Moreno

Rabbit Is a Sphere, Laps in the Sleep Saloon (Needlepoint Records). Rather than toss off tired platitudes, Rabbit Is a Sphere comments on the human condition with compassionate warmth while still having the guts to critique the hubris of our self-destructive civilization. The band's richly atmospheric music speaks for itself, with sonic outrage and dreamy cadences of gorgeous melodies. -- Murphy

Rose Hill Drive, Rose Hill Drive (Megaforce). Rose Hill Drive's debut full-length was well worth the wait. The Boulder three-piece shelved earlier sessions overseen by Brendan O'Brien in favor of allowing itself to develop as a band organically on stage. The move paid off: Producer Nick DiDia has figured out a way to harness the energy of the trio's rocking live sets while maintaining a raw edge. -- Herrera

The Sputter, Great Unseen (Bocumast Ltd.). Instrumental music can actually be good, as demonstrated by Miles Davis, Pink Floyd, Radiohead, and now, key-driven local acts such as the Sputter. Brewing loose jazz grooves with propulsive percussion and effects-laden organ, the music percolates like good coffee after an all-nighter. Overall, Great Unseen is weird, yet likable. -- Hutchinson

Angie Stevens, Stand Up Girl 2 (Self-released). The second in a pair of consecutive releases, Stand Up Girl 2 is a stripped-down affair compared to its glossier predecessor, which benefited from the full-band treatment. Here, Stevens's contemplative songs shine within a starker framework, which puts the emphasis on the words, making them even more poignant. -- Herrera

Stoned Emotion, Stoned Emotion (Self-released). Stepping up with finely crafted songwriting, solid vocals, rocking instrumental prowess and good production, Stoned Emotion offers a mélange of jam-band and classic rock that owes much to the pen of principal songwriter and lead guitarist Phil Dudden. Scintillating cuts such as "Love," "All the Same" and "A Long Time Ago" leave you longing for a followup. -- Hutchinson

The Swayback, Forewarned (W.A.R.?). The Swayback boldly exposes four distinct personalities in four tracks. The title cut combines lip-licking goth slink and Chuck laces-in-your-faces, while "Earring in the Shag" heads for '69 Detroit. Meanwhile, Eric Halborg talks to angels on the acoustic blues of "Down by the Tracks," and the "Forewarned" remix leaves you positively sticky. -- Eryc Eyl

Sweet Sunny South, Live From the Radio Room (Two Dolla Records). Paonia-based Sweet Sunny South had tongues wagging in Telluride this year with its standout brand of traditional-sounding bluegrass. Reeling off hot ones including "Two Dolla Pistols," "Me and My Old Still" and "Four Eyed Boy," South shines brightly on this live recording, like a new moon over the high country. -- Hutchinson

Tarmints, Toil Like Devils (Denver Coffee Achievers). The Tarmints have always written darkly cathartic, visceral rock that sounds like it was written in some New Orleans cemetery. On its latest release, however, the band explores new terrain and experiments with dynamics. Harrowing and unbelievably intense, Devils is arguably the act's finest, most representative recording to date. -- Murphy

Eddie Turner, The Turner Diaries (NorthernBlues). In the wrong hands, the blues can seem like a genre whose time has come and gone. Thankfully, Turner, with a big assist from gifted producer Kenny Passarelli, rips into "Dangerous" and the rest rather than treating them with kid gloves. His hands couldn't be more right. -- Roberts

Halden Wofford & the Hi-Beams, Midnight Rodeo (Self-released). Okay, some of the music on this country-music throwback is sorta silly. But Wofford's sky-scraping vocals and his bandmates' mastery of C&W verities on "Don't Care If I Do" and "Road to Old Mexico" more than compensate for those moments when the fun turns goofy. On Midnight Rodeo, the Hi-Beams lasso a winner. -- Roberts

Wovenhand, Mosaic (Sounds Familyre). With 16 Horsepower behind him, David Eugene Edwards is free to take his music into ever more foreboding areas -- and he takes advantage of the opportunity on Wovenhand's latest. Mosaic may unnerve some listeners, but the eerie atmosphere of "Swedish Purse" and other standouts metaphorically evoke the challenge of remaining faithful in a harsh, unforgiving world. -- Roberts

Yonder Mountain String Band, Yonder Mountain String Band (Vanguard). Although these bluegrass boys from Nederland have been shoved into the jam pigeonhole, they can do a lot more than noodle. Under the supervision of producer Tom Rothrock (Beck, Elliott Smith), the Stringers apply their virtuosity to a solid batch of actual songs on their first disc for the venerable Vanguard imprint. The results are thoroughly invigorating. -- Roberts

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