Moovers & Shakers 2008: Backbeat scribes weigh in on their favorite local releases of the year

Last week on Mile High Fidelity, my new show on 101.5 FM, I marveled at how we'd seamlessly segued from the station's regular programming to our all-local music mix. In the not-too-distant past, listeners might have made unconscious concessions for the homegrown work, assuming that the production and songwriting would be inferior. But these days, they're not. At all.

And that's a testament to the caliber of talent in this town, with its seemingly endless stream of gifted songwriters and musicians, not to mention producers, engineers and studios. That there's enough quality music being made here to sustain our weekly two-hour show — not to mention a half-dozen others — is beyond impressive.

As my colleague Eryc Eyl is so fond of saying, Denver has an embarrassment of riches. Only there's nothing to be embarrassed about. This has been another year for great music in the Mile High City, as you'll see from the write-ups below. While there were innumerable releases, these are the ones that stirred us the most, and often caused the most heated haggling over who got to weigh in on what — another testament. (For more picks visit blogs.westword.com/backbeat) — Dave Herrera


Moovers and Shakers

Abracastabya, Knees Together Ankles Crossed (Self-released). The poetic nonsense titles give just a hint of the thoughtfulness and sweeping emotionalism contained within each song. Impressively diverse yet sonically cohesive, this record owes a bit to Little Earthquakes while also showcasing the band's creative ambition. Fragile and intense, wise and brash, Abstab waste not a moment of your time. — Tom Murphy

Achille Lauro, Achille Lauro (Self-released). On its sophomore effort, the outstanding followup to You're Going to Live (And Other Nice Things to Hear), Achille Lauro continues to inject welcome strains of jazz into indie rock's well-worn template. Matt Close's smoky vocals sound as beguiling as ever against the warm Rhodes inflections, subtle rhythms and vibrant guitar lines. — Herrera

Action Packed Thrill Ride, A Loose Leaf Script (Self-released). In summoning the best backwoods hollers and chants from classic country recordings, Action Packed Thrill Ride also provides moments of soaring sensitivity and structural complexity uncommon to most imitators. Tunes like "Something Tells Me" break down alt-country barriers and stake out new musical ground. — A.H. Goldstein

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Adai, ...I Carry (Radar Recordings). Adai self-released ...I Carry in 2006, but even most locals didn't know about it until Radar Recordings wisely picked it up for national distribution this year. Now hard-rock fans here and beyond can revel in the achievement of Devin Mendoza and Justin Trujillo, whose blisteringly forceful approach can hold its own against the work of any guitar-wielding post-mathematician. — Michael Roberts

Astrophagus, For Boating (Bocumast Records). With its second full-length, Astrophagus cultivates a sound that is simultaneously simpler and more complex than its previous work. The experimentalism and noise that occasionally punctuated earlier recordings have been replaced by a laser-sharp focus on music and lyrics that get out of their own way and leave room for the songs to breathe deeply. — Eryc Eyl

Bad Luck City, Adelaide (Self-released). One of Denver's most consistently satisfying live acts follows its dark muses into shadowy stairwells and condemned motel rooms with nihilistic nonchalance. Andrew Warner, Gregor Kammerer, Josh Perry, Kelly O'Dea and Jeremy Ziehe heighten the suspense and fill in the horrifying blanks of Dameon Merkl's stories of decadence, dissipation and deviance. — Eyl

Andrea Ball, Beat Beat Pound (Self-released). Singer-songwriter Ball isn't tilling new soil, stylistically speaking. But she's confident enough in her expressive vocals, not to mention her guitar- and keyboard-playing ability, that she doesn't tart up Beat Beat Pound with intrusive instrumentation or faux melodrama. Her material, which ranges from the amusing "Machine" to the heartfelt "Funeral," is varied and smart enough to overcome its familiarity. — Roberts

Bottesini Project, Bottesini (CMW Records). Saxophonist Paul Riola has a knack for including high-caliber players in his purely improvisational shows, and on this two-disc live set, he pulled out all the stops, bringing in top-notch talent like Tortoise guitarist Jeff Parker, Nels Cline Singers drummer Scott Amendola, cornetist Ron Miles and DJ Olive. — Jon Solomon

Jason Cain, Endless Rolling Sea (Bocumast Records). Cain's sob-roughened vocals and bittersweet melodies have never sounded better than in this stripped-down solo set. Isolated from the sonic fleshiness of Astrophagus, his songs take on an even deeper shade of blue. The brief running time of the record (less than fifteen minutes) saves it from indulgent self-pity. — Eyl

Catch Lungs, Food for the Famished (Self-released). Catch Lungs is like Peyton Hillis busting through the scene, a rookie with a rapid-fire flow that's well showcased on his first project. It's a great taste of what hip-hop fans may get when his full-length album drops in 2009. — Quibian Salazar-Moreno

Dave Corbus, Sound Down (Jazzed Media). It's been five years since jazz guitarist Corbus released his debut, Trios Time, but Sound Down was worth the wait. He's sounding more fluid and confident on this date, recalling Lenny Breau on "Bluesette" and Pat Metheny on "Oleo de Mujer Con Sombrero" and the thoroughly swinging "Running Scared." — Solomon

Crowboy, Making Up for Lost Time, (Self-released). You can feel the swagger in the steady rhythms and speedy solos on this album, as Todd Redmond and Christopher Smith invoke the golden age of country-Western music. With equal nods to Waylon Jennings and Johnny Cash, the songs relate tales of crimes committed, drinks imbibed and muddy roads traveled. It's the perfect country formula. — Goldstein

d.biddle, Rabbit and the Moon (Self-released). Rabbit and the Moon is d.biddle's finest, most inspired work. Duncan Barlow's brooding, whispery croon rolls in ominously like an impenetrable fog over the band's glacially paced, vibrato-drenched lullabies. The swelling strings, slide guitars and plodding rhythms enhance the texture of this record, which is both comforting and unnerving. — Herrera

DeVotchKa, A Mad & Faithful Telling (Anti-). Nick Urata may not be taking home Bono money, but he's found a way to earn a nice living making music his way, even though he's the only one using his methodology. Then again, maybe that's his secret. DeVotchKa's amalgam of folk exotica and rock savvy infuses cuts such as "Transliterator" with the unique personality of their creator. — Roberts

Drag the River, You Can't Live This Way (Suburban Home Records). While this album contains plenty of twangy tones and heartfelt harmonies that place it squarely in an alt-country context, it also incorporates a more diverse set of influences. From hints of Sam Cooke in Chad Price's warm vocals to whiffs of traditional rural folk on tunes like "Brookfeld," Live incorporates much more than its surface elements. — Goldstein

Dressy Bessy, Holler and Stomp (Transdreamer Records). Since lead vocalist and guitarist Tammy Ealom took on the main brunt of writing duties for the band, Dressy Bessy's sound has veered from its poppier roots to much starker tones and distorted riffs. Holler is no exception, and while it suffers from some fits and starts, it maps the band's impressive progression in just the past year. — Goldstein

Enemy Reign, Means to a Dead End (Self-released). Enemy Reign clawed its way out of the womb fully formed. And almost immediately, the band, led by former Skinless vocalist Sherwood Webber, claimed its rightful place in the local metal hierarchy. Enemy Reign, impeccably recorded by Dave Otero, takes all the best moments of extreme metal and melts them down into the most precious of metal. — Herrera

Everything Absent or Distorted (a love story), The Great Collapse (Needlepoint). From the first exuberant blast of brass to the final fuzzed-out guitar riff, Everything Absent or Distorted's The Great Collapse is a microcosm of life's joy and sorrow rendered into a dozen unforgettable songs. Despite the band's everything-and-the-kitchen-sink approach, this album is focused, polished and capable of changing your life. — Cory Casciato

Eyes Caught Fire, The Chantepleur (Self-released). Informed by a weaving together of dreams and deep forays into the imagination, this release is generous on emotional catharsis. Much of the appeal of these songs is a soft, soothing quality, yet all hit with tidal-wave force, like the realization of your heart's secret yearnings calling from within. — Murphy

F.O.E., King of the Mountain (Self-released). Although this album/mixtape features nearly the entire Jewell Tyme Music roster, F.O.E. is undoubtedly the star. Backed by the street-funk production of 800 the Jewell, Chase Da Cat, Noodie and others, the collection showcases F.O.E.'s mastery of rhyme flow and cadence. No wonder everyone in the city is begging for an F.O.E. verse on their album. — Salazar-Moreno

The Fire Drills, Cheap Lies (Self-released). Its sparse content notwithstanding, Cheap Lies draws from a long and admirable list of influences. In its brief playlist, the record manages to summon hints of everyone from the Ramones to Cheap Trick. Guitarist and vocalist Brandon Richie does an impressive job of infusing the band's punk roots with a degree of balladry. — Goldstein

Fissure Mystic, XXX Single (Self-released). Proving that "prog" doesn't have to mean overly technical and lacking in emotional content, this three-song EP is a marvel of guitar wizardry and dynamic rhythms framing sentimental but never saccharine songs. If ever indie and classic rock had a nexus, it's on this audacious release. — Murphy

Ghost Buffalo, The Magician (Suburban Home). After a number of lineup changes, Ghost Buffalo faced the daunting task of reinventing itself. But rather than rehash the past, Matt Bellinger, Marie Litton and their new cohorts — drummer Jed Kopp and bassist Ben Williams — emerged with a heavier, even more enthralling guitar-driven sound. — Herrera

Git Some, Cosmic Rock (1-2-3-4 Go!). Cosmic Rock captures all the high-voltage visceral energy of Git Some's live shows, especially on the frenetic "Trixy Loves Misty" and the motoring "Nice Suit." Guitarist Chuck French puts it best when he says some of the songs will kick your ass and some will get you high. Yes, indeed. — Solomon

Glenn Taylor Orchestra, Glenn Taylor Orchestra (Self-released). Rarely is the pedal steel used outside of country music, but Glenn Taylor is one of the few who takes the instrument to completely different places, especially when he's playing with the Bottesini Project or Ron Miles. On this first-rate debut album, Taylor explores Afro-pop, ska and jazz and gets electronic help from laptop wizard CacheFlowe. — Solomon

Brad Goode, Polytonal Dance Party (Origin). Trumpeter Brad Goode can swing something heavy, but on this date he gets knee-deep in some elastic grooves that at times recall Miles Davis's late-'70s fusion excursions. He also deconstructs "Autumn Nocturne" and turns out energetic takes on Burt Bacharach's "Going Out of My Head" and Stevie Wonder's "Golden Lady." — Solomon

goP@Riot, goP@Riot (Self-released). The trio of drummer Nate Weaver, bassist Ben Williams and second bassist Sean Inman twitches, twists and turns more than a condemned man swinging below the gallows. While "fast-loud-ugly" seems to be the guiding esthetic, the trio's instrumental virtuosity and occasional concessions to melody and structure make for a surprisingly accessible experimental rock record. — Eyl

Hearts of Palm, The Bridge EP (Morning After/Illegal Petes). As Nathan & Stephen, this outfit set the bar high with an audacious debut that it seemed unlikely to match. With this limited-edition four-song EP, though, the rechristened band captured lightning in a bottle once again, with even greater exuberance and catchier songs. — Herrera

Hello Kavita, And Then We Turned Sideways (Self-released). This debut from Corey Teruya and company melds '70s California rock with Neil Young and a heaping helping of delicious melancholy to create the ideal soundtrack for sad sacks and intellectuals. Teruya's subtle, enigmatic and economical songwriting doesn't waste a word or a note in delivering its powerful punch. — Eyl

Fred Hess, Single Moment (Self-released). With an impressive mix of original flights and covers of jazz standards, this album is a testament to Hess's unique ability to reconcile jazz's traditional and avant-garde components in a single package. Takes on classics such as Rodgers and Hart's "Spring Is Here" side by side with original Hess compositions like "Norman's Gold" make for a seamless blend. — Goldstein

The Hollyfelds, Saratoga (Self-released). Vocalists Eryn Hoerig and Kate Grigsby, with help from the other Hollyfelds, make music that splits the difference between alt-country and the genre's mainstream — a difficult balancing act, but one they manage to strike more often than not. Tracks like "Empress of Wyoming" and "It's a Good Thing" are emotional yet accessible, with just the right touch of twang. — Roberts

Hungry Giant, [Under] Mining Skies (Self-released). Capturing the essence of being a creative person in a world seemingly hostile to such instincts, these songs document the urban experience in the high plains west with a ferocious intelligence and insight. This is atmospheric hip-hop with musicality at its core and creativity guiding its experimental twists and turns. — Murphy

Ichiban, Psycle Analysis (Self-released). This has been a benchmark year for Ichiban, from being crowned best MC at the Westword Music Showcase Awards to seeing this release crack CMJ's Top 20. The accolades are well deserved: Psycle Analysis is a hip-hop masterstroke, thanks to Ichiban's intelligent rhymes, smooth cadence and hook-infested production. — Herrera

Infinite Mindz, Monkey Rebellion Music (Self-released). Infinite Mindz pretty much took the local hip-hop scene by storm with its debut album. The album showcases tight beats, fresh lyrics, and a sound and vibe all its own. Although the group changed its lineup with the departure of Frankie Figz and the addition of Spoke In Wordz, it's still a group to watch out for. — Salazar-Moreno

Joe Thunder Presents Contact and Six O' Clock, Go for Broke (Self-released). While Contact and Six O' Clock are supposed to be the stars of this release, we're sorry to say they were outshone by the production and guests who were so freaking incredible. With some of Colorado's best MCs, like F.O.E., Deca and Distrakt, sprinkled throughout the project, and hot production from Kevin Pistol, Rude Boy and Status, it's a solid showpiece for local talent.


The Knew, Boom Bust (Self-released). The Knew's collaboration with producer and Hot IQs member Bryan Feuchtinger (who also oversaw last year's Holladay) has yielded another gem. "By Yourself," which is capable of taking control of hips whether their owner likes it or not, and the stop-start, rat-a-tatting charm of "Hey, Let's Live Together" make this EP a boom, not a bust. — Roberts

Laylights, Auricle (Self-released). Laylights builds upon and refines its atmospheric Brit-pop sound with unforgettable songs, impossible-to-ignore sonic complexity and powerful vocal risks. Drummer Martin Baker and bassist Chris Martucci have never sounded more confident and cohesive, driving Ian McCumber and Tyler Hayden's dense, atmospheric guitars straight into the rocks. — Eyl

Machine Gun Blues, I Hate the Machine Gun Blues (Self-released). Though the compressed recording and restrained performances fail to capture the cartoonish chaos of the Machine Gun Blues' live show, this EP adequately documents the glorious proto-garage-punk mess that the group was. There will be no more MGB live shows, so this is one for the vaults. And the bonus track is the ultimate middle finger. — Eyl

ManeLine, ...& Sew Its Seams (Self-released). Mane Rok, InkLine and DeeJay Tense share a knowledge of, and reverence for, hip-hop history that informs every syllable and groove on their latest platter. Rather than jump on the trend du jour, they move forward into the past in a manner that leaves tunes such as "All Alone" seeming fresher than anyone has a right to expect. — Roberts

Aakash Mittal, Possible Beginnings (Self-released). Throughout nearly every one of the original songs on Aakash Mittal's debut album, the young saxophonist and flutist draws as much from his Eastern Indian roots (a lot of tunes were inspired by family members) as he does from jazz history.Solomon

Natural Selection, Lasers in the Jungle (Bocumast). Natural Selection keeps itself rooted in two separate musical worlds, opening tracks with mechanical, robotic synth lines moments before invoking some of the most lush and warm tones from '70s funk on tracks like "Down Elevator." It's a combination that makes for heady moments, and Jungle boasts plenty of them. — Goldstein

On Point, One Nation Underground (Self-released). If you've been following hip-hop group On Point for the past few years, you'll notice how much it's grown in terms of lyrics, delivery and production on this mixtape. Mixed by Skip Ripken, One Nation shows growth and improvement on all levels and is a great appetizer for the act's upcoming album. — Salazar-Moreno

Only Thunder, Lower Bounds (Bermuda Mohawk). With all the verve and convicton of the style's originators, Only Thunder taps into the best elements of mid-'90s emo on its debut long-player, flying past familiar fenceposts of dramatic builds, angular riffs and soaring choruses while still managing to add its own bit of flair. — Herrera

Overcasters, Revolectrocution (Self-released). Bucking expectations suggested by the band's name, this music represents the embracing of life's experiences in all their variety as an affirmation of the vitality of existence. The electrifying dynamics, indigo atmospheres and swirling guitar interplay challenge and inspire, keeping the circuit between the head and the heart connected.— Murphy

Keith Oxman, Caught Between the Lion and Twins (Capri). Tenor saxophonist Keith Oxman absolutely kills it on his seventh album for the local imprint Capri. His tone is robust, and he swings like a madman on each of the dozen tracks, most of which were written by Oxman or pianist Marc Sabatella, who also adds some fine playing. — Solomon

Ellison Park, When Head Killed Heart (Self-released). A stunning debut from an exceptional new songwriter, this album finds Park grappling with existential matters over a bed of tasteful guitar work and subtle organ moans that leave plenty of space for him to stretch his stellar voice. — Herrera

Pee Pee, Castile Jackine Is Vooded at Broonus Mousin: Volume 1 (Self-released). Pee Pee delivers a set that mixes folk, pop and electronics into brilliant, uncategorizable and near-classic songs — and a few that make you wonder what the ensemble was thinking. Still, even in its most self-indulgent moments, such as the aptly named ten-minute "Freakout Jam," Castile is strangely fascinating and thoroughly listenable. — Casciato

Pictureplane/BDRMPPL, Trance Doll/Cyberpunk (Self-released). Charting the future of electronic music while appropriating the past, these tracks are subversively heady doses of playful sonic experimentation in which collages, synths, drums and a myriad of noises synch up with buoyant rhythms. Pictureplane makes any place a dance party, and BDRMPPL effectively creates electro-tribal chants like a jolly trickster shaman. — Murphy

The Pirate Signal, Of Gods and Gangsters (Self-released). It's been a couple of years since the Pirate Signal dropped its self-titled EP, but to hold fans over for the next year, the crew dropped this excellent mixtape. Mixed entirely by DJ AWHAT, Of Gods and Gangsters finds Yonnas spitting fire over original beats and remixes hits by 50 Cent, Kanye and M.I.A. — Salazar-Moreno

Rachael Pollard, A Good Thing (Self-released). Rachael Pollard is a gifted, thoughtful songwriter and captivating vocalist, with a unique voice and distinctive phrasing that make it easy to overlook her understated yet engaging guitar playing and the alluring poetry of the words she's singing. Good Thing was a long time coming, and definitely worth the wait. — Herrera

The Pseudo Dates, Because We Love You (Self-released). Although a good deal of this band's aesthetic is informed by the great pop bands of the '60s, there's nothing retro about their songs. The tight and incredibly catchy melodies on Because are infused with a disarming sensitivity and intelligence. Refreshingly void of irony and cynicism, Because We Love You has real heart. — Murphy

Purpose, Point Blank (Self-released). If Catch Lungs is Peyton Hillis, then Purpose is the Eddie Royal of the local scene. The first project of any kind from this rookie, Point Blank, mixed by Skip Ripken, is a solid exposé of the dude's lyrical skill and offers a glimpse of what's to come from this young MC. — Salazar-Moreno

Rabbit Is a Sphere, Hope Is a Cinder That Blinks Quietly Until You Die (Needlepoint). The running time of Rabbit Is a Sphere's four-song EP is less than twenty minutes, and not a second is wasted. Whether the band is lingering among hushed waves of droning feedback or building to a careening crescendo, it spends just the right amount of time creating compelling backdrops for incisive lyrics and strong, stirring melodies. — Herrera

Reverb and the Verse, Versatile (Self-released). The sound design conceived by producer Shane Etter, the longtime teammate of MC Providence "The Verse," more than lives up to this recording's title. His production approach encompasses the dense darkness of "Pair of Kings" and the spare funk of "Gun the Engine" without ever seeming schizophrenic. These hip-hop veterans are only getting stronger. — Roberts

Rose Hill Drive, Moon Is the New Earth (Megaforce Records). Nathan Barnes and the brothers Sproul are so young that their vintage-sounding blues-rock originals can't avoid feeling secondhand to some degree. But as their confidence grows, so does their willingness to steer off the main road and explore different genres, including psychedelia and pop. Such detours make reliable vehicles like "Trans Am" take off even faster. — Roberts

Set Forth, Set Forth EP (Self-released). Set Forth's debut is four songs of pristinely crafted pop — each a hit-in-waiting thanks to the always-dependable Midas touch of Christopher Jak and Andrew Berlin. Led by Steve Melton, whose vocals so closely resemble Adam Levine's that an ID check wouldn't be out of the question, Set Forth is poised to break. — Herrera

Slim Cessna's Auto Club, Cipher (Alternative Tentacles). Slim Cessna's Auto Club really outdid itself on Cipher. Everything there is to love about this band — the ferocious interplay of Slim and Munly and the way the two imbue their stirring backwoods spirituals with such a fiery, inimitable conviction — is deftly captured on this record, the act's most arresting to date. — Herrera

The Still City, Light and Machines (Self-released). The Still City's EP is a combination of ethereal emotion and rousing rock, featuring Ryan Murphy's punctuated synth lines, Brandon Roth's explosive drum fills and Brendan Gann's driving bass — all of which help ground lead singer Brian Knab's emotive, pleading vocals. It all makes for a novel combination, one that blends the dreamy and the straightforward in perfect amounts. — Goldstein

The Swayback, Long Gone Lads (Self-released). Guitarist Bill Murphy swears that the material he and his mates have been recording with Andy Johns cast a giant shadow on Long Gone Lads. It's hard to imagine another batch of tunes hanging together as nicely as these do. Sexed up and gritty, this is easily one of the best albums of the year. — Herrera

Taun Taun, For Us to Destroy (Self-released). Former Gamits helmsman Chris Fogal has always been a secret shredder, and here he finally indulges his inner Hessian. With the help of a superstar lineup, Fogal has taken local metal to breathtaking new heights, with mountain-crumbling rhythms, Guitar Hero-worthy leads and searing, monolithic vocals. — Herrera

teamAWESOME!, The Burnt Sienna Album (Self-released). A childlike innocence and abandon marks every element of this band, from its energetic live performances to its bright cover art. While Sienna, with its basic chords and surreal lyrics, fully captures that infantile allure, it also spotlights the group's impressive development and growth. — Goldstein

3OH!3, Want (Photo Finish Records). There's no way the exuberance Nathaniel Motte and Sean Foreman exhibit in a sweaty club can be pressed into plastic. Still, Want manages to translate their early Caucasian crunk effectively while simultaneously upping their radio-friendliness (exemplified by the irresistible "Don't Trust Me") in ways that should seem fatally compromised but somehow don't. Even Helen Keller would approve. — Roberts

Three Squared, Let's Play Ping Pong (P/X Music). Each of Three Squared's four musicians have either studied or performed with Ron Miles, and it's clear the trumpeter's influence rubbed off on these young cats, who are well versed in the way of the swing, especially on the angular Thelonious Monk-esque "Dunno" or locked in tight grooves. Whatever they do, it's usually unpredictable. — Solomon

Tickle Me Pink, Madeline (Wind-Up Records). The tragic death of bassist Johnny Schou in July served as a grim precursor and an inevitable anecdote attached to the band's freshman album. But the record boasts more than a macabre association. With a solid set of tunes rooted in '70s rock contours, the album boasts an impressive amount of skill and musical maturity. — Goldstein

Time, The Fantastic Reality (Self-released). To a song, this is one of the most innovative and lyrically brilliant hip-hop albums of the past several years. Borrowing imagery from Salvador Dalí and James Cameron, plus sounds and modified samples from a dizzying array of sources, Time has crafted an inspired masterpiece of poetry, flow and imagination. — Murphy

To Be Eaten, In the Clearing (Ash From Sweat Records). This band managed to distill the sub-logical exhilaration of black metal, the catharsis of hardcore and the razor-sharp precision of heavy prog into this mind-shattering collection of songs. The record embodies the word "ferocious"; most heavy music seems laughable by comparison. Keen intelligence and brutal intensity burn throughout. — Murphy

Under the Drone, Wasteland (Ace High Records). "Robot Red," Wasteland's opener, is four minutes of post-punk paranoia, with vocalist/guitarist Ben Gun squalling about how "they will control everything!" over a frantic bass-drums-guitar blitz courtesy of Mike Harper, Dave Harper and Justin Delz. The track sets the stage for an EP that's as eccentric as it is aggressive. That's a killer combination. — Roberts

Vitamins, Calliope (Self-released). One listen to Calliope makes it obvious that Vitamins has the chops to complement the spirit of playfulness and joyful exuberance that make this fusion of country, indie rock and jazz so charming and compelling. There is an innocence to this music, like a brilliant combination of the Feelies and Sesame Street. — Murphy

Wentworth Kersey, Wentworth Kersey (Plastic Sound Supply). George & Caplin's Jeffrey Stevens turns the so-called Denver sound on its ear by painstakingly building it from scratch with a tackle box full of electronic gadgetry. The austere and honest songs of acclaimed songwriter Joe Sampson provide the beautiful beating heart for this unexpectedly poignant and successful collaboration. — Eyl

Widowers, Widowers (Self-released). This highly anticipated debut deftly marries the psychedelic experimentation of the Constellations with Mike Marchant's simple, sunny, pop-folk songwriting. Listeners can admire and enjoy the undeniable hummability and stoner bliss on the surface or lose themselves in lairs and layers of sonic substance and complexity. Either way, it's a one-of-a-kind experience. — Eyl

The World Romantic, One Hundred Million Lights (Self-released). Sure, doe-eyed, melodic, lush, piano-laced rock has been done to death in recent years, even by some notable Denver bands, but this quartet dives in as if it's all brand-new and surfaces with a fresh and sincere take on the genre. James Dzuris's irresistible honey-and-heroin vocals will wear away your resistance. — Eyl

Wovenhand, Ten Stones (Sounds Familyre). Former 16 Horsepower frontman David Eugene Edwards sprinkled some dark and powerful magic all over the songs on Ten Stones. The album nearly encapsulates the band's incredibly potent live shows with some intense dynamics and buildups fueled by Ordy Garrison's propulsive tribal drumming. — Solomon

Yerkish, Fear Conquers America (Self-released). After recording two EPs, Yerkish has delivered a long-player that showcases the band's growth over the last three years. The newer songs, some of which are odd-metered excursions that ride the line between progressive rock and metal, have gotten more vigorous, and a few older songs were retooled to better represent where the band is now. — Solomon

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