Moovers and Shakers 2012: Backbeat writers praise the year's best local albums

Moovers and Shakers 2012: Backbeat writers praise the year's best local albums

When most people thought of the music coming out of Denver this past year, odds are they thought about the Lumineers – with good reason. The outfit had a banner year: From being certified gold on the strength of a breakthrough single and garnering a pair of Grammy nominations, to ending 2012 as a musical guest on Saturday Night Live and headlining two nights at the Ogden, the band has come a long way in a relatively short time. It wasn't all that long ago that the Lumineers were playing to humble crowds at the Meadowlark, just like many of the acts below. While these artists haven't yet gained the level of acclaim the Lumineers are currently enjoying, they're worthy of the same attention. These local musicians put out some of our favorite music made anywhere this year. — Dave Herrera

See also: Backbeat writers sound off on the year's best national albums

A Boy and His Kite, A Boy and His Kite (Self-released). Up until now, Dave Wilton has been mostly working behind the scenes at St. Ida's, a studio in Lafayette owned by members of the Autumn Film. Audaciously stepping out on his own with A Boy and His Kite, Wilton absolutely soars with an intelligent batch of gentle yet affecting songs that are as thoughtful as they are tuneful. — Dave Herrera


Moovers and Shakers

AG Flux, Scenic Exchange (Self-released). All of the Black Mask albums that came out this year have their merits, but AG Flux's Scenic Exchange has a musical progression and continuity that makes his album special. For nearly an hour, he has you in his world with his classic sound and captivating lyrics. — Noah Hubbell

Bad Weather California, Sunkissed (Family Tree). While most bands were looking to sound vintage in 2012, Bad Weather California remained in the present, delivering a straight, elegantly produced summer party album. Soulful yet accessible, emotionally rich yet debaucherously freewheeling, Sunkissed will be remembered as one of the great warm-night record selections, a backyard-barbecue soundtrack in the tradition of The Chronic, 40 Oz. to Freedom and Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots. — Josiah Hesse

BLKHRTS, CHRCH (Self-released). One of a string of releases from BLKHRTS early in the year, CHRCH encapsulates the crew's appeal. From the pounding kick and heart-swelling organ opening of "Dirt, Money & Friends" to the early-morning introspection of "The Water," it's gruff, dark, honest and powerful, and it easily transcends any notion of hip-hop expectations. — Patrick Rodgers

The Bronze, Snake Oil (Self-released). Like Dio-era Black Sabbath trimmed to the essentials without skimping on the kick or bite, the Bronze offers crunchy and fiery guitar work on songs about the devil, personal demons, cosmic peril and overcoming adversity with the sheer force of your rebellious spirit. Rarely has this sort of thing sounded more legitimate than cartoonish. — Tom Murphy

Calder's Revolvers, Steady by Your Side (Self-released). Driven by muscular riffs and bass lines and fueled by Andy Schneider's powerhouse vocals, this is a glorious and rewarding listening experience from beginning to end. A perfect blend of rock and soul, Steady is easily one of the best albums of the year. — Herrera

Centimani, Aegaeon (Dark Millennium Records). One of the most bracing metal albums of the year comes from a band based in the most unlikely of places: Boulder. Seamlessly welding together elements of black and death metal as though they were always meant to be conjoined, Centimani electrifies on Aegaeon with perfectly orchestrated menace, deftly recorded by Steve Goldberg of Cephalic Carnage. — Herrera

Myke Charles, Lift Off (Self-released). The title and associated cover art for the debut mixtape from Myke Charles couldn't be more fitting. Lift Off effectively launched Charles as a rapper to be reckoned with in his own right, aside from the exposure he gained through The Sing-Off on NBC as a member of the Urban Method and, before that, as Purpose from the Fresh Breath Committee. — Herrera

Chimney Choir, (ladder) (Self-released). Enjoyable as a set of warmly delicate, well-crafted Americana pop songs or as an accessible, high-concept experimental album, (ladder) bridges the gap between the editing of a studio recording and the spontaneity of a live performance. Here, Chimney Choir liberally experiments with sound and its many possibilities and uses. — Murphy

DJ K-Tone, Left Lane Music (Self-released). DJ K-Tone merges into the fast lane with his latest release. A collection of some of the best artists Colorado has to offer, as well as established national artists like E-40, Young Joc and Big K.R.I.T., Left Lane is full of viral street classics like Tone Skarfo's "I'm Fresh" and Esi Juey's "Bring Me the Chalupa." — Antonio Valenzuela

Dale Bruning Trio, Just Between Us (Jazz Link Enterprises). Recorded over two nights at Dazzle, Just Between Us finds guitarist Dale Bruning in fine form, performing again with former student Bill Frisell twelve years after the two released the live duo album Reunion. A lot of these cuts are laid-back and understated, a hallmark of both Bruning's and Frisell's style. — Jon Solomon

Patrick Dethlefs, Fall and Rise (Self-released). While the songwriting on Patrick Dethlefs's debut, 2010's Stays the Same, showed a great deal of depth, his sophomore release, Fall & Rise, makes it even more apparent that he has talent beyond his years. Dethlefs has a warm, rich delivery that recalls a young Jackson Browne filtered through Ray LaMontagne. — Solomon

DeVotchKa, Live With the Colorado Symphony Orchestra (Cicero Recordings). DeVotchKa frontman Nick Urata clearly has a knack for writing sprawling and cinematic music, as evidenced on last year's 100 Lovers. But hearing songs from that album and others performed with the Colorado Symphony adds to the splendor of it all. Backed by lush symphonic instrumentation, DeVotchKa's music sounds all the more majestic. — Solomon

Dyad, Cyberia (Self-released). Like a Giorgio Moroder record made in the age of Ableton, Cyberia is much more than the result of a modern band appropriating analog synth sounds to evoke an '80s vibe. What you get here is a set of well-composed experimental electronic compositions informed by both Kraftwerkian motorik beats and IDM. — Murphy

Ending People, Fill Your Lungs (Cash Cow Production). Given the pedigree of the people involved here, it's hardly surprising that the music created by Ending People is completely captivating. But even if the names were unfamiliar, the driving, synth-based songs on Fill Your Lungs, propelled by pulsing bass lines, shimmering, reverb-drenched guitars and the entrancing vocals of Erin Roberts, would immediately draw you in. — Herrera

Epilogues, Cinematics (Greater Than Collective). A long time coming, the eagerly anticipated Cinematics lives up to its name with a widescreen, multi-dimensional brand of alt-rock that seems to be the veritable offspring of Muse. It cribs from that act's sprawling anthemic tendencies while tapping into the claustrophobic isolation of its de facto muse, Radiohead. Exceedingly well done and definitely worth repeated listens. — Herrera

Epoch When, GRIM (Self-released). Epoch When has time to grow, and that's what makes him so exciting. He's already developed his own sound, and on GRIM, he proves that he also has serious songwriting abilities. The album has a vulnerability that most rappers won't go near, plus progressive production that goes to exciting places. — Hubbell

Fingers of the Sun, Sleepy (Hot Congress). While not quite as memorable as Fingers of the Sun's debut effort last year, this EP still delivers some infectious short gems from one of Denver's best songwriting duos — along with the courageous (if ill-conceived) 27-minute "Careful With Those Sleeping Pills, Percy." With a tranquil, under-the-sea psychedelia, this narcoleptic concept album is sure to deliver the dreams of tangerine trees and marmalade skies from which it took its inspiration. — Hesse

Flobots, The Circle in the Square (Shanacie). Many folks counted Flobots out after the act parted ways with Universal. But those people underestimated the group's resolve: Flobots regrouped, recommitted and returned with a new vigor. While the outfit may never again realize the acclaim it once had, Circle in the Square finds Flobots thriving artistically and continuing to make layered, expressive, intelligent music. — Herrera

Fred Hess Big Band, Speak (Alison Records). Similar to previous outings by Fred Hess and his big band, Speak borrows from the '50s while looking toward the future with its intricate arrangements. Hess and the band, which includes some fine local talent alongside New York-based drummer Matt Wilson and trombonist John Fedchock, have outdone themselves on this one. A superb effort throughout. — Solomon

Glass Delirium, Diamond Lullabies (Self-released). Glass Delirium's Diamond Lullabies is the kind of album that takes a genre of music and pushes it far beyond its usual boundaries. Crisp yet expansive melodies and tastefully creative guitar work help elevate this sonically rich, imaginative metal record. — Murphy

Goer, Like Minds EP (Self-released). The second of four Goer EPs released in 2012, Like Minds is an electronics-infused post-rock jamboree sure to resonate with fans of Radiohead (Kid A or later) and similar acts, comprising a pleasing blend of bright, plucky guitar lines with synthetic washes, heavy reverb and richly layered percussion. Opener "Gold Stars & Stickers" sets a tone and quality that are maintained throughout the record. — Rodgers

Greencarpetedstairs, Greencarpetedstairs (Fake Four). Neil Ewing's knack for taking the weird and making it accessible is brought strongly to bear on this album. A fully realized fusion of noise and hip-hop, Greencarpetedstairs has a cool and haunting undertone moving through it that contrasts with the sultry, uptempo elements of each song. — Murphy

Grizz, CrazyWorld (Whiskey Baptist Music). Grizz is raw and has an attitude, but he's deep, too, and can speak volumes in a minute. Plus his flow is rock-solid on CrazyWorld. The album's production comes from several sources, but it's well chosen and cohesive, and Grizz demonstrates his talent for beatmaking. — Hubbell

GRiZ, Mad Liberation (Self-released). Fresh to Colorado soil, GRiZ showcases the musical diversity that a modern producer must face head-on these days. On Mad Liberation, he tackles the challenge deftly, with monstrous bass drops and complex drum lines interspersed between glorious melodies and revived hip-hop samples. — Britt Chester

The Gromet, Barren (Self-released). Continually improving with each release, the Gromet is at its absolute best on Barren. With memorable melodies and pleasing harmonies bolstering sturdy arrangements and instrumentation, the outfit gives a nod to both the Grateful Dead and the Band — but in a compelling way that's completely worthy of the comparison. — Herrera

Holophrase, Horizons of Expectation (Self-released). Like a nightmare unfolding, Horizons of Expectation contains a sense of menace delivered with oddly organic precision. But the disorienting rhythms are festooned with sharp, often alien sounds that keep you coming back to these songs as though they were some kind of tantalizing mystery to be solved. This record is like a long-lost H.P. Lovecraft story made into music. — Murphy

Iconocaust, Excidium De Gratia (Self-released). Iconocaust trades in the kind of metal forged in Gothenburg, Sweden, and made famous in this country by bands like Shadows Fall and Killswitch Engage. On Excidium De Gratia, the outfit delivers an airtight four-song EP of fleet-fingered riffs, rhythms that bludgeon with relentless ferocity and melodies that mesmerize, setting the stage for great things to come. — Herrera

I'm a Boy, Sensation (Self-released). Many artists try to create that elusive great pop record their whole career. Jimmi Nasi has been trying for more than two decades, and he's finally put together a group of brilliant power-pop songs that come complete with a sense of nostalgia that never comes off as trite. The resulting Sensation offers a compelling blend of sophistication and unfeigned innocence. — Murphy

I'm With Her, Songs We Said Goodbye To (Boss Koala). Keying in on the best parts of her songwriting and fleshing them out with the help of multi-instrumentalist and vocalist Haley Rydell, Angie Stevens has never sounded better. Just as you find love when you finally stop looking for it, when you simply play from the heart and forget the rest, you write the best songs. And that's the case here. — Herrera

Turner Jackson, Star Destroyer (Self-released). Since first emerging on the scene, Turner Jackson has shown tons of promise as an MC. But on Star Destroyer — whose cover art couldn't be more illustrative — he establishes himself as a bright, shining new star evoking the Native Tongues era, rapping assuredly and unhurriedly over the masterful production of Big J Beats. — Herrera

Joy Subtraction, The Essential Joy Subtraction (LGL Records). On this release, Joy Subtraction embarks on a ferocious and humorous takedown of the political vultures that have been feasting on the body politic since the early '80s. Commentary aside, this can also be enjoyed purely as an inspired post-punk record. Arch clangor and menacing rhythm course through every song like a defiant spirit that refuses to keep quiet. — Murphy

The Kevin Costner Suicide Pact, My Hand Holding a Still Photograph of the Same Scene (Hooker Vision). Stretching all semblance of melody further out into ambient bliss, this album finds the Kevin Costner Suicide Pact dispensing with most of its previous songwriting conventions. Each track is like an abstract-expressionist painting, except that the overarching mood trickles hypnotically into the mind to create an inexplicable sense of peace and occasional unease. — Murphy

King FOE, J.U.N.K.I.E (Self-released). Yet another release from the BLKHRTS camp, King FOE's J.U.N.K.I.E is an expressive album that finds dark solace in recreational substance abuse, as FOE and the other BLKHRTS take listeners on a trip down the rabbit hole of addiction. — Chester

The Knew, Man Monster (SFP Records). Maybe it's the way these songs carry you away with their exuberance. Maybe it's the way these guys switch up the urgent dynamics of the tracks. Maybe it's an inexplicable sense of familiarity. Whatever it is, there's not a dud in this bunch. — Murphy

Last Eyes, These Wonderful Evils (Planted Tapes). You can practically hear a sense of isolation, boredom and loneliness underlying these recordings. The layers of noise under fuzzy melodies and complementary rhythms make for the kind of otherworldly ambient composition that seems to be the embodiment of daydreaming, transmogrified directly from imagination into sound. — Murphy

Lust, Dark Water (Self-released). Dark Water is like a late-night disco-noir soundtrack for a never-released Emmanuelle sequel. Its sweaty, pulsing beats seem to be simultaneously slowed down and sped up; noises are drawn out to a grind, but the kick throbs steadily in a four-on-the-floor rhythm. The title track makes dance floors writhe thanks to distorted post-punk bass, groping synths and a swinging cowbell. — Rodgers

Maudlin Magpie, Two Maple Keys (Self-released). Genuinely clever lyrics are rare, but this album is full of them. A literary aesthetic informs not just the words, but the delicately crafted music itself. Multiple narratives are created between vocals and the music, resulting in a sonic dimensionality that matches the depth of sentiment contained within. — Murphy

ManCub, Business Dogs (HUG Records). The second official release from Holy Underground's HUG Records, Business Dogs is an upbeat electro-dance-punk gem from ManCub. Elements of new wave and electro blur into songs that come with such side effects as compulsive jumping around and flailing. You could re-enact the final dance number from Napoleon Dynamite to the breakdown in "Quite Possible." — Rodgers

Ron Miles, Quiver (Enja). Local trumpeter Ron Miles and former Denverite Bill Frisell have performed and recorded together on a number of occasions, but they've only teamed up with drummer Brian Blade a handful of times. One of the reasons the trio works so well is that its members share certain sensibilities, and their lyrical playing is beautifully understated here. — Solomon

Native Daughters, War Elephant (Self-released). Who would've guessed that one of the year's most compelling metal albums was made by a bunch of old punk and emo dudes? Masterfully recorded by Chris Fogal of the Gamits and featuring Justin Hackl (Qualm, Only Thunder) and the guys from Mustangs and Madras, War Elephant contains the sort of marvelous monolithic majesty that elevated acts like Cave-In and Isis. — Herrera

Option4, Into the Night (Velcro City Records). When Option4 moved to Denver, he brought his travels with him and packed them into one soulful EP that transports you from your headphones directly to a dimly lit room in the electro underbelly of Chicago. This is lounge music and club music with house tempos, all packed into one hip, twirling punch. — Chester

Esme Patterson, All Princes I (Greater Than Collective). In an interview with Open Air's Corey Jones, Esme Patterson described her October release, All Princes I, as a kind of personal and introspective effort that she didn't want her fellow Paper Bird members to have to represent — and if you listen to this solo release, you'll recognize immediately that it is indeed something remarkably all her own. All Princes I is emotionally exuberant and deeply reflective. — Sam Alviani

Pries, The Lonely Kid Show (Self-released). With each subsequent release, Pries takes another step forward artistically; it's like we're watching him evolve in real time. With less posturing and more earnestness this time out, Pries is steadily progressing as an MC. On his latest release, he gets real about his struggles, and you can hear the determination in his voice. — Herrera

Pries, No Glue 2 (Self-released). This mixtape was so highly tweeted and anticipated that it had 20,000 downloads within a day. Pries's voice is infectious and his hooks are catchy. Although he does sometimes lack diversity in his lyrics, his passion and drive move the listener directly past those minor pitfalls. This mixtape comes across as introspective, deep and emotional as Pries shares his struggles and pain. — Valenzuela

Project Aspect, Time Capsule (1320). On Time Capsule, Project Aspect offers a modern take on EDM while holding true to his original sound: The hi-hat hits are plentiful, the synthesizers are pitched to perfection, and the occasional vocal cuts are well placed. The album's upbeat grooves begin with "Tina Turnon" and don't peak until "Piss like a Race Horse," which will have you running for the nearest dance floor. — Chester

Paper Diamond, Wavesight (Mad Decent/Jeffrees). Methodically perfecting each piece of the puzzle that is Wavesight, Paper Diamond's mastermind, Alex Botwin, drew on two decades of experience to put a fresh face on his solo project. The album's opening track, "Turn the Lights Off," featuring Nasiyimu, is carried by synthesizers, but glitches with bass. Wavesight is a glimpse into the next phase of gangster dance music. — Chester

Quiz, Etcetera (Elm & Oak). When you download Quiz's mixtape from Elm & Oak, it comes as a single file, a thirty-minute-long MP3. In the constant churn of the singles-driven environment in which we currently find ourselves, this might seem counterintuitive. But in this case, you won't feel the need to skip tracks: The whole thing is dope. — Herrera

Raincheck, Raincheck (Dazzle Recordings). On its eponymous release, Raincheck finds inspiration in classic 1960s Blue Note recordings, but the quartet puts an updated spin on the era over the course of eight original tunes and a laid-back reworking of George Gerswhin's "Love Walked In." Made up of Ben Markley, Steve Kovalcheck, Marty Kenny and Chris Smith, Raincheck has an obvious affinity for swinging, with an occasional tip of the hat to cats like Herbie Hancock and Lou Donaldson. — Solomon

Reno Divorce, Lover's Leap (Rusty Knuckles). Although frontman Brent Loveday says he went into making Lover's Leap with low expectations, halfway through making it, he realized it might be the quintessential Reno Divorce record after all, and he was right. Once again taking a few cues from Orange County punk acts like Social Distortion and T.S.O.L., Loveday and company toss in a bit of country along the way, making Lover's Leap the band's most muscular release to date. — Solomon

Robotic Pirate Monkey, Heat.Wav (Self-released). On Heat.Wav, the bass lovers in Boulder's Robotic Pirate Monkey continue their ongoing quest to mate West Coast beats with East Coast hooks. This is most evident on tracks like "Banana Cannon," in which a lost drum-line snare matches that sought-after bass, with the whole production immersed in a thick cloud of reggae. Propelled by a plethora of vocal samples, Heat.Wav is the Choose Your Own Adventure of dance music, and RPM chose the exciting path. — Chester

Rubedo, Massa Confusa (20 Sided Records). A powerful blend of jazz, psychedelia, funk and prog, this record could have come out in the '70s, '80s, '90s or '00s and seemed exciting and innovative. These songs sound like the band tried out everything that popped into their imaginations and somehow condensed it all into a seething, electrifying whole. — Murphy

Joe Sampson, Kill Our Friends (Fellow Creature Recordings). On the surface, there's nothing unique about Joe Sampson, a soft-spoken, acoustic troubadour singing about rejection and loss. But after a deeper listen, Kill Our Friends reveals itself to be a provocative and humorous collection of emotionally abyssal songs, all delivered by a seasoned musician at the top of his game, fueling himself on years of hard living and hard loving. — Hesse

School Knights, FRE(EP) (Self-released). An unholy, unlikely but completely invigorating union of indie pop and garage rock with twinges of prog in the guitar lines, FRE(EP) is freewheeling and fun from beginning to end. It will have you lining up to ride again as soon as it's over, which is entirely too soon. — Herrera

SHIRLEY, From a Bright Clearing (Dazzle Recordings). Taking cues from Miles Davis's late-'60s jazz-rock fusion period, trumpeter John Lake's forward-thinking quintet SHIRLEY also moves things in a slightly different direction, incorporating electronic music, funk, computers and found sounds. Lake and saxophonist Serafin Sanchez are outstanding throughout, resulting in a captivating album from start to finish. — Solomon

Snubluck, Square Wave Phonetic (Self-released). Square Wave Phonetic is a psychedelic romp of bass-heavy beat experimentation that roams from precisely chopped world music, playful synth lines and frenetically modulated stabs of thick, crunchy bass to jazzy, post-Dilla musings that twist up stuttering percussion, soothing guitar and funky analog keys. This is futuristic beatmaking at its finest. — Rodgers

Sole, A Ruthless Criticism of Everything Existing (Self-released). His first solo record in the better part of a decade finds Sole unleashing a verbal assault worthy of the album's title. Heavily influenced by his time spent with Occupy Denver, his rhymes touch on everything from radical theory ("Never Work") to personal reflection ("Letter to a Young Rapper") over innovative beats. — Rodgers

SP Double, Loyalty Honor and Respect (Boostwell). It speaks volumes of SP Double's talent that even with the stellar production and all the bold-name features on this record (Royce Da 5'9, Crooked I and Joe Budden of Slaughterhouse, Chino XL), what stands out most is SP himself, particularly his lyrics, his strong, assured cadence and intricate rhyme scheme, and his earnest delivery. A Colorado classic. — Herrera

The Swayback, Double Four Time (LGL). It's beyond admirable that a decade into its career, the Swayback is just hitting its creative stride. A throwback to a bygone era when bands were actually given the chance to develop, Double Four Time is both bright and dark, groovy and sexy, and it plays like a greatest-hits record, highlighting only the choicest parts of this outfit's songwriting. — Herrera

Thee Dang Dangs, Stone Coast (Self-released). In the flood of bands inspired by the raw exuberance of psychedelic garage rock, Thee Dang Dangs stand out by delivering an album that doesn't sound like an imitation of anyone else. Imagine the playfulness of Beat Happening filtered through Jesus and Mary Chain fuzz. — Murphy

Tin Horn Prayer, Grapple the Rails (Paper + Plastick). Over the past three and a half years, Tin Horn Prayer has gone from a side project that included a few guys with punk backgrounds playing folk-based tunes to a full-fledged six-piece band that now includes the occasional electric guitar. While these guys had no problem fueling their folk with a punk attitude on stage, Grapple the Rails fully captures that energy, command and grit. — Solomon

Tollund Men, Tour 2012 (Bleak Environment). Lo-fi and often forbidding, Neal Samples's gift for unconventional melody shines through the haze, even as his voice appears to be coming through whatever sadistic TV channel James Woods was watching in Videodrome. This is dark electro post-punk for those who prefer their music raw and borderline inaccessible. — Murphy

Wovenhand, The Laughing Stalk (Sounds Familyre). Although some of Wovenhand's previous efforts wrangle a fair amount of the group's visceral energy, none come as close to capturing it as The Laughing Stalk, the act's heaviest and most intense release to date. With a few new members added to the fold, the music is much fuller and denser. — Solomon

Whygee, I Need $ (Self-released). Released in late January, I Need $ was a dose of spring/summer vibes that combined Qknox's smooth sample constructions with Whygee's fluid delivery. "Eye" is nasty, and "Elevation Sickness" has to be on the list of Denver's best blunted anthems. Whygee incisively deconstructs all the nonsense of modern living, rap and whatever else catches his attention. — Rodgers

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