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Moovers and Shakers

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The Risk, Street Thunder (Self-released). Simply put, the year's best record by Denver's best band. The Risk was never much for studio bullshit, focusing instead on live shows that spurted pure soul, power pop and rock. But this disc -- think Ted Leo meets the Boss -- is seared with the group's crude and emotive intensity. The Risk, catastrophically, is kaput. Kiss this fossil and cry. -- Heller

Roper, Brace Yourself for the Mediocre (5 Minute Walk Records). The title goes out of its way to deflate expectations, but Brace Yourself is hardly full of hot air. Five Iron Frenzy alum Reese Roper and his comrades, who formerly did time with combos such as Black Black Ocean and Divit, offer up pop that's bouncy, brawny and brimming with a sense of humor exemplified by the name of the first cut: "Hello Lamewads." Mediocre, it's not. -- Roberts

Bambi Lee Savage, Matter of Time (Self-released). Recorded over the course of a decade with help from the Bad Seeds and Daniel Lanois, Matter of Time is also noteworthy for "Darlin'," the hauntingly bittersweet hymn that originally graced the soundtrack to Slingblade. With such a resumé, you'd expect this album to be a vivid work of earthy yet spiritual richness. And you'd be right. -- Heller

Matt Shupe, The Combined Effects of Caffeine and Alcohol (Sparky the Dog Records). Mixing uppers and downers is risky business. But in the hands of multi-instrumentalist Matt Shupe (who enlists pals from Mr. Tree & the Wingnuts and the Denver Gentlemen), humor and heartache make for compatible bedfellows. Easygoing vocals complement clever tunes about lonely pear-shaped girls, Django Reinhardt and a devious dog named Henry Kissinger. -- La Briola

Starfuzz, You Are Food (Self-released). Starfuzz's auspicious debut is nearly immaculate. A kaleidoscopic endeavor that cribs equally from the annals of Brit pop and classic rock, You Are Food will satiate those hungry for the bygone days of album rock -- even though, ironically, Food would have been better suited as an EP than as a full-length. Keep an eye on this rising Star. -- Herrera

Stoli and the Beers, In the Alley (Rocktini). Punk has the capacity to be dumb, drunk and hellaciously mean. And that promise is certainly fulfilled by Stoli and the Beers' raucous debut disc. But amid all the pop-slashed riffs and gut-curdling howls, there's an intelligence and introspection that bumps In the Alley up into that mythic realm of four chords and the truth. -- Heller

The Swayback, The Swayback (Too Bad You're Beautiful Recordings). The Swayback's psychedelic freakout conjures the Stooges driving a stake through the heart of Ink and Dagger -- with the Misfits on their knees, snorting up the powdery vampire dust. Eric Halborg's sinister howls leave puncture wounds in the gritty primordial riffs and stubbly bass lines that encase it, allowing agitated shards of feedback to seep through. -- Herrera

Uversa, Electric Jazz (Subspace Records). Somewhere along the line, jazz fusion got a bad reputation. Guitarist Tim Edwards and bassist Tom Sublett, a pair of veterans from the acidic outfit Windowpane, do their damnedest to restore its good name on Electric Jazz, a set that touches upon jazz, rock, funk and who knows what else. The eclectic sonic mélange is simultaneously challenging and accessible, and doesn't leave a wanky aftertaste. -- Roberts

Vaux, Plague Music (Equal Vision). Vaux's last disc was titled There Must Be Some Way to Stop Them. Clearly there isn't, as evidenced by Plague Music, the act's latest effort. Slabs of metal ferocity are welded to sheets of morose ethereality, as abrasive shrieks from Quentin Smith emit a shower of sparks molten enough to meld the seams together. -- Herrera

Wovenhand, Consider the Birds (Sounds Familyre). David Eugene Edwards's trademark intensity shows no signs of flagging. Although Wovenhand is ostensibly an opportunity for him to take a break from the rigors of 16 Horsepower, the tracks left by Birds are every bit as fierce and profound as the songs he saves for his main gig. Edwards is a man on a mission, and he's accomplished it once again. -- Roberts

Yo, Flaco!, The Skinny (Self-released). Steeped in groove-laden neo-jazz, even without the trio of MCs who make it bounce -- Neil McIntyre, Nate Graham and Derris Miles, among the best in the game -- The Skinny is the smoothest production of the year. -- Herrera

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