Whatever your measure of success — whether you define it as adventurous artists making boundary-pushing music and then releasing it themselves, or as acts with commercially attractive songs that get a more mainstream push — you have to agree: A music scene is only as interesting as the music being made in it.
As you can see from our annual Moovers and Shakers list — our favorite feature of the year, when we compile a list of our favorite local releases of the past twelve months and tell you why we loved them — Denver continues to have a very interesting scene, one that's thriving regardless of national notoriety or record deals. There was no shortage of compelling musicians making noteworthy music in the Mile High City in 2010; stop by Backbeat for more picks.
Achille Lauro, Indiscretions (Hot Congress). Always a band that defied categorization and expectation, Achille Lauro figured it out this year: Indiscretions is a buoyant beauty of an album. It is also immaculately produced, which turned out to be out of fashion this year. We'll take quality over timeliness any day. — Kiernan Maletsky
Adai, Felo De Se (Self-released). Singer/guitarist Devin Mendoza and drummer Justin Trujillo do more than pack an orchestra's worth of atmospheric sludge into the four long, brutal tracks of Felo De Se. Like Converge trapped in a tar pit, the duo plays an inexorably heavy and unrelenting form of metalcore that struggles toward the sky while getting sucked straight into hell. — Jason Heller
Air Dubai, Wonder Age (Self-released). Recorded at the Blasting Room and produced by Flobots guitarist Andy Guerrero, Wonder Age is soulful and infectious, brimming with musicality and accessibility. The exceptional playing is bolstered by the ultra-smooth croon of Jon "Rhias" Shockness, whose indelible hooks sharply contrast with the confident cadence of rapper Julian Thomas. — Dave Herrera
Alphabets, Alphabox (Digitalis Industries). The product of a restless mind set loose with sequencers, synthesizers, a drum machine and who knows what else, this boxed set of cassettes showcases Colin Ward at his most concise and focused. An impressive work of collage-style composition, Alphabox seamlessly weaves together threads of dub, electronica, pop and noise. — Tom Murphy
Amazing Twin, New Wives' Tale (Hot Congress). Alternately measured and overwhelming, Amazing Twin plays a sort of folk/punk/emo/pop hybrid that defies simple explanation. What is easier to get across is what a wonderfully rewarding experience it is to listen to this EP. It is also one of the more sincere indie-rock albums of the year, for which we are grateful. — MaletskySee even more of our favorite local releases in Backbeat
American Tomahawk, Contradictions Generalities Future Criminals (Self-released). Pound for pound, American Tomahawk made some of the Mile High City's most captivating music this year. Adam Halferty's spartan yet soaring songs burn brightly and marvelously, but once your eyes adjust to the shower of sparks, you notice they're illuminating some truly horrific and harrowing shit lurking in the crevices. — Herrera
The Autumn Film, The Ship and the Sea (Self-released). If there was a more go-for-broke beauty among Denver releases this year, we didn't hear it. A symphony's worth of ebb and flow and Tifah Al-Atta's enveloping voice made for a full-length of songs that could all work over the closing credits of Oscar-baiting dramas. — Maletsky
Bad Weather California, Live Jammers (Self-released). Aided by tourmates Akron/Family, Bad Weather California's Live Jammers EP shows the band at its best: cooped up in a living room, oozing soulful psychedelics and sweating all over each other. If ever there were an argument against gratuitous, overwrought studio fuckery, this is it. — Heller
Andrea Ball, Dial Tone (Self-released). Continuing to sidestep convention, Andrea Ball brings a distinct cinematic flair to Dial Tone, thanks to the production of Nathan Johnson, who scored both Brick and Brothers Bloom. An array of sounds — sighing strings, gently moaning saws and murmuring horns, clacking rhythms, staccato piano lines and snare hits — forms spectral backdrops for Ball's hushed vocals. — Herrera
Black Sleep of Kali, Our Slow Decay (Self-released). With guitars as meaty as a slaughterhouse's sewer pipes, Our Slow Decay by Black Sleep of Kali leaves little room in its sound for weakness or fucking around. What it does allow, though, is a massive dose of neck-snapping dynamics, brooding grooves and anthemic melody. — Heller
Bop Skizzum, Push (Angry Burro). Andy Guerrero brought Bop Skizzum back to life this year with the addition of vocalist Erin Jo Harris. Hard to say whether the time away or the infusion of new blood reinvigorated the Flobots guitarist; regardless, the funk unit sounds better than ever. — Herrera
Boulder Acoustic Society, Champion of Disaster (Self-released). Boulder Acoustic Society's sixth release, Champion of Disaster, blends elements of roots music to create a somewhat unusual and thoroughly enjoyable EP. The group moves from bluegrass-infused harmonies to Celtic-style melodies, and the sweeping sounds coming from multiple instruments are beautifully pared down to the basics when appropriate. It's a tight, gorgeous effort. — Amber Taufen