Moovers and Shakers rounds up our favorite local releases of the year

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As evidenced by the number of quality releases this year from every sector of the scene, local music continues to thrive here as we close out the decade. Reflecting back on our favorite records of 2009, we noticed some welcome trends:

More and more acts opted to release EPs over full-lengths, suggesting that they're wisely placing a premium on artistic restraint. Rather than packaging a cluster of so-so songs just for the sake of making a long-player, they zeroed in on their best material, leaving listeners wanting more rather than walking away underwhelmed. But on the flipside, many of those acts that did release LPs justified their running time.

Responding to steadily declining CD sales across the country, an increasing number of area artists made their music available for free download this year, in an effort to bolster their live shows rather than rely on a clearly dying format to serve as their lifeblood. Pretty Lights, led by Derek Vincent Smith, had one of the most enjoyable albums of 2009 with Passing By Behind Your Eyes, and Smith continues to build audiences organically by giving away his music to all takers. And from the looks of the capacity crowds that Pretty Lights is drawing across the country, this approach has worked like a charm.

Keeping up with everything that's been released locally over the past twelve months is a daunting task, but one we relish, thanks to albums like the ones listed below, the Backbeat writers' favorites from 2009. As always, there was quite a bit of crossover, with several albums appearing on multiple lists, including Pictureplane's Dark Rift, Gregory Alan Isakov's This Empty Northern Hemisphere, Hello Kavita's To a Loved One, various installments of Houses' seasonal EPs and Moonspeed's Flowers of the Moon. Keep reading to see what else mooved us this year. For more write-ups, visit backbeatblog.com. — Dave Herrera

A Shoreline Dream, Recollections of Memory (Latenight Weeknight). "Ethereal" is a word that people toss around fairly indiscriminately when describing anything dreamy. In the case of A Shoreline Dream, however, the word is entirely fitting. Recollections of Memory is like the de facto soundtrack of astral projections. Some might call it shoegazing, but it's hard to stare at your shoes when you have stars in your eyes. — Herrera

Accordion Crimes, A Higher Quality Version of This (Self-released). Forget the ex-member status of Accordion Crimes and fixate instead on the fledgling trio's go-for-broke, Archers-of-Loaf-like take on blistering, dynamic songcraft. Indie rock — both as a term and a movement — meant something once. With bands like Accordion Crimes around, it might just mean something again. – Jason Heller

Action Packed Thrill Ride, Best I've Felt (Self-released). Best I've Felt feels so apt as a title for this EP, as it finds the band more comfortable than ever before and breezing through a handful of just-right rock tunes. The act's just giving this one away, maybe because the Thrill Riders know if they can entice someone to one show, they'll have earned a new fan. — Kiernan Maletsky

Alan Alda, Alan Alda (Ferret Release Records). The four songs on Alan Alda's freshman EP elegantly capture the trio's wide range of sounds and lyrical imagery. Even as songs like "Characters Numbers" boast Chris White's driving bass lines and Matt Grizzel's flurried drums, Luke Goodhue's vocals display an affecting amount of vulnerability and earnestness. — A.H. Goldstein

Aloft in the Sundry, FORE (Self-released). The Mile High City's brightest diamond in the rough, Aloft in the Sundry fell short on time while recording at the Blasting Room and ended up being pinched between two other acts with just five short days. The added pressure produced FORE, the band's most eclectic and powerful release to date. — Brian Frederick

Bad Weather California, Young Punks (States Rights Records). Young Punks has a gloriously homemade feel. In an era when polish and poise are currency, Bad Weather California is printing its own money. With a captivating air of carefree exhilaration, the act crafts backroads spirituals that are as refreshing as receiving a handwritten letter from a friend. — Herrera

Beauty Flash, Beauty Flash 2 (Self-released). If you haven't heard of this gem, it's because it was released online only, with zero fanfare. Don't let that fool you: This is a quirky slice of lo-fi electro-pop genius. Imagine a less maudlin Alanis Morissette fronting the Blow and you're in the right neighborhood — and a great neighborhood it is. — Cory Casciato

Blackout Pact, Wolves in the Lazarette (Eyeball Records). Building on its 2005 debut, Hello Sailor, the Blackout Pact returns with four more songs of uncertainty and self-doubt. This time, without the help of producer Geoff Rickly, Wolves shows a more stripped-down side of the band that still pulses with the energy and urgency the guys possessed before their initial demise. — Andy Thomas

Bottesini Project, Naima's Grass Pajamas (Bocumast). While Naima's Grass Pajamas might have started from collective improvisations, leader and saxophonist Paul Riola reconstructed the tracks in the studio to tell a more coherent and cohesive story. Wilco guitarist Nels Cline, guitarist Janet Feder and bassist Keenan Wayne add some brilliant textures to these tunes that intertwine organic and electronic flavors. — Jon Solomon

Boulder Acoustic Society, Punchline (Self-released). The Boulder Acoustic Society's virtuosity doesn't dampen its energy. Even with the tightly controlled violin lines of Kailin Yong and the exacting accordion riffs of Scott McCormick, Punchline retains a from-the-hip feel, an energetic and contagious spontaneity that marks tunes like "We Tried." — Goldstein

Burn Heavy/Kingdom of Magic, Burn Heavy/Kingdom of Magic split (Self-released). Flip a coin to see which side of this split LP you'll listen to first; either way, you win. Burn Heavy unloads apocalyptic doom metal with an edge of experimental noise, while Kingdom of Magic goes for the throat with a slow-motion, stoned-as-shit rock attack. — Heller

Candy Claws, In the Dream of the Sea Life (Indiecater Records). Candy Claws was going for the sound of the ocean and absolutely nailed it — not the bronze shores, but the whole vast expanse. This thing sounds like shimmering sun hitting the endless water, along with the whoosh of the ebbing tide and the infinite distortion of the untamable deep. It's an amazing record. — Maletsky

Crack Magic, Crack Magic (Self-released). Coming from someone who witnesses crack magic on a nightly basis in the alley below his Capitol Hill apartment, let me say this: Crack Magic is the real thing. This is to punk rock what punk rock was to Fleetwood Mac. In other words, a revolution, a revelation and a total fucking pants-wetting mess. In, you know, a good way. — Heller

The Culhanes, No Part of Nothin' (Self-released). The Longmont-based, alt-country Culhanes might have borrowed their name from the Culhane family on the redneck variety show Hee-Haw, but they embrace some of that show's cheekiness, too. While delving into tried-and-true country clichés of drinking and longing, the band also injects some rock into the mix. — Solomon

Danielle Ate the Sandwich, Things People Do (Danielle Ate the Sandwich). Danielle Anderson does a lot with only four ukulele strings. Her basic song structures and stark instrumentation may be simple on the surface, but combined with her coolly suggestive voice, they paint complex and rich musical pictures. — Goldstein

Deadbubbles, Frienemies (Hypnotic Turtle Records). Throughout Frienemies, Broomfield-based Deadbubbles roars out of the garage with supercharged rock fueled with the swagger of '70s punk like the Dead Boys and the Stooges. Hell, these lo-fi sonic producers even made an album that sounds like it was made three decades ago, and that's about as rock-solid as it comes. — Solomon

The Don'ts and Be Carefuls, Risk Assessment (Self-released). Bucking expectations of dance punk's spent possibilities, the Don'ts rediscovered the genre's soul and breathed life back into it with exuberance and inventiveness. Essentially a collection of incredibly urgent and earnest pop songs with an edge, this EP is proof that rock music played with unself-conscious abandon is never boring. — Tom Murphy

Dualistics, Dualistics (Self-released). After several earnest yet ultimately underwhelming attempts to gain traction, Dualistics finally found its swagger on this recording, thanks to a strong batch of guitar-driven modern rockers that could easily inspire approving nods from fans of acts like the Foo Fighters. — Herrera

Emmitt-Nershi Band, New Country Blues (Sci-Fidelity). If you like your salmon with a little cheese and a side of grass, look no further than Emmitt-Nershi's recent platter. Drew Emmitt (of Leftover Salmon) and Bill Nershi (String Cheese Incident) circle a red-hot posse of pickers for a sizzling acoustic romp that skitters from bluegrass to Latin jazz and beyond. — Nick Hutchinson

Espirit De Corps, Under Constant Influence (Self-released). Chris Gardner is pissed. Over a foundation that can best be described as "dance-core," the vocalist screams rigidly about a series of broken promises and failed relationships. With gang vocals that could put Bang Camaro to shame, the outfit is shouting loud enough for many to hear its plight. — Thomas

Everything Absent or Distorted (a love story), The Lucky One (Self-released). The insanely captivating live spectacle that was Everything Absent or Distorted never translated to record better than on this, its parting gift. The thing practically bleeds and shouts and cries and laughs and self-destructs its way out of your speakers. "Monday morning: Give us our razors. Feel like dying, but we'll just shave and go on." Holy crap. —Maletsky

Extra Kool, Creature From the Whack Lagoon (Self-released). A fearless display of raw emotion and pain as much as an album, Whack shows Kool laying his tortured soul bare with searing honesty and creativity. No false fronts or manufactured power are on display on any of these songs — just harrowing, dark poetry written as testaments to strength through sensitivity. — Murphy

Fell, A Farewell to Echoes (Vacant Songs). This album is all kinds of awesome, emphasis on the awe. It's huge, cavernous vocals and mighty guitar lines. The tracks use every second of their five- and six-minute run times to envelop you. Incoherent Lullabies got more attention, but this one will straight lift you out of your tracks. — Maletsky

Fred Hess Big Band, Hold On (Dazzle Records). While tenor saxophonist and composer Fred Hess has released more than a dozen albums in the last seventeen years, Hold On is his first big-band record as a leader. The album showcases Hess's compositional skills with a number of straightahead, modern big-band tunes as well as a few angular ones. — Solomon

Fresh Breath Committee, CPR (Self-released). CPR finds the Fresh Breath Committee — a crowded collective of talented MCs, all deserving top billing in their own right — working together in impressive harmony to produce an album of substance that sidesteps vapid posturing. Cuts by DJ Skip Ripkin and insanely infectious hooks sung by Crystal Goldenberg help make this an instant classic. — Herrera

Frontside Five, Resurrection Cemetery (DC Jam Records). The appeal of Resurrection Cemetery has much to do with its tongue-in-cheek references to sci-fi staples of pop culture. That's not to say the band's speedy, energetic take on the power-punk genre is lacking musically, but its loving references to everything from zombies to the television show Lost make the album more than the sum of its musical parts. — Goldstein

GT & the Sidewinders, Across America (Self-released). Across America is a perfect title for this album, which is mostly about traveling, be it musically or through the lyrics. GT and company have Hank III and Wayne Hancock riding shotgun in this mix of high-voltage rockabilly, country and honky-tonk, and the result is one hell of a ride. — Solomon

Hello Kavita, To a Loved One (Self-released). Recorded entirely in analog on two-inch tape, To a Loved One is a warm reminder of a bygone era when songwriting trumped pageantry and AM radio reigned supreme. Tastefully ornate — with pulsing bass lines and vibrant guitars fleshed out by shimmering rhodes, gently swelling strings, lush horns and pedal steel — this is Hello Kavita's masterpiece. — Herrera

The Hollyfelds, Black Heart Blue (Self-released). It took me a long time to admit I like country music, but discs like this make it easy. The harmonies and lyrics are classic, certainly. And there's just enough of a contemporary edge to the instrumental mix of languid guitar and rollicking backbeat to help it go down smoothly. — Casciato

Hot White, Hot White (Self-released). There's no taming music this feral, thorny and violent. This is the soundtrack to a street fight in the post-apocalypse or the twisted visions of Shoko Asahara. Eruptive dynamics punctuated by bursts of fury and blazing intensity, each song seems designed to deconstruct the super ego and unleash your primal urges. — Murphy

Houses, Fall (Great White North). The Fall installation of Houses' seasonal EP series ranks high on the list of the band's many accomplishments from 2009. The recording favors brooding and pensive instrumentals in lieu of bright vocals, and the darker approach seems to invest the songs with greater seriousness and import than pieces on Spring. — Goldstein

Houses, Spring (Great White North). At a time in pop music when the word of the day is "complex" (ahem, "pretentious"), Houses takes a refreshingly basic approach to song-building. With Hendrix-esque guitar flourishes on top of supple harmonies straight out of the Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young songbook, Spring is a pleasure to listen to again and again. — Jef Otte

Houses, Summer (Great White North). Splitting the difference between the Kumbaya euphoria of Spring and the balls-out rock of Fall was Summer, the best of three very good EPs and the year's finest love letter to Denver. "How I love this town, full of hooligans and drunks/And Lord knows, I'm one." We'll raise our whiskey gingers to that. — Maletsky

I Am the Dot, I Am the Dot (Brother Bear Records). Zach Tipton shows himself to be a master of moody, literate, minimalist pop on I Am the Dot's self-titled debut. It might seem like there isn't much there, but don't be fooled. The spare arrangements provide a perfect vehicle for Tipton's guitar work, emotive voice and haunting lyrical sensibilities. — Casciato

I Am the Dot, Rare Creatures (Brother Bear Records). I Am the Dot's followup strips things down even further, and may be even better for it. Each of these three gorgeous songs is little more than a story, a simple beat and a few layers of his voice and guitar. Tipton calls his work apocalyptic pop; we can only hope the end of the world sounds this good. — Casciato

The Ideal Fathers, A Complete Waste of Time Travel (Self-released). Start with danceable post-punk that fuses the best bits of Fugazi, Gang of Four and the Buzzcocks. Add a twisted sense of humor, wild-eyed intensity and some serious hooks. Mix well and you've got the Ideal Fathers' four-song debut. All dads should be this cool. — Casciato

The Informants, Crime Scene Queen (Self-released). This disc opens with a dense Peter Gunn-on-steroids riff and never lets up. The cooking Informants frame the switchblade vocals of Kerry Pastine on twelve original tracks destined for house rockin'. Big ups to producer Jeremy Lawton for keeping things ragged and right. — Mark Bliesener

Gregory Alan Isakov, This Empty Northern Hemisphere (Self-released). It speaks volumes about Gregory Alan Isakov's considerable talent that Brandi Carlile's guest appearance on this album seems almost incidental. Not that she doesn't shine, but Isakov is simply in top form here, refining everything that made him stand out in the first place. — Herrera

Izcalli, Despiertame (Self-released). Call it Latin rock if you must, but the fact that all of the lyrics on Izcalli's Despiertame are in Spanish is basically incidental: This is rock, no qualifier needed. And while a few standout tracks do feature elements of salsa swing, the majority of these licks are pure, sweaty, driving, fist-raising, head-banging butt rock. God bless America. — Otte

The Jim Jims, Bottom of the City (Self-released). On Bottom of the City, the Jim Jims synthesize a number of fascinating and unusual post-punk influences into a near-perfect sound. The guitars are edgy, the beats are insistent, the production is gritty and the songwriting impeccable. This album throbs, pleads and doesn't let up even once over the course of seven short, brilliant songs. — Casciato

Kissing Party, The Hate Album (Self-released). As pretty and bitter as a sugar-dusted bitch slap, the latest full-length from Denver's indie-pop provocateurs knows how to make regret, horniness and abject desperation sound like a walk on the playground. Sure, it's delicate and catchy, but don't be fooled: This one has teeth. — Heller

Light Travels Faster, ...with friends like these, (No Dance Records). The followup to 2007's After the Black of Baca County shows a shift toward refinement. Frontman Christopher Rigel has streamlined his passion for poetic pacing and novel guitar tunings in a way that makes friends much more beholden to acts like Modest Mouse and much more admirable for its own merits. — Goldstein

Littles Paia, Dew on the Needles (Self-released). Wading into deep conceptual waters, this album is the musical equivalent of an early Thomas Pynchon novel in its ability to be enjoyed on numerous levels. On the surface, these are solidly written, trippy folk songs — but subversively suggestive titles merely hint at the riches awaiting the perceptive listener.


Lola Black, Plastic Dashboard Jesus (Lolablackmusic). The members of Lola Black draw upon their collective experience with admirable results on their freshman EP. The six members, who have done stints in bands like Snapstick Dynomite and the Eight Bucks Experiment, fuse homegrown hardcore and punk sounds to form something novel and promising on Jesus. — Goldstein

Mike Marchant, Outer Space and the Sea (Self-released). What started out as a pair of mellower, unreleased Widowers tracks eventually grew into Mike Marchant's debut solo album. Over the course of five sparse yet spectral acoustic-based numbers, Marchant reinforces why he's one of the area's most enchanting songwriters. — Herrera

Stephen Marcus, If the Phone Ain't Ringing (Self-released). Newcomer Stephen Marcus's debut is pure heartbreak wrapped in a blanket of loneliness. Comparisons to a young Steve Earle and John Prine only hint at the potential of this young musician from Crested Butte. Live on stage, the guy simply kills it. — Seyfarth

Kort McCumber, Ain't the Same as Before (Self-released). No other album summarized our collective emotions of frustration, discouragement and hopefulness of what 2009 was than Kort McCumber's career-best Americana effort, Ain't the Same as Before. Virtuosic musicianship, lush harmonies and truly poetic lyrics created a soundtrack to what many of us were feeling this past year. — Seyfarth

Meese, Broadcast (Atlantic Records). Meese releases an album on Atlantic Records? Who would have thought? (Oh, right, everyone.) Broadcast is Meese's first major-label release and includes those songs "Next in Line" and "Tell Me It's Over" — the ones nobody can seem to get out of their heads. — Frederick

The Mighty Eighteen Wheeler, Stimulus Package (Fist). These guys seem to get progressively heavier with each album, and they've come a long way from their days as a reverb-drenched, Stray Cats-infused rockabilly trio. On Stimulus Package, the fellas kick things up a notch, ramp up the intensity and show just how goddamned mighty they can get. — Solomon

Aakash Mittal, Videsh (Self-released). Saxophonist Aakash Mittal has grown considerably both as a musician and as a composer since the release of his debut, Possible Beginnings. Inspired by a trip to India, Videsh, his sophomore effort, is a brilliant twelve-song suite that brings Eastern Indian music together with bop, avant-garde and groove-based rock. — Solomon

Moonspeed, Flowers of the Moon (Flight Approved). As close to an indie-rock orchestra as you can get, Moonspeed builds on the foundation laid down by Bright Channel, yet offers a brighter and more hopeful landscape, layered and seemingly never-ending. Here the group builds on the skeletal songs of Jeff Suthers and blasts them into another realm. — Thomas

The Motet, Dig Deep (Self-released). Boulder's dance-party favorites the Motet continue to reinvent what the soundtrack to a good time sounds like. Exploring electronic frontiers not yet discovered by the techno crowd, the Motet unearths a whole universe of sounds, rhythms and oscillating frequencies that make it irresistible for people to dance. — Seyfarth

Motorhome, Almost Vegas (Self-released). If the Grateful Dead had spent its career chain-smoking packs of Reds, drinking whiskey and playing biker bars rather than dropping acid and indulging in esoteric jams, they would have sounded pretty close to Fort Collins hillbilly jam-rockers Motorhome. — Seyfarth

Nautical Mile, Rythym/Million Distant Memories (Self-released). What makes a brand-new band that hasn't played a bunch of shows yet worth telling others about? Easy: great songs. These photogenic pop-rockers came out of nowhere and immediately turned heads with a handful of power-pop anthems recorded at the Blasting Room that quickly garnered radio airplay. — Seyfarth

Nervesandgel, 333 (Self-released). If ambient music is, by its very nature, experimental, this marathon of an album, clocking in at three hours and thirty-three minutes, conceived of as a single track, begs comparative descriptors. Not recommended for those with a need for musical convention, this album is the sound of inner-space exploration. — Murphy

No High Fives to Bullshit/Snuggle, No High Fives to Bullshit/Snuggle split (Self-released). Too much punk rock sounds like it's worshipping at the altar of the past. The two No High Fives songs here embrace punk's past while also charting exciting possibilities for its future, with melodic hooks that seem refreshingly original and through dynamics that are as emotionally stirring as they are exhilaratingly cathartic. — Murphy

The Omens, Send Black Flowers (Hipsville). Although the word has much more whimsical connotations now, "psychedelic" once meant "corrosive enough to melt your brain." The Omens haven't forgotten: Veterans of the garage-rock scene, the local outfit served up another helping of primitive, cave-rattling R&B. Now, how do we get rid of these skid marks on our skulls? — Heller

Paper Bird, A Sky Underground (Self-released). If apple pie had a soundtrack, it would probably sound like Paper Bird. And if the hooks on A Sky Underground strayed a little further from main-street innocence and a little closer to rock than they did on Anything Nameless and Joymaking, the banjos and sweet Andrews Sisters harmonies are still wonderfully, joyfully there. — Otte

The Photo Atlas, To Silently Provoke the Ghost (Self-released). When hipsters dance, they would be well advised to do it listening to the Photo Atlas. With its abundance of angular guitars and driving, hyperfast dance beats, To Silently Provoke the Ghost could believably be repackaged as the lost sessions of Q and not U's poppiest recording. Lipgloss, turn it up. — Otte

Pictureplane, Dark Rift (Lovepump United). Dark Rift was Denver's coolest album this year. Not just for the samples from a time when pop was more innocent, and not just for the astral production, and not just for the way Travis Egedy combined the two to make us dance. No, it was because it was all done with such pure, beautiful optimism. — Maletsky

Popwreck, Scorpio Rising (Self-released). With his old bands Small Dog Frenzy and Acrobat Down firmly in the rearview mirror, singer/guitarist Aaron Hobbs has humbly, inauspiciously stumbled upon the best songs of his career. If you're looking for hip or buzz-worthy, go fuck yourself. If you're looking for heartfelt, spastically crafted alt-rock with gorgeously strangled guitars and indelible sing-alongs, come right in. — Heller

Pretty Lights, Passing By Behind Your Eyes (Self-released). It doesn't take a great mind to explain why Derek Vincent Smith, Pretty Lights' mastermind, has attracted a throng of supporters across the country. There's a continuity to his patchwork electronic compositions (available for free download) that makes them sound vivid, lush and soulful rather than coming off as listless, mechanical, cut-and-paste contraptions. — Herrera

Chad Price, Smile Sweet Face (Suburban Home). If you're happy being yet another singer-songwriter strumming an acoustic guitar and crying into your beer, you'd goddamn better yank your head out of your ass, grow a pair and deliver something with substance. With his solo debut, Drag the River's Chad Price does all of the above — and he does it with a rough-hewn poise that breaks hearts. — Heller

Primasonic, Unadorned (Fist Music). From the get-go, the stripped-down, balls-out punk of Unadorned captures the frenetic live energy of Primasonic shows. The four-piece does a hell of job channeling '70s and '80s punk and the garage rock of bands like the Ramones or the Buzzcocks, as well as tipping its hat to Repo Man. — Solomon

The Pseudo Dates, 400 Some Odd Songs in 400 Some Odd Nights (Self-released). Psychedelia-tinged pop this fully realized has been scarce since Elephant 6 stopped being an active musical force. But this is no retread, and the Pseudos innovate far more than borrow in crafting their sound of sun-dappled daydreams and late-night excurses of the imagination. Shades of Blake, Barrett and no filler. — Murphy

Reno Divorce, Tears Before Breakfast (Self-released). Reno Divorce is fresh off its latest European tour with Duane Peters and the US Bombs in support of this new disc. Tears is pure punk-rock perfection that combines street-punk swagger, blistering tempos, three-part-harmony vocals and guitar from newest member Tye Battistella. — Seyfarth

The Rouge, Heat & Light (Morning After Records). Heat & Light serves as a coming-out party for one of Denver's brightest new talents. Josh Vaught's vibrant tenor is the driving force on all five tracks, dripping with an undeniable vigor tinged with a sense of longing and urgency. It's elevated by tidy arrangements, outsized choruses and muscular rhythms. — Herrera

Savoy, Automatic (Self-released). Forget MSTRKRFT. Keep your Daft Punk. We've got something just as good — right up the road in Boulder, of all places. Savoy attracts attention with its fist-pumping live performance, but this disc finds the act mixing a touch of nuance into the banging electro. — Casciato

Lelah Simon, Third Week in April (Self-released). Having studied with legendary bassists Buster Williams and Reggie Workman, Lelah Simon certainly has the jazz chops, but she's also quite gifted compositionally. On nearly all of the songs on the gorgeous and expansive Third Week in April, she wonderfully captures the sparkle of early spring. — Solomon

Sin Vida, The Westwood Anthem (Self-released). Sin Vida is the real deal. With a roaring straight-line sensibility as long and direct as Colfax, the band combines the multitude of influences available on Denver's doorstep into a cohesive whole of blistering sound. — Bliesener

Six Months to Live, This Is What Happens (Sparky Dog Records). A paradoxically self-deprecating brilliance informs the songwriting on This Is What Happens and lends an unexpected grace and elegance to the songs. Make no mistake, this is a rock-and-roll album — but it's one where the architects aren't afraid to use inspired silliness to highlight the cosmic absurdity of some of life's most serious moments. — Murphy

Skyline Surrender, Pangea / We're Going to the Winchesta (Self-released). Skyline Surrender threw out the rules of what metal music was in 2009. The band brought catchy songs with old-school thrash metal, punk, hardcore, thoughtful lyrics, supremely heavy breakdowns and a keen sense of melody to the table, thus rewriting the rules for what a local metal band could be. — Seyfarth

Snake Mountain, Snake Mountain (Self-released). Of all the songs written by local bands celebrating and/or condemning RTD — and there are probably hundreds — few can touch Snake Mountain's "43 to Montbello," one of the highlights from its self-titled EP. Sporting whiskey-scarred vocals, blood-soaked riffs and negative-fi production, this is as real as Denver rock gets. — Heller

Jon Snodgrass, Visitor's Band (Suburban Home). Before Snodgrass fronted seminal alt-country band Drag the River, he rocked with the space-themed pop-punk band Armchair Martian. Here he provides the best of both worlds, whispering gently on Drag-inspired tunes such as "Brave With Strangers" and then blowing the roof off the record player with the rocker "Remember My Name." — Thomas

Sonnenblume, Sonnenblume (Self-released). The masterful performances on this album would make it remarkable enough. Without the articulate emotional poetry that forms the lyrics and their delivery, it would merely be noteworthy. However, the expansive sounds and dynamic rhythms accent and boost the content perfectly for a deeply affecting journey through personal hell and redemption. — Murphy

Soundrabbit, Tree Trunk Airplanes (Self-released). Some bands have great recordings. Some bands are killer live. Then there are bands that are both. Boulder's Soundrabbit is a group that continues to craft folk- and reggae-infused world rock blended with Pink Floyd-esque sonic textures that flat-out tops better-known performers such as Jack Johnson and Jason Mraz. — Seyfarth

Speakeasy Tiger, The Public (Self-released). With its blend of disco-dance rhythms, synth arpeggios and soaring, epic builds, it would seem that Speakeasy Tiger's first LP is aptly named: This is music for public consumption. But though its Killers-meet-Kelly Clarkson sound is oh-so trendy right now, it's earnest enough to have come from the heart, and Speakeasy Tiger seems poised to explode. — Otte

Stella Luce, Zugenruhe (Self-released). Violin-based gypsy pop. Sound familiar? DeVotchKa, we hardly missed ye. But where Nick Urata and company used that dirge-polka sound as a calling card, Stella Luce's hooks are more heavily steeped in mid-'90 s alterna-rock — record-scratching accounted for. This is no throwback sound, though: Zugenruhe is one of the most satisfyingly quirky records of the year. — Otte

Adam Stern, Twang Shui (Self-released). How is it possible for a guitarist to mix vintage country licks with Stevie Ray Vaughan, Steely Dan and Miles Davis jazz melodies all in one song and still have it sound good? No idea, but Adam Stern definitely shattered all preconceptions of what a lead guitarist can be. — Seyfarth

Angie Stevens, Queen of This Mess (Boss Koala). With each release, Angie Stevens's songwriting has only become sharper, and here, guided by the gentle hand of Grammy-winning production ace Malcolm Burn, she's at her absolute best. The spacious, understated instrumentation enhances without overwhelming, giving the songs plenty of room to breathe and allowing Stevens's captivating voice to soar. — Herrera

Synthetic Elements, Trashed Out Paradise (Self-released). It's not like the guys weren't trying: For eight years, Synthetic Elements had furiously represented the ska/punk-created DIY mentality. This time around, though, they opted for a little help from the Blasting Room, resulting in Trashed Out Paradise, a cleaner, more professional take on their classic skankin' style. — Frederick

Tauntaun, Tauntaun (Self-released). From the very first riffs, Tauntaun bludgeons relentlessly with a throwback brand of metal whose titanic leads and galloping fretwork owe as much to NWOBM acts like Iron Maiden as it does to classic-era Metallica. The pedigreed players of Tauntaun pay genuine reverence to metal's masters without a hint of irony. — Herrera

Otis Taylor, Pentatonic Wars and Love Songs (Telarc). The latest installment in Taylor's reinvention of the blues is nothing short of revelatory. Drawing from sources as primitive as a two-chord John Lee Hooker boogie and as slick as the contributions here of former Thin Lizzy axman Gary Moore, Taylor delivers the unusual one-two punch of polished authenticity. — Bliesener

Three the Hard Way, Set in Stone (House of Waxx). One of the most compelling hip-hop crews to emerge in the past few years, Three the Hard Way knocks it out of the park on this one. Es-Nine's head-nodding beats and classic soul-indebted production, bolstered by Cysko Rokwell's deft turntable skills, prop up A.V.I.U.S. as he rhymes about everyday struggles with conviction. — Herrera

Time, Naked Dinner (Dirty Laboratory). More than an exploration of paranoia, Naked Dinner takes aim at the phenomenon of competing narratives that flood our lives through various media. With a dimly lit labyrinth of languidly menacing music and lyrical interplay, Time reminds us that our Ariadne's thread out of this postmodern nightmare is within us. — Murphy

Various Artists, Hot Congress Vol. 1 (Hot Congress). The whole is greater than the sum of its parts because the collective is open to creativity of all sorts and willing to share talent in any way it can. Remarkable in that there are exactly zero duds in eleven tracks, the debut comp establishes Hot Congress as a deft curator for all manner of Denver's creations. — Maletsky

Various Artists, Rocky Mountain Low: The Colorado Musical Underground of the Late 1970s (Hyperpycnal). The title of this ambitious, lavishly annotated compilation pretty much speaks for itself — but it still doesn't quite capture the years of research, dedication and love that went into it. And the music itself? Alternately raw, polished, anarchic, ridiculous, sublime and bizarre. The songs by these mostly forgotten Colorado rock pioneers should serve as a lesson — in both ethics and aesthetics — for the Denver scene of today. — Heller

Vitamins, Songs for Stem Cells (Self-released). Representing a shift into edgier musical territory, Songs for Stem Cells references darkness, fear and violent renewal. The vocals likewise reflect an uncertainty mitigated by a developed faith in the self to weather life's storms. With this album, Vitamins perfectly melds its experimental streak with its knack for emotive, vital pop songs. — Murphy

Wentworth Kersey, (O) (Plastic Sound Supply). Wentworth Kersey scored a thematic success with (O), picking up where 2008's O left off with relative ease. The soft, sinuous vocals are just as subtly suggestive, and the instrumentation seems even more sophisticated: Hints of flamenco guitar, epic carnival soundtracks and phantoms of a string section are all part of the album's appeal. — Goldstein

Whygee & Sunkenstate, Sambodextrust (Self-released) This dynamic duo takes back the slur "Sambo" and turns it into a vicious lyrical assault riddled with jabs at puffy paint-sporting MCs, unsympathetic females and pill-poppers. Production by BrikAbrak is richly orchestrated as layers of woodwinds and brass are interwoven over a solid drum foundation — smooth, captivating and damn near spiritual. — Thomas

The Widow's Bane, The Widow's Bane (Self-released). Face paint should be used sparingly in rock and roll. But if you do wear it on stage, you'd better walk the walk — and Boulder's Widow's Bane does indeed. Macabre, literate and shamelessly theatrical, there's real vision behind the group's death-folk howl. Not to mention courage — a rare commodity lately in the local scene. — Heller

Yonder Mountain String Band, The Show (Frog Pad). Yonder started 2009 with a sold-out New Year's Eve slot at the Pepsi Center, sold out Red Rocks (again) this past summer, released a total bad-ass rock-and-roll-meets-bluegrass album aptly titled The Show, and close out 2009 with a trio of sure-to-sell-out Fillmore shows. — Seyfarth

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