Best of Denver

The 31 Best Colorado Albums of 2014

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Altas, Epoca de Bestias (Sailor Records) When engineer and producer Nick Sullivan worked with Altas to pare the band's sound down to the essentials, he helped turn already excellent material into a focused and impactful album. While certainly cinematic, these songs carry you through emotional experiences in a way that doesn't happen nearly enough with instrumental rock. Exultation, joy, peril, excitement, tranquility, uncertainty, affirmation, confidence, urgency: All of that and more is what you'll experience listening to this record. While simplifying its aesthetic slightly, Altas has actually stretched its songwriting wings on this debut full-length. -- Tom Murphy

Animal / object, Evolution By Natural Selection (Bangsnap Records) It would be difficult to listen to Animal / object's Evolution By Natural Selection and say exactly when it was composed or recorded, because pretty much every sound on it was employed both a hundred years ago and in modern music. Often, the result of that palate is old timey pop music. This, however, is spontaneous composition pieces in an ambient, abstract jazz style. Given the use of throat singing and unconventional percussion, this could also be seen as something like avant-world music. It's ritual music for modern primitivists. --Murphy

Ark Life, The Dream of You and Me (Greater Than Collective) It takes just a few idle guitar notes to set the tone for Ark Life's remarkable debut. Thoughtful and catchy, the album will feel like it has always been in your life from the first listen. Exploring subject matter ranging from wanderlust to that old Denver classic, Molly Brown, Ark Life combined Jesse Elliott's expert songwriting with Western-music traditions to create one of the most refined, celebratory albums of the year. This is a supergroup of Denver musicians and recent transplants, but they sound like they've been playing together all their lives. -- Isa Jones

Big J. Beats, Computer J. Fox (Self-released) Initially designed as a full-on alter-ego side project for DJ and producer Justin Alvarado, aka Big J. Beats, Computer J. Fox eventually morphed from a musical persona into a single album. The result is a throwback of epic proportions, but with a modern twist: Clips from Revenge of the Nerds and early-'80s TV-talk-show techspeak are spliced into the tracks, running between Beats's cushy synthesized melodies. Most of the dreamy soundscapes come in short bursts of less than three minutes, creating an album of tripped-out vintage vignettes punctuated by breakbeats and computer-generated hand claps. -- Bree Davies

Blake Brown & The American Dust Choir, Three (Self-released) While still without a full length album to his name, Blake Brown continues to release high quality and well-crafted EPs. His latest, recorded at Haptown Studio in Nashville, by Roger Moutenot (Yo La Tengo, Sleater Kinney) shows the songwriter stretching his musical roots and song-writing range. Starting with harmonica-driven "Get Out" and ending with the blissed-out "Surrender (La Di Da)," Brown builds solid musical structures while letting his excellent band, The American Dust Choir, complete the build. With the right musicians, connections and songwriting ability, Brown's musical foundation is intact and will continue to strengthen with each song he adds to its base. -- Andy Thomas

Bud Bronson & the Good Timers, Even Better Times (Self-released) Though born and raised in New Jersey, Brian Beer has embraced the Mile High City. On this new full-length from his band, Bud Bronson & the Good Timers, Beer name-checks several Denver landmarks, traverses late-night house shows and jaunts up Larimer while managing to avoid the pull of convention. His storytelling ability and cadence tips a cap to the Hold Steady's Craig Finn but also contains touches of Paul Westerberg, Patterson Hood and Jack Kerouac. Musically, the load is shouldered by guitarist Luke Gottlieb, whose playing adds sparks and flashes to a story already exploding with bright city lights. -- Thomas

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