The Home Team

Most Denverites have, at one point, shared buildings with a beginning guitarist, flutist or, worse, a drummer -- poor souls who engender neighborly scorn, as well as mighty calluses, during their early stages of life as a musician. But there are many local artists whom you'd actually want to have next door, folks who make music that you'd happily listen to on a Saturday morning. In fact, the people in your neighborhood made some great recordings in 2002. Here's a look at some of the best.

Mary Beth Abella
What Happened to the Girls?
(The Abella Kids Records)

Songwriter/guitarist Mary Beth Abella found her sea legs -- and her chops -- on What Happened to the Girls?, surviving endless band-member rotations and a difficult production to produce a bold debut. By turns gutsy and emotional, Abella crafts tunes that move from sensitive and spare (but not sentimental) to hard-driving and dynamic, all the while emphasizing humanness over histrionics. If this recording is any indication, the girls are just fine. -- Laura Bond

Black Lamb
The Low Road
Black Lamb takes oversimplified rock genres like "grunge" and "stoner metal" and simplifies them even more. On The Low Road, the quintet layers thick, dark guitar sludge, like hot tar on asphalt, over gravelly vocals and bedrock drumming. Riffs are wielded like heavy machinery; Satan and weed are equally invoked. What makes Black Lamb stray so far from the hard-rock herd, though, is a deep, whiplash groove intrinsic to all the best bands of its species, from Mountain and Deep Purple to Big Chief and Kyuss. The songs are brutal yet catchy, the production is flawless and the sound is as huge as a woolly mammoth. (See -- Jason Heller

Preamble to Oblivion
(Six Weeks)

Like its namesake, Catheter is an unholy implement of torture shoved into parts of your body where it really shouldn't go. The band plays pure, straight-up grindcore, but with a vicious intelligence: Amid all the blast beats and ligament-snapping riffs, Preamble to Oblivion offers spasms of darkly introspective lyrics, some well-placed samples, and slow, heavy breakdowns that doom more than they grind. There's even some near-harmonizing going on, with three singers puking up puddles of gurgling shrieks and subsonic growls. With groups like the Locust and Fantomas trying to crossbreed grindcore with emo or art rock, Catheter shows that you don't need novelty to sound brutal and relevant. -- Heller

Kelly David
Broken Voyage
(Rocky Mountain Records)

Not only does Kelly David look nothing like the typical envelope-pushing musician, but he earns his living as a lawyer for Qwest, which is unlikely to make the average Blender reader's top-ten list of cool professions. For these reasons and more, Broken Voyage, David's debut, is among the most surprising recordings by a local artist in 2002 -- and one of the finest. The disc, mixed by ambient-music cult figure Steve Roach, is an instrumental excursion into some of the darker realms of the human psyche; tracks such as "Coastwatcher" and "Buka Passage" are as eerie as they are captivating. Thoughtful, provocative and strangely compelling, this CD is also a reminder that great things can be found in unlikely places. -- Michael Roberts

Dead Heaven Cowboys
Conversations in the Flood
(Hapi Skratch)

Slick and raunchy, the Dead Heaven Cowboys' debut disc sometimes feels like a kick to the jaw. Throughout the punishing effort, heavyweight rhythms hunker beneath bawdy guitar riffs laced with spiky vocals and stark, sometimes scary lyrical matter. A dark-rock effort, Conversations in the Flood has all the allure of a crime scene, and this Denver outfit will entice you with its grisly charms. -- Catalina Soltero

Drag the River
(Owned & Operated)

Fort Collins's Drag the River has delivered a bucolic package of frayed emotion and authentic, road-worn soul that usurps recordings from the vast majority of the band's alt-country peers. A soaring glass of boozy introspection, Closed resonates with the requisite jangle and twang, pedal steel and all, atop a smoky undercurrent of loss and regret. Even rollicking tracks like "Get Drunk" aren't far from the murk. Dejection rarely sounds so fresh. -- Eric Peterson

Heart Menders Ministry

Calling Endgame's music "pop punk" sells it way short. Although catchy, loud and energetic, Heart Menders Ministry falls far outside the three-chord boundary set by most feeble-minded Blink-182 protegés. The extended progressions of songs like "Lugosi" recall Dear You-era Jawbreaker -- a mature, dynamic sound that bonds sinewy chords to a taut, melodic musculature. On "31 Flavors," chunky verses dissolve into a pensive, soaring chorus that suggests a pipsqueak Foo Fighters. As engaging as the band's music is, though, Endgame's true strength lies in its lyrics; obliquely clever, moody and earnest, lines like "I'm getting better at writing love songs/Like Arlen/Koehler wrote "Stormy Weather"/I'm getting better at writing love songs/I'm no Adonis, but she's astonished" show all the marks of budding pop genius. -- Heller

Tony Furtado
American Gypsy
(What Are Records?)

Tony Furtado made his name among acoustic-music aficionados as a performer with fingers as quick as hummingbird wings and an ability to pay tribute to folk stylings without sounding like a mere impressionist. Since then, he's continued to evolve, mastering additional instruments and refusing to be limited by preconceptions. American Gypsy finds him wandering across the musical map, with stops along the way for strum-along blues ("Oh Berta, Berta"), spirited improvisation ("The Angry Monk") and country rock (the Mike Nesmith-composed "Some of Shelly's Blues"). As a bonus, he offers up "Hartford," an elegiac tribute to the late John Hartford that shows his picking skills to be sharper than ever. Clearly, Furtado hasn't lost a step; rather, he's added several new ones. -- Roberts

George & Caplin
The Nature of Leaving
The experimental and largely instrumental duo George & Caplin sort of came out of nowhere in 2002, and we're very glad they decided to surface in Denver: The band's dreamy, lo-tech forays into subtly grand instrumentation and computer-addled composition are a welcome addition to our town. Literate, understated and with an almost binary kind of chemistry, the two players pair a battery of toys and simple machines atop an undercurrent of swelling guitars and rhythmic variations that recall full-fledged art-rock and ambient combos as much as more easily comprehended space pop. Lovely. -- Bond

Heavyweight Dub Champion
Survival Guide for the End of Time
(Champion Nation)

On this ill-bent mix of industrial hip-hop dubtronica, Heavyweight Dub Champion's Resurrector and Patch enlisted like-minded soldiers -- rapper Apostle, Stereo Lion, Wailer B, Totter Todd, Elon, Vill and DJ Hot Daddi 36-0 -- to help craft a conceptual book of apocalyptic revelations. Along the way, they created Survival Guide for the End of Time, one of the most inspired hip-hop recordings to emerge from Colorado in 2002. The group's hypnotic, trance-inducing music is a soundtrack to a battle between the Last Champion (a spiritual warrior/freedom fighter) and the Moloch forces that threaten to imprison and destroy the planet. The round-by-round analysis of this fight is included in an accompanying text that serves as the collective's manifesto. The dense layering of sound on Survival Guide -- which was recorded and mastered in Los Angeles by Scott Wolfe and Brian "Big Bass" Gardner -- make this atmospheric artifact a must for those trying to weather the storm of global pestilence. -- James Mayo

Man Alive!
Heart, Hands and Mind
(Universal Warning)

Mixing ska with punk rock is, of course, an idea as old as the Clash. But now that ska has turned from novelty to anathema, the deluge of ska-punk bands from a few years ago has slowed to a trickle. So what possessed Man Alive! to keep flogging a dead upbeat? Apparently, this Denver trio is fueled by a true love for both tonsil-shredding hardcore and the occasional pseudo-Jamaican rhythm: Hearts, Hands and Minds mixes the two with a conviction and intelligence that make the whole thing sound almost fresh. By focusing less on pop and more on dark, intricate melodies and arrangements, the band forges a fitting shell for its almost poetic blasts of social outrage; lines such as "Your eyes look like shattered glass to me/Your cold hands feel just like surgery" are barked amid a barrage of lacerating guitar and under-the-radar hooks. If you've ever wondered where (besides MTV) Rancid might have gone after its raw, furious debut album, check this out. (See -- Heller

Mr. Pacman
(Mr. Pacman International)

The quick fix of Commodore 64-generated punk on Turbotron is best computed tongue in cheek. Frenetically synthesizing mental warp with a retro-futuristic arrangement (i.e., ultramodern as seen through an '80s lens), Mr. Pacman's debut EP works because it simultaneously sates the Atari generation's nostalgia and pushes the outer limits of 21st-century weird. Turbotron's angst isn't entirely artificial, but just about everything else is. -- Peterson

Jimmy Carter Syndrome

Sandwiched between Nixon's five o'clock shadow and the trickle-down tease of Reaganomics was an unlikely historical period of Gothic romance -- or so a certain sunken-eyed troubadour named Munly would have you think. On Jimmy Carter Syndrome, the darker side of America's bicentennial comes alive as chamber-roots music, and funeral lilies adorn a dozen surly odes to the likes of Little Black Sambo and palooka Gerry Cooney. Cameos from 16 Horsepower's David Eugene Edwards and DeVotchKa's Nick Urata flesh out the sick pageantry of outcasts, hard luck and backwoods madness. -- John La Briola

Children of the Black Sun

Many artists who set out to make disturbing music fall back on cliches: out-of-nowhere shrieks, haunted-house filigree, images that were creaky when Bram Stoker was still alive. But that's seldom the case with Boyd Rice, a controversial figure whose music, which frequently emerges from beneath the Non banner, is more interested in serious psychological frights than in the casual, superficial kind. "Arka," the opening track on Children of the Black Sun, suggests what the underworld might sound like if the gates of Hell were left ajar, while "The Fountain of Fortune" is built upon quasi-angelic tones that seem oddly disquieting, particularly when heard on a bonus disc recorded in the DVD 5.1 "surround sound" format. As Rice knows, there's something creepy under the Sun. -- Roberts

Open Road
Cold Wind

The members of acts such as the String Cheese Incident profess to be fans of bluegrass, but they tend to use its rudiments in untraditional ways -- like as instrumental passages in forty-minute jams. The quintet of performers in Fort Collins's Open Road, on the other hand, prove their love of the genre by leaving well enough alone. The material on Cold Wind, the act's second full-length, is split between lovingly rendered covers like Hank Williams's "How Can You Refuse Him Now" and originals in which Bradford Lee Folk, Caleb Roberts and company capture the essence of bluegrass with purity, sincerity and genuine affection. The result is a gorgeous evocation of a musical style that tastes great even without the jam. -- Roberts

The Orangu-Tones
Introducing the Simian Sounds of the...

Take a danceable rock groove straight from 1962, add a pair of blaring saxes, an ape fixation and a keg or so of beer. For the Orangu-Tones, it all adds up to Introducing the Simian Sounds of the..., a crisply trashy debut that snares the essence of all-American rock and roll before the Brits took over. The record deftly monkeys with an assortment of little-played covers and backward-looking originals. "Ooga Booga" is one of the standouts in the latter category: "Baby, you're one fine-looking simian/Me Tarzan, you're the most!" -- Peterson

Lynn Patrick
When She Dreams
(Hapi Skratch)

Lynn Patrick must be a lucid dreamer. When She Dreams is another lush offering that finds the guitarist in beautiful control of her instrument, teasing from it an array of harmonics, tones and feelings that do indeed conjure the REM state. A glorious group of friends turns up to help Patrick flush out her vision: the Dudes' Steve Amadee, guitarist Dave Beegle and slide player Sally Van Meter are among those who contribute to this twelve-song brainscape. Patrick's latest is worth waking up for. -- Bond

Planes Mistaken for Stars
Spearheading the Sin Movement
(No Idea)

It's hard to believe how far this band has come since its 1999 self-titled debut. Once peddlers of the clean-cut emo anthem, Planes Mistaken for Stars has since sunk to the sludgy depths of rock depravity -- which is all the better for us. Spearheading the Sin Movement picks up where last year's Fuck With Fire album left off; the three-song EP is epic and dirge-like, huffing Motörhead's heaviness and siphoning chaos from Black Flag and Void. The guitars fluctuate between behemoth riffs and jarring, Greg Ginn-style licks that jab like hypodermics; the dual vocals throw up a wall of raw belligerence. But where Fuck With Fire has a tendency to wallow in its own darkness, Sin Movement is a focused, concentrated kidney punch of black noise and coarse melody that transcends mere "hardcore." Conceptual? Nope. Just a high-speed meltdown of powerful rock and roll. (See -- Heller

Reverend Leon's Revival
Reverend Leon's Revival
(Hapi Skratch)

Reverend Leon has been revived. After three members fled the flock earlier this year, the band has come back from the dead newly dedicated to spreading it gin-soaked gospel. Reverend Leon's Revival, recorded earlier this year, chronicles the group's first incarnation and its early search for the sound of salvation. The ensemble manages to hit heavenly heights on the stellar studio tracks "Reverend Leon's Refrigerator Call/Gospel Beat" and "Star." To listen to this disc, and to see the current Revival live, is to realize that evolution is not merely a theory. -- Patrick Casey

Rocket Ajax
Receptive to the Unkind
(Hapi Skratch)

Before Rocket Ajax relocated to the City of Angels, the band released Receptive to the Unkind as a parting gift to its fans in Denver. Grinding and gritty, the disc is commercially viable hostility, with belligerent vocals, crisp rhythms and coarse guitars fused in a hard-rock style that would sound just fine blaring out of KROQ. The boys are gone, but this CD ensures they won't be forgotten. -- Soltero

Rubber Planet
Fun With Rubber
(Hapi Skratch)

With sunshine and rainbows, beguiling hooks and sweet melodies, Fun is just that: Rubber Planet's third disc is a musical treat that recalls '60-era flower-power pop groups. The songs here are buoyant and bubbly, playful and resilient, and likely to bounce right into your brain. -- Soltero

Bomb Shelter Poetry

A verbal pugilist with a gutsy baritone, Sentence stays true to hip-hop's lyrical roots during Bomb Shelter Poetry, a text-heavy barrage of brains and beats. "My poetry's a shelter from this world's self-destruction," he states, sharing his personal notes from the underground. One-third of Denver's Makeshift Gods project -- mates Effort and DJ Thought provide plenty of inventive scratches throughout the cinematic long-player -- Sentence offers introspective battle rap with a bunker mentality. -- La Briola

Soapy Argyle
(Sparky the Dog)

Soapy Argyle realized that the magic of digital technology is the very thing that would allow him to piece together a simple mock opera that condemns the digital age. Or something like that. As Argyle's bawdy tall tale unfolds, a misplaced farm kid named Dan experiences "ecstasy in dungarees" before tangling with woolly pirates and begging God to kill him for the sin of bad fashion. A good-natured mix of rural tones, jazzbo narration, psychedelia and sea chanteys, MacAlaster (pronounced "mackle-astor") even comes with a swell cartoon booklet by Starving Magpie progenitor Lucas Richards. Arrrrr! -- La Briola

Sons of Armageddon
Sons of Armageddon, featuring Hugg-E
Kitchen sinks can be messy, and musical genre-blending is just like any other recipe: If the ingredients don't groove with each other, it's gonna taste like shit. Nonetheless, the Sons of Armageddon serve up a gourmet pièce de résistance on their debut sampler. By crafting a beautifully chaotic mix of trip-hop, acid jazz and trance that includes samples of everything from baying barn animals to bleating horns, the Sons manage to groove, chill and -- gulp -- challenge the listener, in that order. -- Casey

Space Team Electra
The Intergalactic Torch Song
(Sonic Halo)

Myshel Prasad loves to go too far. The lead singer, primary lyricist and guiding light of Space Team Electra, Prasad specializes in poetic imagery that eschews politeness and openly courts catastrophe, and her taste in arrangements embraces the sort of melodramatic effects that faint-hearted performers shy away from in droves. Producer Sandy Pearlman, whose credits include albums by Blue Öyster Cult, the Clash and the Dream Syndicate, doesn't put any reins on these dangerous tendencies on The Intergalactic Torch Song. Instead he gives Prasad her head, allowing her and bandmates Kit Peltzel, Greg Fowkes and Bill Kunkel to turn "Mars," "Disolution of the Order of the Star" and "Utopia," among others, into public explications of an especially intimate sort. This Torch glows. -- Roberts

Otis Taylor
Respect the Dead
(NorthernBlues Music)

In the view of some observers, blues is a museum piece rather than a vital and viable form of expression. But Taylor, who as an ex-antiques dealer knows the value of what others have discarded, takes a deeply personal approach to the genre that allows the past, the present and the future to co-exist in an almost supernatural way. Consider "Black Witch," a sinister yarn rooted in the discriminatory practices of a previous era, and "Ten Million Slaves," an emotional juggernaut of a track that links tragedies hundreds of years apart. Aided by guitarist Eddie Turner and bassist/producer Kenny Passarelli, Turner has made four terrific discs in a row. And Respect the Dead may be the best of the batch. -- Roberts

Various Artists
Even Among Misfits They're Misfits: Warlock Pincher Imposters

Years after disbanding, the Warlock Pinchers get the star treatment on Even Among Misfits, a nostalgic, shape-shifting and ridiculously fun 31-song tribute to one of Denver's most artistic and sorely missed alums. Ang, the band's unofficial archivist, invited musicians and fans to cement the Pinchers' quixotic legacy by submitting their own versions of songs both familiar and obscure. The result is a jarringly inconsistent but wholly original sampling of some of the area's more cracked creators: Mr. Pacman, Otion, the Scott Baio Army and Bill Pickett's Invitational Rodeo are among those who dive in and take a pinch. A satisfyingly weird compilation even without the historical context, Misfits is the finest possible sendoff for one of Colorado's finest bands. -- Bond

Various Artists
Noise Tent 2002 Spring Sampler

What would springtime in Denver be without an annual roundup of the area's best alt-rock/hardcore offerings? Diddly-squat, bub, that's what. On Noise Tent 2002, local producer and Noise Tent operator Mike Jourgensen gets the most stun power out of aggressive acts such as Jet Black Joy, the Speeks and the Otter Popps while coaxing more pastel-colored nuances from an easygoing trio like the Breezy Porticos. Then there's the Geds, the Speedholes, DeNunzio and Iz! This Sampler is a 21-track salute! -- La Briola

Electric Birds
(Action Driver)

Electric Birds is not only one of the best indie-rock discs to come out of Denver in 2002; it's one of the year's best, period. These six songs are tender collages of pop, electronic and experimental textures that swim in an atmosphere of cool melancholy and weightless transfixion. While bearing a passing similarity to the cerebral tones of Tristeza or the Sea and Cake, VU's music pulses with organic grace: Waves of guitar, bass, drums, voice and synthesizers coalesce on an almost cellular level, forming a membrane of sad, fragile melody. Recently signed to Ohio label Action Driver, the group will be recording a full-length in 2003 that promises to fulfill Electric Bird's promise. Until some egghead invents anti-gravity, VU will have to do. (See -- Heller

Pete Wernick's Live Five
Up All Night
(Niwot Records)

Banjoist Pete Wernick established his reputation for quirkiness as part of Hot Rize, and a decade after forming the Live Five, he still prefers cutting his own paths over following established ones. The music here, made with vibist George Weber, clarinetist Bill Pontarelli, bassist Roger Johns and drummer Kris Ditson, is a merging of bluegrass and trad-jazz -- a pairing as seemingly inevitable as, say, peanut butter and salad dressing. But the Five's rendition of "Foggy Mountain Breakdown," in which Weber's vibes enter at the moment most listeners will be expecting a fiddle, comes across as witty, not radical, and the presence of Wernick's plunking in "Sweet Georgia Brown" hardly prevents the combo from scoring. Here's to staying Up All Night. -- Roberts

Yellow Second
Still Small
(Urban Achiever Records)

Talk about a band with an interesting back story. Yellow Second was formed by Scott Kerr, a onetime member of the Christian-oriented ska outfit Five Iron Frenzy, for reasons that had as much to do with a loss of faith as with a desire for creative independence. But while these issues are weighty, Yellow Second's secular sounds aren't; even "Only Knows God" is more about rocking than philosophizing. Kerr's sense of melody is light and natural, providing a jolt of accessibility to snappy, tuneful offerings such as "Lesser Ones" and the ringing "North," which definitely heads in the right direction. So, too, does the entirety of Still Small, a disc listeners should find entertaining whether they know Kerr's history or not. -- Roberts

Looks like the four young men of Zubabi eschewed the prevalent influences of indie rock, pop punk and nü-metal and went straight to their dads' record collections. Virescence echoes with the stratified, progressive sounds of the '70s: King Crimson, Frank Zappa and Pink Floyd's Meddle. Alternately frantic and ethereal, these mostly instrumental songs are made up of snaky rhythms, frisky sonic experimentation and echo-rich guitar figures that slip from dense, Robert Fripp-inspired harmonics to the kind of atmospheric blues that David Gilmour made famous. The members' accomplished, even showy, musicianship is offset by a certain goofiness - songs like the genre-frolicking "Black Hills" teeter on the edge of pretentiousness without ever falling off. Nerdy and inspired, Zubabi crafts a sound that is a refreshing divergence from both uptight post-rock and stuffy old prog. -- Heller

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