The ten best Denver album covers of the past year

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Editor: Westword's 2014 Best of Denver issue is on news stands now. You can peruse several hundred categories to find your next meal, night out or whatever thing you're into. And while we're thrilled with the results, we encountered plenty of debate while determining our favorites across this great city.

As part of effort to encourage discussion about Denver, we'll present a few of our runners-up on Backbeat. Please feel free to let us know what you think in the comments. Up first: Best Album Cover.

10. Dangerous Nonsense | Discharge

This trio isn't a crust punk band nor is the cover an appropriate black and white. But the name of the band reflects a recognition and rejection of the negative elements that are injected into society and our own psyches from birth. The tree bearing AK-47s, symbolizing potential and active damage and violence, is the fruit of all of that. Heavy concept, beautifully evocative imagery.

9. Genessier | Graces The Bone

Really a manipulated image of a parking garage in Oklahoma, this cover, if you look at it too long, gives you the chills. It looks like these guys got an image out of Pripyat, Ukraine and imagined it as a secret base for a cult of serial killers that only listens to Coil and Einsturzende Neubauten.

8. Lil' Thunder | Razor Blades & Sunshine

Inspired by one of singer Marie Litton's childhood photos, Aaron Ray created an image that is part faerie tale, part myth and part underground comic art. It is evokes a shamanistic quality with the pure white eyes suggesting personal illumination and an attainment of wisdom without losing the childhood capacity to imagine a more fantastic world full of possibility.

7. Space In Time | Rock And Roll

Father Time observing earth, scythe at hand while a galaxy swirls around his hourglass and fists? What could be more perfect for the cosmic, psychedelic, boogie hard rock within? Dave Bonds distilled the sound of this album into an image as striking as Space In Time's ability to take an older sound and give it new life in a voice of its own.

6. The Blue Rider | The Blue Rider EP

Designed by Rett Rogers with a cover image by Brent Emerson, this ten inch looks, sounds and feels like some criminally overlooked rock and soul classic from another era when all sorts of independently-minded artists released a short run of records. That it recalls Luis Jiménez's Blue Mustang currently on display at DIA makes it a signifier for Denver.

5. The Inactivists | You're So Kingin' It

This cover is really the only suitable visual representation of the demented tales and twisted pop experiments within. With pop culture references from the '70s, gender-bending, mad scientists and a cartoon dialogue bubble containing a far-too-clever for anyone's good pun, this album cover isn't just high camp, it is high concept with none of the pretension.

4. The Outfit | Tough Kids

Scott McCormick's artwork has graced many a local album cover at this point and he brings his gift for creating otherworldly imagery grounded in a dreamlike reality for this cover. There is literally an elephant in the room being ignored by the humans. It even has a glowing orb on his forehead like a symbol of divine wisdom much like Eric Johnston's surprisingly illuminating lyrics couched in pop songs.

3. Time | Newstalgia

An exploration of memory and knowledge and rediscovering how to look at the world as a child, this album got the appropriate visual treatment courtesy of Bryce King. Mixing the imagery of the computer games Chris Steele played as a child with multiple images of the rapper as a kid, this cover is both haunting and retro-futurist in a way we haven't often seen.

2. Tjutjuna | Westerner

Jacqueline Sophia Cordova may not have had Plato's parable of the cave in mind when she created this cover. But the four figures in the right center seem to have emerged from an underworld into a wide open world cast in blue. It looks like an unlikely cave painting collage that serves as a fine analog to Tjutjuna's paradoxically organic, psychedelic space rock.

The Raven and the Writing Desk | Scavenger

1. The Raven and the Writing Desk | Scavenger

The Raven and the Writing Desk tapped artists Emi Brady and Tim Tindle to design the cover art for its luminous 2013 EP Scavenger. True to the band's imaginative aesthetic and songwriting, Brady and Tindle created a fold-out raven, colorful on the outside and black and white on the inside, where you'll find the bird's skeleton along with hand-lettered lyrics and credits. It's the perfect accompaniment for the group's literate, baroque pop songs. Many bands want to create a secret musical world, but The Raven and the Writing Desk went beyond the songs, providing a real work of art in which to wrap the music.

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