Top Picks for This Summer's Underground Music Showcase

The annual Underground Music Showcase (aka The UMS) takes place July 28-31, 2016. Featuring a wide variety of musical artists, the UMS dominates Broadway between Sixth and Alameda avenues and offers shows from hundreds of bands. The majority of the festival's featured acts are based in Denver, but the UMS's outdoor main stage also hosts popular performers from around the country and world. Of the bigger names on the announced lineup so far, we have ranked seven best bets so you can start prioritizing your schedule as further information is released.

7. The Bright Light Social Hour
This Austin-based psychedelic rock band steered away from the usual tropes of the genre long ago. It incorporates synthesizers into its sound and an open-ended compositional style, which allows it to stretch its melodies without quite crossing over into jam-band territory. These guys somehow mixed space rock and pop and made it work, and that's no mean feat.

 6. San Fermin
San Fermin sounds like an evolution of chamber pop, a new incarnation that has adopted a soulful R&B aesthetic and jazz undertones. What sets this band apart from many of its would-be artistic cousins is the rich detail of tones and textures that are supplemental to the main melodies. In that sense, San Fermin is to baroque pop what Talk Talk was to synth pop.

5. The Yawpers
With the flood of blues-based rock revivalists of the last decade and more, it's hard to stand out. But Denver's Yawpers seem to have mastered the art of taking an entirely familiar aesthetic and breathing life and creativity into it.

4. Allah Lahs
Reverb-drenched, '60s-inspired psychedelic rock was already played out by the time Allah Lahs came along. But this band figured out that strong songwriting — not mere stylish imitation — would serve it in good stead in the long term. Despite sounding like something that would have come out of a Los Angeles rock club in the mid-'60s, Allah Lahs nail the vibe, especially live. It could be museum-piece rock, but in this quartet's hands, it has a power and warmth that is often riveting.

Read on for more great picks performing at this summer's UMS.

3. Thee Oh Sees
In the last handful of years, John Dwyer finally got his due as a gifted musician and frontman, with Thee Oh Sees becoming one of the most popular of psychedelic- and garage-rock acts in recent years. Although Thee Oh Sees have been a band for nineteen years, Dwyer has lost none of the impassioned verve with which he performs, and a seemingly endless stream of musical ideas keeps the band from retreading any uninspired territory.

2. Lee Fields & the Expressions
Elmer “Lee” Fields is a gifted soul singer and inarguably the elder musical statesman of the entire festival. The reason he and his band sound like they were plucked out of that rich milieu when Stax and Motown ruled the airwaves is because Fields is from that era: He's witnessed and even made that music himself. Now that soul is enjoying a resurgence among the younger crowd, Fields is one of the most solid booking choices of the headlining acts.

 1. Poliça
When the new synth-pop wave lost steam a few years ago, a handful of bands emerged and started making even more interesting work because they weren't trapped in a genre. Poliça, from Minneapolis, was already weirder than most of its peers, always exploring musical ideas. Its latest album, 2016's United Crushers, pushes Poliça far beyond what it already accomplished on its excellent 2013 album Shumalith. This band tops the list because of its forward thinking and its full, rich sound coupled with Channy Leaneagh's soulful, otherworldly vocals. It's the perfect soundtrack to a hot summer night at a music festival.
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Tom Murphy is a writer, visual artist and musician from Aurora, Colorado. He was a prolific music writer for Westword and a documenter of the Denver music scene.