Denver's experimental-music scene has yielded stellar releases in 2016. A complete list of all the bands operating in that realm could be much longer, but here is a primer of ten of the best acts that offered quality recordings that anyone with an ear for the adventurous or unusual should check out. The bands are listed in alphabetical order because, as usual, music is not a competition.
1. Brotherhood of Machines
2016 Album: III Pillars
Bridging EDM, IDM and ambient, Brotherhood of Machines uses hardware to create immersive soundscapes. The project's latest album III Pillars is, as the title suggests, a trilogy of sonic explorations played to accompany dark, gritty, ancient places.
2. Church Fire
2016 Album: Pussy Blood
Church Fire has long skirted the line between intelligent dance music, inflected synth pop and noise. With its latest album, Pussy Blood, the duo has crafted a confrontational album that challenges audiences and inspires them to dance while experiencing the psychic anguish, rage and triumph permeating each song.
3. Echo Beds
2016 Album: New Icons of a Vile Faith
Echo Beds has served as an ambassador for the flood of darkwave and industrial coursing through the American underground. Black in Bluhm Music captured the intensity and devastating rhythms of Echo Beds' live sets on its 2016 album, New Icons of a Vile Faith.
2016 Album: Stay Being
When Holophrase switched up its lineup in 2012, the result was not a refinement of its experimental-rock sound, but rather a transformation into something more adventurous without compromising accessibility. With the band's 2016 album Stay Being, Holophrase has replaced guitar and bass tracks with sampling and loops as the tools driving the composition.
2016 Album: Forgotten Narratives / Faded Covers
John Mulville's February 2016 debut for Sole's Black Box Tapes imprint, Forgotten Narratives, revealed his gift for rendering sonic textures. With Faded Covers, released later in 2016, and its mastering on behalf of Odd Nosdam, formerly of Clouddead, Mulville focused more on atmospheres but retained a fascinating tactile quality in the soundscapes. Using both analog synths and beats, Mulville, aka Paperbark, was able to bring the visceral quality of the former and the infinite variability of the latter together for some of 2016's most interesting ambient music.
Read on for more of the best experimental bands in Denver in 2016.
6. Scatter Gather
2016 Album: s/t
For some, Scatter Gather may just be a weird math-rock band. But there's too much free-jazz chaos and noise in its sound to be restricted to such a narrow definition. Its self-titled 2016 album is full of songs that don't seem beholden to any genre, even its own.
Read on for more of Denver's best experimental bands.
7. Sister Grotto
2016 Album: You Don't Have to Be a House to Be Haunted
Madeline Johnston has refined her sound in various projects over the years. With Sister Grotto, she's found a vehicle for her unique blend of delicacy and intensity. On the 2016 album You Don't Have to Be a House to Be Haunted, Johnston employs all of the sounds she's developed with this project to powerful effect. Whether with her deeply affecting, breathy vocals, synths, guitar, strings or percussion, Johnston stitches simple elements together to invade the psyche in a way that is as affecting as her album's title.
2016 Album: Ambient/Noise/Drone 7
With Solypsis, James Miller has been incredibly prolific, releasing albums on multiple experimental music labels. No matter the genre, Miller knows how to sculpt industrial music. Technology Scum Records released a set of seven of Miller's songs as the seventh edition of its Ambient/Noise/Drone series. Think the most abstract end of Slowdive and completely organic Daniel Lanois, and you get the idea.
9. Thug Entrancer
2016 Album: Arcology
In writing the music for what would become the new Thug Entrancer album, Ryan McRyhew tried to avoid any influence from the broader music world. It was a kind of unplugging in an era where everything seems to be nodding to something else in the music and art world. The result: a brilliant electronic-music album that sounds like the on-board set list for future interstellar flights.
It had been close to three years since lo-fi industrial band Tollund Men last performed live in Denver, but in the summer of 2016, the Men returned. Since the project's 2011 debut, it had transformed from a beloved underground darkwave band into an international phenomenon with rare releases garnering unusually high profits on the resale market. So it's only fitting that Tollund Men would drop an album called Autoerotik and a tour album in 2016. Both, of course, are out of print, but there's an official download site. Although the group is best experienced live, you can still check out its music on YouTube or track down increasingly rare official releases from what has already become a cult band.
In the year and a half since Voight debuted, opening for the Soft Moon, it went from unabashed, albeit talented, imitators of A Place to Bury Strangers and Suicide to charting its own brand of dark, industrial post-punk. The edgy urgency of Malware is a leap forward from the band's early singles.
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Part electronic, part bizarro acoustic psychedelic rock, one could compare Weird Al Qaida's 2016 album Plastic Family to something that might have happened had Sun City Girls, Butthole Surfers and Legendary Pink Dots collaborated on an album to freak themselves out a little. Weird Al Qaida plays out live once in a while, and while its members don't seem like aliens from another dimension, the music sounds like it could be.