We asked some of our favorite Colorado folks to tell us their favorite music of 2013. Check out the lists below!

Jesse Elliott of Ark Life

Sarah Slater of Titwrench Festival

Stelth Ulvang of The Lumineers

Lucas Johannes of Hot Congress Records

Eric Halborg of The Swayback and Dragondeer

Scott LaBarbera, owner of The Oriental Theater

Kendall Smith, Event Director of the Underground Music Showcase

Virgil Dickerson of Greater Than Collective and Illegal Pete's

Rett Rogers of The Blue Rider

Paul Epstein, owner of Twist & Shout Records

 Esme Patterson, singer-songwriter and member of Paper Bird

 James Irvine of Holy Underground

Stay tuned for more of the Best of 2013, and be sure to vote in our year-end Listener Poll!

Jesse Elliott of Ark Life

Top 10 Album-Experiences of 2013

"I can honestly say I've never been more in love with music than I was during the whole of 2013.  And this from a year that I'd planned to take off from the constant carnival of sound our modern world presents.  Albums swung for the fences, with stellar start-to-finish journeys from old stalwarts like Cass McCombs, Cate Le Bon, Sonny & the Sunsets, and Jason Isbell, to name a few.  Equally amazing efforts poured out from those I'm proud to now call my Denver scene-mates: Natalie Tate, Nathaniel Rateliff, The Still Tide, Princess Music, too many dozens more to detail here.  Such mind-blowing releases left and right all added up to raise my expectations of music so much that, by the time I got to the brutal end of culling my "top" list to only 10, one commonality surfaced: my very favorite albums of 2013 also somehow incorporated a favorite EXPERIENCE of the year, something that went above and beyond the 10 or 12 songs on the album proper.  As music becomes easier to create, and truly great music proliferates seemingly endlessly, these 10 artists offered up an album and an experience..."
 
  • 10. Beck: album = Song Reader / experience = collaborating with heroes and strangers.  I almost forgot what a huge smile this one put on my face when it came out at the very end of 2012 (very beginning of 2013, for list-making purposes).  A straightforward, generous idea that invited people to participate with the music, the artist, and each other.  I'm surprised more like it didn't follow suit, but maybe that's a testament to how philosophically and aesthetically perfectly-presented Beck's was.
  • 9. Julianna Barwick: album = Nepenthe / experience = creating time and space to breathe.  Barwick's live show, whether in a tiny Denver artspace or a massive Brooklyn music hall, is jaw-dropping, and dovetails gorgeously with the free-flowing instrumental (including vocals as instruments) soundscape of her album.  She's not taking you on a trip across the waves in a beautiful boat; she's creating the ocean itself, and letting you choose which direction your mind will drift.
  • 8. The Beatles: album = On Air, Live at the BBC - Vol. 2 / experience = glimpsing the minds behind the music.  Most of us agree the Beatles were popular musical geniuses.  The most interesting thing about this behind-the-scenes look at their formative years -- many of which were spent recording various programs at the BBC -- is how natural and improvisational that genius appears.  Their young spirits play effortlessly not just with interviewers, but with whole new media, cultural concepts, and audiences.
  • 7. Gregory Alan Isakov: album = The Weatherman / experience = orchestrating the most intimate symphony.  In lesser hands, the pairing of the often soft-spoken Isakov with a massive musical juggernaut (the Colorado Symphony) in a gigantic concert hall might have washed right over the tender beauty of this album.  Luckily, these partners are pros, and the result was a personal exploration so epic it brought more than a few serious and casual listeners to tears, literally.  
  • 6. Dessa: album = Parts of Speech / experience = bringing us together with stories.  The Doomtree collective out of Minneapolis has produced some amazing music over the years, but even more impressively, it's produced some amazing human beings.  Dessa is a force of nature, whether rapping in front of a full band or relating a childhood tale so heart-wrenching it had Denver Music Summit attendees talking for weeks after.  A writer, activist, and DIY business owner to boot, she's a guiding voice across the board. 
  • 5. Fruit Bats: album = Mouthfuls (10-year Anniversary Edition) / experience = celebrating the past and moving forward.  Funny how quickly the time flies, and how much most of us miss along the way.  Eric D. Johnson created one of the best musical projects -- and followed it up with several incarnations of the best bands -- of the last 15 years, and now it's time for him to get on with the rest of his creative life.  The band played its last shows this fall, even as most people were just catching on.
  • 4. Phosphorescent: album = Muchacho / experience = receiving hard-earned much-deserved due.  Matthew Houck has been through the wringer and back again, and thank goodness he's got a poet-warrior soul up to the task of bringing us back some stories from the brink.   To witness his whole band's top-notch performances take them from the Hi-Dive to the Bluebird to 4 sold-out nights at the Music Hall of Williamsburg (with countless international and career benchmarks in between) is a triumph of virtuosity and elbow grease I'll not soon forget.
  • 3. Thao & the Get Down Stay Down: album = We The Common / experience = branching brilliantly into video and comedy.  It's possible that this was my single favorite album of the year (this distinction does change every few hours, so why bother nailing it down precisely?), and the icing on the cake was Thao's laugh-out-loud "Shorts" series, created with Lauren Tabak and featuring too many great indie-celebrity cameos to name-drop here.  Just google it, and prepare to snort your eggnog out your nose.
  • 2. Chimney Choir: album = (compass) / experience = exploding multi-media musical theater.  This madcap gang put on my favorite live show of the year.  If I'm being honest with myself, actually, they probably held 5 of the top 10 slots in that category, since every single performance was so radically different; they wrote, memorized, and performed a new multi-media storyline and script for each of the 5 associated with this album's release.  Time travel, puppetry, tragic comedy, advanced video choreography - it's hard to know where to start describing these totally demented and totally down-to-earth geniuses.
  • 1. Public Service Broadcasting: album = Inform - Educate - Entertain / experience = affirming the life that always already exists.  This one's a personal mash-up.  My single most important 2013 musical inspiration was Kay Larson's sweeping, spiritual, sumptuous (often in the same page) biography, "Where the Heart Beats: John Cage, Zen Buddhism, and the Inner Life of Artists."  It's about so much more than just that man or just that lifetime, and in that sense served as a kind of mission statement for a year where my favorite moments transcended albums, or even art itself, and got right to the heart of living.  Public Service Broadcasting's wildly fun and thought-provoking "found footage" approach to creating new music was the perfect complement to that, though ultimately Cage himself put it best: "For the field is not a field of music, and the acceptance is not just of the sounds that had been considered useless, ugly, and wrong, but it is a field of human awareness, and the acceptance ultimately is of oneself as present mysteriously, impermanently, on this limitless occasion."

Sarah Slater of Titwrench Festival

Sarah Slater is a DJ and the Co-Founder/Artistic Director of Denver's Titwrench Festival, now five years into its existence. Titwrench showcases independent, emerging, and underground music and art forms that are pushing boundaries of genre and form. Its first satellite festival will take place in Stockholm in May of next year. 

Ten favorite albums, in no particular order:

  • Glasser- Interiors
  • Bianca Mikahn- Nightdreams & Daymares
  • Nathaniel Rateliff- Falling Faster than You Can Run
  • Juana Molina- Wed 21
  • Joshua Novak- Ephemeron
  • Mariposa- Holy Ghost
  • Baptist Generals- Jackleg Devotional to the Heart
  • Dorit Chrysler- Avalanche
  • Jean Grae- Gotham Down
  • Julianna Barwick- Nepenthe

Honorable Mentions:

  • Marnie Stern- The Chronicles of Marnia
  • FKA twigs- EP2
  • The Knife- Shaking the Habitual
  • Blood Orange- Cupid Deluxe
  • Talk All Night- Summer Will Fall
  • Kelela- Cut 4 Me
  • Body/Head- Coming Apart
  • Alela Diane- About Farewell
  • Kurt Vile- Wakin on A Pretty Daze
  • U.S. Girls- Gem
  • M.I.A.- Matangi
  • Bettie Serveert- Oh, Mayhem!

Stelth Ulvang of The Lumineers

The ten albums that best surrounded me in 2013.

  1. Abe Abraham- West of WestThis Denver local was my alarm for the better part of the year, I would set my alarm 30 minutes early, with the option of just staying in bed listening to this. Love it.
  2. Michael Kiwanuka- Home AgainThis English soul singer brought it all back with this album and I listened to its soothing orchestration and soft melodies for the week my wisdom teeth were removed.
  3. Generationals- HezaSo surprised this New Orleans band didn't blow up. There's still time. Such a fun album though.
  4. Dr. Dog- B-RoomThe album's single "Broken Heart"  insists on finding a way into your head any moment there is blank space. It's a great new album from these guys, and still poppy and weird. 
  5. Akron / Family- S/T. Ok, I know this didn't come out this year, but it came back to me as a reminiscent storm. I was terrified to walk down that path again, with such an eclectic dark album, but as always it breaks through as a wave on a beach and it still feels like my summer of 2006 when I packed up and moved to Seattle for love. Ha? 
  6. Nick Jaina- Primary PerceptionI spent a lot of my year with Nick in different parts of the world and I did the same thing with this record. Both change drastically depending on where you are...
  7. Sam Amidon- Bright Sunny SouthThis album came out this year, and once again did not cease to amaze. I want to put the rest of his albums on too, All is Well, and This Chicken Proved False-Hearted. Is that cheating? I listened to him so much. God I love this guy. I almost flew to Denmark cause it was the only place I could see him play. Ugh. I am putting it on now.
  8. Magnolia Electric Company- Hard to Love a ManHe's right you know.  Jason Molina's death this year affected me more than maybe any other musician. It's amazing there is so much truth in so much pain. 
  9. Juana Molina- Wed 21Isn't it crazy that this Argentina-based songsmith played in Denver a few years ago with Laura Goldhamer with only a handful of attendees? If given the choice of seeing her or Radiohead live, I would see Juana Molina again. She is a 50-some temptress witch of electronics, and that trumps Yorke's warlock sorcery at Red Rocks any day. I saw her play in the belly of a boat on the Seine in Paris, and was my top live concert of the year. 
  10. Spirits of the Red City- Jula. This album is really incredible. Maybe the most incredible. It's the perfect walk on a tightrope over a snarling pit of emotions. Violent despair, and hissing loneliness, with clawing hopefulness, determination baring it's teeth, and slithering heartbreak.  All the while with balance and precision you can safely glide above with full awareness of it all, and coming out a stronger human just for listening. My favorite album this year. Seriously.   

Lucas Johannes of Hot Congress Records

Top Ten Albums (in no particular order)

  • Parquet Courts- Light up Gold. A lot of Pavement and post-punk comparisons got tossed around this year while describing this band, and that’s really not that far off the mark, with its barely-in-tune guitars and clever, seemingly off-the-cuff speak-shouted lyrics.  While it stumbles a bit in the third act, the strength of the first ten songs makes it one of the best albums of the year.  Or any year, really.
  • Sun Angle– Diamond Junk. This album is bananas.  Frantic, inventive, and always barreling forward at break-neck speeds, Diamond Junk sounds like a psych-rock record played twice as fast as you’re used to.   And it’s got hooks, too, sneaking up on you via reverbed-to-oblivian vocals .  I didn’t hear anything else that sounded like this in 2013.
  • William Onyeabor– Who is William Onyeabor? Obscure African funk group from the 1970s fronted by synth virtuoso William Onyeabor.  This is sort of a ‘greatest hits’ package thrown together by Luaka Bop.  The songs are all long, groovy, hypnotic, and a little bit strange.
  • Bill Callahan– Dream RiverI haven’t spent too much time with this yet, having picked it up at Mr. Callahan’s show at the Oriental Theatre only a few weeks ago, but from what I heard at that show plus the few spins I’ve given it thus far I think it’s safe to say it’s one of my favorites of the year.
  • Foxygen– We are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & MagicSounding like the sum of every great record in your parents’ collection, Foxygen somehow manages to make classic rock songs that sound fresh. 21st Century is simultaneously familiar and strange, full of unexpected left turns, and possibly the funnest album I heard in 2013.
  • Volcano Choir- RepaveRepave is so dense instrumentally that you hear something new every time you give it a spin.  Manages to sound both intimate and anthemic at the same time.
  • Wild Moth– Over, AgainHad the pleasure of playing with these gentlemen this year as they toured through Denver and besides being a phenomenal live act they put out a damn fine record.  “Over, Again” is full of big, beautiful distorted guitar riffs, really interesting chord voicings, and Ian Curtis-esque vocals.
  • Big Eyes– Almost FamousAnother solid album from one of the best pure guitar-oriented power-pop groups going right now.
  • King Tuff– King TuffYes, this album came out in 2012 but I didn’t lay my ears on it until this year.  Probably my most played record of 2013, every song is a gem.
  • Speedy Ortiz– Major ArcanaI’m still kicking myself for missing their set at UMS.  A lot of releases this year have been mining the 90’s for influence (fine by me!) and Major Arcana is the best of all of them.  Their singer manages to sound both like a badass and completely vulnerable at the same time, and the guitars are just so perfectly huge and crunchy.

Eric Halborg of The Swayback and Dragondeer

My favorite musical things about 2013 (in no particular order):

  • Ark LifeTheir song "Very Fine Friends" is such an ear worm. It would pop into my head upon waking for two months straight. Such good song writing with this souled out Fleetwood Mac vibe. 
  • a tom collinsIt may look like drunken chaos but there's mad method to that madness. Arron's stage antics verge on performance art; they have rad songs with some sort of "hey ho lets go New Orleans funeral parade falling off the edge of the world and I don't give a s***" feel that I love.  I felt like they stole the show at UMS 2013 with their set at Three Kings.  Add to that the full-frontal Machine Gun Blues performance at the Hi-Dive's anniversary show and we have some good good stuff coming from Mr Collins this last year . 
  • Nacarubi Music FestivalDragondeer got invited to play this very cool music festival in the middle of the woods in Big Sur, CA last summer. We played right before Linda Perhacs which was probably the the most uplifting mystical music set I've ever witnessed.    
  • RadkeyPlayed with these three young brothers from St. Joseph, Missouri with Swayback. Ripping fuzzed out Misfits-Ramones punk. 
  • The UMSDenver's best musical throw down of the year...every year I've been.  All genres of Colorado's music family come together to celebrate and demonstrate what we've know for a long time: Colorado has a diverse and amazingly talented music scene. We are blessed. AND Mudhoney headlined! 
  • VarletTheir new record American Hymns gets stuck in my head too. Psyched out Waits-Billie Holiday slinky strut delivering my favorite equalizer lyric of 2013: "Well I got problems baby, so do you."
  • Steel PulseI listened to True Democracy so many times this year....subversive politics mixed with dark roots reggae on repeat.  
  • The harmonicaI just love playing em and got to a bunch in Dragondeer this year.
  • Monday Jazz Night at MeadowlarkJohn Grigsby, Mike Smith and a rotating cast of ruling jazz players every Monday night...for free. Such a good vibe and mix of talented players...makes ya feel like you're in a basement club in Berlin or NYC.
  • Ovvl at Lost LakeI watched a pretty lame Deerhunter set and then walked over to Lost Lake and got randomly pummeled by the Zeke, Motorhead and early thrash Metallica sounds of Oakland's Ovvl (pronounced Owl). Pleasant surprise.  
  • DJ Musa at Cold CrushI went and saw him spin hip-hop this last Saturday at Cold Crush and the bar felt like I was at some house party that was just going off. 
 
I was also stoked on Kitty Crimes' yoga video, Princess Music, The Baltic's take on shoegaze,  Bad Weather Cali (RIP), Joy Subtraction and Brendan Kelly's internet writings,  Patrick Dethlefs song "Blue Eyes",  and The Yawpers video for "Silicone Love."
 

Scott LaBarbera, owner of The Oriental Theater

12 Favorite Local Records

  1. Natalie Tate- Given Day - Angelic yet haunting - sweet yet powerful,  Natalie created the most memorable album for me this year.
  2. Paper Bird- Rooms- Unlike previous Paper Bird Albums, this record took a few listens to grasp the layered depth. But once I got it, it became my favorite Paper Bird album to date. 
  3. Chimney Choir- Compass- Creatively ambitious, this album was released in three installments, with each of the release shows taking place in unique and intimate locations around Denver. Chimney Choir has aggressively toured and performed over the past few years and it's apparent how well they have bonded as a band on this gem. 
  4. a tom collins- Stick & Poke- This latest from this Ragtime, R & B, soul (and a few more genres I'm sure I left out) is a fun listen and the 3rd track on the disc, "Hospital," has quickly become a local classic.
  5. Joshua Novak- Ephemeron-*Disclaimer* -I help manage Josh- but the main reason I help him is because I am a huge fan of his music and his latest doesn't disappoint- the CD release show (at the L2 event center) with an all-star support cast (including Ian Cooke) was quite a special evening of indie-pop music.
  6. Spirits of the Red City- Jula- Released by local label Collectible Records (which was founded by Mason Terry -bassist for Paper Bird and Clouds & Moutains) SOTRC only has one member with Denver ties (Tyler Archuletta- former trombonist of Paper Bird) - but do yourself a favor and give this beautiful record a listen.
  7. Varlet- American Hymns- This album crosses into a indie-lounge-jazz genre that Lilly Scott and her incredibly talented bandmates somehow manage to perfectly pull off.
  8. Fierce Bad Rabbit- The Maestro and the Elephant- This Ft. Collins-based indie pop rock act got a little bit of national attention with their latest indie-pop/rock release last January.
  9. White Fudge- Busta Nut- The most underrated band in Denver- the recent addition of former El Chapultepec house keyboardist Chad Aman with an already stellar group of musicians backing Josh Martinez, Jerry Cass and Aaron Howell's hilarious vocals truly make this a local supergroup to watch.
  10. Joshua Trinidad- Maritime - I've always been a fan of Josh's Trinidad's trumpeting, but I am used to hearing him play Jazz or Hip Hop (Go Star / Wheelchair Sports Camp), but on this Tommy Metz (Iuengliss) produced album he branches out playing trumpet over "dreamy Electronica" on this well crafted 6 song EP. 
  11. Changing Colors- Joan and the King-  Another Blank Tape Record / Colorado Springs alumni; Folky hipster frontman Conor Bourgal (who also is one of the nicest folks you could meet) released this emotionally charged record, complete with sometime-dark folk storytelling about love and life.  
  12. Joe Johnson- New West Sound -This Blank Tape Records recording artist and Louisiana-native, who is now part of the exciting Roots/Americana scene in Pueblo / CO Springs, has created an album with a raw blend of old-school blues, roots and Americana.

Kendall Smith, Event Director of the Underground Music Showcase at the Denver Post

"These year end list requests are often a maddening exercise in alienation and people trying to 'outcool' each other.  Narrowing a year down to less than one record a month is impossible. There is an upside, though.  Reading other people's lists reminds me how much great art is out there.  My list is, in no way, comprensive.  It is just a handful of records (5 local and 5 not) I really really liked this year..." 
  1. Kurt Vile- Wakin On A Pretty Daze
  2. Nathaniel Rateliff- Falling Faster Than you Can Run
  3. Black Rebel Motorcycle Club- Specter at the Feast
  4. West Water Outlaws- West Water Outlaws
  5. Nine Inch Nails- Hesitation Marks
  6. a tom collins- Stick and Poke
  7. Toadies- Play.Rock.Music.
  8. Wire Faces- king cataract
  9. Mazzy Star- Seasons of Your Day
  10. American Tomahawk*- So So Slowly, the History of a Perfect Spiral
* I refuse to accept Adam Halferty moved.
 

Virgil Dickerson of Greater Than Collective and Illegal Pete's

  1. Portugal the Man- Evil Friends
  2. John Moreland- In The Throes
  3. Har Mar Superstar- Bye Bye 17
  4. Vampire Weekend- Modern Vampires of the City
  5. Cayucas- Bigfoot
  6. Haim- Days are Gone
  7. Varlet- American Hymns
  8. Action Bronson- Blue Chips 2
  9. J Roddy Walston and the Business- Essential Tremors
  10. Superchunk- I Hate Music

Honorable Mentions:

  1. Harpoontang- all of their videos; these gals need to record an album!
  2. Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats (these guys are destined for greatness, can’t wait for an album)
  3. Ark Life Daytrotter Session (excited for their new album in 2014)
  4. Flashbulb Fires “The Whale” single (excited to hear more new stuff in 2014)
  5. High Five Masters of Maintenance (great ep, excited to see what they do next)

Records that would make my list, but I had a hand in putting them out:

  • A Tom Collins- Stick and Poke
  • Nightmares for a Week- Civilian War
  • Adam Cayton-Holland- I Don’t Know if I Happy
  • Andrew Orvedahl- Hit the Dick Lights
  • Ian Cooke-Cassowary and the Fruit Bat” Book/DVD/CD

Rett Rogers of The Blue Rider

(in alphabetical order)

  • Bombino - Nomad
  • Charlie Patton - The Complete Recorded Works
  • Colin Stetson - New History Warfare Vol. 3: To See More light
  • Fuzz - Fuzz
  • I HEARD THE ANGELS SINGING - Electrifying Black Gospel from the Nashboro Label, 1951 -1983 
  • James Blake - Overgrown
  • Natalie Tate - Given Day
  • Night Beats - Sonic Bloom
  • Phosphorescent - Muchacho
  • Zebroids - Hepatitis Z

Paul Epstein, owner of Twist & Shout Records

  1. Jonathan Wilson- Fanfare "A sophomore effort that betrays more chops and substance than many artists show their entire careers."
  2. Kurt Vile-Wakin on A Pretty Daze "Fantastic stoner lyrics that can distract from what an accomplished songwriter and sound architect Vile is."
  3. Steven Wilson-The Raven That Refused To Sing "His most finely crafted album, a prog-rock masterpiece."
  4. My Bloody Valentine- mbv "After more than a decade off, Kevin Shields and Co. return, louder, feedbackier and hookier than ever."
  5. Mazzy Star-Seasons Of Your Day "Another band with a decade between albums has left them sounding more haunted, icy and beautiful than ever."
  6. Medicine-To The Happy Few "What is it about me and bands that take a decade off and return sounding like they didn’t miss a step?"
  7. Emmylou Harris And Rodney Crowell-Old Yellow Moon "1+1=10"
  8. The Waterboys-Appointment With Mr. Yeats "Not only is this an extremely literary album, but Mike Scott seems to actually understand what he is singing about. Enjoy it with new ears and old whiskey."
  9. Thee Oh Sees-Floating Coffin "Hip, new and catchy as hell. These guys are going somewhere."
  10. Wooden Shjips-Back To Land "Long fuzzy guitar solos-a psych feast."

Esme Patterson, singer-songwriter and member of Paper Bird

(in alphabetical order by artist)

  • Blue Rider- Blue Rider EP
  • Gregory Alan Isakov- The Weatherman
  • Kacey Johansing- Grand Ghosts
  • Kendrick Lamar- Good Kid, m.A.A.d. City
  • Laura Marling- Once I Was an Eagle
  • Nick Jaina- Primary Perception
  • Night Beats- Sonic Bloom
  • Patrick Dethlefs- While You're Carrying the Weight EP
  • Phosphorescent- Muchacho De Lujo
  • Spirits of the Red City- Jula

James Irvine of Holy Underground, Denver record label and management firm home to FLASH/LIGHTS, Shady Elders, In the Whale.

  1.  Palma Violets - 180
  2. Majical Cloudz - Impersonator
  3. The Orwells - Who Needs You" EP
  4. Phosphorescent - Muchacho
  5. Brothertiger - Future Splendors
  6. School Knights - Lethargy
  7. Caveman - ST
  8. Hockey - Wyeth IS
  9. Rumtum - Mystic Wonders
  10. Tie: Eagulls - Never Endings" 7' / Weekend "Jinx
 

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