Queen City Sounds and Art Best Albums of 2019

All Your Sisters | Trust Ruins

This best of list was intended for publication in 2020 and parts of the entries with comments were published in my year end best list for the print edition of Birdy magazine in Denver for the December 2019 issue. The full best of list is presented here with those short reviews included with the appropriate album and the rest included without comment and several album covers shared as well. The album of the year was All Your Sisters’ Trust Ruins (listed first) because it encapsulated the mood of the year and the band put on one of the best shows of 2019 and the record felt like a leap forward in style and execution for the band. Soon I’ll publish the full best of 2020 list too in a similar format with the commentary for those items that made it into the print edition of Birdy for December 2020.

All Your Sisters | Trust Ruins | The Flenser
A brutal, maximalist summation of the turmoil, conflict, sense of chaos and confusion, rage and frustration and overwhelming flood of negative input from world and societal events of the previous few years. In articulating those feelings and experiences and more alone as powerfully as it does, this album by All Your Sisters transcends genre by providing an example of how industrial and darkwave music can burst beyond established conventions with the sharp-edged and precise percussion framing and channeling the fiery energy at the core of the songwriting.

Adia Victoria | Silences | Atlantic

Adrianna Krikl | Celestial | Self-released

Aldous Harding | Designer | 4AD

Alex Cameron | Miami Memory | Secretly Canadian

Altas | All I Ever Wanted Was | Self-released
A lush deepening of the band’s sweeping, cinematic aesthetic.

Anamanaguchi | [USA] | Polyvinyl

Andre Cactus | Dune Juice | Multidim Records

Andy Stott | It Should Be Us | Modern Love

Angel Olsen | All Mirrors | Jagjaguwar
Poignantly dreamlike examination of identity in an age of universal scrutiny.

Bestial Mouths | INSHROUDSS | Rune & Ruin

Bellhoss | Geraniums | Self-released
Buoyant, lo-fi slowcore love songs for inner awkward nerd.

Bethlehem Steel | s/t | Exploding in Sound
The utter exorcism of oppression through bursts of melodic/atonal poetry.

Big Dopes | Crimes Against Gratitude | Self-released
Captivating indie pop earworm vingettes of American malaise and hope.

Big Thief | U.F.O.F. / Two Hands | 4AD

Bison Bone | Take Up the Trouble | Self-released

Black Belt Eagle Scout | At The Party With My Brown Friends | Saddle Creek

black midi | Schlagenheim | Rough Trade Records
A primer for the new avant-guitar rock revolution.

Black Mountain | Destroyer | Jagjaguwar

Blanck Mass | Animated Violence Mild | Sacred Bones

Blood Incantation | Hidden History of the Human Race | Dark Descent

Boy Scouts | Free Company | ANTI-

Briffaut | A Maritime Odyssey: Heaven is Only a Boat Race Away | GROUPHUG

Calexico and Iron and Wine | Years to Burn | Subpop

Cat Tyson Hughes | Gentle Encounters With Things | Self-released
Ambient, aural snapshots of memory fragments from the hypnogogic state.

Cau5er | The Tower | Self-released

Ceremony | In the Spirit World Now | Relapse Records

Chastity Belt | Chastity Belt | Hardly Art

Cheap Perfume | Burn It Down | Snappy Little Numbers

Chella and the Charm | Good Gal | Self-released

Chelsea Wolfe | Birth of Violence | Sargent House

Chimney Choir | (light shadow) | Self-released

Chromatics | Closer to Grey | Italians Do It Better

clipping. | There Existed an Addiction to Blood | Sub Pop

Consumer | In Computers | The Flenser

Control Top | Covert Contracts | Get Better Records

Cop Circles | Vacation for Hurt | Self-released
Subversive, Laurie Anderson-esque, New Age, No Wave send-up of corporate seminar jingles.

Cosey Fanni Tutti | Tutti | Conspiracy International
Heavy and hypnotic industrial rave autobiography through sound.

Curse | Metamorphism | Fake Crab Records
Eight, powerful, darkwave, prophetic warnings of our potential future.

Danny Brown | uknowhatimsayin¿ | Warp Records
Relentlessly inventive beats and tragicomedic, self-immolating swagger, sci-fi autobiography.

Davi Valois | Bátraquio | Space Cow Music

Deafkids | Metaprogramação | Neurot Recordings
Immersive, ambient-industrial death grind.

Doo Crowder | One For the Losers (& Other Pilgrims) | Self-released
The greatest art pop record since the death of Harry Nilsson.

Dog Basketball | s/t | Self-released

Drab Majesty | Modern Mirror | Dais Records
Moodily heartbreaking deep dive into the essence of love, memory and beauty.

Drowse | Light Mirror/Second Self | The Flenser

Dude York | Falling | Hardly Art

Earl Sweatshirt | FEET OF CLAY | Tan Cressida

Elizabeth Colour Wheel | Nocebo | The Flenser
Majestic, urban-tribal, noise-sludge dream psych.

Empath | Active Listening: Night On Earth | Get Better Records

Entrancer | Downgrade | Multidim Records

Ex Hex | It’s Real | Merge Records
Cosmic New Wave power pop gems beginning to end.

Facs | Lifelike | Trouble In Mind

FEELS / Shannon Lay | Post Earth / August | Wichita / Sub Pop

FM Cubgod | Handsome? | Self-released

Foxes in Fiction | Trillium Killer | Orchid Tapes

Frankie Cosmos | Close It Quietly | Sub Pop

French Kettle Station | Over X Millennia | Self-released
Retro-furturist, New Age pop shade jams on contemporary wack culture.

Future Sound of London | Yage | Fsol Digital

Gila Teen | Doesn’t | Self-released

Glissline | Digital Bipolarism | Multidim Records

Gold Trash | Quiet Violence | Glasss Records
Collage glitch industrial hip-hop daggers into misogynist culture.

Goon | Natural Evil | Convulse Records

Guerilla Toss | What Would The Odd Do? | DFA
Mind-altering, subtropical, disco punk dance pop.

Guidon Bear | Downwardly Mobile: Steel Accelerator | Antiquated Future Records

Gun Street Ghost | Battles | Self-released

Half Shadow | Dream Weather Its Electric Song | Illusion Florist

Haunted Horses | Dead Meat | SIXWIX

Have a Nice Life | Sea of Worry | The Flenser

HEALTH | Slaves of Fear Vol. 4 | Loma Vista Recordings

HIDE | Hell is Here | Dais Records

Holly Herndon | Proto | 4AD

HTRK | Venus In Leo | Ghostly International
Love songs from downtempo dance clubs in the future urban decay.

Jamila Woods | Legacy! Legacy! | Jagjaguwar

Jenny Hval | The Practice of Love | Sacred Bones

Kal Marks | Let the Shit House Burn Down | Exploding in Sound

Kid Mask | dead sore(s) | Self-released
Dispatches from the industrial glitch techno hard rave revolution.

Kim Gordon | No Home Record | Matador Records
Scathing jazz cool poetry set to hip-hop-inflected noise.

Kristin Hersh | Possible Dust Clouds | Fire Records

Kyle Emerson | Only Coming Down | Swoon City Music

Larians | Looming Boy EP | Self-released
Loneliness and isolation distilled as shimmering IDM nuggets.

Legendary Pink Dots | Angel in the Detail | Metropolis Records
A brilliant synthesis of classical sonic architecture, emotionally charged ambient and deep social critique.

Lightning Cult | EP 2: Ether Waves | Cloud Command Sound

Lingua Ignota | Caligula | Profound Lore
Caustic, industrial fusillade against patriarchal fragility.

Lisa Prank | Perfect Love Song | Father/Daughter Records

Little Fyodor | Pithy Romantic Ballads | Self-released
Arch punk cynic and curmudgeon begrudgingly admits affection and survives.

Lot Lizard | s/t | Different Folk Records

Lower Dens | The Competition | Ribbon Music

Malibu Ken | s/t | Rhymesayers

Mannequin Pussy | Patience | Epitaph

Mdou Moctar | Ilana: The Creator | Sahel Sounds
Intricate African prog suffused with the joy of the creative act.

Moon Pussy | Band Meating | Self-released
Eruptive, searing, angular, anti-pop exorcisms.

Muscle Beach | Charms | Sailor Records

Necropanther | The Doomed City | Self-released

New Standards Men | Field Recordings From Late Capitalism Vol. 10 | Self-released

No Gossip in Braille | Bend Toward Perfect Light | Cercle Social Records
The transmogrification of sorrow into transcendent melodies.

NoSwoon | s/t | Substitute Scene Records
Effervescent yet introspective dark wave synth pop.

Nots | 3 | Goner Records

Nuancer | I Hardly Know Her | Self-released

Obtuse | Who’s Askin’? | Self-released
Gloriously earnestly meaningful, off-the-cuff, utterly unpretentious pop punk.

Oh, Rose | While My Father Sleeps | Park The Van

Oko Tygra | Assistoma | Grey Market Records
Masterfully executed emotionally stirring downtempo dream pop.

Old Time Relijun | See Now And Know | K Records

Orbit Service | The Door to the Sky | Self-released

Pedestrian Deposit | Dyers’ Hands | Monorail Trespassing
The sonic analog of places we don’t want to visit but are drawn to anyway.

Pharmakon | Devour | Sacred Bones

Pinkish Black | Concept Unification | Relapse Records

Pile | Green and Gray | Exploding in Sound
Furiously poetic, orchestral and thoughtful blueprint for arty, noisy post-punk to come.

Plaid | Polymer | Warp Records

Pop. 1280 | Way Station | Weyrd Son Records

POW! | Shift | Castle Face Records

Priests | The Seduction of Kansas | Sister Polygon

Redwing Blackbird | Too Klaus For Comfort | Self-released

Rowboat | Birchwood Halls | Self-released

Secret Shame | Dark Synthetics | Portrayal of Guilt Records

Sheer Mag | A Distant Call | Wilsuns Recording Company
Modern blues punk’s equivalent of Judas Priest’s Stained Class.

She Past Away | Disko Anksiyete | Metropolis Records / Fabrika Records

ShitKid | DETENTION | PNKSLM Recordings

Silence in the Snow | Levitation Chamber | Prophecy Productions

Sleaford Mods | Eton Alive | Extreme Eating Records

Sleater-Kinney | The Center Won’t Hold | Mom + Pop

Slugger | Is Real | Self-released

Sole & DJ Pain 1 | No God Nor Country | Black Box Tapes

somesurprises | s/t | Drawing Room Records

Spirettes | Esoteria | Self-released
An ethereal distillation of deep yearning and determination.

SRSQ | Temporal Love/Unkept | Dais Records

Stonefield | Bent | Flightless

Strange Ranger | Remembering The Rockets | Tiny Engines

Studded Left | Popular Intuition | S/L INTNL.
Psychedelic post-punk portraits of life and love in our dystopic USA.

Summer Cannibals | Can’t Tell Me No | Tiny Engines

SunnO))) | Life Metal and Pyroclasts | Southern Lord

Swans | leaving meaning. | Young God

Tacocat | This Mess Is A Place | Sub Pop

Telefon Tel Aviv | Dreams Are Not Enough | Ghostly International

The Coathangers | The Devil You Know | Suicide Squeeze

The Hecks | My Star | Trouble In Mind Records

The Ocean Blue | Kings and Queens / Knaves and Thieves | Korda Records

The Paranoyds | Carnage Bargain | Suicide Squeeze

The Stargazer Lilies | Occabot | Rad Cult

The Twilight Sad | It Won/t Be Like This All the Time | Rock Action
The sound of a valiant struggle against existential failure.

The Vanilla Milkshakes | Punching Cows | Self-released
Humorous and heartfelt pop grunge odes to perpetual outsider status.

Total Trash | Field Guide | Self-released
Melancholic, post-psychedelic, slowcore, glitter jams.

Turvy Organ | The Ghost at the Feast | GROUPHUG

Tyler The Creator | Igor | Columbia
Dense, gritty, hazy beats and meta-exploration of identity as human and artist.

We Are Not a Glum Lot | The Price of Simply Existing | Self-released
Gripping, emo-inflected, math-y, post-punk bummercore.

Weeping Icon | s/t | Fire Talk
Cathartic, thorny, darkwave doom garage.

Whipporwill | The Nature of Storms | Self-released

Wreck and Reference | Absolute Still Life | The Flenser

Xeno & Oaklander | Hypnos | Dais Records
Heavy/heavenly techno for the dance club on Mount Olympus.

Xiu Xiu | Girl with Basket of Fruit | Polyvinyl

Zealot | The Book of Ramifications | Self-released

Best Shows in Denver 2/28/19 – 3/6/19

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Teenage Fanclub performs at the Bluebird Theater on March 2

Thursday | February 28

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Sliver, photo by Tom Murphy

Who: Endless, Nameless tour kickoff w/Soulless Maneater, Lightstory, Giardia and Sliver
When: Thursday, 02.28, 7 p.m.
Where: Seventh Circle Music Collective
Why: Math rock band Endless, Nameless is headed to SXSW and to launch the group on its way some of its friends and peers are playing this show including gloom and angst festooned post-punk band Soulless Maneater, psych jazz abstract metal trio Giardia as well as post-grunge poseurs Diet Nirvana. But, really, Sliver is a great band inspired by grunge-era bands, Wipers and DC punk.

Who: Starjammer w/Joshua Trinidad
When: Thursday, 02.28, 9 p.m.
Where: 3 Kings Tavern
Why: Squidds Madden has been bringing his gift for improvisation to various funk, rock, jazz and ska bands over the past two decades. But Starjammer is his one man avant-garde dub reggae project in which he pilots an integrated multi-instrumental vehicle. Lately he’s been crafting stories to go along with performances and this is one of a handful of events where he’s trying that out while bringing in some of the greatest players in Denver to round out the bill. Tonight it’s trumpet player extraordinaire Joshua Trinidad who some may know for his masterful turns in Wheelchair Sports Camp and GoStar.

Friday | March 1

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Blood Incantation, photo by Tom Murphy

What: Decibel Tour: Cannibal Corpse, Morbid Angel, Necrot and Blood Incantation
When: Friday, 03.01, 6 p.m.
Where: The Oriental Theater
Why: Cannibal Corpse is known for having some of the most cartoonishly brutal and horrifying lyrics in metal. But it’s all in fun and if one can’t appreciate the absurd, even in bad taste, maybe you take yourself too seriously. The death metal legends share the stage tonight with one of the pioneers of death metal from, where else, Tampa, Florida (where Cannibal Corpse is now based): Morbid Angel. Opening the night is Blood Incantation, a Colorado band with a cult following in the death metal realm. While clearly self-aware, Blood Incantation is a powerful live act whose songs push the genre in interesting directions rather than get stuck like it’s 1985.

Who: Venus305 physical album release w/Gold Trash, EVP, Düll Haus and Techno Allah
When: Friday, 03.01, 9 p.m.
Where: Thought//Forms
Why: Molly McGrath is perhaps better known for her rock band Surf Mom. But for Venus305 she’s left behind the guitar and punk-esque vocals for electronic dance tracks and a vocal style more fitting for the type of downtempo and what one might call progressive lounge that is the music of Venus305. Also on the bill for this release show of the project’s physical album is screamy electroclash Gold Trash, industrial punk/dance duo EVP, the glitchcore for the dancefloor sounds of Techno Allah and Düll Haus, a band that seems to navigate the sonic territory traversing minimal synth dance and IDM.

Who: The Scientist w/Dr. Israel and DJ Imeh
When: Friday, 03.01, 8 p.m.
Where: Ophelia’s Electric Soapbox
Why: The Scientist learned his craft partly under the tutelage of dub legend King Dubby and went on to contribute greatly to the genre himself—which is reason enough to go if you’re into the roots of sound sculpting production.

Who: eHpH, TetraKroma, Redwing Blackbird
When: Friday, 03.01, 9 p.m.
Where: The Skylark Lounge
Why: None more synth on this night. eHpH makes a good case for why EBM and industrial rock isn’t essentially dead these days because the duo brings an emotional resonance to the music that isn’t just trying to be as angsty and nihilistic as possible. TetraKroma, that’s a lot of analog synths for making dark dance music but the depth of sound makes it obvious having the layers in hardware are worth it. Redwing Blackbird mixes samples and low-end heavy tracks to make some gritty EBM like early Front 242 but darker.

Saturday | March 2

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Praga Khan of Lords of Acid, photo courtesy the artist

Who: Teenage Fanclub w/The Love Language
When: Saturday, 03.02, 8 p.m.
Where: The Bluebird Theater
Why: Teenage Fanclub came out of the fertile musical ground of C86 influenced by the bands that influenced the jangle, twee and garage rock of that era. Its second album, 1991’s The King, came out on Creation Records, the imprint better known for being home to shoegaze giants of that period like My Bloody Valentine and Slowdive. But Creation also nurtured the cooler end of power pop (later Creation signed Oasis but that’s a whole other story). In the USA, Teenage Fanclub hit the college radio charts in a big way with its later 1991 album Bandwagonesque. At the time there was a revival in the interest in power pop pioneers Big Star and its soulful and melancholic catalog—a band that somehow sounded mournful and sad even when it rocked in a celebratory fashion on its songs. Bandwagonesque evoked Big Star powerfully on songs like “What You Do To Me” and “The Concept.” But Teenage Fanclub had its own voice and its sophisticated songwriting evolved over its now long career. 1993’s Thirteen sounded like the band had absorbed a bit too much of grunge or grebo or whatever and yet its delicate psychedelia and emotionally vibrant vocals remained part of the sound. 1995’s Grand Prix dispensed with the grunge affectations going forward. Teenage Fanclub doesn’t get nearly enough credit for being an important band in the development of Britpop but probably because there’s too much rock and roll in its songwriting and not enough of the dance music/Madchester element. It is precisely because of that disconnect with that 90s trend that the group’s music has aged well.

Who: GoStar
When: Saturday, 03.02, 9:30 p.m.
Where: Dazzle
Why: If a trumpet-guitar-and-percussion-driven jazz fusion band of the early 70s (Bitches Brew period Miles, Mahavishnu Orchestra) adopted mind-altering psychedelic flourishes and then traveled forward in time to hang with Arrested Development and A Tribe Called Quest in the early 90s before hopping again and landing in the 2010’s, that band would sound like GoStar.

Who: Lords of Acid w/Orgy, Genitorturers and Little Miss Nasty
When: Saturday, 03.02, 6 p.m.
Where: The Gothic Theatre
Why: There will be a lot of ridiculous antics and NSFW stuff at this show. Including from headliner Lords of Acid. The band’s songs are all about hedonistic activities and aspirations up to the line of self-parody. Its industrial dance music and live show is also good fun and maybe vocalist and band leader Praga Khan will push someone off stage into the audience for an impromptu and unexpected stage dive. But even if he doesn’t, Khan is a charismatic and entertaining frontman who draws you into the playful chaos of the band’s music.

What: Nightshift
When: Saturday, 03.02, 9 p.m.
Where: The Meadowlark Bar
Why: Nightshift is an all vinyl dance party on first Saturdays curated by Meghan Meehan and Laura Conway, focused on synth pop, disco and new wave.

Who: Duos From The Abyss: Gort Vs. Goom, The Swamp Rats, Triplip, Still Frames
When: Saturday, 03.02, 6 p.m.
Where: Tennyson’s Tap
Why: None of these bands are particularly from the abyss unless you’re only into punk that doesn’t color widely outside the musical lines. Gort Vs. Goom is the They Might Be Giants of Blue Oyster Cult tribute bands. Triplip is the Daikaiju of prog. Gort is not a tribute band but that’s the sort of mashup that comes to mind, among other things, seeing one of the duo’s sets.

Monday | March 4

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Hunter Dragon circa 2009, photo by Tom Murphy

Who: Hunter Dragon album release of Universal Basic Income w/Lazarus Horse and Shockermom
When: Monday, 03.04, 8:08 p.m.
Where: Syntax Physic Opera
Why: Hunter Dragon’s catalog is vast and widely varied in his methods and songwriting styles. But it’s unified by an imagination focused on a future that could or should exist now. Whether that’s a desolate post-disaster setting or, as the title of his new album suggests, a future where everyone can use the time they would normally expend on scrambling to survive on whatever suits their natural interests and talents. The new songs have a meditative, spacious folk quality. For the occasion of this release show Hunter has brought on board Lazarus Horse (a band that sounds like it realized that even the cooler weirdo psychedelic rock of the 2000s and 2010s would be and is played out and injected a lot more imagination and unusual rhythmic and tonal ideas into the mix) and Shockermom. The latter has been writing the soundtrack to everyone’s emotional return to peace and tranquility during the collective long dark night of the soul that’s been coursing through the world like a psychic cognate of the collapse of the global ecosystem. Essential listening.

Tuesday | March 5

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In The Valley Below, photo by Jaimie Skriba

Who: Daughters w/Gouge Away and HIDE
When: Tuesday, 03.05, 7 p.m.
Where: The Gothic Theatre
Why: Daughters are the legendary post-hardcore noise rock band whose mournful and abrasive music sounds like the purging of the world’s anguish. Except Daughters make it darkly beautiful. Gouge Away is a forceful, cathartic hardcore band that isn’t trapped in early 80s SSD worship. HIDE is a performance art-oriented industrial duo from Chicago whose visceral, ritualistic live show will probably confuse punk purists but which will fit right in with everyone on the bill.

Who: Albert Hammond Jr. w/In The Valley Below
When: Tuesday, 03.05, 7 p.m.
Where: The Bluebird Theater
Why: Albert Hammond Jr. is best known for his membership in The Strokes. But his solo career has yielded better songs than The Strokes have in years. There’s a bright and fresh quality to his upbeat pop songs and his performances that are likeable even when it sometimes sounds like he’s leaning on past creative laurels. Opening the show is synth pop band In the Valley Below from Grand Rapids, Michigan. Its bass and melody-driven songs differentiate it from what one would assume are its peers in bands like CHVRCHES, Phantogram and Poliça while sharing a sense of elevating moods and positive energy.

Wednesday | March 6

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Acidbat circa 2015, photo by Tom Murphy

What: Weird Wednesday: Acidbat, Satin Spar, Ruehlen/Seward
When: Wednesday, 03.06, 9 p.m.
Where: 3 Kings Tavern
Why: Acidbat doesn’t play many shows in general much less outside of some super underground show. His ambient yet beat driven, glitchy IDM is more imaginative than a lot of music out of that milieu. Also on this night’s Weird Wednesday is avant-garde improvisational/spontaneous composition duo Ruehlen/Seward.