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

Pop Smear’s New Instrumental Single “Nuclear” Has the Surreal Mystery and Charm of Darkened Early 80s Video Game Arcades

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Pop Smear, photo courtesy the artists

Pop Smear’s latest single “Nuclear” finds the New York City-based duo crafting what sounds like an alternative soundtrack to The Atomic Café. It is playful throughout but with an undertone of urgency and brushes of menace. Unlike Pop Smear’s usually oeuvre, this is an instrumental reminiscent of something Fad Gadget might have done or Xeno & Oaklander might do now. Its sound is retrofuturistic like a soundtrack to a pinball machine, the beat and rhythm bouncy, the synth arpeggio’s rolling like clockwork, the splashes of slightly distorted synth as melody like hitting the flippers to send the ball rolling to trigger lights and an escalating score. All the while there is a sense of the otherworldly combined with a familiarity like you walked through a door into an early 1980s arcade with your knowledge of video game post 1979 wiped from your memory and how surreal, mysterious and magical it felt even knowing they were just games with the threat of nuclear holocaust pending as the Cold War was, perhaps unknowingly, coming to a close. Even if it wasn’t aiming for that vibe, that’s what “Nuclear” sounds like to anyone who might remember that era. Listen to “Nuclear” on YouTube and follow Pop Smear at their Facebook page linked below.

facebook.com/popsmearofficial

Best Shows in Denver 8/22/19 – 8/28/19

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Papa M performs at Summit Music Hall on 8/26/19 with Mogwai

Thursday | August 22

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Xeno & Oaklander, photo courtesy the artists

What: Drab Majesty w/Body of Light, Xeno & Oaklander and DJ boyhollow
When: Thursday, 08.22, 7 p.m.
Where: 3 Kings Tavern
Why: The darkwave show of the summer. Drab Majesty is a transgender, glam, post-punk, space alien duo that has been instrumental in making the new post-punk/Goth wave popular outside the usual circles and within the old school scene. The 2019 album Modern Mirror reveals the group’s for well crafted songs beyond the entrancing, atmospheric mood that could overshadow Deb Demure’s writing in the past. Body of Light has synthesized the minimal synth influences descended from early Depeche Mode and EBM into a dynamic, darkly ambient synth pop. Xeno & Oaklander’s minimal analog synth compositions suggest a foundation in cinema and it’s own 2019 album Hypnos takes the listener on a journey into a journey into a desolate and eerily lonely future where alien archaeologist/anthropologists study what happened to us foolish humans in the Twenty-First and Twenty-Second centuries with an emphasis on the art and music created around the turn of the Twenty-First century.

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The Yawpers, photo by Megan Holmes

What: The Yawpers w/CITRA
When: Thursday, 08.22, 6 p.m.
Where: Leavitt Pavilion
Why: The Yawpers bring their unhinged blues punk to Leavitt Pavilion for a free show. The trio’s most recent album, 2019’s Human Question, really does delve thoughtfully and urgently into what this whole mess of humanity is about and what we can and should be doing in this life individually and collectively given our flaws and deficits of feeling, of cognition, talent and capability. But The Yawpers suggest we can’t just quit as past civilizations faced similarly destructive situations politically, economically, spiritually, environmentally and culturally.

Friday | August 23

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Big Dopes, photo by Jake Cox

What: Big Dopes album release w/Spirettes and Whiskey Autumn
When: Friday, 08.23, 8 p.m.
Where: Hi-Dive
Why: Big Dopes releases its new album Crimes Against Gratitude tonight at the Hi-Dive. The trio’s songs combine a rich, moody low end courtesy Justin Catanzaro’s bass and Eddie Schmid’s rich vocals. Intricate melodies and dynamic rhythms with the band, including drummer Ricky Brewer, giving the songs a rare expressiveness and vibrancy. Schmid’s lyrics seem to come from poignantly observational biographical snapshots. In telling these stories the band tells the story of a generation coming to terms with diminished future possibilities but refusing to give into despair yet finding a way to cope with creativity and empathy rather than callousness. It’s guitar-based indie rock of a sort but one that seems as informed by the emotional resonance of R&B as by left field alternative rock.

What: The Bellweather Syndicate w/The Siren Project, Autumn and Julian Black
When: Friday, 08.23, 7 p.m.
Where: Herman’s Hideaway
Why: The Bellweather Syndicate is William Faith and Sarah Rose. The former was a bassist in later era Christian Death with Rozz Williams as well as a longtime member of Faith & The Muse and playing in Sex Gang Children and The March Violets. The dark post-punk band has a driving low end and a sense of urgency to its ethereal yet gritty melodies. Autumn’s dream pop sounds like someone in the band, or everyone, listened to a whole lot of the Stone Roses, Chameleons and Kitchens of Distinction and took that as a launching point in crafting what is its own sound. The Siren Project from Denver is a synthesis of European post-punk sensibilities and emotionally expansive trip-hop.

What: Solypsis, Blackcell, Acidbat and Kid Mask
When: Friday, 08.23, 8 p.m.
Where: Thought//Forms
Why: A more experimental take on electronic music, noise and the avant-garde all around at this show including Denver Goth-industrial/noise legends Blackcell, Kid Mask’s disregard for specific style in making his deeply emotional and affecting soundscapes, Acidbat’s glitchcore industrial ambient and Solypsis which is almost as much performance art as ambient industrial.

Saturday | August 24

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Petite Garçon circa 2016, photo by Tom Murphy

What: The Pamlico Sound vinyl release w/The Soltones and Cosmic Joe
When: Saturday, 08.24, 8 p.m.
Where: Larimer Lounge
Why: The Pamlico Sound is releasing its new album The Funk is Not For Sale on vinyl for this show. The Boulder-based group is lead by Will Baumgartner who has played in various funk bands in Denver for years but whose roots are in New York where he, as a young kid, went to Woodstock (the original) and who moved about and played in the No Wave scene of late 70s and early 80s NYC. So The Pamlico Sound, which is very much a funk band in the traditional ways has a little different flavor in its exuberance and weirdness. The Soltones also have some funk in its sound but its smooth songwriting is steeped in jazz and R&B and its lushly composed songs have a soothing mood that doesn’t wax into the soporific, just emotionally refined and transporting.

What: Lily & Horn Horse, Banny Grove, French Kettle Station, Petite Garçon and Egg Walk
When: Saturday, 08.24, 9
Where: Rhinoceropolis
Why: Lily & Horn Horse is a New York duo that would be difficult to define except to say that its horn, vocals and beat combination is jazz, dream pop, downtempo hip-hop and avant-garde. Which is just as well given the eclectic sounds on the rest of the bill including French Kettle Stations neo-No Wave, adult-contemporary pop and performance art and Petite Garçon’s own post-garage indie pop. Supposedly the latter has a new album out tonight as well but we can neither confirm or deny so best to bring some money to buy a copy anyway.

What: Oko Tygra w/Bluebook, Hifi Gentry and Cuckoo
When: Saturday, 08.24, 7 p.m.
Where: Globe Hall
Why: Oko Tygra is the perfect blend of R&B and dream pop in the grand 4AD label band mold. Bluebook is an interesting hybrid of downtempo, Americana and the avant-garde. Cuckoo is like if a math-y indie band merged with a garage rock band and then forged a musical identity beyond that but rooted in the best aspects of both.

Sunday | August 25

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Total Trash, DJ Couchman on right in sunglasses, photo by Tom Murphy

What: Shibui Denver #5: The Vagrant Sea, Tokyo Rodeo and DJ Couchman
When: Sunday, 08.25, 7 p.m.
Where: Mutiny Information Café
Why: This edition of our monthly series at Mutiny features DJ Couchman of the band Total Trash and the DJ night Interesting Times spinning songs before the show and between sets. It will be the debut of The Vagrant Sea which includes former members of Tarmints, The Dirty Lookers and The Symptoms (among others) and rock and roll band Tokyo Rodeo will put in a performance fresh off the road.

What: Bryan Ferry w/Femme Schmidt
When: Sunday, 08.25, 6:30 p.m.
Where: The Paramount Theatre
Why: Bryan Ferry is the charismatic singer of pioneering glam rock/experimental band Roxy Music. The latter was a huge influence on punk and alternative rock and whose music has managed to remain somewhat timeless as its classic songwriting style and willingness to go off the deep end into adventurous sonic territory has endured as captivating and relevant. Ferry’s solo work has a similarly creatively refined sensibility and flair for thoughtfully poetic lyrics.

What: KRS-One w/Righteous Revolution and illosophy
When: Sunday, 08.25, 7 p.m.
Where: Oriental Theater
Why: KRS-One was the thought-provoking MC who was the frontman for influential hip-hop crew Boogie Down Productions. His whole career KRS-One has shined a light on society’s ills with an incisive and creative critique.

Monday | August 26

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Mogwai circa 2011, photo by Tom Murphy

What: Mogwai w/Papa M
When: Monday, 08.26, 7 p.m.
Where: Summit Music Hall
Why: Scottish instrumental rock band Mogwai play majestic, even epic journeys into rock music’s outer edges informed by a healthy sense irreverent humor. Papa M is the long running experimental guitar and atmospheric moods project of David Pajo. You know, the guy who brought so much imagination and genius guitar work to Slint, Stereolab, Will Oldham, Royal Trux, The For Carnation, Zwan, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Dead Child and Interpol.

Tuesday | August 27

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The Vibrators, photo by Hannah O’Brien via The Vibrators’ website

What: The Vibrators, Filthy Hearts, Cyclo-Sonic and The Pollution
When: Tuesday, 08.27, 7 p.m.
Where: Seventh Circle Music Collective
Why: The Vibrators were an early English punk rock band who managed to stay around and still write worthwhile punk in the classic vein. If Stiff Little Fingers name themselves after one of your songs and go on to be a seminal influence on bands like Green Day your legacy is secure and yet The Vibrators bring a spirited live show that is worthy of that legacy as well. Its debut album Pure Mania should be in the library of any true punk connoisseur.

Wednesday | August 28

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Black Flag, photo courtesy Artists World Wide

What: Black Flag w/The Line Cutters
When: Wednesday, 08.28, 8 p.m.
Where: Oriental Theater
Why: It’s not the classic line up of Black Flag but Greg Ginn still rips out that iconic guitar work like he wrote it last week with the unalloyed joy of a young buck. Seeing Ginn lay waste to the room that way alone is worth the price of admission.