Narrowing down the Top 10 Albums Of The Year in Colorado is a difficult enough undertaking, as is, and considering the albums span multiple genres, The Marquee thinks it’s unnecessary, as well as unfair and kind of silly, to then rank these albums. So, in no particular order, we present our choices for the Top 10 Colorado Albums of 2015.
The Wild and Free
Perfectly written — lyrically and musically — Joel Van Horne finds himself among the great storytellers, giving enough poetic words to paint a clear picture, but also leaving plenty of alluring sparseness and mystery. His phenomenal phrasing sometimes comes across like an e.e. cummings poem, that when looked at linearly reads normally, but — and this might be one of Van Horne’s greatest assets — in the songs, he sings them with broken phrasing, and thoughtful pauses, adding subtle meaning with each inflection.
For The Wild And Free Van Horne once again closed the curtain, and recorded everything himself, except for a few string parts. This follow-up to his 2013 self-titled release is very much an extension of the first record, with wilderness and solitude again forming the main themes. This time though, instead of heading for the family cabin in Wyoming’s Medicine Bow range — the same cabin that bears the name Covenhoven — Van Horne headed for the canyon country of Utah. There, among the coyotes and cliffs, as opposed to the pines and the rivers of the first album’s setting, Van Horne wrote for five solid days, and came away with the material for The Wild And Free. And, just like the last time he locked himself away to write, the material that was born in that place is absolutely exquisite. Each track on the eight-song album sounds as thick and rich as if he was joined by every session player in the state, even though it’s all him.
Sandro John Malkovich Eric Alexandrakis
Like A Puppet Show
The double-LP Black Friday Record Store Day release Like A Puppet Show is centered around Fort Collins composer Eric Alexandrakis’ composition “Cryogenia X,” which has taken on a mind-boggling transformation at the hands of a slew of famous musicians. Alexandrakis is friends with renowned photographer Sandro Miller who has worked with, among many other subjects, John Malkovich.
Alexandrakis had the idea that Malkovich should recite Plato’s dark, haunting “Allegory of the Cave” over the ambient piece. Once the initial recording was completed, Sandro, Malkovich and Alexandrakis took the idea a step further by having a laundry list of musicians remix the composition. From Yoko Ono and Sean Lennon, to Dweezil Zappa, to The Car’s Ric Ocasek, Young The Giant and The Dandy Warhols, 11 different artists re-worked Alexandrakis’ original work, and the result is a vinyl-only release that takes “Cryogenia X” on a wild ride from Zappa’s very rock and roll heavy interpretation, to melancholy minor-key piano versions, to more up-beat almost techno renditions. It’s a gorgeous project and a major mind-fuck, that makes Plato’s nearly 1700-year-old poem seem incredibly contemporary and diverse as Malkovich is steered by a cast of characters and contributors from one atmospheric mood to another.
Once Upon A Giant
The first five tracks on King Cardinal’s Once A Giant EP are excellently crafted Americana tunes. The rolling beat that backs the tale “Gasoline” is subtle and familiar, and the redemptive “Into the Wind” is phenomenally penned. On the whole, those first five tracks present a sort of gothic blend of Americana and old-timey tunes with vocalist Brennan Mackey’s low-growl and Texanna Dennie’s stunning harmonies as the centerpiece. But then comes track six, the 28-minute long “Standing Down,” and suddenly Once A Giant turns from a solid Americana ride, into a masterful post-folk experiment that takes listeners by the hand and guides them to mysterious places. The ethereal, Bon Iver and acoustic Sigur Rós-styled track was recorded at home in the dark, and it’s pretty damn magical.
In The Whale
With a hit it and quit it swagger that has resulted in a blistering catalog of cathartic rock and punk, Denver’s In The Whale have continued their tradition of being loud, awesome and ending their EPs in under 15 minutes.
On their latest release Full Nelson, the Denver two-piece show a devilish, even more twisted side of In The Whale’s dark humor and raucousness. On the EP closer, the band throws a left-hook out of nowhere; an acoustic, almost ballady, Johnny Cash-styled track titled “Mail” which features Emily Hobbs of the Denver folk band Poet’s Row, providing back-up vocals.
It’s those twists and turns that keep In The Whale consistently enthralling and more fun than anyone should legally be able to have.
Nathaniel Rateliff and The Night Sweats
Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats
Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats have had the privilege of having the song of the summer with their soul-revival anthem, “S.O.B.” Social media exploded with praise, Spotify certified “S.O.B.” the number one viral track of the week, they were the #1 trending artist on iTunes, and on album release day, August 21, OpenAir CPR declared it “Nathaniel Rateliff Day” in Denver.
The first Denver artist ever to appear on Stax Records, Rateliff and company don’t appear to be from Denver, nor do they appear to be from this period in time. Instead the self-titled debut drips in vintage southern R&B. There’s no sign of Rateliff the acoustic singer/songwriter. There’s no sign of the anthematic rock of his earlier project Born In The Flood and there isn’t any indicator of the indie heavy former careers of some of The Night Sweats. Rateliff and The Night Sweats have released, if not the most entertaining album of the year, at the very minimum, the album most likely to be improperly filed under early sixties music. And it’s an absolutely delightful trip back to yesteryear.
With a sound that seems to have jumped out of a grainy black and white photo of massive, road worn Ampeg and Marshall amps, Luna Sol’s Blood Moon, released on 420, displays a stoner rock/metal fusion that lands somewhere between the approachability of Queens of the Stone Age, and the dark psychedelic retro-metal of Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats.
A massive list of guest musicians — members of Kyuss, QOTSA, Supafuzz and Guns ‘N Roses, among others — help to give Blood Moon a lusciously full and hook-heavy sound.
We Are Not A Glum Lot
The opening post-rock song “My Morning” shows the Colorado Springs-based We Are Not A Glum Lot blissfully colliding the illimitable vastness of Explosions in the Sky with the heavier drive of Godspeed You! Black Emperor. But the young four-piece — who met as freshmen in high school, and are now all around 19 and 20 years old — don’t stick with all instrumental soundscapes on Atychia. The title track certainly has a boundless post-rock movement in the middle of the song, but it starts like Modest Mouse, and ends a lot like fuzzy Sonic Youth.
The 10-song disc continues to drift like clouds from sparse whisps to thunderous climaxes, in unpredictable waves that continuously highlight the group’s incredible arrangements and phenomenal songwriting.
Founded in 2014, Edison has already been nominated for Best Folk Band in the Westword Music Showcase, played multiple showcases in Austin this year during SXSW, and spent time on the road with Maxwell Hughes (formerly of the Lumineers). Edison’s debut release Ghosts shows the urban folk trio putting forth simple and stripped down, but soaringly beautiful songs. Vocalist/guitarist and lyricist Sarah Slaton is joined by Dustin Morris on trumpet, mandolin, drums and vocals, and Chris Cash adds bass and vocals. Their minimalist approach allows space to be as important as the notes on much of the EP’s four tracks, and the accents that Morris provides (like the low bass drum on the title track, or the trumpet on “San Jose,”) allows those open soundscapes to reverberate Slaton’s ample and captivating vocals.
Making Tracks Home
Of all of the art inspired by the devastating Colorado floods of 2013, the husband and wife team of David and Enion Pelta-Tiller, who together form the basis of Taarka, may have put together one of the most beautiful homages to date about the tragic event. The Tillers, residents of Lyons, sadly lost their home and studio to the breached banks of the St. Vrain River, and parts of Making Tracks Home speak specifically to that experience, while other songs attempt to make sense of the aftermath as they ride a wave of emotions as gracefully as a fallen leaf sailing downriver
The duo could have predictably started the album with a somber narrative of the storm and the ensuing calamity, but instead “Heart and Song” opens the story out of chronological order, to reveal the sanguine lyric “And so we rise up, my darling, and greet the new day, with open arms, and shall we be strong, and lovely, and never give up on heart and song.”
Ashley Raines and the New West Revue
After The Bruising
The album is classified as Americana, and given that the instrumentation is Dobro, violin and a Weissenborn hollow neck lap slide guitar, it’s an understandable mistake. But this stop-you-in-your tracks album is one of the most authentic blues albums of the last many years. Every hallmark of a tremendous blues album is here; songs about the devil, tales of avengement sung in a mesmerizing raspy bass, and backed by a ghostly vibrato slide, all created by a virtual unknown. Captured entirely live in the studio, Raines, who splits time between Denver and Alamosa, has put forth an unmistakable gem.