The time of year has come around once again to vote on the best of Denver for the 303 Awards. Diving into the awards can at first glance seem overwhelming, particularly in the musician categories — how does one choose amongst such a diverse and promising music scene? For the best up-and-coming musician award, one of the most prestigious in the music category, we’ve made things a little more simple introducing the list of our nominees. From the alt-rock ethos of Slow Caves to the complete R&B package of Kayla Rae, here are the 2018-2019 nominees for best up-and-coming musician.
Slow Caves is relatively low-key for how damn good their music is. After releasing a stream of polished indie-rock singles from their upcoming album throughout 2018, Falling (out March 22 of this year), is sure to cement the band even further. Having represented Denver at a slew of out-of-state gigs over the years — whether at Treefort in Boise or Austin’s SXSW — Slow Caves have been pushing open the door to the mainstream since 2017’s Desert Minded. With a rich sun-kissed yet biting sound and an incredible grasp of pop inflection and songwriting, Slow Caves has not only become one of the most exciting bands the city has to offer, but also the most reliable. Should they keep it up, we may not be able to keep our best-kept secret a secret for long.
Trayce Chapman has been grinding, honing his bars and style all in preparation for what is undoubtedly his best output yet, last year’s Exotic Birds. The project — an exquisite trap-rap odyssey — sees the rapper coming into his own with a full length that can rival many of the national upstarts of today. “The Flux,” the fan-favorite and breakout single from the project, may just be the thesis statement – airing his fears, his anxieties, his ambitions and how they clash over a lush beat that begs for replays. Of the many hip-hop albums that arrived in 2018, Chapman’s remains one of the most concise and identifiable of the rapper at the helm. His work offers not just a view from where Chapman is but also the heights he’s capable of reaching, and the lengths to which he’ll push himself to get there.
The Velveteers are as badass as they come. Buoyed in lead singer and guitarist Demi Demitro’s sheer bravado and menace, with a juggernaut of a drum line anchored by her brother John Demitro and Adrian Pottersmith, The Velveteers are a smoking gun of an old fashion rock n’ roll horror show. The band is effortlessly thrilling, rocking intimate house shows with the same insanity and unfurled energy as the larger stages of the Underground Music Showcase and beyond. Evoking the likes of The White Stripes and The Kills, in the sense of creating sonics far bigger than the band itself, it’s honestly a matter of time before the band explodes and ensnares the outer reaches of the state. With their self-titled debut arriving last year, that day may be coming sooner rather than later.
One of Denver’s newest and also fastest growing acts on this list — Oxeye Daisy not only released a fantastic album in this year’s self-titled effort, but the band has live chops for days. Anchored in the acrobatics and versatility of lead singer Lela Roy’s voice, the band have been breaking out all across Denver and those who’ve witnessed their prowess can’t get enough. Oxeye Daisy had their album named one of the best of 2018 by Colorado Public Radio, and their song “Where My Mind Goes” has racked up tens of thousands of streams, to the point where we previously dubbed them an artist to look out for in 2019. If all goes along their current trajectory, then 2019 may see them blast out of orbit.
Kayla Rae is the R&B star Denver needs. The woman has the voice, the image and the traction that is begging for the attention of an industry who crafts those with much less. In fact, it’s honestly amazing that Kayla Rae hasn’t blown out of our orbit, but the universe usually works itself out, and surely will in this woman’ s favor. With tracks like “Practice” and “Changed Up,” Rae also exhibits a well-tuned songwriting ability — hits upon hits just waiting to take off, should they find their way to the right ears. With everything Kayla Rae has to offer, she could very well be the one to put Denver’s R&B scene on the map.
Los Mocochetes may be one of Denver’s most important bands. Their Chicano heritage lives and breathes as the group’s foundation and is celebrated in the proud music the band creates with their funk, hip-hop, Latin rock fusion. The band’s message, completely ingrained in their music, addresses the current political climate and division but challenges its audience to create a bond of unity. Their live performances are as much social activism as they are a riotous dance party. Odds are if you’ve seen the band once, you’ve come back again and again, latched onto their message of empowerment — because they are just that good.
Ray Reed is on fire. Just last year, the rapper released his newest full-length album, A Dollar & a Scheme as well as opened a streetwear boutique and went on to reach new heights, headlining the Gothic Theatre in the summer. Out of Denver’s hip-hop scene, Ray Reed is anything but one dimensional, and his ambition is evidence of that. Not only versatile, but Reed also brings a fire to the stage — finessing his bars with style and swagger, as only he can do.
A powerful tapestry of folk-rock envelopes Whitacre. The band, who categorize themselves as “Weezer with a banjo” embellish their music with unpredictability and tension that breaks into something honest and euphoric. That raw honesty, pervasively ringing out of lead singer Paul Whitacre’s voice, and the immensely talented musicians, Joe Wenberg, Chase Perry, Robert Bullington and Mark Cunningham at his back, has aided the band in connecting with Denver in an irrefutable way. Leading the band to sell out venues left and right as well as open for the likes of Mt. Joy and Wild Child, Whitacre has all the tools they need to reach the next level. Going into writing and recording their forthcoming full-length, Seasons, one would be seriously mistaken to think these boys can’t make it there.
The Solid Ocean
The Solid Ocean is an earworm of a band with relentlessly catchy hooks and a penchant for indelible indie-pop. The band simultaneously revives the early 2000s power-pop of acts like All American Rejects while also taking it to realms reminiscent of Two Door Cinema Club and Walk the Moon. Existing as a unit for four years now, the exciting string of singles they slow-dripped through 2018 saw a band hitting their stride, as each release got better and better. In fact, if you’re not already shouting along to the stomper chorus of one of their newest singles “Freaking Out,” we guarantee you it’s only a matter of time.
SunSquabi has been growing as one of Denver’s best up-and-coming electronic groups for a while, knocking off massive milestones from their sold-out performance at the Fillmore Auditorium in 2017 and their high placement on the Grandoozy lineup this past year. Their Denver following is without a doubt strong, but their inclusion on this list comes from their growing fanbase outside of our city limits, and what the recognition from entities like Superfly who coordinated Grandoozy means for them as a band and for Denver as a whole. No longer is SunSquabi some best-kept secret. The band is making an impression far and wide to the point where it seems inevitable that they’ll join the ranks of Illenium and GRiZ — continuing Denver’s electronic legacy.
Also, check out the Playlist for Best Up-and-coming musician below: