303 Magazine’s Best of ’22: Music Edition

End-of-the-year lists are fast approaching a scourge upon the written world, but there is still a certain appeal to them. That appeal lies in gratitude — these aren’t just lists, they’re love letters. Sweet-nothings and whispers hoping to capture an iota of the brilliance that got us through another trying year. To the musicians featured here (and the plethora of ones who are not), thank you for all you do and all you create. We music nerds wouldn’t get a chance to rant and rave — not to mention make our own art by writing about yours — nearly as much if it weren’t for you.

But while we look towards all the sublime music to come from the Denver scene in 2023, lest we not forget this year’s greatest hits that so piqued our excitement. From 303 Magazine‘s music desk to you, here are our picks for Denver’s best music of 2022.

Best Singles

Pink Fuzz. Photo by Roxanna Carrasco.

Pink Fuzz — “Jake’s Turn”

If 2018’s Speed Demon was any indication, Pink Fuzz’s self-proclaimed style — “High-Speed Desert Rock” — fits their bill of creation. They’ve ripped through Denver’s rock scene with reckless abandon, making a name as one of the city’s finest outfits. In years since their debut studio album, the trio has honed and matured their sound. Their dual single release, titled Fading Away, is a true testament to the comfortability they’ve gradually found in themselves. “Jake’s Turn,” the first of the pair, doesn’t force itself onto the listener. The record is soft and reserved and serves as a resonating tribute to a dear friend of the band, Jacob Wright, who passed away in 2020. Lulu Demitro’s bass chords hum into the ether, running alongside Forrest Raup’s drums. John Demitro’s vocals are haunting and echoey, and reach a high note when he sings, “I really hope you know, you picked me up when I was low,” before they make way for a posthumous guitar solo by Wright. “Jake’s Turn” serves as both a tribute to a dear friend, as well as a reminder of their striking ability to convey emotion. — Carter Ferryman

Laika Beats — “Only Now”

Denver-based producer Laika Beats dropped his most recent — and most intriguing — single “Only Now” on November 11 this year. Laika’ has an uncanny ability to create stunning beats, each turning and twisting in unique and unpredictable ways. “Only Now” demands attention. Breathy lyrics state, “There is no past, there is no future. Only now,” as the soundscape shifts and drops out from under the listener. Put on your best headphones and buckle up for the ride into Laika Beats’ discography. — Victoria Glidden

Fox Lake — “Gaslight”

Fox Lake, a nu metal/rapcore group, released their single “Gaslight” in July 2022. This Colorado band is bringing high-caliber talent to the hardcore scene, and “Gaslight” is the perfect example of how. The first minute will have you hooked while keeping you on your toes as it bounces between an intriguing audio sample, quality screaming and hardcore hip-hop. The negative space in the first breakdown is clever and the rap element is uniquely captivating. The echo of “squeeze tight, gaslight” carries on through the evolving track, sticking to the back of your mind. Wake up on your morning commute or get energized in the gym by turning this one all the way up. — April Dawn

Best Albums

Stone Jackals. Photo by Julia von Dreele.

Neoma — Hyperreal

Neoma’s captivating sophomore album, Hyperreal, is an astonishing balancing act, navigating serious songwriting and ethereal production with experimental joy and semi-conceptual ideas. Scrolling through a romantic Rolodex of love, connection and feminist ideologies, Neoma successfully captures a feeling of wandering in the modern age of technology — wandering through real love and internet flings, through feminine hardships and harsh awakenings. Congruently, Hyperreal explores a new sound for Neoma, accompanied by ambient synths and hyper-pop sounds of the modern age and disco era. It’s a sonic love letter to the most influential women figures in music history like Donna Summer and Kate Bush as well as an homage to modern trailblazers like 070 Shake and FKA Twigs. — Logan Sasser

Tuff Bluff — Poppies EP

Short by mighty, Tuff Bluff’s EP reigns supreme as it runs the gamut of emotional release. At times fun, at others melancholy and still at others, chaotic, Poppies is a jubilee. Uninhibited in its approach to life as heard through melodies and harmonies, this EP is dismissive of what it “should” be: hearty when seeking lightness, pensive when numbness beckons and lively when the world calls for sadness. Truly one of the best listening experiences of 2022. — Alex Kramer

Stone Jackals — Chemical Canopy

The Stone Jackals’ album Chemical Canopy is one of the top indie rock albums out of Colorado. It’s a stunning blend of psychedelic, new-age rock that was crafted in the thick of the COVID-19 pandemic. Stone Jackals managed to produce a record that is both innovative and emotionally radiant. From the opening track to their closing notes, Chemical Canopy takes listeners on a journey through the band’s musical vision, making it a must-listen for fans of indie and psychedelic rock. — Andrew Venegas

Andy Thorn — Songs of the Sunrise Fox

We love a good friendship story, and this year saw an unexpected one blossom between Boulder-based banjoist Andy Thorn and the infamous fox. “Foxy,” who had been spending a lot of time hanging around Thorn’s canyon-side backyard, wound up inspiring an entire album of acoustic bluegrass tunes from the banjo player. Aptly named Songs of the Sunrise Fox, the album is bare-bones, homegrown and as easy listening as the best bluegrass tends to be. Proving that you can find inspiration from the oddest of muses, we loved seeing Thorn take a quirky detour from the norm this year and bonding with this foxy friend. — Emma Jerry-Polachek

Best Live Acts

N3ptune performing at UMS 2022. Photo by Roxanna Carrasco.

Polly Urethane

It is rare that a stage brandishing a lone performer can capture an entire audience’s undivided attention but that is exactly the power of Denver’s Polly Urethane. During her Hi-Dive performance opening for Sloppy Jane this fall, the siren songbird’s gospel-like melodies mesmerized the throngs of show-goers. But it isn’t just the music that holds sway during a Polly Urethane performance. Urethane moves frenetically from stage to pit to floor and back again. Sheaths of black hair paint the floor as high notes erupt atop haunting melodies continuing from the abandoned stage. There is emotion in this work and no shortage of it. — Alex Kramer

Shady Oaks

The busy streets of UMS couldn’t distract the crowds from packing into the narrow corridors of Stoney’s Cantina to see Shady Oaks this summer — the rock band that pulled them off of Broadway by their ears. As soon as the band took the cornered stage, it was clear the packed house was in for a treat. The energetic performance was a whirlwind of jovial chaos and thumping vibrations that rattled the walls. It was a truly unforgettable show that left everyone in attendance wanting more — the perfect setting to rev them up for the ensuing album release of Shady Oaks’ 2022 album MAD. — Andrew Venegas

Mr. Mota

For years, Boulder served as a hub for all things “mountain rock” — an umbrella term stretching the spectrum of jam, folk and blues rock. To say that, in the year of our lord 2022, this scene is effectively lost, would be a disservice to the amazing talent working hard in Boulder. To say, however, that the college community has turned its attention away from the genre and towards glitchier, electronic music is inarguable. It didn’t take Mr. Mota long to change that. Over the last couple of years, the band has combined elements of all three aforementioned rock subgenres, amassing packed crowds in beer gardens, backyards and, most notably, Boulder’s Fox Theatre for 2022 graduation. Juniors, seniors, adults and music lovers danced the night away to a roundup of unreleased music, humorous setlist staples, a saxophone performance by Danny Lerman (a renowned player and uncle of bassist Ari Lerman and keyboardist Max Lerman) and finally, an impromptu “Freebird” outro that blew the roof of 13th Street’s legendary music hall. — Carter Ferryman

Disco Lines

As EDM continues to rise in popularity more and more variations in style are spreading from Denver’s music scene, Disco Lines, or Thaddeus Labuszewski, is a great example of this renaissance. Taking his retro disco beats across the entire country this year, Disco Lines has skyrocketed into the music world. This fall, the Ogden packed in for his legendary homecoming performance. Disco Lines brings a goofy persona to complex beats and remixes that kept Denver fans up till 2 a.m. Creative energy oozes from each track and Disco Lines made sure his visuals and interactions with the crowd did so as well. For his next Denver pit stop, he is a must-see for those with tastes ranging anywhere from dubstep to Taylor Swift. — Victoria Glidden

Andrea Gibson

The Denver poetry scene often crosses paths with the music scene, resulting in a unique artistic experience. Andrea Gibson is a legendary spoken word poet that has resided in Boulder since 1999. They are known for their melodic cadence, gut-wrenchingly raw words and heart-on-their-sleeve attitude. Gibson performed in the Chautauqua Auditorium with cellist Zoe Keating in June of this past year. This was their first time on stage in over two years after the show was postponed numerous times. Gibson was diagnosed with stage II ovarian cancer in 2021, and the gratitude for their long-awaited return was warm and thick in the air. If you’ve never been to the Chautauqua Auditorium, you should know that it is a place like no other. This indoor venue is inside a historic barn built in 1898. The intimacy of the barn combined with the abundance of nature was the perfect environment for Gibson to reconnect with fans. The emotion in their performance was raw and intense, while also being humble, hopeful and inviting. The barn felt like home, and the crowd felt like family. — April Dawn

N3ptune

There’s putting on a good show, then there’s embodying a live performance. N3ptune, a genre-bending artist who explores soundscapes that range from R&B and synth-wave to rock ‘n’ roll and rap, is the latter. Everything, from N3ptune’s flamboyant costume designs and theatrical approach to music performance to his grand entrances and wild on-stage energy with his creative partner, Rusty Steve, contributes to one of the best live experiences in the music industry — period. — Logan Sasser