Editor’s note: This is Sam Crisler’s final Backbeat feature. We wish him the best at his full-time reporting position at the Wahoo Newspaper.

Between hosting a local music radio show and covering the scene each month here for The Reader, I probably end up listening to almost as much Omaha music as everything else combined. And now that I’ve shared my credentials, here’s why I’d prefer not to be Mr. Gatekeeper.

I could make my own list of the best local releases of 2021, but what fun would that be? I’m just a music nerd who sits behind his computer in his basement and (mostly) stands against the wall at shows. Why take my word?

To provide a nice survey size, I spammed a bunch of Omaha musicians and scene tastemakers to find out which local releases they loved in 2021. What I got back was wide-ranging stylistically, but I think it provides an accurate idea of what the best Omaha albums from 2021 were, and which albums we’ll remember when we look back. As they say, real recognize real.

So, here are the results: The best Omaha albums of 2021, as chosen by the Omaha music scene.

Pagan Athletes – Pagan Athletes

Sam Lipsett (Cat Piss, Magū): My favorite album of 2021 is, without a doubt, Pagan Athletes by Pagan Athletes. It’s original and blends so many styles and genres while never being too much of one thing. To me, it really sounds like people making something that doesn’t have any boundaries or cares and is just fucking free. And I think the record just touches on the potential they possess and have and where things are going. And they haven’t just already played all their cards as a two-piece, that the limitations of just two people somehow gives them more freedom than some other ensembles. It’s the sounds of two wild dudes who are just free.

Thor Dickey (Nowhere): Refreshingly unique sound from this two-piece. I’m excited to hear their progression as they experiment further! Reminded me of the band Yip-Yip without the costume/stage prop theatrics.

Roman Constantino (Garst, Velvet Velvet): They are pushing jazz and noise in a new, exciting direction by playing it with more garage-style instrumentation. They’ve revamped their live shows from their original state by adding lyrics on every song that harken back to the work of artists like Mike Watt and Shellac, and they accent their vocal inflections with witty stage banter that one might expect at a show of an SST signee.

Pagan Athletes by Pagan Athletes

Marcey Yates & XOBOI Culxr House:Freedom Summer

Conny Franko (M34N STR33T): What I like about it most is all the different styles and features on the project. The record does a beautiful job of showing what Omaha’s hip-hop scene has to offer in all corners of the city.

Aramara Quintos Tapia (Histrionic, Latino Lives): Freedom Summer was an amazing & impressive effort of so many different Omaha artists while staying cohesive all the way through; it definitely should be included on this list!

MarQ Manner (Homer’s music store manager, culture writer): I’ve been a huge fan of Marcey as an artist and a person for a long time, so any new music from him is important to me. Then you add to it that this is the first local hip-hop to come out on Saddle Creek, and that is important. It’s also important that it is a collaborative effort within part of the Omaha hip-hop community. The best part about it though is that the music and songs are so good through the entire release.

Culxr House:Freedom Summer by Marcey Yates & XOBOI

Kyle Jessen – Make the Right Man Bleed

Nathan Wolf (Pagan Athletes, Cat Piss): I’m probably a little biased, as Kyle played on the Pagan Athletes album. But I think this is a stunning set of alto sax improvisations. Kyle develops rhythms and ideas in a way that I haven’t heard any other free player do. The lengths of phrases vary wildly, yet they remain compelling and logical. The second track on the album is especially great, as Kyle gets to show off the lyrical side of his playing. After a brief meditation in a minor mode, Kyle returns to the alien soundscapes that make up the rest of the record. He revisits some of the ideas at the beginning of the track eventually, but they’re far more hideous the second time around. If you’re at all interested in improvised music, do not miss this tape.

Sam Lipsett: Kyle Jessen also is on my list of sweet records.

Make the Right Man Bleed by Kyle Jessen

Jocko – Future Form

Aramara Quintos Tapia: Future Form was simply just SO good, and the track “Exhale” has me excited for the evolution of their sound.

Conny Franko (rapper, podcast host): Coming in second (for me) would have to be Jocko’s Future Form album. Those boys rip!

Future Form by Jocko

Living Conditions – Vows

Zach Schmieder (concert promoter): You can tell those dudes just put it all out there on this album. It’s an emotional roller coaster that I will ride until my body can’t take it anymore. It’s truly a brilliant piece of art.

Vows by Living Conditions

Yadda Man JiMMY

J. Crum (rapper, producer): My favorite album out of Omaha was JiMMY by Yadda Man. It was hella cohesive and has zero misses on the project.

JiMMY by Yadda Man

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