Conor Oberst is back to political vitriol with his punk-minded act Desaparecidos, having taken the act on a few short tours and some festival dates. Meanwhile, new material keeps cropping up as well, in the form of limited edition vinyl singles. While the original incarnation focused on our millennial suburban malaise, Oberst and his cohorts have widened their gaze to America’s seemingly backwards and backwater views against immigration reform, among other issues. Righteous indignation still suits Oberst.
Icky Blossoms are currently charting the course for their second album, but their continued progression of live shows continues to prove that Icky Blossoms is evolving into its own addictive dance-rock identity. Formed by the trio of Sarah Bohling, Derek Pressnall and Nik Fackler, Icky Blossoms have tapped into a vibe that brings their own outsider-weirdo art kid vibe straight on to the dance floor. The grooves are deep even when the band’s sound ventures off to find its next psychedelic pop head trip.
Shawn Foree spent the last few years presenting what was essentially the leather end of his long-running act Digital Leather. Now Foree has grown the line-up to include two keyboardists, injecting plenty of digital anxiety to his melding of synth-pop and pissed-off garage punk. The result is the Arizona expatriate now boasts Omaha’s best rhythm section coupled with a new creative partnership, as Foree has found new keyboardist Todd Fink to be a new songwriting foil. It’s that new addition that’s finally taking the band from O’Leaver’s favorites to citywide notice.
Lincoln’s Universe Contest is a spastic indie rock band that has been threatening to break out into a full-scale indie music phenomenon for the last year. The question is more when it will happen rather than if it will. The band perfects theatricality in their live sets, while still delivering melodic precision. Modest Mouse is the usual comparison thrown Universe Contest’s way, but there’s elements of the last decade’s best, messy indie pop acts in here. If you’re already inclined to liking acts like Tapes N Tapes or the Dismemberment Plan, you’ll find lots to like in Universe Contest.
The Faint proved that just regrouping would be enough to cement their status has one of the city’s biggest local draws. Now the band has to take the next big step of releasing new material. The questions are many as the band decides what to do with material that they have recorded during the last year or so. How will they release these new songs? Who will release these new songs? Will the band release music themselves? Is Saddle Creek Records back in the picture after the Faint self-released their previous effort, 2008’s Fasciinatiion? And just how will the band’s new music sound after they downsized due to the departure of Joel Petersen?
Tim Kasher’s year was highlighted by his second solo album, Adult Film, and capped off by a three show residency with his main act, Cursive, at local venue The Waiting Room Lounge. The Cursive project is slated to result in a live record for the long-running Saddle Creek Records band. Meanwhile, Adult Film is basically Kasher’s songwriting tics played straight and it ultimately ends up serving as a summary of his strengths. By paring down the production on Adult Film, a songwriting master emerges.
Brad Hoshaw is that familiar friendly face at the end of a Benson bar, but his songwriting voice tells stories that sometimes lean darker. Murder ballads crop up in set lists next to drinking songs. Hoshaw’s Americana/folk rock songs place characters in a small-town world, while Hoshaw’s skill places him in the upper echelon of this city’s songwriters. Expect a new album by Hoshaw and his backing band, the Seven Deadlies, in 2014, after Hoshaw successfully raised funds to pay for the album on the Kickstarter crowdfunding website.
Matt Whipkey’s biggest year as an Omaha performer came thanks to a double-length album songwriting endeavor tied to Omaha’s faded icon of an amusement park, Peony Park. The resulting album, Penny Park: Omaha, NE: Summer 1989, filters memories of the park through the fictitious character of Penny Park, a summer girl of every guy’s dreams. Meanwhile, a portion of the songs see Whipkey dropping the guitar for synths and sequencers, giving his Heartland bar rock an appropriately dated spin and casting his songs in a new, welcoming light.
Shawn Holt & the Teardrops
Shawn Holt pays a fitting tribute to his father Magic Slim, who passed away in February 2013, by taking the helm of the Teardrops this year. The band convened for a studio album, out on blues label Blind Pig Records, that encompasses the stripped-down, raw take on Chicago blues that was Magic Slim’s signature sound. Holt had already proved his acumen as a guitarist and bandleader. Holt’s long been his own man, but by teaming up with his father’s own seasoned band, Lil’ Slim pays honor to his father’s iconic legacy.
Kris Lager Band
The Kris Lager Band have become one of Omaha’s most popular bands, thanks to superb musicianship that seems to grab handfuls of multiple genres. The band combines blues and funk-rock together and delivers them with the seasoning of a jam band. Kris Lager leads the band with a feel-good vibe, while his cohorts play with a skillful and energetic verve. The band’s last studio release, 2012’s Swagadocious, pulled the band’s sound in a more soulful direction. Meanwhile the band continues to regularly tour, increasing their presence across the Midwest.
Jeremy Holan leads an Americana folk band that plays as if they’ve packed the gospel revival tent and the Rapture is nigh. The sound is a rough, loose and dirty take on country rock. It’s somewhere between rockabilly, punk rock and country. Holan takes on the preacher role, preaching in snake pits and whiskey roadhouses, while his band sounds somewhere between the Reverend Horton Heat and Hank Williams III. By sounding like scum incapable of holy redemption, Travelling Mercies actually capture the true sound of American country music.
The Mynabirds boil down to the singular creative force of Laura Burhenn. As leader, songwriter and singer of the Mynabirds, her distinctive mix of sultry indie-pop, 60s R&B girl group swing and a little political folk-rock venom congeals into a solid ball of sound. At her best, Burhenn reimagines Dusty Springfield as played by Kathleen Hanna — just capable of being sonically beautiful as she is of being fierce. Her two Saddle Creek Records albums show her learning just how both sides of her songwriting work.
Noah’s Ark Was A Spaceship
Through several line-up additions and subtractions, Noah’s Ark Was a Spaceship is back to what they should be — a power trio. Andrew Gustafson, Rick Black and John Svatos fit together pretty well, as their last album You Need You bears out. The band has done an expert job in finding a modern text on their fuzzed-out nods to early 90s alternative icons like Dinosaur Jr. and the Pixies In fact, there are times when the band’s knack for earworm melodies makes them sound like acts like the Posies or even Teenage Fanclub.
Luke Polipnick Trio
Luke Polipnick has already planted firm roots in Omaha’s indie music scene, thanks to his accomplished guitar playing and his restlessly creative, experimental streak. What makes his acceptance in Omaha’s indie culture all the more surprising is Polipnick is primarly a jazz musician. But it’s his avant garde streak that has earned him fans and brought him to play alongside Omaha musicians like Dereck Higgins. His 2013 release Episodes is a jazz record that has appeal to jazz fans and open-minded indie record buyers alike.
Satchel Grande is a funk-jazz-rock superpower, with a plus-sized line-up and a well-groomed singer in Chris Klemmensen. Satchel Grande knows how to throw a party, having recently split its 11-piece line-up for a battle of the bands showcase where each half played opening sets before convening at the end to put the party rock over the top. The band draws a crowd even when it doesn’t do anything special. Horns, keys and thick, ass-shaking grooves keep dance floors filled, as Satchel Grande funks up yacht rock in a bold new image.
Omaha’s hip-hop scene has always seemed to lack the mainstream visibility that indie, hard rock and metal bands have enjoyed in Omaha. That may all change, thanks to Conchance and a host of his friends. Using east Omaha studio Make Believe has the home base, Conchance is bridging the gap between hip-hop and the city’s indie music fans. Conchance both holds his own when it comes to vocal delivery and the lyrics he writes. Conchance is elevating both his own music and the state of hip-hop in the city too.
Simon Joyner seems to be on a new creative roll, plugging in with a backing band of emerging Omaha musicians roughly half his age. After working on 2012’s Ghosts with his new troupe, Joyner recorded a split album Shrimper Records’ Dennis Callaci called New Secrets. Joyner still unfolds lyrical layers of slow-burn folk songs but he seems refreshed these days. Joyner is nothing less than a songwriting master in Omaha, though now he is eager to let his youthful band mates twist and turn his songs into newer, noisier shapes.
Eli Mardock may have just stumbled upon the best new way to get your music into the ears of the modern listener. He’s licensed songs off his releases to x-art.com, an erotic video site. Those songs have since exploded with thousands of downloads and YouTube views of the PG-rated versions of the videos. The former Eagle Seagull has evolved his layered, atmospheric shoegaze pop since that band dissolved. Mardock plays with his wife Carrie, making his solo records more of a family affair.
Emphatic have emerged once again in an updated form, this time with former Fuel vocalist Toryn Green replacing former singer Patrick Wilson. Founding member and main songwriter Justin McCain leads the creative direction fully now and the band’s 2013 album, Another Life, features McCain and his band mates self-producing their album. The modern hard rock band has moved on from Atlantic Records to major label subsidiary Epochal Artists. Another Life finds Emphatic refining their sound, making their sound perfectly suited for modern rock radio playlists.
Yuppies evolved quickly from their lo-fi pop beginnings, increasingly finding a harder edge and an off-kilter, angry, verbose take on wiry, breathless post-punk. Singer Jack Begley’s songwriting in particular grew by leaps and bounds, as he found a songwriting voice somewhere near the Fall’s Mark E. Smith and Jim Carroll. While Omaha took Yuppies for granted, New York label Dull Tools snatched the band up and released Yuppies’ self-titled LP earlier this year. Yuppies continue to keep their spirit uncompromised, preferring house shows to the city’s more commercial stages.
Rock Paper Dynamite
Places We Slept
Electric Chamber Music
See Through Dresses
Underwater Dream Machine
All Young Girls Are Machine Guns
So So Sailors
Josh Hoyer & the Shadow Boxers
Honey Boy Turner
One Eye White
The Big Deep
John Klemmensen & The Party
Max Fischer & James Brown
We Be Lions