It seems Nebraska musicians as a whole prefer to release new music once the weather starts to warm up, and a handful of up-and-coming artists did just that in March, with everything from sample-based lo-fi hip-hop to upbeat piano-rock ballads dropping through the month. Let’s talk about those releases here.
Omaha indie folk five-piece Bokr Tov dropped its self-titled debut EP in early March after two years of playing shows around the state. The EP’s four songs — mixed by See Through Dresses drummer Nate Van Fleet and recorded in summer 2016 — reflect a nostalgic but carefree, wind-through-your-hair mood fitting for a late-August sunset complete with wistful slide guitars and Michael Stipe-esque falsettos colliding throughout. The album is a bit of an anomaly in that way, simultaneously echoing ‘80s college rock and early-2000s Saddle Creek alt-country, while throwing in a dose of hovering delay for atmospheric effect. Lyrically, the album deals with loneliness, loss, fate and the inevitability of the passing of time, but it offers a note of hopeful advice as the closer, “Narco,” fades out: “Don’t close your eyes/Don’t say goodbye.” Bokr Tov celebrated the album’s release at Reverb Lounge on March 3 with local acts Jacob James Wilton and Ryan Menchaca & The Invisible Horses.
In last month’s column, we noted Omaha indie rock band See Through Dresses’ in-studio session for Audiotree, a music outlet that invites bands to perform at its Chicago studio and later posts the video recordings on YouTube and makes the MP3s available on streaming sites. Audiotree released the session’s tracks on March 14. On the same day, another See Through studio session, with the similarly operating Daytrotter in Davenport, Iowa, was posted on Daytrotter’s website. It’s a four-song collection of cuts from the band’s 2017 LP Horse of the Other World, swirling through synthscapes and the atmospheric effects of Sara Bertuldo and Matt Carroll’s dreamy voices. Give the tracks a listen at daytrotter.com.
Omaha beatmaker/electronic producer Ridgelines, aka Mike Johnson, posted a sweeping 12-minute trip-hop cut titled “Told You,” featuring emcee Sleep Sinatra. The track shapeshifts from a bass-heavy, cacophonous world of drifting synths and (what seems to be) Beyoncé samples to a trap-influenced, futuristic rap trunk-shaker as Sleep mumbles esoteric bars depicting fire falling from the heavens. Then, when you think the song has found its groove, it morphs again into a psych-pop dream as the hi-hats and bass fade away. As a whole, it’s a bit mind-boggling, as if Tame Impala’s Kevin Parker, Aphex Twin and Metro Boomin joined forces for a drawn-out epic. But what’s more mind-boggling is the fact that it works. Ridgelines’ latest album, Beautiful View, comes out April 7 with a release show at Reverb Lounge, and information for the show is available at reverblounge.com.
Sleep Sinatra’s March output didn’t stop with the Ridgelines collaboration, though, as the restless Lincoln rapper released his third EP since August 2017, XMXTHXST. He’s more confident than ever, with his flows comfortably meshing with his instrumentals. By now, it’s clear Sleep is a student of backpack rap, often pulling inspiration from Madlib’s sample-heavy production and the haunting deliveries of contemporaries like Milo and Billy Woods. But instead of using those influences to vie for the top, Sleep is content sitting back and observing with a shrewd BS detector and the certainty that the top will present itself when it’s ready for him. On “Tyronn Lue,” he elevates “from a player to a coach,” enough to see the world for its faults and hypocrisies on “Social Sciences.” The album’s title, read as “amethyst,” pops up in samples throughout the EP, possibly pointing to the gem’s meaning as a Greek symbol for sobriety. From sobriety can come growth, and if this is Sleep Sinatra’s state of mind, his growth should be fun to watch.
Another local artist with an album on the horizon, Magü, the solo project of Dave McInnis (who also drums in Omaha bands Timecat and Jacob James Wilton), released his EP’s opener, “Julianne,” on Bandcamp on March 16. Leading with a jiving piano riff over crackling static, the track bursts into a lively drum rhythm with chorus-laden guitar leads. But the song’s shining star is McInnis’s melodies and the devastating story his lyrics tell. Through the first verse, McInnis sings to a close friend or love interest who left town for good. The narrator assures her he’ll be a phone call away when she needs him. But by the time the last refrain rolls around, it’s clear the narrator is the one who needs her: “With no plans, how did I expect this to end/Now my friend’s up north, and she’s better off without me.” The lyrics and music effortlessly mesh; you’ll be hard-pressed to hear another local song this year that’s as emotionally impactful as “Julianne.” The full EP, Change of Heart, drops May 5.
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With March came the 32nd annual South by Southwest festival and conference in Austin, Texas, and for the second year in a row, Lincoln independent radio station KZUM presented the Nebraska Exposed showcase with 13 Nebraska musicians and comedians. Many of the artists spent their SXSW trips focused on generating maximum exposure, playing other showcases and hitting cities like Kansas City and Oklahoma City on their drives south. Khari the Duo even dropped a verse on SiriusXM’s national “Sway in the Morning” radio show (check it out on the band’s Facebook page). On March 15, the 13 acts, including Omaha hip-hop group The Dilla Kids, Lincoln post-hardcore band Better Friend and folk troubadour Orion Walsh, came together for the daylong Nebraska Exposed showcase at Cheers Shot Bar, which Walsh said showcased each band’s talent and the Nebraska music scene’s camaraderie, according to a KZUM article.
As Austin is known for SXSW, perhaps Omaha will one day become widely known as the home of House Fest, which held its second-annual event on March 16 and 17. Lucy’s Pub, the festival’s house venue namesake, and We’re Trying Records hosted more than 200 music fans and 30 DIY bands — many of which were touring acts. Due to weather, the planned outdoor stage was scrapped, but with a basement stage and a garage stage already available, it wasn’t an issue. In a Facebook post the day after the festival, coordinator and Lucy’s Pub resident Dave McInnis acknowledged the logistical nightmare House Fest could have been, but the two days packed with music went smoothly, and the festival raised over $1000 for Youth Emergency Services, an Omaha charity benefiting at-risk youth. As DIY venues around Omaha struggle to keep their doors open, Lucy’s Pub is a shining light, and events like House Fest inspire a scene where making music on your own can reach wide audiences. With another stellar turnout this year, look for House Fest to continue growing into an Omaha independent music staple.
To end the column, we’ll add in some big news from February that couldn’t be included in last month’s column due to deadline constraints. Maha Music Festival asserted its position as Nebraska’s biggest yearly music event, announcing an expansion to two days and its addition of the innovation and entrepreneurship-focused Big Omaha conference to its programming. Maha’s growth to two days was a natural progression, Maha Executive Director Lauren Martin said in a Daily Nebraskan article. But Big Omaha’s inclusion came as an effort to align the festival with the setup of a wide-ranging event like South by Southwest, involving more than only music fans with Maha. The 10th-annual festival takes place Aug. 17-18 at Stinson Park in Aksarben Village, and lineup announcements should be expected in the coming months.