Much of 2017 has seemed relatively quiet for Saddle Creek Records, but over the last 11 months the Omaha indie record label has built up a rather impressive list of releases, which includes Big Thief’s critically heralded second LP Capacity, Land of Talk’s first album in seven years Life After Youth and local indie pop trio Twinsmith’s breezy, carefree Stay Cool.
For Saddle Creek, November was a month of celebrating new roster additions, announcing two new signees in Detroit singer-songwriter Stef Chura and Los Angeles four-piece experimental indie rock band Young Jesus.
For six years, Stef Chura has been recording and releasing lo-fi rock songs DIY-style, showing a deftness at smartly crafting earworm melodies — either bouncing or brooding, depending on the song — with her out-there vocal style, which borrows as much from Liz Phair’s despondence as Stevie Nicks’s warbling twang. With the announcement, Saddle Creek also revealed that it would re-release Chura’s debut studio album Messes in February.
Similarly, Young Jesus has amassed almost a decade’s worth of album and single releases since forming in 2009 in Chicago. The band’s third full-length, S/T (available digitally now), displays the results of eight years of growth. The seven-track album traverses spacious dream rock akin to ‘90s lo-fi acts like Duster, intimate, Nick Drake-esque folk, and free-forming, slow-building post-rock. Look out for physical copies of S/T, which Saddle Creek also drops in February.
Tangentially related to Saddle Creek, 15 Passenger, the new label spearheaded by former Saddle Creekers Cursive, announced it would re-release Cursive’s first two LP’s, 1997’s Such Blinding Stars for Starving Eyes and 1998’s The Storms of Early Summer: Semantics of Song. Domestica and The Ugly Organ were certainly raw and emotional in their own rights, but the first two Cursive records see Tim Kasher at his most vulnerable, achingly shouting heartbreaking lyrics like “My hearts are on the sleeves of my shirts scattered over your lawn” (on “Ceilings Crack”) over jagged riffs and unpredictable post-hardcore song structures. Though often rough around the edges, Starving Eyes and Storms of Early Summer allude to the intensely personal material and polished but uneven song structures with which the band would follow. The re-released albums will both be available on 180 gram, colored vinyl and come out Dec. 1.
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Local LP releases were scarce in November, but we were dealt a smattering of extended plays from a handful of Nebraska up-and-comers.
Lincoln singer-songwriter Daniel Christian released the first of two 2017 EP’s in July, Coffee, which unabashedly pulled from ‘90s power pop acts like Matthew Sweet and Ben Folds. Even with his clear influences, Christian manages to write delightfully catchy pop hooks with tried-and-true — but efficient — chord progressions. Christian’s latest effort, Toast, follows in a similar vein as Coffee, serving a seven-song helping of piano and guitar-driven rock as Christian harmonizes with himself, creating pleasantly innocent melodies that feel more appropriate for parking at the top of a hill during a summer sunrise than cooping up in a coffee shop in mid-November. Still, any cold-weather blues are no match for Christian’s earnest pop-rock.
Similarly, Omaha punk rock band Hussies dropped the first and second EP’s of a three-album project, titled Going and Nowhere, respectively. The former is finally seeing the light of day after having been recorded with in 2013. The two seven-track EP’s blend rhythmically swaying blues structures with the aggression of punk, but still make room for plenty of Ben Eisenberger’s rapid guitar noodling. Meanwhile, vocalist Tom Bartolomei dominates the rest of the band with his coolly delivered yelp. Hussies recorded Nowhere at ARC Studios in Omaha, but it still maintains a strictly DIY aesthetic, with each dissonant guitar and bass progression sounding as if it were aided with grungiest overdrive pedal available. And that’s not a bad thing at all, as it only emphasizes the band’s in-your-face, slacker attitude. Keep an eye out for the final installment of the EP project, Fast, sometime in the next few months.
Also in Omaha, hardcore punk band Dilute came out with its debut demo EP, simply titled Demo 2017. The band — composed of vocalist Alex Heller, guitarist Nathan Ma, bassist Kaitlan McDermott and drummer Jon Cobb — joined the Omaha punk scene last summer, playing its first show at the 2016 Nebraska Hardcore Showcase. Since then, the band has railed against masculinity and female objectification at shows around town, and that’s just what Dilute does on its demo. The tape presents five blisteringly urgent songs, which instrumentally focus on the power of fuzzed-out, atonal guitar riffing and primal drumming. And from beginning to end, Heller screams matter-of-factly, with lyrics refusing that she be taken as simply a novelty on “Take It All” and rejecting attempts at male courting on “Not 4 U.” Fittingly, the final track, “Fake,” ends in a wall of feedback, echoing the unwavering anger found throughout the demo.
Lastly, another fresh Omaha band, Orca Welles, burst onto the DIY scene in November with its debut EP Many Years To Go. The band got its start earlier this year, and over the summer recorded the EP with The Way Out’s Levi Hagen in his garage. Jeremy Wurst of Coyote Face Recording handled the mixing and mastering. The result is four tracks of energetic garage rock, calling back to genre originators like The Sonics and The Rolling Stones, with simple yet addictive two-part song structures alternating between bouncy chord progressions and frontman Alec Williams’ catchy guitar licks. Williams and rhythm guitarist Olivia Baxter share vocal duties, both detailing reflections on youth and the future’s uncertainty. The band celebrated the EP’s release with a concert at The Commons LNK on Nov. 25 with openers The Young Ones Band and Sophie & Evan.
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As we moved into the holiday season in November, the Nebraska music scene started to turn its focus to fundraising. KZUM announced its Soup & Songs lineup for the winter, and the Josh Hoyer-led NE Funk & Soul Alliance revealed details for its second annual event.
Soup & Songs got its start in 2015 as a benefit for nonprofit radio station KZUM, staging acoustic concerts at the Ferguson House directly adjacent to the Nebraska State Capitol on the southeast side as Open Harvest Co-op Grocery served soup. The benefit’s goal and operation is more or less the same this time around, with one concert per month announced between November and March. The series kicked off in November with The Lightning Bugs, and over the five months, hard rock band Freakabout, country singer-songwriter Lloyd McCarter, blues band Aunt Bunnie’s Parlor and folk group SAS & Friends will each play a set as part of the series. Visit kzum.org for more information.
Finally, last year marked the first edition of the NE Funk & Soul Alliance, a one-day festival in Lincoln coordinated by soul singer-songwriter Josh Hoyer and Omaha R&B artist Dominique Morgan, which raised money for eight Lincoln and Omaha charities. This year, more than 30 bands — including BOTH, A Ferocious Jungle Cat, AZP and Hoyer’s own Josh Hoyer & Soul Colossal — will take part in the Dec. 16 festival, which is held at 1867 Bar, Bodega’s Alley, Duffy’s Tavern, The Zoo Bar and The Bourbon Theatre. The Lincoln charities benefitted are The Bay, Jacob’s Well, LightHouse and the Malone Center; while the Omaha charities will be Omaha Home for Boys, Youth Care & Beyond, Youth Emergency Services and Youth Link.
This column is part of an ongoing collaboration between The Reader and Hear Nebraska, a music journalism and production nonprofit seeking to engage and cultivate Nebraska’s music scene. Here, we break down the biggest Nebraska music news from the last month. Of course, this isn’t all of what happened in Nebraska music over the last month. Head over to hearnebraska.org for our tri-weekly news column, and keep up with music scene events and news all year round.