The weather’s nice, school is out, and local bands are hitting the road — often with new records in tow — officially bringing us to the time of the year when there’s no shortage of Nebraska music to talk about. May’s wide-ranging local release crop deals in genres as varied as reggae-infused art rock and folk-driven dream pop, but we’ll start the column in the hard rock realm.
Lincoln heavyweights FREAKABOUT dropped their second full-length Babezooka on May 11, three years after their debut Don’t We All. On the latter, the band found its niche in pummeling, blues-infused riffs and frontwoman Cortney Kirby’s high-powered vocals ready to explode at a moment’s notice. Babezooka isn’t all that structurally different from Don’t We All, but psychedelic influences crop up much more frequently, perhaps most notably on album opener “Queen of the Dust,” which swirls with droning feedback and a tremolo guitar solo. Babezooka is an improvement on all fronts, though — the guitars are heavier, the hooks are catchier and Kirby sounds determined to act as a spokesperson for all women, inviting listeners to see through her lens as she encounters sexism and relentless male pursuit on tracks like “Predator.” And on “Mountains,” when she proclaims that her hands can move mountains, she makes you believe it. FREAKABOUT celebrated the album’s release on May 25 at The Bourbon with Lincoln rock bands High Ruler and Salt Creek.
A week prior, another Lincoln band released its sophomore LP: dream pop four-piece blét. The 10-track Suddenly Able to See in the Dark is the band’s first with a dedicated percussionist, drummer Alex Durrant, who takes the band’s formerly ambient sound and gives it a brawny push. The album is an instrumental beast, with numerous guitar licks and reverb flourishes swelling from one ear to the other as piano arpeggios moan like coyotes under a western Nebraska night sky. Many music writers have noted the album’s reflections on existence with a firmly Nebraskan backdrop, and it’s clear — based on pensive tracks like “Still,” on which vocalist Joseph Kozal explains a gratitude to Nebraska and its “endless horizon” — the lyrical scenesetting comes from a place of appreciation. Kozal’s and co-vocalist Cole Keeton’s lyrics are often earnestly poignant, creating powerful meaning from seemingly mundane, inevitable life experiences. With help from Durrant in purposefully guiding each track, blét delivers a record full of twists and turns, through loss, learning and redemption, and it’s all unmistakably Nebraskan. blét held an album release show on May 5 at Duffy’s Tavern with Jacob James Wilton and Jacob Ignani.
That same day, Omaha singer-songwriter and DIY show promoter David McInnis, also known as Magū, released his debut EP Change of Heart. The record tugs at heartstrings with its vividly dense storytelling and effortlessly transitions from pop rock to art pop to sax-fueled indie rock to cinematic reggae in just five tracks. That’s perhaps the EP’s greatest feat, and to reach such a feat would be one thing, but to actually carry it out thoughtfully and seamlessly is all the more impressive. The record kicks off with the stellar pop rock track “Julianne,” which also served as the record’s lead single. Over a jiving rhythm section and chorus effect-laden guitar leads, McInnis sings of a relationship he had hoped to keep alive after the title character left town. McInnis tells Julianne he’ll be her “sweetheart in the heartland,” but by the end of the track, he’s lamenting the idea that she could have already moved on. It’s a gut punch that only hints at what the rest of the album holds. Though McInnis’s vocals lie on the raw side of the scale, he sings until his last vocal chord is shot, creating a rollercoaster album that begs to be emotionally felt. Magū held a release show at Reverb Lounge on May 5 with The Way Out, Bound and Ivory James.
In the past year, five-piece House Vacations have become a staple of the same DIY scene that McInnis has helped foster, frequently performing at Omaha garage venues Lucy’s Pub and Petshop Gallery. Plenty of local bands can say that, but it’s House Vacations’ eccentric brand of psych rock that sets them apart. That style is on full display on the band’s debut EP Pictures of Friends, which hit the web on May 19. Equal parts blues rock, shoegaze and ‘60s psychedelia, the record’s six tracks meld influences so much that their abrupt structural changes would cause paranoia in any psychedelic experience. For instance, near the halfway point of album closer “Glass Spring,” the track sinks into a lush plane of driven guitars that could have been recorded by Deerhoof. Then, out of nowhere, a raging guitar solo busts through, only to fall away into nothingness a few seconds later. Pictures of Friends is a tight, succinct debut effort, that, despite psych rock’s penchant for sonic grandiosity, doesn’t really waste any time being anything more than it needs to. To commemorate the album, House Vacations held a pair of release shows — one in Lincoln on May 19 at Duffy’s and one in Omaha on May 26 at Benson’s Petshop Gallery. The former featured Lincoln bands The Dancing Dead and Shit Flowers, and Orca Welles Magū and Threesome Egos opened the Omaha show.