Local Music Roundup
As a kid growing up in Omaha I always envied what I thought were the “big music cities.” New York, Los Angeles, Austin, and Seattle appeared to have all the hot artists, get all the big tours and were always the closest to the coolest music festivals. It didn’t seem fair that these cultural epicenters got everything good. Every time that I voiced my complaint I was greeted with the same spiel about the importance of Saddle Creek records, Conor Oberst, and how they were helping to create a flourishing music scene here in Omaha. Every time I heard this retort I’d always think the same thing, “big whup.” Blasphemous as it may sound, and not to diminish what Saddle Creek has done for the Omaha’s music scene, I just did not really care for Oberst’s music. So I continued to thumb through magazines and scroll down the pages of blogs in search of new and interesting music from across the country while only giving Nebraska a fraction of my attention.
When I went off to school in Chicago something started to change. I missed being able to drive 15 minutes to the Waiting Room or the Sokol. I missed the fact that Omaha shows cost about two-thirds of what they do in the bigger cities, and I sure as hell missed a beer costing $5 instead of $10. I coped with this by doing what I had all but sworn off just a few years earlier; I started keeping track of Nebraska’s music scene. To my surprise, it turned out there was a more diverse range of artists and bands than I could have imagined.
Nebraska might not become a cultural hotbed like New York or Chicago, but that does not mean it won’t be a great music state. You are not going to like every artist on this list and it is not my goal to get you to. But if I can convince even one person to download someone’s EP, give a mixtape a stream, or go to a show they might have otherwise passed on then I’ll be a happy music journalist. In essence, I want you to take the same chance on Nebraska’s great music scene the same way I did because it might lead to you finding a new artist you might love. The fact that all these artists reside in my home state just makes it that much better.
The cover of Twinsmith’s last record, 2015’s Alligator Years, featured enough hot pink and highlighter yellow to make you think you were looking at a promotional poster for an MTV spring break concert. It’s music reflected as much. Synths, drum machines, and jangly guitars brought to mind new wave legends New Order and Elvis Costello. Not a bad thing to be sure, but it’s possible the band has yet to completely move out from underneath the shadow of its idols.
Similar to Twinsmith’s last record, the cover for the group’s new single “Matters” opts for a similar color palette of pink and yellow, only this time the colors look faded, as if they’ve been left out in the sun for too long. Pretty on point considering the tune finds the band mining the sounds of the 80s once again only this time in a more relaxed fashion. The song is something more attune to Wild Nothing than early new wave. It’s the perfect soundtrack for lounging around the pool (i.e. all summer long).
Look out for Stay Cool to be released by Saddle Creek on July 14 and check out Twinsmith when they bring their show to the Waiting Room on June 21 opening for California pop-rockers Rooney.
See Through Dresses
Coming off a great opening slot for power pop powerhouse Charly Bliss last month at the Reverb Lounge, the Omaha band is currently on a nationwide tour in anticipation of their upcoming record Horse of the Other World, out June 30. A big departure from last year’s decidedly grungy End of Days EP, Horse of the Other World looks to be going in a more synth-driven direction. “Pretty Police,” the group’s most recent single, pushes a lot of the same wistful new-wave buttons as the aforementioned Twinsmith single. What really sets the band apart is when they start incorporating elements of shoegaze into the mix. The swirl of “Violet” offers something more akin to A Sunny Day in Glasgow (if you haven’t heard of them get your ass on Spotify) with it’s swirling guitars and icy synths coming together to produce a chilling wall of sound. If you can’t make it to any of the dates currently listed on the group’s Bandcamp, expect them to pop up for a show in the metro sooner rather than later.
In their artist profile for Hear Nebraska Courtney Morrow was quick to point out that the band don’t want to be considered cute. With song titles like “Blood and Guts,” the group certainly won’t have to worry about that. But that shouldn’t deter you from checking out their awesome mix of sludgy guitars and empowering lyrics from their March release, Garbage Island. The Lincoln band’s female-first lyrics act as a nice palette cleanser in the male-dominated landscape of indie rock.
It’s fitting that the band first came together covering Nirvana songs, as the Seattle grunge legends are a clear inspiration for them. The production of the band’s music also has a lot in common with Nirvana’s early recording as well, that’s to say that it can sometimes get a little rough (sorry audiophiles), but that’s not the point. Morrow went on to say that they think the group “does a pretty good job at being a band that stands for something.” This is music from a band trying to inspire other bands, and that’s something every music scene could use a little more of.
Josh Hoyer & Soul Colossal
Formed by Hoyer in 2012, the Lincoln collective that features Mike Dee on sax, James Fleege on bass, Benjamin Kushner on guitar, and Larrell Ware on drums, have been tirelessly touring the local scene for a few years now, but thanks to Hoyer’s appearance on season 12 of The Voice the group has attained a new level of notoriety.
The band’s three albums, including their latest release, 2016’s Running from Love, features a blend of classic soul and funk that sounds like the mid-60s Motown records the group no doubt worships, only with a bit of a bounce. With all due respect to the band, the star of the show really is Hoyer’s incredible voice. His soulful, pleasantly gravelly croon harkens back to the greats of the genre without ever sounding too much like one artist.
The Soul Colossal will be bringing its show across the country this summer including several dates right throughout Nebraska. You can see Hoyer at Blues on Bel Air, the Summer Arts Festival, or Vibes at Village Pointe. They will also be playing a number of dates in Lincoln if you can’t catch him in the metro.
Todd and Orenda Fink, the husband and wife duo behind Closeness, already have a rich history in the Omaha music scene. As frontman of The Faint, Todd has been releasing dance-punk for kids to mosh to at the Sokol for more than 20 years. Azure Ray, of which Orenda is one half, have been churning out electronically tinged folk-pop for nearly as long. After years of trying, the Finks finally got the chance to connect on wax when they released their debut EP Personality Therapy, under the Closeness moniker this past March.
The duo says it draws from the likes of Crystal Castles, The Knife, and Pink Floyd, and you can hear traces of all of them on throughout the project. Though musically closer to The Faint, the unhurried pace of the EP is certainly more akin to Azure Ray. Towering synths and throbbing drumbeats can be found throughout the project, but don’t let that trick you into thinking this is a dance record. With their Personality Therapy, the Finks have created dark, brooding music that was made for the come down after the party rather than the turn up before.
Matthew Sweet’s name may not jump to mind when you think of touchstone artists in 1990s, but it should. Throughout the decade, Sweet released power-pop classics including 100% Fun and Girlfriend that stand among the best of the genre. By finding the sweet spot, pun intended, between jangle of early R.E.M. and the hard-rocking side of Big Star, Sweet was able to craft songs that pop up in your head more than the Head On commercial (apply directly to the forehead).
The Lincoln artist, now located in Omaha after moving from Hollywood, will be releasing his fourteenth album, Tomorrow Forever, on June 16. The Kickstarter funded project will be composed of 17 of the 40 tracks Sweet created with longtime collaborators Ric Menck and Paul Chastain.
For the uninitiated, “Trick,” the first single released from Sweet’s new record is as good a place as any to start as any. “Trick” isn’t a huge departure from Sweet’s earlier work, and in this case, that’s a very good thing and should give returning fans more than enough reason to remember why they fell in love in the first place. The guitars are crunchy, the hooks are catchy, and the lyrics find Sweet questioning how he perceives himself and the world around him. These are some of the great questions of mankind, and it gives you something to ponder, after you’re done rocking out of course.
To kick off the tour, Sweet will be doing back-to-back nights at the Waiting Room on July 8 and 9 with opener Tommy Keene.
Eternal Wax was an awful title for the Lupines February 2017 release. The name feels more poised for a long, ruminating post-rock record than the lo-fi garage ratchet the band churned out from Calvin Retzlaff, Mike Friedman, Mike Tulis, and John Ziegler. Although when thinking about it on a deeper level, maybe with Eternal Wax the band is saying it wants to create something that will live on in the crates of record stores and music collections forever. That’s probably not the case, partly because the album doesn’t feel anywhere near that serious and partly because it’s only available online. Half the time you aren’t even able to understand Ziegler beneath the scratchy layers of noise. Even if you couldn’t understand what Ziegler was talking about, it’s not worth rambling on about because lyrics are far from the most important part of the Lupines music. The group’s amphetamine paced energy is what drives the record, and it’s what should drive you to give them a listen on their Bandcamp page.
“I don’t know what’s gonna give way first” are the first words you encounter on You’re Not Dead, the most recent record from Omaha’s Uh Oh. Not the most uplifting way to start off record for sure, until you put it in the context of the rest of the song. The protagonist is struggling in the ways that most people in their twenties are: constantly broke, having trouble adjusting to the real world, and a sense of aimlessness can always be seen creeping around the corner. But in this case, what’s giving way first is the character’s voice as they yell. Maybe they’re alone, maybe they’re at a rock show, you can’t really say for sure. What is important is the cathartic release you get from yelling. It’s about finding solace in that moment.
The record’s protagonist is struggling in the ways that most people in their twenties are: constantly broke, having trouble adjusting to the real world, and a near-constant sense of aimlessness and goes looking for that same sense of solace in a number of places throughout the record whether it is music, friends, or a significant other. All of this is funneled through the band’s mix of emo-tinged indie rock. It gives the listener that same sense of serenity, and for that, the group should be applauded.
The Dilla Kids
Composed of MCs Marcey Yates and Xoboi along with DRMHD, J.White, and J.Johnson, the collective released Brake Failure in Portugal and Journey to Tibet EPs in 2016 and look to continue that run into this year. If it wasn’t already clear from their name, the group are indeed fans of J Dilla, the legendary Detroit producer with a knack for blending jazzy rhythms with left-field samples, and the jazz rap stars he helped produce for through the 90s and early aughts. As hard as it is to create jazz rap, it’s equally hard to describe without sounding trite. People instantly picture A Tribe Called Quest, Gang Starr, or Doom and there are echoes of all those acts here. A few of their tracks even reminisce of the early Joey Bada$$ recordings.
That’s the hard part about making jazz rap in 2017, there’s not a lot of ground that hasn’t been covered. This may in part be the reason the Dilla Kids music works, the group is just trying to to keep the wheel spinning instead of reinventing it.
Thirty-year-old mother of aren’t the first words that come to mind when. Shannon Marie, the north Omaha native, couldn’t care less. She’ll tell you as much on her new single “iDC iDC iDC” (short for I Don’t Care). Often playing on Power 106.9’s Neighborhood Watch, Shannon Marie’s sound reminds you much of a blend of lurching 808s, trap snare, and middle finger lyrics make for one of the most radio-friendly singles from the area in a long time. It may not be on radios everywhere, yet, but it should definitely be a Saturday night staple yours for the upcoming summer.
Hip-hop has moved to a noticeably happy place over the past two years. Artists like Lil Uzi, Lil Yatchy, Kyle, and Rae Sremmurd are all surfing this tidal wave of positivity towards the upper reaches of the chart. Not to say this is a bad thing, but for fans of lyrical rappers, this crop doesn’t offer a whole lot.
Enter Elias “Axcess” Hammond. The Colorado Springs transplant released his R.A.S. (Rebel Against Society) compilation earlier this year via Soundcloud. Instead of being happy for happiness sake, Hammond offers listener positivity with a purpose. The North Middle School teacher’s rhymes touch on the everyday ups and downs of life with a lyrical finesse that’s starting to become a lost art. Is it groundbreaking? No, but these tracks are executed to perfection. If Hammond’s students were writing this review, I’d think they would be more than happy to throw him an “A+”. Check out his performance on June 30 for the Omaha World Concert Series at Reverb Lounge.
Other Honorable Mentions:
Reese & Rome
Those Far Out Arrows