Every year, the Reader’s music team sends in their picks for Omaha’s leading bands. Then we meet, discuss and select the 20 bands that made the biggest impact in the past year. It’s not exactly scientific, but in the end, we at the Reader feel that the band’s listed below represent a good cross-section of what’s happening in eastern Nebraska’s clubs, bars and music venues. Meet the Reader’s Top 20 Musical Acts of 2012

Azure Ray

Players: Orenda Fink (V, G, K), Maria Taylor (V, VI)

Recordings: Azure Ray (2001), Burn and Shiver (2002), Hold on Love (2003), Drawing Down the Moon (2010), As Above So Below (2012)

Why You Care: This indie-pop duo’s music has been heard on movie soundtracks such as The Devil Wears Prada and T.V. shows like Six Feet Under. Clearly, they’re on to something. The pair formed in Athens, Georgia when they were a mere 15-years-old. Once they relocated to Omaha and joined Saddle Creek’s roster, it was on from there. Although both Fink and Taylor have had successful solo ventures, they reconvened in 2009 as Azure Ray to deliver more dreamy love ballads swollen with rich, revealing vocals.

Check out: “Scattered Like Leaves” at www.azureraymusic.com

— Kyle Eustice

All Young Girls Are Machine Guns

Players: Rebecca Lowry (V,U), Travis Sing (B), Will Meinen (G), Jason Domonkos (D), Jessica Errett (BV), Kristin Pikop (BV), Molly Welsh (BV)

Recordings: Here’s Hopin’ Tomorrow Never Comes (2012), All Young Girls Are Machine Guns (2011)

Why You Care: Rebecca Lowry started playing ukulele almost around the same time she began writing songs as All Young Girls Are Machine Guns. Now a few years into the process, Lowry is already tapping into a remarkable voice. Lowry exists comfortably outside of Omaha’s usual indie music sound, as her songs hang on swing, jazz and 50s pop signifiers, but her palette is widely broadening. On her latest album, her crack band backs her up with elements of classic country twang, lightly bluesy romps and soft-groovin’ soul. With a talented ensemble backing her, Lowry’s songwriting and singing are up to the task, both on an skill and emotional impact level.

Check Out: “Umbrella” at facebook.com/AllYoungGirlsAreMachineGuns

— Chris Aponick

Baby Tears 

Players: Todd vonStup (G,V), Ethan Jones (B,V), Jeff Shadoan (D)

Recordings: Rusty Years (2012), Hot Lettuce cassette (2011), Baby Tears (2010)

Why You Care: Chances are, Baby Tears hates you and well, that’s why we like them. The trio creates heavy, black-cast noise rock, taught by professors from the school of Big Black and Birthday Party. The band’s Rusty Years LP is an angry, noisy and at times, angular blast of uncompromised fury. The four-track recordings careen through a sea of static as it presents a pre-industrial sounding mash of post-punk and garage noise. It’s such a stark move for both Jones and vonStup that its rendered their past band histories (The Shanks, Ladyfinger) irrelevant as points of sonic reference.

Check Out: “Ryan White”, “Hypochondriac Wetdream” and “Stygian Witches” at doomtownrecordsusa.bandcamp.com.

— Chris Aponick

Capgun Coup

Players: Sam Martin (V), Greg Elssaser (K), Jesse McKelvey (G), Sean Pratt (B), Eric Ohilson (D)

Recordings: Brought to you by NebraskaFish (2007), Maudlin (2009), Contextual Doom (2012)

Why You Care: Sure, Conor Oberst named-dropped this motley crew in a Rolling Stone interview, but that’s not why you should like them. You should like them because they’re authentic about how much they don’t care for much of anything. Their anti-establishment, fu*k the world attitude is clear in their material and effortlessly conveyed in their live shows. If you like The Black Lips, you’ll like Capgun Coup. Best enjoyed with a beer… or 12.

Check out: “It’s Summer Now” at www.hearnebraska.org

— Kyle Eustice


Players: J.J. Idt (G), Nate Mickish (G), Sara Bertuldo (B, K), Roger L. Lewis (D), Jenna Morrison (V), Patrick Newbery (K)

Recordings: Conduits (2012)

Why You Care: Conduits built a steady stream of local buzz almost upon formation. The band plays a beautiful ache of narcotic slowcore. While touched by elements of dream-pop and shoegaze, Conduits music fits in neither category. Jenna Morrison is an enchanting presence as songs seem to unfold elegantly around her vocals. Nico is an obvious reference point, though Morrison’s delivery is more beautiful and schooled than the Factory girl’s stark poeticism. Conduits have dramatically staked out a darker sound that seems beyond Omaha.

Check Out: “Misery Train” and “Last Dirge” at facebook.com/ConduitsMusic

— Chris Aponick

Matt Cox Band

Players: Matt Cox (V, G, H, BJ), Vern Fergesen (B), Walker Gerard (D), Colin Duckworth (G)

Recordings: Stick Your Neck Out (2006), Folker’s Travels (2007), My Last Dollar (2009), Tracks in the Sound (2011)

Why You Care: The beginning of 2012 was a rebuilding period for Matt Cox. After his original band members moved to the coasts, Cox emerged with a new alt.country/Americana/folk quartet that absolutely stomps. The high-energy, powerful drive of the band gives a new dimension to his well-crafted, literate songs. Cox also began playing electric guitar himself onstage, a change that pushes up the intensity of his rich, distinctive vocals and increases the hard-charging, rocking grit that makes this band a terrific joy to experience.

Check Out: “Rags to Riches” and “Waiting on the Rain” at mattcoxmusic.net under The Songs.

— B.J. Huchtemann


Players: Tim Kasher (G,V), Ted Stevens (G,V), Matt Maginn (B), Cully Symington (D), Patrick Newbery (VI)th

Recordings: Eight classics LPs including Domestica (2000, Saddle Creek), The Ugly Organ (2003, Saddle Creek) and their latest, I Am Gemini (2012, Saddle Creek)

Why You Care: One of the Omaha music scene’s founding fathers and a crown jewel of the Saddle Creek triumvirate, the band re-emerged in February with their latest long player, I Am Gemini. More than your typical concept album, it was a full-blown 2-act play – or more specifically – a 2-act opera (complete with Playbill-style lyrics book), whose plot resembled both an ancient Greece tragedy and an episode of The Twilight Zone. To support it, the band embarked on the longest tour in its storied history — more than 150 dates, wrapping up with shows in Brazil in December.

Check Out: “The Sun and Moon” and “Wowowow” at cursivearmy.com

— Tim McMahan


Players: Conor Oberst (G,V), Landon Hedges (B,V), Denver Dalley (G/V), Ian McElroy (K), Matt Baum (D)

Recordings: Read Music, Speak Spanish (2002, Saddle Creek), “MariKKKopa” b/w “Backsell” (self-release, 2012).

Why You Care: Just two years after the last time Desaparecidos got together for the Concert for Equality concert in Benson, their schedules aligned again and the boys were back and angrier than ever, judging from their new single, “MariKKKopa” b/w “Backsell.” The A side continued the band’s attacks on anti-immigration xenophobes by taking aim at Arizona’s Joe Arpaio, sheriff of Maricopa County and the king of racial profiling. After co-headlining this year’s Maha Music Festival the band played a whirlwind West Coast tour (that included an appearance on Last Call with Carson Daly), and just announced an East Coast tour in February. Is another full length release imminent?

Check Out: “MariKKKopa,” at desaparecidosband.com

— Tim McMahan

Digital Leather

Players: Shawn Foree (G,V,K); Johnny Vrendenburg (B); Jeff Lambelet (D)

Recordings: Nine LPs, including three released this year: Sponge (Crash Symbols), Yes Please, Thank You (Southpaw) and Modern Problems (FDH)

Why You Care: The product of mastermind Shawn Foree, a transplanted Arizonian, Digital Leather is a two-sided portrait. On recordings, DL casts an electronic sheen with a sound that recalls Gary Numan post-wave synth rock bolted to doped-up garage-punk. The lyrics are cast in a pall of party-fueled ennui, like a collection of post-apocalyptic love songs. Live, DL is a punk three-piece — all leather, no digital. It’s clean, powerful, breakneck sound let’s Foree spread out on guitar and vocals driven endlessly forward by Vrendenburg and Lambelet — the best bass & drum duo in Omaha.

Check Out: “Yes Please. Thank You” and “Enzymes” at itsadigitalworld.blogspot.com

— Tim McMahan

The Faint

Players: Todd Fink (V, B), Clark Baechle (D), Jacob Thiele (K), Dapose (G, K)

Recordings: Blank-Wave Arcade (1999), Danse Macabre (2001), Wet from Birth (2004),

Fasciinatiion (2008)

Why You Care: The Faint have wasted no time since announcing their return as a four-piece line-up. After playing two comeback shows, the band unleashed a deluxe 10th anniversary reissue of 2001’s Danse Macabre. Then they followed that up with a tour-only EP, featuring four new songs recorded by Mike Mogis at the band’s own studio, Enamel. The band has already opened a new chapter with “Evil Voices”, a track that starts with electronic dissonance before heading towards the Faint’s near-trademarked dancefloor ready indie rock/electronic hybrid

Check Out: “Evil Voices” and “Agenda Suicide” at facebook.com/thefaint

— Chris Aponick

Icky Blossoms

Players: Derek Pressnall (G,V), Nik Fackler (G,V), Sarah Bohling (V)

Recordings: self-titled debut (2012, Saddle Creek)

Why You Care: Formed in 2010 as a side project to a side project (Flowers Forever), at its core Icky Blossoms is Derek Pressnall channeling John Lydon, dreamy blond vocalist Sarah Bohling sounding like a modern-day Nico, and crazy-haired guitarist/dynamo Nik Fackler on his knees coaxing shrill noises from his axe. Their sound combines house beats and sonic stylings influenced by bands like Jesus and Mary Chain, The Happy Mondays, Depeche Mode, The B-52s, The Cure, Brian Jonestown Massacre, Public Image Limited and hometown heroes The Faint. Their lyrics are a decadent stew of love, sex and Satan. After the band’s debut charted in the CMJ top 10, they hit the road, closing out the year opening for legends The Faint. Icky Blossoms is arguably the most promising new band to come out of Omaha in years.

Check Out: “Babes” and “Heat Lightning” at ickyblossoms.com

— Tim McMahan

Simon Joyner

Players: Simon Joyner (G,V)

Recordings: 19 LPs including The Cowardly Traveller Pays His Toll (1994, Sing, Eunuchs!); The Lousy Dance (1999, Truck Stop); Skeleton Blues (2006, Jagjaguwar), Ghosts (2012, Sing Eunuchs!)

Why You Care: This ’90s golden age troubadour is recognized as one of the cornerstones of the Omaha music scene, influencing countless singer/songwriters not the least of which includes Conor Oberst. Since his first cassette release in ’92, Joyner’s never put down his guitar, reemerging this year with Ghosts, a two-record vinyl release whose dismal themes ebbed and flowed from one side to the next, a dark, satisfying modern-day fable about love and death. Joyner supported the release with tours of the U.S. and Europe.

Check Out: “If I Left Tomorrow,” and “The Last Parade” at simonjoyner.net

— Tim McMahan

Kris Lager Band

Players: Kris Lager (G/V), Jeremiah Weir (K, P), John Fairchild (D), Brandon Miller (B)

Recordings: Roots Revival (2006), Transient (2007), backing Mato Nanji as Indigenous on Broken Lands (2008, Vanguard Records), The Mighty Quinn (2009), Swagadocious (2012)

Why You Care: Kris Lager Band continues to step up their game, touring regionally, releasing one new disc, Swagadocious, and recording another with one of the top contemporary blues artists in the producer’s chair. In April 2012 Kris Lager Band was in Houma, La., with Tab Benoit, who produced an as yet unreleased disc and added guitar, drums and pedal steel on a few tracks. The band is refining their sound from a variety of blues, funk and rock influences into a contemporary vibe that is distinctively their own, dubbed “Thrift Store Funk.” The music remains true to the soulful and joyous vein of their “Celebrate Life” mantra. Swagadocius, recorded at Lucas Kellison’s Lincoln SadSon Music Group studio, is an excellent CD that fills out the original tunes with arrangements featuring horns, harmonies and background vocals. Magic Slim makes a guest appearance on a humorous and gritty cut titled “Kris Done Took My Woman.”

Check Out:  “Sunny Day Soldier” and “Prisoner of My Own Mind” at reverbnation.com/krislagerband

— B.J. Huchtemann

Magic Slim

Players: Magic Slim (V, G)

Recordings: Magic Slim has over 20 recordings to his credit, his most recent is Bad Boy (Blind Pig, 2012)

Why You Care: Not too many Midwestern communities have a blues legend living in their midst. Chicago blues icon Magic Slim has made his home in Lincoln for over a decade. Critics have called Magic Slim & The Teardrops the last real Chicago blues band. Born in Mississippi in 1937, Slim is considered one of the greatest living performers of the electrified Chicago blues that developed as Southern blues men moved to the Windy City. Slim’s music still roars with that classic Chicago blues sound. On the road he tours with his Chicago band The Teardrops, but you’ll likely see him around Lincoln backed by his son Shawn Holt’s Lil’ Slim Blues Band. Magic Slim’s 2012 release, Bad Boy (Blind Pig) bristles with as much energy and fire as his first recordings in the 1950s.

Check Out: “I Got Some Money” and “Shame” on the IridiumLIVE channel on youtube.

— B.J. Huchtemann

McCarthy Trenching

Players: Dan McCarthy (P, V, G), James Maakestad (B, V)

Recordings: Plays the Piano (2012), Fresh Blood (2011), Calamity Drenching (2008), McCarthy Trenching (2006)

Why You Care: Dan McCarthy has been a heavy hitter in the local scene for over a decade, adding his musical flair to acts like Bright Eyes and Mayday and more recently with So-So Sailors and Con Dios (along with, of course, McCarthy Trenching). Not only is he a kind individual but his musical virtuosity makes him one of the most sought out players in town. His latest record, “Plays The Piano” is a gorgeous trip through some of the best ragtime piano I’ve heard in recent memory. If you like Americana, solid songwriting and top-shelf musicianship, McCarthy Trenching is something to check out. This guy is a jewel in the local scene.

Check Out: “Oh Nancy” and “Roasting Song” at mccarthytrenching.com.

— Jesse D. Stanek

Millions of Boys

Players: Alex van Beaumont (G, B, V), Ryan Haas (D, V), Sara Bertuldo (K, G, V)

Recordings: Competing For Your Love (2012)

Why You Care: Millions of Boys kicked off 2012 with the release of Competing For Your Love, a ten-song, 25 minute blast of melodic punk pop highlighted by the catchy lead-off song “Dead Girls”. The band cribs notes from both cool and guilty pleasure sections of their teendom, borrowing the best from jokey 90s pop-punk while also calling to mind Sleater-Kinney, Superchunk, early Liz Phair and just a dollop of 50s malt-shop pop. There’s a refreshing lack of pretention to this energetic, heart-on-the-sleeve indie pop trio.

Check Out: “Dead Girls” and “Cynical” at facebook.com/millionsofboys

— Chris Aponick

The Mynabirds

Players: Laura Burhenn (V, VI), Nicole Childrey (D, BV), Patrick Damphier (B, P, BV), Rebecca Marie Miller (P, BV), Tom Hnatow (G), Tyler Odom (G).

Recordings: What We Lose in the Fire We Gain in the Flood (2010), Generals (2012)

Why You Care: Another Saddle Creek signee, The Mynabirds debut album was released to critical acclaim and Burhenn ran off to open for Conor Oberst in support of his Bright Eyes tour shortly after. With influences ranging from P.J. Harvey to Nina Simone, Burhenn’s smokey voice is a refreshing change from the sugary pop voices that are so common in mainstream music these days.

Check out: “Generals” at www.themynabirds.com

— Kyle Eustice

So-So Sailors

Players: Chris Machmuller (V, G, S, K), Dan McCarthy (K), Alex McManus (V, G), Brendan Green-Walsh (V, B), Dan Kemp (D)

Recordings: Young Hearts EP (2011)

Why You Care: This band is kind of like an Omaha super group. Comprised of members from Ladyfinger, McCarthy Trenching, Lambchop and Bloodcow, these boys have been around the block a few times. So-So Sailors’ music reveals their softer side highlighted by driving piano melodies and Machmuller’s tormented lyrics. They show a lot of promise and the world will hopefully hear more from them soon.

Check out: “Young Hearts” at www.youtube.com

— Kyle Eustice

Tilly and the Wall

Players: Kianna Alarid Cameron (V, B), Neely Jenkins (V, B, VI), Derek Pressnall (V, G), Jamie Pressnall (TP), Nick White (K)

Recordings: Wild Like Children (2004), Bottoms of Barrels (2006), o (2008), Heavy Mood (2012)

Why You Care: When Tilly and the Wall formed in 2001, they simply didn’t have a drummer. Out of a little desperation and a lot of innovation, Jamie Pressnall replaced the drums with her nimble limbs and tap-danced her way into your hearts. Always a vivid sight to see, Tilly’s live shows are a blast. Kyle Eustice)

Check out: Acoustic version of “Beat Control” at www.officialtillyandthewall.tumblr.com

— Kyle Eustice

The Whipkey Three

Players: Matt Whipkey (G,V), Travis Sing (B), Scott “Zip” Zimmerman (D)

Recordings: Two Truths (self release, 2012); 26 (self release, 2008)

Why You Care: Very few Nebraska artists have such a well-defined musical style and unique voice as frontman Matt Whipkey. Within a few measures of any song, those familiar with his material instantly recognize the booming, golden-hearted power chords touched with a hint of twang, and Whipkey’s Nashville-by-way-of-Benson “southern” drawl that injects each phrase with his big-sky, Heartland roots. It’s a style that he’s defined by more than a decade as a solo artist and leading man in a handful of bands including The Movies, Anonymous American and now The Whipkey Three, whose bombastic live shows have galvanized his rep as one of the area’s best stage performers.

Check Out: “Reagan Era” at mattwhipkey.com

— Tim McMahan

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