Dec. 24, 2019
Every year, KZUM and Stransky Park put on a spectacular series of free, weekly concerts on Thursdays. We were lucky to have nice weather almost every single week, this year. If you are feeling nostalgic for the concerts, or missed out on any of these great performances, we have a recap video of some of our favorite moments. You can also check out the photos from every single week.
Thunder on the Plains
Rare is the Celtic group, when at a festival, that the other billeted musicians flock to see between their own sets. Flook is one of those groups, and for good reason. This highly anticipated album is the first release by the quartet in well over a decade. Fans who love the exploratory flavors of traditional-style tunes from Flook can appreciate the increased depth, complexity, and maturity that the past 12 years have had on the group’s sound. All original compositions, the entire album from start to finish is a work of art, each track arranged just so, to paint a musical portrait that draws you into it and stirs your emotions as much as any masterpiece hanging at the Louvre.
(From Cinema Roundtable)
ALT NIGHT LONG
Conspirare – The Hope of Loving
Voces8 – Enchanted Isle
To preface this list, understand that this year, I’ve acquired close to 100 new releases from Metal Bands of ALL styles and to narrow it down to a Top 5 or Top 10 was just too difficult, so here is my TOP 20, in no particular order!!! (If you check out the last 2 episodes of The Metal Manifesto of 2019, you will have a chance to check out all these bands on the list AND more!!!)
- ALTAR-EGO “The Exorcism Of Jesus Christ” (EP) (Independent Release) [Netherlands – Death Metal]:Newly reformed from the defunct “ALTAR”, they added a female vocalist, but didn’t lose an OUNCE of aggression!!! This four track EP is a blistering assault of Death Metal, going right for the throat!!! The band is actually made up of Atheists, not Satanists and they really focus on calling out corruption in religion.
(Recommended track “Unfinished Business”)
- CREEPING DEATH “Wretched Illusions” (eOne Records) [Texas – Death Metal]:This debut CD from this US Band is AMAZING!!! Taking a page out of Tomas Skogsberg’s Production at Sunlight Studios in Sweden in the early 90’s, this CD has a “Wall Of Sound”, with such an amazing guitar crunch, it CRUSHES!!! I see great things from this band!!!
(Recommended track “Sinner’s Torch”)
- ENTOMBED A.D. “Bowels Of Earth” (Century Media Records) [Sweden – Death Metal]:Out of the ashes of Sweden’s Classic Entombed came Entombed A.D., featuring their vocalist L.G. Petrov…on this third effort, the band has even come closer to the old days with the guitar production, reminding me of their album “Wolverine Blues” from 1993…it has the “Death ‘n Roll” style, but a slight bit tougher!!!
(Recommended track “Fit For A King”)
- EXHORDER “Mourn The Southern Skies” (Nuclear Blast Records) [New Orleans – Groove/Thrash]:The first release for this band in TWENTY SEVEN years from a band that helped redefine Pantera’s sound from their initial Hair Metal style to the Groove/Thrash style they are known for. This album shows a more mature version of the band, fronted by Kyle Thomas, who after the bands disbanding in 1993, fronted other acts like Floodgate and Chicago Doom Legends, Trouble.
(Recommended track “Ripping Flesh”)
- EXUMER “Hostile Defiance” (Metal Blade Records) [Germany – Thrash Metal]:This new release from the German Thrash Legends is a full on Thrash Assault, catchy but aggressive tunes…they haven’t lost their speed through the years! Front to back, this album will make you feel like moshing WHEREVER you are!!!!
(Recommended track “Hostile Defiance”)
- FIRST JASON “Lord Of The Lake” (EP) (Independent Release) [Chicago – Horror Metal]:As the name implies, this band features actor Ari Lehman, who played Jason in Friday The 13th (1980) – He is the boy Jason that jumps out of the water at the end for the final “Jump Scare”…well, for the last 10 years or so, Ari has been performing with his band, First Jason, singing and playing the Machete Keytar…this new EP comes as a wristband/USB drive with the new EP, all the First Jason videos and other photos. This album really has a big Deep Purple feel, which I verified with Ari himself when he was in the KZUM studios for The Metal Manifesto in early June.
(Recommended track “Kill For Mother”)
- GODS FORSAKEN “Smells Of Death” (Soulseller Records) [Sweden/Norway – Death Metal]:This sophomore effort from this Swedish “Super Group”, featuring members of great Swedish Death Metal bands such as Just Before Dawn, Those Who Bring The Torture, Wombbath, Megascavenger, The Grotesquery (just to name a FEW!), again puts in that WALL OF SOUND with the guitars that make the album even MORE amazing!!! Tracks have groove, are catchy, but can “melt your face” at the same time!!! A band that NEEDS to be checked out by ANY Metalhead that claims to be into Death Metal!!!
(Recommended track “In The Pit We Shall Gather”)
- ILLDISPOSED “Reveal Your Soul For The Dead” (Massacre Records) [Denmark – Melodic Death/Groove]:Quite honestly one of my all time favorite Death Metal acts to come out of the 90’s and this new album leaves off from the previous albums…cool riffing, very catchy and groove infused Death Metal!!! The coolest part is the band actually reached out to me prior to the album release and asked me to record an audio spot that is featured at the beginning of the video for “…For The Dead”, I am the radio DJ you can hear the person in the truck listening to prior to the song starting (thanks to Ryan Evans for helping me record this!)
(Recommended track “…For The Dead”)
- I.N.C. (Indestructible Noise Command) “Terrible Things” (Independent Release) [New York – Thrash Metal]:Once again, an old school Thrash band that disbanded in 1990 and reformed 20 years later, putting out 3 CD’s since then, with this one being the latest and quite honestly, the most straightforward and catchy Thrash album of the 3!!! Just pure Thrash from start to finish…nothing wrong with that!!!
(Recommended track “Fist Go Rek”)
- KONKHRA “Alpha And The Omega” (Hammerheart Records) [Denmark – Death Metal]:The first new material from this band in 10 years and WHAT a return!!! Great galloping riffing, a terrific meld of Thrash and Death, with some odd time signatures but still KILLER Death Metal!!! A return to their older sound, similar to the album “Spit Or Swallow” from the Mid-90’s but with MONSTER production!!!
(Recommended track “Sandblasted”)
- LEGION OF THE DAMNED “Slaves Of The Shadow Realm” (Napalm Records) [Netherlands – Death/Thrash]:This latest release continues on from their last release, with more “in your face” Thrash, but with a deep heaviness that pulls you in and doesn’t let you go until the CD is over!!! Another one of those bands that should get mentioned WAY MORE but doesn’t…
(Recommended track “Slaves Of The Southern Cross”)
- MAYHEM “Daemon” (Century Media Records) [Norway – Black Metal]:THE controversial Norwegian Black Metal band, featured predominantly in the film released earlier this year called “Lords Of Chaos”, returns with a brand new release, just out in late October. Again featuring Attila Csihar on vocals, from the infamous line up on “De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas”, they have really modified their sound to step away from the over the top, blast beat laden earlier releases to add some melody, great soloing and cool riffing…
(Recommended track “Bad Blood”)
- MORTEM “Ravnsvart” (Peaceville Records) [Norway – Black Metal]:This band originally formed in 1987, recorded a few demos and ultimately became the Norwegian Black Metal powerhouse Arcturus…jump forward 32 years later and the band reforms and releases this DEBUT album!!! Featuring Hellhammer (Mayhem/Arcturus) on drums (if you’ve never heard his drumming, he’s AMAZING!) and members of some of Norway’s greatest Black Metal bands like 1349, Ulver, Covenant/The Kovenant, Immortal and Dimmu Borgir (to name a few), this album is a mix of these musicians love of Black Metal as well as the Orchestral/Avant Garde sounds of Arcturus and other Norwegian bands…DEFINITELY one you should hear!!!
(Recommended track “Morkets Monolitter”)
- OF FIRE “Draparen” (Art Gates Records) [Sweden – Death Metal]:Seemingly their “swansong” as the band is on hiatus for now, but prior to, they released this KILLER slab of Death Metal, ONCE AGAIN, with that Swedish Guitar Crunch (see a theme here?)…Another album that you can listen to front to back in one sitting and still go back for more listens!!!
(Recommended track “The Filth And The Fury”)
- POSSESSED “Revelations Of Oblivion” (Nuclear Blast Records) [San Francisco – Death/Thrash]:There are many people that consider Possessed the FIRST Death Metal band ever, although musically, they mix a fair amount of Thrash into the mix. In it’s original carnation, the band included Primus’ Larry LaLonde on Guitar!!! This is their first release in THIRTY years and it was WORTH THE WAIT!!! One BIG thing is the GREAT PRODUCTION, which was lacking in the 80’s. Besides that the album is solid, fast and loud from beginning to end!!! A great return for this IMPACTFUL band!!!
(Recommended track “Graven”)
- PROTECTOR “Summon The Hordes” (High Roller Records) [Germany – Death/Thrash]:Another CLASSIC German Thrash Band with a GREAT album!!! This is their best and most solid effort since they reformed in 2011…an awesome mix of Death and Thrash Metal, again with KILLER production!!!
(Recommended track “The Celtic Hammer”)
- ROTTING CHRIST “The Heretics” (Season Of Mist Records) [Greece – Black Metal]:The Black Metal LEGENDS return with another KILLER album!!! This band has NEVER sounded like it’s name would imply…rather the music is extremely Melodic and also incorporates a lot of their Greek Culture into the music…every album since 1996’s CLASSIC “Triarchy Of Lost Lovers” has such a beautiful sound with awesome dual guitar riffing…ignore the name and check out the band!!!
(Recommended track “The Sons Of Hell” (Bonus Track on Special Ltd Ed Boxset Release))
- SACRED REICH “The Awakening” (Metal Blade Records) [Arizona – Thrash Metal]:TWENTY THREE years since the release of their previous album, this KILLER Thrash band from the 80’s return with an album that could have easily followed 1990’s “The American Way”…not to mention an EXTENSIVE World Tour this last year as well that found them playing not only in KCMO but in Omaha…this is how 80’s Thrash SHOULD HAVE sounded in the 80’s…production is EVERYTHING!!!
(Recommended track “Awakening”)
- SUICIDAL ANGELS “Years Of Aggression” (NoiseArt Recordings) [Greece – Thrash Metal]:This band sprung up out of the Retro Thrash Movement of the late 90’s/early 00’s…EVERY album has been amazing Thrash Metal, but this new album, THREE YEARS in the making, is AMAZING!!! Awesome riffing, great solos and chugging guitars, catchy riffs and speedy tunes, this new album is another example of great Thrash!!!
(Recommended track “D.I.V.A.”)
- XENTRIX “Bury The Pain” (Listenable Records) [U.K. – Thrash Metal]:Yet ANOTHER old school Thrash band, putting out their first release in TWENTY THREE years!!! They have returned with more of the same, full on speed and thrash that will leave you with a sore neck by the CD’s end!!!
(Recommended track “Bleeding Out”)
CAPTAIN BLACKFROG’S BEDTIME XENOPHELIA
Concert of the Year – Magma at the Philharmonie de Paris, June 26, 2019
By Alek Nyberg
I’m a little bit biased. Magma has long been a personal favorite musical group of mine, and the year 2019 is a big one for them. 2019 marked the 50th year of the group’s existence, and to celebrate they put to tape “Zess,” one of their last unrecorded meisterwerks from the 70’s and planned a celebratory concert at the prestigious Philharmonie de Paris. As a recently graduated/liberated-from-University boy, I figured I deserved a little present for myself, and promptly bought tickets for the event.
Paris is fine, but I knew why I was there. The Philharmonie de Paris is an uber-modern venue, constructed in 2015 to bring a fresh, modern face to the Paris Philharmonic Orchestra performances in an attempt to attract a younger audience. It was also created in order to be a new venue for large scale, pseudo-arena acts (a concert series began the week after the Magma concert that included the likes of Kraftwerk, Thom Yorke, and I believe Charlotte Gainsbourg; don’t quote me on that). The building itself looks like a modern art museum, all angular shapes and overlapping surface slabs that I’m sure was a construction engineer’s nightmare. Even after exploring around the building, I have absolutely no mental construct of how the interior layout matches up with the exterior, which is pretty neat. The inside halls were a step up from your modern arena fare, darker lit, no exposed industrial bits, this was about as premium of an arena environment as you’d get.
After getting through a wonderfully handled language barrier to get an exclusive-for-the-show coffee mug, I promptly walked to my assigned seat on the balcony level of the Grande Salle Pierre Boulez. The stage area was pretty big. There were quite a few balcony areas, all hanging above the floor level on these undulating, wave-like platforms, and the ceiling itself had a beautiful asymmetric wave pattern, which I’m sure provided some sort of acoustic benefit. The stage itself was a beautiful sight. Two rafters flanked the side, one for the multitude of singers, the other filled with various brass and woodwind instruments. Next to the wind instruments was an acoustic grand piano, a guitar amp, and a drum set. On the other side was a vibraphone and an Ampeg SVT. Directly in the center were several microphones. Good times ahead.
We all knew the setlist, it had been announced several weeks prior. This wasn’t a rock concert, this was a program. I was sat in between two elder gentlemen who appeared to not be in the best mood. I knew this would be about a three hour concert, and was tempted to speak to them in order to not live in silence for the evening, but seeing their demeanor and the obvious language barrier between them and my elementary school knowledge level of the French language, I decided it was best to just let it be.
The lights dimmed right at seven, and our heroes for the evening got up on the stage, no dramatics, everyone walked on stage at the same time, smiles and all, waving at the crowd. They immediately launched into their 2012 album/piece Felicite Thosz, which being my least favorite piece of theirs, was fine. It’s a very light, largely major sounding piece that never really gets my heart pumping, until the last half where their piano player ripped a massive piano solo that straddled that perfect line between melodicism and cacophony that lead into a mind bending, constant meter-changing riff that transitions into a wonderful oom-pah vocal solo/build that brings the piece to its climax. Polka is only allowed if it follows directly from alien prog-rock semantics. This was followed by their vocal showcase piece “Hhai” which never fails to bring a tear to my eye, truly an uplifting song of the highest order. This segment was followed by an introduction by the lead female singer, Stella Vander, and because I have been fans of these people for so long, I have deified them to the point of forgetting that they are French. The entire introduction was in French, she talked quite a bit, there was a lot of clapping, and it sounded important, but how was I to know. Truly devastating.
After about a 15 minute break, the second segment began. This segment was essentially a highlight reel of a trilogy of pieces that were written in the 70’s, and combined it ended up being about a constant 55 minute piece of music. Wonderful. For those in the know, this consisted of essentially the first and last third of a piece called “Theusz Hamtaahk” (as of yet not recorded in studio), the second half of “Wurdah Itah” (my personal favorite of their albums, and one that’s rarely performed live, so this was quite ideal), and the last third of “Mekanik Destruktiw Kommandoh” (their most famous album). These pieces are highly modern classical influenced, think Stravinsky’s “Les Noces” filtered through spaceman Philip Glass arranged for fuzz bass and a hard bop drummer. The lead singer once again made a short spiel, and it was intermission time again.
After another 15 minutes, the third segment started. This is what we were all here for. This segment was dedicated to their new studio album, “Zess,” which is a pretty interesting piece of music. Back in the late 70’s, when it was largely written, Zess was essentially a Klingon-James Brown rock opera about the end of time. The piece is largely written around a two chord-vamp with a deceptively complex shuffle beat, of which I’m pretty sure the snare hits can’t be properly written using western notation technique. Over this vamp, Christian Vander (the main drummer and writer) gives an oratorio that builds in intensity, which is helped by an impact riff that is played when he gives the signal (kind of like James Brown’s screams on his old funky late 60’s/70’s singles).
As the piece progresses, solos are traded off by various instruments, and then it becomes more compositional as soul-vocal interjections and written melodies are introduced, traded off, and expanded upon until the piece expires around the 35-minute mark. This new version, however, is significantly different in tone. The funk is largely gone (personally I liked the funk, but I understand if a bunch of 50-70 something French people aren’t really feeling the funk anymore), and it’s replaced by an orchestral, more resigned feel, as if it’s more accepting about the impending death of the universe instead of facing it with shrieking, ecstatic existential terror.
The performance itself is quite good. Live, the woodwinds and brass replace the full orchestra of the studio version, which I’m fine with since I’m a smaller ensemble kind of guy, and they add a slight jazziness that I always thought was necessary with the piece. The oratorio section was incredible, more intense than the studio album, and boy was Mr. Vander feeling it. His body was shaking, his arms were twisting in odd shapes, his facial expressions were inhuman, truly the perfect performance. As the piece went on however, there were several missed cues, several impacts points ignored by the drummer (for this piece, Morgan Agren of the Mats/Morgan group) and bassist, and even Mr. Vander himself missed some vocal lines. Do I care? Kind of. But this man was living this music, it was not a lazy performance, he was completely enraptured in the piece. He truly was like a giddy child, excited to finally be performing this piece in a prestigious setting in front of probably around 1000 ecstatic fans, and that was honestly one of the most beautiful things these eyes have seen. The piece ended with a newly added, relatively hopeful sounding finale ending in an “Om.” After a lovely run through of the piece “Ehn Deiss,” a variation on the final theme of Zess, complete with a wonderful flute solo, the concert was done. Bows, smiles, waves, and they were off.
How was the sound? Really bad. It’s a concert hall, they’re a rock band with like, eight singers, two pianos, a vibraphone, a heavily distorted bass guitar and guitar, a cymbal-heavy drum set, and a horn section, that’s not a good combination for sound clarity, but it didn’t matter, the performances were great, and it shined through the mud. I was there for three and a half hours, it felt like one. Highly recommended, except it’s not going to happen again. Should’ve been there.
THE MELTING POT
Molly Pitcher’s Top 7 Protest Songs the FCC Won’t Let You Hear on the Radio
FCC rules haven’t budged for decades. George Carlin’s “seven deadly words” were coined in 1972 but they remain taboo today on the radio. Here’s my top seven favorite songs from 2019 that I can’t play for you on the radio. As a bonus, you can watch some great music videos!
3 Years Sober – Vic Mensa:
Vic Mensa cross dresses in a Confederate flag and is groped by a Joe Biden look-alike in the music video for this fierce description of fighting addiction. Hip-hop doesn’t always treat the LGBT community kindly, sadly, so watching Vic’s portrayal of a trans woman facing violence from police and criminals alike is a welcome departure from the norm.
Arabesque – Coldplay:
French-Algerian artist Stromae and Femi Kuti add vocals to this call for understanding that all humanity is the same with the refrain, “we share the same blood.” With Kuti’s horn section blowing hypnotically behind them, you’ll find this is one of the catchiest tunes you’re not allowed to hear due to the “F-word” appearing in the final minutes.
The Great Unknown – Wookiefoot:
Wookiefoot is not just a band—they describe themselves as “a circus, a philosophy, and a community of globe trekking bliss junkies and believers that are the fuel to keep this Tribadelic Spaceship going.” They released this world-beat encouraging song as a single this year.
The Year of the Woman – Dispatch:
Roots band Dispatch frequently has political themes in their work. The music video for this new release features news clips of Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination hearing, Brock Turner’s rape trial, and iconic heroines including Greta Thunberg, Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez, Gloria Steinem and more, all over a driving beat of indignation.
13th Century Metal – Brittany Howard:
Alabama Shakes went on hiatus in 2018 so that lead singer Brittany Howard could release her solo album “Jaime.” This jazzy spoken word piece is her affirmation to stay positive and fierce: “I promise to think before I speak / To be wary of who I give my energy to / Because it is needed for a greater cause / And that cause is to spread the enlightenment / Of love, compassion, and humanity.” She sings she is “tired of this bull****,” and aren’t we all?
Blind Leading the Blind – Mumford and Sons:
British folk rock band Mumford & Sons released this single in October. The lyrics challenge apathy and cynicism with an insistent forceful melody that can’t be heard on the radio due to the inclusion of the “F-word.”
This Land – Gary Clark Jr:
Gary Clark Jr. fuses rock, hip-hop, roots music and blues. His 2019 album “This Land” has been nominated for four Grammys, and the title track is responsible for three of those. The wailing bluesy guitar with a hip-hop chant over the top is mesmerizing. Paired with the imagery of young black children facing the Confederate flag, it’s one of the most powerful political songs of the year.
Top Live Jazz Performances of 2019 (Lincoln, Omaha and beyond)
Group Sax, First Friday Jazz, First Lutheran Church, Lincoln, Jan. 4
Nebraska Jazz Orchestra with Paul Shaffer, Lied Center, Lincoln, Jan. 10
Dave Stryker, Boiler Room, Lincoln, Jan. 24
Nebraska Jazz Orchestra with Bob Washut, Cornhusker Hotel, Lincoln, Feb. 1
Chris Botti, Lied Center, Lincoln, Feb. 7
David Basse, Zoo Bar, Lincoln, Feb. 22
Marcus Strickland, Jewell Lounge, Omaha, March 10
Delfeayo Marsalis & the Uptown Jazz Orchestra, Lied Center, Lincoln, March 14
Nebraska Jazz Orchestra with Paul McKee, Cornhusker Hotel, Lincoln, March 21
Nebraska Jazz Orchestra with Frank Basile, Cornhusker Hotel, Lincoln, May 16
Russell Malone, Jewell Lounge, Omaha, May 30
Dave Stryker, Jewell Lounge, Omaha, June 14
Naughty Professor, Jazz in June, Lincoln, June 4
Evening in Brazil, Jazz in June, Lincoln, June 11
Marquis Hill Blacktet, Jazz in June, Lincoln, June 18
Nubya Garcia, Jazz in June, Lincoln, June 25
Howard Levy, Meadowlark Music Festival, July 12
David Basse, Zoo Bar, Lincoln, July 17
Ed Love Group, Chez SoDo, Lincoln, Oct. 10
Stefon Harris & Blackout, Lied Center, Lincoln, Oct. 18
Nebraska Jazz Orchestra with Bobby Shew, Cornhusker Hotel, Lincoln, Nov. 22
Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis, Lied Center, Lincoln, Dec. 6
Group Sax, Chez SoDo, Lincoln, Dec. 9
Other Top Performances of 2019 (Lincoln, Omaha and beyond)
James Taylor & Bonnie Raitt, Pinnacle Bank Arena, Lincoln, Feb. 20
San Francisco Symphony with Michael Tilson Thomas, Lied Center, Lincoln, March 28
The Wondermonds, Zoo Bar, Lincoln, April 11
Robin Trower, Bourbon Theater, Lincoln, April 18
Bel-Airs, Zoo Bar, Lincoln, April 26
The Wondermonds, Zoo Bar, Lincoln, May 17
Black Joe Lewis & the Honeybears, Bourbon Theater, Lincoln, May 28
The Wondermonds, Zoo Bar, Lincoln, July 11
Nikki Hill Band, Zoo Bar, Lincoln, Aug. 2
Brooklyn Rider, Lied Center, Lincoln, Oct. 3
- Adrian Belew at the Slowdown, Omaha, 3-5-19
- The Avett Brothers, Pinewood Bowl, 5-17-19
- Junior Brown at Zoofest, 7-19-19
- Mavis Staples at Zoofest, 7-20-19
- Courtney Barnett at Maha in Omaha, 8-16-19
- (Really wanted to see the Brave Combo Christmas show at the Zoo Bar, which was cancelled due to weather, 12-15-19)
MEMORABLE ALBUMS OF 2019
- Robyn Hitchcock/Andy Partridge – Planet England
- TC&I – Naked Flames (live at the Swindon Arts Centre)
- Vampire Weekend – Father of the Bride
- King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard – Fishing for Fishies
- Temples – Hot Motion
- Agouti – Nodes
- Anemone – Beat My Distance
- Levitation Room – Headspace
- Dressy Bessy – Fast Faster Disaster
- Samantha Fish – Kill or Be Kind
- Coco Montoya – Coming in Hot
- Alex Lilly – 2% Milk
- The Highwomen – The Highwomen
- Josh Ritter – Fever Breaks
- Robert Randolph & The Family Band – Brighter Days
- J.J. Cale – Stay Around (posthumously released)
- Violent Femmes – Hotel Last Resort
- Dream Syndicate – These Times
…AND A COUPLE OF SINGLES
- They Might Be Giants – Social+Media+
- Rosalie Cunningham – Ride On My Bike
- David Bowie – Helden (2002 remaster) from the “JoJo Rabbit” soundtrack)
THE LANGUAGE OF MUSIC
Top recommended albums from 2019:
- A-WA – Bayti Fi Rasi
- KOKOKO! – Fongola
- Zusha – When The Sea Split
- Zenobia – Zenobia EP
- Dur-Dur Band – MOGADISCO: Dancing Mogadishu (Somalia 1972-1991)
The top 10 artists played on The Language of Music this year:
- Ravi Shankar
- Jupiter & Okwess
- Mona Haydar
- The Bombay Royale
- Alsarah & The Nubatones
- Soweto Gospel Choir
- Baaba Maal
POLLEY MUSIC LIBRARY
Favorite adventurous records of 2019
Tereshkova – Chunks of Monochrome Rainbows (Astral Spirits)
Bloor – Drolleries (Astral Spirits)
75 Dollar Bill – I Was Real (Thin Wrist)
Fire- Toolz – Field Whispers (From the Crystal Palace) (Orange Milk Records)
Maja S. K. Ratkje – Sult (Rune Grammafon)
David Torn, Tim Berne, Ches Smith – Sun of Goldfinger (ECM)
Max Jaffe – Giant Beat (Ramp Local)
Hildur Ingveldar Guðnadóttir – Chernobyl soundtrack (Deutsche Grammophon)
Noah Creshevsky – Sleeping Awake (Open Space)
Amirtha Kidami/Elder Ones – From Untruth (Northern Spy Records)
Favorite reissues of adventurous records, 2019
Sonny Sharrock – Ask the Ages (Hive Mind Records)
Renaldo and the Loaf – Songs for Swinging Larvae/Songs from the Surgery (Editions Mego)
Captain Beefheart – Trout Mask Replica (Third Man Records)
Antony Widoff – Disposition (Full Spectrum Records)
Sun Ra And His Arkestra* – Sun Ra And His Arkestra Featuring Pharoah Sanders And Black Harold (Orb Tapes)
THE ISM MACHINE
Steffan’s #10: And The Kids – When This Life Is Over
This album is fun incarnate. But that is what we have come to expect from And The Kids. This is a band that I saw when they, and Lucy Dacus, played a show in Omaha. And The Kids really stole the show that night. They were amazing, and are some of the best performers I’ve seen. That’s not why they’re on the list, though. When This Life Is Over is still an incredible album on its own with awesome dynamics and (as always) incredible vocals.
Beau’s #10: Angelo De Augustine – Tomb
In any given year, there are albums about love found and lost. On Tomb, Angelo De Augustine steps out of the home environment of his past records and into the studio for a refined look at heartbreak and regret. Instead of wallowing in despair though, De Augustine chooses to be beautifully optimistic and therapeutically appealing to listeners who carry pain similar to his own.
Steffan’s #9: The New Pornographers – In The Morse Code Of Brake Lights
There are a couple of bands that can almost guarantee a spot on my Top 20 list any time they release music. The New Pornographers is one of those bands, and it’s really simple. They just sound awesome ALL THE TIME. The blend of vocalists of The New Pornographers blows me away all the time. So yeah. The New Pornographers is just a great sounding band.
Beau’s #9: Brittany Howard – Jaime
Brittany Howard could have made the rest of her life conventional and simple following her success as the frontwoman of Alabama Shakes. Instead, when the music world heard her debut solo release, they discovered Howard’s vulnerability about unrequited love, being queer and mixed-race while growing up in the south, and the injustices of the world today. Jaime is unabashed and genre-bending, and I never felt less entitled to be listening to something this personal on any other record in 2019.
Steffan’s #8: Hatchie – Keepsake
This is an album I discovered by TOTAL accident. I was listening to another album from Double Double Whammy on YouTube, and I let autoplay do its thing. Also of note, this was less than a month ago when this happened. Hatchie took my Top 20 and totally gutted it. So, not only is Double Double Whammy on my radar, but so is Hatchie. I look forward to seeing what Hatchie does in the future, and I am excited to be playing this music on The ISM Machine in the years to come.
Beau’s #8: half•alive – Now, Not Yet
There’s probably a pressure – maybe a feeling of obligation – for new bands to showcase a sense of identity. For half•alive, that appeal could be their creatively choreographed music videos for songs like “still feel.” or “arrow.” It might be their infusion of R&B, soul, and funk into their sound. Perhaps it’s what lies beneath their quirky veneer: an exploration into themes of faith and anxiety that make Now, Not Yet much more investigatory than what would otherwise be a perfectly accessible and catchy indie pop record. In just over 41 minutes, this record is all of that and more, and I discover something new every time I listen to it.
Steffan’s #7: Barrie – Happy To Be Here
YOU LISTEN TO THE FIRST 15 SECONDS OF THIS ALBUM AND TELL ME THAT YOU’RE NOT PUMPED. This is one of the albums that Beau brought in. Inevitably there is always one or two albums that Beau ends up introducing me to. Every week, for a while, there was always one song each show that would really stand out, and I would ask Beau who it was, and it was always Barrie. There is tons of cool stuff happening on this album, including some really great funk-vibes.
Beau’s #7: Benjamin Francis Leftwich – Gratitude
Gratitude is BFL’s third and last album to be released in his 20s. It’s spiritually awake and thoroughly beautiful, filled to the brim with ethereal instrumentals and vocals. Having dealt with addiction and disillusionment for a time, Leftwich now seems as though he’s very aware of the wonders of our world, along with an acknowledgment of the darkness we all face and being at peace despite it. “Gratitude,” short and simply, is the perfect thesis statement for this album.
Steffan’s #6: SACRED PAWS – Run Around The Sun
If I could describe the sound, it would be if Jungle, Shout Out Louds, The Colourist had a ska-skewing baby. It’s not exactly like anything else we have ever played before, but it’s adjacent to a lot of things that Beau and I both love. It’s a good time all the way through, so I won’t recommend one particular track, rather I have to recommend the entirety of the album. Listen to the whole thing. Fold some laundry. Sort some recycling. Open all the windows in the house and dance with your cat. I don’t care what reason you make, just listen to the whole thing in one sitting.
Beau’s #6: SACRED PAWS – Run Around The Sun
Energetic, infectious, and all the while sounding so effortless, this LP combines so many influences: afrobeat guitars, post-punk attitude, and United Kingdom origins. The album constantly grooves and bounces around, with layered vocals, blaring horns, and invigorating drums that make us bob our heads and dance around every time we hear them. Run Around the Sun is so unlike most things we hear each year, and it’s the perfect candidate for any party playlist.
Steffan’s #5: Stolen Jars – A Reminder
Stolen Jars is another one of those bands that always makes my list. I’ve never met them, and I don’t know anything about them personally, but they are just a band that always sounds really awesome. Between this album and Kept, there was a change in one of the vocalists that had me a little for a time, but the songwriting prowess of Cody Fitzgerald is very adaptable, and Stolen Jars has, successfully, release another one of my favorite albums. Special shoutouts go to the drumming style which is my favorite style in all of music and has me (very seriously) interested in picking up the sticks myself. Stolen Jars, if you’re listening, come to Nebraska. I’ll do my best to treat you like kings/queens while you’re here.
Beau’s #5: Weyes Blood – Titanic Rising
The music of Natalie Mering feels timeless. These vocals – from the quality of voice to the lyrics themselves – could have existed decades ago, and yet they are so refreshing in 2019 and beyond. This is one of the most breathtaking and diverse chamber pop albums of the past decade, playfully commenting on the dating scene in “Everyday,” longing for meaning in life in “Something to Believe,” and seeking an idyllic existence vicariously through cinema in “Movies.”
Steffan’s #4: Guster – Look Alive
Guster is one of my favorite bands of all time. They have always been looking at fun and new things to try as a band, but I would say that the release of Look Alive opened so many more doors. It seems like every year, regardless of what has come out, they are going on tour. And, luckily for us, they seem to be coming through Omaha every single year. This year, they played a show with the Omaha Symphony Orchestra, which ruled. Now they are going on an improv acoustic tour – coming through Omaha again. But. About the aalbum. There is some really great stuff on Look Alive. A lot of this stuff is really fun. But there are also songs like “Hard Times” that are more somber. It’s a collection songs that are a great addition to a great band’s already-great repertoire. It’s great.
Beau’s #4: Kevin Morby – Oh My God
Singing Saw, Kevin Morby’s 2016 album, was my favorite album of that year. Since then, the singer/songwriter has released two more albums, each firmly sticking to its influences in style and subject matter. Oh My God, as the name implies, is a concept album that examines spirituality, and it explores different interpretations of this concept by way of minimal gospel folk-rock. The patience of “Nothing Sacred / All Things Wild” injects life into the soul, “Hail Mary” is a rousing good time, and “Sing a Glad Song” cures the blues.
Steffan’s #3: The National – I Am Easy To Find
Before this new album by The National came out, Beau told me that there was going to be a short film of the same name with music from the album. But he also told me it’s not the soundtrack to the movie. And the movie is not a movie to promote the album. I didn’t really know what to do with all of that, but it didn’t matter. Both the album I Am Easy To Find and the short film of the same name were great on their own. The National is the most significant band I have learned about since starting The ISM Machine and has cemented its place as one of my favorite bands (some days taking the number 1 spot). This album came out at just the right time for me. I was dealing with the miscarriage of a long-awaited pregnancy, and the extreme depression of that loss when this album released. As an album that seems to explore all the different stages of life, it was hard not to relate some of that hurt to a lot of the songs on I Am Easy To Find. This album, like most albums by The National, is simply beautiful and worthy of all the time you can provide.
Beau’s #3: The Hold Steady – Thrashing Thru The Passion
Though they were never really gone, it feels like we’ve returned to the Hold Steady we first met over 10 years ago. When I wonder whether rock’n’roll is dying, it’s bands like this that remind me of a genre I fell in love with while still adding their own flavor to stand out. Craig Finn’s vocals tell elaborate stories with as much ease and distinction as ever. Despite their age, this band is working hard at making lively and fun rock music – seemingly about whatever comes to their minds.
Steffan’s #2: SOAK – Grim Town
It was incredibly difficult for me to decide where to put this on my list. It was a VERY close call. This was the first album of 2019 that really hooked me and had me playing the album on loop instead of discovering anything new. SOAK is the project of Bridie Monds-Watson and Grim Town is her second album. This young artist sang her way into my heart, and I will be watching her career very closely from hear on out. In addition to being unsure of this albums placement, I was unsure which song to play during the show. “Valentine Shmalentine,” “I Was Blue, Technicolour Too,” and “Missed Calls” are all AMAZING songs. But “Maybe” and (especially) “Knock Me Off My Feet” were my favorite songs of the entire year.
Beau’s #2: Anamanaguchi – [USA]
As an avid pursuer of new music, one of my pleasures is discovering singular experiences. I get a rush when artists, albums, – heck, maybe just a song or two – transport me to new worlds and soundscapes. [USA] was one of 2019’s singular experiences, putting listeners on a grand voyage of chiptune rock absolutely brimming with emotion and incorporating a number of unique guest singers. It’s an abstract, explosive, and introspective journey for which words don’t do much justice.
Steffan’s #1: Great Grandpa – Four Of Arrows
I don’t quite remember how it was that I discovered Great Grandpa, but whatever happened, I liked one of their songs enough to “follow them” on Spotify. As a result, I was notified when Four of Arrows dropped. However that discovery process went down, I am glad that it did. Four of Arrows dips their toes in Indie versions of garage-, pop-, and punk-rock. The song “Endling” even borders on indie-classical, if such a thing exists, sounding like something out of a movie score. I’ve said in the past that lyrical interpretation is a great weakness of mine, but if I had to do my best I would say that a lot of the themes on this album are related to existential anxieties and finding your place in a world that just wants to swallow you whole. So. Massive points for being timely and relatable, but also for sounding ABSOLUTELY BEAUTIFUL while doing so. It’s hard to recommend just one song; “Bloom” and “Digger” are both amazing songs. “Treat Jar” has been a recent favorite. But if I had to pick my absolute favorite, it would probably be “Mono No Aware.” Please listen to this whole album, though; it’s a great example of a modern indie band making full-albums relevant.
Beau’s #1: The National – I Am Easy To Find
Over the years, we’ve noticed patterns and trends with certain artists. Some acts have a regular schtick. Some singer/songwriters constantly collaborate and release wildly different material every other year. And some bands advance more slowly over time, as is the case with The National. At the end of 2018, we knew I Am Easy to Find was on its way and we anticipated it greatly. What we didn’t expect, however, was how grand this album would sound and feel. The evolution of approach and artistry here is unprecedented for this band. The album broadly explores much about the human experience, a feat that’s strengthened by its inclusion of many female vocalists into a traditionally all-male band. Instead of merely servicing a gimmick, however, these guests fit in as complementary pieces of a greater, soul-filling tapestry. Also adding to the sound are many dozens of orchestra members, youth chorus singers, and other miscellaneous instrumental personnel. Masterfully woven and beautifully delicate, I Am Easy to Find is an hour-long musical achievement we will celebrate and listen to for a great long while. But that’s not all! 2019 also gifted us a meditative and thought-provoking short film of the album’s same name directed by Mike Mills and starring Alicia Vikander. Featuring a handful of the album’s songs, the film examines a woman’s life from birth to death in just over 20 minutes, and while not a necessary viewing to understand the music, its achievement on a cinematic level proves how far this band is willing to leap to evolve to its next stage. I can’t wait to witness the next pursuits and accomplishments to come for The National.
AND THE ISM MACHINE ALBUM OF THE YEAR AWARD GOES TO…
The National – I Am Easy To Find