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2001: The Year in Music

by Tim McMahan

This year for my annual year-in-review column, a slightly different approach.

Usually the piece is nothing more than a blowhard's rant about how low and crusty and irrefutably bad music has become over the past year. How the proliferation of nancy-boy tigerbeat dance troupes, hate-mongering, misogynistic goon-rap projects and crotch-grabbing T&A spectacles have dominated not only the pop music charts and radio waves, but sullied the tastes of the average American music-goer who doesn't know any better than what he or she sees on MTV.

That's too easy, and let's face it, we've heard it all before -- at least for the past two years. And by the look of things, we're going to be stuck with this flavorless, odorless, colorless "pap" music on our radios and TV screens at least for another year or so. Nothing will change until the music industry -- that marvel of money-making ingenuity -- drowns itself in its own cow-flop. The irony is that even a puppy, after a few months of whoofing down its own doo-doo, comes to the realization that maybe there's something better to eat out in the yard. Translated: Turn off your radios, folks, and start buying CDs.


So here's where the hope comes in. The week before Christmas I was combing through the 150 or so 2001-released CDs that I've listened to, reviewed or referenced over the past year to compile my annual "best of" compilation disc that I burn and send to family, friends and industry pals in lieu of the usual bullshit holiday card. Only the best-of-the-best indie tracks make the cut, and usually I'm scrambling to fill the 18 or so slots.

But not this year. This time, lying on the floor in front of me was a pile of 50 CDs with selected "perfect tracks," way too many for an 80-minute CDR. Then it struck me -- this hasn't been just another crappy year in music. In fact, this may have been one of the best years for indie rock in recent memory. It just so happens almost none of it was heard by the great unwashed masses, but who cares? Griping and grousing about the terrible state of the popular culture isn't gonna make a squat of difference. We're always gonna be bombarded by the cadre of N*Limp Britneys because they and their cigar-chomping Armani-suited management control the airwaves. Turn it off and turn on something new.

Which is as good a segue as any to what you've all been panting for: My "top-10 favorites" of 2001 (in no particular order):


This may have been one of the best years for indie rock in recent memory.

  • Burning Airlines -- Identikit (DeSoto). Burns from one end to another -- hard, fast rock with enough pop sensibility to grab the ear of your typical alt-radio programmer if he/she had an inkling of taste.
  • Les Savy Fav -- Go Forth (Frenchkiss). A chiming wall of guitar post-punk by way of neu-prog, with nods to Modest Mouse's quirky recklessness (produced by Modest Mouse/Built to Spill knob-turner Phil Ek) and At the Drive In's hollow violence. And for the lucky few at the Sokol Underground that November night, they also put on the year's best live show.
  • The New Year -- Newness Ends (Touch and Go). The Kadane Brothers (ex-Bedhead) team with Come's Chris Brokaw on drums and former Saturnine bassist Mike Donofrio, with Uber-engineer Steve Albini behind the knobs. The result is Bedhead-esque, but with a more focused urgency, greater dynamics and better vocals. Get lost in it.
  • Sorry About Dresden -- The Convenience of Indecision (Saddle Creek). Whereas hype-band-of-the-year The Strokes do only a passable job of stealing from Lou Reed and company (among others), SAD succeeds in marrying their nods to Elvis C. and Graham P. with the best shrugs to '90s-era indie slacker rock. The year's best sing-along album.
  • Paula Frazer -- Indoor Universe (Birdman). Ex-Tarnation chanteuse, these simple pop songs with lush arrangements place her alongside some of today's strongest songwriters including Aimee Mann, as well as heroes of yesterday like Edie Brickell and Suzanne Vega.
  • Red House Painters -- Old Ramon (Sub Pop) -- Singer-songwriter Mark Kozelek may sound like a terminal Gloomy Gus, but he manages to break free for this career-making effort that strikes all warm and honest like a clearing in a forest. Acoustic mellow with an edge, and one of the best voices in the biz.
  • Low -- Things We Lost in the Fire (Kranky). The band famous for making music in which the spaces between notes are as important as the notes themselves, this time fills them with a fuzz bass or dense, groggy rock guitar. Mostly forlorn and lost, so catchy you can't help but listen.
  • The Faint -- Danse Macabre (Saddle Creek). Neu New Wave electronic pop by Omaha's next big thing, there's no denying the grim themes that run through the entire CD, but even with the predominately minor-key music, the beats overpower any feelings of gloom. By the time it's through you'll believe you can dance, whether you really can or not.
  • Crooked Fingers -- Bring on the Snakes (Warm) -- What Neil Diamond would sound like if he fronted the Tindersticks. The co-founder of noise-pop masters Archers of Loaf tames things down on eight surreal acoustic lullabies. Eric Bachmann is the tune, play him
  • Stephen Malkmus -- self-titled (Matador) -- Almost a tie with the other Pavement spin-off, Preston School of Industry. Though this doesn't rock as hard, it's quirkier, poppier, and much more cleverly written. Pavement is dead, long live Pavement.
There were scads of others that almost made the list, including Death Cab for Cutie; Son, Ambulance, The Dismemberment Plan, Spoon, Now It's Overhead, Aereogramme, Sigur Ros, The American Analog Set, Atom & His Package, and more. Yes, Virginia, there is a world outside of your radio and MTV, and it's driven by good, smart, honest music.

Okay, so here's my take on why indie is on the upswing: Ask any indie rocker from the past decade what band has influenced him and you'll likely hear the same list of indie/punk mavericks: Husker Du, The Replacements, Fugazi, The Feelies, The Cure, Joy Division, Bad Brains, Black Flag, Gang of Four, Minutemen, R.E.M., Dinosaur Jr., Wire, Mission of Burma, The Meat Puppets, Pere Ubu, X, and so on -- all bands that flourished in anonymity 20 or so years ago. Now the children of the children of the '80s are forming their own bands. Imagine a generation raised from the cradle on a rich diet of their parents' 7-inch vinyl, learning to walk while Sonic Youth or the Dead Kennedys blared in the background. Only good can come of this.

The irony is that even a puppy, after a few months of whoofing down its own doo-doo, comes to the realization that maybe there's something better to eat out in the yard.

The Ranch Bowl's bizarre LA-style ticket scheme, where local bands are forced to hustle tickets to friends and neighbors to earn their pay, resulted in scaring away most of the better local acts.











Which brings us to a look at Omaha's music scene circa 2001:
  • Easily the most noteworthy event last year was Saddle Creek Records' evolution from a tiny boutique label to a genuine force in the indie music world. Saddle Creek bands spent the year jockeying for position on the College Music Journal charts while they criss-crossed the United States and UK on tour. The label ventured out of its insular family of acts and added a plethora of out-of-towners to its already strong roster, including Now It's Overhead, Azure Ray and Sorry About Dresden. With new releases slated from Bright Eyes, Cursive, The Good Life, Azure Ray and Desaparecidos, 2002 promises to be an even bigger year for the label that calls Omaha home.


  • Neva Dinova and The Monroes were the most promising non-Saddle Creek acts to emerge from the Omaha scene. Neva's trippy self-released full-length was among the best local recordings in '01, while The Monroes tore up the stage with their unique brand of tractor-punk howlers -- look for their new 3-song 7-inch in early January. Meanwhile, alt-country rockers The Movies also made a mark on local psyches and plan to do more damage when they release their new CD in early 2002. Also look for a new one by The Carsinogents, who will enter Lincoln's Presto studios this spring.


  • The live music scene revolved around the same handful of war-torn venues. The Ranch Bowl continued to push its GetGo! Records' stable and hosted a smattering of national touring bands that fall mostly into the goon-aggra-rap category, apparently turning its back on quality indie music altogether. The Bowl's bizarre LA-style ticket scheme, where local bands are forced to hustle tickets to friends and neighbors to earn their pay, resulted in scaring away most of the better local acts. Recent news reports about The Bowl's problems meeting local fire ordinance standards only cast more doubt on the venue's already questionable future.


  • In its second year, The Music Box continued to book mostly second-rate national AOR-friendly acts, commonly referred to as "the county fair circuit." Clem Snide and Will Oldham were notable exceptions, but both failed to draw crowds the size of the Box's usual fodder of yesteryear rockers, like The Average White Band or Maceo Parker. The December local music showcase featuring Neva Dinova and The Good Life was a triumph, drawing close to 500. With Delmar Production's Marq Manner now consulting with Music Box manager J. Rankin on bookings, the venue might begin to take some chances with more cutting-edge bands.


  • Sokol Underground again hosted the most-progressive national bands, including Smog, Death Cab for Cutie, Swearing at Motorists, Spoon, The Dismemberment Plan, Les Savy Fav, Stephen Malkmus, and, of course, The Faint and other Saddle Creek acts. The venue's reputation continues to grow. Meanwhile The Cog Factory, once Omaha's ground zero for indie and punk rock, watched its rent rise while its audience dwindled. Now, with the tax man pounding at its door, the nationally known venue that's influenced almost every indie/punk band in Omaha will discontinue operations for good in 2002, at least at its current location.


  • A handful of new venues also made their mark in '01. McCormick's, a volleyball bar located somewhere in West Omaha, began booking touring blues acts, raves, and local bands in its "Mac-dome" facility. Dazy Maze, a vegetarian restaurant in the Old Market, became a regular hangout for local alternative bands and the occasional national act, thanks to it groovy outdoor stage. Even Ted & Wally's, an Old Market ice cream shop, booked a few shows in its tiny room.



But maybe the biggest impact on the Omaha music scene last year came from the media that covers it. Or, more accurately, the press that covers it.

The irony of ironies is that the media with audio capabilities do the worst job of reporting what can be heard in their own back yards. Radio and television are abysmal in supporting the local music scene. 

Why even mention television? Because local TV news could benefit the most by paying attention to what interests young viewers, a demographic that has a reputation -- accurate or not -- for being watchers, not readers. And yet, local TV news caters its content almost exclusively to the grown-ups and gray hairs -- the demographic that historically prefers getting its news from a newspaper. Blame the consultants, those out-of-touch evil manipulators who make a living whispering safe idiocies into the tone-deaf ears of cow-eyed, nitwit executive producers lost somewhere in TV Land circa 1970.

Then there's radio. With the exception of the 89.7 The River -- the station that uses its non-commercial license to broadcast the same goon-rock dreck that can be heard on two other commercial stations -- there's nary a mention of local music on the airwaves 'cept for the occasional 30-second spot for whatever lousy hardcore act will be floundering around the Ranch Bowl's stage this weekend. Even then, The River's self-congratulatory "support" of local music consists of a once-a-week, 2-hour local music show broadcast conveniently when no one is listening, and the rare sandwiching of a Faint or Pomeroy song between hours of Blink-Limp-Godsmack-goon-rock bleatings.

Amidst all that apathy, along comes The Omaha World-Herald. Over the past year, that great, gray bastion of conservatism -- hardly on the cutting edge of anything that is hip -- continued to expand its local music coverage to the point of creating a weekly entertainment tabloid -- aptly titled Go! -- that tries to keep pace with the hottest local bands, venues and going's on. Entertainment reporter Christine Laue can be found at local rock shows almost every weekend -- something unheard of from past OWH entertainment reporters. An interview with The Dismemberment Plan? A Q&A with Frank Black? This definitely is not your father's World-Herald.

Meanwhile, The Reader, a weekly paper that -- along with the Omaha Weekly -- covers the local scene, down-shifted its music coverage when the managing editor, former Omaha World-Herald music reporter Jim Minge, left the paper under undisclosed circumstances (some say he quit, some say he was fired). Although constantly criticized for his news judgment, there was no questioning Minge's background in local music. Regardless, The Reader continued to keep up with the action, thanks to a weekly column written by Marq Manner, arguably the scene's most visible music writer.

Finally, there is SLAM Omaha -- -- a music-focused Web site with everything from local club listings to music links to a weekly showcase calendar to a no-holds-barred discussion board where uptight music hackers -- known as "Slammers" -- post messages about topics ranging from the sad state of local radio to Omaha's jungle music scene to what CD they're listening to today, sprinkling in healthy doses of promotion for their favorite band's upcoming gig or CD release. No one knows just how influential SLAM Omaha really is. Some say that despite the site's impressive "hit" statistics, only a hundred or so people frequent it regularly, and most of them are in bands. But one thing's for certain, the SLAM Web site is the only media vehicle solely dedicated to local music, and if the futorians are right and the future of music really will be broadcast on the 'net, SLAM some day could wind up being more influential than radio and TV combined.


The irony of ironies is that the media with audio capabilities do the worst job of reporting what can be heard in their own back yard.

That sounds like a prediction to me, and before we get to predictions for 2002, let's review last year's prophecies:

LY (last year's) Prediction: The return of overblown prog-rock, a modernized version of that old epic song-and-dance invented by the likes of Rush, Kansas, Yes and King Crimson.
Outcome: What do you call Radiohead? Actually, the biggest shift to prog came from the indie world, from bands like Cave In, Mogwai, Sigur Ros, Dismemberment Plan, Juno. Hardy a movement, but then again, it wasn't in the '70s, either.

LY Prediction: MTV will begin to discard its reality-series format and return to music videos. 
: Strangely, the station actually has begun to schedule full blocks of videos again, but it's definitely a trickle. Road Rules/Real World bore-a-thons still dominate the programming, and for some reason MTV has begun running professional wrestling -- a major step backwards. And where's 120 Minutes? Guess I'll have to move to a city whose cable offers M2.

LY Prediction: Bands and musicians we'll be talking about this time next year: Stephen Malkmus, Weezer, Radiohead, Built to Spill, Unwound, R.E.M., Neil Young, Prince, The Faint, Air and Beck. Bands and musicians we won't be talking about this time next year: Papa Roach, Kid Rock, Moby, Matchbox 20, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Greenday, Sting and Santana. 
Mostly on the mark, except of course for the absent Beck (what happened?) and the curiously quiet Neil Young.

LY Prediction: U2 as we now know it will finally call it quits. 
Yeah, they're bigger than ever, but the band behind the cheesy "Beautiful Day" is a shadow of the one that performed "Sunday Bloody Sunday" at Red Rocks way back when.

LY Prediction: Female-fronted indie artists, such as Liz Phair, Helium, Cat Power, Come and Barbara Manning, will slowly begin to reemerge in the post-Lilith Fair environment. 
: We're still waiting, unless you count Pink.

LY Prediction: Look for Son, Ambulance to make national waves with their split Bright Eyes CD. Don't be surprised if Conor Oberst's music begins to turn up on your television next year either as a backgrounder on a WB/Fox TV show or when Conor is asked to perform on a late-night comedy/talk show. 

LY Prediction: An Omaha band not affiliated with the insular Saddle Creek scene also will gain national exposure. 
Whoops! II

LY Prediction: Two new big-dollar live music venues will open in Omaha that will make competition even tighter among the more popular venues. The loser will be Sokol Underground. 
Sokol Underground was saved from becoming an office space and had the best year in its existence with no end in sight. The FunPlex (96th and Q, dude) hosting live music seemed like a no-brainer -- the owners apparently thought otherwise. And while the MacDome, Dazy Maze, Rebels, and Ted and Wally's began live music this year, they hardly were a threat to the Ranch Bowl and will never fill the Cog Factory's shoes.

LY Prediction: Major record labels will turn to established music-based Internet websites to both market and regain credibility for their acts. 
: Pitchfork, Buddyhead, Splendid, Basement Life, and LostAtSea (put a dot com after each name) all continued to grow in '01.

LY Prediction: Through court action, Napster will finally be laid to rest, but it won't matter, as new technology that does the same thing as Napster will continue to offer free music downloads beyond the music industry's grasp. 
I'll write one as soon as I finish downloading the latest White Stripes CD from

LY Prediction: Commercial radio in Omaha will remain as dismal as ever until some ambitious youth starts either a pirate radio or effective web-based radio station that catches the ear of a local music mogul who hires him/her to reinvent his station's format. 
Commercial radio in Omaha is as dismal as ever.

LY Prediction: No matter what happens, we're stuck with the "boy bands" and goon rock for at least a couple more years. 
One year down…


Uh, six for 12, not so good. Let's see if I can do better for 2002:


An indie band will again break through the pop-culture waves, just like Nirvana did in '92. Radio-unfriendly-though-adored bands like The Strokes and Ryan Adams have set the groundwork, though neither will be the culprit. The result will be yet another indie-band feeding frenzy by the majors, but will ultimately have little or no impact on the current boy-band/Britney-girl popularity. Creed, on the other hand, could go the way of the dinosaur.


XM Satellite Radio and similar services will begin to catch on in a big way. XM currently offers 71 CD-quality music channels (and that's only the beginning) available from coast to coast. Sony, Alpine and Pioneer are manufacturing XM car stereos that not only display the channel but the song titles and artist names, for under $300 plus a $9.99 monthly service fee. Imagine finally being able to listen to indie rock music in your car without playing a CD. How can local FM music stations compete? XM is a national broadcast -- leaving local radio stations as the only outlet for listening to music by local bands. Stay tuned.


The no-end-in-sight rise in CD prices will force consumers to look for outlets other than the record stores to acquire their favorite music. With the release of new technology, such as Apple's iPod player which stores up to 1,000 songs in a device the size of a deck of cards and can download an entire CD in 10 seconds (no kidding), MP3 sites will gain new credibility as a realistic alternative to buying pricey compact discs. Those who argue that consumers will not turn their backs on the comfort of holding a finished CD package seem to have already forgotten that a similar argument was raised by vinyl record collectors who scoffed at the idea of CDs and their smaller-sized sleeve artwork. Watch record labels begin to stumble over themselves to get in line with the technology and lock down their profits.


Look for the establishment of a national chain of rock clubs, similar to the Funnybone and Improv nation comedy club chains. While the concept makes sense, especially for young rock bands who struggle figuring out how to set up tours, the chain will create two classes of indie bands -- those deemed "cool" because they only play at independently operated clubs, and everyone else.


A new national cable music channel will launch in '02 to compete with MTV. It'll be similar to Canada's Much Music, with the mission of presenting music instead of craptacular reality-based programming.


If you thought the death of George Harrison rocked the music world…


Get ready for a slightly declining year in local music as the number of original music venues slips and established clubs, such as the Ranch Bowl and The Music Box, get greedy and book more cover bands. The shift will have an immediate impact on the number of local bands, which will decline compared to past years. Ultimately, fewer but better bands will emerge.


Local radio will be as dismal as ever, but a new 2-hour-a-week indie rock show will pop up somewhere on the FM dial, scheduled again during late hours on the weekend when no one is listening. It's better than nothing.


The powers that be at the Omaha World-Herald will recognize Christine Laue's hard work covering local music and give her a promotion -- to editor of a different section of the paper. Who will they find to replace her? "Hello, Jim Minge…?"


I know I make this prediction every year, but a local band will perform on network TV in 2002, probably on the Late, Late Show with Craig Kilborn, which has been taking chances lately on presenting more obscure rock bands. Keep your fingers crossed.


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Posted December 31, 2001. Published in the Omaha Weekly January 4, 2002. Copyright © 2001 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.