Those Awkward, In-between
2006: The Year in Music
by Tim McMahan
2006 was a year that indie music -- both locally and nationally
-- was in a holding pattern.
I got plenty
of shit last year for saying in these
pages that indie music peaked in '05. Looking back at '06, tell
me I was wrong.
Sure, there were plenty
of new indie records and rock shows down at Sokol, but did anything
from this past year really stand out? Contemplating this article,
I wracked my brains for a theme for '06, but only came up with this
truth: 2006 was a year that indie music -- both locally and nationally
-- was in a holding pattern.
There were no new trends,
no standout acts, and maybe no place left to go. No, I don't think
indie has run its course, but I do think that we're all getting
tired of the same old mopey jangle-rock, the wonky 10-piece chamber-pop
ensembles, and the endless reinvention of Gang of Four-inspired
post-punk. If there was a trend in indie, it was toward the odd.
Joanna Newsom, that harpist with the voice of Lisa Simpson, was
lauded by indie music scribes as the artist of the year (I've yet
to be able to make it through her new disc, Ys, in one sitting).
Then there were the gypsy folk acts like DeVotchka and Beirut, and
kitschy chamber pop bands like Decemberist that seemed to make a
name for themselves based on their sheer idiosyncrasy. It's all
about being peculiar these days.
It's not like we heard
anything earth-shaking on the radio, either. Look, I like that Gnarls
Barkley song as much as the next guy, but "Crazy" was
hardly the ground-breaking single that "Hey Ya!" was for
Outkast. The rest of the Billboard charts were dominated
with the usual gang of hip-hop thugs, illiterate goon-rock bands
and tuneless, silicone-powered divas. Can music get any worse?
living in a state of inertia. That certainly was the case for Saddle
Creek Records. For the label at the epicenter of Omaha's indie music
scene, 2006 will be remembered as an off year. This despite having
signed three new acts -- local heavy-punk rockers Ladyfinger (NE),
Crooked Fingers singer-songwriter Eric Bachmann, and hippy folk
rockers Neva Dinova, who (probably) won't release their Creek debut
until next May.
Meanwhile, one of the
label's holy triumvirate, Cursive, made perhaps the best records
of its career. Released in August, Happy Hollow also is the
label's most significant creative achievement in '06. But despite
having sold more than 27,000 copies, it wasn't its biggest seller.
That honor goes to Bright Eyes' 2005 release I'm Wide Awake,
It's Morning, which sold more than 47,000 copies, bringing its
grand total to over 380,000. Is there a Gold Record in Conor Oberst's
future? Ironically, the biggest-selling Creek-related release was
Jenny Lewis and the Watson Twins' Rabbit Fur Coat, which
actually came out on Oberst's Team Love label. Since its January
release, Rabbit Fur Coat has sold a remarkable 97,000 copies,
according to Saddle Creek executive Jason Kulbel.
only had seven releases in '06 -- a quiet year by record label standards.
But that didn't mean the label was sitting on its hands. After months
of waiting, the iron finally arrived at the site of Slowdown, Saddle
Creek's long-planned, multi-purpose complex just north of downtown
Omaha. Construction began on the multi-million dollar office/music
hall/bar/movie theater/condo project in September with plans for a
grand opening in summer '07 -- a year after its original target date.
Meanwhile, Presto! Studios
-- where most Saddle Creek artists record -- bid adieu to Lincoln
last summer. The Mogis Brothers are currently building a new studio
in tony Fairacres, right next to a mansion purchased by Saddle Creek
superstar Conor Oberst. As a sort of homecoming celebration, Bright
Eyes performed a bone-drenching concert in Memorial Park June 17
that inspired the editors of The World-Herald to declare
Omaha "fun city" (the saps!).
So, yeah, 2006 probably
will be remembered as a limbo year for the Omaha indie music scene.
But with Slowdown opening and new releases by Bright Eyes and The
Faint, '07 could mark a turning point for Omaha and Saddle Creek
But before we look into
the future, let's look back one more time. Here's the list of my 10
favorite releases of '06 (in alphabetical order):
copy of the Lazy-i Best of 2006 Compilation CD! All you have
to do is e-mail me (firstname.lastname@example.org)
with your name and mailing address and you'll be entered in
the drawing. Hurry! Deadline's Jan. 17! Check
out the track listing.
- Eric Bachmann,To the Races (Saddle Creek) -- Bachmann's
sweet indie lullabies mask stories of death and loss, all-too-often
sung in a voice that Neil Diamond would happily kill Rick Rubin
- Beck,The Information (Interscope) -- His best
effort since Mellow Gold. 'Nuff said.
- Belle & Sebastian, The Life Pursuit (Matador)
-- The retro upbeat dance record drew heavily from Bowie and T.
Rex. I hated it at first, but it grew on me (like a fungus).
- Cat Power, The Greatest (Matador) -- The first
album from Chan Marshall that I've enjoyed from beginning to end
-- the most heartfelt and tuneful songs of her career.
- Cursive, Happy Hollow (Saddle Creek) -- It stands
alongside Domestica as the band's career-setting high-water
mark. A pop, punk, drunk, funk achievement.
- Jenny Lewis and the Watson Twins, Rabbit Fur Coat
(Team Love) -- A twangy rock marvel, the best thing Lewis has
produced since The Execution of All Things back in '02.
- Simon Joyner and the Fallen Men, Skeleton Blues
(Jagjaguwar) -- Standing alongside a solid band, Joyner has finally
released his inner-rock star, emerging cautious and slightly broken
in a cloak originally tailored for the likes of Dylan.
- The Terminals, Forget About Never (Dead Beat)
-- With producer Andy Caffrey, the band reinvented its hep-cat-cool
retro garage punk into blown-out, raw mayhem. Turn it up.
- Two Gallants, What the Toll Tells (Saddle Creek)
-- Though a little of these hippy ship-galley sea-shanty balladeers
goes a long way, I now see why they appealed to the sexy young
execs at Saddle Creek.
- Yo La Tengo, I Am Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat
Your Ass (Matador) -- The latest in a series of intimate rock
head-trips, almost indefinable in its scope, which ranges from
10-minute acid-rock jams to ethereal early morning acoustic walks
in a forest to cow-bell driven, falsetto-sung dance-rock rave-ups.
||A soggy day in the park --
Bright Eyes at Memorial June 17.
|Yo La Tengo at Sokol Underground
Venues, for the most part, remained
status quo last year, with a couple new players added to the mix.
Sokol Underground and Auditorium continued to have a stranglehold
on all things indie, as they have for the past three or four years,
thanks to One Percent Productions. Little ol' O'Leaver's also kept
its rep as the small venue that hosts some of the best shows, while
Mick's remains Omaha's keynote location for acoustic (or electric)
folk. The only venue to really fade in '06 was The 49'r, which hosted
fewer shows than ever, probably because they pack the place just
fine without live music.
Two new venues for live music also made their mark last year. With
shows by Jenny Lewis and the Watson Twins and Gillian Welch, The
Scottish Rite Hall on 202 So. 20th St. was rediscovered as a hidden
gem in downtown. It could become Omaha's version of Lawrence's Liberty
Hall. The other notable new player was The Saddle Creek Bar at 1410
No. Saddle Creek Rd. Around for literally decades only to reopen
last summer, the venue's old-home atmosphere, weird stage and exceptional
location could place it on top of the list for live music venues.
Its future, however, depends on solid booking.
With Slowdown opening next summer and a couple new bars in the works,
Omaha could actually suffer from a glut of live venues -- and not
enough quality bands to fill the stages. That's a good problem to
have (as long as new talent actually emerges). So what were my favorite
shows of '06? Here's the rundown:
- Simon Joyner and the Wind-Up Birds, Jan. 27, O'Leaver's
-- Joyner and his band unveiled the sound that would become Skeleton
Blues and hit the proverbial sweet-spot where melody and dissonance
meet to form a beautiful, soulful noise that burns going down.
- Cursive, Feb. 8, O'Leaver's -- A "secret show"
where Cursive unveiled the sound that would become Happy Hollow.
Their big-shouldered strut felt more relaxed and, quite frankly,
funner than the usual furrowed-brow Cursive stuff.
- Jenny Lewis and The Watson Twins, March 11, The Scottish
Rite Hall -- A warm set in one of the city's warmest venues, Lewis
showed that she's bound to become the biggest act on Oberst's
Team Love label (besides Bright Eyes, of course), and could spur
a C&W revival among the indie set. God help us all.
- Ladyfinger, March 18, Sokol Underground -- The irony:
They seem like nice guys, but their music is some dark shit, black
and negative, psycho angry, rattling around loud and scary like
a box of smoking chainsaws. Did I mention how loud it was?
- NOMO, June 8, O'Leaver's -- To say it was celebratory
would be an understatement. O'Leaver's glowed. The seven-piece
afro-beat ensemble closed the night by parading through the bar,
ending in a chanting circle right in front of the bar.
- Bright Eyes, June 17, Memorial Park -- Oberst never sounded
better performing in front of a park filled with a few thousand
of his new neighbors. Halfway through the show, the sky opened
and the rain came. In buckets. But throughout the maelstrom, thousands
refused to leave, both young and old. Talk about your acid test
in the park.
- Thor, Sept. 10, The Saddle Creek Bar -- Donning a huge
black (plastic) chest plate and a series of gruesome rubber masks,
Thor had the crowd in the palm of his mighty fist, proudly belting
out one heavy metal ditty after another. It was like being back
at Fat Jacks circa 1985.
- Yo La Tengo, Oct. 8, Sokol Underground -- Two hours,
three encores, selections from throughout their catalog, their
style was all over the board, from raging indie jams to urban,
falsetto R&B to quiet, acoustic ballads. Show of the year.
- Twilight Singers, Oct. 30, Sokol Underground -- The
highlight: Mark Lanegan entering from back stage looking like
a cross between a straight-haired, goateed Will Ferrell and Frankenstein,
striking a pose with one hand on the microphone, the other firmly
grasping the mic stand, eyes clamped closed, barely moving. Scary.
- The Who, Dec. 7, The Qwest Center -- Memorable, despite
a hoarse Roger Daltrey. After 90 minutes of music, the encore
included a medley of songs from Tommy, Daltrey gasping
to get through "Pinball Wizard," while Townshend shined
on a raucous version of "Underture" that was the night's
Published in The Omaha Reader Dec. 28, 2006.
Copyright 2006 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.
Slowdown opening next summer and a couple new bars in the
works, Omaha could actually suffer from a glut of live venues
-- and not enough quality bands to fill the stages.