Andrew Norman’s 2011 | The List

HN's editor's all-local year in review features his picks for the best records, songs, videos and new bands, plus, honorable mentions.

by Andrew Norman

My national music knowledge is woeful. Aside from a narrow scope of a national punk and folk scene, I listen to very few of the bands that make my friends' and national critics' year-end lists. Maybe you relate, or maybe that message reaches you like a spark that burns a mutiny. 
Throw me overboard, in that case.
Nebraska bands produced so much fantastic, diverse music in 2011 that they deserve the crux of my end-of-year list effort. After all, that's why Hear Nebraska exists. 
I began my 2011 with a knot in my gut, excited about launching this website and terrified that it would either never happen or fail when it did. Luckily, when we went live Jan. 24 you were ready for it and proved to have a ravenous appetite for our state's world-class music. We ended the year with the release of our first compilation album, which is in my opinion the best Nebraska music compilation ever produced. Bold, sure. But the songs are that good. 
Between and around those two events, I spent the year assigning, editing and writing stories, shooting and editing videos and managing Hear Nebraska. That work came between and around a rewarding day job while surrounded by wonderful family and ever-growing friends. It was one of the best years of my life, and it has a killer soundtrack
Albums of the Year (for the a.m.)
1. Young Hearts by The So-So Sailors 
Frontman and piano/saxophone key pusher Chris Machmuller and his band are going to be compared to Bruce Springsteen — there's no use fighting it. Blame it on the emotion in his words and cleaner-than-The-Boss's voice. His bandmates are among Omaha's finest. It's a Heartland rock cocktail cut with one part top-shelf scotch, one part dirty dishwater. 

2. Hanga-Fang by Noah's Ark Was a Spaceship 
There's something '90s rock about this young Omaha band. Listen to the first track, “Opener,” and you'll see what I mean. It's a driving, haunting momentum builder that feels meant for MTV's Buzz Bin album. Where you at, Kurt Loder?

3. Smother Nature by Masses
Since when do I have the patience to listen to music without lyrics? I guess, since now. I blame Masses for extending my attention span from 2.5 minutes to sometimes more than 7. This dynamic instrumental rock band from Lincoln tells stories through hooks and guitar-heavy ebbs and flows.

Honorable Mention:
Super Doomy by Powerful Science

Winners of the Best Band Name in the … by Universe Contest 

Far as You Know by Ideal Cleaners

Albums of the Year (for the p.m.)
1. White Hat by Big Harp
Husband-wife duo Chris Senseney and Stephanie Drootin-Senseney tell vivid, gritty stories — with just a little pop sweetness — in their debut album, which features 11 standouts among its 11 tracks. It's outlaw country for reformed souls. Listen to it on a road trip.

2. Another Afterlife by It's True
Adam Hawkins and his band build, build, build to a pummeling, orchestral riot before they disappear, leaving him alone in the spotlight, strumming his guitar and whistling to a pitch-black theater in It's True's post-breakup reunion album. These eight tracks — featuring evocative, clever stories — illustrate Hawkins' unique songwriting abilities, while his Nebraska All-Star supporting cast's instruments add dense, emotional layers that make this record outstanding.

3. Fresh Blood by McCarthy Trenching
Seven dusty, sincere, honest folk songs from the voice and tales of an everyman, Dan McCarthy's third full-length evokes amusing, engaging images and tells the kind of timeless stories you might hear by saddling up to a traveling watch salesman at a diner.

Honorable Mention:
The People's Key by Bright Eyes
Morning by Honeybee & Hers
Songs of the Year (local)
1. “So Broken Hearted” by The So-So Sailors
This rousing, piano-driven rocker was written solely to create opportunities in which I'm apt be caught singing to myself, eyes closed, facing a mirror. Or maybe I'm being paranoid.

2. “Shine” by Domestica
“We work all day and, well, so it goes. And I feel me slide away.” This legendary Nebraska band from Lincoln articulates working-class tribulation through sheer punk energy.  

3. “Everybody Pays” by Big Harp
It's impossible to resist this song, and good luck getting its chorus out of your head. Not that you'd want to. 

Honorable Mention
“What's Your Name” by Con Dios

“Shell Games” by Bright Eyes

Best New Bands
A fun, catchy, dancy indie rock band from Omaha that laid the groundwork in 2011 for a big 2012.

My favorite new rock band in Nebraska.

3. Universe Contest
Take a little UUVVWWZ, a little Rent Money Big and a little Her Flyaway Manner and you'll be pretty close to this band's distinctively Lincoln sound. Add a lot of wildman Tim Carr's (Gooses) vocals and aesthetic and you'll nail it.
Shows of the Year
1. JKutchma, Gerardo Meza and Ken Morton at the Parish Project on April 16, 2011
Kutchma (Durham, N.C. Springsteen-punk band Red Collar), Meza (The Mezcal Brothers) and Morton (The Allendales) passed around a bottle of whiskey and performed an acoustic round for hours to a dozen-or-so lucky folks, culminating with an impromptu, collaborative singalong. You can't get this one back.
2. Frontier Ruckus at Slowdown Jr. on April 5, 2011
My favorite band I discovered while living in Michigan, Matthew Milia and company made a whole bunch of new fans during an intimate show that concluded with Frontier Ruckus playing on the floor, surrounded by the crowd. Love Drunk shot this video with the band before the performance.
3. Chuck Ragan at Duffy's Tavern on Dec. 1, 2011
As nice a guy as you'll meet, the Hot Water Music frontman writes blue-collar folk songs and sings his heart out performing them. He packed Duffy's Tavern on a Thursday (not often done) with a crowd that was as passionate about his music as he is.
My Favorite Music Videos
1.“The Lucky Man” by The Benningtons (Tony Bonacci)

2. “The Trains, The Drinks and the Dawn” by Kill County (Love Drunk)
3.“Wait for You” by Little Brazil (Ingrained)
Andrew Norman is Hear Nebraska's Editor. His favorite new national song of 2011 came a few days before the year was over from Brendan Kelly and the Wandering Birds. Contact him at