Beck, Bonnie “Prince” Billy and Patrick Watson | Unfound Sounds

by Michael Todd

Look for any form of tradition in a small, western Nebraska town, and you’re likely to find it within a few minutes.

As for the lauded golden spike, well, my hometown of Alliance is going to lead you down past the old creamery building, through the aging tennis courts and over the stone bridge in the park. Cryptic clues printed in the newspaper rhymed and teased, marking the middle of each summer as we celebrated Heritage Days. And my sister and I, we never did win the race to discover the spike, which awarded something like $50 to the finder.

Often, though, the treasure wasn’t the reward. It was the hunt for some vestige of our city’s history, something whole families looked for together, tracing paths they hadn’t considered before. I don’t know how beneficial funnel cake and the Gravitron were to recognizing the importance of our little hamlet’s beginnings. But for this one week in July, the fair and beer gardens of Heritage Days were all but tacked-on traditions. The hunt was what really mattered.

And so, in remembering the wonder in deciphering hints and exploring the community, today, I’m starting a project called Unfound Sounds. The first full week of every month I’ll hide three vinyl albums in Omaha (and starting in June, Lincoln) businesses that enable this state to be creative, hard-working and a joy to inhabit. Anyone can visit unfoundsounds.com and try to decrypt each album’s hints posted each weekday.

For this first round, I’ve hidden Beck’s Morning Phase somewhere in Benson. Patrick Watson’s Adventures in Your Own Backyard is waiting for you somewhere in Midtown. And I See a Darkness by Bonnie “Prince” Billy is somewhere “in with the h’s” just west of downtown Omaha.

As the week progresses, if the site’s clues aren’t specific enough to attract anyone, I’ll post additional hints via Unfound Sounds’ Facebook and Twitter pages. By Friday, you’ll know exactly where to run to in order to nab some vinyl. And as a bonus, anyone who finds an album or visits a business after one has been found can get a member card, with login credentials for unfoundsounds.com. Members get to see an early and extra hint every Sunday.

So with that, I’ll provide a few brief reviews of this first week’s records. I hope you enjoy the hunt and support some wonderful Nebraska establishments:

Morning Phase by Beck

hidden somewhere in Benson

Upon the seafloor stands a lonely scuba diver of the early 20th century. Weighed down with slabs of metal that separate him from the water, the man walks slowly and methodically, a slothlike observer of the heretofore unseen beauty around him.

His transmissions back to the boat above arrive garbled and somewhat meaningless, yet his crew listens intently as the movements of sea creatures coalesce around his voice. Just as a wave begins to tug our wayfarer’s line, consciousness eases him back into bed, still rocking slightly from side to side.

These sorts of hypnagogic hallucinations, the moments of paralysis immediately preceding sleep, are what Beck’s Morning Phase most fantastically imitate, at least for this listener. Here, hanging by a thread, imaginations stretch to gather banal moments of daily life, and unrelated thoughts are superimposed on top of one another.

Find this album at a similarly beautiful Omaha business, somewhere in Benson, and let it lead you to the ocean. Follow the hints here.

I See a Darkness by Bonnie “Prince” Billy

hidden somewhere just west of downtown Omaha

Two voices race for the start of the phrase, one distant and one whispering in your ear. When asked which one you choose, Bonnie “Prince” Billy owns both voices, which makes the answer seemingly simply. But consider just who each represents.

In “Knockturne,” the sixth track of I See a Darkness, Bonnie “Prince” offsets measures just slightly, adding to the disjointed charm of an album that revels in its ability to make small aberrations from the perceived normalcy of a song. The mysterious mustachioed man at the forefront has a knack for the sort of modern minstrel folk with a few circuits missing, this musical meat that undergirds a good portion of his 1999 release.

At a place where the natural elements of the Earth are shaped into wondrous pieces of art, this record is hidden somewhere near “hematoma.” Find it just west of downtown, and follow further hints here.

Adventures in Your Own Backyard by Patrick Watson

hidden somewhere in Midtown

Come with me to the inside of a lightbulb, where the filament is buzzing with electricity, popping and pulsing. Somewhere in the tenuous but calculated hum are the beginnings of a Patrick Watson melody, just waiting for its time to break out onto an album like this.

Adventures in Your Own Backyard finds the playful songwriter at his most cohesive, weaving glorious threads of notes together into his most recent collection of songs, released in April 2012. His voice floats like a hummingbird atop a swirling summer thunderstorm of orchestral ingredients. At the root of it all is a magical bit of piano playing that steps out of a major key to add singular pinpoints of drama.

Here and there, Watson will strum his guitar and feed the filament with a few fewer watts. At other times, the power grid is stressed and beaming above full capacity. Let it light up your world, and build a new one if you find this album somewhere in Midtown, in a place where entire structures are constructed in mere days. Keep following the hints. And do have fun as you search.

Michael Todd is a Hear Nebraska contributor. You can drop the needle on his online record player here. Reach him at michaeltodd@hearnebraska.org.

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