To encapsulate 2014 as best we could, we asked nearly two dozen Nebraska musicians, journalists and scene figures about their favorite albums, songs, shows and events of the year. We’ll get it started with this piece on national albums and songs, and roll through the first week of the new year with other categories. Enjoy, and our sincere thanks to all who participated. Albums are listed first, by the way. Then songs.
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Rebecca Lowry | All Young Girls Are Machine Guns
LIZZOBANGERS by Lizzo
I first caught Lizzo as one of Caroline Smith’s backup singers before finding out Lizzo was her own artist. I’m in love with the Minneapolis scene right now. No shade to my Omahomies. I just see what I’m doing right now as loosely echoing what is happening there (both Smith and Har Mar Superstar have recently released soul albums). I was introduced to the Batches and Cookies video and saw Lizzo literally buttering a man up and I was INTO IT. She was the most fun artist I heard this year and what I needed in music more than anything in 2014 was some fun that felt genuine and not produced to death. LIZZOBANGERS fed that.
“Push” by Cowboy Indian Bear
I’m sure I’m using “National” loosely, but whatever. I stick to my answer. I sent Katlyn Conroy a message the moment I finished listening to this track and told her if she ever wanted to make an R&B/pop album, I’d be right there. For me, this track was the best surprise of the year–really the whole of Vandeventer and it’s wide lens on each of the members of the band coming together and weaving their unique visions together. I’ll miss CJ, Marty, Beau, and Katlyn as the wonderful entity that was Cowboy Indian Bear. I’m very sad that I’ll never get to do another show with them as one, but I hope those cats know that any time they come to Omaha, they’ve got a built in single-member audience, at least.
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Marq Manner | OEAAs Music Chair, Omaha Dispatch
Heart Murmurs by Jeremy Messersmith
It blows my mind that I am not seeing this on any of the national lists. I still have about 50 albums to go through before I define my top 50 or 100 or whatever, but this has been on top all year. Maybe he is still too much of a local Minneapolis artist, but this is one of the most solid albums I have heard in a long time. Fantastic songwriting, song content and it’s a stellar sounding album in it’s production. A must listen for any music fan.
“Red Eye” by The War On Drugs
It’s comforting and urgent at the same time. There is nothing about the song that stands out and it is not really a stand out song, but there is something happening there makes the hair on my arms stand up. I can’t explain why, and I like that.
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Ben Brodin | Recording Engineer/Producer at ARC Studios
Shellac by Dude Incredible
This record dances between making me feel very uncomfortable and very excited, which is my favorite kind of dancing. Absolutely brutal and (obviously) sounds wonderful turned up loud.
“Oxygen” by Swans
(With the caveat that I find it moderately insulting to bands to pick single songs out of their composed creative output, albums. And to be fair, I’m also not a fan of modern single-song culture) … I’m a relative late-comer to Swans, but after working will Bill Reiflin on Orenda’s last solo record (Bill was very involved in the last Swans album), I was inspired to revisit this very strange band. This song is so driving and relentlessly hypnotic that it single-handedly pulled me out of a 3-week Slint binge. And I love Slint.
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Spencer Munson | DJ Spencelove, Marketing and Booking at The Bourbon
Run The Jewels 2 by Run The Jewels
Hip-Hop was dead. New York and Atlanta join forces to go harder than anyone in urban music right now. When El-P called it quits with Def Jux we all mourned and hoped he wouldn’t disappear from music. Mike is quintessential Dungeon Family. Hard to believe the two would hit if off and be such a great force at Hipster fests all over the Country. I was lucky to see them twice this last year.
“I Love You” by Lido
The Flume influenced “Future” sound has been flooding EDM this year but no track or producer has stood our more to me than Lido. The 21-year-old Norwegian producer blends french vocal stylings with Dilla timing and programming and Cashmire Cat’s drops, creating a modern R&B sound that will be seeping into the Top 40 very soon.
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Lucas Wright | Founder/Operator of Black Heart Booking
A Thousand Surfaces by Hard Girls
A Thousand Surfaces is an infectious mix of catchy of ’90s-era pop, the rhythm and intensity of punk mixed with the intricacies of indie rock guitar work. Hard Girls sophomore release crosses numerous boundaries as far as genre classification is concerned. It reminds me of Cheap Girls’ “My Roaring 20’s” in that the music attracts a wide array of listeners and fans. The album starts out like a blast from a cannon with fast and blistering tunes that are a swift and energetic smack to the ear. The middle third of the album is slower and a bit more melodic, perhaps more introspective as well. But the last third of the album picks up the intensity again and finishes strong with “Eddie Vedder vs. Jack the Ripper.” At first listen this seems like a straight forward pop/punk album. But after listening to it numerous times, the layered melodies and daedalic nature of the album is truly revealed.
“Kokopelli Face Tattoo” by Andrew Jackson Jihad
As a songwriter, Sean Bonnette is known for his somewhat outlandish if not down right disturbing and very straight-forward lyrics. This song is certainly no different. In the chorus, he sings, “Hey dude, I hate everything you do but I’m trying really hard to not hate you, hating you won’t make you suck any less” followed by a four-chord riff reminiscent of numerous Ramones songs. That tongue-in-cheek but very literal message combined with the songs minor chord progression (which is usually reserved for happy pop songs) are a perfect example of Andrew Jackson Jihad’s juxtaposition of terrible and loathsome subject matter followed almost immediately with a ray of hope as in the bridge when he asks, “Have you ever wanted to see someone better in the mirror? Have you ever wanted to go, have you ever wanted to know somewhere greener? Somewhere cleaner? I bet you’ve got somewhere beautiful in mind.”
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Hanna Guenther | Hear Nebraska Summer 2014 Intern
Sylvan Esso self-titled LP or Post Tropical by James Vincent McMorrow
Post Tropical combines James Vincent McMorrow’s floating falsetto vocals alongside pulsing beats which carry an emotional undertone that any listener can connect with. It’s a truly beautiful album. Sylvan Esso’s album has become a recent favorite with memorable songs like “Coffee” and “Hey Mami.” Amelia Meath and Nick Sanborn mix Meath’s folksy vocals with Sanborn’s electronic beats creating the unique duo that is Sylvan Esso.
“Heavenly Father” by Bon Iver
There is something hauntingly beautiful about this song that pulls you in causing you to hit repeat every time it ends. Electronic beats are added to Bon Iver’s familiar voice producing a new sound for the musician.
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Laura Fortney | Host of KZUM’s “Every Kind of Blue”
Sunshine by Davina & The Vagabond
I love it. I’m always excited when she puts out something new, and it’s fun to hear an artist move through life… The last album was called Black Cloud and Sunshine does not fail to bring a brighter take on things. The sound is still fresh, yet distinctly Davina. The band hails from Minneapolis and has quite a following, though I hope this new album helps them reach even more would-be fans who are so desperately seeking something unique and full of energy, yet steeped in the classics we love.
“Soulflight (Live at Harvest The Music)” by The Revivalists
This is a hard one, but the hauntingly beautiful “Soulflight (Live at Harvest The Music)” from The Revivalists is one I can listen to over and over. I love live music and The Revivalists at The Bourbon was one of my favorite shows in 2014. Not only was I able to score City of Sound on vinyl, but the download came with an album’s worth of live tracks from the year. The next best thing to being there? Recorded live music.
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Ryan McKeever | Telepathy Problems, Staffers, Skeleton Man
Television Man by Naomi Punk
I don’t know how something can sound so specific to a place without sounds like anything else.
“Bring Dumpster Back” by Spray Paint
There are several, so naturally that means I’m giving the “my favorite national song” category to Spray Paint for their song “Bring Dumpster Back.” Their latest LP is on sale at Almost Music! Go grab it before I do!
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Raws Schlesinger | Plack Blague, Vickers
In A Dream by The Juan MacLean
Most of the albums I were really into this year didn’t come out in 2014, but the latest by The Juan MacLean is something I had definitely kept on my turntable for a while and listened to more than anything else that was released this year. I am kind of obsessed with the voice of singer Nancy Whang (who is more known for being a member of LCD Soundsystem) and also this year has been all about House Music, so this modern disco album covers both of those territories. I love the production value of this album because it sounds so warm and the songwriting is brilliant. In A Dream feels like the late 70’s Moroder-esque disco jams mixed with early 90’s House. It’s a great late night jam!
“Den Keller vollaufen” by Schwefelgelb
Ok, this track was actually released in mid December 2013, but this was on my mind all of 2014. It’s actually not really a national song either, but more of an international song. Schwefelgelb is techno from Berlin in the form of a band. Their sleazy german electro sound is exactly what I needed in my life in the year 2014. Their attitude is so demanding and dry and their beats are so strict. Nick Jonas’ song “Jealous” is a close second.
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Michael Todd | Former Hear Nebraska managing editor
Lighght by Kishi Bashi
Drop a couple Mentos in a bottle of Coke, shake it up and aim a waterproof, tiny microphone at the bubbles, and you might hear something close to Kishi Bashi’s Lighght. Imaginative lyrics, inventive audio production and simply indelible melodies power this record, which Kishi supported in Omaha soon after its release in May. While many of the tracks hop across a violin-speckled soundscape, my personal favorite, “Bittersweet Genesis for Him AND Her,” burns more slowly, the result of an experiment in imitating Lou Reed’s delivery.
“Bored in the USA” by Father John Misty
Everything about this song makes me envious as a songwriter. It’s carelessly presented but purposefully written, humorously blasé but biting on a sociopolitical level. Josh Tillman followed up his well-received first album as Father John Misty by debuting “Bored in the USA” on Letterman. Unlike Future Islands, which woke Dave from his self-imposed stupor earlier in the year by being different, Tillman fit in smoothly with the show’s lackadaisical humor: only he was funnier than the host.
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Günter Voelker | Jack Hotel, Sower Records
Swimmin’ Time by Shovels & Rope
Since discovering them in 2012 I have become an almost embarrassing Shovels & Rope evangelist. No surprise that their latest, Swimmin’ Time, was my favorite album of 2014. I caught on to the band just after O’ Be Joyful, so Swimmin’ Time was the first record in whose release I was a participant. I pre-ordered. I opened the package greedily when it arrived early. I pored over the notes, read the titles I didn’t recognize because the band had kept them under their hat. With Gillian Welch and David Rawlings seeming to release only one album every ten years of the gem-perfect songs on which they made their name, to find a band like Shovels and Rope is cathartic. Cary Ann Hearst and Michael Trent marry Gillian and Dave’s inscrutable chemistry and songwriting intelligence with a ramshackle Bonnie-and-Clyde quality that has more in common with the Cramps than with Johnny and June (indeed, their first record, which was released before they had even named their band, includes a Cramps cover). Unlike Gillian and Dave, their coupledom is unambiguously part of the act. Their shows are sexy as hell. I imagine them in a post-apocalyptic desertscape, wearing leather, driving a covered wagon hitched to an engine they made themselves out of duck tape and scavenged parts. Both are fantastic songwriters with their own solo albums, but they were canny to recognize how much more potent they become when they work together. Swimmin’ Time comprises some of their best songs, once again recorded and produced by Michael Trent mostly at the duo’s Johns Island home.
“Last Rock n Roll Boy to Dance” by Amy LaVere
I don’t pick favorites easily, especially when you get down to the level of “favorite song.” But just in the interest of exposing more people to it, I’ll say “Last Rock n Roll Boy to Dance,” by Amy LaVere, specifically as recorded in this video for the Bluegrass Situation. The studio recording is also great (that whole record, Runaway’s Diary, should be famous), but this was the first version I heard and I was mesmerized. It’s filled with surprises, which might begin with Amy’s voice, if you haven’t encountered it before: haunting, yes, pretty, yes, but with a falsely innocent, winking quality. It’s an instrument over which she has completely mastery and which she uses to effect. (I love the little embellishment she adds to the word “home” when she sings “this mystery boy rides home with me.”) The progression, down to the clever major resolution on “who are we saving our broken hearts for?” strikes me as ingenious. The lyrics are contemporary (“Damn these wallflower faces of stone/Dead and blue in the lights of their cellular phones”) while being timeless. They’re also structurally unusual. Amy leads from the upright bass, which is awesome in itself. Her fiancé, Will Sexton, lends tasteful accompaniment on the guitar. Of this video’s 3500ish views, I would be interested to learn how many belong to me.
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Anna Gronewold | Hear Nebraska contributor
Post Tropical by James Vincent McMorrow
James Vincent McMorrow’s ghost-voice grew up with his sophomore album. While 2010’s Early in the Morning was haunting enough for several listens, Post Tropical is finally the proper showcase for McMorrow’s falsetto. The whole album builds waves of ambient nostalgia tinted gold with splashes of soaring brass. It’s glorious to feel an artist hit his stride like McMorrow does with Post Tropical.
“Rattlesnake” by St. Vincent or “High Ball Stepper” by Jack White
“Rattlesnake” kicks off St. Vincent’s Digital Witness in Annie Clark’s detached, omniscient robot voice. It’s zippy, alien and noisy enough to get me out of the house on a cold day.
“High Ball Stepper” doesn’t feature Jack White’s vocals, but the song is just as delightfully brash, decayed and distorted as I’d imagine White’s personality would sound like as a guitar.
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Tom Flaherty | Teetah, Routine Escorts, //FITNESS founder
Music for the Uninvited by Leon Vynehall
Leon Vynehall’s Music for the Uninvited gets the top spot for my record of the year. This record made me feel things I didn’t know I could feel. Every time I think I have the record figured out, I’ll come back to it a month later and rethink everything and that’s what I truly love about it. It never dulls, it never gets old and somehow retains this “new record smell.”
“Love Me Harder” by Ariana Grande & The Weekend
Ariana Grande & The Weeknd’s “Love me Harder” clocks in as my number one single of the year. I had high hopes for this track when she first released the track list for her “My Everything” record. Upon hearing it, my hopes were shattered – the tune was better than I could have imagined. The production, the melodies, the back and forth between the singers, everything is on point.
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Eric Nyffeler | Doe Eyed Design, Bus Gas
The Unnatural World by Have a Nice Life
Sad, sarcastic, mean, funny, lonely; this album is close as I can get to my own ghost without inviting the blood to leave my own veins.
“Cropsey” by Have a Nice Life
A prayer for unanswered prayers.
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Chris Dinan | Hear Nebraska contributor
Gist Is by Adult Jazz
I’m not sure how I stumbled across this album. When I’m asked to describe what it sounds like, I’m kind of at a loss and can really only do so in reaching comparisons, “It’s like Alt+J if he didn’t sing with a weird voice meets a less mathy Maps & Atlases with a little bit of Yeasayer and Animal Collective thrown in for good measure.” It’s weird and tough and challenging at first, but it gets more and more rewarding after every listen.
“Can’t Do Without You” by Caribou
If you’ve been to a party, or in a car, or at a bar with a jukebox, you’ve probably heard me play this song. And then you’ve probably heard me play it again shortly after. I spent an entire workday listening to only this song on repeat. Everything about it just builds and flows, swooping in and out, until it reaches this great climax. It is just the best.
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Molly Misek | Hear Nebraska Spring 2014 intern
Blue Film by Lo-Fang
2014 was a big year for Men With Violins™, with album releases from classically trained darlings like Owen Pallett, Kishi Bashi, and Andrew Bird. It felt much like choosing a favorite child, if all of my children were grown men with alarmingly soft voices.
In any case, Lo-Fang’s Blue Film stood out. Though trained as a violinist, Matthew Hemerlein (the man behind the Lo-Fang mask) combines percussive techniques, R&B beats and synth to create an incredibly encompassing musical experience, kind of like if you replaced your blood with liquid metal and then transformed into a half-robot, half-swan. Blue Film has a sort of rare dynamic range, where high violin notes will accompany deep bass, complemented by the synthetic qualities of Hemerlein’s voice. The music feels deliberate, at times almost sentient. “Permutations,” the album’s extraordinary closing song, feels like a subtle, rolling echo of “Look Away,” the album’s opener. “I tried to make a soul from scratch,” Hemerlein sings in a near-whisper in “Confusing Happiness,” which elicits the stormy theme present throughout the album. Despite this dark streak, Lo-Fang portrays a piercing sort of hope with Blue Film, revealing a brilliant mind in the process.
“Little Fang” by Avey Tare’s Slasher Flicks
In “Little Fang,” Avey Tare, the Animal Collective dude, sings to a disembodied fang. I think. He could also be singing to a tiny werewolf, or a small person whose name is Fang. I don’t know. I don’t think it matters either way, because Avey Tare probably doesn’t want you to understand him. If you hear this song and aren’t overcome with a urge to groove dafuq out while also perhaps brewing potions and plotting your next bloodshed, then you’re probably a well-adjusted human being and, in that case, have no business reading Hear Nebraska. If you do love this song as much as I love it, call me up and we can plan our next seance.
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Andrew Stellmon | Hear Nebraska Fall 2014 intern
Brill Bruisers by The New Pornographers
I could write about how The New Pornographers, in their first album in four years, wrote their most punchy, upbeat album since Twin Cinema in 2005. I could write about how it’s awash in beeps and whirs and waves of synth on “Dancehall Domine.” Or the seemingly endless wall of guitars and crashing drums, as one the title track. I could write about the expertly melded vocals of Carl Newman and Kathryn Calder, how Neko Case is both the perfect lead and welcome second layer, and how Dan Bejar is simultaneously a black sheep and breath of fresh air. But I’ll be completely honest: its the one that set its catchy hooks and didn’t let go.
“Slippery Slopes” by Jenny Lewis
“Slippery Slopes” is a perfect example of Lewis’s style, pitting tough subject matter with bright, catchy pop. It’s a gritty, honest conversation that attempts to explain sleeping with other people while still being in love with each other. It’s sweetly, neatly wrapped, here with a Tom Petty-like guitar riff and strikingly honest and at least tangentially relatable lyric. When the vibrating guitar solo hits and she lets off her “oh oh” it’s an awfully cathartic punctuation on a track augmented as much by its slick production as it’s message.
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James Fleege | BZZZ, Oketo, Silver Street producer
Favorite 2014 National Album:
Three of my favorites (Snarky Puppy, Kimbra and D’Angelo) released records this year. Up until last week I was gonna have to give this one to Kimbra with her sophomore release The Golden Echo, but then out of nowhere the D shows up. I’m still wrapping my head around Black Messiah. I don’t even know what to say about it yet besides “ohhhhhhh shiiiit!”
“Miracle” by Kimbra
Narrowing it down to one song? Shit. I’ll go with “Miracle” by Kimbra. I’ve listened to this one an obscene amount of times over the past few months. Her amazing sense of melody carries the bass driven verses (Thundercat is a badass) seamlessly into the lush, intelligent harmonies of the pre chorus. The chorus hits with layers of that beautiful voice belting out a huge ear worm of a hook on top of warm analog synths, pulsating strings and John Robinson’s driving four on the floor drums that demand the nodding of your head. The production is brilliant on this tune. So many different ideas are simultaneously weaving in and out of one another but it never comes across as too busy. Kimbra is the real deal and I can’t stop listening.
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Jeremy Fifield | Hear Nebraska contributor
Midnight Sun by The Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger
This album will no doubt be compared to the Beatles and other psychedelic Rock acts from the 1960s, especially considering who Sean Lennon’s parents are. However, there is a lot more to this album than that. Some songs are acoustic and folk-oriented, and there are influences from jazz, reggae and several electronic music influences. The multi-instrumental talents of Sean Lennon and Charlotte Kemp Muhl are obvious in and of themselves, as are their abilities to structure complex vocal harmonies.
“Animals,” by The Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger
This band, composed of Sean Lennon and Charlotte Kemp Muhl, has an instrumental sound very much like Pink Floyd and a vocal sound that is a lot like the Beach Boys in its really tight, multi-layered harmonies. This song has a catchy chorus, as well as unique chord progressions that make me wish it would continue on and on.