Hive Five: Our Daily Listicle of Musical Musings
Considering that it’s a state much larger than New York with less than 2 million inhabitants and covered mostly by cornfields, Nebraska has made quite a name for itself in the world of indie-rock music. Much to thank for this is the famed Saddle Creek Records, which first produced the glowing Omaha trident of modern alternative: Bright Eyes, Cursive and the Faint.
Although the Faint — the most electronic of the trident — have not released any new music since 2009’s Mirror Error EP, they are reemerging for a reissue of their most recognized studio record, 2001’s Danse Macabre, as well as embarking on their first tour in several years. While some may think Omaha’s surge of progressive music and creativity is fizzling out or becoming stagnant now that members of Saddle Creek’s first wave are so comfortably established they are reissuing albums made more than a decade ago, the Faint’s frontman Todd Fink says this is far from the case. Here are Fink’s favorite Nebraska bands that have emerged from the Cornhusker state over the last several years.
1. Icky Blossoms
Joining the Faint on most of Danse Macabre tour this November and December, Icky Blossoms aren’t even two years old and they’re already etching a niche with their rich, bass-heavy garage sound that is not unlike My Bloody Valentine meets Ladytron. Their first studio album, self-titled and produced by TV on the Radio’s Dave Sitek, came out on Saddle Creek this summer. Fink says “It’s Derek from his poppier band Tilly and the Wall. They do the kind of songs that I like: fun, sort of mysterious, not too happy but still good vibes. They put on a great show.”
Although founder Shawn Foree’s Digital Leather light bulb originally ignited in Arizona, he’s made the move to Omaha and the city’s bustling music scene is proud to claim him. A close friend of the late Jay Reatard, who served as a sort of mentor/manager for Digital Leather, the one-man band has been recording music for almost a decade and has released nine studio records, three of which Foree somehow pounded out this year. Synth punk and super catchy, Fink notes that the leather is beginning to overtake the digital of late. “They’re kind of trashy garage pop. Sometimes it reminds me of early New Order,” he says. “They haven’t been playing with as many keyboards lately.”
3. Plack Blague
A leather theme also comes into play with this act — which also falls into the one-man band genre minus the instruments — in the form of studded banana hammocks and gimp masks. Bondage rock with chaotic synthesizers reminiscent of Skinny Puppy and the like, the songs are replete with hammering drum machines and occasional growling … but dancy. Blague (aka Ross Schlesinger) is Lincoln’s own claim to Satanic disco, kind of terrifying but not so unwholesome that it can’t be exposed to children, as seen on ‘Chic-A-GO-GO.’ The video features a notable diversion in the wardrobe department as it is nearly the only visual out there in which the man is wearing pants. “They wear those masochistic leather outfits and are kind of like Suicide but more industrial,” Fink says. “But they’re not in the industrial scene at all. They’re all electronic.”
4. Solid Goldberg
These Nebraska musicians just like to do it all themselves, apparently. Yet ANOTHER singular man with a harmonica and tuba strapped to his head and piano around his waist. Well OK, not really. Again, his instruments consist of little more than drum machine, effects pedals and a couple of keyboards. Dave Goldberg has served time in several other bands — Full Blown, the Terminals, Box Elders — but now runs the show solo, slamming both hands onto the keys, casting a rainbow of trippy lights and howling into the microphone with distorted vocals, sounding not unlike Jon Spencer, or as Fink points out, Lux Interior. “He’s a one-man band science fair in a Cramps-like garage organ setup,” Fink says. “He makes his own projector stencils, has all kinds of crazy organ drums and puts a bunch of delay on them. He’s been in tons of bands. He’s kind of a legend around here.”
5. Tilly & the Wall
Good thing Fink mentioned these guys, if for nothing other than their innovative use of a tap dancer rather than a drummer. Said tap dancer — Jamie Pressnall — is married to co-vocalist Derek Pressnall, leader of Icky Blossoms, so it’s all family style when they tour together. Drawn together by the booming but shifting music scene in 2001, the female-fronted twee rockers have seriously made the national rounds over the years. They just released their fourth studio record, Heavy Mood (which Hive premiered here) on Conor Oberst’s Team Love label, are on tour now and very much worth catching. “I like their darker stuff,” he says. “They tour all over and they’re great live.”