Michelle Bacon, editor
You probably won’t get a chance to see Madisen and Ruth Ward perform in a small room anytime soon, but if you’ve had the privilege to do so, you know how special it is. Sharp songwriting accompanies the intimacy, warmth, and the sheer velocity of their voices, all of which shine on the duo’s debut LP with Glassnote Records.
Since its acclaimed LP Country Singles came out in 2013, fans have been chomping at the bit for another collection of songs from The Grisly Hand. Flesh & Gold showcases a band that is fully realizing its natural chemistry—the compositions reach new heights on this album, with musicians that play to their strengths, in all the right places.
Aggressive, dark, psychedelic sounds make up the aural landscape of Bloodbirds’ latest effort, an impressive full-length from an authoritative power trio. These songs are intense and emotional, but laden with enough hooks and punch to keep the listener yearning for more.
Whether he’s delivering a subtle lyric over a somnolent keyboard tone or an angsty vitriol over an edgy guitar riff, Mat Shoare is pulling us into his world with each track on Right As Rain. Shoare has a knack for creating classic pop hooks, finding instrumentation that suits each mood, and pulling off introspective lyrics with an unmistakable sincerity.
Major Games’ self-titled release is one of the richest and most sonically dense offerings of 2015. It soars above the conventions of shoegaze, psychedelic, and noise rock, with sweeping dynamic shifts and intriguing swells of sound.
The debut LP from HMPH! is one of the most masterful examples of musicianship on any KC release in recent history. This instrumental math rock/jazz fusion album is built on angular guitar riffs and rhythmic countermelodies from two musicians who know their craft and challenge it in an interesting, entertaining set of songs.
This guitar-and-drums duo stands out with 3 short tracks that remind us of the classic backbone of rock ‘n roll with a modern vigor. Thunderclaps’ debut EP is well worth a mere 9 minutes of your time; and if you aren’t shaking your hips by the end of it, you weren’t paying enough attention.
Mikal Shapiro is no stranger to the KC music scene, having lent her talents to several projects, but The Musical is her first full-length in 5 years. With her core band of musical masterminds, Shapiro has assembled one of the year’s strongest efforts. She blends pop, jazz, folk, and blues to create something far more hip.
Josh Berwanger knows how to write a great pop gem, and make it rock. With elements of power pop, glam rock, psych, and sugary ‘60s pop, there’s something in a Berwanger song that can appeal to anybody. His latest release, on High Dive Records, will take you on an astral journey while you’re simultaneously banging your head.
Westside Royal signifies a fresh new musical direction for She’s A Keeper, a band that has grown into its sound in the best possible way. This 5-track EP is full of infectious grooves coupled with warm vocal melodies, making for a solid indie pop record.
5. Madisen Ward and the Mama Bear at recordBar, 12.22.15
Unless you have a heart condition or are prone to seizures, you should experience Peelander-Z at least once. It is less recommended to go on stage with them and try to play their bass when they just want you to do calisthenics.
Madisen Ward and the Mama Bear at Good Danny’s in Austin, TX, 3.18.15
It turns out that the best respite from the chaos of SXSW was a beautiful midday serenade in a comfy, air-conditioned house. Here, a lucky roomful of 15-20 people got a chance to see the Wards tape their Daytrotter session.
Alejandro Escovedo is a pioneer of Austin’s music scene, and held his last post-SXSW party, with Spoon as the secret guest. Seeing one of my favorite bands in a 300-cap room with dozens of other influential Austin musicians and natives was a special treat.
Late October and early November were arguably the most stressful months in Kansas City history. Game 6 of the ALCS was another nail-biter, plagued by a rain delay. Meanwhile, Chris Meck and the Guilty Birds opened up a show at recordBar, with a crowd that was waiting on pins and needles to celebrate, erupting in a Royal triumph at the last few notes of our set. The festivities continued with a red-hot set from Katy Guillen and the Girls, and a delightful denouement from Johnny Hamil’s GAV7D project.
More famously known as the day Bill Murray saw my band play and offered me a bite of his food.
My 10 favorite Kansas City or ties-to-Kansas-City recordings of 2015(in no particular ranking or order):
The Electric Lungs’ sophomore full-length does not disappoint. Complete with a bombastic rhythm section, emphatic vocal performances, and just the right amount of synthy icing, this pop rock/punk quartet continues to put out some of the best high-energy rock music in town these days.
The Grisly Hand - Flesh & Gold
Whereas this album didn’t originally catch me near as much as their 2013 release Country Singles (which I consider to be one of my favorite KC releases of all time), Flesh & Gold falls more in the sneaky good category. The usual hallmarks of The Grisly Hand sound are certainly present throughout, but they continue to show a maturation and evolution of sound, allowing the sonic spectrum to freelance into other genres a bit more.
Madisen Ward and the Mama Bear - Skeleton Crew
Yeah. It’s damn good, just a fantastic sonic experience from beginning to end. Everything is spot-on: the songs, the unique vocal stylings, the tasteful flares of accompanying instrumentation, the production value. Whereas roots music can often fall prey to overproduction, this breakthrough record from the Kansas City based son-mom duo shows the true power of knowing which levers to pull and which to leave the hell alone.
No one can ever call out Christian Hankel for being unambitious. Over the years, he has treated Kansas City with over-the-top art projects while others stay slaves to what is trendy. Silver is just the latest example of this. Featuring a who’s who of Kansas City players, this soundtrack to a modern retelling of The Odyssey via an 8-piece jazz ensemble is a well-composed and dynamic slice of mid-20th century jazz dolled up with just enough modern influence.
And now for something completely different. Eleven scuzzy, socially-conscious, punk-as-fuck brain-beating tracks that somehow keep some identity from each other during the onslaught. This full-length tape captures the live energy for which The Bad Ideas have become known.
Another Kansas City area artist with a strict devotion to the art above all else, Sterling Witt’s recent release is a thick and icky ride recorded by Steve Albini (and yes, it certainly sounds like it was). I’ve seen Sterling perform in just about every way possible over the years (and probably still have some baby powder, glitter, or a paper airplane laying around to prove it). This grungy batch of alternative tunes is certainly less folk than I remember him at times, but still has the same earworms, sharp songwriting, and sly lyric play that I’ve come to very much enjoy of his work.
Whereas the Hillbenders in general are not “from” Kansas City, this record has plenty of ties to our neck of the woods that make it applicable here. It is an ambitious thing. Take one of the most beloved rock operas of all time, a record laden with synthesizers, squealing guitars, and one of the most adventurous drummers in rock n’ roll history. Now, reproduce it with traditional bluegrass instruments. And, oh yeah, no drums and no keyboards.
Somehow, The Hillbenders not only pull it off, but really push the material beyond its original limits in many ways. By creatively channeling the constraints of their instrumentation into ridiculously well-put-together orchestrations, the listener is never found wanting for the missing elements. It is beautifully new and familiar all at the same time.
Proving that verdant noise rock is still very much alive and relevant, Sundiver dropped a fantastic duo of songs this year with Caravelle and Discoverer. Call it post-hardcore, call it shoegaze, call it even a bit math rock at times, the pair of songs repeatedly build and crash, powdering the listener with something equally galvanic and celestial. Dreamy, driving, provoking soundscapes.
The modern war against the bass guitar (or perhaps better said, against those that typically play the bass guitar [yeah, I said it. Deal with it, bass players]) continues with this Lawrence two-piece. The Sluts’ debut LP suffers not from the four-string exclusion. The guitars rumble with lush distortion, the drums pound, the vocals screech through the wooly mix. Just enough smart songwriting keeps this from being an 11-song one-trick pony. It is a ride worth taking time and time again.
Mikal Shapiro - The Musical
Jazz, blues, Americana, country, good old rock ‘n roll: it’s all here. Being Shapiro’s first full-length release since 2010, she really sheds some skin with this batch of gracefully arranged songs. Every effort is a new adventure, kept on the like tracks by her silky, often doubled and harmonized vocals. The all-star Core Four (amongst other guest musicians) utilized throughout elevates her material to a new place.
Brad Scott (The Clementines)
1. The Grisly Hand - Flesh & Gold
2. Mikal Shapiro - The Musical
1. The Grisly Hand - “Regina” (from Flesh & Gold)
2. Paper Buffalo - “The Archive” (from White on White)
4. Mikal Shapiro - “Daniel” (from The Musical)
5. The Old No. 5s - “Barn Party” (from Steam)
Albums, in no particular order:
The Electric Lungs - Don’t be Ashamed of the Way You Were Made
Definitely a punk rock album that brings me back to my high school years. I wish I had this album to help me through those wonder years.
Madisen Ward and the Mama Bear - Skeleton Crew
This is such a warm album to listen to. I always picture myself outside by a creek on a summer afternoon as I contemplate about life.
Imagine yourself laying down on a wooden floor of your living room with your significant other on a cool autumn morning. It helps you make you appreciate every single bit of life, good and bad.
The single is very raw and straight to the point. You can hear raw emotion and heart from a band that can tug at your heart.
This album definitely captures the energy of their live performance. I always blare it in my car, headbanging on my way to work.
From all of us at The Deli KC, thank you for your support in 2015, and here's to more great music in 2016!