Something about the local economy allows musicians to keep cutting albums. Is it the mobility of the middle class? The increased spending power of the young? We're not sure how, exactly, in this age of digital dissemination, but Kansas City and Lawrence generated some real hot shit this year, most of it released DIY on a 99-cent-burrito budget with no distribution outside the bedroom. So consider these records not so much CDs but local works of art. Take a look at our favorites. Then, more important, determine your own.
Tech N9ne Collabos, Misery Loves Kompany (Strange Music): Misery Loves Kompany, and this kompany loves pussy. And partying and drinking and exhibiting badassery. And also, it loves the whole Kansas City area, few parts of which aren't mentioned on this album. Leader-not-leader Tech N9ne is joined by representatives from various area neighborhoods, few of them affluent: Right-hand men Krizz Kalico and Kutt Calhoun are present, along with D-Loc and Dalima from KCK, Skatterman and Snug Brim from 68th and 54th streets, respectively, and assorted others, all spitting over producer Seven's heavy, bolt-driving beats like rabid virtuosi. In contrast to Tech's latest solo effort, the autobiographical Everready, MLK is about the shared experience of MCs who came up on the same streets where you got this paper.
This year's great irony is that one of the biggest-selling independent hip-hop albums of 2007 anywhere is the most local. Following an opening skit in which some visiting dudes from Massachusetts are introduced to the mysterious and deadly "Kansas City Shuffle" by a local ho, the intense verbal overflow of "Midwest Choppers" lays out how serious shit can get in this part of the country. On a lighter and wholly unexpected note, "Sex Out South" details the prurient adventures to be had not in, say, Houston, but in KC's southern suburbs, from Grandview over to Olathe, where a particularly ravenous ho named Jenae does her thing. The album's poignant tour de force, however, is album closer "P.A.S.E.O. (The Poem Aaron Saw Extra Ordinary)," in which Tech, born Aaron Yates, navigates the Paseo from 85th Street to the Interstate 29 bridge, gangsta-reminiscin' all the way and ending with the arresting declaration If I die/Throw my ashes in the Misery River/Love. Never before has it been so clear that hip-hop has roots here as deep and rich as any other music that built Kansas City's culture. Download: "P.A.S.E.O."
(and watch this fan video)
Mac Lethal, 11:11 (Rhymesayers): If MLK (see above) is a historic document, a text of crew, then Mac Lethal's long-awaited Rhymesayers debut is a text of self, and it goes like this: My name is Mac Sheldon, I'm a fire-sign Leo/Alcoholic, anti-mall, anti-hero/Anti-soccer mom, anti-hipster/Probably eatin' Cap'n Crunch cereal for dinner/Pro-taking bong hits to cure your depression/And pro-demo CD, if you got one, let me listen/But never ask me what the hell I'm laughing about/See you later, I'm'a go take a nap on the couch, all right? Funny, incisive, confident and all in favor of getting drunk and making out, 11:11 is an arrival that's fun for the listener and triumphant for the artist. Around the time that Mac signed to the name-making Minneapolis indie label, his mother died. The ensuing drafts of his album, which will no doubt someday be available in boxed-set form, marked a two-year period of grief and recovery, and all of them were rejected. The version of 11:11 available now (finally) is as different from those earlier works as the Old Testament is from Superbad. No less profound for its hilarity, though, 11:11 carries the same kind of irreverent wit and cheerworthy one-liners familiar from classic comedy albums by the likes of George Carlin and Richard Pryor. But because Mac raps over window-rattling beats by Seven (the producer who also did MLK, above), his shit sounds like hip-hop — some of the finest this town has ever produced. If Jonathan Swift were alive today, he'd be getting crunk to Mac Lethal. Download: "Make Out Bandit"
The Rich Boys, $ (self-released): Time flies when you're punk. It's hard to believe that it's been, like, nearly a year and a half since the Rich Boys spewed onto the scene like vomit from the nostrils of an underage, shitfaced party girl. Led by snarling, shimmying frontman Mitch Rich (who's actually quite a nice chap), the Boys came correct on the live show front from day one. And now, the question of whether they can go into the studio and make a decent record has been answered. But beyond sounding competent, $ shows that Smithville's merry cannibalizers of 1970s glam punk have maintained their charm, sense of humor and churlish innocence after more than a year's worth of being KC's flagship youth-gone-wild party band. Download: "Commercial"
The Afterparty, The Afterparty (self-released): No sooner did the Afterparty put out its second LP — 2006's opiated root-beer float of an album, Under the Rainbow — the band began rolling out psychedelic electric numbers live, showing that it could evoke the wild outlawry of Flying Burrito Brothers as well as the slow wizardry of Townes Van Zandt. Led by the beatnik imagination and candied tenor of Danny Fischer, the band began using stories gathered from its time on the road and its own collective growth to get more honest and have more fun. Despite production that's messy as hell, the Afterparty's third, self-titled joint is a document of a band coming into its own. "Taco Land Blues" is about a fast-food restaurateur who got gunned down in Texas. And "I Love You" — easily one of the year's best local songs — well, it ain't about nothing besides being in love. To paraphrase that song: Oh, shit, we love the Afterparty. Download: "I Love You"
Fourth of July, Fourth of July on the Plains (Range Life Records): We gave this Best Album in our Best Of issue, and even though other local offerings that have come out since (such as one from a member of this very band) might be more artistically compelling, On the Plains is still a fucking fun listen. No one for whom we've played the soppy-great "Why Did I Drink So Much Last Night?" didn't immediately request to hear more from the Fourth of July, and we were always happy to oblige. Because wherever this jangly, guitar-pop band of rascals gets heard, a minor party springs into existence. Lead singer and songwriter Brendan Hangauer made it through the year without losing his title as the Lawrence-KC scene's reigning comic romantic, and tours across the country, plus a gig or two at CMJ, let his band spread its good-time-slacker philosophy nationwide. Someday, America may break its oil addiction, but bands such as FOJ ensure that we'll never kick our PBR habit. Download: "Long Gone"
Dri, Smoke Rings (Range Life): Brand-new and awesome Lawrence label Range Life Records' other big release this year brought the local music scene a new female monarch. After Smoke Rings, every music fan in town should want to have Adrianne Verhoeven's baby, especially the dudes. Under the nickname Dri, the ex-Anniversary keyboardist and singer has made the kind of cool, seductive, loungey album that reduces the otherwise virile and robust listener to an aching mass of jelly — especially if said listener is a lonely guy home by himself after a night of drinking, which was part of what Range Life mastermind Zach Hangauer envisioned for the album (see Wayward Son, November 1). With Dri's unaffected, girl-next-door vocal work up front and an array of producers, including Nezbeat and Scenebooster, trading off on the tracks, Smoke Rings drifts across a musically defined but emotionally diverse pop landscape. Listening to it is like spending an entire day on the same piece of beach, alone and with occasional dancing. Download: "Don't Wait"
The Ssion, Fool's Gold (self-released): Some people don't even want to admit that the Ssion (a) not only still exists but (b) tongue-kisses this town with big, bright dance-pop slobber. Those haters are lame. With Fool's Gold, the Ssion — comprising, at its core, frontman Cody Critcheloe and totally zonkers producer Ashley Miller — emerged this year not only as an electro-disco stage show for the ages but also as a creative juggernaut of wacked-out audiovisual art. For his mind-bending, hilarious and harmoniously bizarre vision as a videographer, Critcheloe won one of the Charlotte Street Foundation's four local-art grants. That's taking the term art punk to a wealthy level. But even without the visual accompaniment of pop-culture pastiche and homoerotic backup dancers, the Ssion's Fool's Gold stands up as a solid album of memorable hooks, clever lyrics and nearly perfect dance beats. Download: "Clown"
Namelessnumberheadman, Wires Reply (self-released): What a lucky little planet KC is that Namelessnumberheadman remains in its orbit. For the band itself ... not so much. Despite pay-attention-damn-it acclaim from indie tastemaker Pitchforkmedia.com in the form of an 8.7 rating for 2004's Your Voice Repeating and a 7.1 for this year's Wires Reply, Nameless remains that perennially overlooked, certifiably great local band. A trio of family men, one of whom recently moved to Boston, the Headmen probably could have chosen life situations better suited to hard touring and self-marketing. Instead, they chose to remain at home, playing occasional shows and sweating out beautiful home-studio anthems. Wires starts small, with drums and guitar bursting like dandelion heads and a tentative voice cooing Walt Whitmanlike imagery: Spider legs, cicada wings and pulsing web-worms/Fingernails and petrified leaves' veins. But the album's pastoral journey is anything but meek. Songs such as "The Beginning" and "Opposable Thumb" shimmer with dynamic passion, and softer, more acoustic songs such as "The Hour Has Come" and "Scatterbirds" join quiet intensity to musical intricacy. Should the world someday ask where Namelessnumberheadman has been all these years, we'll proudly provide the answer. Download: "The Beginning"
Bacon Shoe, Back from Stinktion (self-released): No one writes lyrics like Lethal D. That's probably because no one is fucked in the head quite the way he is. He makes dirty rappers such as Soulfly and Kool Keith — even at their most profane — sound like normal guys who just happen to have the knack for waxing blue. D, on the other hand, spouts couplets such as I rub my balls on appliances/Got 'em chopped off in a rough game of Simon Says ("A New Discovery Shed"). Not all of them are dirty so much as really fucking weird. We dare you to guess at the inspiration behind this lyric: I clean a dead bird off of my pant leg/A dirty worm, she was drippin' from my lampshade/Get naked, and we motherfuckin' get paid ("Humphrey Squidteeth"). Or how about the obtusely disapproving verse Oh, no, you brought a big toe to the small toe show/That's the wrong way to make a friend, don'tcha know/I guess you don't, 'cause you been thinking so slow/Like, real slow. The small toe show? Bacon Shoe's first proper release, Back From Stinktion, is a sprawling garden of perverse impressionism and harsh, blarty, diarrhea-inducing beats. That's a good thing, because even after the group's clever antics wear thin in 20 years, the production work on Stinktion — as spooky, bare and weirdly soulful as an abandoned power plant at night — should keep heads bobbing well into the planet's lard-besotted future. Download: "A New Discovery Shed"
The Pedaljets, The Pedaljets (OxBlood): It was back in 1990 when the Pedaljets first attempted to record this, its second collection of songs. Things apparently did not go well. "The record blew," Matt Kesler told The Pitch earlier this year (see Buckle Bunny, March 29). That's hard to believe — could a studio rush job really have ruined songs this good? The fact that this rerecording of tunes nearly 20 years old sounds so good makes for a minor local-music miracle. Originally created at a time when college rock radio as typified by wildcats such as R.E.M. and the Replacements (to which the Jets have often been compared) was beginning to compete with proto-grunge for primacy in modern rock, The Pedaljets retains surprising musical integrity. Chalk it up to the right combination of sweet riffs, urban-slacker rage and country-boy swagger — all of which are given new life and refinement by older musicians with smarter ears and an insatiable desire to rock again. Any other albums out there you'd care to remake, Pedaljets? Download: "Place in the Race"