Now that we're perched on the precipice of a new year (finally, right?) we can survey the past months, and ask: what was awesome about 2010? Well, if you're finding yourself coming up short of any personal victories, we've got a slew of local albums that cracked new heights in the past 12 months to make your year feel worthwhile. The writers of Wayward have come together to determine the best of the best of our beloved town. Here, in no particular order, are the top EPs and albums that Kansas City's music scene pushed out this year, and what made them great.
Hammerlord, Wolves At War's End
Hammerlord's thrash metal opus hearkens back to the days before corpse paint and song titles that read like William Blake poems. Wolves at War's End proves that pummeling, driving drums and earth-scorching guitars don't have to be bleak and depressing. Stevie Cruz's vocals hit the perfect balance between guttural roar and rasping scream; J.P. Gaughan and Ty Scott's guitars play off each other, trading maximum riffage with orchestral soloing; and Adam Mitchell's drums and Terry Taylor's bass rumble behind it all like ominous thunder. Despite the fact that indie and hip-hop are king in KC, there's still room in the local scene for quality brutality.
-- Nick Spacek
Grand Marquis, Hold on to Me
Hold on to Me blends expert trumpet solos, soulful upright bass and smart guitar riffs with delicious drumbeats. On the band's fifth release, the Grand Marquis collects a flawless mix of standards and originals including a catchy cover of "The Spider and the Fly," first made famous by local diva Myra Taylor. Kansas City's consummate jazz band takes listeners on a journey through Scamps Alley, the saucy downtown ballrooms of the '30s, the speakeasies of east side, and back down to 18th and Vine. It's a hunk of songs that remind audiences of the golden age of KC's musical heritage.
-- Berry Anderson
Soft Reeds, Soft Reeds Are Bastards
One of the most anticipated releases from Kansas City's the Record Machine was 2010's Soft Reeds Are Bastards, which marked the return to the scene of former Golden Republic frontman Ben Grimes -- and he didn't disappoint. The album is full of the poppy, layered riffs, racing bass lines, and smart lyrics. Despite the hype and expectations, Soft Reeds churned out a glittering affair of an album that is danceable and accessible, yet anything but standard. "This Affair" also stands out as one of the best music videos to hit the tube this year, courtesy of Gnarly Dan.
-- Jenny Kratz
Cowboy Indian Bear, Each Other All the Time
Lawrence-based Cowboy Indian Bear came at 2010 with their gears in full throttle. The band lit up numerous stages all over the Midwest, and piled even more goodness onto the band's sound with the addition of Lawrence songstress Katlyn Conroy to their lineup. Each Other All the Time is a lush and vivid indie-pop dreamscape. Relying on crisp vocal harmonies and a structure that's minimalist but never bare, the album plays like an ode to the Lawrence skyline, and cements them as one of the area's most loved indie-pop acts.
-- Jenny Kratz
Making Movies, In Deo Speramus
Making Movies deserves to make it big. The Latin rock band's 2010 release, In Deo Speramus, fuses influences from frontman Enrique Javier Chi's native Panamanian roots with sensitive, aching guitar and crunchy rock riffs. (In practice, that looks like a lot of melodic, bilingual rock that's smart, political and completely approachable.) In Deo Speramus has local fans shouting out choruses, even if they don't habla the español (after all, the refrain "Libertad" is fairly easy to decipher, no matter how many beers you've slung that night). 2010 was great for this lil' band; let's hope that 2011 proves to be the breaking point it's been waiting for.
-- Elke Mermis
Adam Lee and the Dead Horse Sound Co., When the Spirits Move Me
Adam Lee and Johnny Kenepaske were looking to make their second full-length CD a "classic country record," and they succeeded -- in the way that copious amounts of Jim Beam will free one's mind from burden. Since the Midtown cowboys blew onto the scene in 2008, they've employed the assistance of local country royalty (Betse Ellis, Darryl Logue, Tony Ladesich) in album appearances and moral support to cultivate their old-timey, straight-up honky-tonk. When the Spirits Move Me contains 12 all original-tracks ripe with heartbreak, boozin' and two-steppin' -- perfect for a mental trip to the barrooms of yore.
-- Berry Anderson
Fourth of July, Before Our Hearts Explode!
Three years after their instant-local-classic debut, Fourth of July On the Plains, these Lawrence dudes finally delivered an equally lovable album of lovelorn songs that sound like Pavement found a stack of old Townes records at a yard sale. The melodies stick with you, and the overall ramshackle vibe of the record is charming, but Brendan Hangauer's lyrics are the big draw. It's all in the details: I think my phone card's running out, Hangauer moans on "Song for Meghan," an ode to a dying cross-continental relationship. You're coming home to me in May, he repeats as the song crests and fades out. If there was a more gorgeous and vulnerable song written locally this year, we'd love to hear it.
-- David Hudnall
The ACBs, Stona Rosa
The ACBs began 2010 as a broken band, but closed out the year as a supergroup of sorts. After half the band moved to L.A., frontman Konnor Ervin and bassist Bryan McGuire regrouped, adding Andrew Connor from Ghosty and Kyle Rausch from Abracadabras. In November, they released their first album in four years. On Stona Rosa, the ACBs moved beyond the power pop sound they'd cultivated on their debut and settled into a stranger, stonier, lonelier space. Ervin's couching his inventive melodies in more tender, artful compositions, and the band has the chops and confidence to sell it. It's a good look on them.
-- David Hudnall
Monta At Odds, Fuoco Infernale
Experimental bands get a pretty wide berth, because it can be hard to decide whether something is an artistic composition or just a bunch of shitty noise. (No critic wants to be on the wrong side of that judgment.) With Monta At Odds, it's clear that there's a well-considered purpose and intent lurking in the music. On Fuoco Infernale, the song arrangements are unusual but intuitive, and an unmistakable groove continually rises to the fore throughout the album. Still, it's essentially uncategorizable: part downtempo, part Dark Side of the Moon, and part horror movie music. You won't find much comfort listening to it -- but then again, that's the point.
-- David Hudnall
Reach, The Pen Pusha Mixtape
There are several basic ways to evaluate a rap album. Are the lyrics tight? Are the rhyme schemes complex? How's the production? And another point of examination sometimes goes overlooked: Would you have sex to it? Reach's latest creation, The Pen Pusha Mixtape, belongs next to the nightstand with whatever other materials you call on to get it popping. At this point, it's not a matter of whether Reach can rhyme, but a matter of sheer entertainment, thanks to his ever-broadening MC skills. On the mic, Reach breathes fire and, more important, a palpable love for the legacy of classic hip-hop. For many artists, 18 tracks is mostly an opportunity for songs to trip over themselves, with a few misshapen joints destined always to be skipped. But Pen Pusha proves to be the perfect length to keep the bed shaking.
-- Kyle Koch
O Giant Man, Everybody Knows I'm Just An Animal
The People's Liberation Big Band of Greater Kansas City, The People's Liberation Big Band of Greater Kansas City
Hidden Pictures, Whitney Houston
Heroes + Villains, Plans In Motion
Rooftop Vigilantes, Who Stole My Zoo?
Hearts of Darkness, Hearts of Darkness
Kristin Paludan, All In