Once the year draws to a close, it's hard not to look back and ponder what has passed. Glancing back, 2010 was definitely an interesting year for Tulsa's music scene.
Just like the economy, it's had its struggles, especially as we've seen a turnover in local venues. As is always the case, some local bands have jumped into the local spotlight, while others have fallen from favor or dissolved completely, all of which is part of the cycle.
And while we've seen some local victories and triumphs, we've also suffered our losses, such as the passing of one of the scene's most avid supporters in Jordan Hiteshaw last fall.
Although I hesitate to ever make a "best of" list, knowing it is purely subjective, there are still a handful of CD releases that stand out as highlights and deserve to be reconsidered if they've been overlooked. The year 2010 saw so many local releases it's hard to keep track of them all, but I'd be remiss in not mentioning a few that have stuck with me over the course of the year and recommending you give them another spin.
The New Tulsa Sound
It's hard to argue that this Tulsa sampler disc hasn't been one of the most important and timely releases of the year. Although it features 18 artists and ranges from jazz to indie rock to classic rock-inspired jams, it's still very niche driven, spotlighting the mainstays of the Colony's live acts. (Thus, the Colony Presents...). Nevertheless, that span of acts represents a boatload of talent and arguably a little something for nearly everyone.
The biggest rift I've heard (and heard consistently) is the argument of it being titled The New Tulsa Sound, with some assuming that these artists think they are the ultimate representation of what Tulsa's music scene is today. I prefer to look at it this way: this is a snapshot of how a handful of Tulsa bands have best assimilated the sound and spirit of the classic 70s "Tulsa Sound" and translated it to 2010.
It's an impressive spread, as well, ranging from the jam vibes of Whirligig and the blues-rock of Dustin Pittsley to the jazz and improve stylings of Panda Resistance and Gogo Plumbay to the artistic indie rock of Dead Sea Choir and Ceceda. Regardless of whether these are your bands, the disc is not only a great snapshot of what's been brewing at the Colony, but it's a who's who of some of the most creative bands in each respective genre.
If you haven't yet heard The Seven Degrees of Stephen Egerton, you've missed out. Egerton isn't just one of Tulsa's premier producers but a holdout from iconic punk bands like the Descendents and All. In deciding to tackle a solo disc, he played all the instruments but called in an assortment of old friends to cover the vocal duties and somehow walked away with and incredibly coherent collection of tunes.
To me, this was the ultimate summer soundtrack: loud and brash, but not too heavy. It has just enough attitude to give you some spark, yet tempers it all with a sense of humor. Even in the winter cold, I can pop this disc in and feel like I'm enjoying 85 degrees with the windows down.
If you're a punk rock fan (especially pop-punk), you'll love it. If you're a rock fan in general, you'll still enjoy it.
And if you don't like it at all, you need to see a doctor. How can you not enjoy a disc this fun?
Sin to Get Saved
If you haven't heard Green Corn Revival or its latest CD, Say You're a Sinner, you can't be faulted. The band hails from Weatherford and rarely plays Tulsa, but that needs to change. To call the group a country band is deceiving because it encompasses so much in its sound: a little country, some rockabilly, indie rock and orchestral pop. On paper, it sounds like an utter train wreck. On disc, however, it's utterly captivating.
In all honesty, there's too much going on with the disc to capture it all in words. The music is ethereal, yet twangy; the vocals are soulful yet down-home country. In one moment, you can imagine the band coming from Austin, yet there's a toughness the next moment that suggests Lubbock. The instrumental overtures, however, are as vivid as an Oklahoma sunset, rich with deep hues of red, blue and purple.
How the band glides so effortlessly from southern countrified blues on "Going Back to Austin" to a bizarre blend of Snow Patrol, Ben Folds and the Derailers on "Hang On" is beyond me, but it works. If there's only one agenda for 2011 for club owners, it should be to get Green Corn Revival back to Tulsa. The band could fit in at the Mercury Lounge, Crystal Pistol, the Colony, the Treehouse or Fassler Hall. I saw the band in November, and if Green Corn Revival woulud play here more often, it could win over Tulsa in a heartbeat. In the meantime, you've got to find this CD.
Over the past three years, Vandevander's EP trilogy has gradually walked me through the psyche of a broken heart: pain, anger, denial and closure. Although nothing may ever hit me as hard as The Great State of Emotion did as I entered into one of the most trying periods of my life, The Great State of Redemption comes close.
Sonically, Vandevander has always been just about as far from guitarist Matt Fisher's previous band, the Hero Factor, as you can get. Whereas the Hero Factor capitalized on pop and dance beats, Vandevander hones in on classic rock and blues grooves and pure emotion, channeling anyone from Led Zeppelin to Black Rebel Motorcycle Club.
Matt Fisher literally howls his way into this disc with "I'm on Fire" and finds hope, closure and redemption before the trilogy ends on a spiritual note, combining his visceral rock with a lilting bridge and a touch of southern gospel on "Burning for Love." My only disappointment is that now that the series is complete, I can only wonder what's next.
Fortunately, I've already heard previews of an all-instrumental disc tentatively titled Guitars Unanimous, and Fisher has indicated that he plans to tackle a full-length Vandevander album after taking a break. If you've identified with The Great State of Vandevander as closely as I know I have, you can only hope that the break won't last too long.
On the flip side of the Hero Factor coin, Fisher's longtime bandmate and foil Eric Arndt (the bassist in Vandevander, as well as a number of other projects) made a complete left turn from Fisher's project in following his own vision with Refund Division. Nevertheless, Arndt's vision is no less impressive or engaging on If and Only If.
Instead of running on pure emotion and adrenaline, Refund Division settles into a more ethereal, introspective territory musically, while delving into personal reflection and direction just as deeply as Vandevander. That's where the similarities end, however, as this project steps into more keyboard-oriented material and textures that are visually stimulating, painting out its stories before you.
Arndt is a visionary, and he drags his listeners with him every step of the way, from the mesmerizing music to the videos he has already begun filming for each song and even the distribution method. Instead of sticking to CDs, Arndt's vision for the next stages of digital media includes not only downloads, but delivering his entire package: music, artwork, lyrics, chord charts and videos via a reloadable USB device. He's also not afraid to capitalize on the media with intentions of reloading the device with new material at regular intervals.
Arndt deserves kudos for displaying such forward thinking for distributing his art and acting on it. That wouldn't matter, however, if Refund Division didn't deliver everything that was expected and more from its nearly three-year incubation period. Not only has he delivered a stunning collection of songs, but he has potentially kicked a new door open for local artists to consider for spreading their own material.
If Stephen Egerton's Seven Degrees... was the summer's feel-good soundtrack, Jesse Aycock delivered the melancholy with his achingly beautiful Inside Out of Blue. Aycock has always been an impressive songwriter, combining elements of Americana, blues and Beatles, but this is the album that reveals him really coming into his own.
This time, the Beatles references largely settle into the background as Aycock draws from Neil Young, JJ Cale and Gram Parsons while still establishing his own voice. Blue is definitely the predominant hue coloring this disc -- not in that it's a blues record, which it's not. If anything, it's a modern folk album, delivering universal truths and emotions with a true storyteller's lyricism.
It is, however, a cycle of songs exploring love, loss, heartbreak and self-examination. Every song hits like an arrow to the heart, piercing you to the core with vivid reflections. Although there's not a weak cut on the six-track disc, the highlight comes as a surprise: "Mysteries of the World" breaks the mold of the rest of the album by contrasting the otherwise explorative tone with an explosive and emotional guitar solo while still clocking in at just under three minutes, the shortest and most concise cut on the disc. Before the cycle is over, Aycock lets his psychedelic side loose by wrapping up with the swirling "Haley's Blue Eyes."
There were far too many other local releases to give everyone their proper and due credit. After 12 months of listening, however, these are the local releases that still stand out in my mind and remain in regular rotation in my stereo and iPod. Most of them get just as much, if not more, time than the even wider array of national releases that came out over the past year -- and that says a lot about the quality of music we have coming out of Tulsa.
After looking back, it's only appropriate to glance forward, as well. So what's worth anticipating in 2011?
I'm not privy to everything, and I'm sure there will be a number of surprises coming our way. One that I'm chomping at the bit to hear, though, is the debut by Ol' Saviour, the project that drummer Nathan Price (Hero Factor, Vandevander and Refund Division) is working on with Ben King. Initial demos I've heard show him going in yet another direction with raucous and energetic indie rock with an almost lo-fi aesthetic.
I'm also anxious to see what 2011 brings for Chase Stites, the former lead singer of Restless Ribbon, who has stepped out on his own and already posted three engaging singles online and has more in progress. I also know that this year's ABoT "Album of the Year" winners Stars Go Dim return to the studio in January, and RadioRadio is well into the recording process for its next release. When combined, those three alone promise a strong year of Tulsa pop.
Even so, I also know that Dustin Pittsley has been recording, while a new project tentatively titled Bid Dumb Dinosaur has been demoing and will deliver an unexpected indie rock assault from a trio of local veterans. And I can only hope that Good Villains will finally get into the studio and start recording.
On the live front, I'm truly excited about a pair of killer new venues. Fassler Hall has delivered more than just great beer and a German menu over the past three months: it has also proven to be one of the best live music rooms in the downtown area. Likewise, a preview of the Treehouse at 18th and Boston promises to be a great room with a new look, stage and killer sound system. Personally, I won't be surprised to see each of them start welcoming nationally touring acts before 2011 is complete. Only time will tell, but it looks as if we've got plenty to look forward to.
After a huge blowout all around town for New Year's Eve, Tulsa is still catching its breath. Nevertheless, as the city becomes better known as a haven for live music, the shows keep rolling through, and the calendar never really goes blank.
On Thursday night, Jan. 6, the big show in town is the rising country act Perry the Band at Cain's Ballroom with the Kristin Nicole Band opening the evening. If you're looking for rock, Apollo plays one more show at Eclipse for the pop crowd before its members depart again for school, and indie rock fans can catch Kickback with Traindodge at Soundpony.
On Friday, Jan. 7, Hiphopotamus and the Last Slice play Reverb, while Dave and the Haters settle in at the Hunt Club and Paperclips help break in the new stage at the Treehouse. Perhaps the most notable show of the night, however, is the Brandi Iliff Benefit at the Soundpony with the Lizard Police, the Northside Hot Dogs, Barf Makeout and Lunar City.
Saturday night, Jan. 8, has some interesting options, as well, as RadioRadio plays the Hunt Club for the pp crowd while hard rock fans gather next door at the Marquee for the Texas Hippie Coalition with Bad Things and Joint Effect. The Mercury Lounge provides the stealth show of the night, though, as Ben Miller returns for a show with Andy Frasco & the U.N.
The rest of the week is fairly quiet, but you want to mark Wednesday, Jan. 12 on your calendar and make sure to get out mid week to see a true modern country icon, Dale Watson, play a personalized show at the Mercury Lounge. Best of all, it's only a $10 cover.
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