Aaron's Top 15 KC Albums of the Decade
This list was excruciating to make. Kansas City music rules. Punk rock? Hip-hop? Indie rock? Other s***? I love it all, baby. My initial listen had to be whittled down from around 60 of my favorite local albums from the last decade. Please tweet and ask me about the 40 or so albums that didn’t make it. We’ll talk about it. Maybe we’ll become friends.
Dark Ages – ‘Can America Survive?’ (2011)
In 2011, Dark Ages asked a question that grows more pertinent with each trip this rotting planet takes around the sun. Immune to the misguided optimism that plagued the Obama years, “Can America Survive?” questioned the power structures that shape life in our country more acutely than anyone presiding over the Oval Office. Blistering or brooding at any given moment, the record pays tribute to the Midwest punk classics that came before it, while simultaneously crafting its own inimitable mystique. A monolithic slab of vinyl.
Janelle Monae – ‘The Electric Lady’ (2013)
There isn’t a bad song on any of Kansas City, Kansas-born pop star Janelle Monáe’s three major label albums. With that being said, “The Electric Lady” may stand as her most impressive. Following her Bad Boy Records debut, “The ArchAndroid,” “The Electric Lady” saw Monáe take all the elements of what made “The ArchAndroid” a great album and take them to spectacular, cinematic new heights. It was obvious by the time that last year’s “Dirty Computer” came out that Monáe could have gone mainstream years ago if she’d wanted to.
Shy Boys – ‘Bell House’ (2018)
Shy Boys’ self-titled record holds a special place in the heart of indie rock fans across Kansas City, but the release of “Bell House” felt like a World Series win all over again. After years of dashed hopes, personal struggles and underattended gigs, the Boys’ Polyvinyl Records debut gave fans a small trove of undeniable, shimmering indie pop gems (and a packed release show). Who doesn’t love an underdog?
No Class – ‘Keine Klasse’ (2010)
If “Can America Survive?” is a quiet, nerdy teen who enjoys sitting in his room, making his own comic books and reading political theory, “Keine Klasse” is his snotty younger brother who got kicked off the football team for getting in a fight. Ten songs of brutish, Boston-style hardcore that each function as a personal “f*** you” letter to someone in the wrong.
Kevin Morby – ‘Oh My God’ (2019)
As one of Kansas City’s favorite Local Boys Who Made Good, Kevin Morby has spent the last seven years releasing indie folk and rock records that have taken him around the world. These travels — the flights in particular — helped inspire the secular gospel and sonic pop art of “Oh My God,” Morby’s most unique and exciting record yet.
Warm Bodies – ‘Warm Bodies’ (2018)
We live in a post-Egg Punk vs. Chain Punk world now, and while Warm Bodies clearly fall on the easily-maligned, breakfast-centric end of that spectrum (along with John Mayer, apparently), don’t think for a second that this long player isn’t essential listening. Vocalist Olivia Gibb’s high-energy freakouts would impress in any setting, but her band — made up of some of the punk scene’s most skilled and inventive instrumentalists — helps fully realize the surreal, cartoonish visions she sings about.
Your Friend – ‘Gumption’ (2016)
“Gumption” is as ornate and beautiful as the still life that graces its cover. This genreless exploration of the avant garde brought Taryn Miller (Lawrence, Kansas-via-Winfield, now New York) to the masses as their Domino Records debut in 2016 and continues to be an immersive and engaging listen three years down the line.
Spine – ‘Faith’ (2018)
Fans drive in from far and wide when Kansas City hardcore juggernauts Spine have a gig, and with good reason. “Faith,” the band’s first LP on legendary hardcore label Bridge Nine Records, is the soundtrack to a world crumbling before our eyes. Lumbering New York hardcore meets thrashy California powerviolence for a middle-of-the-map banger.
Maal & Morris – ‘Good Morning, I Love You’ (2016)
Even though it largely flew under the radar, Maal & Morris’ “Good Morning, I Love You,” was a crowning moment artistically. The Bear Club Music Group duo’s combined musical intuition and ear for tone are front and center as they turn the tropes of modern hip-hop, pop and electronic music on their heads to create a series of vibrant, minimalist snapshots of life in the ‘10s.
Gee Watts – ‘199X’ (2014)
Kansas City rapper Gee Watts has dropped many songs stronger than some of the material on his 2014 album “199X” since its release, but it was unarguably his leap into creating pro-grade hip-hop music and remains his most cohesive project. In addition to being one of the city’s greatest lyricists, Watts’ career is fascinating in the sense that (much like Kendrick Lamar did in Los Angeles — they’ve collaborated) he seamlessly bridged the gritty output of the city’s East Side with the pop smarts that mainstream, suburban audiences crave.
Anna St. Louis – ‘If Only There Was A River’ (2018)
The warmth exuded on “If Only There Was A River,” the full-length debut of LA-via-KC singer-songwriter Anna St. Louis, is inescapable. The album’s minimalist approach to production and simple but deliberate approach to folk songwriting put St. Louis’ voice in the position to land blow after blow; the musical equivalent to knocking someone out with a bouquet of wildflowers.
A’Sean – ‘One Big Happy Family’ (2019)
A 22-year-old emcee from down north, A’Sean’s storytelling skills already surpass those of a majority of the town. His 2019 album, “One Big Happy Family,” features intimate tales from his upbringing, heart-on-sleeve love songs and reflections on the horrors of structural racism.
Aaron Alexander - ‘Memento Mori’ (2017)
Any Kansas Citian can tell you things are a little different west of State Line. As evidenced by “Memento Mori,” Aaron Alexander is one of KCK’s foremost talents. Alexander blends anime-inspired reflections on mortality, razor-sharp bars and production inspired by the area’s historic jazz scene.
SSION - ‘O’ (2018)
Cody Critcheloe, the man behind long-running multimedia project and experimental pop act SSION, evokes the iconic LA punk band Germs in multiple places on “O.” The album, while containing some of his most jagged, punk-influenced material, is by far his most accessible and focused yet. “Comeback” is the anthem of anthems.
The Casket Lottery - ‘Real Fear’ (2012)
Fans had to wait a decade after The Casket Lottery’s 2002 album “Survival Is For Cowards,” but their local post-hardcore heroes didn’t let them down. “Real Fear” is the band’s most polished and mature release to date — a thrilling ride through a nocturnal landscape.
—Aaron Rhodes is a music journalist based in Kansas City, Missouri. He is the editor-in-chief of Shuttlecock Music Magazine and a frequent contributor to 90.9 The Bridge and The Pitch. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @IntroFreeMind.