Bacon's Best of the Decade
Just about a decade ago, I dove into the music world as a musician and album reviewer — my first time really being exposed to what was happening in Kansas City’s indie music scenes, and discovering my own creative fascinations.
Since then, I’ve been in approximately 108 bands (but officially 16, with 20 intermittent/side projects). I’ve gotten to know dozens of musicians in the region. I’ve listened to their songs with intense scrutiny and consideration — as a supporting instrumentalist, a writer of their stories, an advocate, a critic and of course, a fan. Now I spend my days working for an entity that nourishes and elevates the art my peers are doing in this town, and I spend my nights helping shape and perform it.
So, thanks to the mind of Chris Haghirian, this series had to happen (daunting as it was). He sat down with five people who have an encyclopedia of knowledge about the area’s music, while our contributing writers told us what has resonated with them over the last 10 years. Now it’s my turn. And because there’s no easy or objective way to do this, I picked 10 albums that have connected with me in a profound way. Isn’t that what music is all about anyway?
The Grisly Hand – Country Singles (2013)
The Grisly Hand has all the elements of a great country band, from Jimmy Fitzner’s twangy vocals and Lauren Krum’s lilting harmonies, to Mike Stover’s impeccable pedal steel and Matt Richey’s swinging shuffles. Indeed, these are some of the qualities that have made it one of Kansas City’s most prominent original acts. But the strength and staying power of the group (Fitzner, Krum and Ben Summers started the band a decade ago) comes down to its songs. Even in its title — derived from a rural truck stop magazine for lonely singles — “Country Singles” genially eschews the genre while embracing other musical touchstones. You can hear it in the soulfully bereft mood of “Amusia,” a song about the inability to hear musical tones; “Blind Horse,” a forlorn ballad gorgeously delivered by Krum with only vocals and piano; or the driving pop hook in “That’s Not Affection.”
Ha Ha Tonka – “Death Of A Decade” (2011)
Folk rock saw a resurgence in the early ‘10s, with groups like Mumford & Sons leading the impassioned, banjo-forward charge. But by then, Ha Ha Tonka had already spent years crafting its own rousing — and far more authentic, in my opinion — brand of Ozark-fueled indie rock. 2011 saw the band’s appearance on Anthony Bourdain's "No Reservations” and the release of its third album, “Death Of A Decade.” Drawing on their West Plains, Missouri upbringings (three of the four members grew up together), the guys honor the folk and gospel traditions of their region while channeling a distinctive, fervent rock sound.
Heidi Lynne Gluck – “Pony Show” (2016)
There’s something so cathartic about the delicate pacing and intimacy of a sad song. And while “Pony Show” is not an album about grief, it gingerly carried me through a mournful year. This was Heidi Lynne Gluck’s full-length debut as a solo artist, after spending years supporting acts like Some Girls (with Juliana Hatfield), Margot and the Nuclear So-Sos, and The Only Children. Gluck tracked most of the instruments, composed all the songs and produced the majority of the album. Colored with romping rhythms and dulcet melodies, her songs reach back into the ethos of ‘60s and ‘70s pop — with the same timelessness, temerity and vulnerability of forebears like Carole King or Joni Mitchell.
Hembree – House On Fire (2019)
Two of Hembree’s founding members — frontman/guitarist Isaac Flynn and bassist Garrett Childers — emerged from Quiet Corral, a Lawrence-based act that gained prominence at festivals like Austin City Limits and South By Southwest. Hembree formed shortly after Quiet Corral’s dissolution, finding itself rooted in a similar Midwestern folk-pop style with a new, boundless youthful energy. That energy — along with Flynn’s eagle eye for polish and production — is what gives Hembree its immediacy, and ultimately grabbed the attention of national labels and publications. This year’s “House On Fire” is a much more frenetic alt-rock sound for the group, molded by its current lineup of Flynn and Childers with long-time friends Eric Guy Davis (also formerly of Quiet Corral) and brothers Austin and Alex Ward of The Noise FM.
Krystle Warren – “Three the Hard Way” (2017)
One of my favorite things about live music is the shared experience, when an entire room erupts in joy or falls completely silent at the intensity of an artist’s voice. It’s like a drug or a religious experience, and it’s what binds us to our favorite artists. This characterizes every appearance from Krystle Warren, whose enduring voice traverses deep gospel roots, achingly raw blues, sensual R&B and tender jazz overtones. The KC-to-Paris transplant’s 2017 release, “Three the Hard Way,” evokes a similar reaction. Warren explores themes of spirituality, relationships and social justice with an arresting, acrobatic vocal performance.
Marcus Lewis Big Band – Brass & Boujee (2018)
The intersection of hip hop and jazz isn’t exactly new (see A Tribe Called Quest, Herbie Hancock, The Roots) but one could argue that Kendrick Lamar’s landmark 2015 album “To Pimp A Butterfly” gave it a renewed push into relevancy. To record the work, Lamar brought in innovative, emerging and renowned jazz musicians whose influences stretched from Charles Mingus to J Dilla. The Brass & Boujee ensemble has had a similar effect on a local and regional level. It’s a combo of the Marcus Lewis Big Band — led by trombonist Lewis, who arranged all 10 songs on the album and is a former touring member of Janelle Monáe’s Wondaland ArchOrchestra — and emcees Kadesh Flow and Kemet the Phantom, who each penned several of the compositions. With 20-plus musicians firmly planted in KC’s jazz, hip hop and indie scenes, Brass and Boujee is one of the most exciting collaborations of this decade.
Mikal Shapiro – “The Musical II” (2018)
Whether playfully philosophizing through a circus-like waltz or putting a lavish spin on a lost American tale, Mikal Shapiro delivers with the conviction and authenticity of a true storyteller. The follow-up to her 2015 album, “The Musical II” is Shapiro hitting her stride as a songwriter and band leader, cleverly subverting the constructs of jazz, folk, country and musical theater. She synthesizes the best qualities of her exceptional backing band — guitarist Chad Brothers, bassist Johnny Hamil and drummer Matt Richey — and provides anecdotes of elegantly flawed characters who amble through the universal complexities of the human condition.
Not A Planet – “The Few, The Proud, The Strange” (2013)
Almost no other musical formation grabs me quite like a rock power trio; there’s just something about the austere but intricate interplay between a vigorous rhythm section, a nimble guitar and a few brisk harmonies. And at least for the first half of this decade, Not A Planet scratched that itch for me. The introduction of bassist William Sturges in 2012 solidified the ensemble, paired with exuberant drummer Liam Sumnicht and centered around Nathan Corsi’s unmistakable vocal vibrato. “The Few, The Proud, The Strange” is the trio’s sole full-length effort — a blend of Corsi’s East Coast blues influences with zestful indie rock and a touch of blue-eyed soul.
Schwervon! – “Courage” (2012)
Early adulthood comes with a reckoning, as you cling to the tremendous possibilities of youth while beginning to face the burdens and impermanence of life. For me, that moment came around the age of 30 — the same year “Courage” was released. Schwervon! had already spent more than a decade as a touring duo in New York before relocating to KC just months before dropping the album. And it was just what I needed at that time in my life — from its reckless lo-fi punk abandon, to the intertwined melodic sensibilities of members Nan Turner and Matt Roth. Clocking in at just 23 minutes, “Courage” shows this unconventional indie pop band at its most mesmerizing and momentous, its most heartwarming and harmonious.
Soft Reeds – “Blank City” (2013)
If you had asked for a best of list from the previous decade, my top 3 would undoubtedly include The Golden Republic’s self-titled breakout album, released on EMI imprint Astralwerks in 2005. The group split a year later, eventually spawning The Republic Tigers (from Kenn Jankowski) and frontman Ben Grimes’ project Soft Reeds. Grimes started the band in 2009, after returning to KC from a short stint in Nashville. Effectively balancing the sprightly, funky staccato post-punk riffs of Gang of Four with the expressionistic intrigue of David Bowie’s Berlin trilogy, Soft Reeds showed Grimes with a more sophisticated sense of himself as an artist and a songwriter.
Antennas Up – “The Awkward Phase” (2012)
Approach – “Elegant Knock” (2017)
Eddie Moore & the Outer Circle – “The Freedom of Expression” (2014)
Katy Guillen & the Girls – “Heavy Days” (2016)
The Latenight Callers – “Songs For Stolen Moments” (2013)
Madisen Ward & the Mama Bear – “Skeleton Crew” (2015)
The Project H – “We Live Among the Lines” (2014)
Shy Boys – “Bell House” (2018)
Thee Water Moccasins – “From the Rivers of Missouri and the Banks of Fear” (2012)
Tiny Horse – “Darkly Sparkly” EP (2013)
—Michelle Bacon is is 90.9 The Bridge's Content & Database Manager. She also plays bass and drums in bands.