Zoey's Top KC Albums of the Decade
In making this list, my hope was to shine a light on some of my favorite works to come out of the Kansas City underground, whether from KC-born artists or artists who called KC home for a short time. The point is, they’ve impacted and transformed the local underground scene and deserve their praises. So, in no particular order of appreciation, here are 10 of my favorite locally-sourced albums of the past decade:
MX.MRS – ‘PAGLIACCI’ (2018)
More than a year since its release on the UN/TUCK label, “PAGLIACCI” remains as haunting and poignant as ever. Exploring themes of gender dysphoria, identity loss and social isolation, Mazzy Mann’s first and only full-length release as MX.MRS stands as a tragically anthemic queer masterpiece.
Elijah – ‘Transmissions from Trappist’ (2019)
Over 20-some minutes, c- resident and KC-born DJ and producer Elijah delves into trance-heavy territory, flexing their production muscles and eclectic tastes for more left-of-field techno and electro elements.
BLKFLANL – ‘Wins.The.Race’ EP (2016)
Released in 2016, this four-track EP is a deeply thoughtful collaboration from emcee Barrel Maker (AKA Morgan Cooper) and producer Conductor Williams. Despite his focus on filmmaking, this EP demonstrates Cooper’s matter-of-fact flow, incredible sense of self-awareness and political sensibilities. And it’s hard not to shine over Williams’ stone-cold boombap instrumentals.
Osiris-1 – ‘The Eightfold Path’ (2010)
Scroll through Intelligent Sound’s sprawling catalog to the very bottom and you’ll find the tape that started it all — “The Eightfold Path” by Osiris-1 (AKA Rick Maun), released in November 2010. A staple in the Kansas City beat scene and founder of the Fuklyfe crew, Maun has made a name for himself as a top hip-hop producer, collaborating with more emcees than I could count on both hands and feet. This artifact, an eight-track tape of lo-fi (ish) beats, is a testament to Maun’s signature style — crafted and honed over the span of his career.
Huerco S. – ‘For Those Of You Who Have Never (And Also Those Who Have)’ (2016)
This list wouldn’t be complete without something from KC native Brian Leeds, AKA Huerco S. With releases on Oneohtrix Point Never’s now defunct label, Software Records, and this most recent endeavor released via Proibito, Leeds has made quite a name for himself on the global stage. “For Those Of You Who Have Never (And Also Those Who Have)” is a sprawling 52 minutes of swirling ambient palettes, tape hiss and immersive synth loops. A great listen for a rainy night.
Beta Librae – ‘Sanguine Bond’ (2018)
The third album release from KC native and Brooklyn-based producer Beta Librae (AKA Bailey Hoffman) is by far her most evolved work to date. Described as “singular ambi-tech-no-house,” “Sanguine Bond” is a river of tightly programmed drum sequences, sludgy low-end movements and sullen synth swells. On top of her releases via labels like Incensio, 1080p and Lillerne Tape Club, Hoffman co-operates the vital Technofeminism residency with Umfang at Bossa Nova Civic Club in Brooklyn. Definitely one of the most prolific and innovative artists to emerge from the Kansas City underground.
Mister Water Wet – ‘Bought the Farm’ (2019)
Released in late June 2019 on the West Mineral Ltd. label, “Bought the Farm” is the debut album from Mister Water Wet – AKA Iggy Romeu. Kansas Citians might know him by his dance music moniker, Tito Fuego. A founding member of Terry Radio and household name in the KC underground, Romeu has long been fascinated by ambient and jazz-oriented sounds. This album, described as a “drifting, ambient, Afro-Latinate jazz fusion,” demonstrates the scope of his fascination.
Physically Sick – ‘Physically Sick’ (2017)
This is the only one on the list that’s not actually an album. Curated by members of Allergy Season and Discwoman, this release is a compilation of electronic protest music. With contributions from Kansas natives Umfang, Elijah, Moni and Tito Fuego appearing alongside tracks from global faves Octo Octa, J Albert, rRoxymore, Russel E.L. Butler and more, it is a prime example of Kansas City’s distinct impression on the global underground scene.
Worth noting: they’ve since released a second volume with a track from Pil, a resident of KC-based collective c-.
Chrissy – ‘Resilience’ (2019)
“Resilience” is nothing less than a top-to-bottom finish — drenched in ravey seventh chords, filtered vocal hooks like track two’s “Do What U Feel”, nasty breaks and jacking Chicago rhythms. As the title suggests, the album explores themes of love, positivity, perseverance, acceptance and the fight against cynicism. It’s a nice change of pace from the more ambient selections on this list.
Theo Parrish – ‘American Intelligence’ (2014)
Little known fact: Theo Parrish — one of the most influential figures in modern house music — earned a Bachelor’s degree in sound sculpture from Kansas City Art Institute in 1994. While here, Parrish helped bring a dormant underground music scene to life before moving to the techno mecca, Detroit. His album, “American Intelligence” — released in 2014 via the Sound Signature imprint — is a breathtaking work of electronic composition, breaking genre rules left and right while delivering deeply human percussive structures and jazzy instrumental embellishments.
Pontiac Streator and Ulla Straus – “Chat” (EP)
X.WILSON – “Sleepwalk” (EP)
Bath Consolidated – “Narryer Gneiss Terrane”
Floraviolet – “Possession” (EP)
Calvin Arsenia – “Cantaloupe”
Janelle Monáe – “The Electric Lady”
Domineko – “Perfect Weekend”
Plastic Electronics – “Plastic” (EP)
—Zoey Shopmaker is a novelist, music and culture journalist, DJ, producer, rapper and co-founder of the UN/TUCK Queer/Trans Music Collective based in Kansas City. Find her on Instagram @sister_zo for silly memes, unwarranted astrological advice and information on upcoming events.