Four bands, two slices of vinyl, one distinctive sound

The dim, squalid confines of The Underwood Bar are a fine place to drink yourself into oblivion while playing a game of pool or pinball. They're not such a fine place to conduct an interview, especially with four bands simultaneously. But that's where Conduits drummer Roger Lewis decided would be the best place for what would turn into chaos. Crammed between the pool table and glowing digital jukebox in the back of the bar sat Lewis and Conduits band mate Jenna Morrison; InDreama frontman Nik Fackler with his bandmate -- legendary bass player Dereck Higgins; Icky Blossoms mastermind Derek Pressnall, and the hardest working guy in local music, Darren Keen, the genius behind Touch People. If you go to The Slowdown this Friday night you will hear all of these musicians and their band mates perform together on one bill, maybe for the one and only time (though there's talk of repeating the line-up sometime in Lincoln). The occasion for this grand collective is the release of a duo 7-inch split -- one song from each band on two vinyl records. Morrison said J.J. Idt, who plays in both Conduits and Icky Blossoms, came up with the idea, and then "one link led to another." It sounded like a great story, but somewhere before Lewis bought me a second Rolling Rock and after one of the fat, bearded locals plugged the jukebox and began belting out lines to Vanilla Fudge's "You Keep Me Hanging On," I realized that it was all going to get lost in the noise and confusion of trying to reign in six people talking from six different angles. And that the project's real story centered around the music, anyway. The recordings break down like this: "Misery Train" by Conduits is a perfect slice of the band's trademark dream-pop sound, dim and faraway, with Morrison's angelic voice burning through the mist like a distant beacon, safe and familiar and strangely comforting in its ghostly beauty. Icky Blossoms' "Perfect Vision" is a pop gem, a mid-tempo hand-clapping slacker anthem that's a combination of Jesus and Mary Chain and Love & Rockets, with Pressnall standing right in the middle of it all, singing presumably with eyes half closed lines like, "Nothing to do but get high in the afternoon." Opening with icy synth tones, InDreama's "Reprogram" evolves into proggy electronic drunk-funk. As much an art piece as a rock song, the track defines Fackler as a Midwestern version of Beck, unafraid to reach out and try something different for difference's sake, but never losing sight of the melody. Finally, there's Touch People's "Sound Expression," a cacophony of electronic noises and break beats tethered to an uneven foundation of shifting chords and tones, with Keen's voice emerging strangely through the floor boards with lines like, "Sometimes a sound is just a sound." Side-by-side, each song is starkly different, and yet somehow there's a sonic thread -- a dreamy vibe -- that binds all four together into a cohesive whole. These four bands stand at the vanguard of a new direction of Nebraska music, a clear departure from the singer-songwriter fare that so brazenly defined the scene over the past decade. In fact, all the bands are second-generation outgrowths of former projects. Icky Blossoms was born out of Pressnall's Flowers Forever (which was a side project of Tilly and the Wall); InDreama is a bastard child of Fackler's The Family Radio; Conduits includes veterans of Eagle Seagull and Son Ambulance, while Touch People is a third concurrently functioning incarnation of Darren Keen, who's better known for his persona as The Show Is the Rainbow. The duo splits are an introduction to all four bands, which despite their obvious differences make sense collectively. Consider these singles as a crossroads where all four meet before spinning off once again in their own directions. We can expect to hear full lengths or other recordings by all four at some point later this year. But for now, they're all together, at least for one night. "This scene is more accepting of general weirdness," said Keen, who despite frequently playing in both Lincoln and Omaha has always been viewed by some as an outsider. "Omaha and Nebraska music has evolved from its labels. Now it's like any other cool city. Seattle, for example, is more than just grunge." "We're in a period in Omaha music where there are so many kick-ass bands out there," Lewis said. "It's a kick-ass-band overload!" Fackler, who is more well known as the writer and director of indie film Lovely, Still, said seeing Conduits perform "genuinely inspired me. I got that feeling again to put a band together." "We all are just friends," Pressnall added, "and while this hasn't exactly been thought out, we've all been very inspired by each other. When I see these bands, I just want to go home and push myself creatively." From there, the conversations rose to a fever pitch and I started to lose my balance. Like a wise Jedi master or an all-knowing Buddha or what he really is -- the veteran of some of the area's most important legacy bands -- Derek Higgins simply looked at me, smiled and summed it all up perfectly. "Can you feel it?" he asked quietly between three conversations. "Can you see how all of us are connected? There's something going on here." Conduits, Icky Blossoms, InDreama and Touch People play Friday, April 15, at The Slowdown. Tickets are $7, show starts at 9 p.m. Lazy-i is a weekly column by Reader senior contributing writer Tim McMahan focused on the Omaha music scene. Check out Tim's daily music news updates at his website, lazy-i.com, or email him at lazy-i@thereader.com.

posted at 12:02 pm
on Thursday, April 14th, 2011

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