The year in Oklahoma music

Local freelance writer and co-host of KOSU Radio's "The Oklahoma Rock Show" Grace Gordon recaps 2013, which featured label signees, a bevy of strong new records and even a few Grammy contenders.
BY GRACE GORDON, For The Oklahoman Modified: December 23, 2013 at 7:52 pm •  Published: December 23, 2013

In December 2012, a baby-faced boy blessed with an abundance of “Gawd”-given musical talent was nominated for a Grammy in the category of Best Americana Album for his blazing and brilliant album, “From the Ground Up.” In February, Bearden, Okla.’s John Fullbright unleashed a blistering live performance of “Gawd Above” during the Grammy pre-show Web cast. He found out later that night that he lost to Bonnie Raitt.

At least he wasn’t beaten out by Mumford & Sons.

The caliber of talent emerging from the red clay and endless sky of Oklahoma surpassed the expectations of an industry that has long dismissed our landlocked territory as a flyover state. More than ever, artists like Samantha Crain, Horse Thief and John Moreland are establishing Oklahoma as a musical force to be reckoned with. Crain was named an “Artist to Watch” by Rolling Stone magazine in May of this year, and recently signed to the UK label Full Time Hobby, who will distribute her latest opus, “Kid Face,” in Europe. Crain will also embark on a European tour in January supporting Deer Tick.

After signing to Bella Union Records in February, Horse Thief shook up their sound with a new line-up, adding Alex Coleman, Zach Zeller and Alberto Roubert to the mix. In addition to this surprising changing of the guard, they also toured the West Coast and recorded their new album in Los Angeles. Their first show as a quintet scorched the ears of passionate Opolis attendees in February, setting up what has been an incredible year for the young band.

Meanwhile, John Moreland’s album “In the Throes” spurned a tidal wave of accolades from all over the world – most notably, a recent tweet by Rachel Maddow that praised the Tulsa artist, saying, “If the American music business made any sense, guys like John Moreland would be household names.” In addition to this, selections from “In the Throes” earned repeated airtime on FX’s popular show “Sons of Anarchy,” and Moreland joined Jason Isbell on a leg of Isbell’s national tour.

Moreland wasn’t the only Oklahoma artist invited to support national acts this year. Oklahoma City rapper Jabee had an impressive run with El-P (who also produced Jabee’s single “Stephanie”) and Killer Mike. Finalizing his biggest year as a rap artist is the recent announcement that he is joining rapper Murs’ new Los Angeles-based label Murs316 and will soon release his new album, “Everything Was Beautiful and Nothing Hurt.” Stillwater’s DEERPEOPLE opened for Vampire Weekend’s sold-out show at Brady Theater in early October, and Junebug Spade was invited by Built to Spill to be the support for their European tour. Horse Thief paid a visit to Brooklyn to open for Blitzen Trapper at the Music Hall of Williamsburg, and both Skating Polly and Sonic Violence were honored to open for Washed Out at The Conservatory.

In April, after months of waiting, Skating Polly released their sophomore album, “Lost Wonderfuls,” which was produced by punk rock legend Exene Cervenka and mixed by The Flaming Lips' drummer, Kliph Scurlock. “Lost Wonderfuls” demonstrated tremendous growth by the young duo, and garnered the girls opening slots not only for Washed Out, but also for The Flaming Lips, Deerhoof and Band of Horses. Most recently, Skating Polly kept Oklahoma fans updated on their experiences supporting Kate Nash’s national tour via enthusiastic posts on social media.

Also returning from national tour is Red City Radio, fronted by the gravelly-voiced Garrett Dale. Their sophomore release, “Titles,” saw the band exploring new musical territory while never straying far from their hard-hitting original sound. In addition to Skating Polly and Red City Radio, BRONCHO’s year has been spent touring practically non-stop, and seen them infiltrate the music scene at the national level with coverage in Filter Magazine, which premiered their new music video for “Psychiatrist.” Tulsa native Johnny Polygon has also enjoyed a busy year with an indefatigable schedule of shows, studio time and music video shoots after his release of “The Nothing” at the beginning of this year.

Some musical successes tied to Oklahoma almost go without saying, as these bands have eclipsed the local scene and now make regular appearances on the national stage. Kings of Leon’s “Mechanical Bull,” The Flaming Lips’ “The Terror” and Hanson’s “Anthem” have all garnered national media and industry recognition, with Hanson’s single “This Time Around” charting at a high of No. 20 on the Billboard charts. One act that belongs to this category was silent this year, however. Other Lives, after moving to Portland, Oregon this year, has spent the better part of their time recording a new album, which we hope to see released in 2014.

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