One of my best friends in college suddenly moved before graduation to take a job in Topeka, Kansas, at a HyVee—a grocery store that’s apparently huge in Kansas but I’d never heard of as a Michigan native. Shortly after, his move brought three of us near-graduates (who recently turned 21…) through Illinois, Indiana, Missouri.
Now, I’m not sure if we got the quintessential Topeka experience—which included inhaling whatever local brews we could find, calling Budweiser local enough when we couldn’t find that and heading out of state briefly to catch a Kansas City Royals game—but the trip was close to my heart, and I snatched up the chance to check out some of the state’s local acts. Not to mention I always played as the Jayhawks on Sega’s NCAA Final Four Basketball.
As part of our 50 States Project, we polled Paste readers for suggestions and used them to pick some of our favorite acts from The Sunflower State. Check out those picks below, and share your own favorites in the comments section.
For Fans of: Modest Mouse, Josh Ritter
For fans of the haunting, doomier side to folk revival music, Aaron Lee Martin is a sure pick. While he’s got a raw, beautiful set of songs in themselves, so much of what I’ve listened to stems from the haunting, uneasy twists and turns a set of experienced musicians can do with unplugged instruments. While the discography might not always make for easy Sunday morning digesting, it’s no doubt a catalog worth the attention.
For Fans of: Margot and the Nuclear So and So’s, Vampire Weekend
While I Heard a Lion’s Little Wars opens with a song called “Working Class,” this catchy rock band tends to stray from the down-and-dirty blue-collar rock of 2014. Instead, they embrace Vampire Weekend’s upstroked guitars and the positive flair that’s launched Wild Cub into the spotlight this year. Little Wars is the band’s most recent release, and it builds on moody synths and some driving drums. The collection was released in July of 2013, and as readers point out, the band’s been building a name for itself with its live show.
Photo via JabberJosh’s Facebook
Members: Sam Gunnerson, Will Gunnerson
For Fans of: Death from Above 1979, Jeff the Brotherhood, Lightning Bolt
Maybe everything you need to know about JabberJosh can be found in Dos Hombres’ tracklist. Really, I could just go on for the rest of this paragraph with its titles: “Huge Fuckup Right off the Bat,” “Teen Wolf that Fucker,” “Where the Fuck is the Gravybong?” and my personal favorite, “Man, These Milkshakes are Alan ‘Fucking’ Thicke.” The band is Dos Hombres (that’s Spanish for two brothers) from Lawrence that remind us all how much damage a distorted bass and drums can do. They’re possibly the dudes your mom barred you from seeing in high school after you started saying “fuck” too much. And if you analyze JabberJosh any further, my guess is that you’re destroying the fun.
For Fans of: The Anniversary, The Black Lips
When I think of music I love that’s emerged from Kansas in the last few decades, I instantly go to—duh—Lawrence’s own The Anniversary. The band’s singer quietly released a solo album last year, a rock-heavy sampling that supports his breathy melodies with not-too-fussed-over retro tones. Normally I might exclude someone of Berwanger’s status from this list, but really, I think more people should listen to Strange Stains! After all, you can’t argue with the inspiration:
“I started dating a girl and she said the only way she would continue to date me was if I got a job in corporate America that involved sitting in a cubicle,” Berwanger said in a press release for the album. “I said a quick ‘Fuck No’ and instantly started writing this new album.”
Thank you, terrible mystery girlfriend!
Members: Aaron Moreland, Dustin Arbuckle, Kendall Newby
For Fans of: The Black Crowes, Drive-By Truckers
If you’re looking for southern-fried blues in The Sunflower State, Moreland and Arbuckle is your best bet. This ambitious Wichita duo of guitarist Aaron Moreland and Dustin Arbuckle just released 7 Cities, a bluesy Kansas-rooted concept piece that is backed up by big-name indie producer Matt Bayles, who made a name for himself with Minus the Bear and Mastodon.
Members: Joe Shoemaker, Alex Doolittle, Kyle Stringer
For Fans of: Animal Collective, Battles
Woah. I’m glad I checked this band’s live videos out before sampling its studio recordings, because they’re two completely different animals. While Narkalark’s synth-driven tunes are delightful recorded, I was truly sold after seeing the band swap instruments mid-song, trade off drum parts and wear Santa hats. Check out this Christmas-themed performance at the Bottleneck below.
For Fans of: Chiddy Bang, Chance the Rapper
Kansas might not seem like a haven for hip hop, but XV has been producing some pretty incredible music for years. His latest Soundcloud offering, March Madness: Vol. 4 is a four-track blast of hard-hitting hip hop (with a hard injection of nerd culture) that gives our many other states a quick look at Kansas’ own Kid With the Green Backpack. And there’s plenty out there to explore—this prolific artist has released 12 (!) mixtapes, as well as a Warner-signed full-length with production help from Just Blaze.
Members: Taryn Blake Miller
For Fans of: Grizzly Bear, Local Natives
The video for Taryn Blake Miller’s “Tame One” gives us our own look at the Lawrence songwriter’s vision of Kansas, and it’s a pretty appealing one to this writer: art studios, motorized scooters, cozy fires, beautiful fall scenery. But it also sets the template for this promising songwriter, who caught the eye of Domino Records last year. It’s one of six songs on her debut EP, Jekyll/Hyde, a meaty, self-realized debut. I’d expect big acclaim from the inevitable full-length.