Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Sound Engineering by Patrick Stolley
When you get to Omaha, Nebraska, you're about at the end of it. You're just about to go over the ledge and out into those wide open places that are numbingly sparse and vacant. The Cornhusker state gets a reputation as being the most agonizing state to travel across, just mile after mile of flatness and empty field. For those with an agricultural fetish, it's Hustler for the eyes, but for those who need a little more in the ways of scenery and excitement, it's like being paralyzed, melted to your seat with the same view skittering by for hours and hours. You dream of the mountains arriving as fast as they possibly can and you'd do anything to speed up the timeline, highway patrolmen be damned, completely damned. You'd take the ticket gladly if it meant getting out of there.
Those fields of grain, which change color and shade depending on the strength and velocity of that day's wind, stretch as far as the mind can gather and even though the eclectic band Head of Femur no longer lives there, having moved on to Chicago and the first real skyscrapers between those mountains and the east coast, they've again found inspiration in the void. They're attached to the fondness they have for expanse and eyefuls of possibility. Perhaps they recognize from afar that it was there that they could breathe best or perhaps the songs are not reverential at all, just what happened to be on the mind when the time came to write about something again. Just because they were surrounded by nothingness on all four sides (fill up the gas tank there because you'd be hard pressed to find another late night on a road trip through those parts), it also meant that they were closer to a vantage point where the evening's stars were bright, bright bulbs, where the belt of Orion was discernable and striking, where you allowed yourself the time to bullshit your way through an afternoon with friends instead of having to commute from the workplace to home, a job unto itself. They didn't have to fret about the 45-minute drive one way from the front door of their residence to the cubicle far from the suburbs where they had to live just to afford a living and even then, the living was meager.
The songs on the band's latest Great Plains, a return to Greyday Records on which the troupe released its debut, Ringodom Or Proctor, are again sketches that have many different feathers and plumes, the result of tedious amounts of listening and adding. There's little subtraction in the work that Head of Femur, so named after the famously hilarious instructions that the Ed Sullivan Show's cameramen were given during Elvis Presley's appearances on the show, as there's more of a conservation tactic to keep as much richness in adventure in the songs. They are mindful of never nailing themselves to one specific wall, just getting out there like squirrels, proving that a moving target is harder to hit. Principle in the canon of Matt Focht and Mike Elsener are historical contexts of British Invasion melodies and colorful pop smarts that often involve trinkets and sneaky sounds that don't come from the traditional instruments of a rock and roll band. They stack tunes with unlikely mirth that comes from living somewhere that gets forgotten more than it gets remembered.
Ask anyone who's lived in the Midwest about where they grew up or spent a considerable amount of time and they'll make a disparaging remark about it, but they'll defend it to their death too. The plains, or at the least the gateway to the plains that Head of Femur encountered for a number of years was what it took to drum up the boredom and the retention of those strawberry skies late in the day, followed by those crystallized nighttimes that still smell like beer and Doritos, a flickering, mashed sound of "Yellow Submarine" and "Crocodile Rock" slips into the temperature that your whole body feels.
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