Here they are. Our 100 absolute favorite records ever to emerge from the great Hoosier State. We compiled a list that is historically and creatively representative of the best music that Indiana has to offer your ears, a snapshot of our state's musical identity. Consider this your pre-gaming read for next week's complete coverage of Record Store Day, the best musical holiday of the year.
The four points
Here's how we determined what we'd include on the list. Albums that made this list are creative products of Indiana. We looked at a few different ways of measuring "Hoosier"-ness and came up with a list of loose criteria. Albums on this list fulfill at least two of the following criteria, if not all four:
1. Were written/performed by an Indiana-born artist
2. Were recorded at an Indiana studio
3. Were released on a Hoosier label
4. Were released when artist was living and working
in Indiana for a significant period of time
"But where is my beloved Thriller?" we can hear you exclaim. "The unimpeachable Tender Lover?" Hoosier legends like Babyface and The Jacksons appear on this list ... but perhaps not with the releases you would expect. We wanted a list of 100 albums that are true local releases. That's why, for example, The Incredible Jazz Guitar of Wes Montgomery doesn't appear here, but his Fingerpickin' is one of our first choices. We love John Hiatt's Bring the Family, but Hiatt moved to Nashville in 1968 - and wasn't living here by the time his first record was released.
We also only chose one album per artist (although some individual musicians have performed on a few of these different records). The vast majority of releases picked are full-length albums, although we did include a few EPs, splits and collaborations that were too excellent to leave out.
This is an unranked list. We'll be honest: we considered ranking these from 1 to 100 for weeks, but when it comes down to it, Naptown Blues 1929-1934 is a totally different animal than DMA's Pheel Phree - both excellent, but determining which one is more so? Well, we'll lend our ear to anyone who can come up with a persuasive argument. It's also vaguely Central Indiana-focused, because, well, we live here.
Above all, we wanted to honor albums with lasting historical and cultural impact. You already know Indiana lays claim to some of the best jazz artists to ever pick up instruments. But we wanted to honor the funk gods who lived and worked here, too, and revolutionary studios like New Palestine's 700 West, plus all that searing punk that radiated out from the Heartland in the '70s. But don't think we abandoned the newbies; there are several 2013 releases on this list (perhaps more than any other year), proving that Hoosier music is just getting consistently more excellent.
We reached out to a few dozen of Indianapolis' most dedicated music makers, purveyors and lovers when we started this project. They sent us their short lists of favorite records, which we used when compiling our full list. Our contributors represent a variety of genres, but unsurprisingly, many of their lists included some of the same records. Excellence is excellence, no matter the genre.
Our contributors included: Karl Hofstetter (Joyful Noise Recordings), Bob Richert (Gulcher Records), Jim Ector (Karma Records), Sharon Rickson (Girls Rock, various bands), Travis Harvey (Village Green Records), Nick Selm (Drink or Die, NUVO), Ace One (emcee), Jason Nickey (Landlocked Music) Abby Goldsmith (General Public Collective), Todd Robinson (LUNA Music), Rich Barker (Punk Rock Night, various bands), Jon Rogers (Musical Family Tree), Wayne Bertsch (Barfly), Kyle Hodges (Jazz Fest Foundation, various musical projects), Rob Peoni (Thoughts on Tracks, MFT, We Listen For You), Slater Hogan (DJ, Keepin It Deep), Annie and Andy Skinner (Indy CD and Vinyl, A-Squared Industries), Nick Saligoe (Deckademics, DJ Metrognome), Eric Salazar (DJ Salazar), Rick Wilkerson (Missing Link Records), Derek Vorndran (In Store Recordings) Stan Denski (IUPUI, Aether/Or Records, Irvington Folk Festival) and the editorial staff of NUVO.
The nitty gritty
Dates listed are for original or widest release. Genre specifications can be debated in the comments section. And 100 is a nice, round number. All blurbs are written by the staff of NUVO or, when noted, Stan Denski.
A note to the disgruntled:
There are way more than 100 excellent albums with origins in Indiana, so we've opened a forum for you where you can submit your favorite -- your five favorite, in fact. Just itchin' to dash off some quick hate mail? As Ronnie from the Jersey Shore says, come at us, bro. That can go to email@example.com. (But be creative, please, because we might decide to run a list of 100 best hate mail submissions in the near future.)
The 100 Best Hoosier albums
Action Strasse - American Gas Jive
garage pop - 2008
Adam Jay - Mediastinum
electronic/techno - 2012
When a debilitating health issue landed Indianapolis techno giant Adam Jay in the hospital, he used the experience as a source of musical inspiration recording the beeps and buzzes of the life-sustaining machines for use as compositional elements in his music production. The project also served as a fundraiser for Adam's outstanding medical debts. Perhaps the most conceptually interesting release in Adam's large discography of techno classics.
Al Hobbs and the Indianapolis Mass Choir
- Let Him Have His Way
gospel - 1982
Indy has a great gospel music tradition and this live recording from Al Hobbs and the Indianapolis Mass Choir is an excellent example. Check the rocking "Praise Him For Myself."
America Owns the Moon - Tiger EP
rock - 2003
- Free Your Mind: The 700 West Sessions
soul/funk/psych - recorded 1973 - released 2007
A major masterpiece of Indiana funk. Sophisticated arrangements, superb playing and soulful vocals bring Amnesty's politically charged songs to life as the band blurs the lines between jazz, soul, gospel and psychedelic rock. A must-hear Hoosier classic.
Anonymous - Inside the Shadow
psych/rock - 1970
While the record was released on Indianapolis musician Jim Spencer's Milwaukee-based A Major Label, the band was from Indianapolis and had risen from the ashes of the 1960s garage band Sir Winston & The Commons. The album channels Buffalo Springfield, Jefferson Airplane and The Byrds, while remaining original. Like the other records listed here, the quality of the songwriting is major league excellent. The album has been reissued on LP and CD multiple times and is relatively easy to acquire. - Stan Denski
Apache Dropout - Self-Titled
rock - 2011
Arson Garden - Self-Titled
rock/indie - 1988
Bloomington's ethereal art rockers are one of Indiana's most under-appreciated rock bands.
Art Adams - Rockin' My Way Around
rockabilly/country - 2005
Art Adams recorded a handful of classic rockabilly singles in the genre's heyday. He still sounds amazing on this 2005 LP.
Baron Von Ohlen Quintet with Mary Moss - The Baron
jazz - 1973
Breezy, soulful Euro-jazz featuring delicious electric piano work from Indy keyboard masters Steve Allee and Claude Sifferlen.
Billy Foster & Audio - Self-Titled
jazz/funk - 1983
Billy Wooten And Special Friends
- In This World
funk/jazz - 1979
In demand by DJs around the world for the funky Latin Jazz groover "Chicango." In This World features guitarist Steve Weakley from Indy's legendary Funk Inc.
The Blankenship Bros. - Bluegrass & Rockabilly Kings From Indianapolis
rockabilly/bluegrass/country - 1999
An excellent compilation of raw country and rockabilly music independently released by Indy's Blankenship Brothers. These seldom heard recordings date from the late '50s and early '60s.
The Burnt Ones - Black Teeth Golden Tongues
psych/rock - 2010
Cara Jean Wahlers and Grover Parido - Goodnight Charlotte
folk - 2010
Goodnight Charlotte is a stunningly beautiful set of quiet-yet-engaging songs anchored by Wahler's in-your-ear vocals and Parido's achingly gorgeous cello. Whether his contribution is part of the background, or a solo that creeps from the background and engulfs the listener, his playing is pointed and pretty, soulful and satisfying. The album is music for your head and heart.
Caleb McCoach - Songs From An Empty Shore
folk - 2013
Ten dreamy, spare, (mostly) crushingly sad tracks from Indianapolis singer-songwriter McCoach, this release features just acoustic guitar and cracking voice, along with some minimal percussion. This excellent album is one of the anchors of new label In Store Recordings and rewards repeat listens. McCoach is playing out with a full band now, but this breathy, intimate release showcases what a good record really does: makes you feel like the artist is playing right in the room you're in.
Charles Tyler - Eastern Man Alone
jazz - 1967
One of the few avant-garde jazz albums from the Indianapolis scene. Featuring an ensemble of local players including David Baker on cello, Charles Tyler's Eastern Man Alone was recorded in Indy and released on the legendary experimental music label ESP. The album recalls the work of outsider jazz legend Albert Ayler, a musician Tyler had cut several records with prior to this date. Not the stereotypical sound we've come to expect from Indianapolis jazz - but a classic nonetheless.
Coffinworm - IV.I.VIII
metal - 2014
Dancing Cigarettes - School of Secret Music/The Gulcher Recordings CD
post-punk - 1996
Dave Owen - Nocturnal
electronic/drum and bass - 2013
Any of Dave Owen's jazzy drum and bass creations are guaranteed to be masterfully produced. Owen's catalog is full of releases that have been championed by the genre's greatest producers and DJs, but this recent work is particularly striking and soulful.
David Baker's 21st Century Bebop Band - The Harlem Pipes
jazz - recorded 1980s, released 2003
A brilliant collection of classic bop from composer, conductor, trombonist, cellist and elder statesman of Indiana jazz, David Baker.
Demiricous - Two (Poverty)metal - 2007
Devil to Pay - Fate Is Your Muse
metal - 2013
Fate Is Your Muse is without a doubt a towering, monumental piece of metal that has the power to transcend labels and genres. Doom? Straight up metal? Stoner rock? Whatever the fuck Metallica called what they were doing after Master of Puppets and before Load? Give FiYM half a chance and it will change you.
The DIxon-Rhyne Project - Reinvention
jazz - 2008
Legendary organist and Wes Montgomery sideman Melvin Rhyne shines on this funky collaboration with Indy sax player Rob Dixon. A soul-jazz masterpiece for the hip-hop era.
DJ Shiva - Consumer Product
electronic/techno - 2011
Claiming nearly 20 years of experience as a DJ, Lisa Smith - better known as DJ Shiva - has been a tireless proponent of techno music in Indy. Shiva has also been active as a producer, amassing a respectable discography since releasing her first 12" in 2005. Consumer Product is an expertly crafted chunk of hardcore minimal-techno. "Insipid Market Fodder" is the standout track here. The introductory passage recalls traditional West African drumming, and just before the hypnotic percussion pattern lulls you into trance, Shiva slaps on a funky, jacking Chicago house beat. Highly recommended for anyone with an interest in contemporary electronic music and absolutely essential listening for techno fans.
DMA - Pheel Phree
electronic/psych - 2013
Full of cryptic lyrics and jarring waves of sound, DMA's stream of consciousness creations flow loose and free. But there's a method to the madness. The most striking elements on Pheel Phree are Adamson's carefully layered and ethereal multi-tracked vocal harmonies. These moments strike in unlikely ways and suddenly shift listeners into a different dimension of sound not unlike the otherworldly choirs in the Philip Glass epic Einstein on the Beach.
Dorsh - Neapolitan
soul/electronic - 2012
The debut release from Rad Summer's eccentric young soul crooner Dorsh is a remarkably mature and compelling work. Dorsh is a true triple threat, delivering high quality work on Neapolitan as a producer, vocalist and MC. Throughout the LP, Dorsh's delicate, whispery vocals are tastefully paired with jazzy, ambient electronic beats.
Ebony Rhythm Band - Soul Heart Transplant
soul/funk/psych - recorded 1969 - released 2004
In 1969, Ebony Rhythm Band released a funky 45 titled Soul Heart Transplant on Herb Miller's Indianapolis-based soul label Lamp. This LP is composed of unreleased tracks from those sessions. Essential for the inclusion of "Drugs Ain't Cool," a mind-bending psychedelic funk nugget recorded a full year prior to the debut release of George Clinton's Funkadelic.
Elephant Micah - Hindu Windmills
folk - 2006
glam folk - 2008
Everything, Now! - Spatially Severed
rock - 2008
Our favorite of the wild, sci-fi-flecked rock inventions from Everything, Now!, helmed by Jon Rogers.
- The Miseducation of Freddie Gibbs
hip-hop - 2009
The Gates of Slumber - Conquerer
doom metal - 2008
Gizmos - 1976/77 The Studio Recordings
punk - recorded 1976-77
Best news out of the Gizmos camp this year? The lineup that recorded these songs is reuniting and touring this summer.
Good Luck - Into Lake Griffy
pop-punk - 2008
Gently emerging from the soft-spoken Bloomington P.C. punk scene, Good Luck made national waves with their debut record, Into Lake Griffy. Mixing the best parts of progressive indie and punk acts like The Weakerthans, Good Luck's three incredibly talented members laid down track after track of melodic, thoughtful pop punk with enough noodling to feed an army.
Grampall Jookabox - Ropechain
psych-folk - 2008
Before he morphed into Jookabox or DMA, David "Moose" Adams was know as Grampall Jookabox. More than any of his other releases, Ropechain captures GJ at their weirdest, their wildest, their catchiest. Aside from the tripped-out reggae of obvious single "The Girl Ain't Preggers," Ropechain is packed with incredible songs that blur the lines between nonsensical and insightful.
- Curtis Hitch and Hoagy Carmichael
jazz - recorded 1920s, released 1974
This reissue rounds up nearly all the recordings the young Hoosier songwriter Hoagy Carmichael made in Richmond, Indiana's Gennett Records studio - including the original 1927 recording of Hoagy's perennial classic "Star Dust." The album also features selections from the Evansville based jazz group of Curtis Hitch.
Hotfox - You, Me, and The Monster
indie rock - 2011
The Impossible Shapes - Tum
pop/folk - 2006
In the Face of War - Self-Reliance is Self Destruction
hardcore - 2002
- I'd Rather Be A Faggot Than A Christian
punk - 2013
Sometimes you just want to get your kicks and let go. That's where the Involuntarys come in. Underneath their bonehead sensibilities lies an acute sense of satire and commentary. Songs like "Helen Keller Was A Socialist" are sure to have you pondering in the pit. Featuring some of the most lovable party punks in town, The Involuntarys will remind you why 1994 was the best year ever.
J Brookinz - Gateway 3/Rebel Music
hip-hop - 2012
The best result of J. Brookinz' Gateway experiments, this album came out of a 48-hour-lock-in-and-recording-session and features a huge amount of Indy's hottest hip-hop talent, all grounded by the venerable production talents of Brookinz.
soul - recorded 1967, released 1996
In 1968 Gary, Indiana's Steeltown Records released the debut recording by future pop icons Jackson 5. This LP collects unreleased material from those sessions, providing a snapshot of the group's sound during a time when the Jackson brothers were regulars at local Gary clubs and talent shows.
Jimmy Coe - After Hours Joint
jazz/jump blues/R&B - recorded 1950s - released 1989
Saxophonist Jimmy Coe spent the majority of his career working the jazz clubs of Indianapolis. This LP collects his best work from the 50s, from Louis Jordan style jump blues to smokey after-hours jazz.
John Cougar Mellencamp - Uh-huh
heartland rock - 1983
John Terrill - Frowny Frown
folk/psych - recorded 1988-1998 - released 2008
This obscure set of home-recordings by Dancing Cigarettes co-founder John Terrill is a hidden jewel in the Hoosier music archives. Texturally, Frowny Frown recalls the fractured psychedelic folk-pop of Syd Barrett or Skip Spence while the songwriting evokes Loaded-era Velvet Underground. A superb and rewarding collection of songs that deserve wider critical recognition.
John W. Summers - Indiana Fiddler
folk/bluegrass/country - released 1984
A wonderful set of 1960s field recordings featuring Howard County fiddle maestro Summers. Indiana Fiddler captures the sound of rural Indiana in its purest form.
Jorma Whittaker - Self-titled
rock - 2003
Kaleidoscope Jukebox - Infinite Reflection
electronic/downtempo - 2013
A first listen to Bloomington producer Kaleidscope Jukebox's (a.k.a Clint Carty) Infinite Reflection will evoke comparisons to downtempo champs Thievery Corporation. Rightfully so, as Carty has produced a remix for the group and his LP was released on a subsidiary of their ESL label. Like Thievery, Carty has a penchant for Asian/Eastern inspired melodies and instrumentation. But for our money Thievery Corporation hasn't created anything as compelling as Carty's transcendent seven-minute title track.
Kentucky Nightmare - Take Her Favour
rock - 2007
The Late Show - Portable Pop
power pop - 1980
A gleaming, lively, of-the-period piece of work, Portable Pop echoes bands like the Knack and The Romantics, but also the British Invasion sound and Elvis Costello. Released in 1980 on Rave Records, it would be the only official release by The Late Show and out-of-print for many years - that is, until its reissue on Trashy Creatures Records in 2012.
Leroy Carr & Scrapper Blackwell
- Naptown Blues 1929-1934
blues - recorded 1929-1934
Legendary Indianapolis blues duo Carr and Blackwell changed music with their sophisticated take on the genre. Leroy Carr's smooth, laid-back croon was a million miles removed from the raw-throat hollering of his rural southern counterparts, while Blackwell's jazzy, single-string solos broke the mold for blues guitar while anticipating the work of future performers like Charlie Christian. This Yazoo reissue collects some of the duo's best recordings.
Mab Lab - A Mab Lab Reader 99-03
soul/electronic/rock - recorded 1999-2003
Bands with turntablists may seem like a cliche today, but when Mab Lab hit the Indy scene with its blend of hip-hop and soulful rock grooves, the result was ultra-fresh. Vocalist Kate Lamont established herself as one of Indiana's most creative musicians off the strength of her work with the collective.
The Madeira - Carpe Noctem
surf rock - 2008
Did you know Indiana has a world class surf rock band making world class surf rock albums? We do.
Manchild - Power and Love
soul/funk - 1977
Before attaining worldwide stardom as an R&B super-producer, Babyface cut his teeth with Indy's Earth, Wind & Fire-styled soul group Manchild.
orchestral pop/indie rock - 2005
pop - 2001
McKay - Into You
psych rock - 1977
Ray Pierle comes from a family of musicians and in 1977 was the driving force behind the release of the LP Into You, credited to the band McKay. Released in a pressing of 300 copies, the music sounds like a blend of Neil Young and Jerry Garcia while not trying to be either. The songwriting - the biggest problem with most rock records - is fantastic. Most of the LP can be heard on YouTube. CD and LP reissues do exist, though they are also hard to find today. - Stan Denski
Memory Map - Holiday Band
pop/rock - 2011
Mo - First Album
psych/country/soul - 1976
700 West label head and producer Moe Whittemore released this oddball collection of tunes as a showcase for his studio's sound. The LP is a real mixed bag featuring everything from folksy country to Moe's funky psychedelic oboe workouts. But the real highlight is the sweet soul ballad "Check Me Out," featuring Tony Black of legendary Indy soul group The Revolution Compared to What on vocals.
Mike Adams At His Honest Weight
- Oscillate Wisely
pop/rock - 2011
A treasure, Adams is. We'll cut the Yoda-speak and tell you why: Adams is the guy behind husband&wife and the Bloomington label Crossroads of America. But it's his eponymous work that's really captured our hearts, most of all his excellent 2011 release Oscillate Wisely. We expect his forthcoming album on Joyful Noise to be even better.
Mudkids - 4trackmind
hip-hop - 1998
The Mudkids were the first Indianapolis hip-hop group to successfully channel the spirit of golden-era, "Native Tongues" hip-hop. Their debut still stands as the most potent dose of the Mudkids musical vision. I had this album on repeat for months after its release and it still sounds great over a decade later.
Murder By Death - Bitter Drink, Bitter Moon
rock/alt-country - 2012
For years now, Bloomington's Murder By Death have released albums chock full of intriguingly dark rock and songs full of monsters and magic. But it's their latest release, the crowdfunded 2012 album Bitter Drink, Bitter Moon, which showcases the band at new heights. Cellist Sarah Balliet rips and rolls around Turla's rich, deep voice (which has been steadily dropping a half-octave or so every album to date). Standouts include "I Came Around," "Hard World" and "Lost River," but every track of the set is a winner. Formerly of Okkervil River, multi-instrumentalist Scott Brackett is a tremendous asset to the group, which rockets through all 13 eminently sing-alongable tracks. They've always been a beast of a group to see live, and Bitter Drink, Bitter Moon captures their live power and harnesses it to wax.
MX-80 Sound - Hard Attack
punk - 1977
One of the most innovative Indiana bands ever, Bloomington's legendary MX-80 anticipated the guitar noise of no wave and post-punk bands like Sonic Youth.
N.A.P. - Straight out the Nappy City
hip-hop - 1996
The influence of Dr. Dre's California G-funk sound is a pervasive influence on N.A.P.'s cult rap classic Straight out the Nappy City. Lyrically, N.A.P. chronicle Indianapolis street culture from Post Road to Haughville.
Naptown Afro Jazz Quintet - Naptown Jazz
Latin/African/jazz - 1980
Vibes player Billy Wooten teamed up with Nigerian percussionist Prince Julius Adeniyi to record this collection of Afro-Latin jazz and hard bop.
Oreo Jones - Betty
hip-hop - 2012
Oreo Jones' full-length debut Betty is one the strongest locally produced hip-hop LPs we've ever heard. It finds Jones stepping forward as a remarkably mature writer, weaving thoughtful narratives, full of nuance and poetic turns of speech, all delivered with his booming, charismatic flow. The album is an artistic triumph from start to finish, and it's loaded with so many highlights and potential anthems, it's difficult to spotlight just one or two tracks. But one song that really spoke to me was Jones' touching and enigmatic tribute to '50s teen pop sensation Frankie Lymon.
Pessoa - Do You Have Great Strength?
emo - 2010
Despite My Chemical Romance and Fall Out Boy's best attempts to defile the good name of "emo," Pessoa fearlessly embraced and revived the genre. Originally from Avon, the four-piece became a staple of the anything-goes house party scene. If you don't know all the words to "The Coming Up Right," then you might be fucked.
Pravada - Dirty Looks
rock - 2013
Prizzy Prizzy Please - Self-Titled
pop-punk - 2008
These Bloomington nerds knew their instruments inside and out and approached rock and roll as one, big, sweaty joke. Relax, get high and find yourself moshing to a song about woodpeckers or something else wonderfully stupid.
Primevil - Smokin' Bats at Campton's
Hard stoner rock in the mold of Mountain or Black Sabbath. On tracks like "High Steppin' Stomper," Jay Wilfong's heavy riffing anticipates the sound of metal that would soon dominate Indianapolis airwaves. Recorded by Moe Whittemore at the mighty 700 West studio.
The Proforms - Atavism
hip-hop - 2011
After the demise of Twilight Sentinels producer/MC Joe Harvey assembled the Proforms, a supergroup of Indy's underground hip-hop talent featuring dynamic MCs Skittz and Ace One with cuts by DJ Spoolz. Atavism sounds like a classic even on the first spin. That's due in no small part to the Harvey's predilection for the vintage sounds of early '90s "golden era" hip-hop. Atavism is a finely crafted slice of Indiana hip-hop.
Racebannon - Satan's Kickin' Yr Dick In
noise punk - 2002
Reverend Peyton's Big Damn Band - Between the Ditches
- Between the Ditchescountry blues - 2012