As you may have noticed, we were excited to be St. Louis music fans this year. And there is no more substantial document of the sound of this city in 2011 than the music released by its bands and artists. It is not an exaggeration to guess that the releases in the metro area number in the thousands, and while we did not hear every one, we heard a hell of a lot of them. So in an effort to jog the memory of existing fans and introduce some excellent music to others, we will be telling you about our favorite 40 St. Louis records of 2011 in no particular order. Below, the first four.
Sweet Tooth | Japanese Void EP
It was a bittersweet year for Sweet Tooth. Or, I should say, for fans of its brand of warp-speed noisy hardcore. St. Louis's fastest punk band released its debut seven-inch, the Japanese Void EP, on Chicago's Cowabunga Records in March of this year, to critical acclaim -- then broke up, playing one last show this past Friday.
The record is a consumate ripper, blending Jellyroll Rockheads-style speed with the chaotic noise of an early Das Oath EP. The longest song is a minute and twenty seconds; most clock in at the 45 second mark. The tempo varies little, staying in the "hyper-blur" spectrum with markedly sparse breakdowns. The rhythm section is fast and tight, the guitar is noisy and loose, and vocalist Kevin Tod's snotty screams tie the whole package together neatly. It is pure punk in its most in-your-face form, relentless and altogether uncompromising.
As I said, Sweet Tooth played its final show this past Friday (December 16th) in a South City basement. Guitarist Erik, who is moving to Portland (hence the break-up) started the set off by telling the crowd to "break everything" before the band took its last fifteen-minute-long stand. And "break everything" they did....have you ever seen a drumset smashed with a sledgehammer in a packed basement, amidst repeated chants of "Let's Go Blues"? Watch this video and see what you missed:
Key Track: "Small Talk" "Small Talk" by Sweet Tooth
Place You're Most Likely to Hear the Artist: Youtube videos, records, your memories --Daniel Hill
Union Electric | "Tunnels"/"An Irish Orphan" 7"
The Union Electric prefers to release its music in seven-inch spurts -- this two-song sliver of wax is the group's third such release in as many years. There's little doubt that the tireless pen of Tim Rakel has enough songs to fill a full-length or two, but these releases keep a tight focus on the sets of songs. Rakel has long labored in what can be broadly termed "Americana," but the Union Electric gives him his most raucous backing yet. Guitarist Glenn Burleigh (formerly of the Adversary Workers) plays snaking barbed-wire guitar lines over Rakel's rangy acoustic strums, and this mix of punk and country is winked at with a liner note thank-you to both Woody Guthrie and Joe Strummer. The A-side of this seven-inch, "Tunnels," tells of a rumored series of passageways beneath a Gold Rush town where dispossessed people are hidden away and left to create a subterranean culture. Bassist Melinda Cooper gives a harmonic lift to Rakel's stoic vocals, and guest musician Dave Anderson's pedal steel amplifies the song's country undertones.
The band continues to give voice to the forgotten and marginalized on "An Irish Orphan," which tells the story of the Irish-born, British-employed diplomat who was ultimately hanged for treason against the crown. (Fans of Rakel's work with the May Day Orchestra will be familiar with his knack for finding history's outcasts and forgotten heroes and turning their exploits into song). Rakel sounds appreciably more ragged on the B-side, and the band follows suit with a loose shuffle. But coming after the flurried tightness and melodic honey of "Tunnels," the flip side sounds like a rough demo. --Christian Schaeffer Homespun: July 28, 2011
King Kong Magnetics | Bommarito Cash Orgy Mixtape
"Err'body errbody, take a fuckin' seat."
Jake Jones/Rick Steves SupaTree/Mike Herr intones on "A Whole New World Without Osama," that rare hip-hop homage to the terrorist, rendered the only way it should be -- in the lewdest, crudest way possible. Few have the creativity, inclination, and/or scant sanity to do what KKM can -- riffing on the stock tropes of money-cash-hoes, the MCs craft barely conscious, reprehensible rap in which no subject is off limits. Virgins ("This one goes out to my dick"), blow jobs, buying American, killing an infamous "homo ass" terrorist; the KKM oeuvre is one brilliant non sequitur after another. This coterie of crackpots reached genius level with the release of the Bommarito Cash Orgy mixtape back in October. Not only does it name drop the car dealing, wine-and-cellphone purveying empire, but legend has it that KKM ingénue Molly Brady laid down an ill verse about Osama complete with Freudian slip: "On a hottie scale, Obama's a 10." Real talk. We can't wait to see what the group's got cooking for Kim Jong Il.
Key Track: "A Whole New World Without Osama." "A Whole New World Without Osama" by King Kong Magnetics
Best/Worst Lines: "With in a cap in his towel f*ckin' head/Two in the head from a Navy SEAL/Yeah for real American number one/I don't run, and Osama's a bitch."
"Dead ass bitch/Goofball idiot/I heard he did 9/11, what a dumbass."
"Afghanistan is a beautiful ass place, it has many hills. No disrespect, love you, bye."
"But the wars ain't stopped and they ain't never gonna stop/Because there's too much money involved, when are humans gonna evolve/The world don't revolve/Around America and money don't grow on trees/Does it come from dead Iraqis, dead Afghanis? Shit ain't fanny."
"Osama's dead/ But believe/Through power and love/I'll fuck a real bad bitch/Respectful." --Diana Benanti
Warm Jets USA | Self-titled
Amid the heavenly host of St. Louis music-scene lifers, Jason Hutto is a guardian angel in dark shades and a jacket. He's served as producer, sideman and guitar tech for some of this town's best-loved acts, and his grainy, greasy thumbprint leaves a lovingly lo-fi smudge on all he touches. Hutto has been back in front of the mic with Warm Jets USA, a rangy power trio that owes little debt to the Brian Eno reference in the band's name (though experimental wiz Eric Hall adds some artful static behind a few tracks here). The self-titled debut LP is as low-key and approachable as Hutto himself; Warm Jets USA isn't looking to bowl you over with flash or force of personality. Instead, loud guitars and well-worn hooks do the trick.
Early on the disc, the band moves from thick, Dinosaur Jr.-y slurry (as on "Bleeding") to more wistful yearnings of early Neil Young ("Down on the Record"). It's clearly a rock-guitar master class, though that sometimes comes at the cost of low-in-the-mix vocals. Hutto's voice is more a parallel instrument to his six-string than a centerpiece, but here his lyrical bons mots get swallowed from time to time, which is a shame. The 100-second blast of "Another Sound" sneaks in a few good kiss-offs ("Fuck your heart and screw your past," for one) amid a Superchunk-worthy shred session. The rhythm section keeps the band firmly rooted in dude-rock glory; bassist Chris Keith dials in some atom-smashing low-end on "Breaking All the Rules" and Evan Bequette keeps anchor-heavy time. But Hutto keeps the biggest surprise for last, an acoustic digestif called "Up in the Air" that closes the disc with a different kind of heaviness. The light guitar strums get mixed with a sticky ambience that makes the song both dreamy and disorienting. It's a fitting come-down after 30 minutes of pulse-quickening rock action. --Christian Schaeffer Homespun: June 30, 2011