Part One: The Union Electric, Sweet Tooth, King Kong Magnetics, Warm Jets USA Part Two: Glass Teeth, Ryan Spearman, the Breaks and Adult Fur Part Three: Rum Drum Ramblers, Humanoids, Old Lights and Volcanoes Part Four: Bo & the Locomotive, Rockwell Knuckles, Dubb Nubb and Palace
Sleepy Kitty | Infinity City
With its collaged artwork of color-splashed buildings, found urban sounds, hard as steel and glass guitars and drums, noisy power surges, freewheeling rhythms and some place-checking lyrics, Sleepy Kitty's debut full-length album is a love letter to St. Louis -- Paige Brubeck and Evan Sult's relatively newly-adopted hometown -- and a farewell note to their old home base of Chicago.
If any album this year was a breakout album for a St. Louis band, Infinity City was it. The second most played local release on KDHX (88.1 FM) this year, the record manages to be both artfully experimental and wildly accessible.
Below, drummer Evan Sult leads us through the album, track by track.
"Gimme a Chantz!" - "That's one of the oldest songs on the album. It was on our self-released EP What I Learned This Summer. It's the song that got Paige and I together playing seriously. It shows the theatricality that Paige is drawn to, and that I fully endorse."
"Speaking Politely" - "It's a good song for us because it's so noisy. I don't know why, but we were getting asked to play all these quiet, acoustic shows, and we'd have to politely decline. It's easy for people to miss that we love to rock. The drums on that song are as big as I can make them. If I could make them bigger I would."
"Seventeen" - "We were playing something else, a very Velvet Underground riff. We had been talking about the Beatles and Paige started singing 'I Saw Her Standing There.' I heard it almost as a murder ballad. It became this foreboding thing. Not because I was singing it but because she was singing it in this inappropriate drone setting. That's probably my favorite song to play live."
"Way Out" - "We were in Jason Hutto's basement studio, Paige was upstairs on a piano with questionable tuning but which had a cool voice. We all stopped because we heard something in the mics. It turned out to be a rainstorm outside. As she was playing, I asked Jason to get a 'rain mic,' and without knowing what that was, he grabbed a mic and put it out the backdoor. At the beginning of the piano section there's a thunder roll that happened in real time."
"NYC Really Has It All" - "It's really about a character in Chicago sending a letter to a character in New York about the changes in Chicago. It documents the reasons we stopped being a good fit with our neighborhood in Chicago."
"Ridin' With St. Louis" - "That's the one I get to say I wrote the lyrics. It's funny because it's pretty much just that phrase. We like the concept of having Saint Louis riding shotgun with you."
"Heavy Mother" - "That's a really intentional collage, taking a mic out into the world and trying to use it. The voice you hear is this guy Obah Maja who we would see on our street. He'll give you a poem for a buck. We got into the habit of asking him to read the poem to us and we recorded it at one point."
"School's Out" - "I held that song up for a while. There was something in the drumming I didn't like. Finally enough time passed, and it made it on the record, and I didn't notice that it was exactly the same. I really think of that as a Paige song that I get to help out with."
"Chimera" - "That's a short sound bleep from our practice space. We were figuring out loop pedals, Paige was just figuring out piano. We call those 'nodes.' I don't think every piece of information on an album needs to be a song."
"Dykula" - "That's one where we get to punk out. The influences are really obvious, like '60s pop. I get to say, 'Shoo bop, shoo bop,' which I totally love."
Key Track - "Ridin' With St. Louis" begins heavy and bluesy, with echoes of the White Stripes, and then, slowly, it builds and builds, then dissolves into an eerie mix of fuzz, hiss and chants. It's a scary, exciting, late-night ride that captures what makes the band so compelling.
Places You're Most Likely to Hear the Artist - Firebird, Foam, Off Broadway and even the Royale, where Brubeck and Sult occasionally moonlight as DJs.
Magic City | Les Animaux Épouvantables
Magic City isn't on any map, but our guess is that the mythical burg sits somewhere in the middle of the Mississippi Delta's blues, New Orleans' swampy backwaters and Southern California's back alley of sideshow barkers and prophetic freaks (Waits, Zappa, Beefheart, et. al). The quintet features some south-city stalwarts -- Anne Tkach (Rough Shop) on bass, Adam Hesed (ex-Bad Folk) on organ, JJ Hamon (Theodore) on guitar and Sam Meyer (Wormwood Scrubs) on drums -- but the whole album is a projection of singer and guitarist Larry Bulawsky's fetid fever dreams. Les Animaux Épouvantables translates to "the appalling animals," and that bit of poetic French gives a fitting arc to the LP. "The sickness runs deep," Bulawsky sings on "The Sickness." So deep, in fact, that Magic City spends the bulk of these eight songs plumbing its depths.
As a vocalist, Bulawsky mixes Nick Cave's grave, gravelly baritone with a twisted preacher's come-hithers; the carnival organ and twin guitar lines on a song like "Animal Hair" help sell the grotesqueries. Bulawsky's theological bona fides get more fleshed out on "Animal Spirits," which contemplates man's base desires and multiform sins amid a relentless drum pattern; the instrumentalists even step in as a children's choir to sing a refrain of free will. Those heavenly voices turn funereal on the dirgey "Let Me Go," where overdriven Hammond organ chords and an airy vibraphone converge for the LP's most tender and haunting moments. But don't come looking to Magic City for anything so trite as redemption; this carnival of sin is much more rewarding, especially with Bulawsky as your guide.
--Christian Schaeffer Homespun: July 21
Nee | Hands of Thieves
It's been 30 years since New Order proved that you could create soul music with sequencers and drum machines, and in that time indie rock has had an on-again/off-again relationship with synthetic instruments and their beautiful limitations. The Zeitgeist-forming power of the Postal Service signaled a sea change for younger bands and spawned no shortage of glitchy, stutter-step drum-machine beats and arcade-bred blip and beeps, but a few artists use that distinct and limited palette beyond mere set dressing. Kristin Dennis is the force behind Née, a one-woman electronic dance band that mixes lyrical themes of melancholy and malaise with sprightly, ping-ponging arrangements. Née's first release, the five-song The Hands of Thieves EP, plants its feet with pulsing electro-light grooves and varied, impassioned vocal performances.
On Thieves, it's striking how Dennis' words and cadences mesh with the punchy beats and whirring oscillators coming from her machines. This isn't a singer-songwriter project projected atop some naïve laptop tinkering; the grid-like drum patterns and regimented synthesizer runs give Dennis just enough room to move around while providing a comfortable but immutable restraint. Opening track "Absolom" gives a good idea of what's to follow. Eight-bit arpeggios and clicky hi-hats flicker in the foreground while solemn organ chords give a church-like weight to the broken-heart wreckage of the lyrics. You may be drawn to Née's songs by the retro arrangements -- or you may tire of the sameness of the songs -- but Dennis' vocals give a needed weight to the fleeting hooks. She's an able and confident singer with a knack for ethereal self-harmonies that can momentarily quell the automatic clatter going on around her. Even when her songs are at their most dance-friendly, like the ready-for-the-floor "Take Me Out," Dennis never sacrifices the organic for the robotic.
--Christian Schaeffer Homespun: March 24