40 Best St. Louis Releases of 2011: Part Seven

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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 Part Five: Sleepy Kitty, Magic City, Nee Part Six: Sine Nomine, Prairie Rehab, Jack Buck, Mikey Wehling

Blind Eyes | With A Bang

The Blind Eyes' With A Bang does not have to be as strong as it is. The band's sophomore album would be decent enough if Seth Porter were a less engaging vocalist with fewer grandiose Elvis Costello-ish leaps in his melodies, or if Kevin Schneider's bass lines merely parroted the guitar chords, or if drummer Matt Picker's dynamics were less driving. "Into The Breach" would still be an excellent rock song, even if Porter ended the chorus after repeating the title instead of sealing the deal singing "being fooled all the while!" with the exuberance of a second grader's solo at a school play. The band would be adequate if it chose to sound like The Strokes or Thin Lizzy or Ted Leo & The Pharmacists rather than cherry-picking from its influences to build a power pop Decepticon, or if it continued as a trio instead of adding Andy White on guitar to harden the rocking of its live shows. We might still be nerding out over the band at the end of the year if the group had made a good record. Luckily, The Blind Eyes made one that, months after digestion, is still damn near perfect.

Key Track: "The Nature Of The Beast"

Place You're Most Likely To Hear The Artist: In a perfect world, the opening credits of every coming-of-age PG-13 rated teen comedy ever made.

--Ryan Wasoba

A-Game | Hottest In Tha City 2

And there's that mesmerizing flow, smooth and confident, rolling over the beat with Southern twang and West Coast chill. That's the flow that gained a following when he opened for J. Cole in April. The flow that turned heads at S.L.U.M. Fest in June. The flow that made listeners start wondering whether this skinny kid with the prom-king charisma and grade-school grin could become a new face of St. Louis hip-hop.

A-Game has reached that stage of his career just before the tipping point. He released his first two mixtapes in the past twelve months, emerging as one of the most talented rappers in St. Louis. But he's still an unsigned unknown, who can barely afford a few hours of studio time.

But in those few hours... damn. He nails his verse in a couple of takes, exits the booth and listens to the finished product. As "Rookie of the Year" plays, he nods his head, bounces on his toes then pumps his fists. This is the lead track for the mixtape, and it's a splash of ice water to the ears -- three-plus minutes of syrupy winding flows that linger on some syllables and jump into double-time on others, weaving unpredictably among rhyme tempos, before climaxing with drum-roll-staccato speed. It's an impressive display of aural diversity. --Albert Samaha Feature: A-Game gets one step closer with his new mixtape

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Humdrum | The Arrangement

Humdrum is a weird-ass band, and The Arrangement pushes its idiosyncrasies into the forefront. Its OK Computer rockers like "Silence" and "Just A Human" share space with "At The End," a ballad not too far outside the realm of Kermit the Frog. On "Reproduce," vocoder-heavy seductive funk is interrupted by an incredibly unsexy LSD trip to the circus. The record closes out with a majorly effed version of Debussy's "Claire De Lune," and the whole package is neatly tied and decorated by the obsessively ear-candied production of Gareth Schumacher - who, not coincidentally, is now a band member. While moving in a thousand directions at once, the album succeeds because, like The Beatles' late era (which Humdrum tributes on "Hello Hello Hello"), The Arrangement presents the multiple personalities of a band rather than harp on a specific sound. The variety of style is proof of the band following its collective impulses. If at any point in time, Humdrum's schizo indie rock requires a robot voice dissecting the social interactions that lead up to the act of intercourse, so be it. Fly the freak flag, then follow up with a dirge waltz track featuring a drunken horn section. Why? Because that's just what weird-ass bands do.

Key track: "Reproduce"

Place You Are Most Likely To Hear This Artist: Next time you suspect your iPod is on shuffle, you're actually just listening to Humdrum. --Ryan Wasoba

Theodore | Blood Signs

Theodore singer, guitarist and songwriter Justin Kinkel-Schuster has always had more songs at his disposal than readily available releases with which to share them, so it's no real surprise that the Blood Signs EP has popped up as a solid in-between. The collection of five full-fledged songs and two snippets fills the gap between last year's career-best Hold You Like a Lover and, hopefully, another full-length later this year. The band recently signed with respected indie label Misra Records, and in a January interview with the Riverfront Times Kinkel-Schuster stated that both this EP and the next release "are (hopefully) manifestations of our desire to constantly out-think and outplay ourselves in every way, shape, form and sound." By that standard, Blood Signs isn't exactly a huge revelation at every turn: The experimental folk foursome still relies on singing saws, broke-down brass and spare acoustic guitars to prop up Kinkel-Schuster's tender and turbulent songs. Opening track "Abilene" has all the trappings of a typical Theodore tune, but that in-the-pocket feel helps the six-minute ballad float by like a dream.

After three thematically and musically consistent albums, this stopgap set (available on limited-edition ten-inch vinyl and via digital distribution) lets Theodore stretch its legs a bit. The 75 seconds of "Blues, Don't Murder Me" is the biggest curveball, a wordless beach-rock raver with chintzy keyboard melodies and stacked, cooing vocal harmonies that could serve as the music bed to a Yaris commercial. The electric guitars go into overdrive for the rockabilly stomp of "Engine No. 9 (No. 2)," which finds the singer channeling both Gene Vincent and Jello Biafra. Long-time fans will recognize a few of these cuts, particularly the lovely, forlorn "All I Ask," which has been a live staple, but here is recast with several emotional and orchestral crescendos. For those who think of Theodore as a dour, downtrodden Americana outfit (a complete but understandable misread of the band's talents), Blood Signs allows the group to cut loose from the constraints of overarching themes and to show some of the many styles the band keeps under its ever-growing umbrella. --Christian Schaeffer Homespun: May 19

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