Our yearly giant love letter to St. Louis -- the Best Of issue -- comes out tomorrow. We've encountered some confusion out there, so this seems like as good an opportunity as any to explain that this is different from our RFT Music Awards, which are ultimately determined by a public vote. With the Best Of St. Louis issue, we have our chance to tell you about our favorite bands, releases and shows of the last year. So look forward to that. Meanwhile, we thought we'd whet your whistle with a look back at the last few winners in the "Best Local Single" category.
2011: "All Noise" by Old Lights Old Lights, previously the emotionally damaged and musically enrapturing project of the mercurial David Beeman, emerged as a complete, stable band with this year's Like Strangers. Its six songs unfold like a Greek tragedy, and the EP reaches its dire peak on "All Noise." The song opens with an unstoppable grand-piano-and-guitar hook and builds through peeling harmony and a series of stark verses to a screaming freakout. The band released "All Noise" as a limited run CD single, and the B-side, "We Laid Down," is the first Old Lights song written and fronted by bassist and backup vocalist Kit Hamon. It's a pop gem that fits surprisingly well with the rest of the band's material, and it's the best proof of the newfound cohesion of Old Lights' spectacularly talented parts.
2010: "Government Name" by Rockwell Knuckles One way to hear the year's most outstanding local single is to purchase a copy of Everybody Wins and play it on random. The record, a compilation of singles from artists in the local hip-hop collective the Force, includes a slew of strong candidates for this honor. But when the booming string arrangement that kicks off "Government Name" almost blows out your speakers, the decision becomes a snap. The beat, produced by Trifeckta, is a radio-ready burner that bumps bass and has a breakneck tempo courtesy of a sputtering hi-hat. Rockwell tells the tale of an anonymous hookup, darkly rhyming "Ask me what I want/Young lady, I would love to freak you/Then feed you, drop you off/Tell you it was nice to meet you/Now fix your face." On the chorus, belting out the refrain "Spontaneous lover!" he sounds like Prince on a Viagra bender. 2009: "Electric Babies" by Left Arm An adrenaline shot of garage-punk sleaze, "Electric Babies" is a single in the grand tradition of crackling 45 rpm vinyl. Recorded in Detroit with noted garage-blues producer Jim Diamond (the White Stripes, the Dirtbombs), the two-minute song explodes like a bottle rocket streaking upward. Vocalist/drummer Jason Potter's manic shrieks and surf-blues rhythms drive forward guitar riffs that rain down like a hailstorm in Hell. Sadly, Left Arm subsequently disbanded, so consider this shock to the system its fiery last will and testament.
2008: "Ol' Girl" by Vandalyzm Since the dawn of time, pop music has celebrated sweet young things, the carefree beauties who tantalize their adoring prey with youthful nubility. But where's the musical love for women who bring experience and wisdom to the table? (Not only cougars, mind you, but pumas and MILFs, too.) That's where local hip-hop charmer Vandalyzm comes in, with his irresistible song "Ol' Girl." Atop strings imbued with the soft glow of AM Gold radio, a chorus of smooth soul singers and a slinky bass line worthy of Marvin Gaye, Van croons about the joys of being with "older chicks." "Ain't no doubt about it, I got me an ol' girl, yes it's true," goes the chorus. "She can be my MILF, she can be my cougar," goes a verse. Above all, the song stresses that the May-December romance is "going to be OK" -- and you can almost see the smirk on Vandalyzm's face and the twinkle in his eye as he imagines the possibilities.
2007: "Wadsyaname" by Nelly The first single from Nelly's upcoming CD, Brass Knuckles, is called "Wadsyaname." Using a repetitive piano line nicked from K-Ci and Jojo's "All My Life" as its base -- think the soundtrack to a music-box-ballerina -- along with a simplistic hip-hop beat, Nelly tells of establishing himself as a gentleman. Even though he's using eye-rolling pickup lines ("What's your sign?") and checking out the sweet-ass body of his crush object -- a woman who has a lame boyfriend -- he's establishing respectful boundaries and assuring her that they'll only get together and kick it if she wants. (And no pressure -- even though he's only going to be in town for eight hours.) Nelly likes that she's an independent woman with her own car, house and job, and it makes him sad that her man treats her like shit. That smooth, understanding approach eventually helps Nelly lure the fine lady away from her man, leading to a triumphant union at the end of the song, when she tells him (ostensibly) her real name, her astrological sign (Pisces), and joyfully says she "doesn't care" where her man is. Let the boots-knocking ensue!