Beth Bombara's “I Tried (Too Late)” from March's Map & No Direction is one of the standout St. Louis tracks from 2017.
Each year, the sound of St. Louis gets broader, deeper, brighter and darker — and harder to pin down. Not that we don’t try. Each week, in fact, RFT music critic Christian Schaeffer’s long-running Homespun column takes a local album for a spin and talks with the artists behind the songs. This list compiles ten of the best songs from local releases this year; for a list of the year's best albums by local artists, click here.
If you don’t know, now you know: This is the music that helped St. Louis sing and dance our way through 2017.
Paige Alyssa, “Worth It” (single)
"Worth It" channels the kind of '80s-era pop and R&B with a banging palette of 808 drums and swoopy synths that defined hits by Whitney Houston and Jody Watley. It's a heavy dose of throwback R&B, but young soul singer Paige Alyssa's able and expressive performance keeps the heart and soul of the message at the forefront.
Bates, “Strange Woman” (from Strange Woman)
If you needed an anthem for the recent rise of women speaking truth to power — ugly, abusive, misogynistic power — you can’t do much better than the opening track from Bates’ war cry, wherein Bates (a.k.a. Tamara Dodd) gathers a host of women MCs to claim dominance while epochal choral music churns in the track.
Chuck Berry, “Dutchman” (from Chuck)
St. Louis, and the rest of the world, said goodbye to our hometown’s greatest musical export in 2017, but the release of the long-awaited, long-belabored Chuck helped alleviate some of the sting. This standout track finds Berry performing spoken-word lyrics that present a captivating barroom yarn in his just-countrified rasp.
Singer-songwriter Bombara released her most trenchant and personal album this year, and “I Tried (Too Late)” opens it with a sharp slice of burbling, bluesy rock & roll that recalls a young Lucinda Williams backed up by the Heartbreakers.
Bruiser Queen, “Wanderlust” (from Heavy High)
Coming at the end of the garage-pop duo’s latest full-length, “Wanderlust” borrows a little from Santo & Johnny's guitar tones and Phil Spector's signature drum beat, but it's Morgan Nusbaum's vocals that change the atmosphere, moving from a whisper to an (eventual) scream.
Cue Coldblooded, “Fly Away” (from Yourz Truly)
Preston Bradley is better known as Cue Coldblooded, half of the hip-hop duo the Domino Effect, but on this solo track he cops to the fear and frustration that can cloud his daily life — and some of the chemical and bodily pleasures he indulges in to alleviate the pain.
Suzie Cue, “The End” (from So It Goes)
For Suzie Cue's So It Goes, the singer-songwriter suffuses her songs with multi-tracked instruments and harmony-laden warmth. Opening track "The End" floats in like a blend of folky dream-pop and Beach Boys b-sides, with her layered vocals and glistening organ chords providing a feathery landing for what would otherwise be a sad-sack break-up song.
Karate Bikini’s Hydra-headed approach pays dividends on “The Maze,” written and sung by guitarist Mike Martin (formerly of the Painkillers and Tinhorn). On it, he sounds a little like a young Eric Carmen fronting the Turtles, and the band's peppy upstrokes recall the Beatles' "Getting Better" both in form and message.
Manic Revelations proved a big step in Pokey LaFarge’s continued evolution, an album that looked to the tone and arrangements of early ‘60s soul music, among other sources, for its inspiration. “Silent Movie” benefits from this fleshed-out production, supporting a set of lyrics that see LaFarge trying to find some solace in a world of communication overload.
Whoa Thunder, “Just a Few Things to Do” (from The Depths of the Deep End)
Heartbreak put Brian McClelland back on his heels, but the leader of Whoa Thunder can swing right back on this standout from the band’s recent EP. On the track, swoopy synths fill in the majority of the mid-range, leaving room for McClelland's most studied and performative singing to date.