The year 2015 has been one hell of a ride for St. Louis music, both at home and abroad.
At home, Big Muddy Records celebrated its tenth anniversary with a showcase of its current roster at Off Broadway. Ryan McNeely, a.k.a. Adult Fur, saw acclaimed new-music ensemble Alarm Will Sound premiere his Unfair for the Common Man at the Sheldon. This publication's annual music showcase returned to the Grove for the second year, presenting more than 70 acts across 10 stages at venues along Manchester Avenue.
Elsewhere, Foxing continued its ascent to indie-rock stardom with Dealer, the band's first release on Triple Crown Records. Pokey LaFarge and company spread their distinctly regional sound to sold-out crowds across the globe. Black Fast spent the year touring the U.S. and Canada in support of Terms of Surrender, the group's first release since signing to eOne Heavy. St. Louis artists Mz. 007 and Water Liars saw their music used in nationally aired commercials for Southwest Airlines and McDonald's, respectively.
With the exception of those of Mz. 007 (who continues to be criminally overlooked by local music journalists despite her eminently digestible sound, sizable following and national press coverage), most St. Louis music fans are well aware of these accomplishments. Just below this echelon of notoriety, however, are a set of artists who've seen less coverage from local media, but are poised to make 2016 one of the best years for local music in quite some time.
Here are ten to watch in 2016.
Considering the fact that one third of River Kittens had barely picked up a guitar before two years ago, the tightness and power of the folk trio is impressive. The group — comprised of singer/guitarist/ukulelist Allie Vogler, vocalist/guitarist Martha Mehring and vocalist/guitarist/mandolinist Mattie Schell — formed gradually over the course of about a year, thanks to their mutual attendance at various open mics and folk-jam sessions. The River Kittens' sound — which the members describe alternately as "raunch folk" and "Americana feels" — hinges on the trio's tightly rehearsed, soaring three-part vocal harmonies and primitive string-band accompaniments, with the two elements contrasting in always exciting and sometimes unexpected ways.
Throughout 2015, River Kittens played prolifically at bars, venues and open-mic nights across the city, in addition to laying down a searing rendition of the cautionary "Trouble" as part of 2015's Lo-Fi Cherokee. The last year also marked the beginning of the group's experimentation with additional rhythm-section players, a revolving cast of bassists and drummers.
The River Kittens will be closing out 2015 by opening for Pokey LaFarge at his New Year's Eve celebration at the Pageant. They plan to release an as-yet-unnamed album in March, followed by a tour to support it.
Tamara "Bates" Dodd is undoubtedly one of city's most formidable lyrical improvisers, as a 2014 rap battle with fellow Femcee Nation artist Mahogany proved. In the video of STL Street Report's first all-female rap battle (now available on YouTube), Dodd's exceptionally flexible vocabulary and quick wit are on full display as she aggressively delivers rhymes like, "See, I'm a shark on land that can't fit in a fish place/ Guppies scurry in a hurry when they sense that I sniff bait / You can't walk a block in my shoes or keep up at this pace / She be like, 'Bitch wait!'" Throughout her three rounds, Dodd makes wide-ranging and occasionally obscure cultural references, ranging from Trayvon Martin and Osama bin Laden all the way to classic cult film The Last Dragon — seemingly taking pride in some audience members' inability to keep up with her referential jabs and breakneck pace.
Freestyling skills aside, Dodd's compositions shine on her mixtape The Great DeBates, released in July, and more recently her video and single bitingly entitled "Tell Jesus." Centering around a melodic hook referring to the Christian messiah as "My Father, my oppressor, my Lord," Dodd's most recent release confronts the prevailing imagery of a white Jesus and its historical and current impact on people of color throughout the world.
In 2016 Bates plans to release her new album, For Colored Folk, in addition to growing Femcee Nation, an organization she founded to support female artists.