It's easy for St. Louisans to suffer from Columbia envy. That li'l college town has Shakespeare's Pizza, for one -- anyone who opened up a St. Louis branch of that heavenly place would be farting through silk in no time. Shakespeare's is located in Columbia's pretty, much-used downtown, where no one gets their car stolen. That downtown is also home to the Blue Note, where those lucky bastards get plenty of great shows we in the Lou miss (of course, we also get shows they don't).
But now, thanks to Columbia resident Jason Cafer, St. Louis music fans have something to really get green over. Cafer and his Painfully Midwestern label have just put out Comomusic Anthology 1990-2005, a local band compilation so lovingly crafted and professionally presented that it should serve as a blueprint for anyone attempting to record the sounds of a scene.
Assembled with the help of ComoMusic.com as well as the band collectives Cat Jams and Emergency Umbrella, Comomusic is an astonishing two-disc, forty-band comp. It's even more astonishing when Cafer tells me that it's volume one of a planned three-volume series.
"We'll have 120 songs," explains Cafer, "but not that many bands. Probably 80 bands."
Opening with a gentle country crooner from the Sultans (whose lead singer, Chris Canipe, moved on to the also-represented Paradise Vending) and moving a few tracks later into the insane-as-it-sounds "There's No 'I' in Werewolf" by the Texas Chainsaw Mass Choir, Comomusic documents a musical ecosystem as varied and vibrant as a rainforest. There's the gritty roots rock of the Doxies, the bizarre noise/dance rock of Mahjongg (a Chicago band garnering national press, whose members met in Columbia), the poppy ska of the Secretaries (with Mahjongg's Jeff Carrillo), the aggro rock of One Inch Punch...and that's just disc one. Bockman's Euphio, the Missouri Sex Offenders, Eugenics Council (featuring St. Louisan Rosemary Malign) and many, many more pop up on disc two.
Cafer credits his tenure at MU's KCOU [88.1 FM] for the depth of his local music knowledge. I DJed at KCOU myself during the late '90s, but where I put in a respectable three years at the station, Cafer has been working at the station for much longer, thanks to his Bluto Blutarsky-esque nine years attending the university.
But where Bluto spent his college years chugging whiskey and flunking, Cafer actually used his time at school. "I went to MU for nine years: five years of undergrad and four years of medical school," he says, "and I've just stayed on [at the station]."
That long time in the trenches gave Cafer the background he needed to pick the bands and write the exhaustive liner notes that come with the album. The booklet, with band pictures and a wealth of information, is another reason Comomusic sticks out. Paid for out of Cafer's own pocket, the packaging isn't amateurish or confusing. It's clearly a labor of love, and Cafer deserves applause for throwing Columbia this digital party. But ask Cafer what rewards he's looking for, and he turns back to the music.
"The best thing to happen would be if a few of the bands got signed to real labels," he says.
Real-label success is in reach, especially for the Kingdom Flying Club: "Artists Are Boring," KFC's wonderfully poppy Comomusic contribution, is going to appear on FOX's The O.C. on March 24.
Once this disc gets around, KFC won't be the last Columbia band to get discovered. I may be gushing at this point, but Cafer's obvious enthusiasm is infectious. It's OK if we in St. Louis want to get jealous of Comomusic. But hopefully, someone in the city will see it as a challenge. (Pick it up at Vintage Vinyl.)
Now that you're inspired to support local music, you ought to head out to the Second Ever Fredrick's Band Scramble Showcase at Frederick's Music Lounge this Saturday. Local musicians have signed up for their instrument and were placed randomly into nine new bands. Each band has had a month to write three new songs. Put together by Fred's bartender Dana McDonough, the Band Scramble lets you peek into an alternative local-band universe, with mutations and chance meetings that could create some really great music.
Put on your dancing shoes (and as little other clothing as possible) to check out the Ultra DJ Contest tonight (Wednesday, March 9) at the Vault (4915 Delmar Boulevard). A panel of judges, including li'l ol' me, will assess the skills of Bitch Ass Darius, Kid Delicious, Mike Gow, Jim K and Scott McMurray, then send one to spin at Ultra during Miami's Winter Music Conference. You can't judge a DJ without crowd interaction, so show up and get wild.