2012 was a big year for St. Louis music; by many accounts the local scene is more vital and vibrant than it has been in years. Optimism and back-patting can feel foreign to St. Louisans, with our notorious proclivity toward self-deprecation, but lately our music scene deserves it and then some. In keeping, here are seven St. Louis bands and artists that deserve your attention in 2013.
Demonlover: Demonlover feels like an experiment that has grown bigger than its creators. When the band first started out it was more like a loose collective with many different in-and-out members, but when people this talented come together things just start to happen. What the group has settled into now is a reflection of all that is good in St. Louis, culminating in an experimental rock band with big beats and country and jazz leanings. Demonlover is unique in that it manages to be ragingly psychedelic while still venturing into the world of sturdy alt-twang. Whatever the formula, audiences are responding, and the band seems to gain multitudes of fans with every performance, always providing something new. It might be a new song or an interesting cover or even just a silly costume or two, but don't confuse the group with a gimmick band: Sam Meyer, JJ Hamon and Andy Lashier are real musicians making real music. They just happen to be funny, too. This is the real deal, and though the Demonlover guys might not take themselves very seriously, we certainly do. — Jaime Lees
The Jungle Fire: Aptly titled The New Blood, the Jungle Fire's 2012 debut EP serves as just that: a potent injection of neo-soul nutrients for funk-soul revivalists. The south-city septet spent most of 2012 finding its footing and honing its live show, and it's amazing what a difference a year makes. It only took newcomer frontman James Fields a handful of gigs to transform from a bashful — albeit talented — MC to a legitimate, bellowing soul singer. The band itself is a learned group of scene vets pulled from rock & roll, punk, hardcore and indie circles (see Thunder Kid, the Disappeared, Bricklayer, Highway Companion), but while the spirits of punk rock ooze from its pores, make no mistake: The Jungle Fire is a Soul Band. It's dirty, it's technical, and it has a streetwise swagger that's simply damn fun. — Michael Dauphin
Spending Habits: While punk ethics seem to have become passé to the local younger generations, we like to think that somewhere buried in suburbia kids still start pissed-off bands in basements to cope with living — perhaps their voices just aren't as loud as they used to be. Luckily, we have Spending Habits to show us how it's done and how it's done effectively. Post-punk veterans Stephen Inman, Tyler Bicknese and Erik Seaver played their debut show as Spending Habits in October 2012 to a legion of old friends. For those who experienced the heyday of the group's past projects, which collectively include the likes of Dancing Feet March to War, Nineteen, Lost to Metric and Two Keys Ensemble, it nostalgically reignited a fire once lit by the fervor of an era rooted deeply in DIY. Angular guitar riffs and bends weave through solid bass lines. Derisive, personal lyrics delivered in Inman's sharp, enunciated yells puncture deeply in unison with the deliberate, dense drumming. Oftentimes, Spending Habits' music hits hard and heavy; occasionally, songs slow to a dark, contemplative dirge that builds into bulkier sections beckoning involuntary fist-clenching and head-bobbing. It evokes a feeling of ferocity toward everyday frustrations we can all relate to — whether we've been there or not. — Mabel Suen
Fresco Kane: East St. Louis' Fresco Kane had one hell of a 2012. A few months after changing his name from the decidedly less Google-able Gena, Kane inked a deal with Jermaine Dupri's So So Def label and released a track featuring motor-mouthed hip-hop legend Busta Rhymes. Trips back and forth to Dupri's Atlanta-based studio resulted in a plethora of material for the upstart-but-not-really to build upon his already-mounting momentum (as Gena, Kane has been active locally since 2006). Then in November, Fresco appeared alongside Dupri on BET's 106 & Park discussing the deal as well as his most recent mixtape, ESTL, featuring more big names like Three 6 Mafia, Shawty Redd and DJ Infamous. Fresco greets frequent comparisons to hometown icon Nelly with enthusiasm: "That's a compliment to me. That man sold so many records." —Daniel Hill
Kisser: Kisser bites with jagged molars, gripping a semblance of psychedelia through progressive rock. Sharp guitars burst only when needed, showing controlled noise behind forced percussion. Mike Herr slams the drum heads with tight fervor, displaying a love affair with odd rhythms. The trio checked in last winter and gnawed through tight sets, touring and recording for its first release, November's Black and Red. Kisser is trippy without any of the jam-band or drum-circle connotations of the word, expertly displaying the psychedelic highs one can hit without invoking the Dead or taking actual drugs (although, I imagine, they'd only heighten the sound). The band is set to release a split seven-inch with Tone Rodent, due out in May 2013 as part of the Tower Groove Records Singles Club series.— Joseph Hess
Jeremy Essig: Having already released three albums that have appeared on Sirius and his own Pandora channel, 2013 should play out as a continuation of the ascent of Jeremy Essig's standup career more so than a "breakout" situation. The prolific writer has already earned quite a name for himself in the industry. Essig is booked to headline some of the better comedy clubs in the country in 2013, including a local date at the Westport Funny Bone to be announced soon. He will also continue touring with actor and comedian Brian Posehn as his preferred opener. Los Angeles has taken notice of Essig's talents as well, and the funnyman recently appeared on some the better-known indie shows. In addition to performing almost every night of the year, Essig is also working on a Web series with Jim Utz of Vintage Vinyl. It will be released later this year. You can catch Essig's sharp-witted standup at the Dubliner on Washington Avenue on February 22 and 23. — Matt Conty
Syna So Pro: Syrhea Conaway advertises herself as a "one-woman musical enigma," and that description couldn't be more accurate. Though technically a one-person band, Conaway's methods of looping and echoing make her feel more like a ten-person show. Her primary weapon is her voice, and she puts her greatest instrument through a series of modifications that layer the lyrics and make her songs feel robust. Stringed instruments and numerous electronic devices allow Conaway's songs to build and peak, resulting in a wide, lush performance. The lack of any other distracting musicians on the stage gives this sound artist full command of the audience's attention. Syna So Pro is experimental, but not so experimental that it is hard to follow. Her songs are structurally interesting and, well, just plain pretty, and her live shows are always passionate and captivating. —Jaime Lees