Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Best Local Music Moments of 2010

Our last feature in our Best of 2010 series is a tribute to Saint Louis local music, photographers, venues, festivals, and everything in between. Who better to celebrate the fantastic local talent our city boasts than the musicians themselves? That's why we asked Sleepy Kitty, Andy Berkhout, US English, Cassie Morgan & The Lonely Pine, So Much Closer, Geoff Koch, and The Blind Eyes to talk to us about their favorite (mostly) musical moments of the year.

Evan Sult and Paige Brubeck of Sleepy Kitty
This has been a rich, and strange, year of music. Sleepy Kitty's favorite release of 2010 might actually be one that was recorded in 2002: Fantasy Four's Getting Fantastic with... on Pancake Productions. We're only sorry we missed those harmonies and tight, funny songs when they were available to be seen live. The other big news for us is Daniel Blunt's "Only You," released this month, just barely in time to qualify. The songs' contents may or may not apply to you, but the melodies, and producer Gabe Doiron's ace arrangements, will get so stuck in your head if you give the album half a chance. Both of those are great albums that happen to come from Saint Louis, though we'll stack 'em against all comers.

Paige's out-of-town favorites include The Strange Boys' Be Brave, The Like's Release Me, Karen Elson's The Ghost Who Walks, and The Lake's recent EP compendium, the name of which escapes me. For me, I got great musical pleasure out of the book Life, less for the dish on Mick Jagger and more for his writing voice and his overall piratical love of music and trouble-making.

Also, it's impossible not to mention the time-traveling pleasures of the Pavement reunion tour; we got to see them once in Chicago and once in Atlanta, and they did their songs proud. And, those are some of the best songs we've ever heard. This was also LouFest's inaugural year, and we had a very good time that whole weekend. For shows, I feel I can say with confidence that The Blind Eyes' rendition of Fleetwood Mac at The Firebird's An Undercover Weekend was unforgettable. But quite possibly the most amazing show of the year was performed by a teen werewolf, Dracula, and the bride of Frankenstein; that would be Wormwood Scrubs' legendary Halloween show at El Leñador. In fact, Stag Nite at El Leñador became the big surprise venue of the year. Thank you, Johnny Vegas. As for national musical moments, all those Kanyes and Taylors will frankly have to take a number behind the auto-tuned Double Rainbow song. And finally, the biggest and best trend in the Saint Louis music scene, in our opinion, was the wave of clubs that went non-smoking this year. A year from now, no one will be sorry. Onward to 2011!


Photo credit: Robbie Wiedie
Andy Berkhout 
I'll be the first to admit that I find "Best of" lists to be a bit intimidating. I can probably trace my first experience with one back to when my first grade class held a contest to see which student was "the best" at tying shoes and could complete the seemingly impossible task in the shortest amount of time. There was so much pressure. What was I going to do? What would my classmates think of me? Would I ever make it to the second grade? I was too nervous to even say anything.

One by one, each student took his or her turn until all eyes were on me. I tried to smile and looked down at my feet. The gazes of everyone else followed. I was wearing velcro shoes.

I learned an important lesson about "Best of" lists that day. They can never completely account for all of the experiences or items that they're trying to sum up. This lesson is still true as I try to think of my favorite music from 2010. I am only one person with my own musical tastes and experiences. I don't claim to be able to provide you with any kind of definitive list. But I can tell you about a few albums that stand out in my mind as honest representations of musicians putting their best selves forward to create something truly special. Without further ado, here is that list: three albums from 2010 that mean something.

1 Cassie Morgan and the Lonely Pine - Weathered Hands, Weary Eyes 
Cassie Morgan and bandmate Beth Bombara create a beautiful landscape of acoustic melodies and hushed harmonies. Sit back, relax, and embrace the warmth that only analog tape can bring.

Tracks to Spend Some Extra Time On: "No More Tears," "Peasant Song"

2 Conrad Plymouth - Conrad Plymouth 
Conrad Plymouth call their sound "Midwestercana," and I can think of no better way to describe it. This four-song EP showcases an array of reverb-laden guitars, ethereal keys and percussion, and some incredible storyelling. It ends just as you start to settle in and will leave you waiting for a full-length.

Tracks to Spend Some Extra Time On: "Captain Video," "Fergus Falls"

3 Beth Bombara - Wish I Were You 
From the opening chimes of a steel guitar to a trombone part that takes me to a street corner in the French Quarter, this album demonstrates Bombara's unique ability to craft little pieces of indie rock bliss. Your head will nod and your foot will tap; don't fight it.

Tracks to Spend Some Extra Time On: "Rainbow," "Abandon Ship"


James McAnally of US English
2010 felt transitional, both in local and national music. I am expecting an exciting year in 2011 because so many new platforms are opening up as musicians learn to move forward in the post-torrent environment. Live music fared particularly well in Saint Louis with venues and event planners making things happen. In Saint Louis, events like Black Friday and Financial Aid put on by friends of ours who run Lane 4 (Ryan Powell, Kaveh Razani, Stan Chisolm) set the stage for more innovative live experiences bringing more diverse elements together. The Secret Sound Festival on Cherokee had a similar impact, laying the groundwork for what should be an influential yearly event. I'm also really excited by the underground music emerging locally, as well in venues like Floating Laboratories, which feels ready to be brought to a national audience.

Obviously, we are really excited to be a part of Post Literate, a new art and music label loosely based in St. Louis. It is releasing art and music side-by-side, emphasizing projects that are not easily classified.

On a broader level, I'm excited to see the influence of artists such as James Blake and Gold Panda, who seem to be making electronic music more emotional after a period of party/beach/lo-fi anthems. Hopefully, we fit in that realm somewhere, trying to use digital elements to make something relevant and human. Maybe we are just excited about 2011 because we are wrapping up our next EP, Used Future, which will come out in February. Consider this an early toast.


Cassie Morgan of Cassie Morgan & The Lonely Pine
In terms of favorite shows or music events in Saint Louis in the past year (there were a lot of great ones), these are just few that really stuck with me. Saint Louis concert goers were already sold on the Deer Tick show experience, but the band truly won my heart when they came through in August and donated a portion of the proceeds from the sold-out show to a memorial fund for Dave Hagerty, a well-loved Saint Louis musician who had recently passed away. It was a generous gesture, and one that showed extraordinary respect. Plus, Deer Tick gave the crowd yet another blast of a show.

The excitement surrounding events like An Undercover Weekend and the RFT Music Showcase was exhilarating. Saint Louis musicians really delivered at both events, and it made me proud to be a part of this music community. Other stand-out show experiences from 2010 include seeing Holly Golightly and the Brokeoffs at The Firebird, being completely enchanted by Jonsi at The Pageant, and singing along with the sweaty Mumford and Sons crowd after the distinct honor of opening for them at Off Broadway. Time and again, I stood in awe at the quality of musicianship from both local and national acts. 2010 was, indeed, a good year for music.


So Much Closer
2010 has been an amazing year for So Much Closer. It was our first full year as a band, and the Saint Louis music scene blew up. Here is a quick recap of some of our favorite things from the past year. Collectively we thought PLAY:stl was the coolest local event, but the Secret Sound Festival also received high marks, as did Live on the Levee. 

As for our favorite venue, we had to go with The Old Rock House. We kicked off our spring tour there and had our CD release party there. Playing a venue with amazing sound, great stage, and an awesome staff makes us feel like rockstars! We were also able to agree that Corey Woodruff is doing great things for the local scene, making all of us look fantastic with his photography. For our favorite recording studio, we went with the Echo Lab in Denton, TX. It is an amazing space (a converted barn) with great engineers and producers, plus two of the owners have roots in Saint Louis. They transplanted there after attending the University of North Texas. Locally, we had to give it up to R&R Music Labs. They are doing great things for our scene with the STL LOUD project

Our first split came with radio station, half of the band is on the KDHX fan bus, and the other half ardently support Lindenwood’s station, The Wood, 89.1. When we got to album of the year, there was complete dissention. Logan was too drunk at this point to really contribute. He kept mumbling something about Rhum Boogie, but their album is not out yet, so we are unclear as to his intent. Swan chose Sufjan Stevens’ Age of Adz, Enright voted for Patterns in Movement, and Ketzer gave the nod to Spoon’s Transference. There were also some great music put out by local bands this year. It was impossible to pick a favorite local LP because they were all so good, but we had to give props to the May Day Orchestra because they did something that no one else did. They wrote a fuckin’ folk opera. Ota Benga must be respected. 

Social media as a whole was amazing in 2010. Twitter, Facebook, and blogs changed everything about how bands interact with fans, so feel free to follow us on Twitter or fan us on Facebook. Hope you all had an amazing 2010.

Geoff Koch
Most of my personal highlights in 2010 happened off-stage, as I continue to develop the next songs and record. It can be a tremendous exercise in patience and faith that what you're doing is right as a musician. It's a hard test to step out of the lights for awhile. You wonder if people will be there when you come back. The only thing I know I can control is how good my next songs are. To a lesser extent I can control how they'll sound with a full band on a record, and even after that there is no certainty anyone will like what I've come up with. So, I think what I valued the most this year was feeling the reassurance from myself that I am an artist, and I cannot stop myself from the compulsion to create, and not being seen or heard of much this year doesn't make me less of an artist. 2010 has been an exciting challenge full of lessons to learn when you're not being loved every night in the bright stage lights.

All that being said, I had the exciting honor of headlining the Duck Room in January, which turned out to be the first show of the decade there. I had more shows with versions of full bands, and I had some out of town shows. In the spring, I played with Gregory Alan Isakov (Colorado) at The Old Rock House and Joshua James (Utah) at The Duck Room. [They are] absolutely tremendous songwriters who I've listened to over and over since then. I discovered and have become addicted to Gregory Alan Isakov's 2009 album, This Empty Northern Hemisphere. If you're only going to listen to two songs for the rest of your life, listen to "Evelyn" and "Master & A Hound: from that record - simply stunning.


Photo credit: Douglas Garfield
Seth Porter of The Blind Eyes
As 2009 turned over to 2010, I resolved that I would dramatically increase the number of local shows I attended. This proved to be a very easy resolution to keep. Partially because hanging out in (mostly) bars and listening to music is a lot easier to do than exercising or learning Chinese or whatever people interested in actual self-improvement chose as a New Year's resolution. More importantly though, there was so much good local music being performed that I was able to go see shows out of genuine interest as opposed to some kind of obligation to "support the scene." All of the shows get a little blurry by this point in the year, so in lieu of trying to remember the exact lineups and dates, I'll just try to recount some memorable moments in local music this past year.

In no particular order:

1 BDR Records show releasing Test Patterns and the Welders 7" I'm not from Saint Louis originally (or old or cool enough for that matter), so the Welders and all of the bands on the Test Patterns comp are completely new to me. Bunnygrunt and Medical Tourists played this show. Both were great. The best part of the night, though, was the solidly middle age, but still foxy, members of the Welders in attendance grinning ear to ear and hopping onstage with Bunnygrunt for a performance of their would-be hit, "P-E-R-V-E-R-T."

2. Old Lights I made a "Best of Saint Louis 2009" CD that featured an Old Lights song, but right around the time I became aware of their existence, I learned that they had packed up and moved to Oregon. Fortunately for those of us in Saint Louis, they returned with a new line-up and started playing out again. I saw them a few different times and am really looking forward to their forthcoming record.

3 An Undercover Weekend It is probably cheating to include this, as The Blind Eyes were a part of it, but this event was so much fun that I couldn't resist. We [The Blind Eyes] were extremely fortunate to collaborate with Beth Bombara, Cassie Morgan, Paige Brubeck (Sleepy Kitty), Sunyatta Marshall, and Brad Springmeyer on our Fleetwood Mac set. There were too many great performances on those three shows to mention them all, but John Joern joining Via Dove for "Hunger Strike," Cassie Morgan uncharacteristically rocking an electric guitar as one of The Breeders, and the lush, organic treatment of the Postal Service catalog by Union Tree Review all stand out in my mind.

4 "Gimme Tonight" by Tight Pants Syndrome The newest TPS record is a ton of fun and notable for its tight harmony singing. For whatever reason, "Gimme Tonight" is a song that I listened to over and over again when I got the record. Also, they deserve mention for the cover of Blue Oyster Cult's "Burnin' for You" they performed at their CD release show.

5 The Livers perform "Enter Sandman" on 9/02/10 Booze, roller skating, and '90s rock? Yes, please. This whole show was great, although it turns out I'm not much of a skater. The Livers set featured a modified version of the classic "I'm not a chicken, you're a turkey" public service announcement and an "Enter Sandman" video starring Ryan Zimmerman of The Humanoids eating a sandwich (maybe crackers or cookies, can't remember for sure) which was somehow one of the funniest things I've ever seen.

6 TILTS' "Hot for Pizza" Song title of the year and further proof I should probably give up the guitar.

7 Cassie Morgan & the Lonely Pine's Battleship table Apparently the only thing that can effectively prop up the Jaymar piano so essential to CM&tLP's sound is the board game, Battleship. I had assumed it was just an empty box, but I've been told that the game still resides inside. Besides that, Weathered Hands, Weary Eyes is a wonderful, dark record.

8 Jason Hutto I knew this dude was fully committed to rock 'n' roll when at this year's RFT Music Showcase, he wore cowboy boots and a leather jacket for the entirety of a 95 degree day. His playing with Warm Jets USA and Bunnygrunt as well as his production work on a fine record by Popular Mechanics and the upcoming Sleepy Kitty record (at least one song of which has made its way to KDHX) are all worthy of praise.

9 Kentucky Knife Fight They released the excellent We're All Nameless Here, which they recorded over just a couple of days at Firebrand Recording and hey, look at that! They're playing with us at Off Broadway on New Year's Eve at what would certainly be an event on this list, if only I could go back to the future to write it. Hope to see you there! Cheers.

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