By Ben Westhoff and Sarah Purkrabek
By Steve Brennan
By Joseph Hess
By Allsion Babka
By Kelsey McClure
By RFT Music
By Christian Schaeffer
By Gabriel San Roman
A CD used to mean something. It used to mean that you, as a musician, had arrived; the shiny silver object served as the Legitimizer. No longer were you and your dumb band simply you and your dumb band. Now you were a dumb band with a CD, and that made you special. The groupies started lining up shortly thereafter; followed by all the vegetable trays you could gobble up.
Alas, a CD release doesn't mean jack anymore. It means you've coughed up a couple hundred dollars, bought a mediocre laser printer and ripped a dozen copies of the thing for your buddies, boyfriends and "Radar Station." Wahoo. Way to go.
In fact, these days most homemade CDs sound like total shit because, quite simply, a rockin' bassist does not a smart producer make. Producers actually know something about how to make a lame band sound passable, how to squeeze perfection out of near-perfection. A sideways glance from a good producer is better than 1,000 words from the drummer's insecure girlfriend, and the best cover art in the world won't cover up the work of a tin-eared pseudoengineer.
That said, what choice do you have? You can record it on cassette, which is great if you've still got a tape player (we wouldn't part with ours for the world), but it's just as easy to rip a disc. Unless you're into DJ culture, there's really no point in pressing vinyl. And eight-tracks, sorrow of sorrows, just aren't where it's at anymore. So you record on CD, a format that not only reveals all the warts but often flashes neon arrows above them: Here's a flub. Here's another.
The CDs pour down like rain into the "Radar Station" compound, and we're not complaining. Remember, though: Your recorded work will outlive you, so be very careful about what you decide to release. It's never too late to burn the masters and start from scratch. The following St. Louis masters should probably not be burned. They should maybe even be stored away in a dust-free vault.
A layer of static covers the music of Cloister (not to be confused with Climber, discussed below), but it's probably intentional. There's fuzz deep inside the guitar, and said fuzz, combined all the various pedals, keyboards and Moogs Cloister employs, renders any individual sound indistinguishable. You know there's a lot happening inside their first CD, aptly titled Organized Chaos, but you'll have a tough time nailing much of it. It's a big wide wash of melodic static that recalls the music of My Bloody Valentine and Grandaddy.
Underneath it all, a cheapie drum machine provides steady, simple time (Cloister uses the great 909 synthetic handclap on "Punctuation," in stark contrast to all the static). Mike Cook and Dana Smith try to harmonize throughout -- they sing the lyrics as one voice. Neither has a strong voice, though, which may be one reason they combine their efforts. It doesn't work. Two thin voices doesn't equal one sturdy one, and though we couldn't care less whether what they sing is actually in tune or not, a generic voice is a bad thing for a band.
Musically, though, Cloister is solid and adventuresome. In a local community of soundalikes, the band is worth hearing (and, if we're lucky, seeing -- apparently they're having troubles getting gigs), because they're stretching to create something new and different and they're better than most for that reason alone.
Climber -- not to be confused with Cloister, discussed above -- is one of the sturdiest guitar-rock bands out there right now, a judgment based solely on the music on their supergood CD-R demo; we've shamefully (inexcusably) missed their countless live shows. The name you'll likely know in Climber is drummer Theodore Moll, longtime MU330 drummer. Another name you may know is guitarist Joey Carenza, an MU330 roadie and tour manager for Chicago's Alkaline Trio. (All this info comes courtesy of the Climber Web site, the best St. Louis-band Web site out there; budding bands, take note: www.climbermusic.com). The names you may not know are bassist Julie Butler and guitarist Heather Dallape, but you'll probably know their names soon enough.
From the opening track, "Shine," you can tell that Climber takes this shit seriously and practices like crazy; they're incredibly tight and build songs the old-fashioned way: They earn them. Yes, they often sound like the Pixies: jerky rock, guys and girls trading vocals, lots of guitars and weirdo guitar lines weaving their way through songs. But where the Pixies and, later, Nirvana perfected that quiet-loud-quiet-bignoisyfinish-quiet structure, then went on to rely solely on the structure for impact, Climber hits the ground running, introducing a set of shiny chords to support a melody, then singing/screaming the words as in a race for the finish line.
Though lyrically they've got work to do -- mainly cutting a lot of words out of songs that seem overburdened by them, such as "Go Away," -- who listens to rock lyrics for insight or poetics these days anyway? More often they're simple texture, and though there seems to be more "meaning" and intent in Climber's lyrics than in, say, those of Cloister (who bury their words deeper inside the mix), it's a small beef that's best ignored.
No doubt the coupling of two similarly named bands in the same column will prove frustrating and confusing for you -- sorry. Here's a mnemonic exercise as an aid: Cloister is noisier than Climber, which is shinier.
Send local tapes, tips, discs and detritus to "Radar Station," c/o The Riverfront Times, 6358 Delmar Blvd., Suite 200, St. Louis, MO 63130; or Radarstation@ rftstl.com.