By Bob McMahon
By Allison Babka
By Kelsey McClure
By Carolina de Busto
By Ben Westhoff and Sarah Purkrabek
By Steve Brennan
By Joseph Hess
By Allsion Babka
The weekly "Radar Station" column is intended to be a sort of catchall for St. Louis music news, and we here in the bunker do our best to balance the news-type information with record-release bits, music criticism and opinionated drivel. Occasionally, though, we get slugged with the realization that we've been covering one aspect at the expense of another and haven't devoted as much space to recent St. Louis releases as we'd like. So, in an attempt to rectify this, a remedy: Once a month, from here on out, we'll be devoting the entirety of the "Radar" space to St. Louis new releases, helping get the word out on recent and upcoming sounds, critically assessing those about which we have something interesting or thoughtful or dirty to say and generally providing you with a handful of names to either seek or ignore. So, bands, DJs, emcees, saxophonists, singers, songwriters, visionaries, losers: Lob the music -- tape, CD, vinyl or wire recording -- into the bunker, and we'll attempt to squeeze an assessment into the column.
Be forewarned, though, of our credo on St. Louis music criticism: You send it seeking the "Radar Station" staff's opinion, so you get their opinion. If you've got a weak chin and can't take an honest appraisal, don't send the music. We consider it much more insulting to treat local artists with kid gloves than to deliver an honest, thoughtful (and occasionally not-so-thoughtful) ramble on the positives and negatives of a record. Herewith, a glimpse at a few local releases of note.
Anyone who thanks Miles Davis and Sun Ra in their liner notes gets one fat bonus point in our book, which CPB do on their debut, The Collective Nothing. It's an easy way to get our attention, but once this attention is got, it's important not to then stumble into the realm of Zappa-ness, at least if you're interested in not flubbing it all up and consequently spiraling downward into the abyss of unadulterated "musicianship." There's nothing worse than tight, clever, "look how good I play my instrument" prowess, because too often it hides solid emotion behind a veil of tasty licks and academic bullshit. And that's the big problem with CPB: They're tight and can play circles around most rockers in town, but nobody likes a showoff. CPB commit the cardinal sin of referencing Frank Zappa way too much on The Collective Nothing -- think Zappa meets the Dead meets un-funky Funkadelic. When CPB find a good groove, and they do, it's a gem, as on "The Circle of Willis." When they rely on the funk, a worthy enterprise, they can't seem to get it appropriately dirty.
The Julia Sets is one of the city's most engaging guitar bands, producing glistening drone rock that at its best resembles the brilliant Bedhead or non-boring Low. They make beautiful sounds with their guitars -- a 12-string acoustic fed through a distortion box is a good thing -- and when they hook into a decent melody, they soar. They're still learning to fly, though, and occasionally they drop out of the sky, usually when attempting to slow down or tackling a guitar solo. They pull it off better live than they do on their brand-new The Last Days of the Julia Sets release, which is mired in muddy, subpar production that betrays the beauty buried inside. Live, with a good sound system, these sorts of flaws don't reveal themselves, and the wall of melody works.
And, actually, you can hear them flex at the Duck Room this Friday, when they open for Rocket Park, who are releasing their sophomore record, the clumsily titled The Effects of Eating Too Much Television. Though more space will be devoted to the release in an upcoming issue of the RFT, a quick spin of Television reveals Rocket Park Mach II to be just as infectious as Mach I; they understand the concept of the tough hook, and though they occasionally sound like Grand Funk Railroad -- not a good thing, BTW -- their ability to churn out the hits is duly noted. In fact, your appreciation of Rocket Park is directly related to your appreciation of '70s rock before punk hit. If you dig the inflated sounds of Big Rock, you'll dig RP. If not, you probably won't.
NEWS BITS: DJ Charlie Chan, one of the city's best hip-hop DJs, has been named mix-show director at Q95, where he'll oversee the selection and direction of mix shows, in addition to having a choice daily slot and a weekend evening slot. The station has yet to finish building its studios, though when it does, apparently sometime in late October, expect them to compete head-on in the mix-show category with hip-hop powerhouse The Beat. It's going to be tough to top The Beat's ace lineup of Kut, Kaos, Wrek 1 and Needles, but if anyone can put together a winning mix team, lauded and nearly universally respected Charlie Chan can.
Pave the Rocket have been threatening to release a follow-up to their emo classic Taken In for a few years now, but record-company problems have derailed them. That all comes to an end, though, with the release, finally, of 3 Different Recordings, a collection of Pave demos recorded from 1997-99. They're celebrating its release this Saturday, Sept. 16, at the Rocket Bar. Opening the show is the equally tight Ring, Cicada.