The 2001 RFT Slammies

Homeboy superstar Nelly tops the list of readers' favorite local musicians

"We started evolving with these producers, who were young up-and-coming guys, and they just opened our minds and weren't really restrictive like other producers we've worked with. And we're really looking forward to future albums. We love the British stuff. Coldplay came out, and that really opened our eyes. And I was listening to a lot of the Cars, and I was trying to fuse British stuff with the Cars, and I think we got close to that idea on some of the stuff."

They did. The new tracks are alive with pleasure -- at least on the surface -- filled with the kind of hard guitar pop that's both in step with the times and part of a pop/rock continuum that stretches back to the Beatles. But instead of stumbling through pop idioms and writing only celebratory anthems, Colony produces lyrical output that's more complicated. The new album's title track is an earnest, introspective, existential examination. Bruner sings of the dream of being in a band, of the touring and the performing, and how this dream threatens to turn on him: "I'm becoming exactly the opposite of who I wanted to be," he sings as glorious harmonies and hard guitars envelop him. It's a wonderful song built on a frightening sentiment.

Bruner says the mounds of debt he's accrued trying to make it in the music business has been a songwriting blessing in disguise: "It kind of helps. It puts you in some darker places when you've got that debt hanging over you. When I had my old girlfriend, and she was real conservative and nice and we were doing all right, that's what the songs were about: 'Doin' all right. It's a nice day' -- that kind of stuff. So it's kind of nice to be in a confusing space, like when I was younger."

Colony's Who I Wanted to Be is to be released nationwide in August on the Beyond Music imprint.
-- RR

Best Eclectic/Uncategorizable Band -- Grandpa's Ghost
They grow 'em weird down there in Southern Illinois, and none is weirder than Pocahontas, Ill., band Grandpa's Ghost. The group has been around in various incarnations for a half-dozen-or-so years, releasing a couple of CDs, playing some shows, getting weirder and weirder. The band's early works were a somewhat skewed but hardly mind-bending version of alt-country. Grandpa's Ghost leader Ben Hanna may have had more tolerance for feedback and dissonance than most other twang-rockers, but the band wasn't too far removed from the "Neil Young meets Dinosaur Jr" comparisons lobbed at bands such as Uncle Tupelo. The band's most recent CD, Il Bacio -- released by Upland Records, a relatively new label founded by former SST associate Joe Carducci -- is where things changed.

The somewhat lengthy period between the album's completion and its release marked a nice turning point for Grandpa's Ghost. They seemingly stopped caring about how their music might be categorized. They also seemingly stopped caring about things such as standard song structure. There's not a solid drumbeat until something like 15 minutes into the album, when the magnificent "Skin" locks into a Neil Young-meets-Sonic Youth-meets-Can trance riff and wrestles with it for 10 minutes. Elsewhere, there are moments of quiet melodic beauty, sludgy overdriven fuzz and odd found sounds. Taken as a whole, Il Bacio was one of the most challenging and rewarding albums released last year by anyone anywhere, let alone by a peripherally St. Louis-based band.

Live, the band is just as likely to perform weird freeform improv, ragged feedback-laced rock songs or hourlong single-riff endurance tests. Hanna says Grandpa's Ghost "cleared the room" at a South By Southwest showcase, and as long as out-of-town promoters insist on booking them with alt-country bands, that trend will likely continue. The band has transcended the narrow confines of that genre -- and any other, for that matter -- and is just now, at long last, getting some recognition in St. Louis. Call Grandpa's Ghost experimental/rock/country/noise/beauty or, better yet, do what Slammies voters did and call the group the Best Eclectic/Uncategorizable Band in St. Louis.
-- MH

Best Roots/Americana Band -- Bottle Rockets
If all you'd heard from the Bottle Rockets was their latest album, Brand New Year, you'd never know they were part of the great alt-country scare of the '90s, and you'd never bet on them to take the Roots/Americana Slammy -- unless you consider Led Zeppelin blues, Cheap Trick country and Def Leppard roots. The Bottle Rockets have never rocked harder, though they've never sounded as if they had less reason to. They've stepped back from their country roots, and more than the twang has been lost. A new song such as "Gotta Get Up" may be an archetypal proletarian anthem -- the words "Gotta get up, gotta go to work, then I come home and I gotta go to bed" are repeated in a nightmare of alienation -- but it's a painfully dull listen, even if that was the point. The band has churned out such drunken larks as "Love Like a Truck" and "White Boy Blues" since they were Chicken Truck, but, with the exception of the ill-conceived Leftovers, outtake dregs from the ill-fated but brilliant 24 Hours a Day, they wouldn't have released them.

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