By Roy Kasten
By Kris Wernowsky
By Chaz Kangas
By Joseph Hess
By Julie Seabaugh
By Mike Appelstein
By Rachel Brodsky
By Kelsey McClure
The luckless drones of Radar Station are besieged with local recordings, beset with semiliterate press kits, plagued by importunate phone calls from pissy moms whose genius offspring we've so cavalierly neglected. Crushed under the weight of so much, uh, CREATIVITY, we sometimes wonder whether anyone remains in this town who hasn't burned a CD and mailed it off to Radar Station, whether a solitary St. Louisan exists who isn't hoping for a slice of the publicity pie and growing increasingly disenchanted with our obvious contempt for homegrown talent. In an effort to make amends, we sifted through the piles and plucked out a few of the more interesting tidbits for your delectation.
The only vinyl offering, a 7-inch single from the Julia Sets, contains a new original called "Domino," a buoyant pop song fueled by singer James Weber's inventively distorted, feedback-laced, pedal-heavy guitar riffs. Bassist (and RFT contributor) Matt Harnish supplies thoughtful, economical counterpoint, and drummer Kris Boettigheimer lays down a bouncy minimalist beat, the perfect backdrop for Weber's guitar pyrotechnics. The B-side -- a barely recognizable cover of Creedence Clearwater Revival's "Have You Ever Seen the Rain?" -- starts off with a mournful violin, gradually morphs into pretty guitar-jangle and culminates in a full-fledged freak-out.
Local art-punk trio the Star Death celebrate the release of The Dark House, their second album, on June 9 at the Way Out Club, where they'll be joined by a very different threesome, the delightful new wah-wah-garage-pop band the Fantasy Four (composed of guitarist/singer Marcia Pandolfi, formerly of the Tics and Shiny Tim; ex-Bunnygrunt-er Karen Stephens on bass; and drummer-about-town Jeff Hess), along with avant-jazz artists Dave Stone and Chris Smentkowski. A compelling mixture of skronky post-punk, sinuous funk and feverish spoken-word, The Dark House is even better than the Star Death's remarkable debut, The Sweetness Killers. The last track, which clocks in at a mind-boggling 20 minutes, points in a new, more improvisational direction that suggests the more outside work of John Zorn, thanks to guests Stone, Smentowski and saxophonist Simon Fischer. Two days after the CD-release party, the Star Death will hop into their recently purchased '81 Chevy Beauville van and embark on a grueling five-week coast-to-coast tour. Local bands, take note: These ladies are tight because they work their asses off and aren't content to shuttle among the handful of St. Louis clubs that will book them. Whatever success they've achieved they've earned the hard way, by getting their collective shit together and not by pestering Radar Station with whiny phone calls and flagrant suck-uppery or by siccing their moms on us.
The Homewreckers bring us Firecracker, their latest release on the local label/collective Rooster Lollipop, a sweetly chiming pop record that benefits from producer Mike Martin's engineering expertise. Guitarist/ singer Michael Fitzsimmons, who writes most of the songs, deftly strings together sticky hooks and memorable choruses in a way that evokes Tom Petty. Firecracker is not cutting-edge, not by any stretch of the imagination, but it's very pretty, and sometimes pretty is more than good enough, especially when it's as brisk, catchy and competently constructed as this.
Being fans of the late, lamented Geraldine Fibbers, we were ecstatic when the Springkeys' CD mysteriously appeared on our desk. Leyna Papach, erstwhile violinist for the Fibbers, is now collaborating with fellow St. Louisans David Jayne, Liam Christy, Tara Langsangan and Joseph Raglani. Although Papach here sings and plays keyboards rather than violin and although the Springkeys sound absolutely nothing like the Fibbers, it's still an engaging listen, a weird and ambient effort that shifts from semipsychedelic drone to trippy minimalist folk-pop to pseudo-world-beat to self-indulgent meandering to something indescribable and altogether beautiful. The self-produced, self-titled CD was recorded in one take on a four-track cassette deck, which accounts for the occasional rough edges and the sometimes uneven mix. Nevertheless, it's a promising, unusual debut, and we're anxious to see what they come up with next.
In other music news, several of St. Louis' most interesting bands will perform at the "Outside the Box" installation, a multimedia extravaganza at the historic Lemp Brewery that takes place on Saturday, June 9. (In a cruel twist of fate, it's the same night as the Star Death release party; however, it starts at 6 p.m. and lasts until midnight, so you might be able to check them both out). Amid the fertile chaos of a 4,000-square-foot art labyrinth populated by naked snow-cone girls, fire jugglers, roaming improv troupes, giant puppets and cowboys atop giant chickens, local noise experimentalists such as the Conformists, Western Robot (who seldom perform live) and the band formerly known as Captain, Captain will perform. Turntablist outfit Altered St8s goes on last, culminating in the enigmatically described "Midnight Spectacle," featuring guys in firecracker suits, which will be ritualistically ignited at the witching hour. According to organizer Scott Pondrom, "Outside the Box" will be the first of many such events, a welcome addition to our city's sometimes stuffy local art scene and an innovative way to combine the music and performance-art scenes. See the "Night & Day" feature "Midnight Explosion" for more info.