2002 Riverfront Times Music Award Winners

Your verdict is in: Check out St. Louisí favorite local musicians.

That's not to say, however, that these guys are afraid to be a little dorkish. At least two songs on their debut album, The Other Side of You, make fun of loving obsessions with a pornographic image ("My Own Little World") and a cardboard cut-out (the mysteriously untitled ninth track). It's almost as though they're singing these jokey songs to make themselves more lovable, more worthy of being saved by a real live woman. And then they crank out plenty of songs about actual relationships, all showing off their sensitive side.

None of this would matter if the band didn't have such a knack for radio-ready hooks. All the songs on the album (not to mention the four tracks on their more recent EP) stick to the ears like Velcro. They bounce across a blend of power pop/ska/power ballad rhythmic styles, with hooks the order of every day. If you can't hum the thing after a couple of listens, Just Add Water is most likely gonna throw a new song out on its can.

Having aroused the interest of several major labels, the hard-working quintet seems poised for a shot at the big time. They've got the material, the appeal and the sound. Now it's time for a little luck, and Just Add Water could be as big as anybody in the Modern Rock scene. (SP)

Jay Farrar
Best Singer/Songwriter

Unlike several of the other winners in the 2002 RFTMAs, Jay Farrar is a first-timer. Even though his old band Uncle Tupelo spearheaded a movement (a tiny one, to be sure, but one whose influence continues to be felt), the Belleville-based trio never won a single Slammy, amazingly enough. After UT split up, Farrar's childhood friend and longtime bandmate Jeff Tweedy formed Wilco with the remaining members; Farrar reunited with original UT drummer Mike Heidorn, and Son Volt was born. Their debut, Trace, was widely held to be a masterpiece and even made it onto Elvis Costello's list of his all-time favorite CDs a few years back. Subsequent albums weren't as well received, unfortunately, even though the third (and, perhaps, final) Son Volt effort, Wide Swing Tremolo, is, to our ears, every bit as strong as Trace and infinitely more ambitious.

Last year, Farrar went solo, releasing Sebastopol under his own name. A beautiful and uncompromising album, it easily ranks among his best work, drawing on the sonic experimentalism of the last Son Volt albums but taking it in a more focused direction. A bevy of all-star backing musicians -- Gillian Welch and David Rawlings, Kelly Joe Phelps, Steve Drozd of the Flaming Lips, Matt Pence of Centro-matic, Jon Wurster of Superchunk -- freed Farrar to tinker around with unexpected arrangements, alternate tunings, the occasional drum loop and even a lone saxophone, distorted beyond recognition. "I primarily worked with one musician at a time," Farrar told us in an interview late last year, "so it allowed the songs to evolve at a slower pace, with more time to think about what instrumention to put where, whereas with Son Volt we were mostly trying to capture the essence of what we'd been doing on the road."

Despite its more calculated approach, Sebastopol wasn't so much a departure for Farrar as a logical progression. He didn't alienate his longtime fans with self-conscious forays into microhouse or free-jazz skronk; he didn't reinvent himself for the rock-is-dead era. He still sounds like himself -- the same mournful baritone, the same melancholy phrasing, the same cryptic lyrical tendencies -- but doesn't sound as if he's repeating himself. Since his early twenties, Farrar has had a unique style, one that's often imitated but never equaled -- he doesn't need to fuck with everyone's expectations to evolve as an artist.

In the end, one suspects, Farrar's music will live on long after the current crop of critics' pets have faded into obscurity. It's only fitting that his first RFT Music Award honors his abilities as a singer/songwriter. It's his songs -- oblique, surreal, abstract and yet still somehow deeply personal -- that make up his true legacy. Leave the radical self-reinvention to the wannabes and poseurs: St. Louisans are loyal to Farrar because he's remained true to himself. (RSS)

Tripstar
Best Pop

So strange, the nomenclature of popular music. "Rockabilly" once described an unpredictable synthesis of hillbilly country and rhythm & blues; now the term refers to virtually any band with a stand-up bass and leather jackets. "Jam" once referred to what musicians did before they called themselves a band; now it's the raison d'être of a whole youth movement. "Folk" music used to be made by and for folks; now the surburban bourgeoisie sticks "contemporary" in front of it and shells out $17.50 a ticket at Generations.

What's happened to pop is, perhaps, strangest of all. Pop was once the opposite of rock & roll: Frank Sinatra, Bobby Darin and Barbra Streisand were all pop artists. Now pop means pretty much any young band that recognizes the existence of the Beatles, seems oblivious to punk, shows their navels on MTV or adds la-la-la to a chorus. To be fair to the members of Tripstar, winning Best Pop Band wasn't their idea. They play crunchy, anthemic guitar rock, and they play it about as well as any band yet to break out of the local scene. Their debut album, At the Instar Motel, is full of sweeping time changes, spacey harmonies and the sunshiney nonsense of a dozen Donovan albums. They're not afraid of puppy love's ickier sentiments -- the lines "I'd like to hold you close, dancing nose to nose/I'd like to feel your smile/It touches me for miles and miles" are representative -- nor are they afraid to erect sugarcoated cathedrals around Bryan Hoskins' quasar-high vocals.

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