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Radar Station's a slave to tradition, and one of our favorite annual rituals is to devote the year's final column to the highlights in local music. There were a lot of them in 2002, no lie, and several of them didn't even involve Nelly (go figure!). Not everything was peachy, of course, and we found plenty to lament and lambaste: Great bands broke up; great clubs shut down; bad bands got record deals; moronic shock-jocks and their kiss-ass guests slandered us on the radio (and for the record, gullible Point listeners, if we were inclined to grab some shit-rock band member's minuscule testes, we surely would've done the universe a favor and ripped them from his scrotum). But the fact remains that we found much more to praise than to censure, and it's a privilege to have the opportunity to foist our opinions on the people. So tie this column up with a big red bow, box it up with all the Christmas ornaments and prepare yourself for the new year. Until then, here's a selection of the St. Louis music scene's best and brightest offerings from 2002.
In November Grandpa's Ghost released (The Tumble/Love Version), their sixth full-length and their third on Upland Records, a Colorado-based label headed by the legendary author/scenester/indie icon Joe Carducci. Like last year's Stardust & Smog, it's a double album that fascinates and frazzles, a crazy-quilt sonic pastiche of pretty acoustic shimmer, feral hardcore, twisted psychedelia and experimental roots rock. This time around, regular members Ben Hanna, Bill Emerson and Jack Petracek are joined by a disparate array of guest musicians, including Tobi Parks and Blueberry McGregor (of the Star Death), Mike Martin (of Tinhorn), Chris Dee (of the Conformists) and Dave Stone. Yeah, the damn thing is probably way too long for most practical purposes, but since when has the Ghost cared about being practical? These guys are artists, not profit-driven hacks, and they've created the perfect accompaniment for those of us who wanna spend the waning days of the year holed up in the shanty getting a good buzz on.
Right on the heels of the new Grandpa's Ghost album, Tinhorn self-released its second record, Stereowide, which is everything fans of the band have grown to expect -- and then some. It never fails to astonish us that a band so uniformly excellent can quietly labor away in relative obscurity while much lesser talents enjoy the favor of major-label sleazebags, but there's some consolation in knowing that at least Tinhorn won't end up fucked over and embittered, like certain big-deal corporate lapdogs whom we won't name. With its gorgeous Beatlesesque harmonies and intricate but never overly ornate arrangements, Tinhorn sounds accessible without ever pandering to lowest-common-denominator marketing trends. In some parallel universe, where talent reigns supreme, little girls are pretend-smooching Sean Garcia posters.
It's probably stretching the concept of "local" to include Jay Farrar and Nelly, both of whom are, in their own ways, not so much local artists as national artists who happen to live here, but, hey, we're in charge of this list, so we'll define "local" as we see fit. Farrar's most recent EP, ThirdShiftGrottoSlack, contains some of the most beautiful music he's ever made, which is saying a lot, given his formidable track record. No, he doesn't get as much hype as his former bandmate Jeff Tweedy, but that's because Farrar's not very good at being a rock star. In fact, he just might be the worst rock star of all time, but that's OK: With him, it's always been the music that matters, and it matters now more than ever.
Nelly, on the other hand, is very good at being a rock star. Even when he's hiding his light behind a goofy Band-Aid, hideously oversized sportswear and Kelly Rowland's overwrought melisma, our homeboy shines like nobody's business. Sure, he can't do a Philadelphia accent for shit, as anyone who saw Snipes (all three of us) can attest. And, yeah, some of his rhymes are just plain stupid (what are these "secrets that can't leave Cancun," and just how does the modern-day gangsta find "special ways to thank ya," we wonder?), but there's a reason he's a big whoop-de-do superstar, people, and it's not just because he's easy on the eyes. It goes without saying that there are more talented rappers out there, but there's nobody who's better at being Nelly. Long may he represent!
Also: Best twelve-inch: "T.A.B.L.A.M.F.C.B.," by the Litterthugz; best CD-release party: the Misses; best expatriate efforts: the Raymakers and Ryuku Underground; best fliers: the Conformists; best zine: 4 X 4 Magazine; best debut: Magnolia Summer.