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By Allison Babka
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Almost a month ago, we asked readers to describe, in 500 words or less, their favorite aspects of the St. Louis music scene -- the performers, bands, DJs, club nights and so on that get them off their couches of an evening. After countless hours of painstaking deliberation, we've finally selected a winner: Jason Wallace Triefenbach, who wrote about local noiseniks Tone Rodent.
But before Triefenbach gets his official Radar Station-sanctioned say-so, a couple of notes on the contest's criteria seem appropriate. If we'd judged the contest on the basis of subject matter, on the degree to which the writer's tastes correspond to our own, we'd probably have picked someone else. But this is an essay contest, not an opinion contest, so we judged all submissions on the quality of the prose, not the good taste of the writer. By the same token, we didn't attach any weight to the fact that exactly half of all the entries we received sang the praises of one S. Eric Ketzer, a local singer/songwriter of the Painfully Earnest School. Obviously the dude has done a little grassroots campaigning, and we salute him for his efforts. Nice hustle, Eric, but we still can't stand your music. Next time, enlist better writers, and don't be so obvious about it, OK?
Without further ado, here is Triefenbach's winning entry, which edged out other strong contenders on the strength of its messianic fervor, its bizarre neologisms, its hilarious digressions and, of course, its complete lack of references to S. Eric Ketzer:
"When rock & roll becomes self-referential, it is as inane and purposeless as the visual arts at their worst. (Note well: The garage is that part of one's home that eventually becomes a depository for broken gadgets and yesterday's mildewy bored-game sensations.) There is, however, a quite dissimilar path one may travel, one which leads through vast expanses -- strange hieroglyph bleeps and buzz-saw horizons. Red with purple flashes?
"Tone Rodent, by their press-kit admission, play "Post-Maximalist Hard-Psych-Dreamcore" music, a genre some of you may recognize by its alternate nom de plume, "Space Rock" (or, as I like to chuckle dryly to companions over a snifter of Asti, "Soundtrack for Exploding Fudge Noir"). In truth, however, each of these descriptions captures only a fragment of Tone Rodent's overall output. When appearing as an effects-laden guitar duo, the partners produce screeching noise alongside gentle hums as the occasional crackle of feedback or the sound of a tortured cable loops on and on, providing jerky cadence to the washes of distortion. At other times, one encounters Tone Rodent as a stutteringly melodious four-, five- or six-member band flaunting very danceable rhythms in addition to the aformentioned screeches, washes and looping disconnection. Either way, the best possible condition for a live experience of the group is slightly more than slightly inebriated, eyes closed, swaying and stumbling as patterns converge and morph just behind one's eyelids.
"With the rising popularity of imports like Sigur Rós and Mogwai, as well as the eastward thrust of California Shoegaze (as typified by the Warlocks or Black Rebel Motorcycle Club), I foresee a day when the sweaty guitar of anti-frontman Adam Watkins will be held aloft over screaming hordes of teenyboppers as heroin flows backstage and Christina Aguilera just can't seem to get on the guest list. When that happens, I will perch, disgruntled, in the shadows at large clubs -- dribbling rum down the front of my shirt and cursing under my breath at young girls with pierced buttocks flashing views of their genetically engineered cleavage at the band.
"But until then, the ghostly bubble-drone of Tone Rodent's saturated dirges will thrill me mightily every time I see them opening for overrated national acts who merely feign interest in the sort of holographic expansionism these guys have been honing for the past several years."
Space doesn't permit us to publish the runners-up, but a resounding shout-out is due to Cricket O'Neill, whose essay on "the fucking rock & roll scene!" included a nice blurb on Triefenbach's band, the Electric, as well as ardent appraisals of Lofreq, the Shame Club, Saw Is Family, Tok and her own band, Photo by Husband. To her credit, O'Neill clearly defines her aesthetic biases from the get-go: "...When I say rock & roll, I mean down 'n' dirty, drunk-as-hell, mean-as-a-mother guitars, drums and words rumbling off the stage, making you want one more shot before you grab that cute girl's ass music." Big ups also to Derek, who rightly observed that Fragile Porcelain Mice, a Belleville outfit that's been together for more than ten years, "still go under the signal of the Radar Station."