Buffet of Champions

You came, you saw, you voted: the winners of the 2005 Riverfront Times Music Awards

Hard rock is the genre because the music of Riddle of Steel is loud, aggressive and propulsive. But while happy headbangers can attest to the joys of pumping fists to this stuff, it's not all sturm und drang. For one thing, the mathematically precise guitar riffs, filtered through Elstner's seemingly endless supply of harmonic devices, are darn near as precise as the work of Bach. Vavak's elastic bass lines zip around the spaces beneath the notes and lock in with certain portions of Smith's over-the-top drumming. Elstner sings most of the songs with a long, loping melodic approach that helps recall early '80s King Crimson, a clear inspiration for this band.

It's not as though Riddle of Steel invented the idea of music that punches you in the jaw at the same time it challenges your brain, but they have come up with a highly distinctive and pleasurable brand of it. St. Louis may not be able to keep these guys a secret too much longer. -- Steve Pick

Best Hip-Hop CORE ProjectLet's just get it out in the open: This is a strange one. After dealing gruesome death to the Groove category this year, we weren't sure where to place its dominating band, CORE Project. Did their metal riffs put them in the Hard Rock grouping, or did the rapped vocals put them in the land of Hip-Hop? Never wanting to be too catholic with genres, we went with the latter, much to the woe of the fast-rising All-Stars, exhilarating Ruka Puff and the other hip-hop nominees.

From top: The Vultures, Femme Fatality, Dave Stone Trio
Jennifer Silverberg
From top: The Vultures, Femme Fatality, Dave Stone Trio
From top: The Whole Sick Crew, The Pat Sajak Assassins, The Sex Robots
Jennifer Silverberg
From top: The Whole Sick Crew, The Pat Sajak Assassins, The Sex Robots

Marketing, dude. Hip-hoppers of all sorts are more familiar with marketing than their rock counterparts. Whether you are Nelly on the cover of Billboardor a street MC striking your name on a wall, in hip-hop getting your name out has never been the sin that silly rockers think it is. And CORE Project knows how to get noticed. If you happen to be reading this in a bar or club, look around: There's probably a CORE sticker nearby.

And if you caught the DJ- and guitar-filled set at the Music Showcase last week, you know that CORE has an intense fan base that adds heat to the show onstage. People willing to get sweaty and dance in the midday sun for you will vote for you. And there's nothing strange about that. -- Jordan Harper

Best Hip-Hop DJ

Needles

St. Louis seems to be a little bit indecisive when it comes to hip-hop DJs. This year the award goes to underground wax-master DJ Needles. Last year it was big-time big boy Charlie Chan. The year before that? Needles. And before that? Chan. We have resolved not to make up our minds on this one. And why should we? Isn't there enough room in our hearts for both the tastemaking Charlie and the showstopping Needles?

Needles may have won out this year for his electrifying live skills, a powerful kung-fu that he displays at Blueberry Hill's Duck Room at the justly famous Friday-night Science shows. (For a change of pace, he destroyed BBH's Elvis Room for the Music Showcase.) Needles has the underground sensibilities that make the heads', um, heads nod, but he never strays so deep as to scare off surface dwellers who just want to hear some beats. Don't call him middle-of-the-road; he's the whole damn street. As hip-hop continues to be the beat of choice for so many St. Louis clubgoers and music fans, Needles will continue to lead the charge. With Charlie Chan right at his side. -- Jordan Harper

Best Indie Rock/Indie Pop

Bunnygrunt

Just wait until long-time Bunnygrunt fans hear the new record. Their once-whimsical light pop songs have been toughened up, revved into guitar overtone overdrive and occasionally even made incomprehensible. It's not as though they've abandoned their fondness for sweet and catchy melodies, ironic observations and knack for turning a sharp lyrical phrase. They've just expanded their palette.

The best indie-pop band in St. Louis has a long and complicated history that is most easily understood if you concentrate on Matt Harnish and Karen Reed. In the '90s Harnish and Reed, teamed with revolving bassists, became international indie-pop darlings before moving on to separate projects for a few years. When they returned in late 2003 to Bunnygrunt, they found themselves looking for a harder rock sound than they had previously desired.

So, after another full-time bassist left the band, Harnish and Reed decided Bunnygrunt would be just the two of them. Their new album, The Karen Hater's Club, was recorded with Harnish on guitar, Reed on drums and each taking turns on bass. Live, they've mixed things up even more, borrowing bassists and drummers from other bands every time they play. The variety of approaches seems to have energized them. The performance they gave in the Halo Bar at this year's Music Awards Showcase was one of their best ever.

The Karen Hater's Clubis short, and padded out with the occasional noisy screamfest and a couple of very odd solo vocal remix tracks that call to mind the work of Steve Reich more than any other indie-pop band you could name. Fans may be confused at first, but they'll be singing along to songs like "Nobody Rides for Free" and the gorgeous "More Loves Than Stupids" before they know it. Bunnygrunt has changed, but they're still themselves. -- Steve Pick

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