By Ben Westhoff and Sarah Purkrabek
By Steve Brennan
By Joseph Hess
By Allsion Babka
By Kelsey McClure
By RFT Music
By Christian Schaeffer
By Gabriel San Roman
Warped Tour needs new blood. This year's collection of pitiful whiners, ill-advised side-projects and washed-up '90s also-rans turned what was once an invigorating all-day experience into a masochistic marathon. Thankfully, Building Rome and Sparland, two St. Louis-based groups formed within the past year, boast enough potential to relegate some current big-stage bands to the satellite tents.
With its debut single "Miss U More" -- a prom-ready piano ballad that organically evolves into a propulsive pop-punk tune -- denting local airwaves, Building Rome has already started laying the groundwork for a bright future. In fact, Nothing's fast tracks drive hard in a non-threatening manner -- recalling nerdcore misfits such as Nerf Herder -- while ringing guitar solos, sudden screams and choruses that split the difference between shout-along group vocals and tuneful harmonies are also used effectively. Singer Jonathan Heisserer convincingly de-snottifies his vocals for sensitive segments elsewhere; when he repeatedly apologizes during "Sorry I Wished," he sounds sincere. Only an acoustic fantasy about a "belly-dancer bitch" falls flat: It shoots for Blink-182's cute-stupid charm but achieves only Bloodhound Gang-caliber idiocy.
Sparland's Invasion opens in an unpromising fashion, with a few seconds of squiggly dance-pop. Fortunately, it's a false start. The synths pulse in an urgent, robotic manner, metallic riffs reinforce the same pattern, and suddenly the same song has become not only heavy but also riveting. Even more musically nomadic than Building Rome, Sparland buttresses an essentially emo melodic template with hardcore breakdowns, frequent time-signature switches, atmospheric keyboards and densely knotted dual guitars. The bandmates earn extra live-show points for getting their scorched-throat background screams from their synthesizer player, an incongruous spectacle likely to amuse spectators during their live show.