Local Motion

Homespun's top ten local album releases of 2007.

We began running the Homespun column in the music section almost a year ago, with the intent of giving a dedicated space to the records being released by St. Louis acts. Whether this "boosts the scene" can be (and has been) debated, but here are ten of the best local discs to cross our desk in our inaugural year — in alphabetical order.

The Bureau
We Make Plans in Secret
(self-released)
It's easy to think of the Bureau as a throwback to darkly melodic new-wave bands of yore. The group's professed love of Duran Duran only reinforces this idea. In truth, the Bureau takes moody, synth-based rock & roll and infuses it with a heavy dose of sharp-cornered post-punk and austere robo-rhythms. We Make Plans in Secret delivers on the promise of the band's debut EP by framing Mike Cracchiolo's expressive, octave-spanning vocals with retro keyboard bleeps and lush synth pads, while the rhythm section maintains a propulsive, carbon-based energy.

Ghost in Light
After Fox Meadow
(self-released)
RFT readers voted Ghost in Light the city's best indie rock band in this year's music awards — and listening to After Fox Meadow suggests that this was no fluke. Meadow is delicate and tempered in places (the swirling "Hypoxia2" would fit right in on Brian Eno's Another Green World) and full of fury and heavy-duty riffage in others (the well-controlled chaos of opener "Faces"). The light touches of prog-rock keep the needle jumping throughout, and these tracks mutate and shift as they progress. Sadly, Ghost in Light (whose drummer was RFT clubs editor Shae Moseley) called it quits this autumn, but Meadow stands as a prime example of inventive, well-crafted rock & roll.

Grace Basement
New Sense
(Dren Records)
Recording under the moniker Grace Basement, Kevin Buckley has crafted an album of varied, hook-heavy indie rock that transcends his generic appellation. Save for one drum part, Buckley plays every note on New Sense, an album which dabbles in power-pop, acoustic folk and even alt-country. Melody and harmony remain paramount throughout these ten tracks, with Buckley often using double-tracked vocals to boost his unassuming tenor. "Green Machine" is emblematic of Grace Basement's M.O.: Its churning, raucous guitar squeal morphs into a lightly swinging song of love and longing. If you listen closely, you can almost hear the markings of a Brill Building chart-topper beneath the fuzz. This kind of subtle deception — real emotions beneath really good rock & roll — makes New Sense an essential piece of St. Louis pop.

Jon Hardy & the Public
Working in Love
(self-released)
Jon Hardy is a believer. He believes in love, hard work and the redemptive power of soul-powered rock & roll. Hardy and his band, the Public, released Working in Love this fall, and the album mixes jangly guitars and a solid backbeat with horn players and plenty of reverb. Hardy's voice swells with devotion and booms with conviction on these songs; "Love Don't Work Like That" finds the singer pledging allegiance to a doubtful lover, while "Trouble" warns his lover against getting too attached. These are great songs sung with heart and soul, backed by a melodic band. Do we need anything else?

The Hibernauts
Periodic Fable
(self-released)
The Hibernauts stuff an album's worth of spacey, dissonant riffs on its seven-song debut EP, proving that the band is capable of making rock & roll that's nervy, melodic and highly danceable. A few Fable tracks possess a Killers-esque vibe — mainly due to pulsing beats and tightly wound guitars — while others (like opener "Off Key and Violent") push for the stratosphere with a kind of amped-up shoegaze. The winner of the bunch is the closing song "Scissors," in which the vagaries of a relationship are reduced to a game of Rock, Paper, Scissors. It's the kind of final song that guarantees a repeat listen to the entire album.

Jumbling Towers
Jumbling Towers
(self-released)
Don't call them Mumbling Towers: Singer Joe DeBoer sings with the elocution of a stage actor, relishing each syllable and making every word stick with his preening, elastic voice. Jumbling Towers' self-titled album is the rare debut that sounds of a piece instead of piecemeal; the quartet keeps things deceptively simple and streamlined, which makes the gut-punches sting that much more. DeBoer mans the Rhodes electric piano, adding a resonant sparkle to the choppy post-punk guitar lines and border-drawing bass lines. If the dance-punk rhythms and circular keyboard lines of "He's a Cop Now" don't get your heart pumping, you may want to check your pulse.

The Linemen
Through Side One
(self-released)
It's been some time since this city's hipper realms embraced a country band without that troublesome "alt-" tacked on in front. And yet the Linemen have appeared to remind us that solid songwriting backed with country signifiers (pedal steel, fiddle, heartsick lyrics) can play it straight. Kevin Butterfield leads the foursome with a strong, yearning voice, and he brings a simple, formal beauty to his songwriting that rings with truth, insight and hard questions. Sure, there are songs about whiskey and lonely nights, but on Through Side One, the combination of the two continues to inspire great songwriting.

The Midwest Avengers
Evil Superheroes
(Freedom Culture Coalition)
After countless lineup changes (and the untimely deaths of two former members), the Midwest Avengers returned this year with a new live band and a new direction. Well, not entirely new: Mixing rap and rock isn't particularly groundbreaking (or listenable) in and of itself, but the Avengers turn the haters on their ears. Incorporating a fierce, bottom-heavy rhythm section and a shred-ready guitarist, the emcees So'n'So and BC trade verses with spitfire audacity and relaxed cool. It's a combination that allows for menacing depths and breezy funk — and much else in between.

Rats & People
The City of Passersby
(self-released)
Brien Seyle, singer and guitarist for Rats & People, has crafted a universe that is both specific and vague. The songs on The City of Passersby deal with miners, ship captains and broken soldiers, each one existing everywhere and nowhere at the same time. And no time period binds these characters, much like the way folk tales get updated through the years. But these folk songs work well within their arrangements, which reference various rock and folk idioms. Accordion, cornet and fiddle flesh out these songs, and drummer Rob Laptad keeps strict time on songs like "We Will Be There," though the tone slows down for the next song, the hushed "Ohio." Fiddler Beth Dill (who has since left the band) sings lead on the track, offering a nice midpoint to an album that is marked by Seyle's flurried, pinched delivery.

Theodore
Songs for the Weary
(self-released)
2007 was the year that Theodore emerged as a leading light in this town's fractured folk scene. Songs for the Weary finds singer and songwriter Justin Kinkel-Schuster leading the band through dirges, freak-outs and simple singer-songwriter tunes. His voice can turn from broken and browbeaten (the searing opening track "Back from the War") to twangy and campy (the clip-clop country of "Good and Sweet"). Theodore jumps styles throughout its debut, refusing to settle on one sound, tempo or emotion. Where the band goes from here is anyone's guess, but Songs for the Weary strongly suggests that it will be worth listening to find out. 

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