2007: The Year in Movies and Music

A year-end wrap-up of what we adored, what was ignored and what the new year will bring.

Best Spoon Album: Spoon, Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga (Merge). The politics slip in under the skin as the rhythms go straight for the ass; the brass and strings sting with the precision of sugar needles as the mix hits, again and again, like a heavyweight contender. Single of the Year: "The Underdog."

Second-Best Spoon Album: Jon Hardy and the Public, Working In Love (self-released). Jon Hardy's voice suggests no one so much as Britt Daniel, a fact that barely matters as this St. Louis band pours out horned-up hooks, boundless melodies and unfussy lyrics of finding romance in an alienated world. Another Single of the Year: "Cassius Clay."
 Roy Kasten

The Beat Goes On

Pop music's increasing reliance on MySpace is, in some ways, the dreadful democratization of the biz that many have long-feared. But there are two things in the Web site's favor: It does mean fewer homemade CDs (and their jewel cases) cracking underfoot. And in '07, MySpace was the best place to hear two of the year's most delightful new bands: Jacksonville's multiracial Black Kids and the Windy City rap duo the Cool Kids. The former sounds like what would have happened if the Cure's Robert Smith had gotten his existential angst out by fronting a teen R&B group. The latter samples Eric B and Rakim, offers a song titled "88" and another tune about their bikes, making a crucial link between rap's Golden Age and today's indie scene (which seems to be the only place left where people care about hip-hop history).

The year in hip-hop, as a whole, was about as dismal as any in recent memory. More mixtapes, more guest shots, more regional scenes gaining a foothold — and outside of good efforts from the usual (Kanye) and not-so-usual suspects (Wyclef, a surprising Wu-Tang comeback), almost nothing worth talking about in the mainstream. However, down below in the underground — if it's really worth drawing that distinction any more — El-P made possibly the best album of his career, the tightly focused, vividly imagistic I'll Sleep When You're Dead. Kansas City's Mac Lethal delivered a hugely entertaining debut on Rhymesayers, 11:11, which showed that while "emo-rap" is still a horrible term, rhyming about deeply personal subjects doesn't have to be a turn-off. And on Situation, Rich Terfry, a.k.a. Buck 65, achieved the sort of paradox we've come to expect from an artist of his brilliance. He's never been more conceptual (an album about life in 1956 and Situationism?) or created more hard-hitting hip-hop.

Since we still appear to be in a holding pattern until the inevitable '90s/grunge/black helicopters revival (mark it down for '09, especially if we have a new President Clinton), the '80s influence still dominated. Often in overt ways: See Chromeo's picture-perfect, vocoderized electro pastiche Fancy Footwork, or Tiger Army's wonderful, New Orderesque single "As the Cold Rain Falls," from its otherwise sweet and swell psychobilly outing Music From Regions Beyond. But an even cooler thing was the unexpected ways those Me Decade sounds were spit back this year, as in Kenna's unclassifiable new-wave hybrid Make Sure They See My Face, Scottish DIY-er Calvin Harris and the new millenium synth-pop of I Created Disco and fellow UK-er Jamie T's Clash-inspired hip-hop on Panic Prevention.

Even Nick Cave made an effort to reclaim part of his past, forming the new group Grinderman and making more blues-skronk noise than he had since his days fronting the Birthday Party. The subject of laments like "No Pussy Blues" aside, the old devil also sounded like he was having more fun than maybe ever — a pretty cool, and atypical, way for a pop musician to celebrate a 50th birthday.
— Dan LeRoy

All that Jazz

Blues and jazz roots run deep in St. Louis, and our town is fortunate to have an ample supply of talented musicians in both genres, as well as first-rate venues where listeners can tap into those roots on a regular basis.

BB's Jazz, Blues and Soups completed an ambitious expansion and renovation project this year, opening a second floor and adding an outdoor balcony that effectively doubled the room's capacity. The club also teamed up with video producers Front Row Productions to shoot performance footage of many local musicians for a prospective cable or public television series, which could mean wider attention for St. Louis talent if the plan comes to fruition in 2008

In addition to featuring local acts, BB's continued to book a fine selection of touring blues musicians, including recurring appearances by Watermelon Slim and the Workers, an Oklahoma band whose CD The Wheel Man was one of the underrated standout releases of the year. Other 2007 blues releases worth special attention included Old School, a strong comeback from Chicago vocalist Koko Taylor, and Irma Thomas' After The Rain, a heartfelt and haunting post-Katrina effort from New Orleans' queen of soul.

In other welcome news, Jazz St. Louis added several weeks of music during the summer to the Jazz at the Bistro season, making the series an eleven-months-a-year operation. To further its broader goal of promoting and preserving jazz in St. Louis, JSL also expanded its educational programs to help nurture future generations of jazz listeners and players. The Bistro's 2007 schedule included many top touring acts, highlighted by spring appearances from legendary bassist and former Miles Davis sideman Dave Holland's quintet and the sizzling all-star octet SF Jazz Collective, who mixed original works and re-imaginings of the music of Thelonious Monk with excellent results.

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