By Bob McMahon
By Allison Babka
By Kelsey McClure
By Carolina de Busto
By Ben Westhoff and Sarah Purkrabek
By Steve Brennan
By Joseph Hess
By Allsion Babka
STL LOUD Volume 1 is the brainchild of Ryan Albritton, the co-owner of and engineer at Dogtown's R&R Music Labs recording studio. The premise is simple and solid: Find a half-dozen promising local acts, offer them some recording time to lay down an unreleased track and then compile the results on a semi-regular series of releases. In theory, such compilations would offer both a tip sheet for and a document of local talent. The initial offering mostly does just that. The six-song EP is split evenly between new, undiscovered talent and established bands. Albritton's production style is fairly hands-off; the groups hew to folk, rock and singer-songwriter idioms, and the recordings have the bare-bones sound of a radio in-studio session or a Daytrotter date.
Of the up-and-comers, folk/bluegrass quartet the Warbuckles shows the most promise. The gospel strains of "These Chains Are Long" comes through in the group harmonies, and the punky fervor of rough guitar strums gives the song some spit and fire. Singer-songwriter Andy Berkhout has a beautifully fragile voice, although his "Times and Things" tends to amble gently into nothingness. Langen Neubacher has the opposite problem — her songwriting on "Parking Lots" is the strongest on this brief program, but her voice falters with timidity and some halting phrasing. Both singer-songwriters are worth watching, but these early recordings will not likely be among their best work.
The more seasoned bands on the bill are understandably more confident in the studio and turn in good, if not revelatory, performances. Via Dove's "On a Roll" exploits the Stones-y blues-rock of last year's El Mundo Latino, and the Dive Poets' "Drink Alone" continues the whiskey-and-beer-laced songwriting found on earlier tracks (though the inclusion of pedal steel adds a nice, if predictable, wrinkle). The Orbz show the most growth with "Finish," a down-tempo new wave/shoegaze cut that exercises conciseness and a catchy chorus. Even if the first edition of STL LOUD is a bit underwhelming in places, its appearance suggests a new avenue toward scene-building and cross-genre unity.
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