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
The Gorge has explored many options in its brief existence; the band self-produced its first EP, worked in the area's most professional studio and is toying with the idea of booking time at Firebrand for an upcoming release. Still, these methods barely expose the myriad ways music is made in St. Louis. Anthony Engelhardt releases thoughtful electronic tracks under the moniker Ra Cailum. His EP Finding My Way sounds like a Nintendo eating '70s era Miles Davis LPs and is on par with any electronic music released anywhere this year. In some ways, Ra Cailum's operation is the opposite of that of rock bands who write and rehearse before entering the studio. For Engelhardt, recording and composing are one in the same. "I usually start with a synthesizer patch, build a drum rhythm and get a rudimentary structure to the track," he explains. "After that, I add incidentals until I can't fit anything else in and then start editing things out and mixing."
One of Engelhardt's favorite local artists, experimental legend in the making Eric Hall, employs an entirely different process. He improvises with digital equipment and records his compositions in real time as they are written. Hall recently released Live Solos 2005–2010, 22 hours of improvisational recordings with exceptional fidelity. The live element, often a distraction in rock or jazz recordings, provides a welcome spontaneity to the listening experience.
St. Louis music fans have long spoken of a community that is bubbling, preparing for an artistic avalanche. While we can't predict what next year will hold for our little Gateway to the West — mouths are watering for new records from Spelling Bee, So Many Dynamos and Pretty Little Empire — this year's stellar recordings look forward to a future in which saying an album "sounds local" is a compliment. Whether 2012's best local albums are recorded at homes or studios or on a handheld Sony Walkman, one truth is self-evident to Bo Bulawsky. "A good song is more important than a good recording," he says. "A great song recorded averagely is enjoyable. A bad song recorded perfectly still sucks."— Ryan Wasoba