In an age where bands can succeed or fail on the basis of one MP3, it's refreshing that full-length albums are alive and well in St. Louis. (Note: The RFT's EP/seven-inch list can be found here.) Each year, the Riverfront Times receives dozens of CD, MP3 and, occasionally, vinyl submissions for our local-review column, Homespun, and we do our best to keep tabs on the city's vast and varied musical community. The following ten releases reach beyond mere merch-table fodder or sonic résumés, however; they stand tall as capital-A Albums, worthy of several top-to-bottom spins. In alphabetical order:
Black Spade Live, HeadQuarters @ The Gramophone:
Black Spade Build & Destroy (self-released) It's hard to lose when you kick off a mixtape with a little bit of Stevie Wonder, but Black Spade's Build & Destroy doesn't coast on the strength of samples alone. St. Louis expat Trackstar the DJ has stitched together an eighteen-track program to highlight Black Spade's laid-back, soulful vibe and smart, socially aware rhymes. Other STL emcees Rockwell Knuckles, Vandalyzm and Coultrain drop in for a verse or two, but Black Spade's easy-to-swallow flow holds the whole affair together. The catch-all mixtape moves from sinister, gamelan-like sounds ("Enemies Frienemies") to quirky beats under slowed-down Beatles samples ("I Heart") without missing a beat. Feature Profile on Black Spade
The Conformists, "Are These Flowers?"
The Conformists None Hundred (Sickroom Records) Noise-rock is a tricky, usually misleading term that gets thrown at the Conformists, but the band's greatest strength is its use of restraint: The band knows how and when to unleash a guitar squall and when to cut it teasingly short. The incremental tempo shifts that kick off "Jesus Was a Shitty Carpenter" evince these players' extra-sensory understanding of their truncated rhythms and sharp, stabbing guitar lines. Mike Benker's vocals are clearer this time around, and on a song such as "Swim Home," he's confident to dramatically speak-sing, instead of settling into his usual full-throttle howl. The appropriately named "Pro Gear, Pro Attitude" ends the album with a cycle of melodic, meditative guitar-plucks, as a harmonically enhanced bass line locks in with cymbal splashes. After methodically climbing a mountain of burgeoning intensity, Benker provides the necessary cathartic release and lets his bandmates assist on the comedown Homespun Review
Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.