Though Karate Bikini has been in existence in some fashion for a few years, it has only one EP to its name and seldom plays shows. But the band's pedigree alone is enough to warrant your attention. Its lineup contains members of some of the best local bands in recent history, including Magnolia Summer, the Bottle Rockets, the Painkillers, Jon Hardy & the Public, Old Lights and Tight Pants Syndrome.
In 2010 Karate Bikini released the EP A Demonstration. As the name implies, the four-song release was a glorified demo, but it was enough for the RFT to coronate the band as the city's Best Rock Band back in 2010. That wasn't hype then, and it certainly isn't now. With its debut full-length, Sauce of the Apple Horse, to be released in 2012 and plans for more frequent performances thereafter, Karate Bikini is a name that you soon won't be able to avoid.
Sauce is a release that stands to vault Karate Bikini into the same group of veteran acts that fills out its members' résumés. It builds on what the band has already done, which is to create manic, luscious rock and power pop in the tradition of acts such as the Kinks, Big Star and the Byrds. An early mix of the album cut "Medic" reveals an infectious tune that would be at home on an early dB's record — if you ignore the flute and twangy guitar solo, that is.
Karate Bikini turned in one of the best local performances of the year at the KDHX (88.1 FM)-sponsored Bob Dylan tribute in May. Its set was highlighted by a cover of "Like a Rolling Stone" that carried, note for note, the electric desperation of Dylan's epic original. It will be a treat to see the band playing more of its own tunes with the same fervor on stages all over St. Louis in 2012.—Chris Bay
Little Big Bangs
Little Big Bangs made a splash in 2011, pushing its '90s-influenced weirdo indie-rock in the faces of every barfly, reject and music fan in St. Louis. One might remember the band for cranking out an opening set for Hunx and His Punx at the Firebird or performing as the Velvet Underground on Halloween at El Leñador. The foursome packs a thick sound backed up by the solid beats of drummer Drew Gowran. The guitar players switch instruments on the fly, complementing a diverse set ranging from danceable psychedelia to hard-hitting punk rock. Jagged riffs and solid rhythms back up the gang-like vocal party, featuring the screaming voices of every band member. The keen musicianship is backed up by a strong penchant for solid songwriting. LBB's natural habitat seems to be a packed basement full of sweaty, inebriated showgoers who frequently cross the line between dancing and moshing.
You could be forgiven if Bear Hive lands under your radar. The local trio's pedigree includes underrated bands the Sham and the Good Pyramid, and bands with animal names tend to run together. In fairness, Bear Hive is a better name when said out loud than when read. Other than a choice opening spot at the annual Indie Rock Ice Cream Social for its debut show, the buzz surrounding the group has been minimal — likely a result of the group's decision to sharpen its claws in the practice space rather than onstage. So far, the young band has shown more than just potential. The four tracks on its EP A Mountain to Maintain
are solid, unlikely pop songs built from the man-vs.-machine tension of electronic and live elements (think Menomena). "Wild Yonder" is the band's strongest work, a midtempo romp through uncharted Western mountains that plays like a less-stoned Minus the Bear circa 2002 or less drunk Modest Mouse circa 1996. The Chinese Zodiac says 2012 is the Year of the Dragon. We say it just might be the Year of the Bear Hive.—Ryan Wasoba
What We Won't See
Chris Smentkowski has been a pillar in St. Louis' experimental music community for more than a decade now. During his tenure in the legendary experimental unit Brain Transplant, Smentkowski mastered both guitar and laptop noise in an unrelenting bout of electric nihilism. With his new drum-machine-driven project, What We Won't See, Smentkowski brandishes his virulent guitar approach with Scott Tallent on electric bass and vocals. The Scratch Acid and Big Black comparisons are inevitable as Tallent's throbbing post-punk bass writhes toward the cold beat of automation. Not unlike his Touch & Go forebears, Smentkowski has the ability to tame feedback into a textural weapon, subdued one moment and laying electric waste the next. Combining the disgruntled bark of Tallent's vocals with the atmospheric swirl of Smentkowski's blackened guitar phrases, What We Won't See produces a bleak soundtrack to a working-class world gone wrong.—Josh Levi
Since moving to St. Louis from Philadelphia in early January, Rick Weaver has hit the ground running, embracing the city with wide eyes and open arms. In that short time, Weaver has already created a series of video shorts with the Family Visions company, started the bands Global Distance (with Skarekrau Radio's Rick Wilson) and Private Estate (with Larva Lou) and continues to run his Human Conduct label. Weaver is no stranger to the Gateway City — he has toured the country relentlessly in bands such as the New Flesh, Human Host, Form A Log and his acoustic solo effort, the Ruined Frame. Dinner Music, his latest psychic musing, finds Weaver creating dada-esque performances with prerecorded CD/cassette collages and a live accompaniment of drums, vocals and trombone. His music often explores the underbelly of dementia through tales of the grotesque, delivered with a phlegmatic disposition. On his latest cassette release, Electric Hokum
on Bathetic Records, Weaver wields pop tendencies toward an interdimensional world of sound through the use of found electronics, vibrant organ and haunting spoken word. Harnessing the ability to put life back into the art of performance and his brand of third-eye compositions, Dinner Music's potential has no end in sight.—Josh Levi
Ping Pong enjoyed a quiet debut in 2011, playing lower-key gigs in south city and working through a heavy brand of noisy rock. Recent additions to the group include Jeff Robtoy, infamous for his tenure in post-punk group Glass Teeth, and Mark Winters, the guitarist of There's a Killer Among Us. With influences ranging from grimy hardcore to precise math rock, Ping Pong has a roster of seasoned veterans poised to make a seismic shift in 2012. If you search for its music, you'll come up dry, as nothing exists on YouTube, Myspace, Bandcamp or any other site. Recordings are planned for the next year, but for now you'll just have to see the band live. —Joseph Hess
Who Fucking Cares?
Rising from the ashes of crossover punk band Dude Nukem, which played its last show in January 2010, Who Fucking Cares? (or WFC? for short) has wasted no time making its name known and simultaneously sending anyone considering attendance at one of its shows into a maddening "Who's on First" routine. (Q: "Who is playing the show tonight?" A: "Who Fucking Cares?" Q: "Wait, what?")
In addition to the nihilistically clever moniker, WFC? brings tight musicianship, blistering riffage and an in-your-face attitude to the St. Louis punk scene. With all of its members having been active in local hardcore bands for years, WFC? does not carry itself like a new band at all, but rather a finely honed one. Playing fast hardcore punk that borrows influence from bands such as Poison Idea, Infest and Tear It Up, the four-piece cuts like a rusty scalpel on record, annihilating and infecting anything it touches. Its live shows are almost unsettling; Lead singer Gus Theodorow growls and barks like a rabid animal, spitting lyrical hatred in an off-kilter and sincerely angry fashion. Jimmy Eberle plays his guitar like he's trying to snap it in half, drummer CG keeps pace at a speed best described as "frantic," and bassist Kevo Gash provides the band's thick backbone. Early 2012 will see the release of WFC?'s debut EP, and a two-week East Coast tour is in the works just in time for spring. —Daniel Hill