Doing Our Best

Our intrepid columnist weighs in with her faves for the year that was

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In this, the last installment of Radar Station for the year 2001, we celebrate the best in local music. Unlike the Slammy Awards, which are more or less democratic (especially if you ignore the blatant ballot-stuffing campaigns organized by certain sorry-ass bands), Radar Station's list is, much like Radar Station, autocratic, subjective and patently unfair. As our detractors frequently remind us, we do a piss-poor job "supporting the local scene" -- at least if you define "support" as indiscriminate cheerleading. We don't give bands bonus points because they deign to live in the St. Louis metropolitan area. Nor do we give a fuck whether they work hard (Radar Station doesn't) or have a lot of fans (Radar Station doesn't). We hold local bands to the same standards we have for national acts (after all, every band's a local band somewhere in the world); this habit might lead to awkward confrontations from time to time, but at least those musicians who do earn our oh-so-coveted endorsement know our love is sincere and not just civic-minded claptrap.

Top 10 Songs: "Lemmehollaatcha," Da Hole 9 (who knew grown men making squealing-tire sounds would rock Radar Station's world?); "Roll Wit Me," Pretty Willie Suella (if this song doesn't top the charts on its national release next year, the universe makes no sense at all); "Your Mirrors Must Be Mad" and "Hometown Rock Star," the Fantasy Four (same band, different songwriters, impossibly catchy garage pop); "Must Have Misread," Prune (a real heartbreaker); "Let It Hang," Grandpa's Ghost (the pot smoke practically whooshes from the speakers); "Then Ya Do," the Poppies (what if John Lennon were reincarnated as a sexy young blonde?); "I Do," Toya (OK, it's cheating to say she's local, now that she's got a record on Arista, but the song first hit here, so we claim it); "Glitter Girls," Larissa Dalle (she doesn't like to do this song much anymore, probably because Radar Station loves it so); "Feministica," the Star Death (bonus points for the 7-inch-single format).

Honorable mentions: "Slow Car," Fred's Variety Group; "Little Baby Dreams," the Highway Matrons; "Candleshoe," DozeMaryPool; "Domino," the Julia Sets; "Pentium," Ring, Cicada.

Best Full-Length CD: Fronted by Steve Carosello, St. Louis' most talented semirecluse, the Love Experts (whose membership oscillates between five and six) have performed maybe 10 times in the past 10 years. To the best of our knowledge, Radar Station hasn't missed more than a couple of these shows. Carosello writes the kind of songs we remember even when a year or two elapses between listens, the kind of songs we want to hear over and over again. Imagine our joy, then, when these songs we've cherished mentally for the past decade arrived on our desk in the form of a CD titled Vast Window. We wondered briefly whether they'd hold up to the versions stored in our memory, but a few seconds into the opening cut, our fears were put to rest. The 13 tracks were recorded live with a Yamaha KX-500U cassette deck, but because of the intricate guitar figures (three, count 'em, three guitars, all doing different things) you'd swear, especially if you hadn't seen the band create the same magic live, that you were hearing layers of overdubs. The Love Experts' sound is intricate and contrapuntal, a bit like Carosello's idols Roxy Music but less glittery and synthetic-sounding. Carosello's vocal melodies make full use of his multioctave range, but they never seem contrived or show-offy: The songs always come first. Here's to another 10 years, guys.

Best Debut: Not every band can say its first gig was at the Pageant, but Grand Ulena, bassist Darin Gray's ferocious new avant-punk group, can make this rather impressive claim. Gray, formerly of the Dazzling Killmen and You Fantastic! and a frequent collaborator with experimental composer/guitarist Loren MazzaCane Connors, formed Grand Ulena with drummer Danny McLaine and guitarist Chris Trull; soon thereafter, they were invited by Jeff Tweedy, a childhood friend of Gray's (Tweedy produced the first Dazzling Killmen single, as a matter of fact), to open for Wilco at their Pageant show last fall. Despite the fact that Grand Ulena was expressly chosen by Tweedy, a cloddish contingent of Wilco fans heckled the band mercilessly, shouting out such witty gibes as "You suck!" and "4/4!" As Randall Roberts astutely observed, it's no wonder Tweedy hates coming back here.

Although the boorishness of the crowd knew no bounds, this minor distraction didn't ruin the performance for us. In fact, Grand Ulena seemed to feed on the crowd's animosity, grinding it up and spitting it back in a white-hot bolus of raw electric aggression. Tweedy told the audience later that Grand Ulena was surely the best band he'd see on this tour, but he couldn't convert those Bud Light-swilling, cell-phone-wielding, baseball-cap-wearing doofuses who'd come to sing along with "Passenger Side" and bellow out requests for old Uncle Tupelo songs all fucking night. But big deal, right? Grand Ulena rocked us like nobody's business, and we can only imagine what they'll sound like a few months down the line -- assuming they ever play in town again.

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