Second Time Around

A look at the sophomore efforts from a few local bands

Story of the Year

The curse of the Best New Artist Grammy is a well-known phenomenon, wherein recipients of this award are thereby banished to obscurity (Arrested Development) or mediocrity (Men at Work -- OK, "Overkill" aside). Same thing with the Rookie of the Year in baseball, wherein a stellar first season begets a career bust (paging Pat Listach).

But what of the dreaded sophomore slump for musicians? Although it's nearly impossible to live up to successful debut discs -- just ask Hootie and the Blowfish -- producing a respectable, engaging follow-up isn't an impossible task. Or is it? Here are four local (three gone national) acts that recently released second albums -- and how they fare under scrutiny.

Story of the Year

Who: Few bands get as much flak from detractors as the band formerly known locally as Big Blue Monkey. But like 'em or loathe 'em, there's no underestimating the impact Story of the Year's 2003 debut, Page Avenue, had on modern-rock radio and teenage hearts, with its throat-searing screamo vocals and scissor-kicking punk-metal machinations.

Sophomore effort: In the Wake of Determination (Maverick)

The details: As its title suggests, the CD is much more confrontational, with hesher-worthy riffs and fist-pumping slogans replacing Avenue's generic guitar slashing. Consider Wake mall-emo all grown up with a driver's license, a bitchin' Camaro and the inclination to raise hell on Friday night.

Verdict? Unfortunately, Wake's songs often feel simplistic or repetitive, and there's not much original or memorable about the disc. If you're not a fan already, don't count on becoming one now.

Living Things

Who: After being put through the major-label wringer with their debut, Black Skies in Broad Daylight -- mergers and release delays plagued the process, and the CD is only available via import -- the Maryland Heights-bred brothers (noms de rock: Lillian, Eve and Bosh Berlin) found a kindred soul with, oddly enough, a label known for teenypoppers such as Britney.

Sophomore effort: Ahead of the Lions (Jive/Zomba)

The details: Conceived partly in their parents' basement here in town, the Steve Albini-recorded Lions manages to merge sludgy stoner metal, KSHE-influenced hard rockin' and Dandy Warhols-caliber swagger (check the fuzzed-out chords of "New Year" and Lillian's whispering, sassy vox on "God Made Hate").

Verdict? It won't change the world, but Lions is a genuine record that refuses to trend-hop, stoop to tired hipster influences or curry favor with blogs (although über-fan Ultragrrrl raves about 'em). In other words, it doesn't try to be anything but a kickass rock record -- which is rarer than you would think.

Gretchen Wilson

Who: Like countless country stars, the ex-bartender/cook from Pocahontas, Illinois, found her niche in Nashville, where she met future collaborator John Rich (of Big & Rich fame). The pair co-wrote "Redneck Woman," the insanely catchy "hoosier-and-proud!" centerpiece of her 2004 debut, Here for the Party. That unabashed celebration of Wilson's trashy roots resonated with mainstream country fans and music critics trolling for guilty pleasures.

Sophomore effort: All Jacked Up (Epic)

The details: More guitar-and-fiddle stomps laced through with pedal steel -- and, of course, the title track is the boozy sequel to "Redneck Woman" (one that lets fans know that G-Wils is still into slamming the brewskis at the local dive). More interesting is the Merle Haggard duet "Politically Uncorrect," though -- in which she proudly sticks up for Republican ideals without resorting to liberal-bashing (at least directly).

Verdict? The novelty-reeking cheesiness of a few tunes ("Skoal Ring," "Bud Wiser" -- har har) detracts from the fact that Up is a decent if paler version of Party. Perhaps in the future Wilson's songs should focus less on reducing her to a party girl and more on playing up her ferocious femininity.

Jonathan Toth from Hoth

Who: Fast-talking Frozen Food Section rapper/producer/renaissance man who released Brainwashing: The Art of Hip-Hopera back in 2002, who also fills his time by working as a roofer and serving as the CEO of the Frozen Food Foundation, a nonprofit focused on education and art (see "Bad 2 Tha Bone" in the December 8, 2004, issue of the RFT).

Sophomore effort: The Lovecycle (Frozen Food Section)

The details: Lovecycle reads like a who's who of St. Louis hip-hop, as it features production from Kenautis Smith, scratches by DJs Crucial and Trackstar, and vox help from Boris the Emcee and Christy Montana. But sax riffing courtesy of John Maxfield on the slow jam "Gorgesss" hammers home the fact that the album crams together sounds, samples and genres -- rock, trip-hop, b-boy rap, old-school '80s breakdowns -- like a kid going nuts fingerpainting.

Verdict? The absolute standout is the eerie nightmare swerve "Ghostwhirl," with bittersweet, haunted-house-theme-like piano and an ominous breakdown from MF Doom. The rest of Lovecycle features clever -- albeit grating by its end -- word play ("My jaw must have dropped like bobby sox on Catholic school girls doing body shots") whose flow and content is well above average.

A shout-out to the Pageant, whose fifth birthday happens to fall on Wednesday, October 19: Besides continuing to bring to town the best national acts and giving locals the chance to get a taste of a bigger stage, the venue is launching a weekly online auction of autographed concert posters of past visitors. Even better, the signed merch -- featuring artists such as Elvis Costello, Marilyn Manson and Billy Idol -- will benefit neighborhood organizations.

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