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Best Local Album of the Past 12 Months 

Gateway to Dignity

The members of Grand Ulena have garnered notoriety for their pedigree, their simultaneous refusal to play their hometown while declaring themselves "Ambassadors of St. Louis" and the St. Louis Police Department's recent "courtesy call" on their practice space. All this controversy, both imagined and real, has almost overshadowed Grand Ulena's finest achievement: Gateway to Dignity, their début, is the album the St. Louis music scene deserved. A brutal, carefully orchestrated assault, Gateway to Dignity screams "We are of you," without ever claiming "We are with you." It is a singular statement, both a declaration of solidarity and of independence, a uniquely St. Louis album that pays homage to our ancestral bonhomie and rejects our "Where'd you go to high school?" parochialism. This dichotomy is the source of Grand Ulena's claustrophobic, wide-open power: Let go of St. Louis and then embrace St. Louis, they say. See it again with new eyes; hear it with new ears; feel it with a new soul. Gateway to Dignity is a new beginning, a point of departure for a new generation of music. This is the rebirth of the cool.

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September 23, 2020

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