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Eleven local bands and artists to watch in 2011 

The life cycle of a local music community goes something like this: Bands form, play out, record music, play out more and (eventually) break up. There's plenty of variation in this sequence of events, of course, but in St. Louis, the local-band turnover tends to be rather high. Keeping track of the new faces around town can be difficult, so we decided to compile a list of up-and-coming artists poised to have a breakout year in 2011. The RFT's freelance music writers shared what new acts they've been digging lately, and the results vary from those groups who stick to punk houses to those ready to open for a major-label powerhouse.

Black Fast
Who: A quartet from Edwardsville with an insatiable need for speed

Sounds Like: A greatest-hits package of '80s thrash metal repackaged and remastered for fans of Dethklok

What It's About: The name celebrates metal's official color and tempo; its music follows suit. Black Fast pushes the familiar to its extremes. Blistering cascades of guitar leads, whiplash tempo changes and subversive sidesteps into major keys give an epic context to its lengthy shred-fests. Meanwhile, assertive vocalist/guitarist Aaron Akin gives the kids in the pit a reason to scream along — as soon as they learn the words. At the moment, Black Fast can only be heard on YouTube bootlegs. The band is hibernating in preparation of recording its debut, obsessively rehearsing to make their hypertechnical sagas bigger, blacker and faster.

Listen: "Chaos Orb"
— Ryan Wasoba

Black James
Who: A Technicolor banjo troubadour who's often seen performing at Bolozone and Floating Laboratories. Also a member of the band Peck of Dirt.

Sounds Like: The ancient soul/dream-folk warblings of a medium channeling Dock Boggs

What It's About: The American Gothic leanings of Black James, a.k.a. Jennifer McDaniel, creep from a dark, cavernous basement in south city. A St. Louis transplant by way of Knoxville, Tennessee, McDaniel transcends traditional folk and blues, on the strength of ancient ballads laced with eccentric narratives. Black James' songs unfold in a playful marriage of cotton-picked banjo, ghostly soundscapes and broken electronics; McDaniel's Southern drawl pairs with her impeccably sharp wit. Be on the lookout for a self-released cassette in 2011.

Listen: "Jacked Up to Jesus"
— Josh Levi

Who: A trio often seen performing at Cranky Yellow or the Lemp Neighborhood Arts Center

Sounds Like: A chopped and screwed apocalypse: Blood-soaked guitars match wits with faded vocal howls and twitching synth spasms.

What It's About: Britches formed in mid-2009 and recently released a demo called, er, Demo. The death sweats of early Sonic Youth and Xiu Xiu's skeletal noise sculptures are a starting touchstone, but the trio skillfully uses silence and restraint to magnify the dread of its chaotic moments. The best of the new songs is "White Noise," a grayscale pastiche of beauty and horror: Chiming melodies and grandfather-clock percussion devolve into marching stomps, macabre chants and gravel-embedded-in-knee riffs.

Listen: A five-song demo can be streamed/downloaded at: britchesbritches.bandcamp .com/album/demo — Annie Zaleski

Dubb Nubb
Who: Twin sisters who have been writing songs since they were fifteen. The pair has played mandolin, guitar and ukulele together "since the womb."

Sounds Like: If Kimya Dawson had a twin sister — or if she joined forces with Julia Nunes

What It's About: Dubb Nubb is an upbeat, eccentric duo that uses whistling, erratic hollerin' and woo-hoos to its full advantage on poppy, attention-grabbing folk songs. Dubb Nubb recently played at Foam for the first St. Louis Secret Sound Festival, and on January 14, the twins will be releasing a split seven-inch with Cory Taylor Cox called "Shiny Mountain." (A release show with Cox is taking place at Foam that night at 8 p.m.) Additionally, the duo is currently scheduling a recording session with Daytrotter, which will take place in January.

Listen: Dubb Nubb's debut album, The Best Game Ever, was released in March of 2009, and the New Bones EP came out last May. Both releases are available through Special Passenger Records.
 — Chrissy Wilmes

Greek Fire
Who: A radio-ready rock quartet featuring Story of the Year's Ryan Phillips and Philip Sneed

Sounds Like: The best bits of classic rock and '80s-era rock and metal; its music hints at Queen's pristine vocal and harmonic layering, Cheap Trick's driving power-pop and every KSHE riff hero.

What It's About: Formed in May 2009, the band's profile has continued to rise in 2010 on the strength of hard-to-pigeonhole tunes and strong songwriting. Greek Fire has a three-song sampler EP for sale at shows and is currently writing new music; new snippets on MySpace reveal more piano flourishes and keyboards. The band recently opened My Chemical Romance's Chicago show.

Listen: "Doesn't Matter Anyway"
— Annie Zaleski

Half Gay
Who: The duo of Floating Laboratories founder Kevin Harris and multimedia artist Mike Stasny

Sounds Like: Deconstructed analog house music from the future with tornadic drums and synths

What It's About: After donning some massive and insane headdresses made by Stasny, the duo (and sometimes trio) creates...well, deconstructed house music from the future. Seriously, this is probably what popular music will become in 30 to 40 years, complete with costumes and accompanying dizzy-making laser lights. Our grandchildren will love it. It's loud, erratic and danceable, with punishing rhythms and an abrasive charm. You get the sense they're grinning wickedly under those masks.

Listen: No MySpace, SoundCloud, Bandcamp or any recordings exist online. Gotta see 'em live.
— Diana Benanti

Savage Sun
Who: A West Coast emcee who regularly plays Lemmons and Cicero's with vocalist Sarah Bollinger

Sounds Like: While his production ranges from the nostalgically upbeat to the chillingly moody, his lyrics are consistently thoughtful and introspective

What He's About: Savage Sun's alternative style of hip-hop has created a buzz both nationally and abroad after his freshman full-length album, The Art of Being Alive, netted him the accolades of both CDBaby and URB magazine. He's spent much of the time since promoting the album and honing his stage performance at the Play:STL Music Festival and SLUMfest. Next year could be big for Sav; he's gearing up to release an EP titled Rebel's Odyssey, a documentary of his promotional tour in Germany and a comic book penned by Philadelphia artist James Comey.

Listen: The Art of Being Alive
— Calvin Cox

Lavelle Spitz
Who: A young emcee with DIY ethos and serious pride in his city

What He's About: Lavelle Spitz is a fresh new talent finding his sea legs in the increasingly promising St. Louis hip-hop scene. Though only a few years out of high school, Mauri Lavelle Roberts has energy and ambition to spare — and isn't afraid to be his own hype man. After putting out his full length, Loose Leaf Statements, he got busy working on mixtapes; check out the new The City Slicker, which pairs Spitz's rhymes with unexpected grooves. He also participates as part of the reggae/funk extravaganza the Noam Chomskys and plays out on his own whenever possible.

Listen: Loose Leaf Statements
— Diana Benanti

Union Tree Review
Who: A Cherokee Street-based sextet

Sounds like: Polished indie-folk in the vein of Ryan Adams

What It's About: Union Tree Review has done quite a bit this year — aside from playing myriad shows at Foam, Off Broadway, the Billiken Club and even the Pageant, it christened the first St. Louis Secret Sound Festival and played An Under Cover Weekend as the Postal Service. The band recently leased a space on Cherokee Street, which will serve as a living space and studio through the winter months — and facilitate the group's plans to release a new record early next year. In addition to the record, uncollected tracks from the sessions will be released intermittently via Twitter.

Listen: Unravel/Run EP, which is available at shows
 — Chrissy Wilmes

Warm Jets USA
Who: The latest fuzz-pop project helmed by music-community mainstay Jason Hutto

Sounds Like: The offspring of Dinosaur Jr and Urge Overkill, joining a Boston-area band in 1989

What It's About: Hutto's bands have never lacked for pop hooks, but Warm Jets USA is particularly tuneful and well produced. "Records" contains lovely, jangly riffs, while "Peach Fuzz" is a classic, two-minute burst of loud-soft-loud. "Dumb" is even better, a jolt of greased-up '70s hot-rod rock; it goes down like a shot of whiskey. If you're a fan of unheralded, criminally underappreciated indie-noise bands from the '90s, Warm Jets USA is right up your alley.

Listen: Demo tracks are all over its Facebook page, /Warm-Jets-USA/117258474983109
— Annie Zaleski

We're Wolf
Who: Two gals that hang out at Hartford Coffee Company, playing lots of open-mic nights

Sounds like: Moldy Peaches-esque lo-fi folk

What It's About: We're Wolf's simplistic, dreamy folk songs possess a lyrical maturity beyond the duo's collective years. Anne and Maya's voices sound quite similar; they often take full advantage of this by layering them in a way that complements the stripped-down strumming. The duo opened for Brandi Shearer at Off Broadway and played the first Crestwood Local Music Festival. We're Wolf is currently booking shows for January.

Listen: The We Haunt the Same Houses EP was released in May 2010 and is available at shows. Several tracks are available for free download on MySpace.
— Chrissy Wilmes

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