Introducing the STL-77: The 77 Acts That Make St. Louis Sing 

Syna So Pro is one of the musical acts we can't stop listening to right now -- and a member of the STL-77.

FPE RECORDS

Syna So Pro is one of the musical acts we can't stop listening to right now -- and a member of the STL-77.

This weekend, the RFT's ShowcaseSTL kicks off in the Grove — the biggest all-local music festival in St. Louis history. For the first time this year, we'll be rocking out for two days, with three venues and a dozen acts Friday evening in addition to the nine stages and more than 90 acts playing throughout the day Saturday. That's a lot of music!

And that's not all. For the last two months, we've been counting down our inaugural list of the STL-77. Rather than attempting to shoe-horn bands into categories in some sort of weird-ass Music Olympics, this year we eliminated the "competition" part of our music awards and just went with the "award" component.

So this year's list isn't a readers' poll and it's not a contest. It is, simply, a celebration of the 77 artists and bands that have done big things in the last twelve months. From groups that just formed in the last year to local acts who've hit the big-time to living legends like Kim Massie, our list shows the breadth, depth and astonishing talent based in St. Louis.

Read up on all three categories of honorees, from up-and-coming artists to buzzworthy acts to heavy hitters. Then visit rftshowcase.com for the showcase schedule — because the only thing better than reading about St. Louis' top performers is watching them in action.

—Sarah Fenske

Up and Coming Artists

Relatively new or newly reactivated, these acts are rapidly making a cannonball-sized splash in St. Louis' local music pool.

The Gaslight Squares

Imagine, for a moment, the life of British trumpeter/banjoist TJ Muller. Mad about the riverboat swing music of 1920s America, he jumps aboard Pokey LaFarge's traveling musical revue in 2013, and together they criss-cross the globe. Eventually he departs LaFarge's band to cast his lot with St. Louis, legendary home of the traditional jazz and blues Muller loves most. Along with locals Matt Sellers (piano/accordion), Jacob Alspach (banjo/guitar), Jon Weiss (tuba) and the occasional snare drummer or trombonist, Muller forms the Gaslight Squares — and if the bricks of south city could sing, this is what they'd sound like. Merrily rustic trumpet leads, while barroom piano, choppy banjo, old-timey radio harmonies and the rustle and whoosh of dancing skirts swing through the air. Charismatic and easy on the eyes (especially with the city's swing kids on their side), the members of the Gaslight Squares evoke more than just history: They express timeless city pride.

Recommended if you like: W.C. Handy, Charlie Creath, Pokey LaFarge, bowties

Find them: On Facebook at facebook.com/thegaslightsquares

—Evan Sult

Kingston Family Singers

IDM? EDM? IDK. Who cares about labels when you're an artist? When it comes to experimental musicians taking risks and trying to do something different, you'd best not be so judgy. Open up your horizons with Kingston Family Singers — and don't let the name fool you. This is no apple-cheeked choir of Sunday school boys. The Belleville-based act is less a band and more a solo passion project by Chad Hickman, which vacillates between tin-foil proto-punk and ambient white noise, complete with hollowed-out bass, crashing rhythm and the occasional abrasive guitar riff that's just off-kilter enough to either make your ears grateful or make you grate your teeth. With a slew of home-recorded EPs and tracks that average in the twenty-minute range, this is the soundtrack the matrix jams to.

Recommended if you like: Radio Berlin, Fugazi, Aphex Twin, when you pick up the phone but your dad is using the fax machine

Find him: On Bandcamp at maxcorpindustries.bandcamp.com

—Kevin Korinek

LéPonds

Gently bent notes and reverb-heavy acoustic guitar hang thick as humidity on Heat, LéPonds' 2016 debut, so it's a fitting soundtrack for warm summer nights. Lisa Houdei is LéPonds' lyricist, guitarist and voice, and though she occasionally plays with a band, her solo performances reveal the heart of the project: ethereal melodies and intimate, emotional lyrics that show fragments of narrative while shifting others out of view. On the album, the production is subtly layered with synthy pulses, muted percussion and whimsical added harmonies, all of which intensify and focus Houdei's breathy, restrained vocal approach. In "Charmed," her strongest song to date, she employs an instantly memorable melody to sketch the arc of a romance, from giddy meeting through childbirth to betrayal and separation in less than three minutes. Whether Houdei is live or on record, her declaration, "I'd rather raise my son alone" is enough to make the hairs on your neck stand up.

Recommended if you like: Jessica Pratt, Ingrid Michaelson, Bon Iver, Julie Doiron

Find her: On Bandcamp at lepondsmusic.bandcamp.com

—Evan Sult

click to enlarge The Bobby Dazzlers released two stellar EPs in the last year, Champion and Crusher. - ALAN PALMER
  • ALAN PALMER
  • The Bobby Dazzlers released two stellar EPs in the last year, Champion and Crusher.

The Bobby Dazzlers

Nothing goes with gnarly distorted guitar quite like fuzzed-up distorted vocals to conjure fantasies of a basement party running wild. The Bobby Dazzlers keep their songs short, fast and reckless, laying timeless rock rhythm and lead riffs under singer Chad Rogers' surprisingly satisfying melodies. The group's two EPs, Champion and Crusher, supposedly showcase the band's pop and heavy sides, respectively, but they both surf their way through the lo-fi pop tradition with big-league confidence. Live, the band has charm to match its shredding — honed in prior acts including the Breaks, Hibernauts and Dear Vincent — and its members have figured out that the best way to make sure the crowd has fun is to have fun themselves. They're a hard band to catch these days, so don't miss your chance when it arrives.

Recommended if you like: The Strokes, the Replacements, the Orwells, MC5

Find them: On Bandcamp at thebobbydazzlers.bandcamp.com/album/champion-ep

—Evan Sult

Eric Donté

He calls it "ghetto trance" music; you might call it dark, twisted, honest and minimalist. Donté, who also goes by the name Fadda Vampire, creates hip-hop confessions that sound cinematic, even without the benefit of his stylish videos (he's also a model). Donté's stream of consciousness flows in an eerie mist, but it also reverberates, like Tricky arriving strung out and late to an underwater séance in St. Louis. The 23-year-old native St. Louisan released the haunting God Don't Like Ugly EP last year, and his current releases, notably "World War E," take a hard political turn even as the beats sound even more club-ready. Keep your eye on Donté. He's just getting started, but he's got talent that sounds built to last.

Recommended if you like: Tyler the Creator, Tricky, J. Cole, Childish Gambino

Find him: On Soundcloud at soundcloud.com/eric-donte

—Roy Kasten

Shady Bug

Rainey twins Hannah and Delia have always been magic creatures, spinning fairy tales, acoustic guitar and warbly intuitive harmonies into shadow-dappled metaphors via their band Dubb Nubb. Shady Bug is Hannah Rainey's more earthbound iteration, expressing her experiences in the heart of STL's bustling DIY scene. On the concept's debut album, tbh idk, it's thrilling to hear the capacities of an already impressive songwriter expand dramatically with the addition of creative, rocket-fueled drums and distortion in the classic loud-quiet-loud tradition. Endearingly weird bent notes abound, and the project doesn't sound like Dubb Nubb electrified — it's a true meshing of styles with her bandmates, who seem to be channeling equal parts Mac DeMarco and K Records. The band's occasional vocal harmonies are as crucial to the sound as the chorus effect on Hannah's guitar, and the whole thing rolls comfortably between casual and epic, a surprisingly polished sound from the underground.

Recommended if you like: Spinanes, Meat Puppets, Mac DeMarco, Mirah

Find him: On Bandcamp at shadybug.bandcamp.com/

—Evan Sult

Seashine combines a reverence for the past with an of-the-moment energy. - IMAGE VIA ARTIST FACEBOOK
  • IMAGE VIA ARTIST FACEBOOK
  • Seashine combines a reverence for the past with an of-the-moment energy.

Seashine

In its infancy, shoegaze music sprang forth from the heady mixture of disaffected British youth with access to both an arsenal of guitar effects and a medicine cabinet full of pills. But in the 25 years since My Bloody Valentine cut new territory with a Fender Jazzmaster, the form has become malleable enough to contain bands of many stripes. In Seashine, a relatively new foursome, a reverence for the past mingles with an of-the-moment energy. The band's four-song demo has a polish and assuredness that belies its home-recorded origins. "Shangri La" kicks things off with a propulsive, stutter-stepped snare roll before settling into a stratospheric dreaminess that carries through the rest of the set, with singer and guitarist Demi Haynes able to cut through the haze with force and grace.

Recommended if you like: Ride, Beach House, Lush, Echo & the Bunnymen

Find them: On Soundcloud at soundcloud.com/seashineband

—Christian Schaeffer

Skins Tags

Skins Tags is a very punk name, which is fitting because this band is punk as fuck. Guitarist Mabel Suen (also a photographer for RFT) burns through riot-infused chords, while Shelly Koesterer bangs her drums into oblivion. Bassist Lucy Dougherty pulls double duty for the tumultuous Skin Tags as well as Little Big Bangs, but despite the groups' different styles, she doesn't seem out of place in either act. Together these three kick ass like no other trio in town, turning distorted, crunchy squalor into catchy transcriptions of youth. Equal parts hardcore and gutter grunge, Skin Tags is just as ferocious and rabid on stage as on its 2016 demo — which means once you start listening, you won't be able to stop.

Recommended if you like: Jawbox, Bad Brains, Rites of Spring, publishing zines

Find them: On Bandcamp at skintags.bandcamp.com/

—Kevin Korinek

Bagheera

Ted and Heather Moll spent well over a decade chiseling away at the songs on Shooting Rockets Towards the Sun, the first record they've released as Bagheera since 2004's Twelves. It was time well spent: Released on the local label Skeleton Fur, Shooting Rockets Towards the Sun is an ambience-filled album where textured sounds — razor-filed guitars, alien-invasion synthesizers, Doppler-effect percussion — flit in orbit like gorgeous space junk. The Molls' harmonic collisions add to the shoegaze-in-a-distant-galaxy atmosphere. On "Martian Influence," the pair's voices combine like John Doe and Exene Cervenka; meanwhile, the standout title track boasts clarion, sturdy hollers. With bassist Julie Gibbs on board as a steadying influence, Bagheera has also started performing live once again — signaling all systems go for a career reignition.

Recommended if you like: Rainer Maria, New Pornographers, Cocteau Twins, Hum

Find them: Online at www.bagheeramusic.com/

—Annie Zaleski

Dracla

At first glance, Dracla appears to be a drunken Halloween lounge act similar to Bill Murray's "Nick the Lounge Singer" character from his early years on SNL — but it only takes about five seconds into a performance for that image to switch to one of a street-fighting vampire overlord. Bass high on the hip, the pale-faced Ray Kannenberg seizes the helm with a startling command of "SILENCE," ordering and acquiring obedience from the crowd even as he sets the tone for the next half-hour of riff-laden vampire metal. Skillfully backed by Bug Chaser's Jake Jones and Kevin Insinna, as well as Nathan Dick and Nick Kampen, the band has all the meat and darkness implied by its name, a seriously heavy package tied up nicely with a dirty black bow (the one holding Kannenberg's cape on, naturally). Sabbath beware; Dracla has risen.

Recommended if you like: Black Sabbath, Bug Chaser, vampires

Find them: On Bandcamp at dracla.bandcamp.com

—Melinda Cooper

Thor Axe

While the spelling of the name calls to mind a hatchet-wielding maniac, wordplay artists will giggle at the pun. Labeled as instrumental metal (which is undoubtedly in its DNA), the band seems to best be described as mid to late '70s metal — the kind we all know and love and karaoke to when we're drunk out of our minds. Thor Axe is something of a local super group, composed of members of So Many Dynamos, the Gorge and Black Fast. Together they hold the stage and take no prisoners with thundering bass and drums, driving synths and triple-harmony guitar leads. When all these elements combine, a chemical reaction transpires in your brain, and you're forced to pump your fist in the air over and over again. Just make sure you're not actually holding an axe — you might dismember the hipster next to you.

Recommended if you like: Diamond Nights, Thin Lizzy, Natty Light, Trans Am (the band or the car), '80s video game soundtracks

Find them: Online at thoraxeband.tumblr.com/

—Kevin Korinek

The Strange Places

The Strange Places is the Krazy Kat dreamscape of the man sometimes known as Chris Baricevic but nowadays going by Kristo. He's got a few names because he's got a few roles, including running Big Muddy Records, one of the region's deepest wells of weird Americana, and playing in a host of bands. He's a player who seems to have sprung fully grown from the head of his guitar like some desert-rock Athena, with a virtuosity and comfort that isn't meant to be accessible to someone his age ... so the whole band seems to have sped up their lives, living extra hard to catch up. The only signs of the Strange Places online are recordings made as Kristo, and while those are pleasingly porchy, the full band brings the spacedust, sawdust and desert wind that lets Kristo truly cut loose on guitar — and when that happens, even the moon begs for an encore.

Recommended if you like: Country Teasers, Giant Sand, Bob Dylan, Meat Puppets

Find them: Online at www.bigmuddyrecords.com/artist/kristo

—Evan Sult

Other People delivers two bands for the price of one. - PHOTO BY BRIAN MCCELLAND
  • PHOTO BY BRIAN MCCELLAND
  • Other People delivers two bands for the price of one.

Other People

Local rock & roll trio Other People is a bargain — listeners get two bands for the price of one. OK, that's a bit of an overstatement, but co-frontmen Bob McMahon (a Riverfront Times contributor) and Jeremy Goldmeier take their individual permutations of pop music down different pathways. McMahon's guitar-driven contributions are indebted to quirky pop referents like XTC and mid-period Of Montreal, while Goldmeier pounds his piano with the conviction of a tunesmith who knows his Ben Folds from his Badfinger. This year's Other Songs by Other People found the band consolidating 40 years of errant pop songs into something two-headed but still cohesive.

Recommended if you like: Spoon, Squeeze, the Shins, Elvis Costello & the Attractions

Find them: On Bandcamp at otherpeoplestl.bandcamp.com

—Christian Schaeffer

Joan of Dark

Like its revolutionary French namesake, Joan of Dark is here to rescue you — from mediocre rock, that is, not from English domination. The band's four members are all veterans of of the local music community, with pedigrees from Née, Arson for Candy, the Skekses, the McGees and more, and they've been racking up the accolades for their relatively new supergroup. Formed just a little over a year ago, Joan of Dark already has become a must-see act, with songs that veer into punk, haunting pop and straight-up rock & roll. Wielding tunes as sharp as a sword, Joan of Dark deserves its local sainthood.

Recommended if you like: The Muffs, the Donnas, the Runaways, Veruca Salt

Find them: On Facebook at www.facebook.com/Joanofdarkstl/

—Allison Babka

Vernacular String Trio

It can be a rare thing to find a free improvisation group that packs a house these days, but the Vernacular String Trio is one unit capable of such a feat. And for good reason: It's one hell of a compelling experience to be present when Tracy Andreotti, Alex Cunningham and Josh Weinstein join forces on their respective instruments. Armed with only a cello, violin and bass, they manage to conjure the dynamic variation of a piano, the subtle beat of a drum and even the fullness of a small orchestra, when the spirit moves them to do so. These three work together and complement each other so well that it's hard to believe pieces of the performance are actually improvised. With its new album Parlance released in early 2017, the group has been performing frequently in recent months — much to the delight of local showgoers.

Recommended if you like: Arrington di Dionyso, Musica Elettronica Viva, Spontaneous Music Ensemble

Find them: On Soundcloud at soundcloud.com/alexcunningham

—Melinda Cooper

Shark Dad

Emerging from a short hiatus with half of its lineup changed, Shark Dad is an evolved animal. The quartet still makes garage rock with distorted guitar tones and vocals that recall '90s indie titans, but on new EP Almost, Pink, its songwriting has hit a new level. The hooks are stronger, the tunes have better structures and the often nostalgic lyrics cut deeper. Even the occasional dad jokes are improved. New guitarist Jeremy Essig (also an RFT contributor) once jokingly likened the group to "sloppy Cheap Trick," but recent shows have found Shark Dad tightening its performance into sharp bursts of fist-pumping rock. And between stage-crossing leaps and frontman Jason Robinson's gregarious stage presence, Shark Dad is as fun to watch as it is to hear.

Recommended if you like: The Replacements, the Refreshments, Cheap Trick, Veruca Salt

Find them: On Bandcamp at wearesharkdad.bandcamp.com

—Bob McMahon

Mirror Mirror

Mirror Mirror released its first album Extra Credit in April 2016, and with it came some of the best dirty-pop punk rock St. Louis has seen in a minute. No frills necessary, the album was recorded by drummer Leo Jalipa at the band's practice space in the Lemp Brewhouse Studios, and produced by Jalipa and guitarist/vocalist Aurora Schmidt. The end result is nothing short of a lo-fi masterpiece. Taylor Bour rounds out the lineup with solid basslines that add a touch of serious snarl to the band's low-end offering. Mirror Mirror has the melodies and the hooks that keep a crowd not only engaged, but bouncing and singing along.

Recommended if you like:

Coathangers, Priests, Bratmobile, Free Kitten

Find them: On Bandcamp at mirrormirrorstl.bandcamp.com

—Melinda Cooper

Golden Curls

Warm Fiction, the debut EP from Golden Curls, came out in 2012, but that probably feels like a decade or two ago to Sarah Downen. She's been the steady presence in the band, which grew from a duo to a trio in recent years and saw drummer Philip Zahnd and guitarist Stephen Favazza (also of Hands and Feet) serve to fill the contours of Downen's gossamer, fluttery and substantive material. Performances around town suggest the new trio's latest songs are more beat-driven, and as such they hit a little harder and smarter than the group's EP. With any justice, listeners will have a new album to keep them company on the kind of starlit, witchy nights that Downen channels in her music.

Recommended if you like: Bat for Lashes, Mazzy Star, Broadcast

Find them: On Bandcamp at goldencurls.bandcamp.com

—Christian Schaeffer

The Vigilettes reference the pep and aggression of '90s-era alternative rock. - PHOTO COURTESY OF THE BAND
  • PHOTO COURTESY OF THE BAND
  • The Vigilettes reference the pep and aggression of '90s-era alternative rock.

The Vigilettes

If Hollywood's endless onslaught of superhero movies has taught us anything — that's a big "if" — it's that a little collaboration among super-powers can have world-saving, box-office-breaking effects. For south city quartet the Vigilettes, a little superhero schtick goes a long way to describing their all-for-one appeal; the four women in the band share singing and songwriting duties, creating a sound that's indebted to Breeders-style guitar rock while leaving room for some experimentation. The group's debut 4,3,2,1 came out in the fall, but guitarist and singer Caitlin O'Toole was teasing new material in conversation as early as last year. "We already have a lot of new songs that we've already been playing live," she said. "There is definitely gonna be another release — maybe an EP."

Recommended if you like: The Pretenders, Sleater-Kinney, Alanis Morissette, Weezer

Find them: On Facebook at facebook.com/thevigilettes

—Christian Schaeffer

Super Hero Killer

You have to hand it to Super Hero Killer. As the soul and funk revival continues to gain steam, both nationally and locally, the quartet — led by singer and bassist Donald Williams and featuring keyboardist Jesse Gannon, guitarist Jay Summers and drummer Grover Stewart — has continued to explore a harder-edged sound, indebted to Galactic at its tightest or Prince at his most guitar-slingingest, but very much its own brand of rock & soul. Its recent hookup with St. Louis' Farfetched imprint/collective, the single "And Then You Came Along," shifts smoothly from R&B crooning to pure fury, and bodes well for one of the toughest, funkiest bands in town.

Recommended if you like: Sly and the Family Stone, Vintage Trouble, Prince, the Dirtbombs

Find them: On Bandcamp at superherokiller.bandcamp.com

—Roy Kasten

Looprat

St. Louis is enjoying a nice bump in quality hip-hop lately, and Looprat is leading the charge. A bang-up year saw the band performing for SoFar Sounds and releasing the nine-song EP How We Live, which lets the eleven-piece collective show off its members' individual talents as one dynamic, powerhouse ensemble. Jazz, hip-hop, soul — all styles are combined with dope rhymes from some of the best lyricists the city has to offer. Let's be honest: "Rumble In the Jungle" needs to be the theme song for our entire city, if not your daily commute. "There's a light at the end of the tunnel/ never restin' on your laurels, staying humble / caught up in the cycles of the concrete jungle / better rumble, young man, rumble." Get it, son.

Recommended if you like: Talib Kweli, Oddisee, Jazzmatazz, Jurassic 5

Find them: Online at looprat.com

—Kevin Korinek

Turn the page for our next category of artists: Buzzworthy Acts.

Buzzworthy Acts

These artists have the goods and are putting in the work necessary to go far — and music lovers are paying attention.

Blight Future

Punky and mathy, with a bit of poppy metal thrown in just for the hell of it, Blight Future brings a sharp, but never overbearing, activist edge to the post-hardcore scene. The foursome has clear targets — consumerism, racism, sexism, pretty much how-fucked-everything-is-ism — but its socially conscious messages derive physical force from just how hard, free and unpredictably the band plays. Featuring songwriter and singer Stephen Inman along with drummer Jesse Kornhardt, bassist Johnny Gabbert and guitarist Emily Hoover, the band's 2016 full-length debut, Love & Strategy, is absolutely trenchant. More importantly, it rocks a lot harder than even the tightest intersectional podcast.

Recommended if you like: Refused, So Many Dynamos, Fugazi, Gang of Four

Find them: On Bandcamp at blightfuture.bandcamp.com

—Roy Kasten

click to enlarge The most recent release from Stan Chisolm, a.k.a. 18andCounting, came in the form of an actual brick. - MABEL SUEN
  • MABEL SUEN
  • The most recent release from Stan Chisolm, a.k.a. 18andCounting, came in the form of an actual brick.

18andCounting

Pigeonhole Stan Chisholm at your peril. You may have heard him spin at spaces ranging from the Royale to word-of-mouth warehouse parties, or you might have seen his expansive murals at the City Museum. But as a multi-disciplinary artist who performs under the aegis 18andCounting, Chisholm spent much of 2016 working on TheBirdsAtThisHour, the contents of which he doled out over a series of shows last fall. The document itself shows his versatility as a performer, and here he leads TheOnlyEnsemble — a hodge-podge of percussion, violin and didgeridoo — and manipulates beats and synths while laying a sometimes spare, sometimes opulent backdrop for his meditative verses. Chisholm is a hip-hop lyricist at heart, but his collaborative, curatorial spirit elevates 18andCounting into something unique and of a piece.

Recommended if you like: Sprawling and difficult to define art, bricks

Find him: Online at 18andcounting.com

—Christian Schaeffer

Bug Chaser

Any given Bug Chaser album is a little like being trapped in a room full of TVs, each blasting a different episode of MTV's 120 Minutes while a guy in an orange denim vest yells in your face. Why would anyone want that? Well — fair question. And yet: The band is mighty. It is undeniable. And it rocks like you wish more bands would, or even could. The two drummers sweat together like they're casting tribal spells, while the keys and two guitars and the tall guy on "auto granny" weave contradictory cast-off pop music histories into swirling spacetime wormholes, through which singer Pat Grosch steps, all silver pants and flying hair. Why does it work? They're all great players, but the truth of Bug Chaser is the universal truth of punk rock: the bass. THE BASS. If you want to know the future, know Bug Chaser. This concludes your orientation. See you at the show.

Recommended if you like: Can, the Stooges, Lil B the Based God, the Monks

Find them: On Bandcamp at bugchaser.bandcamp.com

—Evan Sult

Lamar Harris

Of late, Lamar Harris has been working steadily and creatively as DJ Nune, the only turntablist in town who can blow a mean trombone between even meaner remixes. But while his sets have put him in the first rank of local DJs, it's his band vision that remains most impressive. This year, Harris is set to release a jazz-funk fusion EP, The Mothership Chronicles, which reimagines the sound of Parliament Funkadelic in a full band setting. All the while he'll continue to work as a DJ on old-school R&B station 95.5 FM, as a solo music educator and as a contributor to the St. Louis Low Brass Collective, a non-profit that offers training and performing opportunities for students of the trombone, euphonium, baritone horn and tuba. Few St. Louis musicians have as diverse and potent an impact on the community.

Recommended if you like: George Clinton, Trombone Shorty, DJ Needles, the Roots

Find him: On Bandcamp at djnuneislamarharris.bandcamp.com/

—Roy Kasten

Lumpy and the Dumpers

Who in the world would ever release an album titled Huff My Sack? And what's with the cover art? A grinning monster/goblin whose skin appears to be made entirely of sores sits, legs akimbo, presenting an avocado-shaped mass at the front and center of its body — the titular "sack," if we're to believe monster anatomy is similar to that of humans — ripe and ready for huffing. Who in their right mind would want to own such a thing? The answers to all of these questions are as follows: 1. Lumpy and the Dumpers, of course. 2. It's gross and that's the point, you simpleton. 3. Who said anyone involved here is in their "right mind" anyway? Since bursting on the scene in 2012 with a demo menacingly warning listeners of the day they'd inevitably "face the meat," the brainchild of St. Louis punk Martin Meyer has emerged as one of the city's most disgusting exports. Huff My Sack, the band's first LP, has been released by labels in Australia and Europe as well as the U.S., meaning that the depravity found therein has gone international — spreading the gospel of slime and goo and gnats and sacks across the globe.

Recommended if you like: '80s-era Ramones, Cheetah Chrome Motherfuckers, Gauze, that gross ring of filth in your toilet bowl

Find them: Online at spottedrace.bigcartel.com

—Daniel Hill

DJ Kimmy Nu

DJ Kimmy Nu is on a tear lately. A member of local legend DJ Charlie Chan's 24 Scientists collective, she was voted Best Hip-Hop DJ in the annual S.L.U.M. Fest awards earlier this year. Since then she's performed at a string of high-profile shows. Hip-hop heads caught her with the vaunted Bone Thugs-N-Harmony in May, bounce fanatics saw her open for Big Freedia at the Ready Room, bookworms were treated to a set as part of the St. Louis Public Library's recent hip-hop appreciation week, and she even turned up on the Fox 2 (KTVI) morning show to give the station's talking heads a taste of wax with their morning coffee. Nu specializes in hip-hop, neo-soul and R&B, making her position as the Knuckles' live DJ as seamless as her breaks.

Recommended if you like: The Knuckles, DJ Charlie Chan, Big Freedia, real hip-hop

Find her: On Soundcloud at soundcloud.com/djkimmynu

—Daniel Hill

Brothers Lazaroff

Last year, Brothers Lazaroff released the fuzzy and stormy Dangerous Times, its response to the rise of Donald Trump and the decline of decency in public discourse. To its credit, the band takes no cheap shots and indulges in no conspiracies. The music distills the Brothers' longstanding love of psychedelic rock and country blues into its densest and most cinematic sound yet. Its recent gigs — including a winter-long residency at the Tick Tock Tavern and a symphonic set up at the Chesterfield Amphitheater featuring a cadre of classical musicians — have been as freewheeling and focused as St. Louis roots rock ever gets.

Recommended if you like: Bob Dylan, the Grateful Dead, Leonard Cohen, the Byrds

Find them: Online at www.brotherslazaroff.com

—Roy Kasten

The Gorge

Follow the post-apocalyptic mood of the current news cycle and it's not hard to imagine that we're in year one of the fabled Thousand Year Fire that adorns metal quartet the Gorge's latest LP. There's certainly enough of-the-moment portent in Phil Ring's vocals and delivery, and on the song "Pedestals" he takes a swing at the corrupted humanity of our elected leaders. But what separates the Gorge from its fellow metal bands comes from the musicians' dexterity and willingness to tinker with the formula; Ring and fellow guitarist Joe Bowers engage in a regular tug of war with their axes, while bassist Chris Turnbaugh and drummer Jerry Mazzuca aren't afraid to use their jazz tutelage to give these songs unexpected contours.

Recommended if you like: Mastadon, Refused, Meshuggah, Fister

Find them: On Bandcamp at thegorge.bandcamp.com

—Christian Schaeffer

The Knuckles

The collaboration of Rockwell Knuckles and Aloha Misho was never a foregone conclusion; both artists have been on the grind for the better part of the last decade. Each made their individual marks on the scene — he with square-shouldered hip-hop, she with powerful, socially aware R&B. But as the Knuckles, they bring out new textures in each other's style, creating a two-person supergroup in the process. On the pair's first slew of releases, it's a joy to hear the singers dip and dive around each other. On "So Much To Say," Misho takes the lead on the piano-led intro while Knuckles punctuates her lines in his deep, studied baritone. And it's his singing chops that shine on the clicky, pulsating "Ugly People," allowing Misho to prop up his bars with smart harmonies. The result is a true synergy that elevates the individual artists while creating something bright, bold and necessary.

Recommended if you like: Alicia Keys, Tupac, Lizzo, Arshad Goods

Find them: On Soundcloud at soundcloud.com/theknucklesband

—Christian Schaeffer

click to enlarge Mathias and the Pirates provide the freshest sea shanties you've ever heard. - CHRIS RENTERIA
  • CHRIS RENTERIA
  • Mathias and the Pirates provide the freshest sea shanties you've ever heard.

Mathias and the Pirates

Out on the sea, with a singular shared goal and limited resources, a ship's crew becomes family; each member syncs up to swing the oars, raise the sails, stoke the coals. So it goes with Mathias and the Pirates, whose members expertly build beats, grooves and lyrics into songs that can withstand any wave. Music scene veterans DJ LB and Grover Stewart lay down the sonic foundation along with a rotating circle of guests, while Mathias James and Ms. Vizion trade lyrics and harmonies in a rhythmic cadence that will leave you shouting "ahoy!" With equal parts funk, soul and pop, the Pirates' version of hip-hop gives every listener something to enjoy. Batten down the hatches, because we're going sailing.

Recommended if you like: Common, De La Soul, Digable Planets, the Roots

Find them: Online at mathiasandthepirates.net

—Allison Babka

ICE

Before she was ICE she was Black James, and before she was Black James she was Jennifer James McDaniel. Whatever the handle, McDaniel continues to plumb the weird, Technicolor depths of her subconscious, with an artistic vision that encompasses dance parties, pixelated artwork and social activism. A pair of 2016 releases, Scream Club and ICY2K, showed that, as ICE, McDaniel is rooting her musical output in glitchy, hyperspeed rhythms and mutated, candy-coated vocals. McDaniel prefers to use the term "underwater" to describe her work — a fitting description for the murky, blurred dance music she creates. No one element of ICE's output contains all of McDaniel's reach. It's best to keep one ear to the ground and one ear underwater to track her next move.

Recommended if you like: Big Freedia, sun-warped cassette tapes, Casiotone beats at maximum BPM

Find her: Online at blackjames.carbonmade.com

—Christian Schaeffer

Bassamp and Dano

In its nascent days, punk thrived on throwing up its middle finger and upending established political or corporate regimes. While that certainly continues these days, the genre has also grown to embrace pop riffs and good old-fashioned fun — and nobody has more fun than Bassamp and Dano. With speedy songs filled with lyrics about beer, boobs and being a goddamn American, the party punkers bring joyous insanity to a style that otherwise can be intimidating to the uninitiated. When Bassamp and Dano lament their explosive diarrhea on stage, it's clear that everyone's welcome to the fun poop-punk party. Check out their newly released split with the Queers, The Queers Regret Making a Record with Bassamp and Dano.

Recommended if you like: The Ramones, the Queers, Screeching Weasel, America

Find them: Online at www.failurecore.com

—Allison Babka

John Henry

John Henry has the harmonies, he has the songs, and he has the sounds to cover a multitude of genres. His most recent album, Dark City Dark Country, received accolades from a variety of music media outlets including the vaunted No Depression, which deemed it "first-class heartland rock." That high praise was well-earned: The album has tinges of pop, blues and Americana, with a significant helping of rock & roll driving the mix. John Henry has surrounded himself with an arsenal of St. Louis rock stars, giving a supergroup vibe even while proving himself capable of standing alone when necessary. Songs as solid as his always translate well — regardless of the setting.

Recommended if you like: Hozier, The Lumineers, Joseph Arthur, the Head and the Heart

Find him: Online at www.johnhenryandtheengine.com

—Melinda Cooper

David Beeman

Pay attention to that cold tingle sliding down your spine as you listen to David Beeman's handful of new songs. It may be partly shock that this full-strength, major-label grade material was written and produced right here in St. Louis. But it's also probably a trickling sense of shame and pain from a breakup you thought you'd gotten over and are now viscerally re-living. Beeman is a masterful pop classicist on technical grounds — instantly memorable vocals and melodies, evocative instrumentation, highly stylized production — but it's the lyrics that raise his songs to the rock heavens, transmuting painfully intimate lived experience into pop breakthroughs. Not that it all sounds "sad": Taking cues from Father John Misty, for whom he works as soundman, Beeman's newest material is confident, lush, even sometimes jaunty. And the effect is ultimately catharsis — for the listener, at least. What it brings the singer is less clear.

Recommended if you like: Father John Misty, Big Star, Angel Olsen, the Shins

Find him: On Bandcamp at davidbeeman.bandcamp.com

—Evan Sult

Jeremiah Johnson

If Jeremiah Johnson's music were any greasier he could retire and open a one-stop soul food and oil change joint. The fully electrified blues and Southern rock of last year's Blues Heart Attack belongs in the collection of any fan of contemporary guitar-slingers, though Johnson also has a killer way with honky-tonk shuffles and boogie woogie grooves, not to mention New Orleans-flavored dance-floor starters like "Everybody Party." Yet for all the hot guitar work, in-the-pocket rhythms and slinky organ and horn charts, it's Johnson's voice that makes him such a compelling performer and recording artist. His twang is lived, just like his blues, and he never sounds less than convincing.

Recommended if you like: Lynyrd Skynyrd, Stevie Ray Vaughan, the Fabulous Thunderbirds, the Black Crowes

Find him: Online at thejeremiahjohnsonband.com

—Roy Kasten

Ghost Ice

You might notice that the web presence for Ghost Ice is approximately nil, an odd bit of technophobia for an act built around the measured unpredictability of digital and analog signals seeking communication and discord with one another. Jeremy Kannapell regularly trots out his suitcase full of knobs and wires for Ghost Ice sets, but don't look for a packaged, recorded set of music anytime soon; Kannapell thrives on subtlety, manipulation and chance, creating a never-the-same-show-twice experience with each appearance at underground and D.I.Y. spaces. Given Kannapell's gift for booking challenging, engrossing bills that stretch across the noise and new music spectrums, it's no shock that he's both an apt collaborator and egoless entity, but his hard-to-define style stands on its own.

Recommended if you like: Ghost Ice

Find him: Good luck with that

—Christian Schaeffer

Vanilla Beans has been a model of consistency. - PHOTO BY MABEL SUEN
  • PHOTO BY MABEL SUEN
  • Vanilla Beans has been a model of consistency.

The Vanilla Beans

Plying its trade since 2006, the Vanilla Beans has been a model of consistency. The band has refined its mix of bright parallel twin guitar leads, bubbly keyboards and sparse but stiffly funky electronic beats into a sleek sound with instant appeal. Perched atop the layers of catchy instrumental riffs is the charming interplay between singers Andrew Garces and Ani Kramer, who shuffle from call-and-response to harmonies to doubled lead vocals. Their earnest delivery and peppy melodies perfectly suit their direct approach to lyrics, rendering simple statements sung from one character to another anthemic. Over the course of three full-length albums, two EPs, a monthly singles collection and assorted b-sides, the Vanilla Beans has never experienced a dip in quality — only built on its strengths, to the point that a hookless, charisma-free Vanilla Beans release is unimaginable.

Recommended if you like: Daniel Johnston, Anamanaguchi, Postal Service, Hot Chip

Find them: On Bandcamp at thevanillabeans.bandcamp.com

—Bob McMahon

J'Demul

Despite being only 21 years old, St. Louis rapper Trevon McRay — better known as J'Demul — has developed a truly unique voice, one he's already used prolifically, releasing three albums and a handful of one-off tracks in roughly three years. McRay released his most recent mixtape #STLAVE in April 2016 with almost no promotion or build-up, though a set of of music videos produced by the always-stellar Louis Quatorze helped bring it recognition. While it's McCray's unshakeable flow and intensely (sometimes, discomfitingly) honest lyrics that form the focus of the recordings, an uncanny knack for choosing the perfect tracks to compliment his distinctive style makes for some of the freshest hip-hop in St. Louis's already vibrant scene. J'Demul's next release, Downtown Certified, is set to drop later this year, though an official release date hasn't been set.

Recommended if you like: Scarface, Saba, Isaiah Rashad, 2Pac

Find him: Online at jdemul.stereoassault.com

—Nick Horn

Syna So Pro

Syna So Pro can be a profoundly disorienting experience, especially if you catch the one-woman band behind the moniker doing songs from her current album, Vox, composed entirely for voice. But "voice" sounds so singular, and Syrhea Conaway is so multiple, thanks to her looping pedals — she may start with a simple, spoken "boom boom kick, boom kick," and soon she's backed by lush, complexly shifting choral arrangements that include everything from soprano to bass (represented by her own octave-shifted voice). It spins from absurdly ambitious into delightfully unreal with "Fengyang Song," a Chinese traditional, sung in Mandarin, that uses syllables and tones you've probably never encountered. Live, it's sometimes like watching one person try to sail a three-masted galleon, but that's part of the appeal. In seeing the effort, especially when something goes awry, we're engaged by just how beautifully impossible the task is.

Recommended if you like: Petra Haydn, Kishi Bashi, Tune-Yards, Johann Sebastian Bach

Find her: Online at synasopro.com

—Evan Sult

Pat Sajak Assassins

Long-running St. Louis prog-punk institution Pat Sajak Assassins has been on the scene so long that even the newest incarnation of its many lineups is older than most bands. The decade-plus chemistry between bassist Brian Fleschute and drummer Harold Covey shines in their aggressive attack, which combines harshly distorted, occasionally polyphonic melodies with jerky but precise math-rock drumming. Christopher Eilers and Syrhea Conaway mix in winding keyboard melodies that take shape in everything from clean piano and organ sounds to squelching synths and sweeping theremin. Conaway's vocals are similarly versatile, ranging from pretty choir-like singing to furious lower-register bellowing as she weaves sci-fi tales. All of these elements combine in multi-segmented songs with sometimes abrupt stylistic changes and the occasional odd time signature. But Pat Sajak Assassins is remarkably accessible: The hooks are there, cutting through grooves that may be busy, but are never cluttered.

Recommended if you like: Battles, Hella, Yes, Explosions in the Sky

Find them: On Bandcamp at patsajakassassins.bandcamp.com

—Bob McMahon

Little Big Bangs

Nokia just released an updated version of their first phone. Remember when cassettes were all the rage? They're both back, yo. Technology is cyclical, and Little Big Bangs is in on the action. A callback to grunge-era sensibilities, minus the excessive flannel, these tunes remind us that maybe those sounds left a little too soon. Even on the band's latest release (which incidentally came via cassette), the artwork looks like something that would've arrived in the late '90s from your favorite wise-cracking motley crew. All time travel aside, these guys (and gal) still make great rock for modern times. The south city band has been busting eardrums for a few years now, with only a few releases to show for it, leaving fans crying for more — in whatever format we can get it.

Recommended if you like: Sonic Youth, Breeders, Pavement, Bully

Find them: On Bandcamp at littlebigbangs.bandcamp.com

—Kevin Korinek

CaveofswordS

CaveofswordS is a synthesizer-based group with a warm beating heart at its center. Led by vocalist Sunyatta McDermott, the band harkens back to the days when Wasp synths and LinnDrum machines were new, futuristic pleasure items, but it subverts those electronic sounds to its own ends. On Sigils, its most recent album, CaveofswordS alternates between upbeat, dubstep-influenced tracks such as "Aviation Administration" and "Lately," and the darker, more dystopian approach of "Lately" and "Cruel Harvest." Combined with McDermott's floating, double-tracked vocals, the result is a spotless mix of engaging songcraft and atmospheric, retro-futurist production. It also makes for a powerful live set.

Recommended if you like: Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, early Human League, CHVRCHES

Find them: Online at www.caveofswords.com

—Mike Appelstein

Dubb Nubb

Since high school, twin sisters Delia and Hannah Rainey have been playing their exuberant brand of folk/country/indie as Dubb Nubb. Once again St. Louis-based after a spell at Mizzou, they continue to play the city's clubs, basements and backyards with abandon. They've also branched out a bit over the past year: Hannah leads Shady Bug, which specializes in loud-soft melodic crunch and bittersweet lyrics, while Delia is one-quarter of "all girl climactic pop rock" act Berry Barbie. Thankfully, however, they haven't neglected Dubb Nubb, whose intimate, friendly live shows are as St. Louis as a backyard game of washers and a few cans of Stag on a hazy midsummer evening.

Recommended if you like: Frankie Cosmos, Jonathan Richman, Girlpool

Find them: On Bandcamp at dubbnubb.bandcamp.com

—Mike Appelstein

click to enlarge Middle Class Fashion's fourth album is due out this fall. - COURTESY OF THE ARTISTS
  • COURTESY OF THE ARTISTS
  • Middle Class Fashion's fourth album is due out this fall.

Middle Class Fashion

Led by singer/songwriter Jenn Malzone, Middle Class Fashion has now gone through several phases. There was the Ben Folds piano pop of 2012's Girl Talk, the A.C. Newman/Scott Miller power pop of 2014's Jungle, and most recently, the twilight electronic tones of last year's iii. The group seems to have settled into the latter mood for now. The video for its latest single, "Turquoise Heart," features Malzone's usual smart lyrics (no one can capture the moment a relationship falls apart like she can) in the context of a near-deserted Union Station, complete with interpretative ballet. It bodes well for EGO, the band's fourth album, due this fall.

Recommended if you like: The The, New Pornographers, Nite Jewel

Find them: Online at www.middleclassfashion.com

—Mike Appelstein

Anthony Lucius

Metro East native Anthony Lucius Walker Jr. has been making music in some capacity since his days as a student at O'Fallon Township High School, but it wasn't until a few years after his 2011 graduation that Walker decided to get serious about it. Five years, a few abandoned monikers and a move to Columbia and back later, the rapper/producer released his 2016 debut under the name Anthony Lucius, entitled Please Do Not Feed the Rappers. This year, he demonstrated the continuing development of his assertive — though often soft-spoken — style with Welcome to St. Lucius, released April 21, and preceded by a Louis Quatorze-produced video for the album's first single, "Bridge."

Recommended if you like: Mick Jenkins, Hawthorne Headhunters, Curren$y, Isaiah Rashad, the Knuckles

Find him: Online at anthonylucius.com

—Nick Horn

Town Cars

There are plenty of reasons why Town Cars' 2014 debut, Hearts and Stars, should be in every decent indie rock collection in America. It has all the form's strengths: a strong voice that doesn't get too clean but knows how to harmonize; the ability to leap from strum to roar and back again; and most importantly of all, lyrics that channel your own heartbreak and hope more eloquently than you could express them yourself. Bandleader Melinda Cooper, also an occasional RFT contributor, is a one-person musical collective, consistently inventing new voices — but she also multiplies the effect by finding excellent collaborators and building on their strengths. Town Cars has many classic cuts, whether the rest of the world knows it or not. Check out "Circumstances" for proof, or "Everything," where Jenn Malzone's harmonies haunt, with a final four-note guitar phrase that is a song unto itself, distilling regret, determination, hope and anger into a single crashing phrase.

Recommended if you like: Sebadoh, the Breeders, Waxahatchee, Veruca Salt

Find them: On Bandcamp at towncars.bandcamp.com

—Evan Sult

Mt. Thelonius

Neo-bluegrass, neo-folk, neo-jam bands are the scourge of open mic nights and Tiny Desk concerts, but when a fresh take on the fiddling and strumming comes around, the labels really do peel away. Enter Mt. Thelonius, a trio led by singer and guitarist Ian Lubar and featuring violin and bass from Alyssa Avery and Mark Wallace, who combine boot-slapping rhythmic drive and old-time melodies with more than a little spirited and well-honed musicianship. The band's minimalism lets each instrumental voice shine through, while Lubar's songwriting, sometimes darkly fatalistic, sometimes delicately personal, continues to mature. Heading into its fifth year together, Mt. Thelonius is far from its musical peak, but well on the way.

Recommended if you like: Nickel Creek, the Lone Bellow, Ivan & Alyosha, River Whyless

Find them: Online at www.mtthelonious.com —Roy Kasten

click to enlarge Hell Night's hard-edged rock/metal sound will make you want to hold an axe. - ROB LAWSON
  • ROB LAWSON
  • Hell Night's hard-edged rock/metal sound will make you want to hold an axe.

Hell Night

You might think that the dyed-in-the-wool metal lifers in Hell Night would scoff at the heavily made-up, overtly glammified strand of hair metal that filled MTV screens with visions of Spandex and AquaNet, but you'd be so, so wrong. For its latest EP Hell Night Songs, the band takes a heavy swing at Cinderella's "Night Songs" as the lead-off track, coating it in a sludgy, crunchy slurry. The rest of the set is a bit more corrosive and reliant on the quick-turn riffs that guitarist Andy White, bassist Eric Eyster and drummer Adam Arseneau churn out with hive-mind dexterity. Singer Brian Fair is a relatively recent addition, but he's wasted no time in establishing a fulcrum in Hell Night's pneumatic machinery.

Recommended if you like: Dead Kennedys, Shadows Fall, Poison riffs at double speed, chainsaws

Find them: On Bandcamp at hellnightstl.bandcamp.com

—Christian Schaeffer

Prairie Rehab

You've seen the signs along the highway near the patchy grasses, weeds and wildflowers: "Prairie Rehab." It's oddly comforting to know the land still has a chance, regardless of MoDOT's protracted misadventures. The band Prairie Rehab, led by the husband and wife team of Lacie Williams and Scott Swartz, finds its own hopeful juxtaposition of the urbane and the earthy in a pop, folk and rock-tinged take on Americana. Revolving around Williams' impressionistic wordplay and literary nuances, the band has recently stretched out on a double-disc set called Conformateur/Idiomatic, exploring Latin and atmospheric sounds that somehow suit Williams' delicately trilling voice as well as Swartz's classic pedal-steel licks.

Recommended if you like: Joanna Newsom, Emmylou Harris, the Byrds, Vetiver

Find them: Online at prairierehabmusic.com

—Roy Kasten

The Leonas

Distilling its music to a pure acoustic folk essence, the Leonas not only prove that less can be more, but that less can be a foundation for wholly surprising musical possibilities. The core duo of Steph Plant and Sarah Vie has found a sound that's as familiar to anyone who discovered the tradition through the O Brother Where Art Thou? soundtrack as one who grew up singing and playing gospel hymns and fiddle tunes. The group's latest album, Forbidden Fruit, has a mythic, feminist theme that never detracts from the cello and violin-drenched songs. The Leonas' calling card may be its extraordinary vocal harmonies, but its thoughtful and passionate take on Americana makes it one of St. Louis' most promising acts, regardless of genre.

Recommended if you like: the Indigo Girls, Gillian Welch, the Be Good Tanyas, Iris DeMent

Find them: Online at www.leonasmusic.com—Roy Kasten

Whoa Thunder

If aliens ever land in St. Louis à la Rick and Morty and demand we produce one pop act to represent Earth in an intergalactic battle of the bands, we can all breathe a sigh of relief: They came to the right place. Brian McClelland's Whoa Thunder is a pop prodigy project — songs like "Bottlehands" and "No Girls Laugh at Me Now (HA HA I Laugh at Them)" are equal parts Newman and Numan, bristling with New Wave synths and high-caliber pop chords. Like all truly great pop, it simply overwhelms any potential objection by leaping right over the rational mind to stomp on your lizard brain's repeat button. Luckily for us all, the lyrics keep up with the rest, so when you find yourself still singing, "Allison left school today for the outer planets' charm" days later, at least it's not "Poker Face." Take that, Cromulons!

Recommended if you like: New Pornographers, the Cars, the Rentals, LCD Soundsystem

Find them: Online at whoathunder.com

—Evan Sult

The Maness Brothers

The Maness Brothers' new self-titled album is the kind of record that activates multiple senses. As the Southern-fried blues riffs enter your ears, you can almost smell the sweat and spilled bourbon of a loud show on a hot night somewhere in Alabama. But before you confuse this for some type of modern-day Molly Hatchet, Jake Maness' biting drums and brother Dave's aggressive vocals and blues-indebted guitar provide a beautiful side of danger — imagine if Iggy Pop had moved to Jacksonville, Florida, to record Raw Power. Together since 2012, the band could be looking at its biggest year yet, with another album set to record this summer and a tour that Jake Maness says will dwarf the band's initial 30-show run in 2013.

Recommended if you like: The Stooges, Ten Foot Wizard, King of the North, Ume

Find them: On Bandcamp at themanessbrothers.bandcamp.com

—Jeremy Essig

Gene Jackson

While he isn't a household name in the blues and soul scene, Gene Jackson remains one of the city's finest singers. His voice stands up to comparisons to the greats of Motown and Chess, and with this year's album, 1963, he lays down straight-ahead soul, with lush horns and spritely rhythms. His soul is classy and classic. It's hard to believe this is Jackson's first official release. Working with producer and multi-instrumentalist Paul Niehaus IV, Jackson, a regular performer with Power Play and Soul Reunion, seems at the top of his game, turning in a set of poignant and catchy originals that would have sounded very much at home on the radio in 1963 — or just about any year, for that matter.

Recommended if you like: Otis Redding, Marvin Gaye, Charles Bradley, Bobby Womack

Find him: Online at www.bluelotusrecordings.com

—Roy Kasten

Kevin Bowers

Working behind the kit for the likes of the Feed and Big Mike Aguirre, drummer Kevin Bowers has long made an impression on both rock and blues audiences. But Bowers' 2016 album Nova impressed in wholly new and unexpected ways. A deep foray into Brazilian music — from pop to jazz to folk to genres he and his collaborators seem to be creating on their own — the album was both accomplished and completely refreshing. The array of percussive textures and rich rhythms inspire the musicians — more than a dozen — that Bowers gathers together, creating a narrative that sounds timeless. Bowers has even endeavored to share his Brazilian journey on stage. Performances are rare, but by all accounts absolutely stunning.

Recommended if you like: Paul Simon, Sérgio Mendes, Jorge Ben, Seu Jorge

Find him: Online at www.kevinbowersmusic.com

—Roy Kasten

Turn the page for our final group of artists: The Heavy Hitters.

click to enlarge Black Fast's relentless thrash metal assault will make you bang your head clean off your neck if you're not careful. - RNKPHOTO
  • RNKPHOTO
  • Black Fast's relentless thrash metal assault will make you bang your head clean off your neck if you're not careful.

Heavy Hitters

St. Louis' absolute must-see acts — powerhouses in the music community's highest weight class.

Black Fast

Like many a heavy metal band before it, Black Fast wears its dark fascination with Catholicism on its leathery sleeves. Named for a form of extreme Lenten fasting, the band plays a punishing, riff-heavy, growling and refreshingly raw form of thrash metal, replete with creepy images of annihilation and doom that never quite sink into ridiculous clichés. This band — led by shredding vocalist Aaron Akin and even more shredding guitarist Trevor Johanson, and driven by the rhythm section of Ryan Thompson and Ross Burnett — knows that metal is meant to be a sweaty, moshy, relentless catharsis. And that's the kind of metal Black Fast feasts on every time it takes the stage.

Recommended if you like: Death, Megadeth, Cannibal Corpse, Deicide

Find them: Online at www.blackfastmusic.com

—Roy Kasten

click to enlarge Mvstermind is quickly becoming one of St. Louis' most visible stars. - ALEC WALLIS
  • ALEC WALLIS
  • Mvstermind is quickly becoming one of St. Louis' most visible stars.

Mvstermind

These days, Muhammad Austin, a.k.a. Mvstermind, may well be among St. Louis' most visible artists on the national level, both in and out of the hip-hop scene. Following appearances at festivals including A3C, SXSW and MCA Day alongside the likes of G-Eazy, Ab-Soul, Oddisee, Travis Scott and Chance the Rapper — not to mention getting the video for his single "Mali Moolah" in rotation on MTV, BET and Fuse — you'd be hard-pressed to come up with a St. Louis artist commanding more attention across the country. While impressive, that steadily increasing notoriety isn't especially surprising if you've heard Mvstermind's one-of-a-kind production style and thoughtful, probing lyrics.

Recommended if you like: J.Cole, Drake, Little Dragon, Anderson .Paak, Vince Staples

Find him: On Soundcloud at soundcloud.com/mvstermind

—Nick Horn

Son Volt

With the latest incarnation of Son Volt, Jay Farrar continues to push his songs into new sonic territory by transforming the musical history he knows so well. The sound of the blues, always his foundation, growls, stomps and moans on the album Notes of Blue, released this spring and quickly followed by a round of touring with the loudest and hardest rocking band he's ever fronted. On the road, guitarist Chris Frame (who replaced St. Louis veteran Gary Hunt) joins multi-instrumentalist Mark Spencer and drummer Jacob Edwards (who has taken over for Dave Bryson) along with longtime bassist Andrew Duplantis. The musicians know how to make Farrar's eclectic and electric version of the blues an incandescent, thrilling experience.

Recommended if you like: Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters, Jack White, the Jayhawks

Find them: Online at sonvolt.net

—Roy Kasten

Beth Bombara

It's been a decade now since Beth Bombara arrived in St. Louis, announcing her debut with the EP Abandon Ship in 2007. Over that time, local music fans have been treated to five releases showcasing a style that falls somewhere on the edges of Americana without tipping completely into revivalist folk. Her newest release, Map and No Direction, continues that trend – mixing upbeat pop numbers with slower pieces that suggest contemplation. The key, as always, is Bombara's voice – strong and calming regardless of the subject matter, like a captain ready to face whatever storm might be on the horizon. Her new album was picked up by European label At the Helm Records, and Bombara is currently planning a tour of Europe to complement her North American shows — including a stop at LouFest this year.

Recommended if you like: Neko Case, Beth Orton, Natalie Merchant, Aimee Mann

Find her: On Bandcamp at bethbombara.bandcamp.com

—Jeremy Essig

The Sleepy Rubies

For a band that's only technically been together for a little more than a year, the Sleepy Rubies has managed to accomplish quite a bit. Its debut EP, Great Big Love, was released last July, and just a few months later, the group found itself performing at LouFest. The key to the band's productivity may lie in the bond within its songwriting core — sisters Emily Wallace and Ali Ruby. The vocal interplay between the two, a central charm in the Rubies' harmony-rich acoustic folk, has been developed since they were in high school together. Still, it's not only the melding of their two voices that stands out on Great Big Love, but also Wallace's and Ruby's individual tones. More big things are on the way: Wallace says the band is finishing up a second EP and will both tour and release a music video in support this summer.

Recommended if you like: The Jayhawks, First Aid Kit, Lily and Madeline, the Weepies

Find them: On Bandcamp thesleepyrubies.bandcamp.com/

—Jeremy Essig

Tef Poe

With the election of you-know-who, St. Louis' most outspokenly activist hip-hop star isn't about to start pulling punches. The cover of Black Julian, his blistering 2017 collection, features Tef reading a copy of the now-defunct St. Louis Globe-Democrat sporting the headline "President Shot Dead" above a picture of JFK. It's a visual threat; the music makes that threat sonic. "Raised in the slums and every day I come back," he spits on "Best Rapper Alive Like Weezy," as the guitar-and-noise-scarred backing track sounds hell-bent on reinventing the trap style. Even on darker, low-throttled tracks like "Die High" and "Genocide," Tef's verbal skills cut damn close to the bone. "I pray that they don't murder me," he wails. "My enemies should just let it be." Tef Poe knows that's not likely; he also knows how to use music to fight back.

Recommended if you like: Tupac Shakur, Lil Wayne, Rockwell Knuckles, Outkast

Find him: Online at tefpoe.com

—Roy Kasten

Marquise Knox

The annual Baby Blues Showcase has been going on long enough that local blues fans have been able to watch those fresh-faced singers and guitar-slingers grow up practically before their eyes. Marquise Knox made his name on that stage — and went on to burn down many others. Now in his mid-twenties, he's no longer a baby and has logged thousands of miles at home and abroad preaching the gospel of the blues. Knox certainly pays homage to his forebears — his latest, Here I Am, includes versions of a few Muddy Waters songs — but his age and enthusiasm has helped keep local blues music fresh and vibrant over the past decade.

Recommended if you like: Albert King, Muddy Waters, Bobby Rush, Buddy Guy

Find him: Online at marquiseknoxblues.com

—Christian Schaeffer

click to enlarge American Wrestlers went from a set of self-recorded demos straight to the vaunted Fat Possum Records. - PITCH PERFECT PR
  • PITCH PERFECT PR
  • American Wrestlers went from a set of self-recorded demos straight to the vaunted Fat Possum Records.

American Wrestlers

American Wrestlers doesn't know the definition of a sophomore slump. In November, the group unleashed its second LP for Fat Possum, Goodbye Terrible Youth. A full-band affair — in contrast to 2015's self-titled effort, which was basically a collection of guitarist/vocalist Gary McClure's demos — Goodbye Terrible Youth derives tension from duality: It's a mighty melodic roar dominated by grungy distorted guitars, atmospheric keyboards and piano, and keening vocals. McClure emerges from the fray as a conspiratorial voice of reason, as he grapples with knotty topics such as faith, politics and growing up. Ever prolific, American Wrestlers quietly released the gem "Making A Difference," a Replacements-reminiscent meditation with wistful-sounding organ, in February as an Amazon Music exclusive.

Recommended if you like: New Order, Swervedriver, '90s guitar rock, R.E.M.

Find them: On Bandcamp at americanwrestlersband.bandcamp.com/releases

—Annie Zaleski

Foxing

With its sophomore album, Dealer, the indie-rock quintet Foxing threatened to raise expectations to bring-on-the-backlash levels. With glowing notices from Pitchfork and Alternative Press and successful tours of U.S. and Europe (even if that did include being assaulted in Chicago and having a head-on collision in northern California last year) the band earned the right to coast for a while. Earlier this year, however, Foxing released the glowing, eerie and exquisite single "Two," which it calls "a new spin on old classics," featuring two radically reinterpreted songs from Dealer. "Indica Two" offers harrowing vocals and the band's moodiest take on post-rock slow burn. And the flipside, "Redwoods Two," is even better, a showcase for singer Lena Woods, who delivers the refrain "find a reason not to leave" with prophetic grace, even as the band swells to orchestral force. With its bold arrangements and inspired songwriting, Foxing deserves every second of its current success. Savor this moment with them.

Recommended if you like: Bright Eyes, Okkervil River, Sufjan Stevens, Foals

Find them: Online at foxingtheband.com

—Roy Kasten

Trauma Harness

A band built on the very capable backs of several other local champs (Shaved Women, Egg Chef, etc.) Trauma Harness has brought forth a perfect union of hardcore punk and frenzied pop. After roughly six years, give or take, and many tours, the band seems to have skillfully harnessed its own chaotic versatility and forged it into a signature sound. Josh Jenkins brings fast, unrelenting riffs together with a dreamy, sweet tone that can be confusing in the most pleasant way, while Andy Peterson's bass lines bring out the beautiful backbone in each track. Trauma Harness' sound is definitely as edgy as it gets, but John Birkner's powerfully direct and dominant drumming drives the band right past the edge and straight off the cliff.

Recommended if you like: Vats, Lush, Nation of Ulysses

Find them: On Bandcamp at traumaharness.bandcamp.com

—Melinda Cooper

Bates

Bates came out swinging with her 2015 release The Great DeBates, taking on radio and various other news outlets for their lack of female representation, especially in the hip-hop community. As co-founder of the group Femcee Nation, Bates believes that gender equality within music begins with women supporting other women, both in their respective scenes as well as everywhere else. Equal parts artist and activist, Bates brings a throwback feel that somehow simultaneously summons the sound of the future. On 2016's For Colored Folk, She unapologetically points out various layers to inequality and discrimination with issues of gender, class and race, and forces the listener to find their way to the truth in all of it. Bates' beats hit hard, her words hit harder, and her presence will knock you off your feet.

Recommended if you like: Young M.A, Bahamadia, M.I.A., Kendrick Lamar

Find her: Online at www.bates-stl.com

—Melinda Cooper

Rats and People Motion Picture Orchestra

A score can make or break a film or TV show; just imagine how different The Godfather or Lost would have been without their characters' recognizable leitmotifs. But what about films that weren't scored in the way we expect today? The Rats and People Motion Picture Orchestra has carved out a unique niche, composing original orchestration for silent films and performing it alongside the movies during film festivals and special events. But sonic storytelling doesn't end there; the St. Louis band also has scored poems and Shakespearean plays to bring something new and engaging to well-loved pieces. Its mix of traditional orchestral tools such as violins and trombones combines with modern electric guitars to give people a completely different, fully immersive way to experience classic screenplays and literature.

Recommended if you like: Belle and Sebastian, Tindersticks, the Decemberists, Grizzly Bear

Find them: Online at theratsandpeople.com

—Allison Babka

click to enlarge Funky Butt Brass Band may sound like New Orleans, but its spirit is all St. Louis - COREY WOODRUFF
  • COREY WOODRUFF
  • Funky Butt Brass Band may sound like New Orleans, but its spirit is all St. Louis

Funky Butt Brass Band

Outside the Pageant after the memorial service for Chuck Berry, a brass band played "St. Louis Blues" as Berry's coffin was lifted into the hearse. The musicians, of course, were the Funky Butt Brass Band, an ensemble that's become, like Berry himself, an emblem of this city. Though its core sound belongs to the tradition of the New Orleans second line, its spirit is 100 percent St. Louis. The sextet is our hardest working jazz-funk fusion band, and its omnipresence at street parties, festivals, Soulard bars and classy nightclubs remains, after all these years, well worth celebrating. The sound of St. Louis just wouldn't be the same without them.

Recommended if you like: Rebirth Brass Band, Oliver Sain, Dumpstaphunk, Kermit Ruffins

Find them: Online at funkybuttbrassband.com

—Roy Kasten

Sleepy Kitty

As St. Louis has come to learn, Sleepy Kitty is anything but a yawn. Partners in every way, guitarist Paige Brubeck and drummer Evan Sult (himself an RFT contributor) have been entertaining the Gateway City (and the country!) with their bright, jangly noise-pop for nearly a decade, and we're still craving more. With fuzzy notes of grunge, surf and punk tempered by both indie sweetness and angst, Sleepy Kitty's tunes pack all kinds of emotions within its instrumentation, to say nothing of the duo's lyrics. Brubeck tackles gender issues, adulthood woes and even what it feels like when your van is stolen. With Cherokee Street serving as the band's home for both rehearsal and its screenprinting enterprise, we'd wager that Sleepy Kitty will have a lot more autobiographical songs in the years to come. Paws up for that!

Recommended if you like: Sleigh Bells, Belly, Dum Dum Girls

Find them: Online at sleepykittymusic.com

—Allison Babka

The Bottle Rockets

It's weird to think that the Bottle Rockets had its only hit 22 years ago: "Radar Gun" peaked at No. 27 on Billboard's Mainstream Rock chart, hanging in there for a solid three-month run. The song remains a live staple, but the band was always more than a one-hit wonder. Its last album, South Broadway Athletic Club, proved it still had sounds, tones, stories and hooks to burn, and still knew how to throw and roll with the rock punches, even if the mainstream is now unrecognizable to its cagey style. The band has gotten smarter with the years, booking memorable national tours with like-minded rockers Chuck Prophet and Marshall Crenshaw, reaching new audiences and somehow sounding as vigorous as ever.

Recommended if you like: Drive-By Truckers, Tom Petty, Steve Earle, Crazy Horse

Find them: Online at www.bottlerocketsmusic.com

—Roy Kasten

click to enlarge Brian Owens is a soul-singing powerhouse just as comfortable covering Johnny Cash as Marvin Gaye. - JARRED GASTREICH
  • JARRED GASTREICH
  • Brian Owens is a soul-singing powerhouse just as comfortable covering Johnny Cash as Marvin Gaye.

Brian Owens

The type of soul that Ferguson native Brian Owens channels in his music has a clear and undeniable source — Owens' background is in gospel, and he proudly holds that tradition and faith as his musical core. But what makes Owens such a rare talent is the mutability and spread of his soul tradition; he regularly performs tribute shows to both Johnny Cash and Marvin Gaye, an odd Venn diagram that somehow makes perfect sense thanks to Owens' expressive and stirring performances. He's been busy promoting his own music as well, including last year's Beautiful Day EP and this year's The Soul of Ferguson, which features guest vocals from fellow Ferguson native Michael McDonald. Their partnership goes beyond their shared hometown: Both vocalists know soul music was a feeling before it was ever a genre.

Recommended if you like: Marvin Gaye, Staple Singers, Curtis Mayfield, Johnny Cash

Find him: Online at www.brianowenssoul.com

—Christian Schaeffer

Roland Johnson

Spend enough time at the blues bars along that little strip of Broadway — BB's, Broadway Oyster Bar, Beale on Broadway — and you'll come away with a university-level education in the city's blues and soul heritage. Lifelong musician Roland Johnson has long been its professor emeritus, and his weekly gigs with his group Soul Endeavor are etched in stone on Beale's calendar. Last year Johnson did something for the first time in his 68 years: He released an album of original material, writing songs alongside producers and musicians Paul Niehaus and Kevin O'Connor. Together, the three turned Johnson's Imagine This into one of the must-hear local albums of 2016. On it, the singer shows his range, from the tender and heartfelt "Mother" to the sly grooves of "Ain't That Loving You." The album is a rare late-in-life gift from a performer with a whole lot of music left to give.

Recommended if you like: Syl Johnson, Otis Redding, Charles Bradley, Lee Fields

Find him: Online at soulendeavor.net

—Christian Schaeffer

Yowie

Listen: You're either gonna love Yowie and marvel at the instrumental trio's prowess with producing tones, textures and rhythms that seemingly don't compute, or you're gonna cross the street to avoid them. There's little in between, and that's OK with Yowie. The band's brand-new LP, Synchromysticism, conjures a lot with two guitars and a drum kit, and drummer Shawn O'Connor sees the album as a continuation of the band's seventeen-year evolution. "I think a lot of our music in the past was 'intellectually interesting' whereas [this time] we really went for emotionally evocative," says O'Connor. "We wouldn't allow the seams to be conspicuous; we wanted to sand them down and make it look like one continuous process."

Recommended if you like: Dazzling Killmen, Grand Ulena, the Meters

Find them: On Bandcamp at yowie.bandcamp.com

—Christian Schaeffer

Bruiser Queen

Through sheer persistence and hard work, Bruiser Queen has emerged as one of the area's most consistent (and most fun) live acts. Equally inspired by Goner Records-style garage rock, heavy metal and '60s girl groups, this group has steadily refined its raucous, deadly catchy sound. Consider, for instance, 2016's "Telepathic Mind," Bruiser Queen's most recent release. Dominated by Farfisa-style organ and Morgan Nusbaum's ecstatic vocals ("I'm freaking out tonight!" goes the chorus), it comes across like a lost Go-Gos outtake as updated by the Julie Ruin. (The B-side? A raw cover of Dio's "Rainbow In The Dark.") Bruiser Queen doesn't play as many local shows as it used to; don't miss it when you get the chance.

Recommended if you like: The Muffs, Sleater-Kinney, Lesley Gore

Find them: Online at www.bruiserqueen.com

—Mike Appelstein

Pokey LaFarge

Manic Revelations, Pokey LaFarge's second album for the Rounder label, may update the hot pre-war jazz and blues sound that he's made a signature, but it certainly doesn't leave it behind. The horn lines are sharper, the guitars bolder, the rhythms swampier yet punchier at the same time. The history of American music churns through this collection — from rhythm & blues to honky-tonk to swing, of course, but also sweet country soul and even garage rock & roll — and song-for-song it's his best to date. To some, the album's first single, "Riot in the Streets," seemed a rather jaunty take on the Ferguson protest movement, but sue him for being catchy. For years, LaFarge's music was a St. Louis treasure; it still is, but it now belongs to everyone who loves the craft of American songwriting and the thrill of a great band driving every song home.

Recommended if you like:

Bob Dylan, Nathaniel Rateliff, JD McPherson, Jimmie Rodgers

Find him: Online at pokeylafarge.net

—Roy Kasten

Jack Grelle

As a college student, Jack Grelle began mixing his political beliefs with music, and the results were what you might expect from someone leaning toward anarchy: The young Grelle fairly destroyed his voice singing in hardcore bands. As he grew older he found his tastes running more toward country and folk, but his politics didn't grow more conservative. As one of this city's foremost purveyors of classic country and honky-tonk swing, Grelle and his band aren't afraid to get topical. "Changes Never Made," from last year's Got Dressed Up to Be Let Down, addresses the roots of Michael Brown's murder and the unrest that resulted in Ferguson and across the U.S. Elsewhere on the disc, Grelle handles more typical fare — heartbreak, nostalgia, whiskey — but he's able to inform an old form with new ideas.

Recommended if you like: Doug Sahm, These United States, Waco Brothers, Lavender Country

Find him: Online at jackgrelle.com

—Christian Schaeffer

click to enlarge It is your civic duty as a St. Louisan to spread the gospel of Kim Massie far and wide. - VIA THE ARTIST
  • VIA THE ARTIST
  • It is your civic duty as a St. Louisan to spread the gospel of Kim Massie far and wide.

Kim Massie

When you have dear friends coming to town, you have a few duties as a good St. Louisan. They might involve a variety of architectural wonders or delectable eats, but one is non-negotiable: catching a Kim Massie set at Beale on Broadway. Massie has gained the reputation that most musicians travel the country to accrue by letting the mountain come to her. Presiding from her throne at Beale on Broadway, surrounded by her Solid Senders, she commands the room with an old-school combination of chops, charm, humor and pure character. Her voice is powerful, expressive, and seemingly effortless — though the prominently placed tip jar before her is a reminder that it ain't without cost. The stories between songs are every bit as compelling as the music and the catalog is equally satisfying and surprising. This is the rare show that's as suitable for the casual visitor as for the life-long blues hunter.

Recommended if you like:

Gladys Knight, Ann Peebles, Sharon Jones, Stevie Wonder

Find her: Online at kimmassie.com

—Evan Sult

Trending in the Alternative Press

Best Things to Do In St. Louis

Newsletters

Never miss a beat

Sign Up Now

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.

© 2019 Riverfront Times

Website powered by Foundation