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

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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.

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