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

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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
  • 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

—Roy Kasten

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


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

—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

—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

—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

—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

—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

—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
  • 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

—Annie Zaleski


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

—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

—Melinda Cooper


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

—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

—Allison Babka

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

—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

—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

—Roy Kasten

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

—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

—Christian Schaeffer


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

—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

—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

—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

—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
  • 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

—Evan Sult

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