The Riverfront Times' Ten Best Local Albums of 2010
In an age where bands can succeed or fail on the basis of one MP3, it's refreshing that full-length albums are alive and well in St. Louis. (Note: The RFT's EP/seven-inch list can be found here.) Each year, the Riverfront Times receives dozens of CD, MP3 and, occasionally, vinyl submissions for our local-review column, Homespun, and we do our best to keep tabs on the city's vast and varied musical community. The following ten releases reach beyond mere merch-table fodder or sonic résumés, however; they stand tall as capital-A Albums, worthy of several top-to-bottom spins. In alphabetical order:
Black Spade Live, HeadQuarters @ The Gramophone:
Build & Destroy
It's hard to lose when you kick off a mixtape with a little bit of Stevie Wonder, but Black Spade's Build & Destroy doesn't coast on the strength of samples alone. St. Louis expat Trackstar the DJ has stitched together an eighteen-track program to highlight Black Spade's laid-back, soulful vibe and smart, socially aware rhymes. Other STL emcees Rockwell Knuckles, Vandalyzm and Coultrain drop in for a verse or two, but Black Spade's easy-to-swallow flow holds the whole affair together. The catch-all mixtape moves from sinister, gamelan-like sounds ("Enemies Frienemies") to quirky beats under slowed-down Beatles samples ("I Heart") without missing a beat.
Feature Profile on Black Spade
The Conformists, "Are These Flowers?"
Noise-rock is a tricky, usually misleading term that gets thrown at the Conformists, but the band's greatest strength is its use of restraint: The band knows how and when to unleash a guitar squall and when to cut it teasingly short. The incremental tempo shifts that kick off "Jesus Was a Shitty Carpenter" evince these players' extra-sensory understanding of their truncated rhythms and sharp, stabbing guitar lines. Mike Benker's vocals are clearer this time around, and on a song such as "Swim Home," he's confident to dramatically speak-sing, instead of settling into his usual full-throttle howl. The appropriately named "Pro Gear, Pro Attitude" ends the album with a cycle of melodic, meditative guitar-plucks, as a harmonically enhanced bass line locks in with cymbal splashes. After methodically climbing a mountain of burgeoning intensity, Benker provides the necessary cathartic release and lets his bandmates assist on the comedown