40 Best St. Louis Releases of 2011: Part One

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As you may have noticed, we were excited to be St. Louis music fans this year. And there is no more substantial document of the sound of this city in 2011 than the music released by its bands and artists. It is not an exaggeration to guess that the releases in the metro area number in the thousands, and while we did not hear every one, we heard a hell of a lot of them. So in an effort to jog the memory of existing fans and introduce some excellent music to others, we will be telling you about our favorite 40 St. Louis records of 2011 in no particular order. Below, the first four.

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Sweet Tooth | Japanese Void EP

It was a bittersweet year for Sweet Tooth. Or, I should say, for fans of its brand of warp-speed noisy hardcore. St. Louis's fastest punk band released its debut seven-inch, the Japanese Void EP, on Chicago's Cowabunga Records in March of this year, to critical acclaim -- then broke up, playing one last show this past Friday.

The record is a consumate ripper, blending Jellyroll Rockheads-style speed with the chaotic noise of an early Das Oath EP. The longest song is a minute and twenty seconds; most clock in at the 45 second mark. The tempo varies little, staying in the "hyper-blur" spectrum with markedly sparse breakdowns. The rhythm section is fast and tight, the guitar is noisy and loose, and vocalist Kevin Tod's snotty screams tie the whole package together neatly. It is pure punk in its most in-your-face form, relentless and altogether uncompromising.

As I said, Sweet Tooth played its final show this past Friday (December 16th) in a South City basement. Guitarist Erik, who is moving to Portland (hence the break-up) started the set off by telling the crowd to "break everything" before the band took its last fifteen-minute-long stand. And "break everything" they did....have you ever seen a drumset smashed with a sledgehammer in a packed basement, amidst repeated chants of "Let's Go Blues"? Watch this video and see what you missed:

Key Track: "Small Talk"
"Small Talk" by Sweet Tooth

Place You're Most Likely to Hear the Artist: Youtube videos, records, your memories
--Daniel Hill

Union Electric | "Tunnels"/"An Irish Orphan" 7"

The Union Electric prefers to release its music in seven-inch spurts -- this two-song sliver of wax is the group's third such release in as many years. There's little doubt that the tireless pen of Tim Rakel has enough songs to fill a full-length or two, but these releases keep a tight focus on the sets of songs. Rakel has long labored in what can be broadly termed "Americana," but the Union Electric gives him his most raucous backing yet. Guitarist Glenn Burleigh (formerly of the Adversary Workers) plays snaking barbed-wire guitar lines over Rakel's rangy acoustic strums, and this mix of punk and country is winked at with a liner note thank-you to both Woody Guthrie and Joe Strummer. The A-side of this seven-inch, "Tunnels," tells of a rumored series of passageways beneath a Gold Rush town where dispossessed people are hidden away and left to create a subterranean culture. Bassist Melinda Cooper gives a harmonic lift to Rakel's stoic vocals, and guest musician Dave Anderson's pedal steel amplifies the song's country undertones.

The band continues to give voice to the forgotten and marginalized on "An Irish Orphan," which tells the story of the Irish-born, British-employed diplomat who was ultimately hanged for treason against the crown. (Fans of Rakel's work with the May Day Orchestra will be familiar with his knack for finding history's outcasts and forgotten heroes and turning their exploits into song). Rakel sounds appreciably more ragged on the B-side, and the band follows suit with a loose shuffle. But coming after the flurried tightness and melodic honey of "Tunnels," the flip side sounds like a rough demo.
--Christian Schaeffer
Homespun: July 28, 2011


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