Seven St. Louis Bands to Watch in 2012: What Are Your Picks?
Ed. In this week's print edition, we talk a bit about seven bands we're think will be worth watching in 2012. They're listed here -- please let us know what you're excited about in the comments below.
Ben Mudd Karate Bikini at Off Broadway
Though Karate Bikini has been in existence in some fashion for a few years, it has only one EP to its name and seldom plays shows. But the band's pedigree alone is enough to warrant your attention. Its lineup contains members of some of the best local bands in recent history, including Magnolia Summer, the Bottle Rockets, the Painkillers, Jon Hardy & the Public, Old Lights and Tight Pants Syndrome.
In 2010 Karate Bikini released the EP A Demonstration. As the name implies, the four-song release was a glorified demo, but it was enough for the RFT to coronate the band as the city's Best Rock Band back in 2010. That wasn't hype then, and it certainly isn't now. With its debut full-length, Sauce of the Apple Horse, to be released in 2012 and plans for more frequent performances thereafter, Karate Bikini is a name that you soon won't be able to avoid.
Sauce is a release that stands to vault Karate Bikini into the same group of veteran acts that fills out its members' résumés. It builds on what the band has already done, which is to create manic, luscious rock and power pop in the tradition of acts such as the Kinks, Big Star and the Byrds. An early mix of the album cut "Medic" reveals an infectious tune that would be at home on an early dB's record -- if you ignore the flute and twangy guitar solo, that is.
Karate Bikini turned in one of the best local performances of the year at the KDHX (88.1 FM)-sponsored Bob Dylan tribute in May. Its set was highlighted by a cover of "Like a Rolling Stone" that carried, note for note, the electric desperation of Dylan's epic original. It will be a treat to see the band playing more of its own tunes with the same fervor on stages all over St. Louis in 2012.
Little Big Bangs
Little Big Bangs made a splash in 2011, pushing its '90s-influenced weirdo indie-rock in the faces of every barfly, reject and music fan in St. Louis. One might remember the band for cranking out an opening set for Hunx and His Punx at the Firebird or performing as the Velvet Underground on Halloween at El Leñador. The foursome packs a thick sound backed up by the solid beats of drummer Drew Gowran. The guitar players switch instruments on the fly, complementing a diverse set ranging from danceable psychedelia to hard-hitting punk rock. Jagged riffs and solid rhythms back up the gang-like vocal party, featuring the screaming voices of every band member. The keen musicianship is backed up by a strong penchant for solid songwriting. LBB's natural habitat seems to be a packed basement full of sweaty, inebriated showgoers who frequently cross the line between dancing and moshing.
You could be forgiven if Bear Hive lands under your radar. The local trio's pedigree includes underrated bands the Sham and the Good Pyramid, and bands with animal names tend to run together. In fairness, Bear Hive is a better name when said out loud than when read. Other than a choice opening spot at the annual Indie Rock Ice Cream Social for its debut show, the buzz surrounding the group has been minimal -- likely a result of the group's decision to sharpen its claws in the practice space rather than onstage. So far, the young band has shown more than just potential. The four tracks on its EP A Mountain to Maintain are solid, unlikely pop songs built from the man-vs.-machine tension of electronic and live elements (think Menomena). "Wild Yonder" is the band's strongest work, a midtempo romp through uncharted Western mountains that plays like a less-stoned Minus the Bear circa 2002 or less drunk Modest Mouse circa 1996. The Chinese Zodiac says 2012 is the Year of the Dragon. We say it just might be the Year of the Bear Hive.
What We Won't See
Chris Smentkowski has been a pillar in St. Louis' experimental music community for more than a decade now. During his tenure in the legendary experimental unit Brain Transplant, Smentkowski mastered both guitar and laptop noise in an unrelenting bout of electric nihilism. With his new drum-machine-driven project, What We Won't See, Smentkowski brandishes his virulent guitar approach with Scott Tallent on electric bass and vocals. The Scratch Acid and Big Black comparisons are inevitable as Tallent's throbbing post-punk bass writhes toward the cold beat of automation. Not unlike his Touch & Go forebears, Smentkowski has the ability to tame feedback into a textural weapon, subdued one moment and laying electric waste the next. Combining the disgruntled bark of Tallent's vocals with the atmospheric swirl of Smentkowski's blackened guitar phrases, What We Won't See produces a bleak soundtrack to a working-class world gone wrong.