STL Local Roundup

kingthief.jpgCapsule reviews of some recent (and not-so-recent) releases by St. Louis acts: Red Water Revival, King Thief, Jon Hardy & the Public, Go Van Gogh, Brain Regiment






Red Water Revival | In the Frostbidden Years (s/r)

Really didn’t mean to overlook this one, but it’s a long story. I saw ’em live first, and holy yeah, I was in. Then I listened to the album and found it far too classic for my tastes. So I put it away. Then I saw them live again. Then I pulled the disc back out. Then I freakin’ got it.

Dan Hecke and Co. pull off an adventurous, psychedelic/classic-tinged album (and live show; if you haven’t seen it, by all means, go). Of 13 songs, there is much to love ("The Secret Life of Spaceghost Macgee" is extremely rollicking; "Marchland in the "Morning" sounds like something you’d listen to as you move in for the kill; "The Weather Report on the Radios" bears a horn-tinged resemblance to Wall of Voodoo; and "Rattlesnake Babies/Seafoam Earphones" is a slow burner that lingers) and only one misstep (the I-stole-this-from-Radiohead computer-speak of "Dissonance of Communicatory Dialysis"). And you’ll be singing the first line to "In the Fairest of Seasons"—"Send me upstairs with no supper"—for days after just one listen. This is the stuff genres are shattered by, kids; support local music, indeed. A

RIYL: The Colour, My Morning Jacket, Band of Horses

King Thief | The Inferno (Shock City)

Call it alternative rock, call it emo, call it glam-tinged, but however you categorize it, the new release from local pop-punkers King Thief (formerly known as Ultra Blue) is practically a masterpiece. Strings and pianos lend a classic credibility to the rock-fueled tunes, and the boys truly put their best foot forward and leave listeners impressed.

"New England Hellcat" is deliciously catchy and single-ready; the song is richly vibrant, textured and toe-tapping. Soaring vocals and a group chorus quickly pull you into "Mahogany"; on "Red Light Reflex," frontman Brooks suggestively invites, "Give me love in a black dress/ just how low can you go?" Louis Wall’s drums really stand out on this track, as does a pointed guitar line from Sam Hill. "XO" is, of course, the band’s best known track, and here it’s even sexier, a black ode to killing for love. The slow-burning "Exodus" is yet another example of each of the band members’ strengths coming together in a gloriously spooky whole. Vocal effects play heavily throughout the disc, and are extra effective to kick off "Serpentine," yet another twisted tale of love gone wrong.

Kudos to the tight production on this disc, too; all the sounds are sharp, distinct, and beautifully meshed. This one’s a real treat on headphones; aw, hell, it’s a real treat, period. A

RIYL: Panic! At the Disco, My Chemical Romance

Jon Hardy & the Public | Working in Love (s/r)

I’ve long been a fan of Jon Hardy, from way back in his North Country days. Their live show, though not overly stimulating, has always struck me as professional and polished, so I expected nothing less from Working in Love, the band’s first full-length effort. Yet, somehow, the disc let me down.

Perhaps it’s the limitations of Hardy’s voice—rich, full-throated yet narrow in range—or, more likely, the flatness of the songs and their production. Of the 11 songs contained herein, they all seemed to flow together—all, that is, except the elegiac closer, "Cassius Clay," which made me wish for more variety earlier on. On the whole, the disc is 10 galloping indie-alt-country-rock numbers: solid songs, all, but all too similar.

Hardy’s known for being a solid songwriter and, if you take the time to listen to the words, you’ll soon see why. "They say don’t hang your head/ don’t let on that you care/ keep your lips so still/ and your fists punched out/ or love’s gonna shut your mouth," he wisely advises on "Please, Baby Please." Or take this one: "Tonight I am not a singer/ because these words should be much bigger/ and the sound will be more than the song," from "My Love." But if the music doesn’t grab me first, I don’t go exploring for meaning; were I not reviewing the disc, Hardy’s insights would be lost on me.

The inclusion of out-of-the-ordinary instruments—horns, strings, tambourine, piano—doesn’t lift this album too far off the floor. C

RIYL: Bruce Springsteen, Jackson Browne, Okkervil River

Go Van Gogh | Ruby and the Starlight Ballroom (s/r)

I’m coming off shallow in these capsules, but here it is: yet another flashy release, and another one that grabs my ADD-belabored attention. But seriously, give a listen to "After You" from this seven-song EP, and tell me you’re not utterly captivated by Ryan Jordan’s voice and the tight and sexy playing of his band.

Ruby and the Starlight Ballroom kicks it in early with the high energy of "Falling Asleep"; tell me Jordan’s breathy accompaniment doesn’t get you right here. The bass line on "Drifting Days" is snakelike and insidious; "Hold on, here we go/ break down, let down, never mind," Jordan wails, a narrator stuck spinning his wheels. "Runaway" is a slowed-down love song, a flash back to ’70s easy rock —a good showcase for Jordan’s vocal versality (mmm, falsetto).

Following the seductive "So in Love" is the slow-burning "All Right," with the sultry "Change" closing the disc—and opening the door to a new era for the band. Whereas Greenwheel is crowd-friendly alternative rock, Go Van Gogh borrows from the ’80s. It’s more suited for a medium-sized club than a massive arena, and for me, that’s OK. Jordan once confessed to me that this project is his musical truth. After this seven-song taste, I’m a believer. A-

RIYL: The Killers, The Cinematics

Brain Regiment | Dissolution (s/r)

Brain Regiment released this aptly named CD as their swan song. Self-recorded and engineered, don’t expect much from the production, but the songs therein are solid, evidence that this local quartet was sorely overlooked. Singer-songwriter Corey Saathoff has a dry, emotionless singing style (think Jay Farrar, one of Saathoff’s obvious influences) but a way with words. The songs themselves aren’t mere lo-fi indie; rather, there are layers that weave amongst the carefully considered lines of small towns and city people.

A seductive guitar line snakes through the chorus of "South City L," while drums and a fuzzed-out axe rule the upbeat "Blind Haunt." "Call It a War" and "Shades of You" harken back to the birth of indie rock (perhaps it’s the lo-fi nature of the recording), and "Shatterproof Eyes" seems a happily jumbled mess of sounds and melodies. Though all six tracks are solid, "Wrong Headline" stands out as a personal favorite. A-

RIYL: Son Volt, Guided by Voices

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