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Friday, 17 January 2014 12:11

Best of 2013: Top 10 releases (pop, rock and Americana from St. Louis edition)

Ellen the Felon Ellen the Felon
Written by Jason Robinson

I recently took a look at my 10 favorite national albums of last year; here's my look at the best releases out of St. Louis in 2013.

TOK - Golden Dollar Hen House: Volumes 1 + 2

Released six months apart, these slabs of rock from STL's hardest working dudes shows off their riff-driven, bass-heavy rock n roll that wouldn't sound out of place on a classic rock station, right next to ZZ Top and AC/DC. This too-short collection of full of chunky anthemic tunes makes you wonder why they're not bigger than they are.

Beth Bombara - Raise Your Flag

A sweetly engaging EP that goes by faster than you'll notice, but full of great singles, each one you could get lost in. All buoyed by Beth's smokey voice, a perfect compliment to these tunes, each with new embellishments - trumpets, pedal steel and the like - that colour their surroundings just so.

Ellen the Felon - Bang Bang Bang

Ellen's heavy left hand and Matt (aka the Mattronome)'s tightly wound drumming propel this piano-driven collection of story-songs, a new turn of phrase or wicked bon mot around every corner. Take my personal favorite "Chaos" with its jazzy, sultry horn work and snappy lyrical deftness, which gives you a birds-eye view of a night at a rowdy bar.

Bruiser Queen - In Your Room

They call themselves "scuzz punks" and while that may be cute, it's not quite what Morgan Nusbaum (formerly of The 75s) and Jason Potter (previously of Left Arm) bring to the table. Their bash-and-pop power-punk fuzz is brightened in the corners by Nusbaum's haunting voice, which is able to swoop and screech and singe all at once.

The Blind Eyes - World Record

If this were an episode of "Dukes of Hazard" I would say, "Them Blind Eyes boys have gone and done it again." Here, Seth Porter's world-weary sandpaper croon shares equal space with new guitarist Andy White's sharp lines. At its best moments recalling Superdrag's power pop and the Beach Boys' sweetest and darkest moments, "World Record" delivers upbeat happy tunes about the woes of growing up, songs so cleverly disguised, that some listeners won't get it and that's OK.

Tropical Storm! - It Ain't Easy Being Cheesy

This is the record that really got me back into local metal bands. A tongue-in-cheek slab of thrash metal about pizza, evil birds, other bands jokes and, mostly, partying, "It Ain't Easy..." is not for the faint of heart. Easily-offended people and the elderly may not get a kick out of "Queso Maximo" and the other fine tunes here, but if you like your metal with a sense of humor and talent to boot, take a bite.

Middle Class Fashion - Jungle

The new single for this album "Golden Rose" is quite possibly the best, most earworm-y hook in STL this year. The rest of the album follows suit, bringing Jen Malzone's stunning vocals and songwriting to the fore while adding layers of pretty to the already heady synth-and-piano driven indie pop. That's thanks to new band member Katie Lindhorst, holding down additional keyboard work and background vocals.

Little Big Bangs - Little Big Bangs

The first full-length from these garage-rock punks is a fun ride through jagged guitars and songs that don't overstay their welcome. Meaning a repeat-listen friendly disc that reveals new little details time and time again. Especially on songs like "Heart Attack" which are about how much listening to music rules.

Whoa Thunder - You're Under Attack!

Brian McClelland is already in some of the best St. Louis bands right now -- he plays with Tight Pants Syndrome and Middle Class Fashion -- so it doesn't seem fair that he's in a third. Who can compete with that A.C. Newman of New Pornographers vocal style or that seemingly off-the-cuff songwriting? Very few, that's who. It was a surprise that it even came out and an even bigger surprise that McClelland's 15-plus-track, synth-pop barrage doesn't get old. Bonus points for a band that rarely plays live shows to end a disc with the Gary Numan-by-way-of-Devo tune "We're An Enormous Band"

The Defeated County - The Defeated County

Fans of alt-country, Americana and good ol' folky styles had plenty to choose from this year, and the proper debut of singer-songwriter Langen Neubacher's band The Defeated County fits among the best of those. What it does differently is introduce a skilled twanged-out bass-driven sweet-voiced seven-member band with a dry sense of humor and an ear for sweet arrangements. It starts with lead-off single "Darkest Eyes" with its sultry vocal style and haunting musical background and leaves you with the archly funny hidden track, begging for repeat listens.

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