The Pittsburgh hip-hop scene may not be the biggest in America, or have the highest profile. Even in the Northeast, the notoriety of the city’ s hip-hop culture has surrounded mostly Girl Talk , Boaz, and Wiz Khalifa, but not many others. Local MC Jack Wilson recently said to me that while Pittsburgh may be a more difficult city to gain exposure than say a Philadelphia or D.C., it still remains a great place to hone one’s skills.
Ayatollah Jaxx is a testament to that philosophy and has absolutely no problem preaching from the pulpit of Steel City Hip-Hop to get his point across. Hello Hip-Hop, A-Jaxx’s latest proper and very anticipated release, is basically a greatest hits reel of his favorite yet studiously curated tastes, breathing new life into classic lyrical tropes and production techniques that would seem stale in a less capable mc’s hands. Continue reading
Spend enough time listening to WYEP in a given week and chances are, at one time or another, you will be handed a large, healthy fix of boring, listless adult contemporary folk. This isn’t so much a criticism as much as a fact of life: for every amazingly peculiar Tom Waits track (a striking thing to hear on a four-minute lunch break drive, trust me) Rosemary Welch manages to play, there is, in equal measure, a Jonatha Brooke tune (yeah, who?) and a Indigo Girls song you wish you never heard.
If there is any benefit to this daily phenomenon, it is my ability to assess Pittsburgh folk ensemble summer-winter and their debut record Alone is Yes (whose lead single “It Made You Cry” is currently being played on WYEP) with a more judicious eye. To put it bluntly, there’s enough crap on the Midday Mix that I feel I know a good indie folk record when I hear one. And Alone is Yes is more than a good folk record, it’s a devastating one. Continue reading
The Seven Fields of Aphelion steps out from the shadows (in a manner of speaking) of Tobacco and Black Moth Super Rainbow to release Periphery, out now on Graveface Records. An angelic album of ambient moods and textures, impressionistic, sweeping and intimate in the same breath, Periphery personifies dream-like. As Aaron Jentzen mentioned in his City Paper review, the BMSR keyboardist has surprisingly forsaken percussion of any kind. With Tobacco’s tendency to embrace 808 kick drums and hip-hop beat making so readily, its refreshing (cleansing?) to see Aphelion compose music that is almost defiantly atmospheric and shapeless.
Tracks after the jump. Continue reading
Even in the coddled, closed off loveliness of Pittsburgh’s bustling music scene, things aren’t exactly handed to young musicians looking to make a name for themselves. To self release an album and tour subsequently is, in and of itself, a massive undertaking. But, in terms of the obstacles facing an up and coming band as they prep their first proper album, a plucky sense of ambition usually isn’t one of them. Getting proper studio time? Sure. Getting the album pressed? What the hell. Finding a quality venue for the release party? Of course.
Pittsburgh born and bred indie folkers Colonizing the Cosmos triumphantly chose to take the high road with their debut LP The First Frontier, producing a sprawling, fifteen track self-proclaimed concept album about, you guessed it, the cosmos and beyond. The start value for a “concept album,” however loose that concept may be, is high to begin with. If the music wasn’t so damn expertly crafted, inviting and jubilant, I’d say these fellas were ambitious to a fault. Continue reading
With a birthday on February 13th, Pittsburgh’s live-in rock god Dan Koshute plans to have a concert bash at Garfield Artworks this Saturday opening for Destry along with Mean Creek and Joy Toujours & The Toys Du Jours. Even with the snowpocalypse in full swing, I really hope the city gets its shit together by the weekend. I, for one, have never seen him live or really written about his music besides a very small piece up in the Steel City’s Top 20 Tracks of 2009. So in other words, I hope I can make the show. In the meantime here’s what I think about Dan Koshute:
In the age of glo-fi, shitgaze and whatever other buzz labels the indie blogosphere has thrown upon lo-fi’s stripped down musical aesthetic, coming across an artist who is determined to exhibit master craft musicianship with pristine recording techniques can be some what arresting. That is to say Pittsburgh’s own Dan Koshute doesn’t polish or produce his music within an inch of its humanity, rather his vocals and guitars are deliberately locked into an intense matrix of space and composition, rarely betraying the seams of their formation. I like to think that is one of the main appeals of rock music in general and Koshute seems to do it naturally: making the meticulous appear effortless. Continue reading
David Bernabo is more mad scientist than composer, a man who huffs the fumes of his incendiary creations only to rocket through a stratosphere of musical possibility, pregnant with terrifying speed and half-crazed laughter. Bernabo and his faithful Assembly, a rotating 25-piece nano orchestra, have crafted their latest full length Happener Magicker like one concocts a volatile stew or molds a brilliant, glaring alloy, juxtaposing seemingly disparate musical elements into a heaving, living monster.
The album is a testament to Bernabo’s innate ability to couple succinct composition with outlandish experimentation, as he effortlessly unifies several genres under the umbrella feel of an avant-garde jazz improvisation. The sequencing of Happener Magicker allows each track to exist within its own strange universe while working brilliantly within the mad scientist goals of the entire album. Continue reading
Contemporary musicians tend to create music with positive space in mind. They fill in the boundaries of songs with vocals, percussion, instrumentation and any other tool at their disposal used to intuit emotion, thought, harmony and noise. When an artist consciously works within negative space, i.e. making the choices concerning what is absent from a particular piece of music, steady control over such a creation can become elusive.
Mother Sun, with their debut self titled EP, have altered the fundamentals of early surf pop and 1960′s AM radio by articulating beautifully dense atmospheres of ambiance and ennui. Their songs tend to materialize with an engulfing simplicity, as if they wrote them after a day at the beach on ether. Early in the EP, it becomes ruefully apparent that Mother Son exhibits an almost otherworldy ability to focus on the negative space their instruments and vocals have left behind to create songs with infinite depth. Echo, reverb, and some synth drone frequently fill in the absences after the distorted, yet oddly sunny, guitars make their exit. Continue reading
Chris Otepka’s vocals hurt and hurt deep. With a voice that churns out exhausted disillusionment like it was his second language, every track he writes easily takes on a dimension of quiet desperation without breaking a sweat. With his latest one-man, indie folk project The Heligoats, Otepka’s vocals still retain that cautious draw that can sound weathered, irritated and composed simultaneously, nearly falling off the edge of reason in the midst of a world that runs on contradiction. Like the know-it-all-but-don’t-give-a-shit kid in the back of the class undermining the clueless teacher with every quiet correction he makes under his breath, Otepka isn’t looking to illuminate some grand revelation, he’s just trying not to sink deeper into the abyss. All of this is done with the bouncing passion of the best folk acts, efficiently turning spiritual poverty into poetry.
It’s a dangerous thing to start equating up and coming local bands with national acts that share similar musical influences and song writing quirks. I don’t want to start labeling bands “The Pittsburgh Arcade Fire” or “The Pittsburgh Rapture” which I came dangerously close to doing in my last review/preview of the super talented and sexy Big Hurry. Big Hurry are sole placeholders of their stomping, sensuous sound, and I would never want to accuse a band, a local band for that matter, for mindlessly aping the ideas of a more accomplished artist (unless of course they totally deserved such an accusation). Also, I would never want our burgeoning, home-grown, stunner of a music scene to slowly turn toward a shallow reflection of the the national independent music community, complete with doppelgangers and demented posers of acts that have entirely too much hype in the first place.
Ball of Flame Shoot Fire, luckily, avoid any casual labeling with a dynamic, complicated and sprawling sound that is exceedingly difficult, meant fully as a compliment, to nail down as a this or a that. On their debut EP Grumpy Little Bird, BOFSF exhibited a knack for writing songs that easily oscillated between wittily thoughtful, competent, piano-pop and apocalyptic anthems complete with absurdist imagery, bouncing carnival rhythms and desperate vocals. But while that EP was more a collection of demos and aborted styles than a confident artistic statement, their first full-length album, Jokeland (pronounced like Oakland), coalesces the most interesting parts of Grumpy Little Bird into an intricately beautiful and demanding symbiosis of sound.
The Red Hot Organization has put together a stunning, 31 track, double sided compilation entitled Dark Was the Night, released in stores, digitally, and triple vinyl formats on February 13. The Red Hot Organization is the leading international organization dedicated to fighting AIDS through pop culture, according to their website. Since 1989, they have produced over fourteen groundbreaking albums with compiled music ranging from jazz to country to world music.
Dark Was the Night boasts a track list that includes new and covered material from more crazy good independent artists than you can shake a stick at. The album features such mind-bottling collaborations as The Books and Jose Gonzalez (Cello Song), Feist and Ben Gibbard (Train Song), The Dirty Projectors and David Byrne (Knotty Pine), and Cat Power with Dirty Delta Blues (Amazing Song). Glancing through this monumental track list, I can’t help but pick out a couple favorites and share them all with you fine people, so sit back and enjoy as I give you a tour of this mammothly important album.