Top Tracks of 2012

I’ve tried to make listening to this year’s top tracks as easy as possible. Along with an embedded SoundCloud player, which has an accompanying primer due to the erratic track title formatting, there’s  a link to a Spotify playlist and a .zip file containing every single song. Also, the Spotify playlist and .zip file contain about 12 extra tracks SoundCloud either didn’t have available or wouldn’t let me upload.

I tried to cover a wide swath of music in my year-end list, but after editing and re-editing my favorites,  I’ve realized there are very few songs that could qualify as “small,” “quiet,” or “intimate.” And while there a few down-tempo moments here and there, for the most part, my musical tastes appear to be about as subtle as a sledgehammer. Enjoy. UPDATE: the download link should work now. Tracks after the jump. Continue reading


Frankie Rose “Interstellar” Album Review

Among the recent generation of garage-pop groups with mostly female members, Frankie Rose, for all intents and purposes, could be considered the sub genre’s Kevin Bacon. The Brooklyn songstress has enjoyed spells with indie heavy hitters The Vivian Girls, Crystal Stilts and The Dum Dum Girls, as well as fronting her own band, The Outs, on their 2010 self-titled debut album.

And while it’s safe to say that all the above mentioned bands made their names on combining the innocence of 60’s girl group pop with waves of distortion, punk muscle, and insouciant melancholy, Frankie Rose appears to have bigger ideas on her mind. Flashes of brilliance on Frankie Rose and the Outs (including the delirious Spectorian harmonies of “Little Brown Haired Girls”) pointed out that Rose had no problem writing next-level pop songs that were at times notches above her reverb laden peers, and now her latest release Interstellar embraces influences that were rarely, if ever, associated with her former bands: chilly new wave, jittery post-punk, and Kate Bush inspired art-pop. Continue reading

Heartless Bastards “Arrow” Album Review

Heartless Bastards have made a living working within the confines of blues-influenced hard rock by injecting a slightly more contemporary energy into the muscle of their best songs. There’s little doubt lead singer Erika Wennerstrom can sing the living Christ out of a rock tune, and while it’s usually coupled with the pounding, John Bonham-like kick drums and chugging  (sometimes noodley) guitar riffs deployed as the Bastards primarily weapons, her song writing always seems to possess a boozy, tattered, underground edge that recklessly muddies up the group’s 70s cock rock aura.

I’m thankful because those archetypal stadium god poses would fit awkwardly on a scrappy, Texan band like this, and it’s obvious Paul Westerberg and The Replacements certainly loom just as large as Zeppelin or the Allman Brother’s Band in the Bastards rearview mirror. But while stacking them up against contemporaries like The Low Anthem and The Hold Steady (who have had a lock down on that “America’s Best Bar Band” label for the past decade that) The Bastards easily seem most comfortable plying their trade in what could be considered (in this day and age) bare bones “Rock and Roll,” a genre which, as this century rolls on, seems to be increasingly disenfranchised by both mainstream and alternative culture. (silent majority rock, anyone?) Continue reading

Kim Phuc – Copsucker LP Review

In January of 2009, I was frantically trying to figure out how write about music for the first incarnation of my website Speed of the Pittsburgh Sound. I was searching for a local band deemed worthy of my criticism (stay with me), and took to a shoddy network of MySpace pages (remember those?) looking for a subject.  Unconsciously (or maybe consciously), my writing style was in line with the angsty, pretentious detachment of the worst Pitchfork contributors, and I was pretty much convinced, beyond the first batch of bands I was exposed to from the Key Party Compilation (Lohio, Donora, Ball of Flame Shoot Fire, Shade, Meeting of Important People) that I couldn’t find a Pittsburgh band worth a damn.

Then I stumbled across “Wormwood Star” by Kim Phuc in the badlands of sparse MySpace portals. Listening to that track the first time, I honestly didn’t feel like writing a word; I felt like I wanted to do the following things in increasingly insane order: run through a goddamn wall, throw a trashcan through a store front, toss a barrage of molotov cocktails into the ground floor of some faceless corporate headquarters, and finally, start an anarchist collective with the intent of deploying vague plots of domestic terrorism against big business.

Granted, that line of thinking lasted about ten minutes, but the residual effects of the swaggering, white hot rage that radiated from that track lingered much longer. I don’t think I could have asked for a better song to soundtrack a dreary, unemployed Pittsburgh January, and “Wormwood Star” managed to sloppily cut through the bullshit of my rock critic pretensions like a rusty bandsaw. While trying to articulate an opinion on the song, and Kim Phuc in general, all I could muster to a friend of mine was this sentiment: “Dude, that song fucking destroys.” Continue reading

Top Steel City Tracks of 2011

I think my favorite part about living in Pittsburgh and keeping up with the music scene here is making annual year end lists of my favorite local music (if you’re curious, here are my 2009 and 2010 lists). I used to take the Steel City’s music scene for granted (especially during college) and assumed every other moderately sized metropolitan area in the region had a similar, or possibly larger, independent music community. But, after three years of really listening to (and subsequently analyzing) tons of music that was in some way, shape, or form born and bred in Pittsburgh, I’m pretty damn confident our music scene can stack up with any other city’s in America.

Just from looking at and listening to the music featured on the list below, it’s evident there is no singular Pittsburgh “sound.” Whether its the indie rock being played at the Brillobox and Mr. Small’s, the underground punk of The Shop, 222 Ormsby, and Mr. Roboto, the shredding metal at the 31st Street Pub and the Smiling Moose, the hip-hop of the Shadow Lounge and Z Lounge, or the electronic music mecca of the VIA Festival, I think we can all agree Pittsburgh’s music scene is currently flourishing. With that in mind, The Top Steel City Tracks of 2011 is my attempt to capture all the disparate sounds of Pittsburgh into one, condensed, twenty song list, with no ranking hierarchy or further explanation.

Also, if you think I missed something (and I most certainly did) please feel free to blow up the comment section with links to music, upcoming shows, or videos. Check the list after the jump. Continue reading

Top Tracks of 2011

Even though I don’t post on this site regularly, I couldn’t help but make a massive year end list of the 80-ish songs I obsessed over in 2011. The tracks are not numbered in a countdown format or even alphabetized, it’s simply a big playlist touching (I hope) on a lot of different genres of music. Also, full disclosure: two of the more popular tracks on this list I discovered and subsequently appreciated via covers by YouTube fixtures Karmin. So there. Credibility = ruined. Continue reading

Jon Quest and DJ Vex – The Real Adventures of Jonny Quest the Mixtape

It’s taken me a little while to give some attention to Jon Quest who over the course of 2010 has established himself as one of Pittsburgh’s most disciplined and dependable MC’s, readily dispensing effortlessly cool, nostalgic jams recalling the golden years of 90’s East Coast hip-hop.  With his latest mix tape The Real Adventures of Jonny Quest, JQ makes sure to feature some of the Steel City’s best producers (DJ Vex, Bus-Crates 16-bit Ensemble, Armstead Brown, Big Jerm, Shade Cobain) and MC’s (Beedie, YD, Thelonious Stretch, Ayatollah Jaxx) for what is arguably the most consistent mix tape of the year. Continue reading

Fox Japan – “Hate Hate Them”

Regardless of my undying allegiance to the Pittsburgh music scene, I can’t help but pay attention to any regional acts that are…uh…worth my attention. And with that, we have yet another Morgantown, WV band gracing the pages of speed of the Pittsburgh sound in Fox Japan, who have been making waves across the rustbelt with their angular,  paranoid indie punk and the 2010 release of their second full-length Reenactment. “Hate Hate Them” is the album’s track one and is breathless with anxious energy and twitchy guitar lines, showcasing Fox Japan’s slightly unhinged aesthetic. The group plays Morgantown staple 123 Pleasant Street in late September but maybe, just maybe, we can lure them along with Librarians up 79 to play a couple dates in the Steel City.

Buy Reenactment here

Fox Japan – “Hate Hate Them”

Joy Ike – “Sweeter”

I couldn’t help posting this absolutely gorgeous song from Pittsburgh’s resident soul goddess Joy Ike to aid in battling a fairly dreary Monday.  “Sweeter” is the centerpiece of Ike’s June 2010 release Rumors and touches down like a fleeting dream of positive energy, all a flutter with airy pianos, elastic melodies and the young woman’s classic, trademark croon.  Ike is fresh off touring with the 2010 revival of the Lilith Fair and makes her way through Pittsburgh September 21st for Pitt’s annual WPTS day.

Joy Ike – “Sweeter”