Within Pittsburgh’s stable of underground rock bands, there seems to be a handful of factions that have organically formed. These factions are by no means militant (nearly all of the bands in the scene appear to be friends or at least friendly with each other) but anyone paying attention to Pittsburgh’s musical output can certainly notice a trend. I’m painting with a broad brush, yes (and this is no way a dig at these bands), but I do see a distinction between the unabashed indie/power-pop coalition of Good Night, States, Donora, The Triggers, and Meeting of Important People (among others), and the alt-country folks that include bands like The Harlan Twins, City Dwelling Nature Seekers and Boca Chica.
There are other groups that either straddle the line or reside in their niche a little more tightly than the rest (Lohio, Big Hurry, Satin Gum, David Bernabo+The Assembly) but for the most part, the lines are drawn. Within this interesting dynamic, enter Horse or Cycle, a group that evolved from the bedroom project of lead singer/songwriter Liam Cooney into the current quartet comprised of Cooney, Rick Molsen, Steven Stens and Chris Ryan, four men who have done more than a few stints in a handful of the bands listed above. With their debut release The Flood Season, Horse or Cycle have managed to carve out their own little corner in the Steel City with an amalgam of swaggering rock coolness and boozy country romanticism, soulful, charging and world weary in the same breath. They are the closest thing Pittsburgh has to a super group and they play the part: cool, composed and humming with the veteran’s confidence that comes with a few years of banging around the local scene.
The Flood Season focuses mainly on switching back between hazy, southern rockers like “Oh Captain, My Captain,” a blatant honky tonk homage that eventually overcomes its initial muddled mix and evolves into a spirited country fried romp, and the straight up 90’s alternative rock of tracks like “The Last Days on the Block” which kicks the muscular drumming up another level and removes any strains of southern twang.
Horse or Cycle’s finest moments comes with a pair of tracks, “Two Hearts” and “Dreaming About the Vinelands of New York,” that manage to find a solid middle ground between the insouciant alt-country vibe and the straight ahead, no bullshit rock. The drumming on “Dreaming” pushes through the mix and makes way for both caterwauling guitars and towering solos while “Two Hearts” recalls Modest Mouse at their least goofy, swinging back and forth on a monster guitar hook and loping baseline.
The Flood Season is a a solid beginning for a band that’s been around the block a few times, but it still possesses a couple of tracks (“The Well,” “Bed of $100”) that become mired hazy mixes and slower beats. If Horse or Cycle sticks to their guns (country-infused alternative rock, fast as hell and turned up to 11) the stage is set for a blistering sophomore release.