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

Satin Gum – “EP 2” Review

Satin Gum possess the spirit of golden age indie rock in their bones. The Pittsburgh quartet have unabashedly become the torchbearers for the sound of late 80’s-early 90’s college radio, easily adopting the free wheeling guitar work, three-part harmonies and slacker persona that made bands like The Replacements and Pavement, and Dinosaur Jr. all but synonymous with the adjective “indie” for the better part of a decade. Their 2009 release LP contained flashes of 70’s power pop  gloss (re: Big Star, The Flamin Groovies) but tracks like “I Got a D.U.I. Babe” and “Dance Me Home” were ultimately beholden to waves of distortion pitched with melody, quaking with a current of romantic bombast just beneath the surface.

However, the five song blast of their latest release EP 2 completely embraces their American underground roots, passionately evoking patron saints Malkmus, Westerberg and Pollard while churning out one indelible rocker after another. Don’t get me wrong: these songs are not mediocre photo copies of “Cut Your Hair.” I truly believe Satin Gum are men out of time, not merely paying lip service to their influences but embodying them without cynicism or outward pretension. Continue reading

Meeting of Important People “Quit Music” EP Release Show @ Thunderbird Cafe, 7/24

Meeting of Important People’s 2009 self-titled debut release was a sketchbook of small details and stolen moments, stitched together as lyrically impressionistic vignettes and set against too many perfectly cultivated harmonies to count. The high points (“Mother’s Pay More” and “I Know Every Street”) offered glimpses of  a dreamworld populated by desperate youth and blood thirsty babes, detailing the lost nights and lost loves that never existed.

While that wistful album resembled something like  a book of  poetry, the group’s current effort, the seven song Quit Music EP available for download here, comes closer to a collection of short stories with each song possessing slivers of plot, drama and the fragile soul of small town life.  Lead singer/songwriter Josh Verbanets provides his characters with rousing backgrounds of British Invasion pop, bristling with moments of AM radio melody and world beating power chords.  Slowly, I could not shake the comparison to The Kinks and their small town/countryside opus The Village Green Preservation Society. Tracks after the jump.

Continue reading

The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion @ Diesel, 7/15, Now I Got Worry Reissue

The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion are six years from their last release and about 14 years removed from the eye of the storm they created. After the group’s initial three record output in the early 90’s that focused on fusing noise rock, hip-hop drum patterns and delta blues together by any means necessary ending with 1994’s Orange, the boys had varying results sprawling in every goddamn direction. Regardless, their live shows were legendary. Each set came down like a ton of bricks on fire, showering crowds with heaving masses of seething New York City rage and white hot blues swagger. And no one really attempted to challenge The JSBX’s persona as new age, hardcore bluesmen;  the group predated the short lived garage rock revival of  The White Stripes, Mooney Suzuki and The Hives (among others) by a good five years.

Until 1996, however, the pieces had yet to come together in the studio sessions to recreate the incendiary nature of the JSBX’s best performances. But with Now I Got Worry, The Blues Explosion finally coalesced their influences into a sweaty, volatile stick of dynamite, injecting the recklessness of their infamous live act into the raw production techniques that pumped up tracks like “Skunk,” “Wail,” and “Fuck Shit Up” with red levels of hairy distortion. The album is a shotgun blast of the Stooges proto-punk, Muddy Waters slide guitar and rockabilly’s cruising road-ready weirdness, easily sounding as fresh as it did 14 years ago. Tracks after the jump. Continue reading

Horse or Cycle – “Flood Season” Album Review

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. Continue reading

Tobacco – “Maniac Meat” Album Review

Tom Fec, a.k.a Tobacco, is from Pittsburgh but he isn’t from Pittsburgh.  The 98′ Hampton High School grad isolates himself so significantly from any tangible sense of location that it’s hard to slap a Steel City label on his music.  His MySpace page formerly stated he was from “Rural Western PA/Vietnam.” Granted that is one absurd detail of many surrounding the enigmatic driving force behind Black Moth Super Rainbow (a band that revels in high degrees of anonymity)  but I can’t help embellishing this fact to explain the man’s entire creative persona: a maniacal solopsist, celebrating non-sequiturs with quixotic delight, determined to stretch his few remaining ties to reality well beyond their breaking point.

And with his May 25th release Maniac Meat, Tobacco deliriously pulls you down the rabbit hole even further, brashly slamming psychedelic electronic pyrotechnics into hard block, hip-hop beats and towering guitar wails, all the while making his 2008 release Fucked Up Friends look downright minimalist in comparison. Continue reading

Shindiggaz Mixtapes: “Prime Time Lineup” and “Saturday Morning Special”

The rotating band of Pittsburgh-based MC’s and producers known as Shindiggaz said hello to 2010 armed only with shit-eating grins and two pitch-perfect debut projects:  Prime Time Lineup and Saturday Morning Special, an absurdly hilarious couplet of mix tapes literally busting at the seams with nostalgic beats mined from late eighties-early nineties television theme songs.

Prime Time Lineup comes wall to wall with dismantled music from some of network television’s most iconic shows that includes Cheers, Family Matters, Full House, and Married With Children to name a few.  Saturday Morning Special features themes from the same era’s most popular Saturday morning cartoons that will have anyone in their twenties giggling with fan-boy nerdness.  Music from Ducktails, Inspector Gadget, G.I. Joe, Transformers and Thundercats all make appearances in various forms. Tracks after the Jump. Continue reading

The Ceiling Stares and the Spirit of Analog

The Ceiling Stares, Pittsburgh’s newest underground rock heroes,  embrace the lo-fi movement in the correct manner. Less-than-polished, analog-sounding recording techniques shouldn’t be used to mask the deficiencies of the band that utilizes them, nor should they be employed because the current wave of indie music trends indicate lo-fi’s (supposed) importance.

The rough, distorted haze of an analog impression only works when the song craft underneath holds up on its own. After listening to the Ceiling Stares self-titled debut EP about twenty times over I can say without hesitation their musicianship doesn’t come into question.  Regardless of the group’s intent, which at this point doesn’t really matter, the EP evokes the thrilling nature of sonic authenticity. Authenticity in that it seriously sounds like it was recorded in a half hour on the back room stage of Gooski’s at 1:15 on a smoky Friday night in front of a packed crowd. I’m not saying The Ceiling Stares sound amateur, I am saying they make it appear as if one take was all they needed. Continue reading