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

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

The City’s Summer According to Wise Blood

Houston transplant Wise Blood made himself visible in Pittsburgh at the perfect time.  It’s early May and the summer needs a soundtrack.  Living in Pittsburgh,  I don’t need all that jazz about  the beach and surfing and taking drugs, blah blah blah; we have water sure, but being landlocked is the name of the game.  I want a sound that feels like the city’s about to fucking pass out.  We have the kind of summers where asphalt sweats, buildings collapse from exhaustion, the kid’s on your block laugh constantly and fire sirens light up the 2 a.m. sky.

The sunbaked groove of  Wise Blood’s “B.I.G. E.G.O.” projects itself like a burnt out Super 8 VHS, revealing the small nostalgic details of a summer that (probably) never existed. It’s a slogging, sweaty daydream dressed up in a soulful hymn: the hovering organ line, lumbering  boom-bap beat and blaring symphonic sample mutate into one swinging hump, while the muted falsetto plays like Prince remixed by Delorean. Truthfully, it sounds like nothing I’ve heard in Pittsburgh since I’ve lived here. Truthfully, that’s why I love it. Continue reading

Mother Sun’s Upcoming Full-Length Out 6/22, Two New Tracks

I need to apologize first.  After featuring Mother Sun‘s self-titled EP on speed of the pittsburgh sound last summer, I stupidly left them off the Steel City’s Top 20 Tracks of 2009.  It was a mistake fueled by negligence and if I had a second chance to do 2009 over again, Mother Sun’s “Phantasmagoria” would land somewhere in the top 10. Regardless, I highly recommend picking up said EP on iTunes now, if only to witness the evolution of Pittsburgh music scene’s best kept secret as they prep themselves for a fairly eventful summer.

With the backing of recently launched Discos Un-herd-uf, a Pittsburgh-based label headed by none other than Andres Ortiz-Ferarri (a.k.a. Discuss, Young Frankenstein), Mother Sun are back with a full-length LP set to be released June 22nd followed by a national tour this fall.  With “Cold Train” and “Wonderful Feeling,” the first two cuts from the yet-to-be-titled album, Mother Sun have switched gears from the atmospheric, electronically tinted acoustic suites from the debut EP. Present is a new sound that entirely embraces robust waves of electronic noodling while concisely carrying harmonies of gorgeously symphonic pop songs. 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

The Seven Fields of Aphelion Debut Release – Periphery

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

Dan Koshute’s Birthday Party, Saturday @ Garfield Artworks, 7pm

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

February Album Writing Month Has Arrived

If you’re reading this website, chances are you and I share similar tastes in music.  The similarities don’t end with the way the music sounds, it includes how the music is made, who is making it, and where it is being performed.  The artists who I pay attention to, I mean really pay attention to, especially within Pittsburgh, are more likely to have day jobs, perform in smaller clubs tucked away in neighborhoods, self-release most of their music and work hard at their craft anytime life is not predestined to interrupt them. This isn’t an elitist notion about what type of music is valid in my “critical” mindset.  This is the description of the type of music that compels me to write about it on a semi-sporadic basis.

With this lifestyle in mind, Burr Settles, a Lawrenceville resident, releases February Album Writing Month out into the world, inspiring thousands of musicians from all over the world to complete 14 songs in 28 days.  In this the seventh year of the event, there are currently 3597 musicians registered on the FAWM website, who are racing toward the goal to double 2009’s output of 7,000 plus songs. Glance through the list that tracks every registered musician’s progress toward 14 songs and you will see folks from Michigan, Germany, The UK, New Zealand, and Pittsburgh to name a few. What kind of musical output is expected to arrive from this immense creative task? Frankly, I am anxious to see. Continue reading

Stream Girls’ Debut Album in Full

true-010Anyone who has been perusing the indie music blogosphere for the past year has probably been bludgeoned, more than a few times, with the immense hype machine that is San Fransisco sun rockers Girls.  With that said, eager listeners can finally get the full picture of Girls’ highly anticipated debut album, Album, which is currently available to be streamed in its entirety on True Panther’s website, with the release date still locked in for next Tuesday.

As for me, I jumped on the band wagon a bit late after witnessing the band’s whimsically somber  video for “Hellhole Ratrace” in the early days of 2009, and suddenly found myself watching their every move.  It’s the nature of the beast, I suppose, that when one is always searching for new music in the modern age, the concept of “new” takes on a completely different personality.  In the mp3 blog era, “new” literally means right out of the oven.  Tracks (mostly demos) leak without context, bubble to the top and fall off albums so much these days that by the time of the proper release date for an entire album arrives, most of the online community has listened and obsessed over said band’s minuscule catalog for months.

Am I lamenting the loss of importance for record release Tuesday? Fuck no.  I simply miss the discovery of a fully formed musical document compared to participating in the ongoing collection of pre-natal scraps from an album’s recording session across thirty or so music sites scattered over the intranet.  Call me old fashioned and I’ll agree.  Regardless, Girls’ are fantastic, and they deserve at least some of the praise heaped upon them.  “Hellhole Ratrace” is a damn fine example of their stripped down aesthetic, which is more rich in atmosphere and nostalgia than actual instruments.  Take a listen, and maybe, just maybe, you’re hearing it for the first time.  If so, I am insanely jealous.

Girls – Hellhole Ratrace