Words by Brendan and Jim
We’re so goddamn lucky to live in a city that’s boiling over with good local music. It’s crazy. And we’re only talking about the indie music scene, which means there’s even more genres of local music out there for your listening pleasure. Crazy, amiright? 2011 was an intense year for local releases, as you’re about to see. It seemed like every other weekend there was a CD Release going down at Brillbox or Club Cafe or The Shop. We tried to get to as many as possible, we swear!
So ranking local releases is a tough job. SO many good tunes from so many local bands, but let’s get real for a minute. Talking philosophically, we didn’t really see the “good” in saying THIS IS NUMBER ONE! or saying THIS IS NUMBER TEN. What does that do us? We’re not in the business of deterring local musicians or inciting unnecessary competition or hard feelings in the music circles around town, so this year we’re talking about some of our favorite releases, in no particular order and featuring a list of other awesome releases this year that you should definitely check out. YEAH PITTSBURGH.
Our Favorite Pittsburgh Indie Releases
1,2,3 / New Heaven
New Heaven has grown on us over the months since its release in July and now we’re hooked on its well-crafted, sneakily catchy indie rock tunes. Nic Snyder’s falsetto is quite the ear worm, especially on the appropriately bouncy “Riding Coach” and the slow burner “Just Like Heaven”, while Josh Sickels’ percussion is perfectly-timed and intricately inventive. Not to mention their single “Work” and its accompanying music video is a true Pittsurgh homage.
Big Hurry / Gets Me Low & Sink or Swim
We were blown away this year by Big Hurry’s double EP release. Dropping about 10 months apart, these two EPs gave us a more mature, smarter, faster, and stronger Big Hurry than ever before. The nine songs from Gets Me Low and Sink or Swim rotated heavily through their always packed and rocking live shows and became some of our favorite tunes to listen to throughout 2011 (especially “This In Between”). We sang along, we jumped up and down, we laughed, and we covered Andy Wilkosz in silly string. The production value on the EPs were tremendous and really showed of the creative talent within the group. These songs have it all – big guitar hooks, soaring vocals and harmonies, awesome drum patterns, and beautiful lyrics. The band lost a guitar player at the end of 2011, so we’ll be waiting to see what becomes of one of our favorite PGH bands.
The Cynics / Spinning Wheel Motel
It’s hard to write about The Cynics without mentioning how long they’ve been ruling the garage psych pop scene in Pittsburgh — since the 1980s — but, shit, I went and said it anyway. You would never have known listening to this blistering rock album, though. Lead single “I Need More” sets the tone for a rollicking ride of fast-paced drumming, Michael K’s uniquely insistent vocals, and catchy guitar riffs you might hear on a 13th Floor Elevators 45. But for all of their 60s influences — just listen to the Byrds-ensue jangle of “Gehenna” — these guys sound as fresh and lively as ever, throwing in some folk and blues (and even almost Celtic rock, on “Bells and Trains”) with their rock ‘n roll.
Donora / Boyfriend, Girlfriend
Casey and the Jakes have a great ear for pop tunes, and any track on this album could fit as a radio single or iTunes ad soundtrack, I swear. Singalong choruses in “The Champion” and “Boom Boom”, danceable beats and melodies in “Mancini’s Dance Hall” and “Can Can”, sugary sweet vocals in “If You See My Boyfriend” — this album has all the makings of a pop hit. Getting to see them play these catchy numbers around town all year has only sweetened the package.
Horse or Cycle / Godsmack You! Black Emperor
This one came in just under the wire. Official being released, like, today, and officially being physically released (what?) in early 2012, Horse Or Cycle return to the PGH scene with an amazing EP of tunes. It’s unreal, folks. We had the luxury of listening to it for about a month now and we can’t get over how awesomely rocking these five songs are. Reminiscent of old school Modest Mouse and Built to Spill, the boys in Horse or Cycle treat the listener to a tour de force of overdriven guitars and multi-part songs (check out “Interdictor Cruiser” or “Compatibilism”). This is some seriously progressive indie pop rock punk, with constantly changing guitar lines and song structure, but somehow manages to stay so accessible (and loud)! A big shout out to J Bird Studio for not just managing to record this powerhouse guitar rock band expertly, but producing a tremendous sounding collection of songs that are fucking fun to listen to. We’ll continue to hit this up during 2012, for sure.
Host Skull / Totally Fatalist
We shouldn’t be surprised that another David Bernabo project is awesome but, of course, it is. (How does he do it?) Totally Fatalist is a sumptuous stew of rock, pop, jazz, folk and classical music, and you’re never sure where it’s headed next but I guarantee you’ll like it once you’re there. Every listen reveals a new layer of influence or sheds light on a hidden corner of sound and rhythm, and that’s a strong sign of a stellar LP.
Legs Like Tree Trunks / Legs Like Tree Trunks
Mathy-folky-indie-rock really is the best way to describe this EP. The guitar work is absolutely excellent — tricky fingering and noodling, hooky melodies — and the rhythm section perfectly complements it. Matt Holden’s lyrics are witty and fun to figure out, too. All around, a solid 5 song run. Meanwhile, their live shows are great and energetic, and their full-length is in the works for a 2012 release. Keep an eye on these fellows.
New Shouts / Sing New Shouts
It was only a matter of time before New Shouts took the Pittsburgh community by storm. Just the other day, “The Reigns To Your Heart” was be-bopping out of the car spearkers thanks to WYEP during primetime morning commute listening. Awesome to hear that. Their debut release is overflowing with old school R&B throwback tunes like you’ve never heard before. New Shouts definitely wear their inspirations proudly (The Beatles, The Yardbirds, The Beachboys are easy picks), but have an unnatural ability to make it all sound so fresh, new, and innovative (I guess that’s what good bands do). We loved this release from the get go and we’re pumped to see it popping up on other Best of Lists around the blogosphere. How could it not, though? Have you heard a record this catchy and fun any time recently – see “Dolly Bird” and “Hung On You”. Damn.
Nik and The Central Plains / Walks on Beaches
Nik Westman has a real knack for writing honest and good music. Maybe because he’s an honest and good dude? Probably. His last release (before moving to NYC), was Walks On Beaches and saw the band staying true to form. Partly acoustic, sometimes rocking, always good, the album rotated heavily through the collective at DUL. Their two night stint at Thunderbird Cafe this year was super cool and they packed the joint with fans excited to see Nik and the Plains blast through their garage rock inspired songs (and goddamn, doesn’t he sound so much like Ray Davies from The Kinks). Walks On Beaches is such a fun collection of quirky tunes (I mean, the title track features a “HEYAH!” and trumpet blast!), you can’t help but smile and sing along. Westman comes back through PGH every so often to play shows, so be sure to catch him in 2012 and experience the new songs live.
The Slow Reel / Governor’s Daughter
The Slow Reel brought their debut album Governor’s Daughter to our ears in 2011 and boy were we glad they did. So glad, we asked them to join us for our 1st Birthday Party back in July (and wasn’t that a fucking blast?). Governor’s Daughter is packed with southern hospitality and charm and being that we’re quite a few miles from the ‘ol Mason Dixon, we’d say this band did an absolutely terrific job channeling their favorite artists and producing the music they personally love as a band. The songs are catchy, up beat, and when The Slow Reel wants to rock, look out! Some of our favorite lyrics and bass lines live inside of “We Get Along” (I awoke delirious/ which is kind of curious/ ‘cos I don’t even remember going to bed). The album was totally self-recorded and it sounds great, so that’s another feather in their cowboy hats. We’re looking for big things from this boot stompin’ southern rock band in 2012.
Other Awesome PGH Releases in 2011
Action Camp / Better Made Fast
Allies / Wire Walk
Big Snow Big Thaw / Winter & Spring
Boca Chica / Get Out of Sin City
The Ceiling Stares / split 7″
Dazzletine / Dazzeltine
Delicious Pastries / Pretty Please
Ennui / Formation of Tides
Gangwish / Space Cace Vol. 2
Garment District / Melody Elder
German Shepard / Legends of Olde
Good Sport / Pushover
Host Skull / Totally Fatalist
IKE / IKE
Ivory Weeds / I Am … Entropy
Kim Phuc / Copsucker
The Long Time Darlings / Honey Tree Evil Eye
Low Water / The Taste You Know and Enjoy
Mace Ballard / The Next Time You See Sky
Neighbours / Neighbours
News Shouts / Sing New Shouts
Ready Room / Tact
Secret Tombs / Homemade Braces
Sistered / New Sky
Slices / Modern Bride/Chump Change 7″
Summerer Winter / Bewildered
The Red Western / Loves You
Run Forever / The Devil, and Death, and Me
The Whiskey Holler / She Writes Me Letters
White Wives / Happeners
Wifebeater / Holding Stone
Before you get all up in arms about YOUR favorite PGH releases, remember that we can’t remember and listen to everything from everyone! Cut us some slack, guy. What you CAN do is leave us some comments on some of your favorite releases from PGH artists in the comments section and tell us why their awesome. Help us out! We want to hear all about it.
Thanks to all the awesome local artists who continue to put out tremendous music. You guys make our job easy. See you in 2012.