Are you tired of 2011 “Best of” lists yet? Maybe there’s enough energy in your system to read ONE MORE? If so, read on! Here are my “Top 4” lists (4 just felt like a better number than 3, 5, or 10), concentrating on bands, tunes, and albums solely from Pittsburgh (in no particular order).
Four Favorite Pittsburgh Albums of 2011
Pittsburgh groups like Sistered, Neighbours, Delicious Pastries, Hunted Creatures, and Host Skull all treated us to solid 2011 offerings, and I wish I could include them all on the list below, but without further ado, here are my four favorite releases. (Full disclosure: I’m not including albums by any bands I play in, even though I (naturally) dig those too.)
Allies, Wire Walk
Like a more mature Jawbox, or Q and Not U, or any other Dischord band that we’ll never see play live again, Allies incorporates standard punk/indie influences with some added emotional depth. This applies to every track on Wire Walk, an album with everything from nostalgic blasts of post-hardcore (“Screens”) to darker guitar noise (“Long Live”).
Legs Like Tree Trunks, self-titled EP
The mathy guitar tinkering on Legs Like Tree Trunks’ EP would’ve found a home on Jade Tree or Polyvinyl labels if it was 1999. Unfortunately the 90’s are over (I cringe every morning waking up to that thought), but this EP adds a fresh ounce of nostalgia while furthering their aggressive yet clean sound.
Kim Phuc, Copsucker
A full-length album? Well it’s about time, fellas. The minimal cover art predicts a frigid listening experience, but halfway through all I wanted was a beer in one hand and a slice of pizza in the other (ehh…maybe substitute that pizza for another beer).
Ivory Weeds, I Am…Entropy
A pleasant year-end surprise! Legit experimental songwriters either chug out sweet atmospheric soundscapes or they pen solid songs…but rarely ever accomplish both. I nearly vomited my late-night snack with excitement upon first listen to “We Shouldn’t,” the album’s first track. “Wow, that ruled,” I thought. “I hope the rest of the album is just as strong.” It is.
Four Favorite Pittsburgh Songs of 2011
Big Snow Big Thaw, “Damn Allegheny”
While others go insane for popular folk acts like The Avett Brothers, one needn’t travel far from home to catch creative bluegrass/folk music in Pittsburgh (unless you're reading this from, say, Poland, in which case you may need to travel a bit). The harmonies throughout “Brackish Water” have a perfect blend—kind of like that $6 cup of coffee you just paid for…oh, and the song’s amazing too.
The Ceiling Stares, “Tunnel Through the Air”
Last autumn The Ceiling Stares emerged back onto the scene with a fresh lineup to support this Velocity of Sound-released 7”. I can’t decipher the lyrics, but the psychedelic grungy vibe is quite uplifting.
Slices, “Modern Bride”
Merging noise rock guitars with grizzly punk vocals, they’ve come a long way from electronic noise drones (though the noise stuff ruled too!). Purchase this killer 7” at their shows, and don’t forget to catch other projects from Slices members like Pay the Rent and Tusk Lord.
The Slow Reel, “Come Back (Babe)”
This poppy offering, hidden near the end of 2011’s Governor’s Daughter, differs a bit from their usual Tom Pettified-southern rock. Mixing female backing vocals reminiscent of Transformer-era Lou Reed (long before he met his new Metallica buds) with Rob Collier’s unique voice and you’ve got a perfectly sung tender pop tune like this one.
4 Favorite Pittsburgh Bands Who Didn’t Release Anything (That I Know Of) in 2011
But Still Deserve a Mention
Like any band whose name is suitable for a video game mafia boss, The Lopez kicks your ass during their deafening shows. Steph chomps at the keyboard bits when not strangling the microphone, while Jesse’s fuzzed-filled guitar tricks the audience into imagining a thick wall of amplifiers hidden behind him. I don’t know the make/model of their drum machine, or else I’d credit it too.
Their van floods with random electric guitars, so expect crazy tunings and guitar chops similar to Stephen Malkmus, Dean Wareham, or the Sonic Youth dudes. Elastic bass lines cover every inch of the fret board, and there’s the tight (yet loose) drumming holding everything together. Did I just describe every Matador Records band from the 90s? Pretty much!
Raw Blow is a band designed for those who dig the following: German Krautrock (motorik) drumming, 1960s obscure pop song samples, and vocals tinged with punk and hip-hop stylings. For those who don’t care for any of the stuff I just mentioned, it’s OK, you’ll still like them.
Carousel’s embodied spirit of late 70’s classic rock/early metal rocked our faces off one guitar solo at a time, whether playing sets at the Brillobox or Gooski’s or playing as Kiss at The Shop’s Halloween cover band show. Just you wait: Kiss will be covering Carousel songs soon enough.