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Johnstown's Emmett and Mary craft a lo-fi pop culture pastiche

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Emmett and Mary
Emmett and Mary
My Idea of Fun

 

First things first: "Emmett and Mary" does not, in fact, refer to a duo. Rather, Emmett and Mary is a band associated with Johnstown label and music collective My Idea of Fun, and the project of Brandon Locher and Christopher Bell. The cover image of the band's self-titled debut hints at the name's origin: a street sign for "Mary Drive."

The album itself is a lo-fi pop-culture pastiche: dramatic, chorus-filled and packed with references, quotes and audio (but not music) samples. It's part rock opera, but also draws (in theory if not in sound) from folk-music "borrowing" tradition, sound artists like Joan of Arc's Jeremy Boyle, and innovators like Steve Reich. It's indicative of a band that takes on a lot of work, but does it in an honest and fun manner that makes the final product an enjoyable listen, instead of a "concept record."

Some Emmett and Mary songs have the simple, honest lo-fi pop vibe of close associates Endless Mike & the Beagle Club. Others are more psychedelic, while some -- like the next-to-last track, "There Are No Groupies in Heaven" -- strike the balance between pop and weird that's familiar from genius outliers like Brian Wilson.

That's not to say the Johnstown group's first effort is Pet Sounds; it has its flaws. The honest vocals are sometimes a little too honest, and sometimes, especially early in the album, synthetic beats create a bit too much dissonance. But overall, this is a nice arrival from a growing and talented Johnstown music community, one many in Pittsburgh are beginning to take note of.

 

Emmett & Mary CD release with CJ Boyd, Paleo, The Sleepy Trees. 8 p.m. Sat., Sept. 18. (Presented by frequent CP contributor Manny Theiner.) Garfield Artworks, 4931 Penn Ave., Garfield. All ages. 412-361-2262 www.garfieldartworks.com

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