What makes Pittsburgh quintessentially Pittsburgh?
It’s a good question, one with an urgency the national media’s been mulling for more than a decade (and, in past iterations, for generations) now, and one that Conor Murray implicitly has been asking listeners over three years of unleashing a Pandora’s box of Pittsburgh noise-rock through Crafted Sounds. That brings us to the label’s Bridges, a 21-song compilation of Greater Pittsburgh Greatness – trademark pending, kiddos – out April 13 on digital/streaming and cassette formats. The new record is a fine, fine thing, well-assembled and expertly sequenced, and it follows – yes, even one-ups –Have A Nice Day: A Pittsburgh Collection, an interesting if short-sighted comp Murray assembled in his Pitt dorm room around the time of Trump’s inauguration.
It is said that Pittsburgh always is in a state of flux.
Or so it goes, kinda sorta, if you believe the opener, Short Fiction’s instantly engaging “Prologue: Living In Places Like These Can Be Bad For Your Health,” which talks about its heart being in the basement (#PittsburghPotty?) and its heart being in the kitchen, before lamenting the rain clouds (there are many) and “the kids in Oakland.” It’s catchy, even hypnotizing, stuff. But, then comes the punch.
“Everything that I love in Pittsburgh,” they belt out, “is quickly getting changed/ and getting gentrified/ I can’t live here anymore/ I can’t live here anymore.”
So much for a record of Rust Belt romanticism; Murray and company abandon the region’s industrial heritage and charms, instead reaching out to find what beats the city’s heart in its hyper-developing, post-steel or Eds and Meds boom. (After all, it says UPMC on the side of the US Steel Building now, Mr. Rogers.)
The rest of the record is far less direct or overt in its messages, but it’s incredibly hooky and engaging, the kind of record you just want to live within for a few hours – which, y’know, is appropriate, if you love Pittsburgh or, better yet, the idea of Pittsburgh. For every romp by The Zells (“sleeptalker”) or Water Trash (the awesome proto-punk throw-back “Blow”), there’s something indescribably gentle by Same (“Cemetery”) or Sad Girls Aquatics Club (the incredible “Strange Place”). This, like the place to which it pays constant homage, is a collection of opposites living as one.
Bat Zuppel, coming off the triumphant Rorrim | Mirror LP, makes much noise and steals the spotlight with the acid-in-its-veins trash rock of “Agent P,” a song, indeed, built for a house-party mosh pit in the South Oakland shadows of the Cathedral of Learning. That, and Slugss’ “(I’ve Been Thinking’ ‘Bout) My Skin For Days,” excuses the absence of iconic Pittsburghers The Gotobeds; Sluggs abandons some of BZ’s chikka-chikka guitar and Steve Turner-style solo-age with an enticing little slab of rock that’s wrapped around a sinewy bass line, occasionally scorching guitar leads, even a touch of synth.
On the other side of the spectrum is Shin Guard’s fragile “Intact,” where belted emo vocals and slithery guitars lead into a produced landscape that reveals it to be far more textured and nuanced than it initially appears. (Again: y’know, Pittsburgh.) But the record doesn’t entirely take itself too seriously. As evidence of that, listen to the snaking funk-guitar lead on the first half of Princex’ “Colors,” which talks about the art of thinking about someone else while shooting the, um, action scenes in a pornographic film. (#KevinSmith?)
The record ends with Alvin Row’s understated “Running,” a largely organic, largely acoustic-guitar-driven rumination, not one riffing on Peduto’s whiskers – sad for the Trib’s Bob Bauder – but, instead, calling to mind the steady but quiet pulse of the region’s rivers. The fact that the compilation ends on such an odd note – literally a careful drone of feedback – might not be a literal transubstantiation of Allegheny County circa 2019, but it’s an interesting choice, nonetheless.
Murray was wise to avoid the black-and-gold accoutrements, the N’at bumper-stickers, and the Big Ben or Sidney Crosby references that most seem to equate with the state of mind in Southwestern Pennsylvania. Yes, yes, it’s called Bridges – and, yes, yes, we have bridges. But that’s beside the point. Crafted Sounds has assembled a mighty line-up on its new compilation, a virtual smorgasbord of talented, hyper-local/Pittsburgh-area rock acts. Can’t make it to the release show at Spirit on April 12? You owe it to yourself, ya’ goddamn yinzer, to download this pronto. Pittsburgh Dad would be proud.