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Author: justinvellucci

Barlow LP To Be Reissued Monday By Pittsburgh Label Crafted Sounds

Lo-fi fuzz-pop – think The Cure coalescing around the guitars of Les Thugs – is the name of the game on In A Stranger’s Car, the 2017 outing from Pittsburgh’s Barlow that gets the re-release treatment on cassette and streaming formats from Crafted Sounds Monday, 1/22. The new edition features outtakes and promises of things to come.

But what can we say of the original recording, which was quietly released last summer? Barlow has never been keen on fidelity in most senses of the word – sometimes, in fact, they seem diametrically opposed to it, stopping and starting sections of their songs at will, or blending them together in a haze of takes and retakes. But the songs here have a surprising amount of depth and dimension to them, even in the most cut-and-pasted of moments. In A Stranger’s Car, recorded mostly to four-track from 2011 to 2017, sounds, indeed, like a labor of dictating tender affectations – there’s clearly care to how the crunch of a chorus is taped, how a sound or sentiment loops (evidence: the hypnotic “Throwing Star”), or how frontman Ethan Olivia’s plaintive wails occasionally cut through the murkiness of it all.

There’s lot of fuzz, to be sure, both of the distorted and recorded varieties, but there’s also a lot of color. The drums point and plod in various directions, and guitars — sometimes underwater-reverby, sometimes ’92-grunge-enraged – swirl and then wrap notes around you like a warm blanket. The incredible “False Eye” where pseudo-perked verses lead into a rousing chorus, is a classic example of how the band writes songs that don’t stop and start so much as fall into your arms and then vanish into hushed breaths. The act of listening, therefore, is rather immediate and blood-pumping vital. When you let down your guard and search for a formula, they throw a post-punk closer like “Time Man” – epic stuff! – at you, just to make sure you’re paying attention. This stuff keeps you on your goddamned toes!

Barlow isn’t just a garagy Pittsburgh monster, though; the group also knows its hooks. To that end, I suggest you look no further than the beautiful, too-short “Highway” or the 80s-shimmer of “c.o.l.” which is period-perfect and captures the glowing naivete of some of the era’s best guitar pop, as well as the underground strutting of purveyors like Beat Happening. Or, as if to one-up themselves, Barlow posits “Go For It” as the next track on the release, complete with jangly acoustic guitars and a buzz-worthy drive into the horizon-line.

This is beautiful music, recorded in an ugly fashion. Barlow’s lo-fi sensibilities place it at stern odds with much of the overproduced cotton-candy that’s considered pop these days; but the group’s heart is a pop diamond. On the newly new In A Stranger’s Car, they let that diamond shine.

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Denzell Hits All The Right Garage-Punk Notes on “Tour Tape”

I don’t need some punk-rock band to hand over the verdict that, yeah, things are pretty bleak. Even if the Pussy-Grabber-In-Chief weren’t trying to run the show – let me just pause on that for a second and enjoy the thought – the world has no shortage of proof that we’re hurtling toward the eye of the apocalypse. Wait, wait, or are we?

Pittsburgh punk quintet Denzell seems to stake its reputations on different claims. On Tour Tape, its recent EP – released, appropriately, for the group’s November East Coast tour – the group makes garage-punk that’s as fun to listen to as it seems fun to play. Tapping into the jangly guitar-enthusiasms of Pavement; the dissonant, two-guitar shards of Sonic Youth at its rocking-est; and even a touch of – let me get obscure for a minute here – Latimer’s proto-grunginess, these guys are out to dictate that you don’t need to wrap your arms around tragedy to cop your bonafides.

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Aaron Myers-Brooks/ Radon Chong/ Patchwork/ How Things Are Made – Live at Brillobox, 11/30/17

Time in all its awkward majesty was the unannounced theme of the evening at Brillobox Thursday night, as a quartet of bands performed songs in Bizarro-world time signatures, warped the edges between stops and starts, or blurted fragments of sound-color into the crowd.

The show started with a solo set from Pittsburgh-based, avant/experimental guitarist Aaron Myers Brooks. During his down time from post-metal band Night Vapor – they can go far in this organization! – Myers-Brooks concocts textured prog fare assembled with prepared drums and electronics, and fronts it with guitar sometimes played through wicked fingers. On display Thursday were an Orthrelm cover and a track from his 2016 EP Thought Party, as well as other selections that went to great lengths to underline the guitar-composer’s dexterity. From his mannerisms, though, which included swaying with deft use of pedals, you’d think he was just taking a stroll down Forbes. Guy makes it look effortless.

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Two Cents on Murder For Girls’ “All The Pretty Stars”

Blender analogies are lazy, so let’s find a way around them. While Murder For Girls always has traced its trajectory back to the Riot Grrl bands of the early ’90s, its new record – All The Pretty Stars, which the band will mark with a release show Saturday night – is a little bit more nuanced than that, borrowing from Babes In Toyland and early Hole (and, yes, Grrls like Bikini Kill, Bratmobile and Calamity Jane) as much as it does alt-rock icon Kim Deal and fellow Pittsburgh punks T-Tops. During the course of the record’s nine tracks, the listener is treated to full-throttled but melodic punk – the choruses of “Pleather” and closer “Rocker Chick Vibe” will dig their hooks deep into your cerebellum – but also songs like “Lucy,” whose verses exude a kind of pop-rock naivete. The record is far from three power chords and a cloud of dust.

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Two Cents on CALYX’s “For To, Oh” EP

UntitledContrary to the imagination of its title, CALYX’s For To, Oh is not a testament to weed-fueled jam-band mythos or, this being Pittsburgh, a smoky-eyed homage to Wiz Khalifa. Instead, it’s a textured, even borderline-mathy, addition to this trio’s growing – and impressive – catalog. And it’s definitely worth the $2 download asking price.

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