#SupportPGHMusic // Exclusively on HughShows Radio streaming at the bottom of the page, enjoy the entire December 13, 2014 concert of HughShows Live at Eide’s Finale featuring mini sets from acoustic and solo versions of my favorite Pittsburgh bands during the marathon 6 hour concert. //

HughShows welcomes back contributing music journalist Jill Berkin. A a UK-based writer and avid music enthusiast, she’s interested in shoegaze, rock, and alternative music. I couldn’t be more thrilled in highlighting her wonderful work on the blog.

Early in October, we received some of the best news of the year in the music business when it was announced that Phoebe Bridgers would be launching her own record label. NME’s report on Bridgers’ announcement revealed that the label will be called “Saddest Factory,” and that Bridgers herself will serve as its CEO. The beloved artist — who has truly become one of the most refreshing voices and lyricists in modern music — has said that the label will release material “from across the music spectrum.”

There are a lot of reasons to be thrilled with this announcement, the first of which — clearly — is that if Bridgers serves as any kind of model for her own label, we’re in for some wonderful discoveries. Bridgers herself was discovered initially by singer-songwriter Ryan Adams, and was quickly able to launch the career we’ve all since begun to follow. But had that first connection not happened, she may have remained on the fringes of the industry, even despite her undeniable talents.

This is actually a particularly cheerful thought to those who follow local music scenes closely. As we all know, there are all too many area-specific bands and singer-songwriters who simply ooze talent, but lack the connections or major discovery moments to “make it big,” so to speak. On the Pittsburgh scene, an act like Sadie’s Song comes to mind as one that could easily sell records and generate radio play given a proper opportunity; singer/songwriter Meghann Wright comes across almost a bit like Bridgers herself — not so much in style, but in substance, with a resonant emphasis on “songs of love, liquored memories, heartbreak, and resilience.”

This is of course not to suggest that Saddest Factory will be signing these specific artists. But anytime an artist as apparently thoughtful and unique as Phoebe Bridgers starts a label, there’s just a little bit more of a chance that artists like these, somewhere, are given a real chance.

To that point, it’s also particularly exciting to hear that Bridgers is not merely bankrolling this label, but will actually serve actively as the person in charge. This may seem inconsequential if you simply assume that a famous artist’s label will inevitably be shaped by unknown talent scouts and managers. But in this business, leadership matters. As ZenBusiness’s rundown of professional record labels puts it, control is the main benefit of starting such a business. The owner in a record label tends to have “complete control of every decision.” And while it’s certainly Bridgers’ prerogative to delegate, she does not seem the type to allow an act that she doesn’t personally approve of to appear on her label.

That’s an appealing thought, because there just aren’t many people in music today we’d trust more for quality control than Bridgers. Just recently, the artist once again proved that she has something of a preternatural gift for providing fans with music that is unique and unexpected, but wholly lovely. In a seemingly somewhat random gesture, Bridgers promised to cover “Iris” by Goo Goo Dolls pending the results of the recent U.S. election. She followed through a few days later, with Maggie Rogers on the track alongside her — and according to an article at Billboard, the cover sold 28,000 in paid downloads in a single day of availability.

That sort of creativity and impulse would certainly seem to line up with thought processes and tendencies that would make for a fun, surprising, and successful label. And frankly, I could go on about various tendencies of Bridgers’ that point toward this being a fascinating venture. But suffice it to say she seems to be a rare combination: a thriving, one-of-a-kind artist who will give others like her a chance, but do so with impeccable quality control.

Sign me up!

Written for hughshows.com by Jill Birken

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HughShows welcomes back contributing music journalist Jill Berkin. A a UK-based writer and avid music enthusiast, she’s interested in shoegaze, rock, and alternative music. I couldn’t be more thrilled in highlighting her wonderful work on the blog.

Damon Che is the drummer and founder of the instrumental rock band Don Caballero. Apart from followers of Pittsburgh’s local music scene, anyone who listens to post rock or math rock is familiar with Che’s work – whether or not they know that it’s actually him behind the drum kit. While there are many other math rock drummers that have become prominent before Don Caballero’s rise to popularity, it was Che’s drumming style that solidified the contemporary elements of math rock as a genre.

Historically, the first math rock bands were Rush and King Crimson. Neil Peart’s well-known virtuosity as a drummer not only catapulted Rush to global stardom, but was also instrumental in seeding early elements of post rock experimentation into mainstream classic rock from the ‘60s to the ‘80s. The same can be said for British rock group King Crimson, whose use of two to three drummers onstage attracted massive droves of fans to their blend of psychedelic jazz rock. While these bands were responsible for the formative years of math rock, it wasn’t until the ‘90s that the genre took on the form that we know it to be today.

Alongside Don Caballero, bands like Tortoise and Isotope 217 dominated the early to late’ 90s post and math rock scene. While the drumming style in all of these aforementioned bands have a similar polyrhythmic, unorthodox approach to rock, it was Don Caballero under the musical direction of Damon Che which pushed the drum-led, purely instrumental sound of the genre. Unlike most rock drummers, it’s rare to hear Che just simply keeping time in the background. In fact, it’s the opposite – his drumming practically nixes the need for vocals, leading each song while the guitar and bass are delegated to keeping time. This is what freed Che to develop his punk-inspired, progressive, and flowing style of playing the drums. And to this day, it is this style and sound that defines contemporary math rock.

You don’t need to look far to hear the influence that Che has had on the development of math and post-rock. His own former bandmates, whether they like it or not, carry the signature of Don Caballero’s indelible mark on the genre. After notoriously quarrelling with Che which led to Don Caballero being temporarily dissolved in 2000, guitarist Ian Williams formed the experimental rock group Battles in 2002. Known for using guitar loop pedals to combine different effects and create walls of sound, Williams’ work in Battles is an expansion of his seminal post-rock style from Don Caballero. While it can be said that both bands rely on a foundation of post-rock percussions, Battles’ sound is focused more towards repetition. And in his ‘new’ band, Williams is better able to express different aspects of his musicality. Expanding from different guitar effects pedals to a combination of his pedalboard, keyboards, MIDI controllers, and other electronic instruments, Williams represents the more than 20-year evolution of post-rock. And there’s no denying the fact that he developed his legendary chops under Che’s musical direction.

Today, Che is not even as famous as Neil Peart’s notoriously complex drum kit. But under the radar, his influence lives on. From the progressive and melodic rock of Historian to Man Your Horse’s experimental blend of afro-beat and math rock, the foundations of the genre are intact in modern music. And while there are many talented unorthodox rock drummers coming to the fore, not one of them has reached the level of genre-defining creativity that Damon Che has showcased throughout his career.

 

Written for hughshows.com by Jill Birken

HughShows would like to welcome contributing music journalist Jill Berkin to the fold. A a UK-based writer who was able to travel quite a lot before the pandemic and has had an awesome experience with the people and places while visiting Pittsburgh. As an avid music enthusiast, she’s interested in shoegaze, rock, and alternative music. I couldn’t be more thrilled in highlighting her wonderful work on the blog.

Dirty Projectors – Super João EP

Dirty Projectors have been indie rock mainstays since they launched their debut album The Glad Fact back in 2003. Here in Pittsburgh, we were witness to the group’s musical prowess when they played a stellar show in May 2018. As that concert proved, the band is still lauded as one of the best groups in the industry as they continue to push boundaries with their unique and experimental brand of music.

2018’s Lamp Lit Prose is a great example of this, as the band really leaned into their eccentricity by using the Critter & Guitari Pocket Piano and other synths to create a sonic hodgepodge of melodies and sounds that only a creative force like them could have successfully pulled off. Experimentation is part of the reason why Dirty Projectors are so great, which is why it isn’t surprising that they continue to redefine their sound with each new project.

The band’s latest release, Super João, is yet another testament to how playful the band can be with their sound. Settling is seemingly not a part of their plans, as they’ve yet again delivered a unique musical experience packaged with the four tracks of this EP. If you want to know more about this, read on for our review of Dirty Projectors’ Super João!

Five EP Cycle and Super João

Before we jump into the review, it’s important to give a little background information on this EP. Rolling Stone’s article on the EP’s announcement details that Super João is the third EP of the group’s five-EP cycle for 2020. And just like their last project, Flight Tower which drifted towards an uncharacteristic R&B sound, the group has also decided to try a different approach with this record.

The group has gone a more minimalist route with this EP, as they’ve really reeled in the sound. They’ve opted to swap out the multitude of different instruments that they usually use for a barer setup, as the songs on the EP are driven solely by a nylon-string acoustic guitar. This shouldn’t be too surprising as the namesake for the EP, João Gilberto, pioneered the Brazilian bossa nova movement. This is put front and center in “I Get Carried Away”, as the rhythmic plucking style sounds like it was transposed directly from Gilberto’s “Insensatez”.

Another key difference with this EP comes in the form of the vocals. Unlike the previous EPs in the cycle, David Longstreth is the sole vocalist on this project. And while it’s been great to hear the other members of the band singing, Longstreth’s performance on the album is one for the ages. Indeed, the Shure SM7B’s impeccable sound clarity is on full display as it brings out the natural elements of a Longstreth’s voice. Longstreth’s vocal chops are on full display right off the bat in the EP’s first track “Holy Mackerel”. Longstreth serenades the listener and preps them for what’s to come, as this may not be what people expected from a Dirty Projectors record.

Overall

Bands are often castigated for veering off the path that their listeners and fans have put them on. However, Dirty Projectors have made a career of perpetually redefining themselves and constantly trying new things. This latest EP is no exception to this. And while it could come off as gimmicky, this project is a testament to the group’s deep admiration and respect for different types and genres of music. Super João is a love letter to a proud genre, a worthy addition to the group’s body of work.

 

Written for hughshows.com by Jill Birken

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