Monday, March 27, 2017

Minus the Bear isn’t finished

Posted By on Mon, Mar 27, 2017 at 3:50 PM

  • Photo courtesy of Shervin Lainez/Bradley Hale

Minus the Bear has been around for 16 years. Highly Refined Pirates, released in 2002, begins with vocalist Jake Snider crooning, “And then we all bought yachts.” It’s a cheeky intro and far cry from the four-piece’s reality at that time: traveling in a 15-passenger van, sleeping on kitchen floors, partying and trying to seize the moment, not knowing how long it would last.

The moment is ongoing, it turns out. The band has made a living from its work and now has 12 records on the books.

But after its 11th release, 2015's Lost Loves, the group had some soul-searching to do. Longtime drummer Erin Tate had to leave the band for medical reasons, and the remaining members were coming to terms with major life changes like marriage and fatherhood.

“We all did a lot of asking questions and kind of had to dig deep, being 15 years on. We were asking ourselves, ‘What are we doing here? Why are we doing it? Is this something we still even want to do?’” said bassist Cory Murchy.

“Luckily, the answer was yes.”

When I talked to bassist Murchy on the phone, the band was hanging out in Charlotte, N.C., almost halfway through a month-and-a-half of touring. Despite all of the changes in the band’s collective life over the past few years, he sounded relaxed and happy.

“We still really love each other, and on this tour we’re really enjoying the music. It’s a powerful thing,” he said.

The band is touring for its latest release, Voids. The album reflects a lot of the aforementioned conflicts, with darker, moodier lyrics and themes of loss infiltrating the innovative grooves and riffs that helped cultivate Minus the Bear’s following to begin with.

Even though the band is in a happier place now, performing those morose songs is no burden.

“The thing is, for me, a lot of these songs are therapeutic. Being able to play them every night helps me exorcise those feelings and demons, and it’s enjoyable to do it because we’ve fully worked through that shit. We’ve spent the last few years working on ourselves and each other,” said Murchy.

The band is closer than ever, despite its members living across the globe, in Seattle, Tacoma and London. On this tour, rather than party or explore on their own, the members are spending most of their free time together, hanging out, talking and enjoying each other’s company.

Just as the personal and musical lives of the band have ebbed and flowed over those 16 years, so has the fan base. No two records sound quite alike, so the amorphous fan base represents people with musical interests across the spectrum of MTB’s sound.

“I personally love playing the older material and looking out to see people in the crowd singing along, like when we play ‘Pachuca Sunrise.’ To know those people have been with us for 12 years is so humbling,” said Murchy.

Ultimately, the band has accomplished a lot in 16 years. But the band has more music to make, and Voids represents the beginning of a new era in MTB’s songwriting.

“We still have something to say and music to write. We still believe in ourselves,” said Murchy. “We’re not done creating yet.”

Minus the Bear performs with Beach Slang and Bayonne at Mr. Smalls on April 1. The all-ages show is at 7 p.m.

Tickets are $24.

Mr. Smalls is located at 400 Lincoln Ave., in Millvale.

For more information, call 412-821-4447 or see

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MP3 Monday: C. Scott

Posted By on Mon, Mar 27, 2017 at 1:29 PM

Today, we're listening to C. Scott's "Maneuvers," from his latest collection of beats called Be That As It May. On his Bandcamp, Scott describes the EP as "6 tracks from mom's attic," which, judging from the quality of these songs, is not a bad place to be. They're all ostensibly built as foundations for lyrics, but frankly they do just fine on their own. Stream/download the track below.

To download, right-click here and select "save link as."

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Thursday, March 23, 2017

Listen Up! March 22

Posted By on Thu, Mar 23, 2017 at 1:32 PM

We've always wanted to insert little computer chips and speakers into City Paper, so that when you open it, music from artists featured in the paper plays while you read about them (like a big old greeting card). But that's just not realistic. This is the second-best thing: a Spotify playlist featuring music from this week's issue. Listen up.

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Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Music To Sweep To 12: Waterparks and Dirty Beaches

Posted By on Tue, Mar 21, 2017 at 2:00 PM

There a mall in West Edmonton, Alberta, called the West Edmonton Mall and it’s got a waterpark. The indoor wave pool is the largest of its kind in the world (the mall is also the largest in North America). There are a bunch of slides, too. You can rent a private cabana, which, according the mall’s website, includes “access to a semi-private washroom” and “tables with chairs.”

In 2013, a filmmaker named Evan Prosofsky made a 17-minute film about the mall waterpark called Waterpark. It’s a mix of documentary and narrative filmmaking, and the film is more or less without dialogue (aside from an excerpt from a delightfully 1990s promo video that opens the film).

Waterpark is excellent. From a critical standpoint, its targets (tacky consumerism, the artificiality inherent to tourism, water slides) may seem low-hanging, but at its core, Waterpark doesn’t really have an argument to make about its images. If it's about anything, it's about the color of chlorinated water.

What saves Waterpark from sagging into cheap criticism of mall culture is the soundtrack, done by Alex Zhang Huntai, also known as Dirty Beaches, also known as Last Lizard. Huntai’s score is woozy without crossing over into full-blown nausea, and abstract in a way that sounds like he might have made this music by accident, but probably didn’t. It’s hard to explain. You can watch it here.

WATERPARK from Evan Prosofsky on Vimeo.

Anyway. Waterpark OST is not the reason Dirty Beaches is today’s Music To Sweep To. That distinction goes to “Lord Knows Best,” which is sort of Huntai’s “My Sharona” (reasons for this are unknown).

A little housekeeping before digging in: Huntai was born in Taiwan, grew up in Montreal and now lives in Los Angeles. He has seven studio albums, three soundtracks and a handful of singles and EPs. In 2011, he released his fourth full-length, a nearly-universally praised eight-track album called Badlands. It made the longlist for the Polaris Music Prize in 2011, whatever that means.

Describing Badlands is tough (I’m bad at my job), so here are a bunch of relevant keywords: samples, lo-fi, rockabilly, baritone, loops, the Western part of America with all the sand and whatnot, reverb, smoke, psychobilly. (Man, that’s much easier than writing full sentences, music reviews should just be tags from now on.)

Anyway No. 2. Badlands is one of my all-time favorite records. It’s dreamy, provocative and weirdly upsetting. Its version of lo-fi could best be described as crispy. Every song sounds like scratched vinyl and it's nearly very ugly. Most of the songs are built on looped samples, including songs from Link Wray, La Rallizes Denudes, The Ronettes and Francoise Hardy.

Link Wray’s “Mustang” chips in the foundation for track two, “Horses,” which you might describe as “nightmarishly cocaine-y.” Huntai doesn’t do much to the samples other than cut them (no speeding up or slowing down, not much modulation), which might strike you as lazy or uninspired, but it actually works. He’s not leaning on them to do the heavy lifting as much as he’s capturing little moments in the song and trapping them in feedback loops, which might explain why the album sounds so tortured. Those poor samples. He takes the I-chord from “Mustang” and sets it into perpetual repetition, while channeling Charlie Feathers’ twang and belting out stuff about black horses in the dead of the night. There's something deeply fucked up about denying a blues band its IV-chord.

The highlight, though, goes to the aforementioned “Lord Knows Best,” which is culled from Francoise Hardy’s “Voila.” Here Huntai at least allows two chords from the progression to keep their heads, and the result is pretty mesmerizing. He also keeps Hardy’s vocal melody, which is top-tier pop songwriting (and if you don’t know Hardy, you should get on that). This track is about as accessible as Dirty Beaches gets, so if you’re on the fence, start here.

Fun fact: In Pitchfork’s 2011 best of guest lists, both WU LYF and Neon Indian listed “Lord Knows Best” as the best song of the year. Wowee.

Anyway No. 3. After falling hard for Badlands, I started exploring the rest of Huntai’s work, which is how I found Waterpark. Much of his output is more minimal than Badlands, but it makes for some amazing sweeping music. It’s deranged and deeply upsetting and you will love listening to it. I compiled my favorite DB songs here, please enjoy.

Lastly, isn’t Dirty Beaches a terrible band name? Just awful. The good news is that moniker is now retired, and Huntai is currently working as Last Lizard.

Best if you work in: water parks, malls, skipping records

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Monday, March 20, 2017

MP3 Monday: Amir Miles

Posted By on Mon, Mar 20, 2017 at 2:52 PM

  • CP photo by John Hamilton
Each week, we post a song from a local artist, for free online. This week's MP3 Monday comes from rising alt-R&B singer/songwriter Amir Miles. The single is "Bad Habits," off his upcoming EP, Vintage, due out this summer. Stream or download the track below.

To download "Bad Habits," right-click here and select "save as."

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Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Listen Up! March 15

Posted By on Wed, Mar 15, 2017 at 2:02 PM

We've always wanted to insert little computer chips and speakers into City Paper, so that when you open it, music from artists featured in the paper plays while you read about them (like a big old greeting card). But that's just not realistic. This is the second-best thing: a Spotify playlist featuring music from this week's issue. Listen up.

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Monday, March 13, 2017

MP3 Monday: Montell Fish

Posted By on Mon, Mar 13, 2017 at 10:19 AM

  • Photo courtesy of Azariah Jones
This week's MP3 Monday is "Dreams Don't Sleep" by Montell Fish. He's the subject of this week's Local Beat, so be sure to read up on him on Wednesday. Long story short: Fish started writing and producing hip-hop R&B as a teenager, smoked a lot of weed, had a religious awakening and now uses his music to tell that story. The dude has one of the most unique voices in Pittsburgh today (and he's only 19). His full-length, As We Walk Into Forever, is available on his Bandcamp, but in the meantime, stream or download "Dreams Don't Sleep" below.

To download, right-click here and select "save link as."

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Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Listen Up! March 8

Posted By on Wed, Mar 8, 2017 at 12:35 PM

Every Wednesday, we make a Spotify playlist containing tracks from artists mentioned in the current music section. Listen in the bathtub while reading the music stories in this week's paper for a fully immersive experience. This week's playlist has a song called "Y'all Motherfuckers Need Jesus," so you know it's good.

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Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Music To Sweep To 11: The Beables

Posted By on Tue, Mar 7, 2017 at 1:46 PM

Dear readers, it’s been three months since my last Music To Sweep To. My bad. Things have been crazy. My bathroom sink got clogged then started leaking, I began re-watching Game of Thrones with my girlfriend (totally forgot Bran hurt his leg), I revealed my identity as a secret sex blogger, Trump did stuff, I tried eating an oyster, I shot a plastic bottle of Canada Dry Ginger Ale with a pellet gun, my cat threw up three times, I ignored thirteen calls from an unrecognized California phone number, and my laptop died. It’s been a whirlwind.


Today we’re sweeping to The Beatles’ instrumental covers. I put this playlist on over the weekend with a group of friends and it was a big hit, I was high-fived until my hands went sore. Beatles' melodies are among the most recognizable in the world and there’s something indescribably pleasing about hearing them in different contexts. Here we’re featuring music from R. Stevie Moore (okay, mostly R. Stevie Moore), Booker T. & the MGs, Ramsey Lewis, The Bar-Kays and Marty Gold. There are two Michelles, just like in Full House (Pulitzer deserving reference).

Booker, Lewis and the Bar-Kays are all in the soul and funk realm, which you probably already knew. Marty Gold is a pioneering force in acoustic-electronic composition (music from the late 60s and 70s that integrates synth with live instruments, it was a novel concept at the time) who loved the Beatles. He’s got a lot of good stuff out there.

Front and center is R. Stevie Moore, a guy who writers are legally required to label “prolific.” He started self-releasing music in 1969 and hasn’t gone more than a year without new music since. Moore is an archetypal outsider artist: lo-fi and experimental but capable of startlingly poppy output.

Moore released RSM Reforms The Beatles in 1975. He’s pretty loyal to the originals. No remixing or translation, they’re basically reenactments, though a little fuzzier than before (think of the distortion in “Helter Skelter,” that’s his production vibe here). It’s an illogically fun album to listen to. The only downside is that playing vocal melodies on a guitar sometimes sounds a little flat. It’s almost like his guitar is singing “dah-dah-dahdah-dah-dah-dah-dah-dahhhhh” when you just wanna hear “Help me if you can I’m feeling down.” Nobody’s perfect.

These covers make for good work music because everybody knows these songs, but there are no vocals to distract you. It’s the perfect balance of comfort and unfamiliarity. You probably haven’t heard the fifteen tracks on this playlist, but they still sound like old friends. If you’re on the fence about this whole thing, start with Moore’s “Abbey Road Medley.”

Best if you work in: benefiting Mr. Kite, doing it in the road, selling warm guns, face seer

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Monday, March 6, 2017


Posted By on Mon, Mar 6, 2017 at 12:46 PM

  • Photo courtesy of D. Hager
This week’s MP3 Monday is “Home/You” by SOFT GIRL. It's a sweetly nostalgic slow-burner in what a dumb writer might call the “indie rock” realm. If that sounds like your cup of tea, don’t miss their Softgirl. EP, out now on Bandcamp. Stream or download "Home/You" for free below if you know what's good for you.

To download "Home/You," right-click here and select "save as."

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