Balloon Ride Fantasy
Seven songs from a new, local indie-pop duo heavily informed by the Death Cab/Postal Service school of thought and the more recent Brooklyn synth-pop revival. Mostly soft, whispery tunes backed up by synths and drum machines (and occasional acoustic guitar), the CD features some tight harmonies and well-placed sound experimentation -- plus, a song that's mostly sung in Japanese. Beautiful and largely sleepy; no reason this band shouldn't take off.
This country-tinged rock band has local roots, though it's based in Texas now. Brothers Jeff and Don Glatz grew up outside Pittsburgh and began their career here. The band's fourth album is a collection of working-class rock and pop anthems, placing it somewhere between WDVE and WYEP territory on the dial. Well-written, lyrically driven tunes that largely avoid cliché; a worthy entry into the alt-country field.
The Working Man's Emcee
Real Deal (a.k.a. Trevor Weller), a battle-tested MC, collaborates with some of local hip hop's best-known producers (E.Dan, Mindbender, DJ Huggy) on 16 tracks, clocking in at over an hour. His lyrics are smart, mixing cocky rap swagger with a salt-of-the-earth attitude and rejecting materialism without getting preachy. Politics, Pittsburgh name-checking and occasional football references surface in an alternately aggressive and smooth set of songs with a positive core. (Though I'd be remiss not to mention a few unfortunate instances of homophobic language.)