Over the label's 22 releases to date, Sort Of Records covers a fairly wide swath of music -- from the jangly guitar-pop of The Shrinking Islands to the acoustic fingerpicking of KG Fields and the saxophone skronk of avant-rock sextet The Abraham Lincoln Brigade. Many of the releases by acts with Pittsburgh affiliations have been reviewed by City Paper (archived online at www.pghcitypaper.com), including The Shrinking Islands, David Bernabo, Alia Musica, Daryl LeRoi Fleming and Pairdown, the acoustic duo of Raymond Morin and David Leicht.
But the label's out-of-towners haven't received much attention here. Of these, Boston-based musician Nate McDermott's output neatly straddles two opposite poles, which together mark the boundaries of Sort Of's musical territory.
Released this April, Meanings' Alas, Not Us features McDermott performing nearly all instruments: spare electric and acoustic guitar backed by percussion, bass and touches of electronic drone, over which he layers harmonized vocals reminiscent of American Music Club's Mark Eitzel. The plaintive "Fresh Meat & Fruit" blends jazzy chord changes and wistful, Beat-influenced lyrics like "Apples, they make me arrhythmic / The taste of almonds makes me sick / To you I'm not so allergic / But I still would like more." The song "Mattress Coil" adopts a gauzy electric-guitar dissonance that compares favorably to Sonic Youth's more contemplative moments, even as McDermott's voice takes on a Thurston Moore-like cadence on the verses.
McDermott's other project, Paper Thin Stages, includes John Perotti and Edward Hadley, and its 2007 double CD Flying Hearse is a very different story. The largely improvised album opens with "It Might Come From Normal Dialogue," consisting mainly of electric guitar with delay effects and other sounds built around a repeating figure; subsequent tracks (up to 18 minutes long) feature more percussion, treated vocals, electronic blurps and beeps along with bass, guitar and keys.
Perhaps the best description of this disc is the cover image of three boys trying to ride off somewhere on horseless saddles, which is what this release sounds like at times. Its appeal is certainly limited, but Sort Of's short runs allow the number of copies to match the music's audience.
Later this summer, keep your eyes peeled for new Sort Of releases from Mikros Kosmos, Bernabo, and Pairdown, and Abstract on Black releases from Jack Wright and John Berndt.
The Shrinking Islands' In the Black Carpet
David Bernabo's Assembly, McQueen Bear EP and Word Roses
Daryl LeRoi Fleming's The Blockhouse & Bloodhound Sessions
Alia Musica's Premiere Season