Little Wings | Music | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

In the two decades since K Records' inception, initially as a platform to promote founder Calvin Johnson's group Beat Happening, the label has amassed a catalog that serves as a scrapbook of Johnson's personal whims. Beat Happening's affected naiveté and primitive sound cemented K as a premier "twee" label; by the mid-1990s, scores of fey popsters had flooded the indie enclave.


The latest incarnation of K features a core collective of musicians who embody a modern-hippie vibe, creating rustic folk with relentless collaboration. Flippantly trading musicians back and forth like spouses at a key party, the artists at the hub of this cozy commune have become sonically incestuous and nearly indistinguishable. Alongside the likes of Johnson, Phil Elvrum (Microphones, Mount Eerie) and Mirah, Little Wings' Kyle Field sets himself apart with a humble nod to the label's twee roots.


On Little Wings' sixth disc, Magic Wand, Field's songs invoke a childlike innocence that has garnered him numerous comparisons to Jonathan Richman. In the hushed, piano-driven "Whale Mountain," Field rambles about rock formations that resemble sea mammals, while the bluesy rock shuffle of "Uncle Kyle Says" is tempered by a checklist of things to do before bedtime: "Uncle Kyle says / It's time to go to bed / It's time to brush your teeth."


The playful quality of the lyrics creates a peculiar juxtaposition with Field's spare, somber melodies and thick-as-molasses voice. The effect is akin to a quirky camp counselor improvising around a crackling fire.


In an interview with Dream Magazine, Field revealed a penchant for "raggedly made folk art."  His own music could be defined by the same terms. With its emphasis on friends as collaborators, Little Wings is as dependent on the collective artistic process as on the end result. In spite of their tattered edges and blemished surfaces, each of the songs sparkles with a purity that is absent from most contemporary music. Magic Wand sputters and begs to ignite, like the first sparks of a campfire.

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