Visual albums — a mix somewhere between a full-length music video and a movie — are not a new phenomenon. The Beatles did it with Hard Day's Night, and Pink Floyd with The Wall. But more recent versions, most obviously Beyoncé’s Lemonade in 2016, renewed interest in the medium at a time when sitting down and listening to a record start-to-finish has become less common.
Pittsburgh psychedelic-folk artist Andrew Kruske is using the format with his new release Songs for Pittsburgh, an audiovisual, psychedelic experience set to his new album and featuring footage of a stroll through Squirrel Hill.
“I wanted to make an audiovisual project that was a cohesive half hour of audio inseparable from its visual counterpoint, which would resist the modern habit of consuming a disjointed, algorithmically made playlist of decontextualized singles," says Kruske. "I think visual albums provide a unique opportunity [to restore] that experience of sitting down and experiencing a full musical project.”
This may be because musically, Kruske has always been drawn to the full-album releases of bands and musicians from 1960s and ’70s like The Incredible String Band, Van Morrison, and Donovan.
“I just really liked albums that had a really solid concept and would flow together from song to song,” says Kruske. “Then as I was getting more into ’60s music and culture I started to see liquid lights shows like they do at The Fillmore or at Grateful Dead Shows and I was like, ‘How do they do that?’”
Accompanied by electronic music and avant-garde theatre performances, liquid-light shows, which involve passing light from a projector through different color liquids, have been adapted for psychedelic or rock performances. Kruske got his hands on an overhead projector and a few glass clock faces and began making liquid-light projections.
Sharing many sonic qualities with albums by The Microphones/Mount Eerie, Broken Social Scene, and Animal Collective, as well as a range of classic psych-folk records, Sounds of Pittsburgh takes the viewer through Kruske’s typical day in the city, filtered through a psychedelic lens. A Michigan native, Kruske wanted the video to be his own subjective experience about a place he has come to love, not a commentary on budding development or how the city is changing.
“A message about a city rising from the ashes is overplayed and, in a way, freezes it in its development,” says Kruske.
When Kruske started Sounds for Pittsburgh, he lived right by Schenley Park (he now lives one block from Forbes Avenue). Many of the shots were taken there, and the longest song on the project is named after the park. The project took about two years to complete.
Right now, most of the songs don’t have titles. They'll have to soon enough, though, as Kruske plans on putting the album on Spotify, where Songs for Pittsburgh will break down into about 10 songs — four transition tracks and six traditional songs.
Until then, Sounds of Pittsburgh will only be available on Chameleon Treat’s Facebook page (Kruske makes up one half of the band, but Sounds of Pittsburgh is entirely his own), or on Kruske’s Vimeo.
Songs for Pittsburgh. Available Fri., June 12 via Chameleon Treat’s Facebook or Andrew Kruske’s Vimeo