The year in music: Pittsburgh and beyond | Music | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

The year in music: Pittsburgh and beyond

Hits and misses of 2015, as compiled by our music writers

Greatest Comebacks of 2015

click to enlarge Vanessa Carlton - PHOTO COURTESY OF EDDIE CHACON
Photo courtesy of Eddie Chacon
Vanessa Carlton

Vanessa CarltonLiberman: Gauzy, ghostly and wonderful. A million years from “A Thousand Miles.”

Angel HazeBack to the Woods: The brutal, resilient swagger we’ve come to expect from Haze, and didn’t see enough of on major-label misfire Dirty Gold.

Veruca SaltGhost Notes: Rock ’n’ roll as rough and sweet as it was some 20 years ago, when we last heard from this original lineup.

 JoJoIII.: One of the strongest voices in early ’00s pop is free at last from her multi-year label battle.

Missy Elliott — “WTF (Where They From)” featuring Pharrell Williams: Yas queen. Show ’em how it’s done. 

— Caralyn Green

Stuff I discovered from interviews in 2015

click to enlarge Dan Deacon - PHOTO COURTESY OF FRANK HAMILTON
Photo courtesy of Frank Hamilton
Dan Deacon

“Plantasia” by Mort Garson Chrome Sparks. Digging through old sets and mixes from Chrome Sparks led me to this early synth record from 1976, which was intended to be played for plants to help them grow. What kind of monster can read that description and NOT look it up? 

“Midnight Cowboy” by James Leo Herlihy — Jon Bindley. Fitting since my story led off with a tidbit about him giving Norah Jones a book, Jon handed me “Midnight Cowboy” during our interview and told me to read the opening paragraph while he was in the bathroom. I did and was immediately hooked. It’s about a male prostitute with killer boots, man.

The art of Joanna Fields — Dan DeaconGliss Riffer, Deacon’s 2015 release, features Fields’ work on its cover, which led me down a rabbit hole of her flamboyant, playful illustrations. The bodies are fleshy, the colors are bright and the tongues are long.

The term “djent metal” Matt Very. I’d never heard of this genre but when Matt explained it, I was like, “Yeah, that seems right.”

The live video for Sondre Lerche’s “Bad Law” Steve Soboslai. I don’t know much of Lerche’s music, but this is a great track and the video features some top-of-the-line dance moves. I am staunchly opposed to confetti (it’s just paper chopped up), but this performance is a winner.

— Alex Gordon

Mina’s Favorite Records (and One Disappointment)

Picks from 2015, her first year of life, as told by Dan Morgan (her papa)

No Time — Promo Tape 2015: These Oi!-infused hardcore jams caused Mina to do a crazy proto-pogo across the floor.

New Order — Music Complete: The soundtrack to many a papa/daughter dance session this fall.

Concealed Blade — Demo 2015/Tour Tape 2015: Primal slabs of hardcore-punk power that regularly lulled Mina into sweet dreams at naptime. Maybe name the LP Songs for Sleepy Babies?

Biggest Disappointment

Danzig — Skeletons: While a solid release over all, Mina was very disappointed in the lackluster version of “Satan” from Satan’s Sadists, which is one of her favorite songs.

Top Five Releases From Local Artists

Run Forever — Run Forever

In 2015, Run Forever became the band it was always meant to be, and put out one of the best indie records of the year, period. 

Dream Phone — Dream Phone

This stellar collection of moody surf-pop makes me feel a lot of things, but mainly it makes me feel optimistic about the state of the Pittsburgh music scene. 

The Come Up — Visions From the Pacific 

Here, the Braddock-bred rap duo channels the West Coast sound. It was intended as an artistic stop-gap (we may see a proper record in the coming year), but this EP stands on its own. 

Concealed Blade — 2015 Demo

This love letter to ’80s hardcore gets my vote for the catchiest, wildest, most whammy-bar-filled seven minutes of the year.

Tom Breiding — River, Rails or Road

The folk singer/songwriter latest release evokes the political work of Springsteen and Dylan, and ranks among his best.

— Margaret Welsh

My top 5 albums of 2015

(Not including Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly, because that’s too obvious)

5. Deeper Than Before — Fields and Planes 

This Columbus quintet is another indication of how much Ohio’s capital city is dominating Midwest music culture. Clever lyrics abound and the melodies are top-notch. Deeper than Before is the best thing to happen to indie-pop since the ukulele. 

4.  Dying Surfer Meets His Maker — All Them Witches

All Them Witches dropped, perhaps, the best debut of the year. Dying Surfer, a bluesy, psychedelic guitar-rock album, with obvious nods to Zeppelin, is more homage than plagiarism. It manages to be heavy and sentimental at the same time and straight up rocks.

3. Black Liberation Theology — Jasiri X

The Pittsburgh based rapper/activist gave us a powerful collection of black experiences and a springboard from which to transcend America’s institutional racism. Jasiri X’s bio reads, “freeing minds one rhyme at time” and Black Liberation Theology, with its dynamic production and skillful flow is certainly capable of achieving such a goal.

2. Sermon on the Rocks — Josh Ritter

Josh Ritter is one of best songwriters in the game and Sermon on the Rocks is his best offering to date. Full of words, Ritter offers an apocalyptic yet hopeful message with an infectious delivery. 

1. Golden Ticket — Golden Rules

U.K. producer Paul White and Florida native Eric Biddines team up to give us Golden Ticket, a hip-hop/soul fusion with smooth Southern delivery. This album is high art. 

— Seth Pfannenschmidt

Biggest Tools in Music of 2015

click to enlarge Ryan Adams - PHOTO COURTESY OF HIGH ROAD TOURING
Photo courtesy of High Road Touring
Ryan Adams

Ryan Adams for mansplaining Taylor Swift’s 1989

Producer Dr. Luke for his rape and abuse of Kesha

Sun Kil Moon’s Mark Kozelek for his harassment of journalist Laura Snapes

— Caralyn Green

Best Pittsburgh Bands of 2015

click to enlarge Dream Phone - COURTESY OF KARLY TAKACH
Courtesy of Karly Takach
Dream Phone

Dendritic Arbor — Sadly, the band recently broke up, but its full-length Romantic Love is the year’s best metal album.

Come Holy Spirit — The best live band in Pittsburgh?

Radon Chong — These experimental weirdoes may not be for everyone, but no one else in town is doing anything like this.

Dream Phone — This retro super group has become one of Pittsburgh’s biggest draws.

Night Vapor — What the world needs now is a Pittsburgh-centric music mockumentary called Being John Roman.

— Andrew Woehrel 

Tough decisions of 2015

click to enlarge Alvvays - PHOTO COURTESY OF SHERVIN LAINEZ
Photo courtesy of Shervin Lainez

Or, four times when there were two good concerts on the same night and, while I don’t regret the one I went to, I probably would have enjoyed the other show more:

April 2: When I chose Delicate Steve at the Thunderbird over alt-j at the Benedum.

June 7: When I watched Alvvays at Arts Fest instead of Wire at Mr. Small’s.

Sept. 3: When I caught Swervedriver at Club Café instead of Tal National at the Thunderbird.

Sept. 25: When I saw Ghost at Stage AE instead of Television at the Carnegie Music Hall in Oakland.

— Brian Conway

Best Lines from 2015 Musician Memoirs

“I’m sure I could write endlessly about nothing. If only I had nothing to say.” 

— Patti Smith, M Train

“My favorite kind of musical experience is to feel afterward that your heart is filled up and transformed, like it is pumping a whole new kind of blood into your veins. This is what it is to be a fan: curious, open, desiring for connection, to feel like art has chosen you, claimed you as its witness.” 

— Carrie Brownstein, Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl

“I like being in a weak position, and making it strong.” 

Kim Gordon, Girl in a Band

“There was always someone else in the way until I worked out how to make myself the one who was in the way of others.” 

Grace Jones, I'll Never Write My Memoirs

— Caralyn Green

Five music things I loved in 2015

Seeing Zach de la Rocha in the Run the Jewels’ “Close Your Eyes” video 

Please, God, more ZDLR in 2016.

Ginger Baker at the Byham Theater: He was in a weakened state having, apparently, been almost at death’s door few days earlier, but Baker blew all of our minds anyway. As one friend put it, with a morbid edge, “We were very lucky to see that.” 

Joanna Newsom: Yeah, I know how precious and un-critic-like it is to describe Joanna Newsom as “perfect,” but between her stunning new record Divers and her immaculate performance (out-of-tune harp and all) at the Carnegie of Homestead Music Hall … well ... how else am I supposed to describe her?

Girls Rock! Pittsburgh 2015 Showcase: Participants of the week-long summer rock camp had a chance to show off their chops and original songs for a very enthusiastic crowd. Special shout-out to Wolf Vein for writing “Scream Out Loud,” one of 2015’s heaviest tracks.

Piles of promo CDs from major labels: Everyone knows free music is one of the perks of music journalism, and you never know what you’re going to get: Will it be the new Adele or the soundtrack to a show I’ve never even heard of? Also, why are major labels still sending CDs?

—Margaret Welsh

Five feisty quotes from musicians over the age of 50

“People are going to find this music the same way you found it, the same way I found it: through our parents. Our fans are not going to come from the generation of fans who are listening to the Kenny Chesneys and the Jason Aldeans and that mess.” 

— Singer/songwriter Dale Watson, 53, on keeping traditional country music alive

“I’ve been in the music business for 25 years, and I think there’s a little bit of an unwritten seniority rule where it’s like ‘I’m 50-fucking-years-old, I can do whatever the hell I want from this point on’ … We have nothing to lose and nothing to prove anymore.” 

Raul Malo, 50, of the Mavericks on the decision to record in mono

“There’s more to being a leader than being important. There are a lot of important people around. Obama’s important, Arnold Schwarzenegger is important. Garth Brooks is important all these guys that have made a fortune are important … but they’re not significant. We need people who are significant again, like Warren Zevon, Gram Parsons, Molly Ivins, Barbara Jordan, Roger Miller, Iggy Pop and Tom Waits. Look, it’s fun to be important, but it’s more important to be significant, that’s what I’m saying.” 

— The Jewish Cowboy Kinky Friedman, 70, on a lack of inspiration in America

“It doesn’t really bother me. If somebody compliments me, I just say, ‘Thank you.’ But if somebody says something like, ‘You play pretty well for a girl,’ that sometimes does come off like they don’t think a woman can play the guitar.” 

— Roots singer guitarist Rosie Flores, 65, on being labeled a top female guitarist

“I play harder now than I ever have, and honestly when I go on stage, I push a button. I swear at the pain: ‘Get out of my damn body; I’ve got to do a job!’” 

— Surf-guitar legend Dick Dale, 78, on how he performs nightly in excruciating pain

— Charlie Deitch 

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