Thursday, December 27, 2012

Best of 2012

Favorite Albums of 2012

Probably my favorite band of all-time releases a 5CD monster of a box set that not just retreads old ground with a plethora of scarcely available b-sides and live cuts but also includes plenty of 'new' material from his exhaustive musical vault that had me listening to this thing for months straight without getting the slightest bit stale. Simply put, AMAZING! Look out for a First/Last from Karl Wallinger himself here early next year.

I cannot think of another group who more deserves the title of  'most underrated band in rock and roll'. With this, their eighth official release, duo Aaron Espinoza and Ariana Murray continue to make the best indie pop music I have ever heard. The vibe of this latest album reminds me of Beach House but I detest Beach House, so go figure? These two have been at the very top of bands I must see play before I die. Read my previous First/Last with Aaron Espinoza here.

I guy struggles with his faith and composes a beautiful testament to the power of music and what God means to all of us. Well, at least that what I got out of it. Don't let the description scare you away either. This album is soooo damn good. It happens to contain my absolute favorite song released this year in the incredible, 'At Last! The Celestial Being Speaks'. Read my previous First/Last with main man Taylor Muse here.

Local boys making the list! My affinity to these snot nosed kids is indescribable. The music on the two EP's they have put out isn't anything Earth-shattering but I found I just cannot not stop listening to it. They are finding their legs and I predict they are going to blow everyone away soon. Read my previous First/Last with them here.

I am such a sucker for the so-called 'psychedelic rock'! Music labeled as such has a tendency to wear thin after awhile but in this particular case, the record sounds as fresh and exciting with each listen as it did the first time I heard it. This would have been a killer show to have seen for sure. Read my previous First/Last with Tim Presley here.

Favorite Pittsburgh Albums of 2012

There were way too many Pittsburgh releases that could have made this list. I seriously would have been here all day. Please do yourself a favor and check out the latest albums from Good Night States, Bear Cub, Meeting of Important People, Costello & The Cool Minors, Coronado, Sleep Experiments, Satin Gum, Grand Piano, Several Conclusions, Instead of Sleeping, The Long Time Darlings, Fist Fight in the Parking Lot, Gypsy & His Band of Ghosts, Pet Clinic, Dan Getkin & The Masters of American Music, The Color Fleet, Ivory Weeds, City Dwelling Nature Seekers, Big Snow Big Thaw, The Lopez, Action Camp, Legs Like Tree Trunks, New Victorians and The Committee for Getting Attention. Support our local artists.

The Harlan Twins-Old Familiar
This aptly titled sophomore effort showcases the band's best attributes. Always reliable good ole rock and roll with a tinge of country boogie. The Harlans are best heard live in a boozy club setting but believe me, this is the next best thing.

Broken Fences-Broken Fences
I've really enjoyed listening to this debut from the local duo. It's heartfelt, delicate folk without turning too precious or sappy. Would love to hear these two 'plug in' and rock out. In time.

Triggers-Forcing a Smile
Most of the material on this, their long awaited second full length, I have heard live many times so it's fitting this album sounds like it's been around for years.

Black Moth Super Rainbow-Cobra Juicy
Local weirdos' triumphant return to form after several years to put the melody into the vocoder as instrument. My favorite album of theirs yet.

Madeline & The Metropolis-Madeline & The Metropolis
Surprise of the year for me as these guys came outta nowhere and put on one of the best sets at their CD Release gig I have seen all year. No wonder, these songs are catchy pop that are sure to put this scene on notice.

Favorite Live Moments of 2012

If the box set wasn't enough, it was announced that Karl was not only making a rare concert appearance in town, he was playing a special studio solo session at WYEP the day before which you can check out here. Now, I normally would have picked the moment at Altar Bar when Karl pointed to me me as he started, 'Sweet Soul Dream' but going into the studio session, I saw Karl's manager and asked if I could shoot sound check? He obliged and I found myself alone in the room as Karl rehearsed his set and was able to chat with him for several minutes before the rest of the crowd entered. Pretty damn cool!
With that being said, I cannot even begin to rank from the other 194 bands I saw this past year (only 196...yeah, I know I'm slipping). But many stand outs were Roger Waters, Hotel Lights, The Beach Boys, WOODS, The Belle Brigade, Sharon Van Etten, Basia Bulat, and Lydia Loveless

Favorite Photo of the Year
Meeting of Important People/Mr. Smalls Funhouse/Friday, August 24, 2012

1/80-f 2.8-16mm-ISO 1600
Out of  the thousands and thousands of shots I took this year, why this one? Easy. When anyone asks me what makes a good concert photo, I respond that there are several obvious factors involved. Being at the exact right place at the exact right moment. Having a photogenic subject. Substantial and interesting lighting. All these are key for sure, but for me the images that capture my attention are the few that convey the photographer's love for the subject matter. In other words, if my heart isn't into the shoot, the photo will reflect that more than any other reason I can think of.
When this gig was announced, I asked Josh (as the norm, I usually contact someone from the band I am shooting whether their manager or publicist) where and when I can shoot? He replied, "I've got a ticket with your name on it bud!  This is OUR FREAKIN SHOW and you are free to go anywhere you damn well feel-- on-stage, behind the bar, backstage, parking lot, anywhere :)". Needless to say, I was jazzed and I truly believe my longtime appreciation for these guys reflects in the photo.
This show was an absolute blast as the band, the crowd, the whole room was ON! Midway through the show they 'stripped' down for their acoustic set and as you can see with some of the other images, I decided that the one above was the keeper. I always realize that my opinion on what makes a photo work may not be what others feel but that's art, man. I stick with what I think I know and run with that!

And finally, amazingly, there was this. Just too cool.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

First/Last 'The Essentials'-Earlimart

"Whilst considering the eponymous inspiration for the band name—an impoverished little cowtown halfway between frontman Aaron Espinoza’s birthplace of Fresno and his adopted hometown of Los Angeles, the musical mecca where he was destined to meet band-mate Ariana Murray—LA Weekly once noted that Earlimart isn’t really a place at all, but a journey: As skipper of “The Ship”—both a recording studio and a musical collective that includes emerging stars such as Silversun Pickups, Let’s Go Sailing, Irving, and Sea Wolf, band founder Espinoza has been one of the cornerstones of the Silver Lake music scene since the late ’90s. A studio svengali and in-demand session man, he’s produced records by The Folk Implosion and The Breeders, helmed sessions for Silversun Pickups, and recorded with Grandaddy and the late Elliott Smith.
As Earlimart, Espinoza and longtime bassist, keyboardist and musical collaborator, Ariana Murray, have been local celebrities for years, hailed for a critically praised body of work: 2003’s Everyone Down Here and the accompanying EP The Avenues, breakthrough releases endowed with sophisticated washes of brooding rock and experimental pop; and 2004’s elegiac Treble & Tremble, a gorgeous album which mixed the group’s continuing interstellar pop with splashes of subtle folk and alt-country"

It would be utterly impossible for me to express how much I love this band, so I won't even begin to try. I can put it this way, I can count on two of my fingers my favorite bands of all time still making music and Earlimart is one of them. I will also say that they released their seventh full length, "System Preferences" this past year and as with the previous six, it's just so great. You can find the band at it's official Website, Facebook, MySpace and Twitter. A huge thanks to frontman Aaron Espinoza (Guitars/Vocals) for taking a few minutes to participate in this last 2012 edition of First/Last.

The first album you ever bought?
The Police, “Synchronicity”.

Your last album bought?
Tom Waits, “Nighthawks at the Diner”.

Favorite album of all time?
The Beatles, “The White Album”.

Least favorite/most disappointing album?
I don't care for Sigur Ros.

First concert attended?
Duran Duran.

Last concert?
ZZ Top in Houston.

Favorite concert ever?
The Pixies/Radiohead at Coachella.

Least favorite concert?
Hmm…Earlimart at Nordstroms.

Any thoughts, experiences about Pittsburgh?
The first time Earlimart played in Pitt. Back in 2000. We we're booked at this pretty big industrial factory type shed thingy. It was way too big for us. We we're opening for a band called The Waxwings...who had to cancel. one was there. Right before we started two guys came in. They said they we're there to see The Waxwings. We played our hearts out for ‘em anyhow.

Thanks so much, Aaron. It means a whole lot you played along, man. Still holding my breath for another Pittsburgh gig. Have a Happy New Year, buddy.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Friday, December 21, 2012

First/Last-The Long Time Darlings

"Forming in October of 2008, The Long Time Darlings agreed on a simple mission statement: Make exciting records and play memorable shows. The band wasted no time putting this mission into action playing their first show in December of 2008 to a packed house at 31st Street Pub and completing their debut demo “Skeleton Pirate” at the top of 2009."
The band can be found at their official  Website, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, MySpace and Iron City Rocks. As Christmas arrives early,  I am really excited to be bringing you the premier of TLTD's brand new EP, "Death-O-Sketch" for a free download. Three tunes of balls to the wall crunchy rock offered up for your listening pleasure. My thanks to Brett Staggs (Vocals/Guitars), Brian Sproul (Lead Guitar) and Doug Kochmanski (Drums) for taking the time to participate in this edition of First/Last.

The first album you ever bought?
Brett Staggs: The first album I personally went to the store and purchased was “Somewhere Between Heaven and Hell” by Social Distortion, on cassette tape. Still have it, great album. ‘Cold Feelings’ was my favorite track.
Brian Sproul: The Monkees’ “Greatest Hits”.
Doug Kochmanski: First one I can remember buying by myself, with my own money, was Soul Asylum's "Grave Dancer's Union." Great title.

Your last album bought?
Brett: ZZ Top, “La Futura”, produced by Rick Rubin. Amazing album, thick and sexy.
Brian: “I Love You, It’s Cool”, Bear in Heaven.
Doug: Tift Merrit, "Traveling Alone".

Favorite album of all time?
Brett: “Love & Theft” by Bob Dylan. Learning the words and style of this blues/folk masterpiece is the most fun experience I’ve ever had with an album.  (Even though Dylan says he doesn’t want people to sing along, oh well, sorry Bobby!)
Brian: Van Halen, “1984”.
Doug: Holy crap. Ummmm...This answer changes constantly. First albums that come to mind are Counting Crows' "August and Everything After", Bruce's "Born to Run", Nick Lowe's "Jesus of Cool" or maybe Neil Young's "Rust Never Sleeps".

Least favorite/most disappointing album?
Brett: Robbie Robertson made a solo album with Daniel Lanois and I can’t find a single thing about that record that’s any good at all. I keep thinking I’m being too critical, so if someone can explain this to me I’d be all ears.
Brian: The Stones Roses, “Second Coming”.
Doug: Pretty much every Radiohead album after "Kid A". Anything by Animal Collective. What a bunch of nonsense.

First concert attended?
Brett: Art Garfunkel (solo) in Williamsport, PA. I was around 10 or 11. I was really impressed by the drummer during ‘Mrs. Robinson’ but then I fell asleep.
Brian: Def Leppard.
Doug: Veruca Salt and Bush, Civic Arena, 1997.

Last concert?
Brett: Caleb Pogyor & The Keystone Trio.
Brian: Nick Lowe.
Doug: Neil Young and Crazy Horse, Petersen Events Center, 2012.

Favorite concert ever?
Brett: 7-Seconds at the Daily Grind in Kansas City, 1996.
Brian: Sunny Day Real Estate at The  Agora in Cleveland.
Doug: Nick Lowe, Mr. Small's, 2012.

Least favorite concert?
Brett: Bright Eyes when Dawes opened for them at Stage AE. Dawes was great, Bright Eyes had this odd light show going on and the mix was so awkwardly loud that I just left.
Brian: Bob Dylan in Washington, PA.
Doug: Suicide Machines, Club Laga, 2000. Great show, but I got bruised ribs.

Favorite thoughts, experiences about Pittsburgh?
Brett: A friend of mine is in an MBA program at Carlow and met a girl in one of his classes who was born and raised in Hollywood. Her parents were both in the movie business and naturally he asked her why she came to Pittsburgh for her Masters, and she very matter-of-factly answered, “Because Pittsburgh is going to be the next Portland.” I thought that was pretty cool to hear an outside perspective of what this great city could/should become for all the great music that is made here.
Brian: Too many to name. I am an unabashed “homer,” I love everything about this city and I share the same overwhelming pride that Pittsburghers have. When you are travelling and run into someone from Pittsburgh there’s an instant bond, a sense of brotherhood that is hard to describe and seems uniquely “Pittsburgh.”
Doug: I love that all the pro sports teams have the same colors. I like the sexy triangular shape of our downtown area. I like sandwiches.

Thanks, fellas. Too cool of you to let me introduce the EP! Happy Holidays, brothers.

Monday, December 17, 2012

First/Last-Sharon Van Etten

 "The shimmering sound of Sharon Van Etten’s Jagjaguwar debut album, Tramp, both defies and illuminates the unsteadiness of a life in flux. Throughout the 14 months of scattered recording sessions, Van Etten was without a home -- crashing with friends and storing her possessions between varied locations. The only constant in Van Etten's life during this time was spent in the garage studio of The National’s Aaron Dessner."
As I prep my annual 'year in review posts', I keep going back to Sharon's career defining 2012. Her latest album,"Tramp",  is ending up on seemingly everyone's top ten list and her two stops in Pittsburgh were basically the same set but might as well have been night and day in terms of musical experiences for me. Her first gig at the lecture hall in April was a stunning example of what music can do. I was hypnotized by the set as opposed to her later gig outdoors in June where, believe me, the band was spot on, it's just that whole scene took some intimacy away from her music and it just reinforced the power of the first show. You can find Sharon on her Website, Facebook, Twitter, Bandcamp and SoundCloud. She was way cool enough to take the time right before she left for Europe to open up for Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds on a string of dates to participate in this edition of First/Last.

The first album you ever bought?

Your last album bought?
Angel Olsen.

Favorite album of all time?
Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, “The Boatman's Call”.

Least favorite/most disappointing album?
Spice Girls.

First concert attended?
The Kinks & Aimee Mann.

Last concert?
Ed Askew.

Favorite concert ever?
Lower Dens at Mercury Lounge.

Least favorite concert?
Roger McGuinn.

Any thoughts, experiences about Pittsburgh?
Beautiful city. Hard working people.

Thanks, Sharon. Looking forward to seeing you again in 2013. Hopefully, inside again this time.

Friday, December 14, 2012

First/Last-Delicious Pastries

 Poster courtesy of Maggie Negrete

Friday, December 14, 2012
North Side

"delicious pastries are a pop outfit unencumbered by the fleeting dalliances of the new rock vogue. forged in the fire of friendship and galvanized by a deep love of the pop idiom, they create melodic vignettes as familiar as they are odd. whimsical and literate; equal parts yesterday and today."

This is happening. This blowout features a slew of my absolute favorite killer Pittsburgh bands and I will be there...period. My thanks to DP's Jonathan Chamberlain (Vocals/Guitar/Keys) for taking a few minutes to participate in this edition of First/Last.

"!! Such a funny game !! I always get the feeling, when I play this, that there's someone at the top of a staircase asking me which stairs I've skipped and which one I liked standing on the most. 
When I walk back down it's completely different.  Know what I mean?
I love all of the different doors we've walked through to end up playing in this group.
I feel like we're all fluent in different languages.  Masters of our own sounds."

Here's how I play:

The first album you ever bought?
I started with tapes, and distinctly remember buying several at the same time, for my first walkman. The Spin Doctors, “Pocket Full of Kryptonite” (haha, where have they gone?  and don't blame it on grunge, that's just lazy).
ABBA, “Gold” (because my mother listened to it on repeat when I was a kid).
The Byrds, “Greatest Hits” (I wanted to design my own cover for the album, because I hated the one on the tape. I literally turned the album art around and drew on the back).

Your last album bought?
Rupert Angeleyes, “When The Sangria Dies” (check out ‘Karen’ and tell me you aren't in love. This is my buddy Kyle's solo project from Sleeping in the Aviary).

Favorite album(s) of all time?
Emitt Rhodes Recordings “1969-1973” [Original Recording Remastered].
Van Dyke Parks, “Song Cycle”.
Billy Nicholls, “Would You Believe?”.
J.K. & Co., “Suddenly One Summer”.

Least favorite/most disappointing album?
My list is too long. Don't get me started. When I begin it's not like someone stepping on your toes, it's like I'm stomping them mercilessly.
Anything The Boss ever did, anything John Mellencamp did, the new Animal Collective, the new Sufjan Stevens, any Best Coast album, anything with auto-tune, Christmas Music, YOU'RE THE WORST I DON'T WANT TO BE YOUR FRIEND, YOU HATE PETS! (See what I mean)

First concert attended?
Jimmy Beaumont and The Skyliners, 1986.

Last concert?
Pet Clinic.

Favorite concert ever?
Lightning Bolt at the Corral Room in Madison, WI, 2004.

Least favorite concert?
Os Mutantes in Chicago, IL, 2006,  They sounded like Santana and sang in English.

Favorite thoughts, experiences about Pittsburgh?
I tell people that PGH isn't the end of the rainbow, but it's pretty close. I love the homespun DIY ethic, our bottom-up mentality, our top-down funding for the arts. Let me see some of that money! A month ago I was walking towards the Warhol Museum and saw the curator Eric Shiner on one side of the street and Rick Sebak on the other. All that was missing was a Primanti Bros. sandwich in the center of the street and that annoying "Here We Go" Steelers song, and it would have been the perfect Pittsburgh moment. I also love Bob's Garage in Blawnox at Christmastime, Rankin Steel Mill (besides the graffiti), Three Rivers Stadium, and Chicken Latino in the Strip District.

Thanks, Jonathan. See you tonight my brother.