On local musicians

Below are descriptions of five choice active bands and artists from Pittsburgh.

Flak: Flak is one of Pittsburgh’s finest punk bands. Drawing influences from a wide array of punk and metal bands from across the ages, Flak’s ace instrumentalism and shifting song parts make for a very exciting band. The group’s first 7″ is available at stores such as Brave New World, and its first LP should be out soon. www.myspace.com/flakpgh.

Tusk lord: Tusk lord is a one-man musical outfit steadily producing a prolific and varying output that consistently increases in quality. His CD, Famililar Trails, came out a while ago; it features songs like “Sunbeams Piercing the Canopy” that call forth impressions of abstract images, situations, and feelings. Songs are largely electric; they are acoustic-guitar-based but employ a wide array of electronic sound generators. A new album is due out in the future. www.myspace.com/tusklord.

Caustic Christ: Caustic Christ is a Pittsburgh institution. Having toured extensively around the world, there are many who call CC Pittsburgh’s greatest band. It plays fast hardcore, filled with a rare, penetrating energy. Everyone should check out the classic Can’t Relate LP/CD as well as the band’s newest LP Lycanthropy. www.myspace.com/causticchrist.

Warzone Womyn: Warzone Womyn is another of Pittsburgh’s finest punk bands. Playing a style of hardcore known as “power violence,” Warzone Womyn features outstanding songwriting, perfected instrument sound, killer vocal delivery, and lyrics to produce mastery of all tempos. Songs like “Therapy Notes” — available for listening at www.myspace.com/warzwonewomyn — are maddening.

DBL D: DBL D is a somewhat new, very exciting improvisational band. With no set leader, members play off each other and swing collectively in and out of different ideas, as well as in and out of traditional rhythms. The band recently released a CD called Initiation of the Pulse. Check out www.myspace.com/dblddbld.

On the best of 2007

Battles — MirroredMath rock meets heavy electronics. Battles is simply a powerhouse of talent that manages to somehow put it all together and become greater than the sum of its parts. This is the band’s first album, coming out soon on Warp Records. Battles combines beautifully intricate guitars with intense drumming, complex time signatures, and vocals filtered through trippy effects. Definitely one of the most original releases of the year.

Blonde Redhead — *23*Blonde Redhead expands on the melancholy shoegaze formula from its previous album and stretches things in many directions at once. Tracks like “Dr. Strangeluv” are reminiscent of My Bloody Valentine’s guitar textures, while the horns on “Sw” sound like The Beatles’s Penny Lane. This will definitely be one of the pop records of the year.

Gui Boratto — ChromophobiaBoratto’s first full length on Kompakt is a fantastic combination of minimal techno beats and beautiful melodies that expand and contract over time. The album is great in morsels and as a whole. I’d say it’s also a great introduction to minimal electronics for those who traditionally enjoy music with more guitars and vocals due to its varied sound and its suitability for both headphones and the dance floor.

The Field — From Here we go to SublimeAxel Willner’s debut, also on Kompakt records, is an entirely different affair from Boratto’s. The first track, “Over The Ice,” sticks to a two-second loop for a few minutes. The song almost builds a wall around you the more you listen. I found myself getting lost somewhere in the middle of the album; every minute change in the music felt like an erupting volcano. I’d recommend this release for those who are more eager to deal with intense repetition.

Of Montreal — Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer?Of Montreal serves up an intense, exciting indie-rock album in the vein of previous releases, but not without some crazy surprises. The standout is the completely out-of-place 12-minute mountain of a track titled “The Past is a Grotesque Animal.” The song itself is an intense emotional journey, which feels much more serious than the surrounding tracks — fun to have in the middle of the album.

On Recognizing Quality

Last week I read online in The Washington Post about world-famous violinist Joshua Bell, who decided to play in the Washington, D.C. metro for change. Bell hit the subway on January 12 of this year, and the experiment was certainly thought-provoking. To provide some background, Bell played for about an hour and made around $40. He was recognized by exactly one person, and a few others stopped to listen out of the hundreds that rushed by during the morning hour.

Immediately, what I thought about was the way I listen to music and how it affects my opinions. If a friend sits me down with their “pick of the week,” I’m in critical mode. If I’m reading the I Love Music forum online and someone raves about the latest Michael Mayer 12”, I get excited and think I’ll probably like it. I’m not sure where these predispositions come from, but — more importantly — I can’t even tell how much they influence my opinions of what I hear.

Should we experience certain music in the seclusion of headphones, or in a club with sweaty people? I think it definitely makes a difference, but shouldn’t be a concern. I recommend having a sense of trust in your own judgment and response. The article in the Post emphasizes the fact that many people failed to recognize the talent in Bell’s performance, but I feel that many of the passers-by may simply not be interested in the music, regardless of when and where it is performed. If the best Tuvan throat singer came and performed for me, I’m not sure I’d find it interesting. Similarly, in this situation I think that the organizers of this experiment took for granted the universality of classical music’s appeal and drew the wrong conclusion.

The people at L’Enfant Plaza, where Bell performed for a little under an hour, should not be put down for having the wrong priorities and for being unable to appreciate “beauty.” They should be studied and questioned to see what they find beautiful instead.

My sister is a violin performance major. I’ve heard her play for countless hours back at home, and have watched her ability grow over the years. I can tell a good violin performance from a bad one, but that’s about as far as my abilities go. I doubt I would have noticed anything world-famous in Bell’s performance, and it doesn’t really bother me because I don’t care to recognize the thousandth performance of the same old music by yet another violinist of the latest generation. I prefer a new music untainted by the staleness of repeated listening and criticism of centuries.

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