This morning, I made a delightfully bizarre discovery while plumbing the depths of Pittsburgh-based Bandcamp profiles. “How things are made” is a local podcast/improvisational music project that plays out like an NPR Tiny Desk-meets-Eric Andre special. Their songs/segments begin innocuously enough, with a soothing narrator introducing the coming piece, but things quickly veer off into surreal or nonsensical territory before leading into the actual music, which is often surreal or nonsensical itself. I’m guessing that the pod/band is run by a consistent cast of members, but each “season” (which can be equated to a standalone album) features a number of stylistically varied guest musicians as well. The segments contained within a season are tied together by a consistent, if loose, theme, often something completely absurd.
Season 5, entitled Staff Retreat, was originally released earlier this year. I couldn’t choose just one track from Season 5, so I’m going to discuss several. The second song of the season, “Marshmallow Cookies,” is introduced by an Ira Glass-ian voice that begins, “Hey! This is Carl, reporting to you from inside a bag of chips. I just recently avoided what could’ve been a major salt burn to let you known that the Pennington Chip Company’s annual retreat will take place in lodge number six this year…” The song itself is a bizarre, freeform jam featuring Derek Bendel on tenor sax, Albert Manders on “some instrument that is not a baroque flute,” David Matthews on “dog toys, I think,” and Kevin Sap saying “doo doo doo.” We know this because a Siri-esque voice credits the musicians after they’re done playing.
Unexpectedly, the season’s next segment, the nine-minute “Loudspeakers,” featuring notable Pittsburgh singer-songwriter Emily Rodgers and seasoned guitarist Erik Cirelli, contains a raw, heartbreaking ballad led by fingerpicked acoustic and blasted into the stratosphere by washes of textured electric guitar. Musically and tonally, it could not be more different from “Marshmallow Cookies,” but the inclusion of such an intense and heartfelt song immediately after a goofy improv session makes the experience of Staff Retreat all the more surreal.
Of course, “Loudspeakers” is followed by “Electronic Door Locks,” which sounds like a game of Pokemon Red being played at 2x speed on a faulty GameBoy Color. The description for this song reads:
The following music will be pumped into your room until all employees have signed the PTO waiver. As a reminder, if your accrued PTO balance exceeds your projected PTO balance, you may not exchange the complimentary lanyard for the flashlight keyring. If your PTO balance projection was unable to be forecasted because you live in a bag of chips, you are now board chair.
Makes perfect sense!
I thoroughly enjoyed listening to Staff Retreat this morning, and I’m heartened by the immense “How things are made” back catalogue available on Bandcamp. Recommended for fans of music, comedy, comedic music, or musical comedy.
More from How things are made: https://howthingsaremade.bandcamp.com/
Check out Emily Rodgers’ music: https://emilyrodgers.bandcamp.com/