Princess Nostalgia – The Talking Drug
Lili Traviato’s Princess Nostalgia has dropped a number of loosies over the past few years (some of which are included on December’s Thank Goodness 4 Opposable Thumbs), none more tantalizing than March’s single, “The Talking Drug.” A futuristic, slinky slow-burner (produced by Princess N herself—she’s a producer, not a damn singer) about a woman with a crush on her therapist, the song showcases the artist’s sultry and heady sides, often at the same time. Guest guitarist Joe Leytrick allows his chords to slide across his fretboard like a therapeutic hand on the nape of a neurotic neck. With “The Talking Drug,” Princess Nostalgia officially staked her claim to Pittsburgh pop royalty.
The Lopez – Hobby Lobby
When Jesse Flati, one half of the noise pop duo The Lopez, died unexpectedly in October 2018, the Pittsburgh music community and the world lost a vital soul. Flati is remembered as an enthusiastic music fan and as an advocate for non-male artists in particular. He and his bandmate (and wife), Steph Flati, also incorporated a heavy feminist influence into their own music. May’s Heart Punch, the final Lopez album, stands as a testament to the duo’s chemistry, energy, and passion for justice. “Hobby Lobby” rides Jesse’s signature guitar din straight through David Green’s wall as Steph decries those who commodify women’s bodies. A noisy, righteous, and funny memento of a great band and an excellent person.
Tribe Eternal x NVSV – Local Celebrity
With “Local Celebrity,” Clara Kent, Bilal Abbey, Pharaoh Lum, and NVSV put the city on notice. The track is an old fashioned posse cut, with an instrumental that contains just the right amount of drifting menace to match Mysterious Shit’s loose Halloween theme (it dropped on the 31st) and to set the tone for some lyrical carnage. NVSV kicks things off with a steely sing-song, Kent freezes her usual chilled-out croon into an icy murmur, Bilal packs his bars full of tumbling triplets, and Lum delivers the killshot with conversational gruffness. To paraphrase NVSV’s hook, these artists are making moves and making shit move.
Chariot Fade – Mirror Go Round
From the ashes of Pittsburgh favorites Delicious Pastries rose the pop masterminds of Chariot Fade. Of the four tracks the band released this year, “Mirror Go Round” is their magnum opus, a thumping, psychedelic funhouse ride featuring syncopated funk guitars and synth lines that squiggle around like streamers. Frontman Jonathan Chamberlain jumps from images of sleeping polygons to prayers for hope and peace like a sweaty preacher who’s had too much of the special punch, and the song climaxes in an ecstatic swell of Arcade Fire-y whoops and ba ba backing vocals. It’s the most colorful, geometric party you’ll have all year.
String Machine – Old Mack
It’s funny that my favorite track from String Machine’s sprawling prog-folk opus, Death of the Neon, is the shortest and most musically straightforward. The rollicking “Old Mack” tells the story of a “piece of shit dog” that had a habit of biting people; frontman David Beck got four steel stitches in his face as a result of their encounter. A hard-luck barroom singalong, the song also includes a gang-vocaled “Hap..py…BIRTHDAY!” and an epic key change. Old Mack may have been a bastard, but his nasty, brutish, long life makes for one hell of a tale.
Leila Rhodes – Santa Ana Wins
The strong downslope winds of Santa Ana, CA are oft referenced in popular culture; The Beach Boys wrote “Santa Ana Winds” in 1980, and singer/songwriter/producer/guitarist Leila Rhodes dropped the D in 2019. “Santa Ana Wins” is a psychedelic, genre-hopping road trip from the West Coast to the East; what starts as a bluesy summertime reverie builds to a booming hip-hop sermon during which Rhodes rains wisdom upon the world like a benevolent alien astride a purple hovercraft made entirely of six-string fuzz. The winners? Santa Ana, Leila Rhodes, and anyone listening.