Yearly Yinz 2019: Songs (Part One)

October ’71 – 51 on Fire

Listening to October ‘71’s Episode IV EP (the first in a nine-part saga, done Star Wars style) is like being thrust into the middle of a Thomas Pynchon novel without so much as reading the back cover. The psych-surf head trip “51 On Fire” teleports you back to early 70’s Pittsburgh; Roberto Clemente highlights are one the radio, and the October ’71 boys are on the run from Uncle Sam. Frontman Rob Stokes sings in a too-cool-for-detective-school monotone, and DC rapper Sir E.U. engages in semi-distorted slam poetry. Crank up this period piece of glorious sensory overload and turn even a trip to the grocery store into a surreal car chase.


Swampwalk – The lost

The bleeps and bloops of video games are part of the generational subconscious of those who grew up during and after the Atari age. Even as gaming has become more sophisticated, the chewy 8-bits and tinny melodic trills that accompany classics like Mario and even Pac Man trigger the reptile brains of youngish people, flashing the word “FUN” in blocky neon letters. Swampwalk’s Anna Hale subverts this mechanism on “The lost,” using Nintendo synths and digitized power chords as a backbone for elusive melodies and hauntingly sung lyrics about “crestfallen creatures” and “stones to place gently in pockets.” An unsettling contrast that tweaks your perception of nostalgic sounds.   



Clocking in at 2:09, “NOSTALGIC,” is one of the shorter tracks on rapper Leek Lone’s blackboyfromaroundtheway, but it stands out due to its distinct end-of-summer mood, established by the looped, melancholic guitar trill around which the instrumental is built. Leek finds himself reminiscing about his vanishing youth; listeners may not have the same exact experiences of “cutting class, toting, drinking in synergy,” but most of us have looked in the mirror at some point and told ourselves something akin to the song’s refrain: “Something’s gotta shake today.” “NOSTALGIC” will give you an insight into another’s life and also make you ponder your own.


Avi Diamond – Barefoot

The “someone” that Avi Diamond references in the chorus to “Barefoot” sure gives good advice. Diamond quotes this person as telling her, “You shouldn’t chase nobody barefoot in the snow,” and “Momma don’t always give you the space you need to grow,” these tidbits of insight backed by rustic acoustic chords and some killer Dobro slide courtesy of guest guitarist Mac Inglis. Not to be one-upped, Diamond drops some rueful wisdom of her own, several highlights being, “Self hate won’t make me straight/It can make me lose weight,” and “I don’t need her/I just want her.” Diamond’s lyrics balance dry humor and genuine heartbreak; she goes barefoot for a while so that we might walk in her shoes.


Son of None – Little Matchstick Empire

Son Of None’s Blizzard Of ’77 is part of the artistic treasure trove left behind by the late Noah Nine, and “Little Matchstick Empire” is the album’s powder keg. A scuzzy, straightforward garage rocker situated amongst bizarre spoken word sketches and ragged acoustic dirges, the song’s immediacy is heightened by its context. Nine threatens to destroy the titular empire and “expose you all for liars,” his voice gleeful and distorted as he chants, “Burn it down!” Subtle production tweaks add a psychedelic edge to the otherwise back-to-basics guitar scorcher. Nine’s irreverent attitude lingers, even though he’s no longer with us.   


The Universe Online – A still love for you

Shane Anthony’s The Universe Online relies on disorientation. His songs tend to feature maximalist synth samples that have been chopped and looped in sequences that refuse to conform to standard musical structure; you think the CD is scratched, but remember soon after that you’re listening to an MP3. “A still love for you” is the rare Universe ballad. A desolate, uncharacteristically spare melodic loop speeds and slows, seemingly at random, while Anthony’s distant voice pleads, “Don’t make your boy disappear.” He’s the ghost in the machine.


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