Yearly Yinz 2020: Songs

TOBACCO – Centaur Skin

Black Moth Super Rainbow aren’t what I’d call a “sexy” band, unless you consider dusty robots with broken circuits doing hallucinogens and making music in a secluded cabin “sexy.” Their frontman, TOBACCO, however, upped the sultry factor on “Centaur Skin,” a cut from his solo album (appropriately named Hot Wet & Sassy). An insistent, arpeggiated bass line provides the perfect vehicle for TOBACCO to make like a vocoded, ghoulish lothario and deliver some honest-to-goodness pop hooks. It’s like The Weeknd, but with wires spitting electricity everywhere.


INEZ – Reload

The second that INEZ announces herself by declaring “I’m a big, big, big, big, big, big problem,” you know that “Reload” is going to be a breath of flame delivered through gritted teeth. Her voice is gruffer, louder, and harder than before, capable of delivering a 12-gauge hook and then settling into a simmering Bone Thugs N Harmony triplet flow soon after. INEZ may sing a lot of love songs, but she’s still here to kick your ass.


Chalk Dinosaur – Song Of An Eastern Wind (ft. David and Helen O’Hallaron)

John O’Hallaron’s Chalk Dinosaur, a project that has encompassed electro-funk, breezy pop, sunny lounge, and more, created a haunting intergenerational collaboration with “Song Of An Eastern Wind,” a track built around decades-old samples of the artist’s parents playing music of their own. O’Hallaron’s added percussion draws the song forward in time, while the grainy snippets of sounds past leave it suspended somewhere in between. In a year when a lot of people missed out on seeing their families, this song resonates even more. 


KeyDaIntro – SummerBabyBlues (ft. Ensilence)

KeyDaIntro (short for KeyDaIntrovert, not KeyDaIntroduction), like her frequent collaborator and producer Yorel Tifsim, specializes in slooow, sultry R&B that slides along like a bead of sweat down an exposed arm on a humid summer day. “SummerBabyBlues,” which features a verse from New Castle MC Ensilence, slinks along at a sexy snail’s pace (is there such thing as a sexy snail? Who knows, ask Gary), the perfect jam for those days when all you can do is hope your old, busted fan cools you enough until the sun sets.


Glo Phase – Into The Quartz Era

Joseph Rusnak’s Glo Phase consistently delivers evocative dance music that encompasses downtempo, psychedelia, and deep, deep house styles. Dude sounds like he’s playing an endless late-night set at a deep sea grotto rave somewhere, his beats filtered and refracted through layers of water. “Into The Quartz Era,” from October’s serene Pearl Diving, rides gossamer synths and a bass line that sounds like “Walking With Elephants” gone all Game Boy Advance into a flickering sunset.


Ky Vöss – Masochism

Coping Mechanisms, Ky Vöss’s follow-up to 2019’s breakout Space Cadet, did not disappoint, and “Masochism” is its thrilling centerpiece. Like a synth-pop bullet train, it barrels over everything in its path, both anthemic and haunting. Everything about the song is huge, from the cavernous reverb to the soaring chorus; Ky Vöss (and maybe Purity Ring) are the only artists with the ability to make you belt phrases like, “Climb into my throat and reach down and touch my spine” while you’re driving.


Withering Presence – Glaucous Emanations from the Sundered Stone Cross

It’s no surprise that the most haunting song I heard from a Pittsburgher this year was inspired by time spent in Allegheny Cemetery, whose weathered gravestones denote countless stories of love and loss. The grainy, droning “Glaucous Emanations from the Sundered Stone Cross” is the music that plays after the end of the world, when swirling dust particles are the only remains of everything you’ve ever known.  


Jack Swing – Get What’s Mine For You

In September, Jack Swing released their best song to date, a supercharged funk fest featuring syncopated guitar stabs and that instrument from “Superstition.” “Get What’s Mine For You” sees frontman Isaiah Ross go full rock star, yipping his way through verses like David Byrne, easing into a soulful falsetto during the chorus, and then burning the house down with a searing guitar solo to close things out. Forget Bell Biv DeVoe (don’t really, because “Poison” is too nice); Jack Swing is now the new Jack Swing.


Chiller – Dread Creeps In

Chiller’s self-titled EP, released in February, clocked in at 318 seconds, so I’ll keep it brief. “Dread Creeps In” kicks ass. Razor wire guitars, galloping drums, faintly poppy chord progressions, beautifully barked vocals. Conjures the atmosphere of a mosh pit in a vacant Polish Hill lot.


Alvin Row – Waiting for you

Alvin Row’s Kosher is a kind of sonic collage, made up of disparate sound fragments mashed together into lively new shapes. On “Waiting for you,” car engines zoom, a disembodied voice laughs mirthlessly, a boi-oi-oi-oing machine boi-oi-oi-oings, and chimes glisten before the thing transitions into a frantic drum sample break and finally blossoms into a soulful, Balearic groove. The sources may have nothing to do with each other, but the product is pure joy.


BrothaMans – Discovery

Notable for his high volume of releases and for his energetic freestyles, rapper BrothaMans made his foray into icy trap balladry with “Discovery.” A spooky, cavernous slow jam in the vein of La Flame’s best (straight up!), the track is built around subsonic bass drones and sparse percussive clicks. BrothaMans even breaks out the falsetto a few times! It was the highlight of a productive year for the artist.



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