Pittsburgh

VIDEO PREMIERE: André Costello and the Cool Minors - Kinda (Makes You Feel Good)

Will Shenton

Almost imperceptibly, an otherworldly shimmer hangs over the inviting roads and sprawling fields of André Costello and the Cool Minors' latest video, "Kinda (Makes You Feel Good)." Awash in Americana, from the classic car (with plenty of closeup shots of its well-loved gear stick and vintage rims) to the verdant, rural setting itself, it's an indulgently nostalgic road trip. But hovering at the margins are hints of psychedelia, promising that at any moment the scene might burst into kaleidoscopic hues and break free of the confines of memory.

Costello's songwriting on "Kinda" is characteristically smooth, channeling classic-rock grooves as his irresistible falsetto dances atop the instruments. The car meanders through the countryside, guitar solo tearing along, while the lyrics revel in the simple joys of escape and companionship. It's a relatively uncomplicated track, but a thoroughly enjoyable one that merges the comforts of the past with the promise of an unknown future.

Catch "Kinda (Makes You Feel Good)" on Costello's new LP, Resident Frequencies, out May 11 on Misra Records.

REVIEW: Rob Stokes - Live at the Heartbreak Hotel

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Raquel Dalarossa

There’s not much to be found online about Rob Stokes. Aside from a Bandcamp and an Instagram, information about the musician and artist seems hard to come by. But as it turns out, Stokes is a formidable figure in the Washington, DC indie circuit, where he runs Medium Rare, an initiative that sees Stokes recording, producing, and engineering music for other artists, putting out tapes, as well as curating events. Amidst all of that, the Pittsburgh native has found the time to put together his own album.

Live at the Heartbreak Hotel threads together a background in jazz, a budding career in beat-making, and an easygoing approach to experimentation. It feels like the thematic counterpart to Stokes’ EP last year, Love Was Made for These Times, though the lyrics are not the centerpiece in any of his work (especially given the effects often applied to the vocals, turning them more into instruments than deliverers of actual words). What comes to the fore immediately is how rhythmically driven his songs are.

There’s a lot of variation within these ten tracks, but they meld together beautifully. “Blue” is a soulful slow jam heard through a psychedelic lens, while “In the Cut” is a laid-back guitar-pop dream, ambling along like a summer’s day on just a little bit of acid. Songs like “Space” and “Sharks in the Pond” feature acoustic guitar for a folksier effect, but a lively bass and percussive backdrop keep the groove going. Meanwhile, DC-based rapper SIR E.U features on two jazzy R&B tracks, providing fuzzy but nimble verses that provide a propulsion to balance out Stokes’ mellow singing.

All throughout, even when the tempo goes up, the vibes stay pretty relaxed. It’s easy listening that can find itself in a lounge in the ‘60s or at a jazz club today. And really, that’s what sets Live at the Heartbreak Hotel apart: it feels all at once weird, and classic.

REVIEW: Tobacco - Ripe & Majestic

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Kelly Kirwan

Tobacco has opened the vault to his music catalogue, arranging “collected instrumental rarities and unreleased beats” in his repertoire from the past decade. The 24 tracks that comprise his new release are, true to Tobacco form, alluring in all their oddity. The Pittsburgh-based artist has always gravitated towards a bizarre, mismatched, or against-the-grain aesthetic.

Don't bother asking for his influences—the rudder that guides this electronic hodgepodge of funk, psychedelia, and hip hop styles veering off the beaten path seems to be purely instinctive. Tom Fec, the man behind Tobacco (who’s also a part of the band Black Moth Super Rainbow), has always been clear on his motivations: the music. He’s not here to delve into anecdotes on, say, how he decides between analog or digital. And in taking that stance, a mythical aura seemed to percolate around him: he’s elusive, evasive, and an anomaly of our time for shying away from the spotlight. But, as all rumors tend to be, this is mostly fabricated. Tom Fec doesn't fancy himself a hermit; he simply keeps his personal life personal, and offers us his music instead. 

So, let’s work with what we’ve been given. Ripe & Majestic, released by Rad Cult, is a sprawling piece of work in all respects. The tracks are unique snapshots in time, both in their actual styles as we hear the synths twisting into nostalgic, curious beats, but also in that they serve as viewfinders into Tobacco’s fascinations and leanings over the years. The first track, "Spirits of Perversion," is filled with slinky beats and piquant notes. It’s a song that feels like it belongs in an upscale '90s lounge, with lots of suave patrons stealing furtive (if not subtly longing) glances at each other. And, once the song hit its shuffling stride, it also brought up shades of The Bourne Identity theme music, but as if the trademark tune has been distorted, recognizable in the reflection of a funhouse mirror. 

"Slaughtered by the Amway Guy" is a percussion heavy track that feels primed for a heist montage in which sleek, sunglass-adorned criminals pull off a seemingly insurmountable task in a labyrinth of a bank or casino. It features laser-like synths shooting across the melody, like a spotlight pivoting across the sky, and then ends with an abrupt drop off. Then there’s "Awesome Shitty Body," which has a quick, clapping beat and a distorted arrangement playing on loop in the background. It soon morphs into a lighter, nearly twinkling line of electronica, but never loses its fuzzy edge.

This only begins to scratch the surface of Ripe & Majestic. The album is overflowing with these compelling adornments and melodies that throw us into richly packed and strangely enticing worlds. For me, listening to Ripe & Majestic was like having my mind whirl with all the obscure references I had tucked away in the course of my life. I felt immersed in the music—which is Tobacco’s endgame, after all.