Before the 1980’s pittsburgh was kind of the place to be if you were an industry worker. The city was responsible for its huge steel industry but then the industry collapsed which led to a loss of jobs and a bunch of other horrible things. Eventually, after decades of rebuilding it became known for its medical and tech enclave and as a livable city for young artist types. But even with the tech boom, Pittsburgh isn’t necessarily on the map in terms of electronic music and arguably is even less affiliated with hip-hop. Don’t get me wrong though; to say Pittsburgh doesn’t have a scene for both genres would be a lie (the VIA festival, Garfield Artworks (RIP)), its just that when you speak about music and Pittsburgh an image of a 20-something college drop out with 00 gauged earlobes and an Acacia Strain t-shirt is the first thing that pops into my mind. However, on any other day you might walk by a bar or coffee shop and catch a peek of a poetry session in progress. The performing poet may be Cliff Fields and when Fields isn’t doing an impromptu poetry jam he’s likely working on a number of projects, namely his acoustic hip-hop project The Dark March whose debut EP dropped right at the beginning of 2015.
‘Offshore‘ is a collection of 7 lo-fi acoustic or semi-acoustic songs in which Fields speaks wordy poetry and raps over. The artistry on ‘Offshore’ is much like the bedroom pop you’d find on a tape label like Orchid Tapes. There is a certain rewarding experience when listening to lo-fi music . Its rewarding because there is a level of intimacy between the musician and the listener that would otherwise be lost with a fully flesh out and produced record. As a listener you can image the artist sitting in their room writing and recording songs on a tape recorder or into their lap top – in a way you can envision yourself doing the same – you mouth the words to the songs and see yourself becoming the artist in a sense. Its easy to relate to because you could do it yourself.
Fields does this well on his EP, you can imagine him writing the opening track, ‘unfair’, a track that immediately sets the mood for the album – being that this isn’t a hip-hop album with acoustic instrumentals, its a folk record with a hip-hop attitude – from session musician, Kyle Roberts bedroom quality acoustic guitar to the “too far away from the mic / too close to the mic” vocal performances of Fields – the content is either in your face or its far in the distance – its raw but not in an off putting way. But even when Field’s voice gets lost in the mix, most notably on the instrumentally lush title track, his voice is still upfront in the way that it is confrontational – pulling the listener in to try to hear every word and dissect what exactly he’s talking about – heart ache, breaking habits, picking up the pieces? Its all up to you.
Between the first track and the album’s title track, the transition is quick but so smooth and is noticeably the only track that doesn’t feature acoustic guitar. The beat, a cut by Green Assassin Dollar is just so good but real merit is how well it maintains ties with the acoustic nature of the album regardless. The track is short, much like a lot of the tracks on this album which is why it works so well, there’s no bullshitting around, its a to the point kind of deal that only makes it more enjoyable when you feel forced to play it back one more time.
The next track ‘eastside’ kind of breaks the ties with the previous tracks, much like that of ‘offshore’ in that it features some electronic accompaniment from PSI Diego. Its easily the more intense anything on the EP gets – Fields raps with strained intensity, each word comes with a bit of bite and the blown out sound that comes through with his voice only adds to the aggression that comes with each lyric. Its a nice separation from the otherwise mellow flow of the EP, presenting itself as a peak, a half way point sandwiched between the two calmer halves of the EP as the next three tracks feel wholly acoustic.
With the albums closer its easy to say that although Fields has a good ear for selecting a couple great instrumentals the real staying power of this EP comes with his songwriting and ability to tell a story through a series of short vignettes.
This is one of the absolute best albums I have listened to coming from the internet homemade music scene, straight from Austin, Texas. It’s incredibly pretty music, but it’s also mature, complex and rich of emotion. The lyrics are wonderful, delivered with beautiful singing in breathtaking melody. The banjo-playing is just perfect. Taken aback by the quality of the first track, I thought to myself that they couldn’t keep that level for the whole album, and wondered if any track is less than repeat-listening worthy. None at all. The last song is one of the most beautiful also.
The album goes back and forth between alternative country a purer folk and country music, with a few stops for overwhelming Tom Waits influence (Tracks 7 and 9, at least). You get the great feeling of listening to something that has deep root in culture. For Americans, the “100% made in America” feel must be very satisfying. The lyrical content is less rooted in the imagery of its lyrical content, but that’s skin-deep. The deep American folk view of looking at the world is the most important thing to preserve, and it’s all here. The folk phraseology is there, the way of talking, centered on very real things and their emotional meaning, with expressions such as “cherished more than gold” and “I think I’ve grown a little thinner”. No embarrassing stories about a horse sung by a twenty-something guy, just a country sort of thinking and talking, such as in the marvelous “Proper Fence”. A spoken voice sample about the penis is the only very disconnected thing I could find, in the most out-there tracks, the farther away from country, with a nice alternative country melody.
Only bad thing I can say about this is that I miss having the lyrics somewhere. (edit: lyrics here)
This is an album I randomly happened across while I was browsing through the “field recordings” tag section on bandcamp. The cover art and odd name (Google translate tells me it’s Swedish) intrigued me and I decided to check it out since it was a free download and I needed some new music.
Now just let me say, this is pretty fucking cool and actually really different than I expected. It’s a bunch of folky, largely instrumental, acoustic songs, often with more than one guitar playing, with nature recordings and occasional other ambientish sounds playing in the background. It’s pretty straightforward with what it’s trying to do but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The field recordings add a nice ambient aspect to the acoustic guitars and compliment them well. This album is fairly lo-fi but the recording and mixing isn’t really that bad, it’s just not very produced. There are occasionally some slight effects on the guitars but they are subtle enough to miss if you aren’t really paying attention. Altogether it was quite an enjoyable experience and I’ll definitely be listening to it again.
Recommended if you like Sung Tongs, Pullhair Rubeye, or maybe even Grouper. It has that kind of naturey feeling.
Rating: 7/10 (on first listen, may change later after more listens)
Crywank is the depressing folk/anti-folk/folk punk project of James Clayton from Manchester, UK. His description of this album is as follows
“My new album ‘Narcissist On The Verge Of A Nervous Breakdown’ is a collection of paranoid songs mostly about me trying to understand my own sadness along with the concept of sadness as a whole. It was fueled by self help books and pot.
I recorded this album in my parents dining room. Most of the songs on this album are the first take of me trying to record them (some needed a few more takes as I messed up my first attempts) and so it’s riddled with mistakes, but hopefully you can forgive that. Where my first album was tied to the topic of dealing with a breakup, this album has less of a definite focus. Most of the songs are about coping with and deconstructing my sadness, some are about odd things that happened in my past, and others are just about people and scenes. They where mostly fueled by stupid dark thoughts, and through songwriting I’ve tried to get past them.”
I listened to this awhile ago when it first came out because James posted it on /mu/. I didn’t think much of it at first because I’m not usually into this kind of music, but re-listening to it again now I realize that this album is actually really great. It gives off such a personal and honest feeling that I personally wish I could pull off with my own music. This is probably one of the most emotional and hard-hitting albums I’ve heard so far this year and if you are going to listen you better be prepared for some damn emotional music. Despite the sloppy guitar playing (sorry James), this album doesn’t lose any atmosphere or impact from it. In fact I believe the mistakes and bad technique add a lot to the massive personality of this record, something which a lot of bands/artists try to achieve and fail at.
In conclusion, have some tissues handy if you’re gonna listen to this album because you’ll probably need them.
Favorite Track(s): “Now I’m Sad (Boo Hoo)”, “It’s OK, I Wouldn’t Remember Me Either”, “You Couldn’t Teach Me Integrity”