Smokey Bellows is a folk/blues/cowpunk band from here in Pittsburgh, PA. I used to book them at Roboto back when they were called Dick Whiskey and the Bottle Openers. Though the goofy name may have turned some away, they were still a great band. Now called Smokey Bellows, the band released Devil on August 17th of this year. As they say, and I mean nobody, 81718 is the number of the Beast. Save me.

The cover art to Devil is by Mick Malone, a poet and visual artist who I spoke with in February. Mick's art here has the look of blood and ink suggesting an unholy pact with the unhinged depiction of the beast. The title text looks spooky, and the band name is printed boldly like an old chest delivered from the Arctic that might contain a terrible secret. It's perfect for this occult tale.

The first track on Devil, "Prologue", has a swing feel to the blues/folk. The vocals are a little overboard for much of this song. The instrumentation is pretty minimal overall, discordant, and sparse. The piano clashes a bit with the guitar. After the introduction to the story, it's time for "Devil I". I really like the reverb-laden production here, though the bass is a slight bit too loud at first. The guitar jangles like ice under the moon, and the vocals, like Reid Paley himself, tell us the dark tale dramatically. This whole album is very theatrical, recalling Tom Waits. "Devil II" is a heavier rocker. Like ZZ Top, the guitar goes deep into heavy blues thunder and lightning. This is a great song. "Midnight" goes hard rock again, backing vocals howling like cowboy spirits from dirt and grit. The banjo is a nice touch, expertly hidden away behind roaring guitar solos. The guitar is really wild here, almost to Guitar Wolf levels.

"Adrift" begins with a raging man, lost. It explodes, but it's cold and nervous most of the time under the eye of fear. The vocals are a little off, the lyrics a little too specific to the story, written in a way that isn't the most musical. "Epilogue" does the story-telling better in tune with the song. A particularly grim guides our narrator on his descent into Hell. But that's not the end - Screamin' Jay Hawkins' "I Put a Spell on You" follows. This one sits closer to the original than to well-known cover by Creedence Clearwater Revival. Along with "Devil II", this is one of the strongest songs on the album.

Overall, Devil is pretty good. It has a few fault moments, but Smokey Bellows succeeds with this cabaret-tinged tale of damnation and gloom. The album has a similar sound to Chris D.'s Flesh Eaters and Stone By Stone, along with the aforementioned Tom Waits, Screamin' Jay Hawkins, ZZ Top, and CCR. Despite the classic sound and tale, Smokey Bellows produce a unique sound on Devil that shows the past, present, and future of American musick. Devil receives a Good.

Sorry, I'm Dead played at the Deutschtown Music Festival on July 12th, 2018. We ended up playing Friday at 5pm at the YMR Club, the first show with the new lineup.

I was really excited heading down to the festival. I had never been there before, though I had always intended to go. As I have mentioned before, music festivals give me anxiety about missing them and being on time (not about crowds or public spaces), so I often do miss them. Having a deadline helps me stay focused.

We stopped at the green room, and then went down the street to the YMR Club. It was much smaller than I expected, but there was already a decent crowd. The audience didn't seem pleased to see us; I felt like we were invading somebody's semi-private space. Once we started playing, the people seemed to be into it.

We started with an instrumental jam, and then went into an array of classic songs such as "Stand Me Up Tonight", "Killed in an EC Comic", and "Neon". People were dancing and really listening to the musick. There were a few errors on our part, a sense of unsureness within us as a unit. I can't necessarily speak for others, but I can say that we were surely not yet cohesive. It wasn't bad regardless. At the end, members of the audience said how great it was. They really liked us; I don't think they were disingenuous. We decided to stay for the next band at least.

Neostem was next. Basically a grunge band, Neostem was focused in their heavy music. It was pretty cool; I didn't expect to like them as much as I did. The entire scene, the band and the venue, looked like a background stage in King of Fighters. It was refreshing to see a band that was so into what they were doing, and I hope to see them again sometime.

We stopped back at the green room. There was a bunch of good-looking food, but I could eat none of it. It was disappointing but not surprising. We talked with a few of the other bands and a man who used to come up with songs for bands in the 90s, specifically Soundgarden. I think he just came up with ideas for songs and some small parts, not necessarily the whole composition. I was pretty tired and there was a lot going on to pay attention super closely. Regardless, I was interested in his wild stories of rock 'n' roll myth. After that we walked around for a bit, grabbed t-shirts that listed all of the bands and had a cool Joe Mruk illustration, talked with the new Pittsburgh Current, and then drove back to Lawrenceville. Let's do it again next year!

Last time we saw those wacky synth weirdos they were blue; now they are taking over the world! The Corn People have been busy in the months since June doing an album each month of this year. For July, they released Corn People Take Over the World.

What a goofy cover this is. Of course, this is The Corn People. As beings from another world, they do not understand our Earth ways of design and aesthetics. This is just the Corn People corn texture overlaid on a planet with black continent silhouettes and a flag with the same texture. The flag looks pretty cool, and the black and yellow is a strong choice. The text is sort of hard to read too. Overall it's pretty cool like a B-movie music album.

For an album called Corn People Take Over the World, the first track announces that "We Come in Peace". Is this a lie? Is this a put-on? The music is a combination of maracas and other percussion instruments to an ambient, textural decay. A long drone interspersed with blips becomes more percussive and rhythmic as the song continues. Perhaps The Corn People have just come to dance? "Wandering" is a great track. I love the drum sound, though I wish it sounded more within the same realm as the swooping synths. The short pauses towards the later half bring a lot of climactic tension that pays off with choral light. "Planet Corn" is perhaps where The Corn People came from. It seems like a fast and busy place, almost kraut-rock combined with video games and jungle stuff. Perhaps this is the how the planet is now if we assume that Can and Neu! came from that world as well. Truthfully, of the famous kraut-rockers, this sounds the most like Kraftwerk; that beautiful synth that journeyed "Europe Endless" and rode the "Autobahn" seems to be here, ancient alien artifacts (and I don't mean that poofy hair guy riding the Chariots of the Gods?). Next is "In the Beginning". Is this a concept album about The Corn People's journey to Earth and their adventures here so far? It's a beautiful track that reminds me of Zuntata, Taito's legendary prog band. The melodies are wonderful, soaring clouds and stars. The choppy part in the second half does not work as well as the similar part in "Wandering". The end here is pretty weird but cool. The change in composition is weird but striking, going from a more composed nature to something more amateurish. The same drum parts continue into "Tomorrow", a rumbly jam like a 50s sci-fi theatre, a rush of hot wind thru the High Desert. The rumbling dissonance continues into the wind.

A click and then something starts. "Nara Dreamland" announces the second half with false horns and percussive static accompanying your standard drums. The moan of a monster from some lunar asteroid and the chirps of stars like from deep inside an Acid Mothers Temple appear, and then chaos takes over. Apparently Nara Dreamland is the name of a defunct Japanese amusement park; perhaps The Corn People hid out here for some time after landing on our planet. "Pop" is next. Is this how they came to develop their Earthly musick? I assume that The Corn People played musick previously but they may have discovered Yellow Magic Orchestra or the previously mentioned Acid Mothers Temple back in Japan. Maybe it is a statement on pop music, an outlier and the shortest song on the album. "This Was Your Life!" sounds like musick in a game show made with a haunted organ that's rocking back and forth out of control further and further into some strange future. The title makes me think of the TV show and seems like a comment on consumerism to go with the last one. It could also be talking about the changing fortunes of The Corn People. "The Bomb Run" continues with the organing, the fatalistic pounding that the last track became, before being swept over by an air raid siren. It's another in the theme of Atom Age sci-fi storytelling that's been creeping along in a rubber costume. This one really does sound sinister: murmering drones, creaking synthetic tones, an ominous bassline. Finally, somebody returns "Home". I'm not sure who. It seems that they live in a pretty dark place, a crumbling darkness navigated to by ticking hi-hats. Peering out, again I can see the stars, small lighthouses in the abyss. Something speaks. Was it an invasion all along?

Corn People Take Over the World is a great album, their best yet, at least for me. I still have four months more to go thru plus the upcoming December Corn People album. It's gonna be a wild ride through the cornfields from here till 2019. I can't say what the future will hold, but the higher production values and killer but corny songwriting ensure that Corn People Take Over the World receives a Good.

I finally got out to see some live musick at a show I wasn't playing for the first time in a while. I haven't seen a lot of stuff that interested me recently, but I had to get out to see Carsickness and Ploughman's Lunch again.

This show was at the headquarters for Get Hip Recordings, a garage rock-focused label run by the Cynics' guitarist, Gregg Kostelich. All the proceeds went to the Tree of Life Synagogue, the location of the attack in late October this year by a neo-Nazi in the Pittsburgh neighborhood of Squirrel Hill. Karl Mullen, frontman of both bands, also had tons of art for sale focusing on art in the shape of record release formats (45 and LP). My partner and I looked around the Get Hip store a bit before the show; we thought we would end up unfortunately late to see the bands but were somehow on time. Zack Keim, frontman for the young rockers Nox Boys, showed us around the cool and tidy location. I had my eye on a few things, mostly a compilation by the UK band Gobblinz, but would be back to give everything another look once the musick was done.

Maura Moonshine played first, just solo on an electric guitar except for a short accompaniment by her father Karl. Her set was short and more poppy than the latter two bands. One could call it singer-songwriter, a blend of R&B, country, folk, jazz, and blues in a way that works on a small scale. Though it wasn't exactly my bag, so to speak, I did enjoy much of it, especially the Sonic Youth tone of the guitar.

Next was Ploughman's Lunch. I had seen them last on the final night of the BBT. That night they played long - two sets constituting several hours from what I remember. This night was short and perfect. It was just right and combined the punkier songs about hate crimes and police violence with the happier Celtic melodies about whiskey and love. The band seemed in top form - the bass booming, the small penny whistle happily chiming, the guitar skittling and roaring, and the drums bringing it all together. Karl Mullen had an awesome fuzz pedal that really made his leads rip. That carried on over to the next band too.

Carsickness was last, opening with "Bill Wilkinson", their cult hit song that asks, "what do you say to the KKK?" It's not a friendly message to any white-hooded creep, and it is especially powerful to hear now. When the President has turned treachery to the people of this country and the world and emboldened criminals of a similar persuasion across the globe, it is important to remember Edmund Burke's words about how evil wins. We must always stay vigilant against fascists and bigoted thugs. Carsickness took off on this energy with an all-star set of hard-hitting sonic power and exhibitions of togetherness such as "For You". Towards the end, Steve Sciulli, the wind instrument and keyboard player, walked amongst the audience followed by Dennis Childers, the drummer, as he tapped on everything around him (including his bandmates). The band was joined by Maura Moonshine and Gregg Kostelich. Just when the musick seemed to end, Carsickness took off again for a final reprise of "Bill Wilkinson". Karl made sure to ask us what to tell Donald Trump as well as the KKK. The answer will always be, "fuck you".

We headed back to the store, picked up a few things (thanks for playing the Swamp Rats and The Paisley Zipper band for me, Zack!), hung out for a moment or two, and headed out into the night. I hope to see Carsickness again.

Months ago my friend Reid shared a link with me over Facebook Messenger to an album they had done. I put it on a backburner, "I'll listen to that soon." Well, here I am at the end of the year, and I have finally listened to this tape, Carrie Blast Furnishings. I think that you should too.

The cover art is pretty simple. I don't feel much about it. I like the crookedness of the design, and I like the old-timey look connecting it with the Carrie Blast Furnaces referenced by the title. I wish it wasn't just all white though. It's not a design I particularly love.

The first song on Carrie Blast Furnishings is “Dry Mouth Dawn”, a song that goes through small changes before heading into a more traditional form of lyrical folk acoustic guitar works. Reid’s lyrics are introspective and sad, an elegy to weedy evasion on the edge of the waking world, red-eyes separation. The turn at the end suggests the narrator inviting another into the shadowy edges before a tape drone whirrs out the track. Next is “The Archive (Infinite Turns)”, a more sedate work, an empty wooden floor with some small particles that haven’t been swept. “The sun becomes the moon; you think you’re in a stranger’s room”. The song made me happy towards the end. “Letter G” is a kind of a rock song played by brave couch surfers who can rock and even roll. It sounds like The Soft Boys, and it is good. I like it. “I try to make my love like the letter ‘G’.” Is there better than that? “Sisters of Fountain” hisses and croaks and scuffs, a toy in a wind-up factory. “And I drove down to the bog, trudged uphill and mountain, just to get a cool, clean drink from the sisters of the fountain. Oh yeahhhhhhh…” It’s a country song, more so than the others. The song sounds like an excellent metaphor for an abusive situation to me. I’m not sure if the sisters are good or bad though. The ambiance at the end is quite cool. “Swissvale Samba” opens with the strangest combination of old-school cheap keyboard drumbeat and Legend-esque synth pads. Then a guitar, or maybe a ukulele, plays with the little drums, and it sounds good, recalling the gentleness of Jonathan Richman. It does go on a bit long. Some spaghetti western synths close it out.

Side two, I think, begins with “Sophia”. Since I don’t have a physical tape, I’m just guessing. It starts with another micro-synthphony masterpiece. “Sophia” and the narrator are falling apart; the beautiful poetry sounds like Bob Dylan in certain turns of words and cracks in vocals. “Spider has made its home by the outlet,” Reid says before going in to “Comforter”. These last two songs have both been preceded by VHS tape static effects. “Comforter” is high drama Led-Zeppelin as a slower and more deliberate tunehouse blues with pop hookage fishing line. “When I feel a solid metric ton way down on my mattress on the floor,” Reid says, and I hear high art of true authentic colors. The sound is so full for just acoustic guitar and vocals. “Salinger Christhead” comes right in from “Comforter” with a lustful rhyme that goes on and on. "Enough with all this neoliberal capitalism. Jump into my bed, and untie my red ribbon 'cause I do so much better when I'm loved and I'm fed." I love "Space Whales", the next track. "I have no fear. They'll meet me here, way out in the Midwest." It's a little cleaner than the others and very cinematic. "Screaming Trains" was recorded at a different location than the other tracks. I don't know that that is obvious from the track itself, but it does seem a little quieter and more subdued than most of the rest of the album. The chorus, the title repeated, is really great. "Sometimes I stand in my own backyard just to stare at another, and it's about time to cut that out." The last track, "Reel of Lies" has a semi-Celtic, or maybe bluegrass, kind of thing mixed with a weird, whirring drone. This is another favorite on this album.

Carrie Blast Furnishings is such a great album. I love the little VHS-synth snippets. I don't know if they are samples or original, but they sound great mixed in with the ragged and real music, a glimpse into a different time and space of misty heights and spacious waters. The lyrics set the craft into motion. Carrie Blast Furnishings receives a Good.

You can order Carrie Blast Furnishings from Unread Records here on from the Bandcamp above.

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