Hello and thank you for kicking the snow off your feet as you cross the Popdose threshold of Welcome To Pittsburgh, Now Go Home. Thank you, also, for not abandoning us after our first installment with Broughton’s Rules, or after that embarrassing night in East Liberty we had a few past our limit at Kelly’s and, well, um, code word Fuqua. Today’s installment is very Pittsburgh-esque in that goddamn incredible but it’s not really of its time or place. Fair enough, yinz?
T-Tops, a punk-rock demon digging its hooves into the confluence’s soil with a self-titled outing after a live record debut of sorts, sprouts from the remains of Don Caballero, The Fitt and Wormrigg but that’s only part of the story. (Isn’t it always?) These guys are the real deal and then some, managing to sound pissed off and precision-refined at the same time, flashing NYC grooves and LA strut as well as Seattle sludge and Minneapolis roar. (The Melvins, in its least Beefheartian incantations, is a good place to start for modes of comparison.) T-Tops bark and goddamn bite. These are nine songs out to kill.
But are they a Pittsburgh band? Technically, yeah. I mean, Jesus H. Roethlisburger, check outthe Bandcamp page; it says it right there. But do they sound like a Pittsburgh band? Yeah, I guess, kinda. Pittsburgh always has boasted a nascent punk scene and these guys clearly are taking cues, though not cribbing notes. Their reference points, though, really are elsewhere; its easier to trace the trajectory of TAD or Helmet in the band’s heady grind than it is to wonder how Jason Jouver switched from bass on Don Caballero’s Punkgasm to drums on T-Tops without missing a beat. (The transition is pretty goddamn impressive, one should note.) But these guys are distinctively Pittsburgh in one way: they are a cultural nexus point that isn’t afraid to have pride in its origins but isn’t likely to prim and preen while looking in the mirror. Say what you will of the Steel City, but it’s not as self-consciously cool as Portland. It doesn’t spend as time doing its hair, which is why, you know, T-Tops chooses Hitchcock, that old world master, to give the sign of the devil on its homepage instead of Fred Armisen. RESPECT!
And the songs? Oh, the songs! “A Certain Cordial Exhilaration” sets the pace, brutal but catchy.“Pretty On The Girl” has a bluesy, hip-shaking fury to it, complete with a great talk-scream chorus that just begs you to sing along with it with a drunken crowd at Gooski’s. (If this guitarist takes his fingers of the neck of that thing for a second, I must’ve blinked, hot damn!) “Cruisin’ For A Bruisin’,” despite (or maybe because of) the obvious title, is like a very drunk man getting in your face, vaguely intimidating, vaguely scary, but also somehow like experiencing a weird funhouse. “Equally Annoyed” dials done the distortion assault a bit – I said a bit! – but even then the record’s most subtle song is all barked Girls Against Boys vocals and snotty guitar angularities. The record ends with the punchy, fun “3 Plates of Monkey.” Perfect title, indeed. The whole thing just goddamn rocks from start to end.
There are the pop-minded among us – those who like their two-minute songs with more “production tricks” than mere verses and choruses or spit and venom – who might say the record is a little monochromatic. So be it. I’ll bite. One man’s compositional unity (the record is wonderfully captured in the studio, but still sounds live and raw, thanks to Jouver) is another man’s drone, I suppose. I think the record, all 20-whatever minutes of it, hangs together well, though, and runs even better when listened to from start to finish. It’s a punk rawk record, to be sure, and, for the right set of ears, invigorating, empowering stuff. Potent, even.
So, will T-Tops manage to outlive the legacy of The Fitt or Don Cab and be its own beast? Will +/- become Pittsburgh’s Electrical Audio? These are all valid questions. Keep tuning in and we’ll keep digging for answers. Until then: in Yoi we trust.
Pittsburgh, e-mail me: Justinvellucci AT gmail DOT com. And don’t get literal. If you live in Bethel Park or – heaven forbid! – outside Allegheny County, I still want to hear from you! – Popdose, March 5, 2015