By Justin Vellucci
Pittsburgh Current Contributing Writer
Connor Murray turned 21 on April 13, but he didn’t celebrate in the usual way.
Yes, there were the obligatory drinks at midnight but, instead of just rising reluctantly the next morning with a horrible hangover, the Pitt senior woke up with a new release on his cassette-centric label, Crafted Sounds.
“Bridges,” the appropriately titled deep-dive into Pittsburgh’s underground rock and punk scenes, features 21 songs by 21 bands. It’s vastly more informed about the noisy landscape of SWPA than Murray’s last stab at a compilation, 2017’s “Have A Nice Day.”
“I always felt like having a home base was super-important,” says Murray, who released his first cassette in Annapolis, Md. on his 18th birthday and then moved to Pittsburgh in the same year, 2016. “I wanted a sense of community.”
On “Bridges,” you can hear the musical collusion, with unheard links bonding garage-rock vagaries (Bat Zuppel, The Zells) and mind-bending punk (the awesome Water Trash) with more nuanced, even subtle fare (tremendous offerings from Same and Sad Girls Aquatics Club).
And then there’s the eulogy.
Many in the scene were shaken by the unexpected death last year of The Lopez’s Jesse Flati. Instead of choosing to advance a single from the band’s forthcoming album, Heart Punch, The Lopez and Crafted Sounds opted for something more meaningful.
“The song I gave him is Gates of Heaven, which we’ve previously released — but the track on Bridges is the first-ever-recorded version of the song,” says Steph Wolf, of Lawrenceville. “It was one of the very first recordings of The Lopez, and Jesse recorded the track himself in our apartment. It was the first song we ever wrote/played as The Lopez.”
It’s far from the record’s only thought-provoking moment. On the lighter side, there’s Princex and its almost-funkified “Colors,” which details the subtleties of shooting pornography. But the tone elsewhere is more serious. The record starts with a punch to the gut, Short Fiction’s “Prologue: Living In Places Like These Can Be Bad For Your Health,” which traffics in rain clouds and “the kids in Oakland” before slamming gentrification. It’s that rawness that drives the compilation in its finest moments.
“It’s not a super-polished city,” Murray says. “We’re gritty and we have a sense of pride about it. But our shit don’t stink. No offense to Philly, but we’re not Philly.”
We’re also not homogenized, as “Bridges” – which avoids the all-too-obvious black-and-gold tropes – deftly shows.
“Since we started playing shows in fall 2018, every single bill we’ve been on has been a diverse array of rock-adjacent musicians,” said Eli Enis, the guitarist/vocalist of Swither, which appears on the compilation. “Pittsburgh has such a wealth of sounds and styles that all are under the same umbrella, which ‘Bridges’ is propping up.”
Murray, who plans to intern for Highmark this summer after graduating from Pitt, said there was no complicated method to choosing what would – or would not – find on the new album.
“I’m not putting out the next pop hit,” he said. “When I go to a show, I want to feel something I haven’t felt before. With this compilation – yes, there’s artist discovery – but I want people to think about things they haven’t thought about before.”
“I tried my best to arrange ‘Bridges’ like a roller coaster of sounds.”