Monday, July 27, 2015

Narrow Streets Of Cobblestone

I've noticed that there are some really weirdly-named roads in my area.

Along Route 366 there exist Lincoln Beach and Kiebler Beach. No clue about the source of the names, although they do cross Pucketa Creek.

Out on Route 8 you will find Elfinwild Road. Obviously named before J. R. R. Tolkien became notable, or it would have been spelled Elvenwild, which I just think sounds better.

Found this one just outside New Kensington. Isn't this one refreshingly straightforward? If you look closely at the actual sign, the street's old name of McKean can be seen.

Better yet, Hampton Township is home to Lah Road. Yeah, that's it. Just 'Lah'. According to a reader, it's a common family name in the area, so that at least is a reasonable explanation. Even so, what kind of last name is 'Lah'?

Also in Hampton Township is Talley Cavey Road. According to Wikipedia, it's the original name of the nearby borough of Allison Park. The name originated with a location on the Ards Peninsula on the east coast of Ireland.

A third Hampton location poses a bit more of a mystery. Rihn Strasse, translated from German, just means 'Rhine Street'.

Meanwhile, out around Washington Township, there's Zubal Road. Again, it's probably just a family name, but I have to say it's just fun to say. Say it out loud Zubal. Zuuubaaalll. See, wasn't that fun?

Out around Johnstown on US-22 is Dishong Mountain Road. Another family name, if my research is correct. The name sounds kind of like the last refuge of Chinese steam locomotives - the Jitong Railway, home of the Qiangjing 2-10-2-types.

Also on US-22 is Harry Boring Road. Inclusion on this list makes it interesting. A longtime reader says it's also a family name, as there's a business in downtown Johnstown called Blaine Boring Chocolates. I'm not kidding.

Got a weird or inexplicably named road in your area? Let me know about it.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Hangover Child, Til The Clock Runs Over

Q: What's a hipster's favorite kind of weather?
A: Post-cipitation!

Q: What noise does a hipster cow make?
A: "Meh..."

Q: What's the difference between farmers and hipsters?
A: Farmers can go a day without their Pitchfork.

Q: How much do hipsters weigh, on average?
A: An Instagram.

Q: How many hipsters does it take to change a lightbulb?
A: Y'know, the corner bar has working lights. Let's go get wasted.

Q: Where was the body of the drowned hipster found?
A: Floating in the mainstream.

Q: What's a hipster's favorite place in the whole world?
A: Not where they are. 

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Got Mashed Potato, Ain't Got No T-Bone

One classic rock legend, and one future indie-folk legend: we're checking out Neil Young & Crazy Horse's Re-ac-tor and First Aid Kit's Stay Gold.

In 1981 Neil Young and Crazy Horse were working on Re-ac-tor, a rock followup to their monumental 1978 classic Rust Never Sleeps. The previous year, Neil had gone solo on a country-heavy release called Hawks And Doves, giving Crazy Horse a break. At the same time, Neil and wife Pegi were having difficulty with a program intended to help their son, Ben - the experience of which would inform Neil's next album, Trans, although it certainly seems to have had its effect on this disc as well. So what did they accomplish?

What I Liked:
Neil, 'Poncho', Billy and Ralph are always rocking as hard as they can. They never fail to pull out all the stops when they go to record an album. And here, on the hardest rocking tracks, it shows! Although a bit goofy, 'Opera Star' is pretty wild and nicely polished for the band; 'Southern Pacific' is as mournful and serious as it is loud; and closer 'Shots' nigh-upon flips out. The vocal hooks in 'Opera Star' kinda make me giggle, by the way. 'Surfer Joe And Moe The Sleaze' sees the boys playing it cool for a track, and they do it pretty well. The songwriting is on when it's on; 'Southern Pacific' is probably the best-written track of the effort, with that spooky refrain. 'Shots', for it's madness, paints an evocative picture. I swear, this song is like a car crash. It's messed up, but you can't look away. And you can feel the continuity between this album and Rust Never Sleeps; 'Southern Pacific' and 'Rapid Transit' especially feel like sequels to 'Hey Hey My My'.
Best Songs: 'Southern Pacific' without question; probably 'Opera Star', 'T-Bone', and 'Surfer Joe...' for the next tier.

What I Didn't Like:
Neil's voice shows some signs of aging here - he's a little more strained at times. It's most evident on 'Opera Star'; you can really hear him push his voice. If anything, 'Get Back On It' and 'Motor City' aren't so spectacular; they kind of feel like 80's-tinged filler. They're not quite as full throttle as the other tracks here. Hell, 'Motor City' is Neil tricking the rest of the band into playing a shitkicker's ode to the American automobile; and 'Get Back On It' wouldn't have sounded out of place on Everybody's Rockin' a couple of years later. The treatment of most of the material feels somewhat disheveled. I have seen this album described as 'Neil Young going slumming' or 'trash-rock'; and it does have a schlocky feel at times. 'Rapid Transit' has a vocal hook that seems uninspired; Neil hisses his way into each line, and the verses aren't consistently full thoughts. 'T-Bone' and 'Shots' seem interminable; the latter in particular having a maniacal streak that I've never heard before or since from Neil. It's actually disconcerting listening to Neil having a paranoid meltdown of sorts; which is offset somewhat by it's cathartic value. Meanwhile, 'T-Bone' is so repetitive that it almost could be a Zen mantra. I don't mind so much; but your mileage may vary, especially as the song ticks towards ten minutes. The quality of the songwriting being off may be the most visible sign of Neil's distraction with the effort he and Pegi poured into caring for Ben. Otherwise, there's really nothing else to give one any clue to the situation.

In Conclusion:
While not Neil and Co.'s most substantial album, it's got a few oft-overlooked gems (all these reviewers that praise the hell out of 'Shots' - did their copy mysteriously lack 'Southern Pacific'?). Neil diehards probably already have this; fans who prefer Neil's hard side should at least try it out; and punk fans, of all people, might get a kick out of some of the craziness.

Hailing from the Stockholm, Sweden suburb of Enskede, sisters Klara and Johanna Söderberg are the lead singers and songwriters of indie folk band First Aid Kit. But here's the thing - even the DJs on WYEP agree that they sound like they're from Nebraska or something! So how do they stack up?

What I Liked:
Oh my God, these ladies know how to create the most heartbreakingly beautiful harmonies. Their voices, and especially their voices together, make one of the most numinous listening experiences I've ever had the pleasure of understanding. Arrangements are lush, but still with a delicate feel; and the music is a very worthy background to their vocal performance. That is to say, vocal melodies tend to carry the songs; much of the music is there to set the overall mood, and the girls fill in everything else. Klara handles guitar, while Johanna takes care of keyboards and, on at least one track, autoharp. There's a lot of lost love and sadness in their lyrics; enough fading and ending - and fear of it - that I'm tempted to recommend this album to J.R.R. Tolkien. 'My Silver Lining', which starts the record, is probably the most affecting example; the contrast between the dark atmosphere of the music and the steely resolve of the lyrics gives the proper emotional punch. The title track has just the same impact; a wonderful lament of the passing of good things and good times. 'The Bell' is actually very similar; but seems more introspective, more subjectively focused - and also a little less dark. 'Cedar Lane' and 'Waitress Song' are both more wistful; but I personally prefer the clearer message of lost love in the former. Each side ends in a counterpoint to the previous songs; Side A ends with 'Shattered And Hollow', a reprise of the resolve and fortitude of 'My Silver Lining' with a more openly optimistic build-to-climax; while Side B builds more upbeat and hopeful until 'A Long Time Ago', the ultimate lament for love gone and never to return. Remember how I said heartbreakingly beautiful vocals? This is the song to think of. Speaking of Side B, 'Heaven Knows' is the song that introduced me to Klara and Johanna; and it's such an upbeat and country-folky jam I can't help but tap my toes and sing along. It begins so peacefully that when the girls stomp right into the chorus, it catches you utterly off guard after so much quiet and contemplative music that came ahead of it. It's a future classic, if you ask me.
Best Songs: Yes. Yes they are.

What I Didn't Like:
Aside from 'Heaven Knows' the album is uniformly languid and melancholy. For me personally, that's just fine; the depth which  their voices give the music makes it worth it. But for somebody not under their spell, it may be a bit of a downer.

In Conclusion:
I really like them! If you have a soft spot for new things in folk or really like wonderful vocal performances, you're going to like them, probably just as much as I do.