Yeah?, the debut LP from Gaadge, is the sound of a new Pittsburgh. Gone are the “hell with the lid off” steel mills and smoke-ridden horizons that inspired mid-century union songs and pub-hall faux-balladry. This version of the “Paris of Appalachia” is more cosmopolitan, more contemporary but still reserves a kind of understated magic behind its Fort Pitt-like cement walls and strong immigrant foundations.
The quartet’s first LP, released by Pittsburgh label Crafted Sounds, is a weird but delightful little ride, the perfect accompaniment to a city whose 90 neighborhoods (some say 92) sit at the intersection of East Coast quirkiness and Midwestern charm. We said it first: as guilty pleasures go, this one is particularly juicy. Yes, Yeah? is better than bubblegum pop but still retains an innocent, candy-coated sweetness – no filet mignon analogies here. (Insert Primanti’s sandwich reference here.)
Mitch DeLong started up Gaadge – they are named after a movie line he half-heard while falling asleep one night, watching TV – as a solo endeavor in Erie, Pennsylvania in 2014. He fleshed it out into a full-band format after moving to Pittsburgh about five years ago. This carefully minted lineup has wonderful chemistry. The interplay, in particular between guitarists DeLong and Ethan Oliva (also of Pittsburgh lo-fi heroes Barlow), lights up songs like “All You Can Absorb” and the excellent, emo-ish “Holy Formers” with an incandescent glow; it smells of the spit-shine tactics of slacker rock (yeah, mostly Pavement) but also bears all of the wondrous texture of shoegaze bands like My Bloody Valentine or Swirlies.
The record – which, you’ll never believe this, was recorded entirely by the band with free software and minimal equipment in several of the Earth Pittsburgh locations – is full of pleasant surprises. The addictive-as-West-Virginia-opioids single “Twenty-Two”, released online a month before the full LP’s release, is chock full of melodicism and will dig its way straight into the base of your goddamn cerebellum. DeLong’s understated, sometimes-mumbled vocals are the ideal accompaniment to engaging, passionately played guitar lines that distance themselves from their Weezer-ness by DeLong and Oliva repeatedly bending their strings, which lends a sense of instability to the song.
The hits keep coming. The appropriately titled “Flipping Shit” shifts between propulsive punk-isms and drum-and-vocal breakdowns where DeLong deadpans lines like, “Fucked up and on to something / I don’t know what/ I guess I’ll keep fucking up.” “Phase Rev” starts with electronica and harmony-layered coos, and the surprising “Creeping Weeks” begins with hushed acoustic and synth washes. But both expand beyond their predetermined borders with soaring guitar crescendos and an effective percussive thrust from drummer Andy Yadeski. The incredible “Int” (which might or might not be shorthand for “intimate”) borrows the great vocal delivery and backing vocals of the late, great Pittsburgh junk-rock trio the Lampshades. “Thrill”, which also flirts with electronica before exploding into Pavement-esque refrains, is thrilling.
Detractions? It’s tough to say. The record’s songs all merit a lot of Huzzahs and, though the 12-track LP was wonderfully handled by engineer Ryan Hizer, it’s rough around the edges. But that is by design. It lends a shambolic genuineness to the debut – I couldn’t imagine these songs being presented any other way than in a kind of lo-fi glory.
Time will tell if Pittsburgh embraces Gaadge with the same fervor it has bands like the Zells, a Crafted Sound labelmate that excels at hooky but not ostentatious fare. The city takes greatness for granted – six Super Bowl rings will do that to you. Even tried and well-tested local bands like the Gotobeds (on Sub Pop Records) or Microwaves (on Three One G) are rarely given the credence and credit they are due for their atomic-bomb-dropping LPs and concerts. For some reason, though, Pittsburgh loves the Clarks. I’ll never understand that one. Yeah, Gaadge is the sound of new Pittsburgh, one built on youthful diversity and technology more than Pittsburgh toilets (Google it) or the sweat- and soot-lined blue collars of the past. Someone call Mayor Peduto – I think these guys are ready for their close-ups.