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30 April 2017

The Karl Hendricks Trio - 'Buick Electra' (Peas Kor)

Things get personal here, and I don't expect anyone who didn't grow up in Pittsburgh to understand my undying love for this record. I was about to write 'anyone who didn't grow up in the shadow of this man', but then I realised that's not so accurate. Because that would imply that he was some towering figure who dominated everything that came in his wake, but that's not true at all. Yes, Karl Hendricks was a huge figure to me and many others in the Pittsburgh music world, but he wasn't intimidating or menacing or scary; his shadow was a pleasant place to inhabit, because as corny as it is to say, he was a sort of 'father figure'. Karl. who passed away in January of this year, was little more than a decade older than me, but symbolised the whole generation of a music scene that I peered into, as a teenager, with eager eyes. This older wave, who would be probably considered 'old-school' now (as I am probably 'mid-school' by this point), but were sort of 'mid-school' to me when I was 'new school' in the late 90s, if ya follow - they set the pace for what being in a band in Pittsburgh meant. I saw the Karl Hendricks Trio early in the afternoon at Lollapalooza '93, on the second stage, and the moshing morons in the crowd couldn't overpower the purity that seemed to emanate from the stage. From that moment (I was 13) I think I began to formulate my value system for all music and art and everything to follow. I knew they were "local" and "indie rock" and they had a serious-seeming work ethic, and records illustrated by this cartoonist name Wayno which conjured an honesty and efficiency of songwriting that appealed greatly to me. Then I got a little older and met him, since he worked at (and later owned) the record store that supplied so, so many of these records under review here.... and he was great. Friendly, sure, even if a bit distant - and always willing to offer suggestions, and amazingly he got to know me a bit, which was like being blessed with acceptance into this so-called music scene I so aspired to join. At one point we had a class together at the University, 'The Modernist Tradition', when I was a sophomore. He brought me LPs of the next two records under discussion here, since I didn't have them, and we talked not just about music but about Faulkner and Virginia Woolf. Over the years he developed a much more rock-focused aesthetic, extending his guitar playing and classic influences, though of course its evident here - there's a Stones cover, after all ('She Was Hot'). Buick Electra is the first Karl LP, from 1992, and still my favourite, though it was really during my senior year of high school (1996-97) that I grew so attached to it. These songs are somewhere between indie-pop and indie-rock, melodic but occasionally heavy, and portrayed (to me, at least) a secret world. They seemed to pick up from the jangly influence of R.E.M. and 80s college rock that I liked then, but took it a bit further with a bit of punk spirit, but none of the irritating technical/math jerking off of the other Pittsburgh bands. Karl was Pittsburgh's greatest ever romantic, and he never needed to hide his emotions between any sort of swagger. Three songs here contain the word 'heart' in the title and the rest of them might as well too; even the songs of loss and regret ('Dead Flowers', which is not a Stones cover; 'All That's Left'). 'Orange Nehi' is perhaps the album's most angular and steely track, the title a reference to a local soda which (along with the slightly obtuse melody) conspired to speak volumes to me as a teenager, a secret language that I felt I could decode. 'Dumber Than I Look' is soulful and earnest; 'Painted My Heart' is so sweet and devoted that it brings tears to my eyes, but the whole record does right now. Early Karl is what inspired me and showed me that 'local music' could be amazing; his Jolly Doom cassette from the pre-Trio days and the I Hate This Party 7" are also essential recordings for me. I'll cut this short now as there's two more Karl records to follow, but I hope there is a day when I can listen to this record without crying; I guess I should just be grateful for the last two decades of listening to it while feeling joyous and inspired.

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