Review: Alexei Shishkin – “Pittsburgh”

We all know the words – folksters Simon & Garfunkel, searching for the nation’s soul in the song “America,” talked to Cathy “as [they] boarded a Greyhound in Pittsburgh.” It’s not the first time Pittsburgh, as a place, was used as a cultural signifier but it might be one of the more famous. Well, enter New York-based singer-songwriter Alexei Shishkin. On his new record, 3, which was released last week, he includes a song titled “Pittsburgh” that, oddly enough, seems anything but.

On the lazy Sunday/dream-pop track, Shishkin avoids the rusty “Steel City” references all together and, actually, seems to be talking about some disconnected nether-region – a place with sand-swept beaches, awkward romances and New Orleans music drifting out of windows. This is not exactly Squirrel Hill.

The song is interesting, I’ll give it that. Over a lazy drum beat and heartbeat-like bass line, Shishkin mutters the lyrics quietly:

“Once we spent a summer sleeping by the sea
I knew that I could find her waiting there for me
I knew that everything felt like a dream astounding
No matter what I do
I cannot wrap my mind around it”

Perhaps there’s some comment here, however obscure, about how Pittsburgh is an accumulation of places and emotions, a kind of cultural melting pot. A stretch. Instead, it feels like yet another NYCist is copping the pose and talking about the coolness of the Burgh, be it implicit or otherwise.

That said, it’s a catchy little song, complete with a glassy guitar lead, and worth tracking down, if only to add to your collection of cultural signifiers. In that respect, Shishkin proudly posits himself the latest in a growing canon: Americans who have never eaten a Primanti’s sandwich or drank an arn but somehow consider themselves at home in Southwestern Pennsylvania. Well, we welcome them, as I and others have been welcomed before.

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