Band Photo by Nicholas Dicaprio
Album Cover Art by Annie Tomak
It’s a serious world out there these days. If you’re overdue for something generally lighthearted and genuinely fun, Our EP from Pittsburgh rock band Stone Throwers might be for you. The four-track record, produced by local collective The Attic Music Group, dropped everywhere on October 27th. Describing themselves as “Groove Americana,” the band combines the infectious, intricate rhythms of funk with moments of both rock n’roll energy and the introspection often found in the folk/singer-songwriter genres. But no matter which sound is most prevalent at any given moment, one thing remains obvious: they’re all having a good time playing it.
There’s a kind of charming lackadaisicalness to the Stone Throwers’ sound. It’s true that they don’t shy away from heavier topics, like hollow pleasures as bad coping mechanisms (“When feeling good is feeling numb/you wander through blind deaf and dumb”) and anger-spiked heartbreak (“Don’t give me that smile when later/you won’t give me the time of day.”) But even in their comparatively grittier moments, the “groove” of “Groove Americana” takes precedence. Folk and rock influences are clearly present, but the band doesn’t ever retreat into the slow, sparse ballads so common in the former genre, or the tendency to take themselves super seriously that can be found in the latter. There’s always at least a pulse, an undercurrent of funk. And you get the sense that ultimately, they’re a bunch of talented friends getting together to jam and enjoy themselves. Hyper-polished touches like lush vocal layering (which, don’t get me wrong, are awesome in the right context) are forsaken in favor of a warm authenticity, as if the band were playing in your living room. And that fun accessibility is an appealing thing.
Stone Throwers consists of Alexander Church on vocals and keys, David Didio on guitar and vocals, Simon Howard on bass, and Casey Snyder on drums.
The album opener, “Herron,” showcases the variety of influences the group draws from. A killer electronic, atmospheric intro gives way to fuzzy guitar lines, chugging bass, and midtempo cymbal-heavy percussion. Church’s keys are prominently woven in as well, with sadder-sounding minor-chord-heavy melodies descending over an energetic beat. This is fitting, considering the conflicting emotions this song covers, summed up in the chorus: “The things that make me feel good also drag me under/Bottles full of lightning come before the thunder.” We’re also introduced to the dynamic between the band’s two vocalists. Didio’s voice is warm and welcoming, recalling Damien Rice, while Church’s packs a distinctly gruffer punch. This adds to the patchwork quilt effect of the song: part grunge-tinged rock, part groove, part singer-songwriter. It’s a fitting introduction.
The second track, “Time of Day,” sees those seams tightening. A decidedly funky distorted guitar riff shines while Church’s grittier voice takes the lead vocally. Here they tap one of the most common songwriting muses, heartbreak: “How can you act like nothing’s changed?/Why’s my pain the object of your game?” It’s an enjoyable song about a painful topic, which can be tough to pull off. One of my favorite moments on the EP occurs about two-thirds of the way through this track, when everything but fingerpicked guitar drops out, and gradually, layer by layer, the track is rebuilt—only this time, faster. Percussion, then keys, then bass are added, all picking up the pace. The same riffs and rhythms are revisited with new vigor, reflecting the speaker’s intensified emotions. Even though those emotions are negative (“Didn’t offer up these open arms/to watch you turn your back on me”), this energy makes the track more fun.
Up next is “Don’t Pretend,” the EP’s first single (which you can stream by clicking here.) It’s decidedly more mellow and encouraging. In an almost-Counting-Crows-like fashion, acoustic guitar strums match up with high, happy piano melodies in a measured but emphatic “1, 2, 1-2-3-4” beat. Didio’s voice returns to the spotlight for the song’s verses, as well as in sweet background harmonies during the choruses underneath Church‘s lines. Church and Didio’s vocal teamwork in this hook is their strongest on the EP, and something I hope we hear more of in future releases. The song’s message is uplifting but not too saccharine. It acknowledges life’s struggles while assuring the listeners—and the speakers themselves—that they’re capable of handling them: “On days that cut you to the core/be careful of what you might wish for/these dreams just might come true/Live your life lost and forlorn/or see the flowers bloom after the storm/the choice is up to you.” Listen for when the keys take prominence in the bridge and transition into a classic organ sound—it’s a great moment.
Our EP wraps up with the silly but damn fun “Groove Pocket.” Its upbeat, but not rushed, tempo and the addition of a horns section (in the form of Roger Romero on saxophone) are fitting, fun choices for the only track that could be considered a love song. Didio lets us know the subject right away: “Doe-eyed Jane, I can’t remember your name/but I remember how you make me feel.” Stone Throwers’ lighthearted, funny sensibilities shine in the chorus, with high pulsing, almost chirping background vocal lines like “Groove pocket, unlock it” and “Groove pocket, can’t stop it.” Church’s rougher voice proves to be a perfect counterpoint to this, letting the subject know that she can “make [him] fly.” Solos on both guitar and Howard’s grooving bass are highlights in the post-chorus instrumentals. Romero’s saxophone steals the show, though, starting off calmly but building to a fantastic, all-out energetic breakdown by song’s end. Hopefully this won’t be his last collaboration with the group.
What exactly is a groove pocket, you might wonder? Well…that’s up for interpretation. But to steal a line from the chorus, don’t knock it until you give it a try.
And don’t just take my word for it. Our EP is now available on all major music platforms, including Spotify and Bandcamp. Follow along with Stone Throwers on Facebook too, so you’ll know when you can catch them live.