Few bands have defined and help grow Pittsburgh’s indie-rock scene over the past decade more than Donora. That’s due in part to their consistently tight guitar pop that has evolved admirably over the course of three albums, but it also has to do with their longevity and commitment. Many of the Pittsburgh bands the trio was most associated with during their early heyday in the late aughts -- including Boca Chica; Good Night, States; Lohio; and The Harlan Twins -- have all taken extended hiatuses to either explore new projects or to focus on their non-rock star lives.This isn’t a criticism; it’s simply the typical life cycle of a vibrant local music scene.
But now, Donora seems to be moving in a different direction than its peers, emerging as the esteemed scene veterans amid a new crop of hungry up-and-coming bands. And with their latest release, Ha Ha Heart
, they’ve made their most accomplished record yet, one full of gorgeous studio flourishes and robust arrangements that fill in the group’s arsenal of insanely catchy compositions with a glittering galaxy of synth lines, tape loops, and sampled sound collages. Donora’s studio-centric approach, cultivated in moments on their 2011 album Boyfriends, Girlfriends
and augured on their 2013 EP Play Nice
, has now blossomed to its full potential. Lead single “Always Gonna Be” has all of Donora’s trademarks: lead singer Casey Hanner’s crunchy guitar work and perfectly calibrated harmonies, bassist Jake Churton strutting, restless basslines, and drummer/producer Jake Hanner’s party-ready percussion. But when the song snaps into its chorus, there's greater depth and dimension thanks to a cascading collection of electronic keyboard riffs and playful vocal samples, which ebb and pulse on each progression.
Probably no song on the album personifies the group’s evolution better than the guitar-less shimmering daydream “Memory,” a gauzy, wafting track that recalls the somnambulist qualities of classic Beach House and even Top Gun OST
-era Giorgio Moroder. This immersive, headphone symphony of a song uses every inch of the new studio Jake Hanner recently built in his Gibsonia home, where the band recorded Ha Ha Heat
in its entirety. After releasing the album in early December, the trio are finally readying a proper release show on Jan. 30 at the Brillobox, the venue that has been their de facto homebase since Donora's earliest shows. Don’t miss this chance to see one of the Pittsburgh music scene’s most-revered bands operating at the height of their powers. (4104 Penn Avenue, Bloomfield, Brillobox