By Melanie Stangl
Artwork by Pierce Marratto
The new music just keeps coming from rising Pittsburgh artists: local musician John O’Hallaron, who releases under the name Chalk Dinosaur, is gearing up to release a new eight-song album on Wednesday, January 25th. Titled “Chalk Dinosaur and Friends,” it’s a unique, collaborative project—each track was written with another active Pittsburgh musician, such as Nameless in August’s Jeremy Colbert and Eastend Mile’s Dhruva Krishna. Considering the wide range of influences O’Hallaron pulls from, ranging from jam-band and funk to psych rock, with a heavy dose of electronic, this talent-packed roster of cowriters makes sense.
The last single before the album drops comes out today, the 18th, and features bassist Michael Berger of the self-described “space funk” band The Clock Reads. Appropriately, it’s called “The Chalk Reads.” “We met through a festival we both played this summer called FarmJammaLamma,” says O’Hallaron. “I enjoyed his bass playing during his set, and got in touch with him after the festival about collaborating on a song together.”
When describing his process with this single, he reveals an album-wide trend: building off of his cowriters’ strengths, truly making the track something neither artist could have achieved alone. “Michael came to my studio for one recording session, during which we sketched out the main grooves and structure of the song,” he says. “After the session was over, I built the song around Michael’s bass grooves and fleshed out the arrangement until it felt done.”
That careful construction is obvious: “The Chalk Reads” is an incredibly well-mixed, immersive journey of a song. Its ten minute length never feels stale or confusing. Spacey synths shimmer throughout, moving repeatedly between the track’s foreground and background for a dreamy, ethereal effect. Other sounds regularly take prominence too, including Berger’s groovy bass, effect-heavy saxophone and woodwinds, distorted guitar, both acoustic and electronic percussion, and rhythmically inventive vocals from O’Hallaron. His transitions between these are smooth and damn near flawless. Each move manages to surprise you while making perfect sense. His intuitive sense of flow—knowing when to mellow out, when to build anticipation, and when to bring full energy—is intoxicating.
The swoony, dreamy atmosphere he creates is complicated (in a good way) by an undercurrent of funk, highlighted in the prominent repeated bass riff from Berger. This subdued but insistent energy pulls you along like a gently moving river. The thoughtful, fast-paced lyrics contribute to this effect too: “Open up to the flow/and let it show you where to go/And remember that the seeds you sow/will eventually grow, into something you know/Something you saw a long time ago.” The parallel structures of the two verses, as well as the repetition of the line “So you search and you strive/for that which makes you feel alive,” provide necessary, welcome connecting threads in such an extended track. Still, when it’s over, you’ll probably wish it was twenty minutes long instead of ten.
In short, if you’re looking for something new, eclectic, and masterfully put together, Chalk Dinosaur (and his friends) have got you covered. “The Chalk Reads” will be available today for free download on Chalk Dinosaur’s Bandcamp page. “Chalk Dinosaur and Friends” will be released on the 25th; look out for a full review of it here, coming soon. You can hear two other tracks from the album right now on his Soundcloud. And follow along with him on Facebook, as well as Berger’s band The Clock Reads. You can also check out more art from Pierce Marratto here.