Despite the notable diversity of the Pittsburgh scene, local electronic music acts have been a little trickier to find. Emerson Jay, Chalk Dinosaur, and Balloon Ride Fantasy are three of the big names, but a Pitt student has recently added his impressive talent to the genre with the release of his second EP, “Towers.” Releasing under the name Kahone Concept, 19-year-old Ben Orrvick blends catchiness with creativity, compelling hooks with inventive twists, dazzling synths with immersive layers of other instruments–and it’s entirely a one-man show. “I record everything by myself at home with my laptop, a microphone, some instruments, and a MIDI keyboard. As for mixing and mastering, I do all that myself as well,” he says.
The results, however, are anything but amateur-sounding; each track is slick, polished, and well-balanced. “My senior year in high school, I spent study halls and classes watching YouTube videos trying to learn the basics of stuff. Compressors, EQ’s, what all the fancy knobs do, and just the overall DAW [Digital Audio Workstation] of Logic Pro,” Orrvick says. His previous release, an EP called CLOUDS, was his first time ever putting his music and self-taught techniques on public display. Even then, his knack for all aspects of the process was obvious. “The main difference between the two is that I have learned a lot more recording- and songwriting-wise,” he continues. “A lot of it is guessing and just going with what I think sounds okay. I still have a long way to go and a lot to learn.”
Still, his instincts already prove quite sharp. The five-track-long “Towers” draws on a range of influences, from alternative to pop to rock to ambient, but the persistent synths, both high and low, make for a take on electronic that’s very much his own. Among his favorite influential artists, he lists The Strokes, Foster the People, Awolnation, Catfish and the Bottlemen, as well as local acts My Friday Slacks and pop-rockers Nevada Color. “[Nevada Color’s] ’New Mexico’ is such a good tune, it gets me pumped,” he says. “I’m waiting for them to drop some new stuff very impatiently.”
Orrvick is a student at the University of Pittsburgh, and moved here from Oil City just over a year ago. “It’s amazing. There is nothing else like it out there,” he effuses. And he’s already caught on to what makes this growing community so special. “I love the music scene here because we have so many different kinds of venues,” he says. “We have bars that will bring in some really good names like Cattivo and the Smiling Moose, and then we have in between size venues like the Rex Theater and Mr. Smalls, then of course Stage AE…all the way to big venues like PPG Paints Arena, Key Bank Pavilion, and Heinz Field. It allows for us to get all kinds of acts, and also paves a good way for local musicians to work their way up. It’s pretty cool.”
He’s not currently playing any live shows himself (“I’m really excited to start, [though] I’m still trying to find someone to beat some drums,” he explains.) But one listen to “Towers” will make you impatient for him to begin. His unique vocals are strong and impressive in their range, tonally comparable to a less-strained, richer BORNS. Other similar-sounding acts include Mood Robot and Hemlock Lane. And as mentioned before, every sonic element comes together seamlessly. Throughout the EP, Orrvick displays an incredible sense of balance, knowing exactly when to hit you with a wall of sound and when to pull back, as well as how to make a song evolve as it goes on without getting you lost. Certain melodic riffs often recur as connecting threads, while the lyrical/vocal speed will increase, or the balance of synth/piano/guitar/drums shifts to highlight something new. It’s immersive and it’s never boring.
Lead single “Boxes” offers head-nodding bliss and lush vocal layering, while “21 Grams” features a heartbeat-esque, on-again off-again beat and particularly spacey synths. “Bullet in a Box,” my personal favorite, takes on somewhat of a rock vibe with a more prominent electric guitar sound and an increased use of minor chords and scales. With Orrvick making excellent occasional use of falsetto and singing lines such as “Medication can’t save our souls, but what keeps us alive/If I’m bleeding, how can I be fine?”, this track has a darker, more desperate energy that’s still incredibly cool. “Mines and Mind” is more straightforwardly energetic than the previous tracks, in which percussion, from the kick drums to the high hats, gets a chance to shine. Buzzy synths, distorted guitar, and augmented vocal layers are compelling, creative additions. The final track, “Forefront,” is shorter and more subdued, with piano as the primary sonic element to highlight Orvick’s impassioned vocals: “So today I’m dressed to ride/My clothes aren’t mine/New Year’s Eve has always lied/We have no time/And I’m tired/I’m crying wolf, I should be scared of sheep.”
Talking about his approach to making this EP, Orrvick says, “I just love to experiment with different things. I try to make each song somewhat different throughout the whole thing…it’s a lot more challenging writing that way, because it forces me to think harder and make sure that I’m putting 100% into each song. I think [“Towers”] works because each song sounds different at the start compared to the end, making the EP as a whole carry that same unique quality that makes it all kind of work.” No “kind of” about it—this is a strong release from a promising local artist. If you’re craving more well-crafted electronic music, Kahone Concept is a must-have on your playlist.
In closing, Orrvick verbalizes the passion that comes through so clearly in his songs: “I’d just like to thank everyone that has given my music a chance. It means the world that someone has given my songs a few minutes of their life to listen to what I have to say and write. I wrote all these songs in my room, not ever knowing if anyone would ever hear them, so it really does mean a lot to me.”