Corn-Fed New Wave: Pittsburgh’s The Affordable Floors’ Elegant Pop Still Works Thirty Years Later [pt. 1]

the affordable floors promo monktone
The Affordable Floors began in 1981 and are still in evidence today

Back in 1992 I was in the thick of the videotape trading years, though that would come to a halt by the next year and my divorce with TV. This was done through the medium of Goldmine Magazine want ads. I’d look through the videotapes wanted and see if I could find people I could service with my hundreds of videotapes, laserdiscs, and prosumer video suite at the time. My friend Ron Kane had created a karmic imbalance with his legendary largess with the videos. There was little I could give him, but if I could make someone else’s day I’d certainly try.

One of the most memorable instances of video swapping had someone in Pittsburgh looking for Cocteau Twins clips, and I certainly had lots of those. So I may have made a first Cocteau Twins compilation for that person, and we started up a correspondence afterward to find that, boy howdy, Jen had multiple intersections of taste with so many mutual points of symmetry that we started talking on the phone about music. It was during a marathon gab session that I posited that with what I was spending on phone bills we could meet up and talk about music live. She took the bull by the horns and proposed a vacation split between Canada and her native Pittsburgh. As someone who only had painful family vacations [which I dreaded] growing up, this was a fantastic plan!

I flew up to Montreal, and we made our way down to Toronto; shopping for CDs and clubbing along the way. I had taken trips to Atlanta with my Central Florida friends for a few years prior but this was big league time. When we got to Pittsburgh, we had some time there for a few days and and Jen said that I had to hear The Affordable Floors. They were the Pittsburgh band that packed the locals in the right clubs and opened for many of my favorites [like Shriekback] when playing in the Steel City.

One morning she drove over to a band member’s house and I bought some CDs while talking music for a while. I’ve had these two independent CDs that I purchased directly from a band member in 1992 since then and have been thinking about revving up the “Corn-Fed New Wave” thread again. But is Pittsburgh really part of the American Midwest? Hmmm. Since it is only 40 miles from the Ohio border, I say that it should be and we’ll go from there. We’ll try the debut album first.

the affordable floors - the sounding
Anthem Records | US | CD | 1990 | 30386

The Affordable Floors: The Sounding – US – CD [1990]

  1. The Sounding
  2. Sirens
  3. Geneva
  4. The Fall
  5. A Sun Will Sing
  6. Walk Into The Night
  7. A Passion Not Known
  8. Through This Broken Ground
  9. The Long Winter

The Affordable Floors were the kind of band with two synthesizer players, so they were definitely a keyboard-led band. Bass and guitars were there, and the drums were real, but they had to share the spotlight. Vocalist Harvey Coblin recalled Michael Stipe with his vocal timbre, though every word was as clear as glass. Kenneth Zenkevich’s drumming was complex, and propulsive; perhaps giving off the whiff of a Jazz background working in Pop without dumbing down.

The title track had been a college radio his back in the day and it’s easy to hear why. The crisp hi-hats drove the intro along as synths occupied the space of strings and horns here while Coblin bit into the [strong] lyrics with a passion. The words evoking the historically local but now absent steel industry as a metaphor for the relationship at the heart of the song. The surprising middle eight featuring an 8-bit orchestra hit, so this band had sampling keyboards in 1986.

The summery synths and acoustic guitars of “Geneva” were evocative of New Order, who certainly cast a shadow over The Affordable Floors. I loved the drop in tempo for the harmonious chorus where a chorus of Coblin and guitarist Steven Morrison longingly intones “Oh, Geneva…my Geneva.”

A non-4/4 drum pattern grounded “The Fall” in something a little less Rock-like and probably spoke to the influence of Peter Gabriel on the band. I can sure detect his spoor on this material, and bassist Eric Riebling was certainly cut from a similar cloth as Tony Levin.

As his rich bass work on the noirish funk of “Walk Into The Night” proved beyond a shadow of a doubt! The fat bass riff offset the glassy synths perfectly and really grabbed your lapels with the syncopation he created with the drums.

A slightly Arabic rhythm for “Through This Broken Ground” offered another meaty bass riff to anchor that song, while giving the melody of the synths, including a unique sampled lead hook that dug very deeply as this penultimate song took no prisoners. The bass solo in the middle eight was a thing of beauty as the song ascended toward its cold climax.

The closing track of “The Long Winter” dug even deeper into the New Order sound with the acoustic guitars and lowing synths striking dangerously close to the melody and vibe footprint of “Age Of Consent,” though the sampled xylophone was clearly from left field. By the time they got to the rapid drum fills of the instrumental middle eight, all doubt had melted away as these guys were hitting that target dead center. Sample below.

Next:… Sophomore Boost

About postpunkmonk

graphic design | software UI design | remastering vinyl • record collector • satire • non-fiction
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3 Responses to Corn-Fed New Wave: Pittsburgh’s The Affordable Floors’ Elegant Pop Still Works Thirty Years Later [pt. 1]

  1. I can certainly see why the band did well in Pittsburgh! I don’t recall ever hearing about them before, but I’m glad to see their music is still available and really captures that college radio vibe for the time.


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