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Track review: 'Sweet Underground' 

Josh Pettinger is best known around Rochester as the owner and man behind the mixing desk at Wicked Squid Studios, where he records and produces new music by local artists looking for high production values in a sleek studio space, helmed by a savvy professional.

But Pettinger is no slouch as a music creator as well, whether he’s behind the drum kit for the rock band known as The Capitals, or he’s writing his own songs, as evidenced by the new track “Sweet Underground.”

Pettinger quietly released this laid-back pop gem in late August. And though you can’t necessarily tell from the easy, mid-tempo groove, the simple two-chord keyboard progression, the atmospheric synths, or Pettinger’s satin-smooth vocals, the inspiration for and process of writing the song were not as effortless.

“This was a very painful song to write as it speaks to some of the struggles I’ve gone through with alcoholism and depression,” he wrote in an August 31 Facebook post.

“Sweet Underground” is indeed pleasant to listen to, and on the surface the lyrics are bittersweet and wistful. But ultimately these elements belie Pettinger’s existential suffering and his struggle to not repeat the mistakes he’s witnessed others make in the past:

Sweet underground, I feel your strings a-pullin’/ They’re pullin’ me back down/ And I am my father’s son/ Lost and wandering along the streets I swore I knew when I was young.

Pettinger wrote, recorded, and mixed the tune — using the “on-the-go” approach he often employs on hip-hop projects — during multiple sessions at Wicked Squid Studios in March 2020. Following in the same creative vein of the song “Inside Out” by Spoon, Pettinger wanted to “create a production that was a bit more understated and sparse,” he said in an email.

The song is certainly uncluttered, but the simplicity of the overall sound conceals the painstaking process Pettinger undertook to record each musical component, individually editing the sound methodically to produce a tight aesthetic that resembles sampling.

“I think overall the track was a good example of restraint, patience, and purposeful part writing both from an arrangement and production perspective,” Pettinger said.

Here’s hoping Pettinger has more original music to share soon.

Daniel J. Kushner is CITY’s music editor. He can be reached at
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