Here at The Key, we spend a lot of time each week digging through every new release from Philadelphia that shows up on Bandcamp. At the end of each week, we present you with the most interesting, most unusual and overall best of the bunch: this is Items Tagged Philadelphia.
The DJ was spinning “Genius of Love” by Tom Tom Club and the bar was packed. Not exactly wall-to-wall but not too far off, remarkable stuff for a Friday night in February where the air is damp and the sidewalks are recovering from a day of snow and ice proceeding from a day of 70 degree bliss. Like I was saying, not much of a mystery here.
I’d just gotten off work and made my way through the weekend bender set to the folk show on the second floor after some convincing of the guy working door that, yes, I’m aware that the headliners went on 25 minutes ago and there’s not much show left but I’d like to see what I can, please. The gravelly voice of Chris Frantz drawling “JAAAAMESSS BROOOOOOWN, JAAAAMESSS BROOOOOOWN” faded in the distance as I headed upstairs.
The next night, the options are plentiful; aging but enderingly-so pop icon in a big room, hard rock newcomers in a small room, punk rock cover show in a basement, hip-hop / soul visionary an hour’s drive east, what appears to be a goth / industrial night in a packed nightclub. We’re feeling our age and go with the pop icon — it was a great decision, TBQH — but the spectrum of options is incredible as always. Tonight? Local indierock or national altrock. Or the Grammys + listening again through the spectrum of streaming stuff I came across this week, which has just as much blissful variety.
Everybody with an acoustic guitar and some working knowledge of open tunings and fingerpicking eventually wants to be Jack Rose and/or John Fahey. And hell, who am I to begrudge their aspirational icons? One could certainly do worse. Local guitarist / banjoist (banjist? banjoer?) Andy McLeod rounded up a bunch of collaborators on his latest set, In the Light of the Day – brother Jeff McLeod on banjo and jaw harp, Chris Dalnodar on fiddle, Dan Townsend on piano, Todd Fausnacht (who I recognize from rocksteady guys The Snails, plus his old-timey solo work) on harmonica and slide guitar and bassist Ben Parry. McLeod writes that the collaborative feel of the album is a direct result of being a musician in Philly, when you’re surrounded by so much talent. And of the aesthetic, he says “I play the guitar in a way that is both respectful of the American Primitive tradition and eager to explore contemporary psychedelic music and Appalachian string band music. This music keeps me alive, it’s all I’ve got.” Right on.
?/K THYSELF ?/K
It’s hard to miss the album title on this one — Black Lives Anti Matter vol. 1. It’s a provocative phrase that on the one hand spins the handle of the racial justice movement to reflect the attitudes that the movement is up against. On the other hand, there’s an element of spirituality and cosmology in the invocation of matter vs. anti-matter, and also the explosive, disruptive relationship between the two. Against that landscape, Philly poet / rapper / producer ?/K Thyself ?/K (guesses on pronunciation, anyone? I’m thinking Know Thyself, but I’m totally spitballing) delivers abstract rhymes detailing oppression and struggle, ills of the world, summing up the tension in the hook on “OG Status”: “Everybody bendin’ hoping that they don’t break.” Musically, it’s in the vein of Saul Williams’ post-industrial tapestries of rhyme mixed with a bit of Death Grips and Yeezus for good measure.
This lo-fi home recording artist from Philly had a massively productive streak between 2012 and 2015, releasing 11 singles and EPs on Bandcamp. She broke a couple years of silence on February 9th with “Silver” b/w “Glow” — though really, does my inserting b/w, ie. “backed with” in the parlance of vinyl 45s, mean anything when we’re talking about streaming audio? — and a humble, understated turn of phrase: “It’s been a while.” The resulting two songs from Roya Weidman (who also plays in So Totally) are enchanting dream pop: chiming harmonics and clean guitar tones, breathless vocals that channel Kississippi and Land of Talk and Death Cab and Ida. Stunning stuff.
Okay, this one is just fun. For one thing, on the pleasant surprise front: I come across so many Bandcamp musicians of all sounds and scenes that casually lift their album covers from tv shows, particularly cartoons — and the music tends to be equally casual, which is a nice way of saying not a ton of thought went into it. This is not the case here, or at least not on first listen. Philly artist Sugoi 私はアニメが大好きです (ie. “Watashi wa anime ga daisukidesu,” Japanese for “I love anime,” thanks Google translate!) used this image that appears to be from Non Non Biyori on an EP of slick soul / disco samples and sick beats, warbled out with dribbling psychedelic tones mad reminiscent of the classic tape-phasey backdrops of Neon Indian’s Psychic Chasms. I can groove to this and appreciate the postmodernism of drawing sounds and inspiration from Willie Hutch and Takako Mamiya. There’s not a ton of info present about the creator of the U Y ミームボーイズ (“Memeboys”) EP, but they write in the album description that it comprises “some tracks i made for fun … ill add more songs later.” So, you know, casual, but in a good way.
This slick and spunky emo duo from Williamstown, New Jersey put out the two-track “Cheap Sunglasses” / “Fly” single ahead of an album that’s also in the works this winter. Made up of singer-guitarist Connor Anderson and drummer / multiinstrumentalist Jared R., the band channels Jets to Brazil and Superchunk and a bit of their Garden State brethren By Surprise with arcs of fuzzed out guitar, brisk beats, soaring vocals and irreverent lyrics.
Another duo from Jersey — Jackson, to be specific, nestled in the pine barrens — core members Joe Makoviecki (vocals, guitar) and James Black (bass) teamed up with some heavy-hitting friends for their debut LP Purgatory Road, which came out on February 8th. Simone Felice produced the record in his Sugar Mountain Studio in Palenville, NY and played drums; James Felice contributed piano and organ throughout the set as well. As such, the record is an expert set of indie folk, drawing on the melodies and arrangements of bluegrass and mountain music but incorporating it tastefully into Makoviecki’s songs, which are very much of the now.
Experimental guitarist Travis Woodson is not new on the scene — his discography stretches back to a Live at the Fire set in 2008. But the new Feed the World Pig EP is his first work since 2010, and in those years, like-minded players Chris Forsyth and the Solar Motel Band, Steve Gunn and Nick Millevoi have come to various degrees of prominence, making this an ideal time and place for Woodson to unveil his latest escapade of drone and feedback, harmonics and echo, of pitterpatter pickup tapping creating a haunting and meditative expanse of sound and space. Music for film projections and gallery walls — I use that analogy a lot, but boy does it fit here.
DEAD MAN HAMMOCK
“Thanks Green Street for letting me be loud,” goes one shoutout in the album credits for Walk. I feel that. This set of blown-out fuzz rock has a Neutral Milk Hotel by way of LVL Up thing going on, and though the people behind it are a slight mystery — per Facebook, the band is “me and dirt and maybe more one day.” But who’s “me”? — the sounds are instantly digable by anyone who’s spend some amount of time watching bands play in basements.
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