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.
I think a lot about nostalgia. In the XPN universe, it often rears its head in stories I write about historic (and not-so-historic) Philadelphia concerts, or through the playlists of my monthly 90s show What’s The Frequency. In my life among the outside world (though what is the outside world, really?) it happens when I’ve completely caught up listening to new music and I opt to decompress by putting on a record from, say, five or fifteen or twenty five years ago, or reading a book / watching a film from a similar distance in times past.
Yesterday afternoon, I ducked the sunny day and hung out inside the cozy Prince Music Theater for a double feature — High Fidelity, from 2000, and Singles, from 1992. Both deal heavily in nostalgia in both art direction and story; the formerly explicitly so, following a middle-aged ne’er do well record store owner taking stock and looking back over his life amid aggressively curated album sleeves and band t-shirts; the latter focusing on Seattle 20-somethings of the early 90s, but intentionally shot as a time capsule that probably appeared dated upon release.
That’s not to slag either; both were comedies, and thus both were a lot of fun to watch. But awkwardly so. Especially Singles, which I last saw as a 14-year-old, when the characters seemed distantly old and impossibly cool. They were 23 — not even ten years older than me — and they were actually pretty normal basic people.
Looking back is a tricky thing, whether individually or collectively; the wrong stuff gets remembered, or the most visually / sonically sensational stuff that isn’t in any kind of real way representational of a moment in time. (I can’t wait till aughties nostalgia kicks in about five years down the line and the cultural narrative tries to say that everybody dressed in day-glo, wore their hair in jet black asymmetrical cuts and danced to LCD Soundsystem.)
Worse than exclusion, the nostalgia zone runs you the risk of overly revering the art and music and memories of youth in favor of everything that’s right in front of you, right now. Which, as I’ve said often around here, is just as good if not better than anything from the past. Maybe the ideal should be cautious nostalgia — I love zoning out to The Execution of All Things or Disintegration and nothing will ever change that, but I also love putting on records by PWR BTTM and Jay Som and The Menzingers and Chance the Rapper. And, for that matter, any of these artists that I dug up this week for the Items Tagged Philadelphia — which, with this writing, has hit the quarter-year mark.
Some records I can listen to a song or two, get a sense of what they’re all about, and bookmark them to revisit later. And some demand that I listen all the way through before anything else happens with my day, which totally happened this week with What’s the Point?, the debut album from Sea Offs. Based in Philly and State College — which is Central Pennsylvania in the truest sense — the band is the project of singers and songwriters Olivia Price and Rashmit Arora, who worked with a collective of multi-instrumental friends to create a nine-track masterwork: yearning songs punctuated by washes of synthesizer ambience, stately flugelhorn and dreamlike guitar expanses. If you dig Beth Orton, Ida, Land of Talk or Laura Marling, you will find lots to love here.
Raised in North Carolina and relocated to Philly, Leaf Madtic confronts personal demons and vents about collective struggles in Long Nightmare, the new LP released this winter on Bandcamp. Lyrically, it’s a mix of comic book references and poised observational rhymes, trap beats and breezy trip-hop, R&B melodies dancehall samples. Candy for your ears and food for your mind.
One look at the description “melodic punk / sentimental anarchist pop,” and I’m sold. Somewhere between wistful twee and punk badassery is the Philly four-piece Cottontail, which releases its debut LP Secret Hiding Place at the end of the month. The infectious first single “Steal Everything You Can,” and its a rush of Ergs energy and Belle & Sebastian heart.
Philly newcomer Eliza Edens put out her Lowlight EP on Friday, and is using it to fundraise for Planned Parenthood — and get some great emotional songwriting out into the world in the process. Very simpatico with Sea Offs, the EP layers Edens’ voice with drums and guitars for moments of depth and intensity, but sometimes the most gripping moments are her backed only by guitar, as we hear on the majestic “Balaclava.”
BOOKS FOR SENIORS
A wash of synth sounds and textures simmers across nine quasi-instrumental tracks by collaborators John Ireland and Jason Hutchings on Many Faces of Me, the debut from their Books for Seniors project. It’s not entirely accurate to call these instrumentals — there are vocals in the mix, but the vocals act as another instrument in the fray, vocodored and treated and abstracted, seemingly meant more to assume the role of a formless spectre upon which we can project whatever we’re feeling at the moment. The collaboration came together when both longtime friends teamed up not only to make music but fight cancer. As their website tells it, “this collaboration has contributed to the ‘working through’ of the many emotions associated with being diagnosed, treated, ‘Side effected’ and other existential predicaments associated with, not only being alive, but being made to realize how mortal we are.” A beautiful, life-affirming work.
Punk rock of the populist variety, the dudes of Philly trio The LOT writes songs about everyday people and everyday experiences: their Basement Demos collection documents feelings of inadequacy, calls for motivation, nights of whiskey, set to a charging guitar-drum-bass backing.
JESSE AND THE REVELATOR
Another gotta-listen-to-this-entire-record-right-now set, Jenna is the third LP from Philadelphia folk-adjacent act Jesse and the Revelator. A cycle of songs meditating on the life and untimely death of a twelve-year-old named Jenna Kerzces, it’s as intense as it is awash in beauty and poignancy. Sonic reference points include Phosphorescent, Neutral Milk Hotel, The Felice Brothers and Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska. Haunting, tragic and strangely beautiful.
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