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.
Greetings from a front porch in the Mt. Airy section of Northwest Philadelphia. This week’s edition of Items Tagged Philadelphia is the first that I’ve written out of doors, and it’s a lovely experience, I tell you what. I gave my matchbox-size front yard a long overdue cleaning prior to breaking out my laptop; a stray tabby from the neighborhood just skulked around the perimeter of the porch, giving me an uncertain but endearing death stare on the way to pillage the remnants of a cookout next door; there’s a cool breeze keeping things comfortable.
Yesterday was not as agreeable, climate-wise, much to the chagrin of the Record Store Day hopping set. I kept my outing focused on Main Street Music in Manayunk, where Philly son Ron Gallo played a rip-roaring Stooges-covering instore set to a packed room escaping from the rain. Ronny was great — his new record Heavy Meta smokes — and I picked up RSD singles from The Districts and Big Thief, in addition to a live double LP from The Roots dating back to 1992 that may or may not be an official release, and The Spinners’ 1975 album Pick of the Litter, recorded right here in Philly at Chinatown’s Sigma Sound, a historic site now being converted to luxury condos because capitalism can be so very evil.
Not as impressive of a haul as others’, but that’s fine because I’ll be back at Main Street buying another stack of records soon enough. Spending money on musicians and creative folks, and the independently owned establishments that support them = capitalism that isn’t evil. Still, there’s an odd feeling about Record Store Day. It is to music retail what 420 is to weed — an event with countercultural origins (in the case of the latter, civil disobedience about misguided controlled substance laws) that’s grown corporatized and, as I saw a friend put it on social media Thursday evening, Bonnaroo-ized. Which is to say, dumbed-down and safe. But on the optimistic side, even if it does exist at this level — brands cluelessly wielding stoner humor to jump in on the trending 420 conversation, $35 reissues of Marcy Playground’s 1997 debut because why? — it’s pushing ideas into the mainstream consciousness and providing an entry point that can hopefully be explored at a deeper and more meaningful level.
To wit: Anti-pot laws are dumb and potentially harmful. Record stores are the lifeblood of a music scene, and deserve our support. But as wonderful as the physical product can be (cue this aging white male rhapsodizing about the tactile experience, tearing off the shrink wrap, unfolding the artwork, looking at the lyrics and credits before pulling the album out of the sleeve and walking over to the turntable, et cetera et cetera), sites like our beloved Bandcamp are pretty much the internet’s massive independent record store: a direct avenue to support independently-minded creatives while discovering new music in the process. Here are seven artists that we came across that we’d suggest you start with this week.
This relatively new artist made their first Bandcamp appearance over the weekend with two EP releases: one collecting songs recorded in 2015 and 2016, and another — the beguiling Friends With Your Friends, which you can stream below — presenting four brand new melancholic indie folk jams for sad nights in quiet corners. Kindred spirits of Free Cake For Every Creature, Kimya Dawson, Regina Spektor and Mirah, Veev is a haunting and oddly comforting voice to emerge from the Philly home-recording scene.
PRAY TO KEEP
Four hardcore punk dudes sample an EKG meter and script hospital dialogue, incorporating both into a new anthemic alternagoth project. A scenario like this could go either way, but Pray To Keep’s debut single is solidly awesome, delivering the right blend of hooks and melody and booming production by Fred Mascherino of Taking Back Sunday and Terrible Things. Somewhere in between The Cure and My Chemical Romance, “Headstone Lottery” could be a modern rock hit — and should be, if there’s any justice to that whole sector of the music world. For now, look for the band’s full EP to release to hit Bandcamp on May 20th.
VIRO THE VIRUS
This doesn’t totally count as a new release, and more a resurfacing of something that more people should hear. Underground fave rapper Calvin James “Viro the Virus” Howard was born in Mount Holly, New Jersey, and built his name in the Philadelphia scene, working with Reef the Lost Cauze, STRESS, Side Effect and the Illvibe crew, releasing seven albums between 2002 and 2008; he passed away in 2012. In the years since, collaborator Caliph-NOW has reissued, remixed and remastered each of his records in tribute, bringing a new one to the scene each 4/20. This year, it’s an impressive re-working of Viro’s 2006 outing Jersey’s Finest with production contributions from Snowgoons, Haj from Dumhi, Matt McGinley of Gym Class Heros, Kush Shalimar of Writtenhouse and more.
This hard-working hard-rock trio has been on the scene since 2014, developing its sound from rough and raw beginnings to the spectral QOTSA-esque jams we hear on its newest release, Blood From a Stone. The four song EP delivers enchanting guitar tones and powerful dynamics that hit Soundgarden-esque highs, punch out like Mastodon and simmer like The Black Keys. They’ve grown into this over the years, and it’s by far their best effort. See them bring it to the stage on May 21st when they headline The Barbary.
Your space-soul-hip-hop beat tape of the week, b l o s s o m s finds bedroom producer Snyn deliver bumping, bass-heavy joints over a dozen minutes that somebody needs to find and rhyme to. Or, you know, just vibe to.
Basement show four-piece Cooking is the latest from the Bald Spot Record family, and their Cooking (With Gas) quasi self-titled record is fuzzy and stoneriffic, spanning jangley acoustic numbers and crunchy electric slow burners with bizarro pitch-modulated vocals from the Beck / Flaming Lips playbook. Sometimes the contrast is immediate — the dissonance of “What Are You Up To” giving way to the beauty of “Asleep” — but its a vivid reflection of states of constant worry and nerves, of unsteady uneasyness.
Mike Bardzik of Philly punk vets The Boils handled the production end of the latest release from local four-piece Old Arrows. The songs are timeless anthems — you’ll hears bits of college rock arpeggios, 90s pop punk riffs and contemporary/retro hooks in a Gaslight Anthem spirit. The band is comprised of guitarist / singer Chris Woodhead, bassist / singer Adrienne Robson, guitarist Dennis Prendergast and drummer Chris Galinskie, and the Rebuild You EP positively soars across four songs in 16 minutes.
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