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.
It’s been two weeks since Charlottesville, and writing about music still feels kind of frivolous.
I mean, yes, music is what we do here at The Key. But when we’re living in a country where a sniveling torch-bearing Nazi mob gangs up on a southern college town that wants to remove monuments celebrating confederate Civil War leaders — not a terrible idea in 20-freaking-17, honestly — and when you’ve got some of that mob veering into acts of terrorism, shooting guns and driving cars into crowds of counterprotesters…I mean, being all “yeah, but you should totally listen to this band” seems insensitive and irrelevant at best.
I was at Union Transfer when the news broke two Fridays ago, watching The Districts wrap up their celebratory album release gig for Popular Manipulations. I pulled out my phone and opened Twitter to post a picture of the stage-diving frenzy. Instead, I found myself frozen, met with a stream of horrifying photographs from the white supremacist march. I looked back up — an obliterated fan just crowd surfed onstage and sloppily attempted to sing into Robby Grote’s mic, then stumbled to the side and cracked open a beer. Did nobody know what was going on just a few hours south? What would they feel if they did?
Ever since, I’ve been at a loss for words to fully convey the shame, the anger, the disappointment I feel at seeing these acts of racism, violence and hate — which are frustrating but sadly unsurprising in white male America. And I know that, in the grander scheme of things, my personal feelings are not important; I’m a white dude, and white dudes were not the mob’s target. Whatever my emotions, they pale in comparison to the pain and fear and rage being felt by my friends and loved ones who are black or brown, Jewish or Muslim, who are women, who are queer.
I’ve listened to the voices of those who are really truly hurting from this, trying to find in their perspectives a sense of truth about what happened, and what continues to happen. I’ve kept plugging away at The Key — not working as much as I probably should, but still — kept listening for new music from Philadelphia. But not forgetting.
Like I said, it’s been two weeks. Even though there’s always something in the news cycle to be upset about, it feels like the furor over fascism has simmered down. We can’t let that happen. Some of the Philadelphia music I found on Bandcamp these past few weeks is angry, cathartic and politically direct; some is more broadly socially observant, but no less intense; some is elegant, expansive and meditative, sounds for when you need some sonic healing; and some is just hooky fun, but hopefully not in a mindless way.
There are twenty two selections in this week’s Items Tagged Philadelphia; there’s something for everyone, as always, and I present it to you in the spirit of coming together as one and overcoming those that would divide us.
To begin, a continuous twelve minutes of auditory fury from new Philadelphia five-piece Donor. Their demo sounds like Sonic Youth if all Sonic Youth songs sounded like the second half of “Mildred Pierce” — drone guitars, feedback squeals, synthesizer noise and indiscernibly shrieked vocals. Perfect for those moments when you feel like screaming into the void.
Does Philadelphia’s answer to Frank Ocean go by the name Marquise Miles? On his new iPhone Pop LP, Sad Marquise melds wavy trippy beats with melodic hooks and top-of-mind rhymes that are equally about and enabled by the free flow of creativity. There’s fat low end and a bit of a G-funk vibe, but if those G-funk tapes had been left in a hot attic and allowed to melt into a technicolor psychedelic patchwork.
This Philadelphia solo artist leans on the poppiest end of indie pop; the electronic vibes of her “Spacesuit” single are very indebted to The Postal Service, The Magnetic Fields, and (for those who remember them) Athens, GA duo I Am The World Trade Center. Rasnake has a great voice and perspective, using lyrics about intergalactic travel to ruminate on interpersonal connection.
Imagine the D.C. punk sound of the 1980s or SoCal circa the 90s, but transplanted to Philly in the teens, and you’ve pretty much arrived at local four-piece Atomic Cretins. Their songs are short and fast, suburbanly stoneriffic but also stridently antifascist / anti police brutality on Too Stoned to Die‘s charged-up opener “Today’s Reality.”
“Y’all call him a killer, I wonder why he turned out like that?,” spits Philly MC Eli Capella. “Ya’ll looking at a mugshot, I wonder if he was the same in the baby pictures.” Over a stylish, 808 take on boom bap beats, this Philly rapper takes an empathetic view on the root causes of urban violence, and how environments shape people. Illadwellers is something of a concept album, following the story of two childhood friends who take different routes in life, but it’s also a collection of straight rippers with incisive and observational rhymes.
For something mellow and contemplative, we turn to Potential Gospel and their new We Got So Used to Solitude EP. It collects melancholic folk music with lyrics about travel, death, and California. The set was recorded in collaboration with Endless Mtns Region, which was spotlighted in a previous Items Tagged Philadelphia for their collection of Fahey-styled instrumentals.
To clear your mind in quiet and solitude, to carve out a space for reflection and meditation, I suggest you flip on this collection from Philly’s Iron Gump. Breathing The Void was recorded with like minded artists Ashwin Gurung and Adrian King, and collects expansive improvised pieces incorporating singing bowl, bells, flute, guitar, violin, gong and percussion. The moods range from nervy to stunning and serene, and change tones numerous time over the course of each six to 13 minute song. As Iron Gump writes on its Bandcamp: “They are conversation between us, the instruments and the people who have joined us for the experience.” Catch it in person at spots like Studio 34 in West Philly and Healing Arts Collective in South Philly.
Sketchpad collects a variety of soundscapes, triphop to dub to drifting ambient expanses, and mixes them with wildly mystic and mythological lyrics from project mastermind Savin DePaul. His wordplay is vivid and clever, a stream-of-consciousness outlook paired with otherworldly beats.
COLOR AS TIME
This local jazz ensemble features known names from the Philly music community — pianist Bethany Brooks, drummer Matt Scarano, composer-guitarist Joshua Stamper and more. Their single “Marginalia,” recorded live at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, wanders in a post-Radiohead deconstructed piano reverie, until the horn section comes in halfway through and glides along to the beat.
Fortuna Hau is a one-woman anthemic altrock powerhouse, delivering driving electropop anthems a la Chvrches and Paramore. Hau recorded Glvciers//Tides’ debut Vacant EP with collaborators Noah Javadi and Josh Zepeda; I’d say big things are in store, but it already sounds pretty big.
This Philly rock four piece is Superchunk-y on “Slow Fade,” Clash-y on “160” and brimming with mad fun energy across its self-titled EP, recorded with Kyle Pulley at Headroom Studios in Fishtown. Beneath the riffs are twentysomething frustrations — songs about sex, loneliness and student loans — and a sense of humor, since Slow Reader purports to be Philly’s #1 Foghat Tribute Band. LOLZ.
With a super upbeat style reminiscent of Jurassic 5 — a classic paying tribute to their own classics — Philly’s Whole Foodz makes lyrical proclamations extolling the old school: no dab, no autotune, as rhymes declare. Instead, there are soul hooks, bumping bass and handclaps on the refrain. Definite hip-hop for the grownups, but not in a bad way. Bonus points: everything on the EP is named for an herb or spice.
A purveyor of self-styled extraterrestrial homesick grooves, Philly’s Cynabel collects phasing M83 / Porter Robinson style synth tapestries on the Summer Breeze EP. Very beautiful, spacious vibes for soundtracking your sundown.
This is is, at first glance, somewhat cerebral and surreal; a conceptual performance art hip-hop three-piece straight out of the world of Philly Fringe. Rapper Andrea Bullard and singer Katie Ross team up with multiinstrumentalist James Kalinoski, and their projected image is glossy, gazey and glam, an otherworldly look not quite in the Empire of the Sun-esque outerzone, but not too far off either. Thing is, the music is super tight. Supported by gliding synth tapestries, big beats and deep grooves, Bullard and Ross’ delivery is cool and confident, and totally separate from the character-driven surface. You can appreciate “By My Ashes” as a left-of-center multidisciplinary performance, you can appreciate it as a hot new track, and you can appreciate it as both; it’s great whatever way.
Philly duo Manifest stands out from the trap pack by accelerating its extremes; they do nimble, high-speed rhymes over woozy, very slow beats. There’s no shortage of clever and cocksure lyrical self-aggrandizing on Speaking Into Existance — “underground king rides the beat like the metro” — along with the usual examples of braggart flow and motivational flow. But “Windowz,” the slow jam of the set, stands out with beautifully melodic hooks and a sensitive outlook.
The pseudonymous lo-fi home recording artist Dad Goth tries a lot of different things on their feesh project; feedback and samples, slow beats and dissonance. Eventually, on the song “Window,” it finds a center around smooth grooves, as though this young creative took the aesthetic of that whole unfunny-joke-gone-too-far “yacht rock” thing, reclaimed it from middle aged white dudes and reset it for post-mellinials in a self-reflective headspace. Recommended if you dig Sade, Stereolab and Jay Som.
The self-titled tape from post-punk trio Lozenge collects downbeat nihilistic punk in the vein of Joy Division, Pissed Jeans and The Stooges; or maybe “Tin Cup” just reminds me of Matt Korvette singing “I Wanna Be Your Dog.” The band gigs out at spots like LAVA Space and Everybody Hits, and their studio debut was recorded by Rob Garcia, singer-guitarist of Telepathic and Bleeding Rainbow fame.
IT MAKES SOUNDS
This new local four-piece creates swelling, post-rock instrumental jams that spin into modern rock anthems thanks to soaring counterpoint vocal exchanges by singer-guitarist Storm Paul and singer-bassist Scotlyn Brewer. Expansive, yet intimate.
This playful powerpop punk four piece is built around suave vocals and classic hooks. Rocked by singer Becka Lundy, guitarist Thor Speeler, bassist Charlie Dubuc and drummer Jason Loux, Flamingo Chicks’ xoxoxo is an endearing set of lofi fuzzrock.
MAINE THE SAINT
This expertly-produced Humble Beginnings set from local MC Maine The Saint can kind of be viewed as struggle rap, but not in the pejorative sense — what you’re hearing is not an MC struggling to be good, it’s an unquestionably talented rapper rhyming about the struggle of finding a way to get heard amid a sea of voices, of coming up from working class roots and chasing big dreams. The project is built on trap beats and atmospheric electronic backings, but unlike carefree club fare, the perspective here is motivating and inspiring.
They’re acoustic, skronky and unhinged, but beyond that, there’s not a ton of info available about the people who made the Odd Plots, Impossible Messengers record. It starts out rattling strings and discord and builds into snare drum blasts and a dude shrieking while freaking out on free-associative lyrics. Kind of superficial, probably, but nevertheless awesome when you’re in need of cathartic release.
To wrap up this edition of Items Tagged Philadelphia, meet Madamdata. They are a member of SMTH Savant, an art and music collective based in Philly, and recorded this set in Singapore this August. Its pulsing, stirring instrumental meditations are dedicated in loving memory to one Julia Caplan. As Madamdata writes: “My computer crashed and everything fell apart. Left with my clarinet, a tape recorder and some old software, I put this together in stillness and grief.” Haunting, gorgeous.
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