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.
Question: do you ever feel like you’re caught up on the great to-do list that is life? Follow up question: how? I finally finished watching Twin Peaks: The Return today — no spoilers, just WOW — but I’ve still got a seemingly endless litany of things to cross off.
Some examples: Mix and edit audio, cut video of my backlog of Key Studio Sessions (even though new ones keep being recorded). Wrap up the massive undertaking of combing through and trimming down fifteen years worth of digital concert photos (even though I keep shooting more all the time). Buy ingredients to make cauliflower tikki masala for dinner (now I’m just procrastinating). Make art (“Get outta town, I didn’t know you did anything creative!”).
A big one: finish articulating my unfinished thoughts about the recent New York Times‘ Arts & Leisure section last week namechecking 25 women and non-binary artists making some of the best music out there today, as well as the NPR Music’s Turning the Tables series of 100 great albums made by women (quick takes: great to see so many bands with Philly ties in the mix, yes it feels antiquated to have “Women In Music” spotlights in 2017, possibly a bit pageview-grabby exploitative as well, but as evidenced by big fall tour announcements like Joyce Manor / Wavves / whatever-other-all-male-all-white-band, it is still a necessary conversation, and the result is two pieces of music journalism you should totally read, so read them y’all).
Oh, and listen to new music for Items Tagged Philadelphia.
This week, I bring you a half dozen finds from the late summer — hardcore punk to praise to performance-art driven. At least one of them is funneling proceeds to worthy causes, particularly Hurricane Harvey relief on the local level in Houston. Question: are we in danger of reaching charitable music burnout? I don’t have a follow-up question, but god I hope the answer is “no.”
This four-piece declares themselves “Sound of the summer for girls in an industrial wasteland.” What that means, roughly, is rip-roaring badass hardcore punk with strong feminist perspective, socially coinscious lyrics and serious riffage. Think Gouge Away from Florida, or the recently disbanded S-21 from Philly (Items Tagged Philadelphia vets)…or a band I saw both those bands play with, Paint It Black. “Business Acumen” is the first song streaming from Downtrodder’s new II LP, and from my read, its an unflinching takedown of fragile masculinity and one particularly fragile maculsinist in a seat of great power. The band is comprises of vocalist Kate Meyer, guitarist Dave Lopez, bassist A. Mary Carr and drummer Bradley Nussbaum, and their current roster of tour dates includes a September 23rd show at LAVA Space in West Philadelphia.
This week, multimedia artist Marit Rose Stafstrom released Abode of the Merciful – the second outing from their musical outlet, Nymphaea. The project is definitely rooted in industrial and dark electronic music — it gets the coldwave tag on Bandcamping — but these six songs are also ambient and ethereal, drifting and meditative, using sound to find inner solace in a difficult world, and outwardly so too. As Stafstrom puts it, “this album is a benefit for those who need support,”and 100% of its sales will be donated to those in need of assistance. 50% will go to Houston Autonomous Relief, helping communities — particularly those of color — recover in the wake of Hurricane Harvey. The other half will be split between Philly For Real Justice, the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence as well as personal donations to Stafstrom’s friends affected by loss, including some hit by the unfortunate fire in Oakland’s Ghost Ship art space.
The project of singer, songwriter and guitarist Meg McCauley, Slow Ref makes sensitive, uplifting indiepop in the vein of Free Cake for Every Creature and Camera Obsucra. Joined by drummer Anabelle Declement and bassist Evan M. Marré, the band alternates between gentle introspection and suave retro stylings; Tim Bomberg-Roth’s saxophone playing gives it a Belle & Sebastian vintage 60s Europop feeling. It all coalesces into the concluding “Something,” with swift beats and handclaps making sure the melancholy is offset by fun.
Speaking of uplifting, meet Vertical Current, a local gospel funk-jazz six piece. Their new After Midnight album was recorded live at Gradwell House Studio in New Jersey, and the band — trumpet and flugelhorn player Christopher Stevens; bassist Donald C. Stevens Jr.; keys player Ali Prawl; guitarists Jordan Damiani; percussionist Walt Nash; and drummer Maurice D. Fonville filling in for Brandon Mullen — mix sentiments of praise with tear-the-roof-off energy. It reminds me of the time I saw The Holmes Brothers in the rain at Philadelphia Folk Fest; in both that set and this album, whatever your personal spiritual beliefs might be, it’s hard be unmoved.
The record you are about to press play on — the one with the serious Swordfishtrombone-era Tom Waits vibes — is called The Groan and it is the latest offering from BEAST. This somewhat mysterious group is the musical wing of Holy Fool Arts, an interfaith performance art collective based in Philly that works up and down the east coast at events like the roving Carnival de Resistance. While we can’t seem to find any sort of cast list of who is involved in the musical end of their adventures, the gist seems to be they use blues / roots music as well as folk dance to tell stories about ecology and conservation.
To close this week, some jams from emo-tinges pop-punk dudesssssss. Of which there are so many on Bandcamp. So, so very many. But in that super saturated market, locals Faringwell fare relatively well. The bandmates — Bobby Carter on guitar and vocals, Brian Bickel on lead guitar, Chris Ellis on bass and Scott Johnson on drums — are tight and skilled players, the songs on Change of Scenery are catchy and expertly-produced, mixing up tones and textures into the standard guitar-pedal rock. Take the delicate acoustic breakdown of “Postcards” and the way it segues into the gang vocal outro. Sure, the music follows formulas of a post Wonder Years landscape to an extent, but the band seems self-aware in that regard and works to keep things interesting. Carter’s vocals in particular sit in a pretty sweet spot between aggression and vulnerability on this five-song EP: not too nasal, not too Cookie Monster, just honest and sincere and owning its imperfections, as Small Circle’s Marissa D’Ella might suggest. Faringwell opens a four-band bill at The Barbary on September 23rd.
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