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 will never not tell you to go see live music in some way or another. It’s part of my role here at The Key — shining a light on the artists that dwell in Philadelphia, as well as the spaces where their art comes to life. It’s just that, often, there’s so much of both of those things.
Friday night, I had a ridiculous amount of gigs to choose between. Two record release parties were on the calendar — one for Radiator Hospital, who headlined the church in support of the awesome and uplifting Play The Songs You Like, and one for Hound, who played Space 1026 to celebrate the asskicking Born Under 76. Technically, there were three, if you consider that The Lame-Os’ opening slot on the Preen / Pears gig at Everybody Hits was in celebration of their new self-titled jawn; and on the non-yay-new-album front, Vita and the Woolf headlined Johnny Brenda’s and The Overcoats played Arden. (To say nothing of huger shows like Ben Folds at The Fillmore, Brand New at the Tower, etc.)
Sometimes we have an embarrassment of riches. Sometimes it’s fine (and necessary) to step away from it all and collect your head. I ultimately chose the Vita show on Friday night — and I’m totally glad I did, it was a thrill to see a band I’d first seen perform to maybe a dozen people at Ortlieb’s a few years back galvanize a sold-out crowd at one of Philly’s most popular venues — but I also haven’t left my house since, pretty much.
And it’s been wonderful. I’ve gotten a lot of reading done, I’ve watched a couple movies, and I’ve listened to a lot of music — stuff that’s been accumulating in my New Music playlist on iTunes as well as new finds on the Philadelphia Bandcamp tag. We are now solidly, seriously in the autumn weather zone, and I’m all-around loving it: the temperature stability after all the seasonal elongation and upheaval we experienced earlier this year, the emergence of playfully macabre decor ahead of Halloween, and the way the turning of the leaves and the cooling of the air guides artists inward to a more reflective headspace.
If that’s the place you’re in as well, you’ll probably find a thing or two to love in the fifteen releases below.
The project of a local DJ, producer, self-proclaimed “wanna-be vegan chef” and history professor at Ursinus, Soular Fiction: Dreams of Flying is a compelling blend of spectral electronic dreamscapes, steady snappy beats and inviting bass tones — not to mention gripping spoken word. Brotha Onaci teams up with readers Tshay Williams, Kasey Zoned, Jada Grice, Codey Young and Rachel Yarabou to to tackle themes of identity, injustice, police brutality and hopes of liberation. As Onaci writes, “The featured artists express the sociopolitical outlooks of several young people of African descent in the U.S., France, and elsewhere. Together, We’ve created an audio experience that will have you thinking as you nod your head. Listen through headphones, during your commute, and at small gatherings.” The EP is a name your own price download, with donations through the end of this month supporting hurricane relief efforts.
Six months or so after Philly indie rock fun guys Roof Doctor called it a day, we find drummer Kevin T. Paschall stepping up with the debut of his latest solo project, Kiddo Marink. Paschall is a self-professed Ween obsessive — read his account of seeing the band three times in one week here — and that fandom surfaces in the Pen Pals EP. Which is an odd statement to make, for sure, since saying something sounds like Ween is saying something tastes like water; it’s about the context, and there are so many sonic excursions and reinventions the New Hope band took during its career that it’s not possible to pin them down to a single, defined “style.” So what I guess I mean by that is that Kiddo Marink employs a lot of far-left-of-center tones and textures on Pen Pals (out recently on Hickory Lane Records) — cartoonish voices that range from helium elasticity to gravely demon growls, rhythms that go beyond the overwhelmingly common rock and roll 4/4 structure, a sense of upbeat playfulness cut with a dark undercurrent — and warps the results thought a hallucinogenic prism. References other than Ween might include Animal Collective, Black Moth Super Rainbow or El Guncho, and it’s quite possibly Paschall will see this and totally facepalm because I’m wrong about all of it. Whatever the case, it’s a digable if highly unusual listen, and good to see his continued activity.
This Philly MC got busy this fall, popping four releases — his first batch in about a year — up on Bandcamp in quick succession. Some of them, like The Legend Of…III, are odds and one-offs collections, loosie tracks and collabs with local producers (like Key scribe John Morrison). As a straight-through listen, though, A Day In The Life Of… is where it’s at. Worked out with beatmaker SUP∆83, the mood is fast and funky, a definite throwback to golden-age 90s-era rap, and Leezie’s flow has an undeniable Biggie timbre to it. The set, which drops in full on October 24th, is a memoir of sorts, outlined in the Zelda style mission statement: “Too forward-thinking for his own damn good, he has spent the last 7 years consorting w/ saints, sinners, semi-retired hot druggy streetwear models, original trendsetters, & anti-fashionists, whilst exorcising legions of blood-thirsty demons and stockpiling his arsenal of sonic weaponry, preparing to wage war upon the wicked industry that left him slightly jaded and permanently scarred.” Epic.
If ever an XPN program had a vibe to it, Folkadelphia does — so when I call the new Mountain Child: A Travelogue by NYC-dwelling Philadelphian Hannah Frances “perfect Folkadelphia music,” I hope that makes sense, and I hope my good friend Fred Knittel agrees. To elucidate: fingerpicked acoustic guitars sit in the forefront while ghostly harmonica and congas resonate in the background, taking centuries-old music traditions from Europe and the Americas and placing them in an impressionistic landscape. Frances’ voice is measured and melodious, suave and confident. Traces of jazz and soul seep through the mix, making the overall project reminiscent of Laura Marling, or a more minimal Rickie Lee Jones. With lyrical references to forests, mountains and oceans, this is a collection of songs about moving between places and spaces; it was written nomadically, recorded in Chicago and produced in Philly. Moreover, each song is catalogued with the date and city in which it was written, making it what Frances calls “a very dear project to my traveling soul.”
The smoldering electric guitar tones and disaffected vocals of this Philly three-piece evoke the uncertainty of the post-punk, pre-grunge era — a space where moody melody met atmospheric production, with a touch of noise, but not an overabundance. “Sad Detective” and “K Song” are the A- and B-sides of the latest single from Recognitions — Devin Wm. Daniels on guitar and vocals, Kirk Bray on bass, Mike MacDonald on drums — and the tense beginnings lead into nervy jams that feel just about right this season.
This hard-hitting Philly grindcore outfit dedicates its farewell record, Masterpiece of Ignorance, to late guitarist Max Moya, who passed away suddenly on September 15th. As they write: “Eaten Alive didn’t form in hopes of becoming a successful band, Eaten Alive formed as group of old friends who wanted to write and play hardcore together. Every week we laughed. We wrote songs that no one will ever love more than we do. We wrote this album and put everything we had into it. Every great riff. Every dumb idea.” The resulting album is twelve tracks long, and with its teaser songs hovering in the one-to-two-minute zone, this it hold no punches between riffs, blast beats and frontwoman Davin Bernard’s howling vocals.
By day, Zach Goldstein manages Wyncote studio Kawari Sound. By night, he reinvents himself at Shell Money, creating alluring ambient tapestries meshed with found-sound audio collages, in the vein of The Books. Family Tapes 89-93 is their latest collection, and in the shifting soundscapes and pitter-pattering electronic pings, two voices create a thematic arc throughout, a person named Andrew and an unidentified woman, caught in domestic conversations — contentious ones, sometimes — that poke in and out of the haze. It feels at once like a very present-day work of electronic soundscaping as well as a visit into the fog of memories past.
CROWN OF PITY
With a background in metal and a fondness for shoegaze, this Philly duo lands somewhere in the territory of second generation 90s noiserockers like Swervedriver, Curve, Catherine Wheel and more — bands that loved to get lost in tone and texture of My Bloody Valentine and its brethren, but also weren’t shy about clocking listeners in the head with a ferocious riff or two. Comprised of singer-guitarist David Dutton and his sister-in-law, singer-bassist Natalie Rakes, Crown of Pity releases its Jeff Zeigler-recorded EP Everlasting Sunday on Halloween, and it’s got total Crow Soundtrack vibes for the old heads and Evanescence vibes for the young’uns.
In the fuzzrock spirit of folks like Mumblr, Elvis Depressedly and (going back a couple decades) GBV and Western Freeway-era Grandaddy, theroughsleepers makes awesomely catchy noise. The Philly trio does short and hooky rock songs saturated in sound, overblown with distortion, but not averse to something like a pretty slide guitar peeking through on “got no picturez.”
Eric Bresler once told me he sees PhilaMOCA — the Callowhill venue where he’s artistic director — as Philadelphia’s epicenter of weird. In that spirit, I’m not at all surprised to see that Velvet Crayon, a “koala-based” psychedelic rock project, has performed there once or twice. I first noticed the band (which involves no actual koalas, but is rather the mask-clad onstage persona of songwriter / multi-instrumentalist and performance artist Erik Paluszak) this winter when I spotted their ampersand imperfecta LP in one of my very first rounds of listening up to local music for Items Tagged Philadelphia. It was cool but, yeah, definitely on the weird side, so I skipped a review but filed the artist away for later revisiting. Their new the lost they are a generation takes the same concepts Paluszak introduced in his earlier work — expansive psychedelia and wandering compositions, pop hooks undercut by harsh dissonance — and puts it into closer focus. It’s still a weird record, probably unlike nothing else you’ll hear or see in Philly this year, but it’s got a digable and digestable arc to it (with the exception of “hipster lady,” an art scene satire set to Jimi Hendrix’s “Foxy Lady” that feels unnecessary and a bit phoned-in). For the most part, though, Velvet Crayon wears its overt influences — early Flaming Lips, White Stripes and Kinks — and mixes them up with an eclectic and fearless spirit that’s part White Album, part Monty Python.
Classic punk rock in the most 80s sense, local four-piece Sonic Screemers identifies as “West Coast-influenced punk and surfin’ riffs with an East Coast attitude.” Which is to say, yes, The Sonics are indeed a reference point, as are Dead Kennedys and X. Fast tempos, lurky guitar, lyrical malaise and the perfect soundtrack for skate videos and basement parties. Looks like they just celebrated the release of their self-titled debut at The Tusk on South Street last weekend, but keep tabs on their Facebook for future engagements.
Even though this Philly hardcore four-piece didn’t spring from the lineup of First Time’s The Charm — PhilaMOCA’s recurring festival that creates a platform for first-time musicians and seeks to amplify voices from marginalized communities — you can say its origins are similar in spirit. As the band told Maximumrocknroll upon the release of its first demo, “All of us wanted to try something new, half the band was new to their instruments but all enjoyed playing.” So raging on the drums you hear Pierce Jordan, vocalist for Soul Glo; the band also includes members of Disinterest and BURP!, and its adrenalized screeds on the new tape Who Is Cool run from just under to just over a minute, with Jess Sands’ gripping vocals leading the charge.
DARK WATERS END
Not to overly judge a book by its cover, but when you see a photo of a band rocking Dillinger Escape Plan tees, you can pretty safely guess what you’re getting yourself into by listening to their record. Indeed, Philly progressive death metal five-piece is big into pulverizing beats and restlessly complex riffs, but moreso, this band’s thing is playing highly technical heavy music without forcing the technicality on listeners. Sure, they may boast that their debut full-length Submersion “makes you think twice about nodding your head in standard timing,” but there’s a seemingly unspoken goal of remaining accessible to non-players — or non metalheads, even. You’ll hear touches of Pink Floyd on the lead-in to the seven-minute “Immortal Consciousness,” and some serious Fripp guitar leads throughout. The band celebrates the album release November 1st at Voltage Lounge.
One tape, one take. There’s something super pure about that, especially when so much of what’s been characterized as lo-fi over the past twenty years is incessantly fussed over. But Love Is Overtaking Me, the latest from Philly’s Anastasia, flows with a continuity and spirit that you can’t fake. With seven songs about insecurity and damaged emotion, the record has the cut-to-the-quick honesty heard in local peers Friendship, not to mention old favorites like Cat Power and Jason Molina. Even a bit of The Mountain Goats’ All Hail West Texas, for its stylistic simplicity and reflective nature, and even that record had the clicks of the tape player stopping and starting each song.
And now, one more for the season. The obvious parallel with this Philly trio is The Magnetic Fields — the strings, the minor key melancholia, the low-register deadpan delivery of vocalist Jeremy Lordan — but taken as its own thing, Argon Gardens’ two-song Autumn Leaves debut single is quite a gorgeous undertaking. Joined by beatmaker and viola player Rosa Ortega Iannelli, as well as synthesizer specialist Julianne Davis, these two songs smolder and smoke, meditating on loneliness and yearning for connection as slight uke and Moog synthesizers set the mood.
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