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.
Oh my. Has it really been… *gulp* …43 days since our last edition of Items Tagged Philadelphia? Kindly disregard the word “weekly” in that intro blurb up there, and trust me when I say that I never stopped listening to all the amazing Philadelphia music making its way on to Bandcamp this autumn, even if I fell short on time to tell y’all about it.
Hopefully today’s installment, which rounds up some 24 releases that I dug in recent weeks, will make up for it. We hear a spectrum of styles from folk to disco to punk to hip-hop, heady beatmakers and retro vocal ensembles, modern rock anthems and personal introspections, my first conscious inclusion of an edit label’s jams since this project’s inception back in January.
As always, I found something for just about every set of ears, so let’s dispense with the chitchat and dive in. My goal going forward: get at lest one more Items Tagged Philadelphia column in the books (if not several) before 2017 fades out.
Philadelphia duo Tess Eileen and Bryan Patrick craft haunting songs of love and loss with the simplest of adornments — acoustic guitar and keyboard soundscapes are the only things to hold up Eileen’s voice as she pines, longs and reassures. Kindred spirits of Laura Marling and Beth Orton.
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Part of the V I R T U A 94 digital collective, this young beatmaker dropped the Distant Dreams EP for his birthday way back in October, and it does indeed live up to the title. Muted, mellow beats dance through a high pass filter and in the distance we hear sampled, decontextualized rhymes from Biggie and more, faraway voices breaking through the fog.
Stage 4 is the latest outing from this Philly MC, who delivers pensive rhymes that tread into metaphysical / spiritual zones over meditative beats. With production from RolledGold and BijLincs, this dose of hip-hop philosophizing is especially cosmic.
Philly’s Christopher Davis-Shannon is master of all things retro and nostalgic, so much so that The Key’s Megan Cooper has once speculated that he might actually be a visitor from the 1930s. So it comes as no surprise that’s he’s got a hand in Hotsy Totsy, which takes a cue from pop vocal groups from the pre-rock n’ roll era. But the real stars here are Jenny Pilong, Diana Carino and Amanda Brizzi, the three women at the front of the band whose vocal harmonies positively soar. I’m hesitant to use the term “girl group” as a reference point here — to me, that conjures up the narrow and somewhat corny brand of teenage lovesongs popularized in 1950s suburbia; plus, as far as genre titles, it didn’t exactly age well. And this band covers much more sonic territory than just that, from showtunes and vaudeville to jazzy expanses of mystery and vibe a la Bat For Lashes. Bonus number one: listen through for a kitschy cover of metal classic. Bonus number two: since dropping this EP on Halloween, they went ahead and released a holiday single called “Snow Day.”
“Rock for people with short attention spans,” goes the tagline, and when I’m trying to listen to every Philadelphia release on Bandcamp, that’s just perfect. Local rocker PB Atom plans on releasing his new Ball Bearing EP on Christmas Eve, and two tracks are streaming at present. Opening “Anxiety Daydream” is a driving earworm in the vein of Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, featuring a dreamy b-section with a whistling solo by fellow Philly cat Emmett Drueding. And lest you write them off as insincere cynics dosed by irony and PBR, “Befores and Afters” is remarkably sincere in a jangling singer-songwriter kind of way. Patterend after two of the most saturated scenes of music, PB Atom still stands solidly above the pack.
Eatontown, New Jersey’s Sarah Ponton has been making beats and melodies under the name Overwinter since 2016, and the Condor EP, released this fall, is their debut. The first thing that catches my ear is the captivating combination of cool digital beats, warm organic instrumentation, suave grooves and jazz-tinged accents. All in the service of of Ponton’s mellifluous delivery, it’s solidly reminiscent of Thievery Corporation, Massive Attack, and others of the unfortunately-named-but-sonically-awesome “electronica” era of twenty years ago — but listen again and you’ll also hear touches of Phantogram and Tame Impala, two of Ponton’s self-professed present day faves.
This fall, a local bedroom pop artist was about to head back to another semester at school and needed something to occupy her time before leaving. Thus the songs on Thanks, I Appreciate It were born over the span of 24 hours. The thing I love about this the most is it doesn’t sound rushed — in the spirit of K Records queen Mirah, the songs stay simple, but there’s nuance, whether it’s keyboard notes that phase in and out of the ether on “Do You” the lo-fi existential dread of “I Care and Dare.”
Over the course of its production, the debut from Philly’s Flight Habit spent some time in the hands of Conshohocken’s Will Yip (he mastered the album) and it drives and drones with heavy tones in a way we’ve come to expect from the guy who’s worked with likes of Nothing, Title Fight and more. But this band — a five piece consisting of Tim Schmied, John Ricci, Josh Mackie, Zack Robbins and Sean Hallock — is quiet more often than loud, with the earnest clicks of acoustic strings mixing with rumbling electrics, esoteric sounds and samples darting to and fro impressionistically, and song structures defying convention at every turn. Kindred spirits of Wovenhand and Slint, Flight Habit’s Glorified Hill Myna is a beautiful and pensive musical rendering of anxiety and a search for a path through.
SKREWTAPE & CAPO THE KING
There’s an icy Wu-Tang undercurrent to this collaboration between Jersey’s Skrewtape and Philly’s Capo The King, and if that’s the era of rap you came up on, you’ll hang with the In The Wind for more than a minute. The set covers a lyrical range, from stream-of-consciousness storytelling, to thought-provoking quips about the 300+ year history of a racist society, to the importance of self-confidence in the rap game (and life), not to mention celebrations of weed and women.
Cherry Hill producer Hazy Eyes makes gentle, chiming synthpop backdrops and connects with a variety of guests vocalists to uplift them into the ready-for-modern-rock-radio zone. The Some Reason EP, on Majestic Records, opens with a Bastille-ish vocal from FEELDS before bringing in Claire Ridgely for “Skyline” and the standout “Love Is,” while Welsh singer Violet Skies sends the closing “Run For” into soaring R&B stratospheres.
“WAX WAV is a DIY punk rock band from Philadelphia. Another one of those? Yes.” Hey, at least this crew — featuring members of The Danger O’s, Left Behind and Crills Wilson — is honest with itself and with us about its role in a saturated market. And they’re pretty kickass, to boot. WAX WAV worships at the alter of The Replacements, not as exhaustingly overtly as Beach Slang perhaps, but the influence of them (and Hüsker Dü, and others of that era) is evident, in a very good way. Turn it up loud, rock the F out, feel the feelings.
Phantogram famously got its start by making beats they hoped Jay-Z or somebody of his stature would pick up, and then instead spinning them into sinister electronic rock anthems. 26-year-old Philly rapper Image reverse engineers that tactic, taking dreamscapes that, if not cribbed directly from Josh Carter and Sarah Barthel, are inspired by their style, and using them as beds for discursive, intellectual rhymes in the vein of Sage Francis.
Before the sass and bash of the Arctic Monkeys took hold ten years ago, British rock was earnest and anthemic af. Sure, some of that survives today amid the stylish flash of The 1975, as well as the aforementioned Bastille, but Philly four-piece Cologne most reminds me of approximately the year 2002 — the early days of Coldplay and Muse, the less celebrated artists like Remy Zero and Travis, and the purity of attracting crowds with beautiful (and endlessly catchy) songs, even if they weren’t considered the coolest at the time.
Earlier this year, Philadelphia’s LuluWish discovered a box of tape recordings from their childhood — recordings of play-acting routines, recordings of shrieking arguments with family members, recordings of Bailey the dog barking in the distance. So for their latest EP, Gentlewoods, those recordings are chopped up and recontextualized, set to skittering industrial drums by Matt Wiser loaded up with heaps of delay, droning and atmospheric instrumental beds and occasional vocals. It makes for a compelling audio collage that looks at memory and nostalgia, of the functioning of the family unit and the nature of happiness.
This west Philly DIY gal holds an acoustic guitar in her artist photo on Bandcamp, but don’t let that serve as any sort of signpost as to the sonic direction of her new EP Bent. Sounds you’ll hear on this record include overblown riffage, uneasy synthesizer tones, Nirvana-style aggro chord changes, and super poppy melodies. These things all coalesce on “Dumb Struck Dumb Fuck,” the record’s standout centerpiece that also happens to be a pretty awesome song title. Morgan’s songs are highly personal, but not in a naval gazing way; if you like what you hear in this EP, we also recommend you check out “Cracks and Corners,” a standalone single she released at the end of last month.
They’re not from London, they’re from Philly — but Lucidia sounds so very incredibly British on its impressive debut EP, Hush, recorded earlier this year at Miner Street in Fishtown. The band is a four piece comprised of Jiah Pearson-Leary on vocals and guitar, Stefanie Eichmann on vocals and keys, Bill Carley on drums and Warren Minnix on bass. The title track is a great led-in — thundering floor toms and an earworm-y hook in the vein of Two Door Cinema Club and The Maccabees. This sort of sets the template: Edge-y guitar leads, a percussive urgency and arena-ready hooks. Dramatic in tone, epic in scope.
I once had Dave P of Making Time introduce me to the concept of an edit label — it’s basically a club DJ thing where the deepest of deep cuts are unearthed and presented anew for dance party use, sometimes with new basslines, sometimes extended or blended into other songs around them. The downside with this edit set from Philly’s Superprince — the original artists, whoever they are, get no credit whatsoever, and the songs are great. The upside — holy shit this is a seriously cool and fun four-song set of disco, soul, boogie and funk.
Jen McGrath is the creative force behind all elements of this uplifting, energized electropop EP by Beach Cabin. The production, the programming, the guitars, the bass, the vocals and the writing of the songs. Don’t Let Me Go is a collection of tuneful romantic melancholia with an immediately likeable Postal Service feel to it, as well as touches of New Order and their contemporaries.
The cover art for this Philly rapper’s new I N F A R E D is indeed a super saturated red — which nicely vibes with the music within. Hot, heavy, a bit delirious but also incredibly energized. Ryan spits fierce gangsta shit throughout, and brings in guests like MuteBoys (on the millennial hardcore of “FISH”) and Yatt Bully (on the G-funky “BG 2 OG”) on the assist while synthesizers pulse and beats rattle. As far as artists on the trap scene periphery go, Ryan delivers a digable amount of variety both sonically and lyrically.
This singer, songwriter and guitarist wandered the continental United States for almost a decade before landing in Philadelphia, and he calls his debut Acrylic Clouds a culmination of that experience. I’m hearing pieces of Bright Eyes and Mojave 3 as easily as John Prine and Townes Van Zandt in its inward-directed country tones. Kirby says the songs “are meaningful interpretations of reality, just as memories and stories become. These songs are vignettes of feelings and thoughts of the events and relationships that shape my memory.”
As the city that gave a launching pad to names like DJ Jazzy Jeff, Josh Wink, King Britt, and (for better or worse) Diplo, dance music and club culture has historically thrived in Philadelphia. Spintronic draws inspiration from that legacy, and his new linear album hits on tasty notes of house, trance and more. The man behind the project, J.L. Jones, has been at it for 30 years now, and this record collects some of his latest works from the spring and summer. These songs got their start in his bedroom, but I could totally hear them owning the dancefloor as well.
THE MORNING HERALD
Modern rock anthems and massive bravado are the order of the day in this three-song set by Villanova power trio The Morning Herald. Reminiscent at points of Frank Turner, Mumford and Sons and other swaggery Brits, Pure Electricity is a solid showing from bandmates Zach Leone, Daniel Schmetterling and Cole Chebi.
This Philadelphia singer and songwriter is inspired by cajun and country sounds, and brings them together in a contemporary storytelling blend of folk . The stripped-down acoustic set wind cover brings together works in progress as well as revisited old favorites from Cope’s back catalog, including “Brains & Bodies,” a collaboration with former Philadelphia artist and activist Joshua Marcus, who’s been living in Rhode Island the past several years. Delicate, sublime.
Let’s close it out with some fire this edition of Items Tagged Philadelphia. This demo from Philly punks MINT takes a cure from Sheer Mag in fusing 70s riffs and licks with noisey basement show and incisive social criticism. Recorded in Kensington, the set is five songs in eight minutes, and “Misgender” crafts an indcredible tone out the gate.
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