Items Tagged Philadelphia: More to love and where to find it

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Here at The Key, we spend a lot of time digging through every new release from Philadelphia that shows up on Bandcamp. Periodically, we’ll check in to present you with the most interesting, most unusual and overall best of the bunch: this is Items Tagged Philadelphia.

No, I didn’t go to the parade on Thursday. No, I didn’t watch the game the Sunday before. No, I don’t particularly love football culture. Yes, I tried my best not to be a total buzzkill for like everybody around me, even people who I’m reasonably positive weren’t particularly keen on sports until late January or so. No, I don’t think I really succeeded at that, and my apologies to everyone who had to deal with my brooding ass this past week. Yes, I survived it all, and am glad it’s over.

Thankfully, there was a lot of great music to get me through. A solid new jam from Hop Along, and one from The Wonder Years seemingly referencing Hop Along; a new Queen of Jeans record on the way and an unreleased live Hardwork Movement joint (performed for those who stuck around for the off-air encore at Friday’s Free at Noon).

And of course, there’s always the stuff I’ve never heard before. Here are fourteen finds from the Philadelphia Bandcamp annals this month, a mix of orchestral pop and suave hip-hop and rabid punk and expansive instrumental experiments, a mix of rehearsal tapes and demos and polished full records. The one thing they have in common, beyond geography? They’re all worth taking your time to sit back and listen.


Philadelphia dwelling Knoxvillian Hayden Kesterson wrote their elegant new full length under the Afraid of Storms banner while in the midst of moving from place to place to place again; the title Boxes is a reference to the physical manifestation of all that transience. “All the moving in and out of dorm rooms, the going back and forth to home and school for breaks, the moving in and out of places for summer jobs is a stark contrast to the unmoving existence I led before,” Kesterson says on their Bandcamp page. “I lived in one house; I went to one school. Coming from such a privileged, stable lifestyle to the all-over-the-place of being a young adult makes the tumult of move-in and move-out day stressful and exciting.” Musically, Kesterson renders his reflections on the impermanence of life with a multi-instrumental team adding horns and strings and piano to his meditative acoustic arrangements, toeing the line somewhere between Sufjan Stevens and Sigur Ros. The lyrics are equally potent, and they are less linear narratives than pointed observations — “We have now changed, our expressions stayed the same.” Or “I’m afraid of everything that you could mean to me now.” They’re direct, honest and cut to the core.


Have we ever showcased a straight-up rehearsal recording on Items Tagged Philadelphia before? Not sure, but this session from Philly players Rieko Copeland, Wesley Peters, and Terrell Williams is an expansive wash of bubbling synthesizers and modulated tones, freeform vocals and casual interjections, building across seven minutes or so to a peak of glorious ambient soul. According to notes on Bandcamp, the PracticeSessions 01​,​02 release comes from (as you might guess) Tsuagaido’s first and second practice sessions. The band name is Japanese for “tour guide” and the trio sees its mission as taking listeners on a trip, with no two journeys being the same. A lofty outlay, perhaps, but the sound they’ve arrived at this early on is no doubt impressive — and for those who prefer something a bit more structured, peep the bonus cover of Corinne Bailey Rae’s “Been To The Moon.”


A week or so ago, I mistook a new Jack White for a new Justice song — which I think is just an indicator of how much I’m missing the French house revival of the mid-aughties. If you are in that similar mindset, check the Dance Music set by Philly’s Danger Mode, aka Malachy Roberts. It’s not French, but it’s got that kickdrum sound and fat low end that set Making Times on fire on the regular a decade ago, and instrumentals are mixed up with vocal cuts — like “Bed Rock!,” a funky tune with rapped verses and R&B hooks that would make Nile Rodgers proud. Not Daft Punk enough for ya? Cue up “Don’t Stop Dancing” and do like the title suggests.


“They are all still living. Yay!” might be the best band bio I’ve read this week. Poppy has a history in the Philly rock scene dating back nearly 25 years, and the three-song Hand In The Lion’s Mouth EP appears to be their first official release in about eighteen years. It’s pure 90s awesomeness — guitars that are big and loud, vocals that soar with confident, lyrics about self-empowerment and loving your city. Hell, they fit all five syllables of “Philadelphia” in a lyric without it sounding tremendously awkward, no easy feat by any means. The set was recorded by Brian McTear at Miner Street, the band consists of Brian Campbell, Craig Heim, and Kate Campbell, and though I was not hip to them the first time around, it’s good to have them back.


This curious mix of hip-hop and vaporwave is like listening to your favorite MC throw down while you’re fighting your way through an influenza delirium. Producer Desmata sets things adrift on an ebbing / flowing sonic tide on the H20, PLZ project, with sounds and textures continually morphing and rapper Lynx196.9 continually flowing, even as he bobs above and below the surface. Lyrically he breaks down social injustices as much as he extolls the virtues of smoking weed every day.


Local experimental composer Tim Woulfe acquired a stash of new gear recently, and to teach himself its ins and outs, The Moyamensing People’s Orchestra was born. The conceit behind Wet Swabbing of the World is that the 21-minute piece is the score for a dance troupe that doesn’t exist. Pianos clang and crash, ghostly sweeps of tone soar, a digital harp pucks away in the background and found sound samples shift back and forth. It’s a little Boards of Canada, a little Caribou. “I plan on actually making a dance performance happen for this at some point,” Woulfe writes. “But right now it just exists as the sort of .mp3 that leaves your itunes soaked and warped.” Meanwhle, it can be heard in the trailer for local artist Lauren Poor’s Patreon page.


This Philly songwriter and multi-instrumentalist has popped up on the Items Tagged Philadelphia radar a couple times over the past year,  but There Goes That Train Again is easily their most promising showing. With a wistful and worldly lyrical outlook, and arrangements that tap into Americana as much as psychedelia, this record reminds me much of Toothbrush and Easy Beat era Dr. Dog — particularly the Scott McMicken contributions on those albums. The guitars jangle, the drums waltz, the harmonica wails. Lurwick describes it as a blend of confessional personal pop and character-driven storytelling ballads. “It sounds as if it were made in the 60’s,” Lurwick writes. “Or maybe even the 80s. It’s confused, but in a very living self-realized way with a painful ‘lesson-learned’ kind of heartbreak.”


This is the point in Items Tagged Philadelphia where you’ll either want to crank the volume and rage or lower the volume for fear of disturbing your coworkers. Hopefully you choose the former path, since Philly punk four-piece Pithair makes music that is meant to be listened to LOUDLY. With lead screamer Tori Roccia at the front, the band is rounded out by Joe Hoban on guitar, Josh Burnett on bass and Alex Held on drums, and sets sick riffs (think L7 by way of Metallica) alongside musings on objectification, alienation, and the general scum that mankind can be.


Another noisy four-piece, but of a different stripe — Philly’s TVO exists in the psychedelic garage rock dissonance zone moreso than that of pissed off punk rock catharsis. But don’t look at that word “psychedelic” and think this is something soft and sweet; vocalist Ali Donahue Greg Cordeira could totally go toe-to-toe in a scream-off with Pithair’s Tori Roccia, and aggression is just as present in the frantic licks and unhinged beats on TVO’s DMO as it is in Pithair’s self-titled. All that said, if we did ultimately get these bands together, they’d probably bypass the face-off and proceed directly to commiserating about how busted society is that it encourages toxic competitiveness in the first place.

(UPDATE 2/22: Since I wrote this review, the band contacted The Key to point out that I incorrectly identified Ali Donahue as their vocalist; Donahue plays bass in TVO, Greg Cordeira is the vocalist. We’ve corrected the post, and I still agree with the feelings on the EP that I shared above, but as the band pointed out, my conclusion was nevertheless drawn by imagining two bands fronted by women commiserating over competitiveness. As TVO writes: “It is sloppy to compare two bands because you assumed they were both fronted by non-dudes. Would you have written [the concluding sentence] had you known that our band was fronted by a man? We understand you are most likely well-meaning but it’s patronizing to frame women in music in that light that especially since bands fronted by dudes are never written about like that.” While my reason for the comparison was based on a few factors — both releases are EPs, both are loud and aggressive, both have several songs under two minutes — ultimately, the band is correct, gender was a reason as well, or my incorrect assumptions about such. Apologies to TVO for the patronizing comparison, and thanks for putting us in check; we’ll do better going forward. -J.V.)


Hailing from over the bridge and down the White Horse Pike, Westmont, New Jersey, four-piece Clamfight returned this winter with their third LP: five searing and expansive tracks that sprawl across 45 minutes. Comprised of childhood friends Joel Harris on guitar, Louis Koble on bass, Andy Martin on drums/vocals, and Sean McKee on guitar, the band draws inspiration from heavy post-rock in the vein of Mogwai and Mono, as well as metal doomsayers Sleep, Neurosis and Mastodon. Opener “Whale Road” is a tremendous journey of an opening track, stretching across eleven minutes of incendiary sonic space that peaks on a remarkably classic rock sounding guitar solo. For those more into the whole brevity thing, take the brooder “Eynhollow” for a spin; it’s only five minutes, but spends it basking in the uplift of glorious Floyd-ian instrumental tones before the onslaught of closer “History of the Earls of Orkney,” which builds from punishing to euphoric.


Drawing influence from the Lumineers / Oh Hellos / Mumford world, regional folk trio West for the Winter debuted in the fall with a series of covers (The City and Colour, needtobreathe, Bon Iver) and re-introduced themselves late last month with Sunrise, the band’s proper debut. Comprosed of Victoria Schrag, DJ Ladignon, and Tyler Sensenig, West For The Winter’s bread and butter is crystalline vocal harmonies and quiet contemplation. For fans of all the above-mentioned bands, as well as fans of sitting indoors on a rainy afternoon, staring out the window and thinking about life.


Seemingly making up for three years of silence, Philly rapper Reg released three projects in January, back-to-back-to-back. Forever Black is easily the best of the bunch, as it has the most to say. With slick trap beats, revved-up chants and tasty synthesizer melodies comingling, Reg reflects on notions of self-esteem, self-discovery and identity in a world plagued with intolerance and inequality. “Dedicated to one of my best friends, Black,” Reg writes. “Dedicated to my little brother, Mal. Dedicated to anyone of color. We are #ForeverBlack.”


Brilliantly boundary-pushing, the debut EP experimental rap project m|ghthaunt surfaced on Bandcamp this month, and it envisions a world with frantic rhymes sit alongside urgent orchestral horns, industrial noise, and wobbling synthesizers. A kindred spirit to Philly’s Moor Mother, m|ghthaunt’s an offering EP is either some of the most gripping performance art of 2018 or a glimpse into what rap could sound like in 2038. More descriptors, courtesy of project visionary Cheikh Ahmadou: “ghost gospels. liminal throat exaltations. defect ballads. hell hop.” IDK about you, but I will totally listen to anything categorized under “hell hop.” Bonus, for the collectors: order online and get a chapbook zine collecting writings at the center of the work.


Finally, an indie pop palate cleanser. Locals Tate are made up of Sarah Cabot-Miller on bass and vocals, and Michael Mendelson on drums, and their debut EP New To This is a ton of catchy fun. Like a less orchestral / more punk take on Belle and Sebastian or Camera Obscura, Tate definitely fits a description I’m not totally in love with: “twee.” It can be used as a dig as much as a compliment, and I try to use it sparingly as a result. But with their honest, true-to-life lyrical outlook, their unfussy playing and endearing melodies, their balance of melancholy and optimism, Tate is twee in the best way imaginable.



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