The Key’s Year-End Mania: Julie Miller’s Top 5 ICYMI Philly records
Year-End Mania is the Key’s survey of the things below the surface that made 2014 awesome. In this installment, The Key’s editorial assistant Julie Miller shares five local records you might have missed the first time around.
Philadelphia dominated music this year. The War on Drugs and Strand of Oaks grew exponentially with records that topped almost every year-end list published so far; Modern Baseball led a crew of Philly bands down to Florida for a FEST takeover; and Cayetana’s Nervous Like Me debut sits at the top of our own best-of list, beating out national acts St. Vincent, Ryan Adams and the previously mentioned Drugs and Oaks (among others).
But sitting behind this list of ever-growing big names from Philadelphia is a vibrant and dense scene of musicians, bands, artists, performers…. pretty much every style of music you can think of has strong representation here in Philly. So to celebrate just a small portion of what the rest of Philly did this year, I’ve compiled five records by local musicians you might have missed in the glow of the big names. Go ahead and give these albums a second (or first!) listen.
Across all five songs on Forget there is this sense of impending change, a calm before the storm, as each one builds to a pivotal final thought. Often Reimold is grasping for something just out of reach or right before it slips away, whether it’s “you” like on “Forget” or an emotion on “Burn,” a former self on “Morning.” Using dark imagery broken into sentence shards like a shattered mirror, she examines basic human instincts and conditions like fight or flight, fear and love, life and death, though she does it more poetically and strikingly than most of her peers. This isn’t a melodramatic meditation on “the big questions,” though, by any means. Forget is artful, complex, challenging and uncomfortable at times, and the scenes constructed by the vivid lyrics will stay with you. (read my full review here)
Clique quietly released a self-titled debut on Kat Kat this fall and though the band is new, its players are no rookies in our jam-packed basement scene. I remember first hearing the record at my boyfriend’s house – one of his roommates was blasting it through his megaspeakers on repeat. I didn’t know what I was listening to through the wall, I hadn’t heard of Clique yet. But when “Pining” came on, with its circular hook and gut-punching lyrics about your life’s normal changing suddenly and completely, I needed to listen to it again and again. In the weeks and months since its October release any time someone mentions Clique the consensus is yes, that record killed it. (You can catch Clique at Kat Kat Fest on December 29th at Golden Tea House)
I was initially drawn to this album because of the opening of its first track “Fear” – its distant, bright, just-hatching guitar tones reminded me of a collection of demos I listened to none-stop in the fall of 2011 recorded by Steven Urgo (now TIG’s drummer). I have no idea whether or not those recordings had any role in the creation of EP 1 but it struck me enough at the time to listen to the full album and catch their early set at April’s Human BBQ, both good decisions as it turns out. The five songs are independent and varied in style, moving from 60s tambourine pop to echoey new wave pop. I chose “Fear” to highlight below because of its role in my getting attached to this EP, but “Locked On” is a must-hear for singer Marissa Lesnick’s knock-out vocals.
7 Transmissions is a tape that I missed the first time around when it was released in May. A side-project of musicians in Bleeding Rainbow and Spacin’, this is an all-electronic patchwork of knob-twisting, head-banging, vocal-sampling “compositions” that must have been incredibly tedious to create. I went back to listen to these deeply layered and tense tracks after seeing I IM EYE MY open for Jamaican Queens at Bourbon & Branch just a few weeks ago; I was vaguely familiar with them from having written up “Streetcat Bonfire” back in April, but I hadn’t thought about the band since. And when I saw a table covered in gear I started thinking about that time I saw Washed Out circa Within and Without (a record I love) and was totally underwhelmed by the whole electronic-music-live thing. But this was not that. I IM EYE MY’s live set was a totally overwhelming flow of energy that was incredibly impressive, as is this tape.
Did you know we have our very own Neutral Milk Hotel here in Philadelphia? Ok, Port Arthur isn’t quite Jeff Mangum & co…. they have a four-piece horn section when they play live! Move On is a very fun, very visual EP that was released in May. And when Port Arthur plays it live, with the horns and the six to seven people on stage, they’re like a family band back in the Victorian days doing a Vaudeville act. When I’m listening to the four songs I want to start illustrating the lyrics, forming images in my head of characters acting out the stories – a captain standing on the elaborate figurehead of his sinking ship; a goddess with “feathered wings” flying above a lake…. Like I said, it’s a very visual record.