Camp Candle | Photo by Joe Del Tufo | courtesy of the artist
16 Philly songs we’re thankful for on Thanksgiving 2016
As always, we’re thankful for Philadelphia music on this Thanksgiving day. The amount of talent in the scene is immense, and continues to flourish. But moreso, this year we’re thankful for Philadelphia artists who imbue their music with a message.
There’s a lot of unease in the country and the world right now. This Thanksgiving, Native American citizens are clashing with authorities at Standing Rock for standing up against energy companies. Members of marginalized communities around the country are uncertain and afraid in the wake of the election. Going further back, there are numerous instances throughout the year where injustice and inequality have manifested into violence of various degrees.
I still have enough faith in humanity to think that the majority of Americans don’t wish harm on any of our fellow people. But I also know that a lot of us don’t want to think about these things when our lives are not directly affected. Particularly at the holidays, which are times for togetherness and family. Particularly from musicians and music writers. It’s a refrain I’ve seen a lot the past few weeks — “I don’t want to hear protest songs that preach politics to me, I want music that helps me escape from all the negativity in the world.”
I feel that there’s a middle way. It’s more essential than ever that we remain aware of and connected to the bigger world beyond our personal day-to-day lives. And music is one way to be connected, to think about things from a point of view other than our own, to experience and embrace empathy and compassion. But it is also possible to do this without wallowing in the distress and despair of 24-hour media.
So this Thanksgiving, I’ve rounded up a handful of songs from our flourishing Philadelphia music scene that, to some degree or another, do just this. Some of these selections go hard and don’t flinch: the incredible Moor Mother is a voice of outrage that we all need to hear right now. But sometimes, it’s just a single, subtle line in a pop song that gives us pause and makes us reflect — we hear this from Dominic. Some of the messages in the songs address issues on a global scale, from sexism (Sad13, Sheer Mag) to xenophobia (MH the Verb). And some issues are more personal in scope, such as PINKWASH‘s wrangling with loss and Modern Baseball‘s candid study of depression. All, worth noting, within the context of incredibly catchy, energized music…this is no pity party, people.
If you’re celebrating Thanksgiving with your family, we wish you a beautiful and happy day filled with warmth, love and togetherness. And we hope you’ll take some time today to listen through these songs and consider what the artists have to say about this world that we all share.
The infectious, Disclosure-esque electropop of Camp Candle‘s “One Day, My Friend” finds vocalist Hetepsa sharing a vision of unity over big beats and funky bass: “on everything i’ll be the one / to make a claim our lives as one.”
On his first single, “The Birthday Song,” Dominic is upbeat, optimistic and free-associative. At one point, he sings “I may love my grandparents, I may hate their god.” It’s a call, especially apt today, to see beyond our differences.
Newly relocated from Boston to Philly, Speedy Ortiz frontwoman Sadie Dupuis started the Sad13 electropop project this year and offers an empowering anthem for consent in “Get A Yes,” a reminder that respecting women is sexy.
Moor Mother uses experimental music and poetic lyrics to strike a balance between being confrontationally unsettling and utterly captivating. Released during the thick of this summer’s demonstrations against police violence around the country, “Deadbeat Protest” distills that unrest into a hard-hitting minute and 25 seconds of sound.
Other times, though, so-called activism doesn’t involve action. Sometimes, it’s just words on Facebook. RJD2 wants people to people to be involved in their communities and world, and he’s told fans this is the message of the funky “Peace of What.”
To that point, it was just over a year ago that a mass shooting occurred at an Eagles of Death Metal concert in Paris and all of your Facebook friends changed their avatars to French flags and Eiffel Towers. At the same time, awful stuff was going on in the Middle East that didn’t get the same level of attention or compassion. MH the Verb reflects on this divide in “Last Dance in Paris,” set to a jazzy pop hip-hop bounce.
Losing a loved one can be traumatic. When their bass player passed away earlier this year, the title track of The Superweaks‘ new album Better Heavens took on a much heavier meaning — but its riffs and shoutalong refrains can help anybody cope who’s been in the same place.
Their labelmates and close friends in Thin Lips channel similar issues of loss into the cathartic pop-punk of their album Riff Hard; “No Obituary” is a reminder in the face of tragedy to live your life to its fullest.
Philly rap mainstay Reef the Lost Cauze teams up with Truck North, S.T.S. and Peedi Craak on the catchy “Radio Suckas” to sample A Tribe Called Quest and reflect on the barriers artists face, particularly black artists, when it comes to making their voices heard.
Philly rapper S.udan‘s single “Die Tonight” addresses similar concerns as modern rock five-piece Those People‘s “Who’s Watching You” — the notion of fear and feeling unsafe in the place you call home (“never know who gonna let it fly, but this could be the night you die” from S.udan) and not feeling protected by those in charge (“Light me up for disobeying you” from Those People).
Sheer Mag makes some of the catchiest punk-rooted rock and roll coming out of South Philadelphia right now. Sometimes it’s so catchy, you don’t realize until later that the band is saying some powerful stuff. “Can’t Stop Fighting” in particular is a riff-tastic call to arms against rape culture.
It was on their previous releases Cancer Money and Your Cure Your Soil that Philly power duo PINKWASH really got to the core of losing a loved one. Their 2016 record Collective Sigh addresses the aftermath, particularly on the bold “Metastatic.”
Brendan Lukens’ half of Modern Baseball‘s Holy Ghostcandidly unpacks his struggles with depression, culminating in “Just Another Face,” where he reminds himself that he can overcome the obstacles in his path, but he can’t do it alone. When people are there for you, let them help; when your loved ones need you, be there for them.
The only instrumental cut in this collection of songs comes from John Morrison — who, yes, is one of our writers, but we’d be writing about his music even if he was a total stranger. The heady grooves and trippy beats of SWP: Southwest Psychedelphia offer a slice of city life circa 2016, specific to Philly but simultaneously universal, whatever your metropolitan setting happens to be. The Sister Nancy-sampling “Creation Theme” is an urging toward a place of peace and simplicity.
To wrap up our Thanksgiving reflections, we bring you Field Mouse‘s “The Order of Things” — a call for creatives to be bold in their art. “Go make the sound you hear in your head,” sings frontwoman Rachel Browne. “Even if they put you in the ground.”