Items Tagged Philadelphia: Snow days and manic sounds
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.
The first snow day of the winter descended upon Philly this week. I mean, it wasn’t a shut-down-the-city level storm; it was barely a hey-let’s-get-loaded-and-make-a-snowman-before-everything-melts level. Somewhere, 1728.6 miles due west, our friends in Denver are heartily laughing at us as they raise a pint of Great Divide Yeti Stout and adjust the tire chains on their Dodge Ram to plow their way home through the 20-whatever feet of frozen precipitation currently caking their streets.
Okay, so we don’t deal well when faced with (possibly marginally) extreme weather. We also don’t deal well with change, even though constant change and inconsistency is a hallmark of being a Philadelphian in so many ways. Not long after we dumped bags of Morton rock salt on our sidewalks and plotted out what to binge from Netflix, it was 63 degrees and my buddy Adam sent out a Facebook invite asking people to come over to his place in South Philly for a backyard cookout.
As someone wiser than me said in regards to our region’s manic weather, any sensible person knows what it is all about. But it’s also interesting to see the reflexive effect of the lonely, dark depths of winter — not to mention the ennui when winter doesn’t feel like winter — on the Philadelphia creative community. Some of the music we’ll look at this week clearly comes from a place of hibernation and meditation. Some of it comes from restlessness and unease, a desire to break beyond self-imposed boundaries. And some of it is just badass stuff that jumped out at me. Listen on, and force yourself to step outside a little bit each day — even if you don’t have to.
I spent a year in my late teens living in Hazleton, and I was not psyched about it. On weekends I’d hop in my car and drive from the foothills of the Poconos, down 309 through the Mahoning Valley and into the suburban sprawl of Philadelphia to spend time with my friends. This meant traversing a region of our state that is higher altitude, less densely populated and more prone to shifts in weather that make actual damn sense…in other words, I learned how to drive in a snowstorm pretty effectively. Moby’s Everything Is Wrong and Orbital’s In Sides were my absolute jams at this time — thanks for the reminder, Ten Albums That Shaped You as a Teenager meme — and one of my favorite things to do when the snow was coming down hard and heavy was slow way way WAAAAY the hell down and pop one of those aforementioned jams into my cassette deck. The expansive synthesizer soundscapes combined with a wash of crystalline white falling all around me, a dashboard window that was increasingly beginning to look like a TV screen filled with static, created a hermetic and vaguely Zen-like state, awoken only occasionally by (depending on the song) the cadence of the beats and vocals.
Hammonton, New Jersey’s Altered Landscapes deals in a similar type of electronic meditation. The project of sound designer Nick Berenato, the new Movements EP — the project’s first release since 2015 — emerged on January 6th. While some of the introductions and beds have a feel of Brian Eno’s generative-style compositions, the pulsing beats give it a sense of soundtrack vigor akin to The Album Leaf and early M83. Think of it as meditation in the most alert way possible.
Sometimes you just don’t want to leave the house. Sometimes you look out the window and see your neighbors bundled up, parading the sidewalk with shovels, cars ripping needlessly fast up the street and splashing waves of blackish grey sludge onto a group of kids converged at the corner, you see it all and you just go “nah.” Watch out for that first step, it’s a doozy….screw that. Gather around you your instruments of creation, whether they be sketchbooks and pens or a microphone and laptop, and get to creating.
While I don’t think West Philly’s Haki Bolds made his new collection The Exerbs / Deux in this particular snowstorm — it’s a double LP, 34 songs, with a disc’s worth of covers — the music does seem born out of the focus of that kind of intense hermitage. The set collects tripped-out postmodern jams in the vein of Beck, Cibo Matto, Panda Bear and Willis Earl Beal. That means wavy warped-tape backings, vocals that are equal parts sung and rapped, and askew instrumental arrangements delivering originals as well as covers of Bolds’ inspirations: Pixies, MGMT, Green Day, Led Zeppelin, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah and many more. A lot to take in in one shot, but if you drop in at random points it will almost never fail to bring a smile to your face.
The studio project of singer-guitarist Patrick Norris and all-the-other-insrtruments utility guy Chris Caulder, Seldom Family released its latest standalone single on January 10th. The jangley melancholy echoes The Go-Betweens as much as the tentatively optimistic melodies lean heavily Toad the Wet Sprocket. Those are two comparisons that, for the most part, are only relevant to people of a certain age (eg. olds like me). The album art of the band’s back-catalog seems to be mostly monochromatic photographs, giving a very Smiths / Belle and Sebastian visual aesthetic — if that helps. But the music will nonetheless resonate even if you don’t pick up on the reference cues. “Heaven Won’t” is an emotional and contemplative track, lyrically meditating on isolation, loneliness and desire, a character promising that as much as they’ve changed, they’re still the same — and as they repeat “cross my heart,” you don’t entirely believe them.
Hip-hop slow jams from another galazy, or a producer who downed too much cough syrup to shake the malady that took hold when they went outside without a coat on that one really sunny day and then got caught in the rain and the rest of their week went to shit but there’s still work to be done y’all. Actually, I’m once again projecting — the Lil Moon collection from Philly rapper Zay Rondon has a given release date is December 25th, though it didn’t show up on the Bandcamp “New Arrivals” feed until a couple days ago. I wonder how the heck that algorithm works — or, like most algorithms, if it is beyond human comprehension outside of the SkyNet facilities.
Anyways, Zay Rondon keeps it slow and remarkably sexy on this set; as much as the beats are tripped out to the stratosphere and Rondon’s gravely flow has a tendency towards drawling, he’s not shy about talking up his game, sometimes raunchily so. But really this isn’t a set about degrading — a lot of it is aimed at understanding love, learning to be comfortable with intimacy and doing all of it to some remarkable space trap beats.
Firstly, I’ve got to call attention to the dedication on this one: Bunk’s self-titled debut goes out to “Our wives, girlfriends, kids, families, and friends, some of who went from one category to another or came into our lives during the process of writing, rehearsing, and recording this album.”
What does one read in to that? That Bunk is a band of four people ostensibly approaching their 30s if not well into them, four people hopelessly passionate about music and who are unwilling to accept the societal convention that no, you can’t have it both ways, you can’t rock out like you’re in GBV when you’re going home to take care of small humans with a spouse in a nice house somewhere on the outskirts of Media. That’s a lie on both sides of the argument, and cheers to these pseudonymous psychedelic garage rockers for challenging it.
Per the liner notes, the band’s goal is an album oriented work, sharing 40 minutes of time with us instead of 3 and a half. Per the same, the liner notes too longer to write than we’ll spend listening to the album — I’m into that. The guitar tones are gripping, the vocals are frizzle fried and the jams swing like The Kinks, 13th Floor Elevators and Uncle Bob himself.