Items Tagged Philadelphia: Poetry, prose and making the world better through sound
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.
We’re coming to you a day or two early here at ITP HQ (a subsection of The Key HQ, a division of WXPN-FM). Why? I certainly hope the reasons are obvious.
This column relies on the wonderful independent music streaming / community-nurturing network Bandcamp, which today is donating 100% of its proceeds to the American Civil Liberties Union. In addition, many artists and labels and digitaldistros are matching that by donating their own sales as well, either to the ACLU or to other nonprofits working to make our country and our world a better / safer / more compassionate place.
In solidarity, I’d like to suggest you put your dollar behind some of the independent, emerging artists I’ll introduce you to in this week’s edition of Items Tagged Philadelphia. I’ll dispense with my prosaic musings for time being, and just dive into the music from here — it’s a great batch of artists I uncovered this week. It seems like Bandcamp is moving a little bit slow because of the rush of donations, but stick with it, people — let’s use art to affect positive change.
ASH THE SPOKEN
This 19-year-old spoken word performer brilliantly lays his rhymes on top of old records from the early / mid 20th cenutry on OREO. Not in a cut-and-sampled-and-matched-with-dope-beats way; nope, Ash just reads his poems while a ragtime song, or Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit” plays underneath. His piece “Black Epiphany” (the Billie-sampling one) plays on her imagery to talk about positive resistance in the face of oppression: “I have taken their nooses in my hands and have created a new way to swing.” Ash’s own take on the project: “OREO is a personal essay/poetry album tackling my struggle and relation to the racial term, ‘oreo.’ This work was used to explore my blackness and my ‘whiteness’ and the conceptions of each with connection to myself.” Brilliance.
Folks who spend their sleepless late nights escaping into the worlds of WXPN’s Echoes or Star’s End would find a lot to like in this music by regional artist Guinevere Molly Campbell, who has been making spectral soundscapes as Datadrift for over 20 years. This week, a collection of live recordings from her performance on the most excellent Princeton University station WPRB is available for download and purchase. Using an intricate network of synths and mods patched together with precision, Campbell drifts into the stratosphere for anywhere from 6 to 23 minutes, crafting a wonderful soundtrack for meditation and introspection.
The wonderful thing about the world of Bandcamp — it can be a real window into the creative process, an idea laboratory where demos and live recordings sit alongside finished works. Basically every artist’s complete collection is out there like a box set (for us old heads who remember such things) and the listener can dig in and explore at their leisure. Philly’s Selina Carrera has an impressive pedigree — she’s worked with two former Fugees, both a collaborator with Pras and a backup singer with Lauryn Hill — and this lo-fi live EP from an acoustic set at UCB’s Inner Sanctum Theater in Los Angeles truly captures her raw, unadorned skill. Real talk: these aren’t the best recordings. They sound like somebody set up a Zoom mic in the back of the auditorium and didn’t reinforce the audio with any kind of soundboard mix. Know what though? This is still great stuff. Carrera’s voice is remarkable and dynamic, soaring from gentle quiet moments to emotional highs, and her acoustic guitar playing guides it in a contemplative, jazzy kind of way, capped off with a cover of Getz’s “Girl from Ipanema.” Compared with the infectious synthpop of her 2013 outing, The Wonder Years, it’s clear the unadorned vibe was very intentional; Carrera can go big and poppy when she wants to, and the fact that she chooses to straddle both worlds is a good indicator that she’s got a fruitful career ahead of her.
BLACK QUANTUM FUTURISM
Earlier this week, we caught a terrific video spotlight on Philly’s Moor Mother via Vice Magazine, and it provided a window into how people see Camae Deftar’s music versus how she sees it herself. For instance: though there’s a definite undercurrent of unrest in Fetish Bones, she says it’s not a protest album, it’s storytelling, relaying the voices of those who aren’t being listened to. Crucial to the understanding of her art is her use of sound — which crafts moods both frightening, compelling, and undeniably urgent — and that can be further explored in the new release from her Black Quantum Futurism project. A long-running collaboration with fellow artist Rasheedah Phillips, BQF’s Telescoping Effect Pt. 1 mixes industrial synth tones and minimal electronic beats, old gospel recordings and documentary soundbites, layered and mixed until it hits a point of gripping atonality that peaks and breaks away into a breathless empty space. At one point, a voice emerges — “Einstein says not even light can escape the effects of gravity” — and though the science doc that this was taken from probably had an altogether different meaning in mind, the poetry of that line is palpable.
MAULED BY A BEAR
With a name like that, you’ve got to be metal af. And this basement recorded demo from Mauled By a Bear, where production values are a bit on par with that Carrera live EP, is indeed metal, and appropriately loud to boot. But holy crap these dudes are tight players. The band is comprised of vocalist Jose Bonet, drummer Daniel Osuna, guitarist Michael Hickson and bassist Daniel Bardon, and their energy and enthusiasm is infectious. Lyrically, it can be a bit on the goofy side, “Party Song” being the goofiest of the bunch, but “Ozone” shows their lyrics can be more thoughtful when they want to be. Mauled by a Bear is clearly a band that can tear up the stage at Kung Fu Necktie or Connie’s Ric Rac without thinking twice, and this short set has me pumped to hear what they can do when they’re tracking in a proper studio and workshopping their songs a bit harder. Staying tuned.
This is a superb set of sexy R&B and trap from a Philadelphia producer / songwriter / multi-instrumentalist, whose name I believe you pronounce “Idol 3.” Very much in the vein of The Weeknd and Tinashe, where the tones and textures owe as much to Nine Inch Nails and ominous goth rock, but the songs are all about understated beats, tasteful autotune and pristine production. Moody, emotional, suave and very necessary.