Items Tagged Philadelphia: In like a lion
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.
Honestly, I love the unpredictability of it all.
“It all” referring to this somewhat bonkers listening-and-writing project, of course. But also the past several days and the way music has found its way into them. A hard drive meltdown caused one performance on a jam-packed Friday to reboot 30 seconds in, the fleet-footed band somehow not missing a beat and rebounding even stronger than they started. On Saturday, a blank canvas event space (called, uh, The Event Space) hosted a varied roster made up of nimble-fingered instrumentals, soaring if somewhat bombastic pop-rock, charming metropolitan folk and one disastrously cornball crew that couldn’t even save its set with the the playing-off-mic-mid-crowd trick. With every high, there’s gotta be a low, though, and that latter band-that-shan’t-be-named definitely owned that low point at a gig that also reached close to the weekend’s heights.
That speaks to the crapshoot that music can be in general, just from a listener / spectator end. And the notion of somehow making music one’s life’s work? You never know what’s around the bend, and all you can do is keep your ears and mind open. I thought about this a lot Friday night at the 25th anniversary sendoff to one of my coworkers, an icon in radio, a voice that’s made countless people (myself included) want to dig deeper, listen harder and do more than just play the hits. Of course I’m talking about David Dye, a dude who I still can’t believe I have the honor of working alongside, and as a career retrospective was projected in front of the sold out crowd, you saw how much changed in the world and in music during his 48-ish years as a broadcaster. Whatever the era begat – Springsteen in the 70s, Ani DiFranco in the 90s, LCD Soundsystem in the post-aughties – he was there with a smile, positively pumped to be listening. I can only hope that I’ve got that same energy and enthusiasm three decades hence.
Also unpredictable: this lousy Smarch weather. And the batch of music I’ve come across this week on Bandcamp, which mirrors the adage about this month — and in one case, directly references it. Enjoy.
My high school didn’t have a punk scene, really. I mean, there was a crew of music-obsessive outcasts that I looked up to in awe and wanted terribly to be accepted by — the best I could do was hang on the periphery, I was honestly too much of a normal boring kid to fit in, but dammit I tried. Anyways, they were all into metal. And inexplicably angsty teenaged me would go see their angsty teenaged metal bands, driving with them to VFW’s in Lansdale and all-ages nightclubs in Bethlehem where the occasional crowd member would share loud and problematic views on race and everybody would kind of cringe and look away and we’d ask ourselves what the hell we were doing here rather than challenge their outlook and engage them in dialogue because, like, they have two steel spiked gloves and look like they don’t give a F.
It was scary, it was an adrenaline rush too, and I’d help carry amps and pedalboards, watch the other bands on the bill – thankfully, for the most part, they seemed to be as we say today on The Right Side of HistoryTM, occasional loudmouth regressive fans notwithstanding – and pick up demo tapes to listen to on the drive home. Often times those tapes opened not with the aggressive brutality we just watched onstage, but with delicate playing, cleantone instrumental passages, guitar harmonies, intertwining licks rooted in old folk patterns that would build up to a single eventual dramatic power chord, followed by all hell breaking loose. My friends hated this — “Yes, yes, WE GET IT,” they’d say. “You can actually play your instruments. Now turn it up a bit.” I laughed along, for sure, but I also secretly loved those lead-ins — they made for beautifully spectral soundtracks to the night drive down 309, and they gave you a chance to collect your breath before diving in to the frenzy.
Philly-based doom metal five-piece reminds me a lot of this time of my life. With raucous chugging riffs and primal vocal growls, I could totally imagine them being a band that would have me riveted at one of those VFW shows. And their new song “The Spirituality of Elephant Bones” — a metal af song title if ever their was one — has one of those beautiful lead-in passages, acoustic guitar fingerpicking from the band’s Alex Onderdonk (who normally plays bass), complimented by an aching violin lead by Rachael Bodek. The hammering drums and eviscerating chords jump in at the minute-and-forty mark, and vocalist John Jones enters with lyrical imagery both mythological and medical, screaming about escape and a search for peace that feels futile. After five minutes and change, Bodek’s violin re-emerges from the fog to guide the song to a close, and reminds me of something I never felt confident enough to tell my friends: the wait for it to turn up is almost always worth it.
This emo / modern-rock four-piece hails from West Chester, and their song “Out Like A Lamb” is the latest addition to my running “songs that use Gary Glitter’s ‘Rock N Roll Part Two’ drumbeat” playlist. Seriously, though, TIEM — made up of Lucas Naylor and Anna Gentile on guitar and vocals, Andrew Dunscomb on drums, and Sky Eckman on bass — is catchy and fun in a left-of-center way. Their songs are hooky, but not obviously so; they’re clearly studied players, and are not shy about flexing their skill, even if it makes their jams a bit unconventional — like the various verse / bridge / alt-bridge combos on the A-side, or the slow-burn “Colony” on the B-side.
Good stuff from the local progressive dubstep world right here — the beats on Marai Drop hit hard, the tones are hazy and drifting, and there’s enough rhythmic and textural variation to keep me hooked. Some day soon, I would like for it to be consistently warm enough that I can start running the Schuylkill Banks or riding my bike to work on the regular, and when that happens, Cole Mannon will make for a great soundtrack.
I love the idea of a hip-hop project called Words Fail Me. This 17-song collection from local mixmaster human Krouse is another refreshingly engaging beat tape, drawing from the soul orchestrations of the 70s and the slick and smooth snyth-heavy R&B of the 80s — think MJ’s “The Girl Is Mine” or, like, Luther Vandross — slicing and dicing it into a thing of beauty.
Beginning with the loudest stuff, we’ve worked our way into more contemplative and hushed territories, this one care of multiinstrumentalists Seamus Stimpson and Diana Newlorian. I don’t know if the latter is actually their last name or just their Tumblr handle linked from the liner notes on Mall Ghosts’ Bandcamp; this is one of those “information is scarce” bands, but the music is totally beautiful. The interplay of synthesizer, cello and electronic rhythms is total Album Leaf stuff, and Stimpson says the latest single — from Mall Ghosts’ upcoming Dragon LP — is ripe with meaning, drawing from the Irish mythological tale of the Children of Lir. As he writes:
There is a theme, in some songs on the album, of me trying to find a grounded sense of cultural identity. I think for too long those who maintain an cultural investment in the old gods of Europe (Wiccans aside, as I do appreciate what they do) tend to lean towards nationalism. I never liked that. I’ve also found it challenging but rewarding to research. So much was destroyed by the Roman church (which, for some reason, remains something that many Irish cling to despite them being the ones who destroyed their initial culture/religion). For those who don’t know, I have a Gaelic name, and in these troubled times, I wanted to find something that tied me back through history. Something deeper.
Side note: the band’s bio admits that it is “terrible at self promotion.” Hopefully they get better about that, since I’m intrigued.
KEVIN MARTIN TAYLOR
I’ve been revisiting early Pink Floyd of late, gearing up to check out their retrospective exhibit at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum on my summer vacation. This EP from Philly’s Kevin Martin Taylor wobbles in the groggy weirdness of Piper and Ummagumma but also in the groggy weirdness of early Kurt Vile, with perhaps a bit more vocal bravado than either of those. Maybe if Bruce Springsteen had not been merely a Suicide fan, but also a dude who made a record with Suicide, this is what it would have sounded like.
Whether you’re talking Fripp / Eno or contemporary space-makers Emeralds, I’m a bit of a sucker for delay pedal guitar instrumentals. The Gravity Versus collection from Philadelphia’s Zach Fay layers things such that we’re hearing a slight noodley plucking on the one level intertwining with a gentle, dreamlike strum on the other, creating melodic atmospheres that are great ear candy whether you waking up or winding down.