Items Tagged Philadelphia: Days of scorched earth and mystical discovery
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.
Some people just want to hear the hits, and that’s perfectly okay. Hell, sometimes I just want to hear the hits — or I don’t mind / actually kind of enjoy that tingly sensation serotonin-release vibe you get when a near-and-dear song comes on in your auditory range.
Diving head-on into the unfamiliar, however, takes another sort of listening commitment. It’s not one that everyone shares, which makes total sense because it can be kind of a bonkers pursuit. But if you’re game, it can be intensely rewarding as well.
This project, obviously, is one example of such. This past Saturday’s Center City Jazz fest is another, and as I watched Norman David’s Eleventet perform with explosive, big band-style joy on the Franky Bradley’s stage, I realized how similar the two ideas were.
Of the seven artists I saw perform as I raced from venue to venue on Saturday afternoon, only two were familiar to me beforehand — Tom Moon’s Ensemble Novo and George Burton, who performed with his new Rhodes-based project Beats + Brew — and with both, the focus of their set was on new / unreleased material in favor of stuff I’d heard before. In that sort of situation, rather than shutting off, I adjust my listening; rather than waiting for something I know, I focus instead on what sounds unique or unexpected, the sounds and the arrangements, the shows of musical skill or techniques that buck convention. The way a drummer carries an engaging beat using little more than a handheld tambourine; the way delay pedals and samplers can be used to tasteful effect, even in a traditionally-rooted style of music. The way one soloist was able to keep a room rivited in the silent pause between one upright bass note and the next.
Of course, it’s different for me with jazz, where I still have very much to learn about how to talk about it in a formal sense, not to mention my listening frame of reference. But I feel like the principles are the same: when I scanned Bandcamp this week, I wasn’t listening for music I already knew — I was listening for sounds that floored me, techniques that impressed me and performative ideas that made me brush aside whatever else was bouncing around in my brain and focus in on the music, wondering what it was going to do next. Here’s what I found.
There is very little information about this new Philly artist on the web — just this thrilling EP of scorched-earth guitar soundscapes, a Facebook explanation that “These are the noises i wanna make when i get anxious in public” and a Bandcamp tag “fuck you Mike.” (Which, if you click on it, brings up one other release, a Los Angeles band called Fuck You Mike and I’m sort of terrified to listen to them.) In any case, Diamond Tooth is the sound of freeform auditory catharsis — static and squeals and punishing tonal release over two three-minute pieces. It’s not exactly sunny day music, but that’s not the point, since even on the sunniest of days (like the one you see pictured in the cover art for Aside From This Distant Shadow, There Is Nothing Left, which totally reminds me of an Explosions in the Sky song title) some of us feel down inside, and need musical to fit our mood.
KINGS OF FREON
I almost wrote this band off as a novelty, between its we-are-truly-out-of-band-names band name, and the fact that the EP seems to be a song cycle about kitchen appliances from the point of view of a team of repairpersons. But get into Kings of Freon’s songs, and you’ll agree: this is, to paraphrase Kendrick, really really real. In a snappy seven minutes on See, There’s Your Problem, you’ll hear robust singing, frenzied rhythms and serious indie rock hooks delivered passionately and committed to tape with the proper mix of polish and grit. The band is comprised of Owen “Oscar” Mercurio, Alex “Alan” Wilson and Alyson Albasi, and I’m not sure who plays what, but I’m excited to hear what they do in the future (and how long it takes them to move beyond their conceptual phase).
ZACH FISCHER QUARTET
On the jazz tip, this is an ensemble from the suburban Philly region that I’m reasonably sure is the band leader’s high school senior project. I mean, the Bandcamp page mentions as much, and senior projects don’t happen in college, do they? In any case, guitarist Fischer and his group of players — Devon Rickert on sax, Micah Graves on keyboards, John Moran on bass and Julian Miltenberger on drums — sprint across a variety of sounds and stylings that range from Ornette Coleman-esque frenzied freakouts to suave Brubeck bits and smooth Weather Report moments. And in step with so many musicians since the ninth or so of November, Fischer will donate proceeds from the record to the American Civil Liberties Union.
And now, some serious house jams from budding area producer Deeper Kenz, who did indeed record this music in a Kensington loft between 2013 and 2016. As they write: “Surrounded by dive bars and decrepit lots, he turned inward and crafted a set of recordings ‘designed as tools to light up a small but intimate community of dancers and lovers.'” I hear a lot of electronic music every week when digging around for this project — and I do try not to be the cranky techno grandfather who is all “these artists today are blah blah blah, back in my day DJs did more than hit space bar and etc. etc.” There is a lot of amazing stuff that is very contemporary in sound and style, make no mistake. But there are also a lot more subpar copiers of something that’s very in vogue as well, so hearing a tape that hearkens so vividly back to yesteryear — and that totally nails the vibe, to boot — is a nice treat.
We met Rashmit Arora a couple weeks back when his folky duo project Sea Offs caught our year for Items Tagged Philadelphia. Palmlines is another project that delves delightfully into a middle ground between lush, orchestral rock and thrilling trilling mathrock and emo. Their Get In Line, Lucy LP is a solid listen.
There’s very Drake sensibility to LP-3000, the debut project from Philly rapper Dev Patrick. I say that in part due to his lyrical mix of sensitive introspection with cockiness and braggadocio, as well as (more overtly) his cadence and delivery. But what I like about this project is not just the way dude can spit a rhyme better than most, but the way he’s fearless in terms of production and beats, from riveting industrial noise to playful 8-bit bloops and bleeps. It all comes back to a poppy center, but Dev is clearly not afraid to stray far before letting the pendulum swing back.
RARE EARTH MEADOWS
This local acid folk project is a sublime frenzy of sounds from nature, organic instrumentation of banjo and fingerpicked acoustic guitar, and meditative drone. The trippily beautiful album art caught my eye, indicating a definite middle ground between the world we know (a ceramic tub) and a world of otherness (the red skies and psychedelic colors). That’s the exact vibe the anonymous leader of this project was going for: they dabble in magical realism and fantasy writing on the Eyelids Agape blog, and that aesthetic obviously informs these soundscapes, with the titular meadows being a storied place just before a forest gate opens a portal to another dimension: “There is a stillness here, so constant and eternal, so perfectly serene; sometimes unsettlingly so.” This is the soundtrack to that space, and captures that vibe compellingly.