Items Tagged Philadelphia: The evolution of the arm
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.
Sometimes you don’t realize how much you need something until you’re immersed in it.
Like a lot of people my age, I fell powerfully into the work of filmmaker David Lynch some twenty years ago; the spark for me was Lost Highway, the cerebral/abstract noir-erotica mystery scored by Nine Inch Nails’ Trent Reznor. I was moderately obsessed with that band in my younger days; Reznor could have scored a Raisin Bran commercial and I would have been freaking the heck out. Thankfully, Lost Highway was a bit more rewarding as a cinematic work, and through it I worked my way backwards through Lynch’s filmography. First to Twin Peaks, his surrealist serial TV show that confounded audiences for two seasons in the early 90s — for most, this was probably their entry point — and further back still to Eraserhead and (god help me) Dune.
I’m a fan of Lynch’s work to this day. I love that I live in a city where a prominent music venue and art space celebrates him once per annum, and I was thrilled that I got to see Lynch speak at the Prince Theater upon the occasion of his painting exhibition opening at PAFA in 2015. But short of a Twin Peaks re-watch leading up to that art show, I don’t think about Lynch as often as I used to in my twenties, when I practically made a pasttime out of, say, popping on a VHS of Blue Velvet and watching it with the lights turned low and not getting a heck of a lot of sleep that night as my brain tried to pick apart what just had rattled it. I used to believe that there were clues to meaning all over his work, and by watching it enough, I’d solve the puzzle.
Films and books and creative projects hit me more heavily today than they did in my youth. Maybe it’s a development of empathy that comes with age; maybe it’s a more acute awareness of my own mortality. Maybe it’s having peripherally seen enough nonsense in the ensuing years that the violence and abuse and nihilism of the goth thrillers and macabre mysteries I favored in college — things that were always firmly, in my mind, Not Real — don’t seem as safely removed and far-fetched as they once did. Like most of America, my wife was hooked on Breaking Bad a couple years back, but I couldn’t bring myself to tune in; whenever I walked into a room where she was watching it, something absolutely batshit was going down and I got so upset I had to leave.
Oddly, last night’s two-hour, relentlessly intense premier of the 25-years-in-the-making third season of Twin Peaks had me completely engrossed. I’ll refrain from spoilers here — though, honestly, everybody who’s interested is already up to episode 4 at this point, right? — and I won’t front like I didn’t jump in fear or crawl uneasily into my couch a few dozen times. I would say, though, that it was refreshing to see how much this was not the Twin Peaks I remember. For sure, it was absolutely confounding, leaving no clear answer as to what the heck transpired. It rattled my ability to sleep, no doubt. But rather than re-create a world that had already been picked apart to the bedrock, this Twin Peaks feels like an entirely new Lynchian universe, evolved and aesthetically apart but nonetheless affected by the same concerns as the tiny Pacific Northwest town full of skeletons; concerns over power and misuse of such, over secrecy and its perils, over the horrendous manner in which men mistreat women, and over how the concept of control is something completely out of our hands.
That latter is especially true if we look at making sense of a perplexing storyline as a form of control; after twenty years, my understanding of David Lynch is an acceptance that there is no understanding. There is no solution to the puzzle. There is only the world, and it’s a troubled world — and Lynch’s work vividly conveys these troubles, this ugly brutality — and we all have to navigate our way through it, hopefully finding a glimmer of beauty in the end.
Beauty and brutality was all over Bandcamp’s Philadelphia tag this week as well, compellingly so. I think there’s a lesson in that; if you don’t let yourself become immersed, there’s a lot you won’t find.
Five piece punk act Trash Knife does not hold back — two songs, four and a half minutes a sampler from an upcoming 7″. Raw riffs dart in a frenzy like punk-era Go-Gos, like Bratmobile and Dillinger Four, maybe a bit like early Arctic Monkeys too. It’s stylish, gritty and commanding, making bold critiques of the world’s ills that are tight and tidy enough that you’ll easily dive back in again and again. The band — vocalist Lauren, guitarists Steve and Sean, drummer Mat, bassist Xarkuz — is currently on a midwest tour through the end of the month, dates and details can be found here.
Local MC Big Zac’s new MileHigh project is named in part for his production crew, in part for the presumable herbal enhancements to his flow, which we see in action on the album cover. While this set is a bit on the demo-y side — and while some lyrics don’t exactly espouse the most progressive view on women — BZ’s heart is in the right place overall, and his delivery is engaging and fun. This set reminds me a lot of J5’s early aughties dominance, their skittery electronic sampler recreations of classic hip-hop structures and lyrics espousing hope for a better world. BZ alludes on his bandcamp that this is just a taste of a full length debut project to come, and I’m excited to hear what that’s all about when it drops.
On the topic of milestone anniversaries, it’s been 30 years since the musical adaptation of Victor Hugo’s French epic Les Miserables first captivated the theater world in London and Broadway, and it’s probably no coincidence that this twenty-something DIY experimentalist shares a first name with one of the story’s lead characters. If we’re being completely honest re: Les Miz, I always related a lot more to Eponine myself, and listening to her short and haunting debut EP, I feel like Philly’s Cosette Gobat might be in the same boat. The set mixes tragic acoustic ballads and introspective lyrics with spoken word lyrics set to stunning atmospheric soundscapes.
Just as immersion often yields discovery, the process of learning can unlock creative magic that’s hard to recapture as an artist becomes more in command of their craft. Of her new Dreams EP, Philly producer / multiinstrumentalist Juliana Concepcion writes “This is a collection of songs I spent the past year tinkering with and learning how to make. I learned a lot after knowing close to nothing about music software, and I can’t wait to bump up the quality in my next stuff.” The set as it is, though, is great — twee and lighthearted (“lullaby”), cool and cosmopolitan (“tides”), dreamily restless (“sleep eazy”) and a lot of fun. I hope, as Concepcion does, that her craft evolves on subsequent releases, but I also hope she doesn’t lose this spark.
About that David Lynch talk I saw at the Prince: he spoke a lot about one of his primary interests, transcendental mediation, and how heightened spiritual states can yield advanced creative states. Philly vibes player Ethan Fisher seems to be of that same school of thought, and he released a vaguely jazzy, vaguely trippy 14-minute odyssey on Bandcamp this week called Meditation Music. It reminds me in parts of psychedelic audio interpretation of 60s author Alan Watts’ zen-centric essay cycle This Is It. It also reminds me of the more expansive moments of Philly experimentalists Pattern is Movement. Joining Fisher are singer Jonathan Williams, bassist Dylan Reis and drummer Josh Fisher.
There was no shortage of brutally dissonant noise on Bandcamp’s Philadelphia tag this week; particularly all the punishing uploads from the Beyond the Ruins tape label. Royal DNA’s IF AND ONLY IF, by comparison, is a sound experiment gone right. In the spirit of Einsturzende Neubauten and Liars, this tape collage folds together warbling voices and unsteady noises with sick grooves, taking you on journeys that are weird and meandering but wholly digable.
To end on a more shimmering and positive note, Telyscopes is the project of Philly multi-instrumental songwriter Jack Hubbell, and his new Tabby’s Star collection is pure poppy and psychedelic joy in the vein of the uber-catchy Denver collective The Apples in stereo.