Items Tagged Philadelphia: I don’t ask for much these days
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.
Gonna be honest here: I’m 100% still in Roots Picnic recovery mode. Twelve hours, fourteen sets, more guests appearances than I could keep track of. And that’s in addition to being up and out at 8 a.m. for the Roots Rock Run, an annual charity 5K in my neighborhood that benefits Tariq “Black Thought” Trotter’s GrassROOTS Community Foundation nonprofit.
Of course, I can’t talk like that’s any kind of impressive endurance level, as the real MVP of the past 24 hours, aside from The Roots themselves, is their guest Pharrell Williams. He was onstage last night in Philly, rocking with the band for almost two hours, bringing out various collaborators and heroes from his musical past and present — it was like “Pharrell, this is your life” or something — and even inviting a young fan onstage, introduced only as “Reef,” to clap along to über-hit “Happy.” Somewhere in the aftermath, Williams promptly jetted across the Atlantic Ocean to appear onstage this afternoon in Manchester, England (evening, their time) at Ariana Grande’s benefit for the recent bombing victims. Sure, the dude is somewhat responsible for the skeezy “Blurred Lines” (which he did perform last night), but clearly his heart is in a good, positive and compassionate place.
As to the Roots Picnic overall, coming from a fan who has dug The Roots for more of my life than not, their 10th annual throwdown was a glorious celebration of music and art and creativity, from the folks onstage — veterans and newcomers alike — to the audience, a good portion of which boasted style for miles compared to just about any other festival that will hit the Pier this summer. We’ll have a full review of the concert tomorrow, care of our Lissa Alicia. For now, I’m gonna zone out to this week’s Bandcamp finds, some of whom will hopefully have that kind of legacy somewhere down the road.
Hearkening back to the era The Roots blossomed from is up-and-coming Philly rapper MC Knowledge. On his new project, Know The Ledge, he kicks rhymes over boom-bap beats and jazzy licks in the spirit of Kweli, Bahamdia, Dig Plans and their followers J5 and Little Brother. He’s got a thing for ramping up his flow — “Daily Routine” opens with a midtempo delivery that quickly escalates into a thrilling and nimble double time — and his rhymes are observational and spirited. Wish there weren’t so many jokey bits about “ugly chicks” and whatnot, but if he moves beyond the occasional fit of lyrical juvenilia, Knowledge has a potentially promising road ahead.
The DIY lo-fi singer-songwriter grounds are particularly fertile here in Philadelphia — but unlike our other musical bumper crops like, say, 8-bit techno, this tends to get me in the gut more often than not. Alexandra Gordon records minimally, backed by either acoustic guitar or Casio keyboard drumbeat simplicity; her voice is withdrawn and timid, yet elegant and heartwarming. “Sometimes my body feels like a rental home,” she writes, “but that’s okay.” That’s pretty much the vibe of her guest house EP, which (per album credits) is inspired by “coffee vending machines, getting older, sitting in empty parking lots, [and] pocket guides.”
Incredible sounds on this one, from the impossibly cool vibraphone-and-drums mix on “Intro” to the wavy phasey surrealist synthesizer backdrop of “Reefa’.” This EP from Philly MC Black Moses almost gets derailed, though, when his lyrics start out kinda lowbrow — the freestyle on the opener basically amounts to “I sure love oral sex” and the bars on the next track are all “I sure love getting stoned.” (As for the lusty “Phat A$$,” let’s not even go there.) For sure, nothing is wrong with any of those activities, in consensual and non-habit forming contexts. Moses has a seriously suave delivery to match the beats, too. But he’s clearly a rapper with a lot more to say, as we hear later in the Youngboul EP on the motivational “Superhero” and the dazzling and contemplative trap of “Overdox.” Like Knowledge, Black Moses has an impeccably-crafted sound with potential to make an impact on the hip-hop scene if he focuses on those strengths.
THE GREEN FIELDS
Is twee Americana a thing? If so, call Philadelphia outfit The Green Fields its poster children — following the footsteps of patron saint Stevie Jackson, I suppose. CSNY harmonies intermingle with jangling pop guitars, xylophones accents and Byrds-esque hooks on “Glen Canyon,” the lead single from the band’s first record in 14 years. Its 2003 album, Melodies For the Afternoon, also showed up on Bandcamp this week, and it follows in even more of a Belle & Sebastian path.
This pop-punk five-piece captures the sounds and sensations of suburban ennui on its Dreamweek EP, an exceptionally well produced set of thundering drums and chugging guitar riffs. Comprised of singer / studio mastermind Victor Sabatino, bassist Helen Barsz, drummer Chris McAvoy, and guitarists Cait Reilly and Tom Lusch, Median makes music in the Fall Out Boy / Starting Line / Paramore spirit, and does it solidly well.