Items Tagged Philadelphia: Rain falls on everyone - WXPN | Vinyl At Heart
Chris Stevens | photo via

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.

It rained inside XPN HQ yesterday. I mean, it also rained outside the station — boy did it rain, sideways rain, sheets of whiteish grey, torrents of liquid pellets, visibility so low that center city was only semi-discernible in the soggy haze, pedestrians running for cover in parking garages and under overhangs.

Such was the afternoon storm that a leak busted directly on top of one of my coworker’s computer, the downpour working its way through the floor to the lower levels and a steady stream of precipitation just beyond our studio walls, where we’d just wrapped up with a Folkadelphia / Key session with SΔMMUS, an Ithaca rapper recently relocated to West Philadelphia. She opted to brave the conditions to head home, and not unwisely so; as quickly as the rain hit, it stopped, reduced to fading blackish clouds in the distance as the sun broke back through to continue heating the July afternoon.

The thing about that storm is that it was so sudden, and so intense, that anybody who was outdoors for even a fraction of its ten-or-so minutes had a shared moment, the city around; stop what you’re doing, pay attention, and marvel at the spectacle. When music is really good, it can have a similar affect on people.

I’ll admit that it might be overselling the drama just a tad to compare this week’s Bandcamp finds to a summer storm’s fury, they did all stop me in my tracks in one way or another.


Philly trumpeter Chris Stevens is a busy, busy man. He played World Cafe Live Friday and wrapped up his run of gigs with singer Eric Roberson last night at Baltimore soundstage. Then he jets back to Jersey to blow on three shows with John Legend, beginning at Camden’s BB&T Pavilion. Then, after a breather, he and his Quartet will celebrate the album release for their latest, Actual Intelligence, at the Kimmel Center’s Sittin’ In night. In addition to keys player Brett Kinard, bassist Nick Salcido and drummer Marlon Brand Lewis Jr., Stevens teams up with jazz vet Korey Riker on Flute and vocalist Roland V. Holmes on the record, among others. Recorded by Jeff Thomas and mixed/mastered by Phil Nicolo, the record is poised to span eras — at least that’s the vibe I get from the lead single “West Camden,” which boasts some sweet, bustling Miles-esque tones at the outset and folds in other instruments as it progresses, concluding with a layer of abstract synthesizer as the song dissolves into space.


Empty space often carries more emotional resonance than sensory overload. This is something perfected by Trent Reznor on the interstitial instrumental tracks that would tie together works like The Downward Spiral and The Fragile (not to mention his video game scores). Whether he was following the lead of an existing gothic ambient subgenre or he created it, I’m not quite sure, but rest assured that the style is alive and poppin on Bandcamp. Philadelphia’s .andreathelight. might not be overtly inspired by Reznor, but their work moves along that path, using humming drone and phase-shifting sounds to create a quiet catharsis: “i’m sorry that it hurts,” they write in the notes to their latest release the stone in my chest. “this is the only way i know to show you that i care.” This collection is mournful and thoughtful, pensive and yet peaceful, and the psuedonymous producer has said on social media that it is so personal they almost didn’t want to put it out. Thankfully they did, and its there for those moments when we need commiseration, escape or simply to breathe.


The modern art wing is, honestly, my favorite section of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. You head up the front steps and proceed directly to the right; you dazzle to Bruce Nauman’s neon sculptures and ponder the Duchamp collection. So when I saw that Philly MC RahZwel named his latest project Abstract Paintings, my attention was straight got. Really, that’s more of a reference to the cover art; a pixel-expanded portrait of the rapper puffing a cigar. Musically, it’s very straightfoward — not in a bad way — coherent and catchy, with jazz and soul influences on the delightful and romantic “Loving You,” bumps of bass in “On Sight” and opera (!) on “Let It Be,” bridging the old and the new. RahZwel’s flow is poised and confident, suave yet laid back. Maybe the “abstract” is also a ref to an evident influence on this project: Q-Tip the Abstract of A Tribe Called Quest.


Seriously, how does one sound this vintage? Is it the microphones you play into? The EQ settings the engineer throws on the mixing board? Or is it just an adherence to classic arrangements and intonation styles? Whatever the trick, Philly six piece Perseverance Jazz Band (and it will take me a while to type their name and not accidentally start typing Preservation Hall Jazz Band, oops) sounds positively 1930s in the two teaser tracks from their Stars Over Charleston album out August 1st. The mood is slow swing and dixieland, and the band — comprised of Solomon Douglas on piano, Brennan Ernst on guitar, Stephen Tolnay on drums, Noah Hocker on trumpet, Jonathan Davenport on bass, and at the front, vocalist Cecilia Ferneborg — recorded it back in 2015 at the tail end of a “particularly magical swing tour through the southern U.S.”


Next weekend, Philly rapper ialive heads out on a short run of midwestern dates with his friend and fellow MC Cody Cody Jones, so the two satirical rappers released this split EP to celebrate. The ground rules are simple: “each artist featured 4 tracks on their respective side including: A new track featuring the other, A previously released track, An unreleased track, and an exclusive.” In spirit, this set mixes the goofball wit and stoner philosophizing of Beastie Boys with the wild and tripped out production of the Rhymesayers crew, a sweet showing for everybody involved.


These four swaggery rocker dudes dabble in a few different guitar-driven sounds on their debut EP; the opener “Wanderer” is a crunchy casual rocker in the vein of Pavement, while “Signs” amps up the energy and drama to Muse proportions with arcs of guitar and squalling feedback. Later, we move into swinging Bowie-isms and glam rock filigree. While its arguable that Forever Vista — which is Pat Bilodeah on vocals and bass, Ryan Bleaken on vocals and keys, Andrew Iann on guitars and synths and John Crowe on drums — could benefit from a bit of focus, this is a good introduction to some skilled local players.

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