Items Tagged Philadelphia: Songs of suburbia and disconnected cell phones - WXPN | Vinyl At Heart
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Here at The Key, we spend a lot of time digging through every new release from Philadelphia that shows up on Bandcamp. Periodically, we’ll check in to present you with the most interesting, most unusual and overall best of the bunch: this is Items Tagged Philadelphia.

Confession time: I’ve not yet been to a concert in 2018. I, who spend a major portion of my time each day finding shows to tell you about, and to urge you to go to them, have not actually been to one yet this year. And I think I’m at peace with that.

Part of my absence has been due to to the fact that I spent the end of last year and the beginning of this year contending with a hellish, unshakeable cold that was transmitted to me and several other WXPN-ers by a coworker who shall remain nameless — about which all I have to say is yo, people in the working world, freaking take sick days when you’re sick. On the plus side, I’ve been reading a lot of books (enjoyable) and watching cheesy action movies (sometimes awful, sometimes fun) and getting some QT in with my three cats (always fun). And I’ve been listening to a lot of music.

From the latter, I’m happy to bring you the first installment of Items Tagged Philadelphia for 2018 — nine short, sweet new releases ranging from trip-hop infused trap (or is it the other way around?) to suburban emo treatises to a release that might just be an Either/Or for Philadelphia circa 2018. And lest I come off as any more of a bloody hypocrite here, let me just say I am super excited for my first concert of the year to be Cayetana’s sold-out benefit for the Attic Youth Center this Wednesday at Boot & Saddle. Hope to see some of you there.

This twentysomething Philly producer and MC has been at it since age 15, and his new Down Midnight bridges the jazz-tinged trip-hop sounds of the late 90s with rattling hi-hats and samplers of the modern trap era. The biggest treat on this short, sweet set that 9th Element released in late December is his guests. Two of the songs feature bars spit by Philly’s Gangsta Politician, which provides a gritty and thought-provoking perspective. But possibly more exciting is the atmospheric voice of AprilFoolChild, aka Brielle, who we haven’t heard too much from since she moved to Cali and signed to Universal. Her voice positively soars on the hook of the title track, she raps verse on “Mediation,” and does a bit of both on the epic “Ride or Die,” where Gangsta Politician and 9th Element himself all tackle issues of income inequality, societal racism and black pride.

Speaking of Philly beatmaker MCs mixing it up with expats, on the Reality of It set, D Prime pairs up with Nex Millen — a fantastic philoso-rhymer who skipped town for Asheville, N.C. a couple years back. The beats and flow are classic in the modern retrospective sense; it’s like these two artists are looking back on the classic era of Jurassic 5 looking back on the golden era of the De La late 80s days looking back on…well, you get the picture. It’s a rich tradition — as they rhyme at one point, they “carry on the mission” — and it sounds appropriately dope.

Formerly the bassist and vocalist of the short-lived, righteously asskicking trio Fake Boyfriend, Philly’s Sarah Myers released the new set Sustain “in hopes of continuing to move forward.” You could read that as a surface continuation of creative work in the wake of their band not really being active anymore; you could read it as a processing and progressing beyond the trauma described in the lyrics, where a narrator navigates images of “stony-faced strangers,” disconnected cellphones, broken skin, and death. Instrumentally, it’s less-is-more — Sarah M’s voice, an acoustic guitar, and very occasional instrumental flourishes like a droning organ on “Keeper” by Zack Robbins — creating an emotionally riveting experience in the spirit of Elliott Smith’s Either/Or.

Wherever the cultural zeitgeist may swing, it seems like there will always be a place for twentysomething suburbanly leaning dudes to unpack their emotions to loud guitars and fast drums, in compressed and crackly voices. In that spirit, there’s a certain Get Up Kids-ness to local trio Young Pilgrims, whose second record, Anhedonia, was released earlier this month. The band’s surface is aloof and irreverent — that goofy promo photo, the bio comparing the band to vanilla ice cream, the trippy comic style cover art — but seemingly it’s a front to shield the confessional songs contained within. As singer-guitarist and songwriter Sean Brown writes: “mostly it’s songs about going off of your medication and making lots and lots of mistakes. also songs about hurting people and then getting hurt by people and etc, ouroboros, the snake that ate and ate and ate! … for me, making stuff has always been about communicating yourself to other people, and helping them feel less alone via said communion. I hope you listen to this and think ‘hey, i’ve felt that before’ and it makes you feel less alone.”

Okay, so I know this is just a demo. I picked that up from the set being called Demos, and the songs called “Sunny Monday Demo,” “Stumbling Demo” and “Scum Demo.” I get it — these aren’t finished works, and it might possibly be in everyone’s best interests if we just hold off until there’s a finished product here to contextualize and evaluate. But yo, these demos are tight. Recorded and performed by Wallace Gerdy, who also plays lead guitar in local four-piece Mattress Food, this set is riffy retro rock and roll fused with lo-fi fused with clever, ambling lyrics: “Oh honey, you know I ain’t got any money / but I’ve got smokes and I’ve got jokes and all these poems that I wrote to keep you satisfied.” Think Lou Reed via Liz Phair via Karen O via Ron Gallo; to explore further, Wallace has her first full-band gig on January 25th at Ortlieb’s, and you can get more info here.

So the Eagles won yesterday, yay sportsball. While there’s a certain civic pride thing that I guess I’m supposed to be feeling about all that, I can’t get past my fundamental issues with sports culture that local hardcore punk four-piece Little War sarcastically skewer in “An Ode to Catholicism, Racism & Football.” Good lord, at least I hope this is sarcasm, cause if it’s sincere, I do not back this band at all. There seems to be an element of social criticism in suburbia at play here, tough, as this rowdy four-song also covers topics like mass consumerism via mall culture, and scene hypocrisy manifested in alcohol abuse and sexual assault. At least that’s what the expansive treatise “The Punk Rock Song or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love The Bomb” seems to be all about.

An impressionistic instrumental set for your unwinding needs. With drone loops, feedback squeals and e-bow melodies, local duo Patkus and Magaziner explore freeform melodies and beat-free landscapes, where ambient tones swell and merge but the overall tide stays low. It’s like an Explosions In The Sky song warming up, but never breaking to the blastoff point — which is kind of magical in itself.

In his personal life, which is to say an apartment studio where he spends the quiet hours tinkering, Philly’s Jacob Sullenger reinvents himself as Johnny Utah. Not Keanu Reeves’ Point Break character, but a blissed bedroom pop singer-songwriter who makes beautiful sounds with acoustic and electric guitars, a deadpan vocal delivery, found-sound audio and homemade percussion loops. This self-titled six-song set was just released on Z Tapes, a label based in Bratislava, Slovakia, and with delightfully boho and suave songs, it creates an impressively robust sound for one person working all their lonesome.

One more set of sublime instrumentals to go out on — well instrumental, minus the occasional pitch-shifted vocal sample — comes from the mysterious Charlie ’54, who released two short EPs on the 9th of this month. Termed “respite music” by its creator, the set features keys in the distance, pitter-pattering raindrop beats in the foreground, and a general sense of dreamlike serenity. Start with the haunted / haunting With You EP to keep things downtempo; move on to the Angles single for a foray into more lush and orchestrated synth soundscapes in a Delirium sort of style.

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