Items Tagged Philadelphia: Stop and take a look around
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.
Getting out of the space you’re used to, day-in-day-out, is important — whether that be a geographical space or a headspace. It’s a big country, a big world, and most of us occupy one small corner of a slightly larger corner of it. I don’t necessarily consider Philadelphia part of “the bubble“; yeah, we might have a higher concentration of vegan restaurants and locally-sourced grocery co-ops and a more robust creative community than other places around the state, but we are also not lacking in the proudly traditional opposite end of the spectrum. Often those segments of the Philly population disagree, sometimes those disagreements escalate to toxic hostility, and sometimes an event (like, I don’t know, a Super Bowl victory) will bring practically everyone together in celebration and harmony regardless of how different they are as people the rest of the year.
Even with the range of views and voices under the Philly umbrella, it still gives me pause when I find myself in another city or state — or hear stories from musicians who tour through other cities or states — and am reminded of how drastically different America can be from one region to the next.
On Tuesday, I spent the day in Washington D.C. to see the incredible Irreversible Entanglements at the Kennedy Center, and while I did not encounter the demonstration against gun violence at the Capitol building that grabbed a ton of headlines, I did bump into numerous groups of tourists traipsing around the National Mall enthusiastically wearing matching red ball caps with white letters spelling out a political slogan that bears no repeating here. Like, 20-person strong clusters, matching red hoodies too. Sure, I was in the tourist capital of the country that draws visitors from all over the country, but it was amusingly disconcerting even so; I’ve never seen red caps mobbing out like that in the touristy segments of historic Philly.
Even more disconcerting (and not at all amusing) was hearing what happened to acclaimed Philly punk band Soul Glo over the weekend: while driving to a show in Missouri, they were followed and pulled over by two state troopers. One band member was arrested, and held at bail that the band says is three times what is normally charged. Some online chatter cynically speculated about the cause of the arrest; I’m more struck by the image of two white officers targeting a car of four non-white musicians and so rigorously addressing whatever the situation might have been that the bandmates needed to GoFundMe over $15,000 to get their friend out of custody. There’s a followup benefit concert at the Everybody Hits batting cages tonight with Ursula, The City & I and Tact to help further cover Soul Glo’s court and legal expenses.
Getting out of the space you’re used to is important. Perspective is important, hearing stories like what Soul Glo is going through is important for those of us who might not experience them. These things still happen in 2018, these things still happen in America. Hell, these things still happen in Philly (ahem, the Meek Mill case). Realizing how your surroundings relate to surroundings in a different proximity to you, and how those pieces relate to a bigger whole is crucial. And it involves the places you go, but can begin with the books you read, the websites you frequent, the movies you watch and the music you listen to. That’s one of the reasons I always pick out such a broad range of styles for you to explore in Items Tagged Philadelphia; here’s who I found this month.
This Philadelphia band named its latest EP I Can See The Future, It’s A Real Dark Place — a title that feels lyrical because it is, in fact, a notable lyric. Multi-instrumentalist Julian Kemmerer, the driving force behind the project, took the line from “Choked Out,” a standout track on The Mountain Goats’ 2015 album Beat The Champ. This in itself is reason enough for me to like Colorless Kaleidoscope, but the fact that Kemmerer uses it for music that bears no other significant similarities to John Darnielle’s long-running indie rock project makes me dig it even more. There are times in songwriting when hero-worship can be too overt, when influence turns too much into idolatry, and Colorless Kaleidoscope stays on the safe side of that with Future, basking instead in spacious atmospheres and windswept expanses that have more in common with The Moon And Antarctica-era Modest Mouse (or any era Grandaddy), while still presenting Kemmerer’s unique knack for melody, texture and ennui.
Drawing inspiration from Frank Ocean, Bon Iver, Tycho and FlyLo, Philly solo artist Cleo Kelleher crafts dazzling beds of processed vocals, minimal beats and moving instrumentation under the name Leadlids. The project’s debut EP nonsense showcases elements of all those aforementioned artists (all of whom are shouted out on Leadlids’ Facebook page), but it also boasts elements of experimental electronic music going even further back than the recent past. There’s the stark robotic tones of 70s Kraftwerk and the dystopian melodicism of 80s Laurie Anderson. I even note some early James Blake in nonsense‘s long, breathless pauses, but this is more intriguing for what it sounds like than who. These are meditations on isolation and solitude, and finding one’s place in that inverted space apart from others: “do you want to see what the world looks like at four in the morning,” go the entrancing vocals on the closing “just near.” “We can drive around with the heat on high and the windows down, taking in the sounds.” The Leadlids Bandcamp bio keeps the description super simple — “Cleo and their vocoder” — and that may be what we’re hearing, but Kelleher makes it work in dazzling ways.
Philadelphia has a strong tradition of electronic dance and trance music, going back to the Josh Wink and King Britt days of the early 90s. New local face Fox is putting a 2018 spin on that tradition with a new record called Pariah. It’s distinctly contemporary, with its stuttering synthesizer notes and big bass drops, but draws a generous helping of beauty and melody into the fold, like the cascading synthesizers and dream world vocals we hear on “Tears.”
“You are here because the outside world rejects you.” So growls a gravely, sinister voice sampled at the beginning of the impressive six-song cassette from new Philly punk five-piece Samara. It sounds like a dramatic clip lifted from film noir, or maybe dystopian science fiction. Actually, it’s the voice of Shredder from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles — which, when you get past the comic aspect of it all, isn’t too dissimilar from either of those genre exercises, albeit a bit more fun. But beyond the source of those words is the sentiment, which feels in this context like a mantra for DIY and punk — the feeling of disconnection from a country in turmoil, a globe in turmoil at that, the vehement opposition to racism and intolerance and self interest and capitalistic greed. The song in question is called “Hand + Forehead x Infinity,” and through lyrics in English and Spanish, as well as a turbluent swirl of violin, guitars, drums and bass, it makes palpable the frustration of being a forward-thinking human in 2018. Samara is comprised of singer-guitarist E.J., singer-violinist Nicole, guitarist John, bassist Dave and drummer Dan, and the band’s self-titled EP was recorded in West Philly by Kyle Gilbride of Swearin’. The mood of its more aggressive moments (“Recipe For A Callus”) feels very Dischord Records, circa late 90s, while Nicole’s violin leads guides more pensive songs (“Here’s What I Saw”) into the folk crossover territory of early Against Me! and The Shondes. It’s a perfect sound for speaking out on a damaged society, but like their contemporaries Downtown Boys — who should TOTALLY have Samara open for them next time they play Philly — and like the show sampled at the beginning of their tape, Samara is able to reflect their troubled surroundings while mixing in a bit of fun.
This up-and-coming Philly rapper is one with the Earth and the cosmos. You’ll find it in the name of Zayrondon’s EP, Blue Moon, as well as the naturalistic imagery that populate its lyrics — references to “hurricanes, tidal waves, typhoons too.” The three tracks capture zen moods, sensual romance, and aspirations of stardom (both in the sense of fame and intergalactic travel). With very stylish and surreal beats by Lordfubu guiding the way, Zayrondon proves he’s an MC who can straddle the psychedelic fringe and the mainstream.
“You wanna know who I am?” shouts Amoraye’ Hannah on “OG Yon,” the song that opens her new Classic Amore EP. It’s not an easy question to answer. She’s a beatmaker and a lyricist, a rapper as well as a singer, a poet outside of her musical context. Under the name Amore TheArtist, she makes it a point to defy easy categorization, challenging the one-dimensional view that rappers rap, singers sing, producers make tracks; a view that still persists in the leveled playing field of the digital music era. “Sanity Trip” goes as far from that as possible, with Amore switching from singing and flowing and back, mixing up trap style beats and bass drops with Caribbean style melodic texture and then, out of nowhere, a sample of Lauryn Hill’s “Doo Wop (That Thing),” a nod to the classics. In her day, Hill and The Fugees were artists that defied easy categorization too. But as Amore rhymes, “If you’re stuck in your ways, you can’t even change.”
HELL TO PAY
This four-piece hardcore band from Philly, featuring Aaron Heard and John DiStefano of Jesus Piece, is crushingly heavy and righteously pissed off. The new LP, bliss, is nine tracks in full, with a two-song teaser on Hell to Pay’s Bandcamp page. “Thrive” breaks down problematic power structures that too easily fall prey to corruption — “The institutions designed to secure our ‘freedoms’ / Become ripe with the stench of greed” — while “Bleed To Me” addresses police violence directly, as well as the flawed justice system and its toxic propensity for vengeance. bliss is out this Friday, March 16th, and you can grab a preorder here.
For your fix of Japandroids style power pop punk rock, check out Perfect Life, the latest from Philly’s Stippling. The duo project of guitarist-bassist buds Kevin and Pat is rounded out with a live drummer, and the short / fast / fun sounds deal with neuroses and emotions through sick riffs and hollered refrains.
I caught this stylish four-piece opening a sick lineup at The Galleries at Moore back in the fall. I was at the gig to see Control Top, Clasp, and Ellen Siberian Tiger, and found myself totally vibing on the Cramps-y jams of The Bachelorettes. Their album Pad keeps that approach going: retro rock rhythms and vintage lyrical motifs (“He was a teenage terror on a hoverboard,” as the opening lyric goes), riffs that are a bit surfy and a bit rockabilly. And a bit of generally catchy punk; there’s a particularly Dead Kennedys quality about the vocals that keeps you mesmerized, whether the songs are addressing gaslighting (“Control Freak”) or funny tales of finding a comfortable place to fit in (“Lowkey Gay Bar”).
“Lord, please deliver me from paranoid nights,” raps this Philly MC on the opening track of their debut Surviving. It’s a very poignant image: a person who has to navigate neighborhood violence and institutional racism on their travels home every day. This carries across Eddie Somerset’s Surviving, which he calls a first-person perspective on his travels through time and space. “It’s a musical reflection of his views on race, history, and inner city struggles as a Black male in America,” he writes. “Its a artistic ride of Love, Pain and Victory.” Musically, Somerset conveys this through classic soul / loungey samples over drumpad rhythms or — more impressively, on “SOS 1 (Our Time)” — a beat free sample of Marvin Gaye’s “Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler).”
A year ago, this Philadelphia rapper and poet began his journey as an Iyawo — a person going through the initiation rites to become a Yoruba priest in the Afro-Caribbean Lukumi tradition. On the other side, he turned it into an album, The Year In White; the title is a reference to the white suits worn and white umbrellas carried during the process. “It’s a one-time life experience,” says Idris in a documentary about the project. “And just being able to capture that in art was a powerful experience.” Set to contemplative beats and mystic melodic touches, Idirs’ lyrics reflect on that spirituality, but cover an encyclopedic range of topics over the 19-song album. The Year In White unpacks issues of colonialism and slavery, persisting racism and inequality in modern America, and the struggles of day-to-day personal life, ultimately serving as a beacon to press onward and overcome.
YEN GRIFFEY JR.
Bright and breezy, the latest outing from local rapper Yen Griffey Jr. (which, very awesome name right there) is in the middle of a year-long process of monthly EP releases. The March installment is called Spring Forward, and it’s got trippy textures and an abundance of sounds that range from honky tonk bottleneck slide to pristine flamenco guitar arpeggios, day-glo Daft Punk synths and above it all, Griffey’s voice. “I wanna be unique,” he rhymes. “That’s what I tell myself when I listen to a beat.” Based on this set of jams, he’s on the path to succeeding.
Alyssa Thomas’ songs are personal and reflective, whether its over top of driving indie fuzzrock tones (“Tell On Me”), gentle flanger-toned guitar with Crutchfield twin style harmonies (“God Damn”) or aching acoustic folk (“Berwyn”). All those styles are under one roof on Attic Space, the debut EP from Thomas’ project Fairy Godmother, which came out March 6th on Fox Food Records. Thomas has some relatively famous friends join the show — Alex Giannascoli and John Heywood from (Sandy) Alex G on drums and bass respectively — and those moments are certainly cool to hear, but the best of Attic Space are when it scales down just Thomas and a guitar, like on the closing “Pretty” which reflects on familial love and devotion.
JUDAH KIM AND THE ASSASSINATION
Local modern rock singer-songwriter Judah Kim has a knack for catchy hooks and earworm melodies, informed in turns by 80s power-pop, and the post-grunge alternative era. Not the gritty and grimy, not the self-consciously idiosyncratic, more the folks that just tell it straight like it is: the Pete Yorns and the Duncan Shiek’s and the Athenaeums (does anybody remember them but my sister and me?). Topically, Kim touches topics of religion, addiction, societal norms, and self acceptance over an eclectic assortment of sounds that he calls “an artistic effort to reflect the overwhelming emotional and informational responsibility of the 21st American.”
Tim is from Philadelphia, Lizi is from West Virginia, and they befriended one another online. Over the past five years, they’ve traded ideas for songs and slowly wrote and recorded what would become Evening Glow, the debut from their band Black Melanite. The songs are full of dramatic builds from the quietest guitar chord and vocal whisper to thunderous tom drums and wailed emotional refrains. With the dreamlike harmonies and pensive pace, they’re reminiscent of Minnesota icons Low, and indeed Black Melanite fancies itself a slowcore act. Best is the pitch in their Bandcamp bio: “immerse yourself in our emotionalsoundscape full of intimacy and wonder.” I am here for this.
Connor Benincasa has been making music as Comfy with a rotating cast of friends for the past five years. After honing the project for most of those years in Utica, New York, Benincasa relocated it to Philadelphia, and Thanks For The Ride serves as a document of the journey. The theme is newfound independence — the artist’s independence from parents, a partner, a live band, and a recording engineer — and it’s conveyed via bright and hooky indie pop that’s a weird and wonderful mishmash of The Magnetic Fields, The Unicorns, The Shins and The Get Up Kids. Welcome to town, Connor.