Items Tagged Philadelphia: What a time to be alive - WXPN | Vinyl At Heart
Kate Ferencz | via

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.

Hoo-boy. It’s been quite the dumpster fire of a month since we last spoke, has it not? Without getting bogged down into a depressing litany of current events (shootings, rulings, retirements that we all knew were coming but will nonetheless reshape the country in bleak ways for like, what, DECADES or something), let me just say that the every-day-something-else pace we’re at has me running low on energy and on words with which to address it all. And then I think about the fact that I’m a privileged enough person that running low on words and energy are the biggest ways in which I’m affected by the state of the world, and not, IDK, like having MY FUNDAMENTAL RIGHTS UNDER ATTACK, and I think about my friends who are in that place and I feel even lower.

It’s a maddening time to be alive — but we are alive, we have that much, and we also have music. Music is the great constant; it’s there to channel and reflect anger, it’s there to echo despair, it’s there to uplift, it’s there to soothe, it’s there to enlighten. And while no single one of these nine new releases from Philadelphia that I found on Bandcamp this month does all of those things, all of them do at least one of those things.

“I want my songs to get to the heart of my emotions without overcomplicating anything,” says the eponymous leader of Philadelphia bedroom folk outfit Goodbye Max. Reminiscent of Nick Drake, Mojave 3 and early 00s slowcore/sadcore a la Bedhead, Max’s emotive vocals cast a breathless pallor over this seven song EP as acoustic guitars twinkle and twang, keyboards phase in and out of the scene, and angelic voices harmonize. The project, says the artist, is about memories, hanging on to them, and being afraid to lose them, and as the instruments swell and build into a stirring crescendo on “Automatic / Slow Down,” that feeling is palpable.

I first encountered this experimental local artist in one of the best places for experimental local artists to get their freak on – the side chapel of the First Unitarian Church, circa 2013, opening for Attia Taylor and Hilly Eye. Kate Ferencz took the stage wrapped head to toe in plugged-in Christmas lights (which made for an arresting visual if maybe a little bit of concern over artist electrocution), and used a strip of effects pedals and their voice to create heady, echoing soundscapes. It was cool, if a bit conventionally unconventional (this was the tail end of an era where a large percentage of musicians I encountered around the scene wanted to be swimming in ‘verb and delay, and/or fancied themselves sound loop artists). But in the time since, Ferencz has kept that initial adventurousness intact while refining their songcraft, and the new What Was The World cassette is an outstanding set that’s simultaneously weird and wild but also massively accessible to people outside the art-pop zone. “Who Do You Really Love” rushes out the gate with a dope beat by Height Keech and a sardonic, Peaches-esque delivery from Ferencz; “It’s Not Over” is blissful pure psychedelic pop reminiscent of Tame Impala with its soaring keyboards, trilling guitar, speedy beat and clever lyrics – “It’s not over, it’s just broken / it’s not broken, it just hurts.” Elsewhere, we heard jaunty lo-fi rollerskate jams in the vein of Le Tigre (“Devil Wants Blood”), Kim Gordon-esque meditations on good and evil (“Tuletepic”), and other explorations of love, violence and these infuriating times we live in. Ferencz is on tour presently, and though no Philly dates are in the mix a New England road trip is never a terrible idea; dates at Bandcamp.

There’s a school of rappers and beatmakers in the Bandcamp orbit that sound like definite scholars of Kanye West before the fall. The old Kanye, if you will. The minute an obscure-ish R&B sample enters, gets chopped up and starts bouncing off of 808 beats, I typically have a general idea where a project is heading. Not to say that it’s bad – it sounds great, actually – but there’s just so many artists that sound like it. Philly MC Jerrodave could easily fall into this category (and on the W.I.C. Writing in Circles project even makes a reverent reference to one of Ye’s best latter-day tracks, “Ultralight Beam,” so it’s clear where his loyalties lie) but for a few points. First, as a rapper, he doesn’t really sound like Kanye. Second, this seventeen-song set bounds across styles from classic millenial soul to old school boom-bap to high-drama hardcore and modern trap. Third, as a lyricist, Jerrodave – along with guest features by Hezekiah, Qully, Syreena and more — is able to walk that line between personal and observational without putting himself at the pinnacle of every rhyme, delivering a song that is emotional and complex rather than self-aggrandizing. As he writes in the album notes, “We love, We laugh, We Cry, We get angry, We struggle and We strive to live better while contemplating whatever’s waiting for us when it’s all over. We are all just Waiting In Circles.” Dig in.

“Two more tunes from some sweet ghouls,” goes the description of the new “Scum / Pact” single from Dead Sally, an Philly-via-Texas indie pop five-piece with strong goth leanings. The a-side is speedy and sick, jangling across arpeggios like The Cure’s “Jumping Someone Else’s Train,” but with unexpected instrumental flourishes — Hailey Bobella’s cello solo, horn accompaniment by Stevie Sparks on sax and Kurt Armstrong on trombone. So it’s a bit of ska, too? And retro lounge pop, as we hear on the b-side, which definitely has MCR origins, but without the towers of guitar amps. The recording is rounded out by drummer Nathan Montella, bassist Maros Rocha, vocalist MJ and guitarist/singer/songwriter Sam Sterling, though it’s worth noting that Sterling has recently arrived in Philadelphia from Austin and seems to be beginning the project anew in the 215. So while there are no immediate gigs on their calendar, you can watch for Dead Sally in a cemetery near you (or just watch their FB page).

I love that Philly rapper Y.RYDA opens his new project The Legend Lives On with an interlude, and it’s a powerful one. “EduKKKation Interlude” is built around cosmic free jazz sounds and samples, with a forward-moving beat constructed by producer Radji Mateen, and lyrically it finds the MC free-associating on traits of systemic oppression that non-white youth have to navigate their way through enroute to adulthood. As the project advances, we get a variety of sounds from trap (the introspective “Broken Crayons”) to pop (the No Doubt-sampling cry of desperation, “Don’t Speak”). Y.RYDA just rocked a show at Sankofa House in West Philly last night, and next appears at the Black Art Flea Market next weekend.

Mabel Harper’s mantra in her creative pursuits seems to be “please take care of yourself” – it’s on almost all of the social media channels for her musical project Don’t Do It, Neil, and it is honestly such a wonderful outlook to have. It’s so easy to be angry and lash out in 2018; it’s so easy to feel defeated and withdrawal from everything around you. But to put hope and care in the forefront, not just for yourself but for everybody around you, is something special. Clearly Mabel has arrived at this outlook from a place of struggle herself; as she wrote upon the June 2 release of the beautiful new bedroom pop EP easy come, easy go, “five days from today – june 7, 2018 – will be the first anniversary of me starting hormone replacement therapy. i began work on this album in september of last year. i got lost in the dark in november. i dug my way out in december. i finished the album late into this past may. now it’s out. enjoy.” For musical reference points, think Jens Lekman, Magnetic Fields, and Tenderforever, with a rapped verse on “Ungai” that melds into a synthesizer line like something out of a dream.

There’s a nervous and urgent rattle to the voice – and, honestly, everything else – on “Down There,” the opening track and title track to the new EP by Philly’s False Tracks. Make no mistake, that sonic tension is a good thing. This is a band is full of energy and determination; as singer-guitarist Greg Pavlovcak yells on the hook, “I wanna win, I wanna lose, I wanna get your attention,” and this short and sweet set absolutely succeeds. The EP was recorded in Fishtown by Jeff Zeigler and features Jayme Goukas (of Glitter, Ex-Friends, The Snow Fairies) on lead guitar and vocals, Michael Hammel on drums, and Jamie Wilson (of Royal Shoals) on bass guitar and vocals; the band plays tonight at Everybody Hits.

Another project from Uniform Recording’s perpetually busy Jeff Zeigler, power trio Rabbits to Riches just released their first EP in a year. Titled My Idea, it can be complex and unpredictable like indie rock faves Scrawl and Tsunami, but always returns to the hooks with ease. Chugging opener “Anywhere” is an earworm with wild guitar skronk filling out the verses and bridge, while the minute-fifty “What’s In Store” is filled with tension and terror. The set glides to a close with the beautiful atmosphere of “Posters” which is an existential quandary about putting your own face on a missing poster. Rabbits to Riches features Brigitte Benecke on bass and vocals, Chris Baldys on guitar, and Peterson Goodwyn on drums, and they’ll celebrate the release of My Idea on July 14th at Space 1026 with Baltimore’s Cora Sone, Philly’s Emily Bate, and a solo set from Zeigler.

Philly friends Cam Chung, Vs Aditya, Jesse Morency, and Collin Barlage have been making beautiful and anthemic modern rock since 2016 under the Blueroom banner, and this month released their first full length project, Laurentide, on Honest Face Records. It’s a set that eases you in with softness and assurance; “Minuteman” is an emo-rooted swell-to-crescendo instrumental built around acoustic guitar plucks, brustroke drums and touches of synthesizer as the volume builds. But once lead single “Lightning Bug” hits, the record settles into a contemplative Jimmy Eat World / Death Cab for Cutie sort of zone, and beautifully travels its way across ten tracks that are a perfect accompaniment for loneliness in the summertime, that disconnect you feel when it’s like sunny and beautiful and school’s out and it’s the most fun time of the year so you’re supposed to be carefree and having fun, right? But you’re not, and it’s important to remember that it’s totally okay you’re not. “Flowers in the Light Booth” is a five-minute study of this specific feeling; the six-and-a-half waltz into math rock catharsis “Into Circles” explores self-doubt even further. I would tell you that the album closes on a note of hope and resolution, but Laurentide is truer to life than that; “Placeholder” and its synth/harpsichord tones represent more of an arrival at a point of self-honesty, and with a character singing “it’s time we say what’s really on our minds,” it seems poised to move forward with cautious optimism.

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