The Skeleton Key: Beat back the quarantine blues with new music from Moor Jewelry, King Azaz, and a whole lot more - WXPN
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The other day I was talking to Crossed Keys singer Josh Alvarez for a new series here at The Key about essential workers – Josh is a mental health advocate in a psych ward at Temple Episcopal – and so much of the conversation revolved around how lost both of us feel right now. Josh has his job, his family, his band, a podcast he does regularly. All things that are usually both very grounding and extremely rewarding. These days, however, he wonders if any of it is helping.

I get it. I’m sure lots of you do. Even people like Josh – essential workers, healthcare workers, folks who are very much supporting others right now – are feeling so totally helpless in the face of a global pandemic. For him it’s not just the almost-Sisyphean push and pull of the daily headlines but it’s also the fact that the activities that bring him joy outside of work, namely music, are canceled. As he told me, it’s been increasingly difficult “just trying to keep my head up and trying to give the best care that I can to the people in my care while still taking care of myself without having my band.” Look for the full interview later this week.

That synergistic relationship between work and play or work and art or whatever is so incredibly universal and no amount of live-streamed concerts will fix what’s broken. Still, what are you going to do, isolate more? No way. That’s not how it works! What we need right now more than anything is community. Well, that and maybe some competent people in power. I can only help with one of those and seeing how this is a music column let’s go with the former.

First things first: I have not one but TWO exclusive previews of new albums to debut during this column. Quarantine is honestly a great time to release new music or, as we covered last time, upload stuff to the internet that either never came out in the first place or maybe only existed on a handful of burned CDRs that were handed out at a Fake Haus show in 2002.

Let’s start with Moor Jewelry and “Working” from their forthcoming tape. The duo – that’s Moor Mother and Mental Jewelry, in case you don’t know – released their first album, 2017’s Crime Waves, on Don Giovanni. If the track they sent me is any indication, this new one, called True Opera, is going to be just as great if not better. I’d go into some long winded explanation but seriously a) Just give it a listen! b) It’s Camae singing and playing guitar over some frenetic noisy distorted punk stuff. What more do you really need to know?!

Moor Jewelry cover art from their new tape called True Opera | Courtesy of the artist
Moor Jewelry – “Working”

I was going to space these two premiers out a bit but honestly I’m both way too excited for people to hear these songs and also they actually go great together. My second offering to all of you is “Let Yourself Out” by another Philadelphia duo, King Azaz. While lots of two piece bands feel a bit lacking – you can’t accuse me of being a hater cause I both played the last Two Piece Fest and literally watched every one of the more than 20 bands that performed throughout the day-long event – King Azaz is nothing but powerful.

I’ve always been a big fan but I really feel like this track from their upcoming LP Forever Green really captures their live show. To me this sounds like all the best parts of Nirvana and other bands from that era distilled down to their core and coming at you straight from a West Philly basement. It’s noisy but not to the point that it overtakes everything else. It’s poppy and fun but it’s definitely not easy listening. This is a great song and I’m so stoked for the album to come out sometime later this year.

King Azaz | Courtesy of the artist
King Azaz – “Let Yourself Out”

While neither Moor Jewelry nor King Azaz have anything lined up during quarantine – though I’m actually a bit surprised Moor Mother hasn’t done a set yet cause that would be amazing – there are a number of streaming gigs I’m looking forward to over the next couple weeks. The first one of those, the regular Warp Factor 9 avant and jazz night that’s normally held at the Suzuki Piano Academy, is actually tonight. The performers at this show are Suzuki student Amalia Tan, the experimental folk project i try you try, and Jon Smith’s Voyages, which is described as “Sounds like David Bowie and Freddie Mercury had a love child.” I’m into it. Check that out via Facebook.

Tomorrow at 6pm Joe Jack Talcum of The Dead Milkmen will be kicking off a full lineup of musicians as part of Coping With Dystopia 5, a series of live-streamed concerts that’s been happening for the past few weeks. This one also includes Philly favorite Brook Pridemore amongst others and is a benefit for Operation “In My Backyard”, an organization that works with people experiencing homelessness in Kensington.

Late that night Annachristie Sapphire – you might remember her from her old band Sisters 3, an XPN favorite back in the day – is performing ‘Quarantine Songs From My Bedroom’ out of her Portland home. Since leaving Philadelphia for the West Coast, Annachristie has put out a number of really great modern folk albums and I’m excited to hear what she plays during this concert. Check out the video for her song “Bonsai” below:

Also happening right around the same time is a live Making Time set where Dave P will be joined by Ricardo Rivera from the music and art group the Klip Collective. The two of them, separated by approximately six feet, will be creating what they are calling a “TRANSCENDENTAL Klip Collective Virtual Immersion™ Experience” and while I don’t know what that means I’m sure it’ll be awesome.

If you haven’t already been checking out all the different programming happening on The Roots’ YouTube channel you should do yourself a favor and do exactly that. Not surprising it is both brilliant and wonderfully uplifting. Also take a look at this classic Square Roots flyer they posted to Instagram the other day:

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The only other live broadcast on my calendar – though let’s be real, stuff gets added literally every day – is the Britpop night on the 24th that was supposed to be at Ruba. If there’s one thing we could all use right now it’s some good, clever, and fun dance music so pull out your bucket hats and tune in.

There’s a bunch of new music that dropped over the past month that you should check out. While my previous column was all about archives and the joys of digging deep, this time around I figured I’d focus on more recent history.

One of the albums that has been on repeat a bunch in my quarantine cave is the new Magnetic Bells recording from their Song-Poems concert at the Philadelphia Free Library last June. If you haven’t seen that band yet it’s one part Jordan Burgis of Magnetic Dog and Honey Radar – he’s playing guitar, clarinet, and musical saw – to two parts Darian Scatton and Alison Stout of Hallowed Bells on a whole mess of synthesizers. The music they make together is a beautiful mix of ambient noise and more experimental synth-heavy drone. It is, at least to me, a very comforting sound, especially right now.

Something else that’s been speaking to me is the aptly named Bedroom Distortion project from the singer of the on-hiatus Chronic Anxiety. This is some raw stuff both musically and emotionally, part Sonic Youth, part Pelt, and altogether very lo-fi and perfectly noisy. There are two albums up on the Bandcamp, a full length called Y2K and the Corona Love Affair three song EP. You should check them both out.

Just because there won’t be a record release show on the 20th for the new Total F’n Destruction album …to be alive at the end of the world doesn’t mean you shouldn’t just throw your own little listening party at home. The grind band’s first release since 2018’s #USA4TFD – it also marks their return to the always great Translation Loss Records, home to fellow West Philadelphia metalheads Stinking Lizaveta – is a perfect mix of punk, metal, and the weirdo energy that has propelled TFD forward for the past two decades.

While I’m pretty sure TFD and Radiator Hospital have very little in common, at least musically, that band was also supposed to be playing a show on that very same Monday night. Curious! So just like with TFD, I’d suggest you crack a beer or a seltzer or whatever and give the new Radiator Hospital recordings a listen that night. Try not to think about what could have been, cause that won’t get you anywhere, but rather of what will be.

The final release I’m going to highlight is the first volume of Folkadelphia’s Co–Mission: An Artist Relief Compilation. The purpose of the comp, which has tracks from Key favorites Nick Millevoi, Roger Harvey and Anika Pyle, Caithlin De Marrais, Birdie Busch, and a ton more, is to “help get money in the hands of in-need artists and musicians during a time of financial, professional, and personal instability and uncertainty.” You can read more about it over here.

It’s fitting and more than a little bittersweet that Harvey and Pyle did a real rousing cover of “In Spite of Ourselves” by John Prine for the album, considering that the singer passed away a bit more than a week ago as a result of this terrible disease. The news of his death hit the music community and really just the world like a ton of bricks. He was booked to play the Mann in June and the Folksong Society, in their memorial, wrote that he was supposed to headline the Philadelphia Folk Festival this summer. The chance of that festival happening is basically nonexistent and it’s all so crushing.

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The connections we each have to music and to each other felt very palpable in the wake of Prine’s death. He was a cultural touchstone and a musical role model for many. I recently found out that about a decade ago, well before I got familiar enough with Prine’s music to be able to sing along, the late Erik Petersen of Mischief Brew was regularly covering his songs. I might have seen Erik play literally hundreds of times but discovering a video of him doing his version of “Please Don’t Bury Me” was both incredible and honestly kind of depressing.

Perhaps not surprisingly Prine himself addressed that very feeling, especially when it concerns all the unanswered questions around death and dying. In a piece in Pitchfork a couple years ago he’s quoted as saying: “I guess I just process death differently than some folks. Realizing you’re not going to see that person again is always the most difficult part about it. But that feeling settles, and then you are glad you had that person in your life, and then the happiness and the sadness get all swirled up inside you. And then you’re this great, awful candy bar, walking around in a pair of shoes.”

So from one great, awful candy bar to a whole cohort of others, I’ll see all of you in a couple weeks for the next installment of The Skeleton Key. As always, feel free to reach out via Twitter at @talkofthetizzy.

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