The Skeleton Key: Welcome to July with protests, benefit comps, live streams, and a brand new Sun Ra Arkestra album
Despite my general aversion to nostalgia – fight me if you want to, but I think it’s boring – I’ve been finding myself going deep on my own musical history recently. Maybe it’s four months of quarantine or just the constant hammering of bad news but I’ve been really craving the comfort of familiarity.
As a music reporter, I’m supposed to constantly be on the hunt for the Next Big Thing. And I am, don’t worry. We’ll get to that soon. But at the same time, there’s no problem with digging into the past and revisiting things that have given you comfort or stability or WHATEVER, especially there days. Just don’t get stuck there, you know?
In doing This Is Essential, the ongoing interview series with essential workers in the Philly music scene that I’ve been writing for the past couple months – two, maybe three more coming in July – one of the questions I’ve been asking is what music folks have been listening to recently that’s provided some sort of relief from the never ending stress of 2020. I think knowing that gives you a better sense as to someone’s core being. I’d try and give you a synopsis but not surprising it’s really all over the place so make me happy and check out the articles!
If someone asked me that I’d probably hem and haw, mutter something about Mashina – this absolutely incredible band from my youth in Israel whose first couple albums basically sound like Madness and is definitely something that’s been a constant in my life for decades – and plug whatever bands I’ve been listening to on repeat the previous few days. This is why I’m on the other side of the microphone.
But really, that is not what this column is for. We are here to talk about new music from local bands and I think the best way to do that right now is to listen to every single Philly compilation that’s come out over the past month or so. There’s a lot of them and they’re all fundraisers and really that just rules.
Last time I wrote about19 Notes On A Broken System – with tracks from Solarized, Dark Thoguths, and more – and two Skeleton Keys ago was the second editions of both the Folkadelphia comp Co-Mission and the Fuel The Fight collection. Due to the political nature of these releases I’d go so far as to say that the current climate could be described as “comps not cops” but, hey, don’t just take my word for it.
Let’s start with a couple that came out just this past week and remember that today is another Bandcamp no-fees day:
The Compilation Fundraiser for Morris Home Philadelphia is seriously just one of the most amazing collections of music that’s been released in 2020. It’s not just that it’s a who’s who of local acts (and a few from NJ and NYC that play here a ton) but there’s a ton of awesome bands on here that you’ve probably never heard before. That’s really what you want from a comp. I can’t even pick a standout track or even two from this because it’s all so good but I’m especially stoked on the brand new stuff from Positronix, Eat, P.R.O.G.R.A.M., Insane Earth, Grendel’s Mother, and of course No One and The Somebodies. Just as importantly it’s a benefit for Morris Home, a West Philly sober living and recovery facility that works specifically with the trans and gender non-comforming communities.
The Exitos Varios comp isn’t Philly-centric but it does have a new Drill track on there and is a benefit for the Union of Musicians and Allied Workers, which a ton of local bands have signed on to. You can read more about that here but also check out the album cause it’s beyond wonderful with tracks from ONO, Mourning [A] BLKstar, and a Sun Ra cover by Jason Grier.
Speaking of Sun Ra, the Arkestra have a brand new one coming out soon, which is incredible. They haven’t put out any new music in more than two decades so this is a huge treat. I can’t wait. They’ve released a track so far and you can see a video for that here:
I want to share one last compilation with you before getting into some of the upcoming live streams. This is not new – in fact, it’s 33 years old – but up until now it hasn’t been on the internet. Pass The Elixir has songs from More Fiends, Anthrophobia, and one of the greatest bands to ever come out of the Lehigh Valley, Follow Fashion Monkeys. You can check that out over on the always excellent Freedom Has No Bounds blog.
First on the list of concerts this month is the Dominic Angellela record release show for his new one Poison River on the Lame-O Instagram tonight. Also playing will be Chanele McGuinness, José Díaz Rohena, Jacob Ungerleider, Alex Luquet, Natalie Prass and Dr. Dog’s Eric Slick. That’s a benefit for two organizations from Angellela’s hometown of Baltimore.
Slick is doing double duty this evening and performing in the Rock to End Rape Culture concert alongside Sad13, Maya Songbird, King Azaz, and a ton more. Check out our article about this event over here.
Tune your internet to the Johnny Brenda’s Twitch Saturday night at your socially distant BBQ for what is bound to be a super fun set from DJ Blaak Tha 9th Man. If, like myself, you’re not familiar with Blaak take a look at this great interview with him from a few years ago over on Daily Diggers, a record collecting website. There’s another good DJ night Sunday over on the Great Circles website with JD Harrington, Michael Brunner, Carl Ritger, and visuals from Candace Price.
Also on the 5th is another “Clarion Call for Justice,” the now-regular protests organized by trombonist Jeff Bradshaw that draws musicians from all over the city to the front of the Art Museum for a powerful – and noisy – rebuke. Take a look at these awesome pictures of the last one from The Key’s John Vettese:
I have a few more shows to talk about but I want to also get to some of the other new albums that came out recently. High up on that list is that brief taste of brilliance courtesy of guitarist Naeemah Maddox and Morton Gaster Papadopoulos, a project made up of members of Lamb of God, Stinking Lizaveta, and Clutch. I say ‘brief taste’ cause they’ve only released that one track so far, which isn’t fair.
Speaking of things that aren’t fair, Philadelphia had to wave goodbye to Madam Data this week when the multi-instrumentalist moved back to Singapore. I don’t have the space to get into everything Ada accomplished during the time they spent here but I urge you to spend a bunch of time on their Bandcamps and try and take it all in. They were kind enough to leave us with this absolutely lovely interpretation of Duke Ellington’s “Solitude” and that’s a great place to start.
While these days noise rockers Heavy Medical may be based in Portland they will always be a West Philly band, the place they called home for more than a decade. Their new EP Problems finally came out last month after having been recorded back in 2015 and it’s been been on heavy, heavy rotation. For this one the two Daves – that’s Angiolini on bass and original drummer Altman on drums – added Al Creedon (Bleeding Rainbow, Control Top) on guitar and the result is absolutely explosive.
If you’re listening to noise rock you expect loud and punishing but Heavy Medical has always managed to bring so much more to the table than just that. This release – five songs in just about nine minutes – is interesting, fun music and I’m actually kind of angry at how good it is.
I know I talked about Ghösh in my last column but they just dropped another two song EP and it’s so excellent that I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention it. Also in the interim my colleague Alex Smith did a fascinating interview with the band that you can read here. The two tracks that just came out, “Get Ready to Die” and “LYOAF” are both super catchy and will seriously make you move, something we all need right now. Blast it!
There are two great webcasts on the 10th that you should try and tune in to. Ill Doots are throwing a record release for their new one The Mess with guests including Khemist, BB Basura, Pax Ressler, and many more. That’s at 5 p.m. Later that night the July edition of The Monthly Fund regular benefit will be broadcast on their Instagram. Featuring Elaine Rasnake, Seraiah Nicole, Emily Doñe, and YA$E, the show will be raising money for Our Mothers’ Kitchens, a “culinary and literature project for Black folk.”
The next day be sure to check out all the bands playing at the Perth Amboy Stay Home Fest. Not only do you get a headlining slot by the Dead Milkmen’s Joe Jack Talcum but there will be performances by Mikey Erg, Teenage Halloween, Catbite, and Exmaid. I watched Joe do a set of Woody Guthrie songs last week and it was incredible. Say what you will about the power of folk music, but those almost 100 year old songs feel so exceptionally relevant right now.
Before I forget: keep an eye peeled for a new Teenage Halloween song coming out this week! This will be their first release in three years and I’m very excited. The self-described many piece “bubblegum flaming queer power-pop” ensemble has been around since all the members were literal teenagers and it’s been a delight to watch them grow and change and figure stuff out. I can’t wait for this new album to finally come out.
My final event for this two week period is Warp Factor 9 on the 16th. The monthly series highlights musicians from the classical, jazz, and general avant scenes in Philly and is one of my favorite regular concerts. July will be pianist Jon Gruver – you might recognize him from Mercury Radio Theater and F. Woods and The Fellow Humans – and guitar improviser Eric McGarry. The show will be broadcast online, of course, but like last time curator and head honcho Erica Corbo may open up the windows and doors of the Suzuki Piano Academy at 47th and Cedar and let people take in the music from the sidewalk outside. Bring a mask!
As always, feel free to hit me up with any tips or suggestions on Twitter at @talkofthetizzy!