The Philly 100: Pandemic edition
Bandcamp Friday became the Philly music scene’s new favorite holiday during the pandemic.
When it quickly became clear this spring that touring artists — as well as regional musicians working in the service and event industries — were out of their regular source of income for the foreseeable future, the streaming service stepped up its game, announcing it would waive its revenue share on the first Friday of each month, allowing 100% of all sales to go directly to the artists.
It became a means of the music scene supporting one another; unplanned projects were recorded and released; one-day-only singles dropped; demos were unearthed and back-catalog favorites were reconsidered; benefit compilations and singles popped up throughout the year, and especially during the summer’s civil unrest. In short, it was a beautiful thing, it was community in action, and as we look back over another year of amazing Philadelphia music — and we happen to do it on the last Bandcamp Friday of 2020 — it only made sense to focus exclusively on artists who released music on Bandcamp.
Last year, The Key launched The Philly 100 as a means of giving props to amazing local artists whose records, for whatever reason, didn’t make it on to our staff-voted year-end lists. This year, we’re doing it again, and every single one of these 100 artists — who range from soul pop to folk punk to poetic noise to whatever other style you can imagine — has their music available on Bandcamp, ready for you to purchase.
Additionally, the Philly artists who made our previous lists all have music on Bandcamp too. From the Best Albums list, don’t overlook Deep Tissue, Orion Sun, Pine Barons, and Frances Quinlan; from the Best Songs list, don’t miss The Districts, Irreversible Entanglements, and Soul Glo.
Read, listen, dig deep, shop local, support your scene, and enjoy.
A Day Without Love
The Genre: emo-folk
The Story: Prolific local singer-songwriter Brian Walker has a dozen 2020 releases on his ADWL Bandcamp – singles, EPs, full-lengths – and is capping the year with Mega Jawn, a roundup of collabs with peers from Philly’s Erin Fox to DC’s Bartees Strange.
The Link: adaywithoutlove.bandcamp.com
The Reference Points: Bright Eyes, living room shows, unflinching emotion
The Genre: DIY psychedelia
The Story: A home recording project by Philly’s Devi Majeske stepped up its game this year, first with the Swanning About EP and more recently with the breathtaking “Move Without A Place,” an indiepop gem fused with dreamy passages sung in Gujarti.
The Link: devi.bandcamp.com
The Reference Points: Feist, Sylvan Esso, Bollywood soundtracks
The Genre: rock, badass
The Story: Grunge-infused power trio is loud and cathartic on Battle Scars, its latest set of songs that demands to be played live and makes us miss shows in the worst way. Turn it up to find some release!
The Link: alrightjunior.bandcamp.com
The Reference Points: Soundgarden, Remy Zero, distortion pedals
The Genre: New Jersey
The Story: The latest and greatest from songwriter Joe Michelini doubles down on the existential despair on the latest AmTrappe record, The Gate, with driving riffs and explosive interplay making us feel deeply and truly. It’s somber, sometimes scary, but never without hope.
The Link: amtrappe.bandcamp.com
The Reference Points: Arcade Fire, Gaslight Anthem, some guy named Springsteen
The Genre: Orchestral GeorgeMartinCore
The Story: When you have a home studio and you’re homebound, great things can happen. For long-running singer-songwriter Andrew Lipke, he got super busy, cranking out three releases that incorporated collabs with his children, raging rock riffs and sonorous string sections, proving that a global lockdown can in some ways be an unintentional positive for a studio rat.
The Link: andrewlipke.bandcamp.com
The Reference Points: Jeff Buckley, Radiohead, The Beatles
The Genre: Punk folk
The Story: DIY scene fave turned emotive singer-songwriter Anika Pyle challenged herself during the pandemic, trying new things like producing the stunning keyboard-arranged “Prayer For Lonely People” and exploring her poetry and collage art in zines and online. She’s only released singles this year, but they’re all necessary listening.
The Link: anikapyle.bandcamp.com
The ReferencePoints: Sharon Van Etten, Laura Stevenson, yoga
The Genre: popera
The Story: Philly singer-songwriter Derek Anthony Wilson went from Queen-esque piano rockers to bass-heavy trap-infused bangers this year, and though only some of his music is on Bandcamp (def dip over to your streaming services if for no other reason than the weirdly wonderful “UFO”), it’s all worth your attention.
The Link: archpalatine.bandcamp.com
The Reference Points: Blood Orange, Elton John, vocal vibrato
Arthur Thomas and the Funkitorium
The Genre: Funk, obvs
The Story: This Philly five piece was a force on the live music scene in 2019, but with stages taken away from us this year, they got to work in the studio. Their songs are built around classic hip-hop beats, spirit-raising soul melodies, and contemporary genre-fluid pop. Get started with “How You Like Me Now” and don’t look back.
The Link: springgardenrecords.bandcamp.com
The Reference Points: Anderson .Paak, Leon Bridges, classic cars
The Genre: lo-fi art rock
The Story: Songwriter-guitarist-visionary Niki Avataria rips riffs, screams words, and makes you pay attention. This has been her approach on the Philadelphia show circuit for almost a decade, and the gripping nature of her gigs translates in a big way on head over heels, her latest and best recorded offering. The opening “EASY” will make fans of PJ Harvey and This Kills equally stoked.
The Link: avatariamusic.com
The Reference Points: Dum Dum Girls, riot grrrl, power chords
The Genre: experimental electronic
The Story: Breathtaking, beautiful expanses of sound by electronic composer Joshua Ulysses that steps beyond pop and towards ambient electronic, making space for a strong queer perspective along the way. Their stunning Heirlooms I’ve Never Had is sadly not on Bandcamp, but the stuff that is there is equally essential.
The Link: avhsoj.bandcamp.com
The Reference Points: Arca, James Blake, smashing the gender binary
The Genre: space cowboy
The Story: Philly indie rock stalwart keeps getting more focused and confident with each project he drops, and on this year’s seven releases he’s tapped into country roads, long ragas, and everything in between. His new Drive-Thru Heart is a nice bite-size introduction, but click around and explore.
The Link: barneycortez.bandcamp.com
The Reference Points: Big Star, Grant Lee Buffalo, memorable refrains
The Genre: Afrofuturist soul
The Story: Philly born visionary Bilal released two solo singles this year, then did a massive amount of collaboration the Bandcamp-esclusive VOYAGE-19 EP — three songs written and recorded during a three-day livestream with Philly friends like Khemist on rhymes and Chuck Treece on drums as well as national names like Madison McFerrin on vocals, Keyon Harrold on trumpet, Robert Glasper on keys, and Erykah Badu on poetry. The result is an imagined journey off this pandemic-ridden planet and to a new world, and a reflection on what might make that world a more just place.
The Link: bilalxhighbreedmusic.bandcamp.com
The Reference Points: Moses Sumney, Sun Ra, Stevie Wonder
The Genre: Coldwave, warm hearts
The Story: This synth rock two-piece have Stranger Things vibes galore, making the autumn release of their Dark For Days single just about perfect. Comprised of songwriter Ashley Tryba (formerly of noise-punk trio Fake Boyfriend) in collaboration with her partner Mikey, the band’s shoegaze / dreampop sound is perfect for these days where the sun is gone by 5 p.m.
The Link: blanketflowers.bandcamp.com
The Reference Points: Slowdive, Japanese Breakfast, Disintigration-era Cure
The Genre: rap-soul
The Story: Straddling the zone between laid-back rapper and fervent singer, Philly hip-hop scene staple Boogieman Dela knows how to get your attention. On the new letters to myself., he gets introspective and motivational, collabing with friends like Skrewtape, Hitready, and Chill Moody to document his road to improved self-confidence.
The Link: boogiemandela.bandcamp.com
The Reference Points: Ty Dolla $ign, Chill Moody, sweet melodies
The Genre: impressionistic beatmaking
The Story: Philly producer BPad re-introduced himself this year with a suave collection called Light Shift, an instrumental EP of textures throwing back to the Soulquarian ersa, and collabs with instrumentalists like sax player Mike Casey for a cool jazzy vibe.
The Link: bpad.bandcamp.com
The Reference Points: J Dilla, Derrick Hodge, Jackson Pollack
The Genre: Homebound and heartfelt
The Story: Japanese Breakfast drummer and production co-collaborator Craig Hendrix found his tour plans for 2020 cancelled, and used the time to explore his solo voice for the first time since his Auctioneer days. That meant a variety of Bandcamp-exclusive projects under the name C. Hundreds, from stirring ambient piano instrumentals to covers of his Philly friends.
The Link: chundreds.bandcamp.com
The Reference Points: Japanese Breakfast, Ólafur Arnalds, open space
The Genre: Indiespective
The Story: Dave Tomaine’s Cave People project lost a close friend and musical collaborator last year when Philly scene bassist Spenser Spirit Hogans passed away. Tomaine’s Looking record had already been in the works, songwriting-wise, but he finished it up and released it this summer, with its songs of introspection and inspiration presented in Hogans’ memory.
The Link: cavepeople.bandcamp.com
The Reference Points: The Weakerthans, The Hotelier, friendship
The Genre: basement show twang
The Story: Excellent Philly four-piece Chub Rub was poised to have an awesome 2020 prior to lockdown. They recorded the outstanding Make Some Fucking Space EP, and brought their feminist, body-positive country-punk (tagline: “more fats, more femmes”) to a packed-house basement show for a Valentine’s Day release party and live debut. To date it’s the only gig the band has played, though bassist / vocalist / lap steel-ist Corinne Doddenhoff has also had a productive singles run with her #1 Crush project. We hope to see more of Chub Rub on the other side of COVID.
The Link: chubrubphilly.bandcamp.com
The Reference Points: The Roches, Those Darlins, loving yourself
The Genre: goth-adjacent
The Story: The ascent of Philly trio Corey Flood has been a fantastic thing to watch. Building a name regionally on the strength of their basement-recorded Wish You Hadn’t demo from a couple years back, the band toured with The Districts and (Sandy) Alex G, and returned several levels up this year with their debut long-player The Hanging Garden. If the fact that the album shares a title with a Cure song catches your attention, you’d do well to check out “Down The Hill,” “Honey,” and order yourself a vinyl from Fire Talk Records.
The Link: coreyflood.bandcamp.com
The Reference Points: The Cure, The Raincoats, Young Marble Giants
The Genre: art pop
The Story: Cellist and vocalist Daniel DeJesus has made the rounds in the Philly performing arts scene these past several years, collaborating with folks like Agudos Clef, Trap Rabbit, and Bearded Ladies Cabaret, working for many years at Taller Puertorriqueño, and releasing his own music…and this year, he’s gifted us with quite a lot of it. From the BothSides/A covers project to the multi-volume Un Culto de Uno, DeJesus brings his transcendant vision and captivating ambience to us on many platforms — including an early morning virtual gig this Sunday via the Barnes Foundation.
The Link: danieldejesuscello.bandcamp.com
The Reference Points: Bjork, Kate Bush, sweeping strings
The Genre: soul-stirring singer-songwriter
The Story: A songwriter with roots in DIY punk picks up an acoustic guitar and goes inward, with beautiful results. Robinson released two standalone singles last year, followed by this year’s knockout EP On A Hotel Bed You Paid For, and backed by his collaborators The It’s Lit Family Band, he can go from a gripping whisper to a cathartic scream and back in breathtaking moments.
The Link: danterobinson.bandcamp.com
The Reference Points: Damien Rice, Bartees Strange, The City and Colour
The Genre: electropop hometapes
The Story: Former Cayetana bassist Allegra Anka unveiled their long-in-the-works solo project this year, and it’s a warm and emotive collection of DIY indietronic jams that will make you dance, feel, and sing all at once. Syntactic Sugar is a good starting place, but don’t miss the more recent single “Finding It.”
The Link: danya.bandcamp.com
The Reference Points: Cayetana, New Order, synth melodies
The Genre: golden era rap
The Story: Lyrics-forward rapper DELL-P released his latest project, Make Emceeing Great Again, back in January, and it hit the spot at the top of what was going to be a turbulent election year. Lest there be any confusion about which side of the political divide he sat on, the record talks a lot about Black liberation and racial injustice, with nods to Mumia Abu Jamal and The Move 9, but he does so in the template of classic late 90s / early 00s textures — boom bap beats and soul flips — making this project all around appropriate for a student of Black Thought’s Carnegie Hall Hip-Hop Master Class.
The Link: dell-p.bandcamp.com
The Reference Points: Black Star, Talib Kweli, sounds from the underground
The Genre: folk
The Story: Singer-songwriter Denison Witmer has always existed in the realms of quiet contemplation, so it’s somewhat appropriate that his return to the public eye as it were (his last record was 2013’s self-titled) landed in a year where seeing him perform meant watching him on a computer screen, playing in his home studio. The album is a beautiful and thought-provoking collection ruminating on themes of fatherhood, hometown comfort, aging gracefully, and not letting the toxicity of the larger world bring you down.
The Link: denisonwitmer.bandcamp.com
The Reference Points: Sufjan Stevens, Elliott Smith, Lancaster County
The Genre: Downingtown ramble
The Story: Bucks County singer-songwriter and record store proprietor Chelsea Mitchell returned to the studio late last year to work on Queen Coyote, her first collection of songs under the Dirty Dollhouse name in three years. Her voice was in top form, the retro-pop / country arrangements were ready to tug at our heartstrings, and the pandemic kept the music confined to the internet when it rightfully should have packed the room at Boot and Saddle (RIP). Don’t miss out: dig in to this short, sweet five-song set at Bandcamp, and explore her back-catalog while you’re there.
The Link: dirtydollhouse.bandcamp.com
The Reference Points: Dolly Parton, Patsy Cline, Margo Price
The Genre: Philly ballroom
The Story: We’ve now arrived at the DJ section of this alphabetical list, so you know this is the part where your body is going to be moving, even if you’re feeling down. DJ Delish’s TRACXKS, released at the top of the quarantine, delved into two-step and UK garage rhythms, and the bright and glorious summertime set Khadijah Vol. 6 dove even deeper.
The Link: djdelish.bandcamp.com
The Reference Points: house, vogue, dancefloor
DJ Lil Dave
The Genre: Grooveriding
The Story: Prolific Philly party-rocker Lil Dave has gifted us with some nine singles and remixes these past 12 months, and they’re always guaranteed to lift your spirits, whatever stage of lockdown we’re in. His sound spans eras and genres, with classic disco mixing it up with 21st century house, and even if you’ve been staring at your apartment wall for a week straight, he’ll transport you to a packed dancefloor.
The Link: lildavemusic.bandcamp.com
The Reference Points: Eavesdrop Radio, breakbeat soul, crate-digging
The Genre: True believer rock
The Story: One of the busiest musicians to spring out of the Philly community, Dominic Angelella used his year off touring in Lucy Dacus’ band — the multi-instrumentalist’s latest in a string of globetrotting gigs that’s also included Natalie Prass and mewithoutYou — to record and release two stellar solo EPs. Industry Night boasted a snarling punk attitude, while Poison River has some of his most vivid storytelling and memorable melodies to date. Both are essential listening.
The Link: dominicangelella.bandcamp.com
The Reference Points: gang vocals, witty lyrics, Pavement
The Genre: Singer-songwriter
The Story: I wasn’t familiar with Lauren Hawkins prior to her August livestream gig at Magic Gardens to support Morris Home, and when I heard her Future Passages Demos set — okay, technically a late December of 2019 release, but we’ll let it slide — I was floored. Her expansive songs are presented with only voice and solo electric guitar, and immediately took me back to Jeff Buckley’s Live at Sin-e EP. On the one hand, I can’t wait to hear what these songs sound like built up band style — her Grace, whenever it drops, has much potential for amazing — on the other hand, they’re also kind of perfect as they are.
The Link: eleanortwo.bandcamp.com
The Reference Points: Land of Talk, Neko Case, suburban expanses
The Genre: discoballin
The Story: Adventures in eclectic home recording with Erin Dillard, a Philly-via-St.-Louis transplant with a penchant for raw rock and optimistic dreampop dealing with everyday emotions — love, anxiety, frustration over capitalism, and more.
The Link: emospacebird.bandcamp.com
The Reference Points: Sidney Gish, Erykah Badu, The Dead Weather
The Genre: seersuckercore
The Story: When he’s not drumming with Dr. Dog or rocking with Lithuania, Eric Slick explores his myriad musical interests with an unpredictable solo catalog. Skronky noise one minute, refined retro pop the next, it’s an unpredictable ride, but his latest record Wiseacre might be his most accessible and fun to date. (UPDATE: Slick dropped a cover of Todd Rundgren’s “Can We Still Be Friends” for this Bandcamp Friday.)
The Link: ericslick.bandcamp.com
The Reference Points: Harry Nilsson, Grandaddy, timeless pop
The Genre: goth punk
The Story: New Jersey punk songwriter Miranda Taylor teamed up with Psychic Teens’ Larry Ragone to co-write this record of ragers infused with occult imagery and personal catharsis. It’s pensive yet poppy, bleak but so much fun. Hear live performances of it in one of the only Key Studio Session we recorded this year.
The Link: exmaid.bandcamp.com
The Reference Points: Jesus and Mary Chain, Babes in Toyland, The Raveonettes
The Genre: ghost folk
The Story: Solo outing from Philly’s Simon Martinez, best known as a member of Killiam Shakespeare but also a pickup player with everyone from Khemist to Bootsy Collins. On his own, under the name Flanafi, Martinez makes breathtaking compositions reminiscent of mystical minimalism The Books and the sunburnt psychedelia of the Tropicalia scene. The full Do You Have My Money record drops on December 9th, but two tracks are available on Bandcamp now.
The Link: flanafi.bandcamp.com
The Reference Points: The Books, Caetano Veloso, remote places
The Genre: instrumental hip-hop
The Story: Singer / songwriter / sound-looper Jacqueline Constance and rapper Joie Kathos teamed up this year as a production duo, releasing two collections of mostly wordless beats that touch on slick electropop and Rhodes-led soul. Dreamlike and divine.
The Link: gentlejawns.bandcamp.com
The Reference Points: DJ Shadow, Herbie Hancock, dynamic duos
The Genre: Alien rap-punk
The Story: A revolutionary cross-section of rollerskate techno, ACAB anthems, circuitboard punk beats, and spitfire raps by charismatic frontperson Symphony Spell. One of the only gigs I saw in 2020 was GHOSH absolutely tearing up Cousin Danny’s this February with NAH (see below), and it was such an amazing gig that I almost didn’t mind seeing barely any other shows for the rest of the year.
The Link: ghosh.bandcamp.com
The Reference Points: Insane Clown Posse, The YMD, Le Tigre
The Genre: rock, indie
The Story: When Cayetana parted ways last year, frontperson Augusta Koch had been working on her new project Gladie with Three Man Cannon’s Matt Schimelfenig. This was supposed to be their year — a solid debut album dropping on Lame-O, a big tour planned with The Menzingers, a similar story as so many others — and the pandemic changed that. Undeterred, Gladie doubled down on their music; Koch and Schimelfenig built a studio in the Poconos, and in addition to Safe Sins, the band released a demos collection and two remarkable EPs — Orange Peels and thank you card. are every bit as good as their album — and a third is on the way today. Koch also helped organize the latest Don’t Stop Now benefit compilation, this time benefitting Movimiento Cosecha and their fundraising efforts for undocumented and immigrant workers in the US in need of aid during COVID. (UPDATE: A live recording of Gladie playing Boot & Saddle in January was just released by The Menzingers, along with The Menzos set from the same show; both recordings are up for 24 hours only, with proceeds benefiting NIVA.)
The Link: gladie.bandcamp.com
The Reference Points: Swearin, Ratboys, basement shows
The Genre: blues rock
The Story: Formidable guitarist Greg Sover has been proving his prowess locally for the past decade, developing his name in suburban clubs, rocking his way into Philly, making waves in Nashville and beyond. His second long-player, Parade, came out this summer, and it’s anchored by a killer cover of Cream’s “Politician” — apt as ever this year, despite being a half-century old — and fierce licks and rhythms.
The Link: greg-sover.bandcamp.com
The Reference Points: Cream, Jimi Hendrix, Gary Clark Jr.
The Genre: golden era indie
The Story: New York transplants Nicholas Rahn and Danielle Lovier made their way to Philly and founded Grocer, a band they self-depricatingly joke in their Bandcamp bio is “dying on guitar music hill.” Waning trends be damned, their debut Little Splash is essential listening for anybody who ever turned Doolittle to ten and blasted off as a teenager, or grown-ass person for that matter.
The Link: itsgrocer.bandcamp.com
The Reference Points: Pixies, Poster Children, power pop punk
The Genre: unapologetic pop rock
The Story: Philly modern rockers Honeyjar make music for arenas, no joke. Honoring pop rock traditions from Rumours to Teenage Dream, the band has a sturdy sound that dabbles in roots, pop, and everything in between, with dynamic vocalist Kayla Rae at the helm. After teasing it all year with singles, their album Moonbeam is out today, they kindly did a track-by-track breakdown for us here, and its polished production and high-energy playing portend big things ahead.
The Link: honeyjartheband.bandcamp.com
The Reference Points: Fleetwood Mac, Katy Perry, big harmoies
The Genre: two-piece power
The Story: Isaac Clark and Josh Galus hinted at the late 2019 album release party for Brain On The Wall that, after this gig, Honeytiger was over. And even though 2020 would have been the perfect excuse for them to call it a day, they hit a prolific streak this fall, pushing their sound into weirder directions then ever before while still maintaining their garage rock core. Please, gents, keep this going long enough for a post-COVID show.
The Link: honeytiger.bandcamp.com
The Reference Points: Arctic Monkeys, The Black Keys, citywide specials
The Genre: rock and soul
The Story: Wilmington four-piece Hoochi Coochi has been at it for four years, rocking sharp-edged soul to get you on your feet and moving. Their new project The Watershed, the band’s first recording since 2017, is punchy, fun, and full of life.
The Link: hoochicoochi.bandcamp.com
The Reference Points: Esperanza Spalding, Southern Avenue, Delaware
The Genre: moody modern rock
The Story: This Philly five-piece came on our radar via an early January guest DJ set from the folks at Reflective Surface mag, and we wasted no time immersing ourselves in their early-2020 self-titled EP. The new track that landed this summer, “She Said,” is even bigger and bolder: frontperson Kira Cappello’s voice soars on the chorus while the band’s instrumental is dynamic and impactful, boding well for the album they plan to release in 2021.
The Link: humilitarian.bandcamp.com
The Reference Points: Jimmy Eat World, Metric, anthemic choruses
The Genre: Hip-hop funk
The Story: Stalwart Philly party rockers ILL DOOTS released two albums (The Mess and Age) and two standalone singles this year, shot a couple music videos around Graffiti Pier and South Philly, hosted a series of virtual gigs, and generally managed to be a constant presence. Impressive for a band that typically thrives on live shows and in-person interaction.
The Link: illdoots.bandcamp.com
The Reference Points: The Roots, Hardwork Movement, hip hop dynasties
The Genre: rap dreamscapes
The Story: Rapper Ivy Sole has been laying low since the release of her breathtaking 2018 album Overgrown, and with good reason. She was biding her time, working on her production chops, observing the world around her, and singles she’s started rolling out mid-pandemic have been all-killer, no-filler. They’ve been collected into the SOUTHPAW project (which features a lojii collab, see below) and we’re geeking out over here hoping there’s even more in the tuck.
The Link: ivysole.bandcamp.com
The Reference Points: Jamila Woods, noname, Quelle Chris
The Genre: campfire folk
The Story: Joe Makoviecki and James Black’s indie roots duo Jackson Pines only dropped a couple singles this year, but they made them count. An old demos collection calle NY-23A landed in May, offering long lost outtakes from the band’s earliest recording sessions, while “Half Light” landed in the thick of this summer’s racial justice upraising, with money from purchases donated to Philly Bail Out, Black Lives Matter, and the ACLU. (UPDATE: A third single, the terrifically twangy “(Never Gonna) Bury Me,” released today.)
The Link: jacksonpines.bandcamp.com
The Reference Points: Townes Van Zandt, The Avett Brothers, Folk Festivals
The Genre: Central PA shoegaze
The Story: The dreampop pedigree of the Susquehanna River Valley continues to fascinate me. If you’d put on Janedriver’s soaring, atmospheric EP you know it’s true for me and said it was a little known band from Sheffield circa 1992, I 100% would have believed you. Their studious take on a classic sound is impressive, but they’re also four young persons doing this in 2020 and making it their own. Listen and drift away.
The Link: janedriver.bandcamp.com
The Reference Points: Slowdive, Echobelly, effects pedals
The Genre: South Philly summertime
The Story: Contributing Key writer and Culture Cypher Radio host John Morrison is also a tremendously skilled composer and beatmaker, and his Bandcamp was lit up this year with a wonderful variety of offerings: one-off tracks and flips of classics, a 30-minute continuous mix called “Songs I Should Sample,” and most recently, South Philly: HOME. John’s music is often bright, with an uplifting bounce, meaning I always associate it with the summertime, and even though the new album dropped as we’re bordering on our second pandemic winter, it makes up for the seasons we lost.
The Link: johnmorrison215.bandcamp.com
The Reference Points: J Dilla, Knwledge, ordering takeout
The Genre: glam R&B
The Story: Earlier in the 20-teens, Jules Franklin fronted the terrific Philly band Elegant Animals, a groove-oriented rock project that dabbled in Frank Ocean-style eclectic songwriting. After taking a few years off, he returned this year with a solo outing. As Franklin told us over email, between the birth of his daughter and the killing of George Floyd this spring, he had a lot to process with this set of songs. The When You Find This I Hope You Like It EP is vibrant and upbeat, packed with serious personal material but told through a lens of optimism.
The Link: julesfranklin.bandcamp.com
The Reference Points: Prince, David Bowie, parenthood
The Genre: globetrotting beatmaking
The Story: West Philly production luminary Kilamanzego eased into prominence over the past couple years, releasing one singular single at a time — which is fine, since she’s got one of the most distinctive sounds in Philly and elsewhere — before dropping her debut project-length release this spring. Her earlier work drew on her Ghanain heritage for sonic and rhythmic inspiration (when she recorded a Key Studio Session a couple years back, she’d just returned from her first visit to the African continent), and those sounds definitely factor into the These Roots Are On Fire EP, but it pushes it further into realms of personal self-discovery through sound, and the standout summer single “Black Weirdo,” through words too.
The Link: kilamanzego.bandcamp.com
The Reference Points: Kaytranada, big bass, portable studios
The Genre: electronic soundscaping
The Story: Long running Philly artist King Britt landed a sweet professorship at University of California, San Diego this spring, but he’s kept his music rolling, both his project The Buddy System — which featured collabs with Moksha Black and Roba, as well as a solo response to civil unrest acoross the country this summer — while his ambient space music project Fhloston Paradigm shared the soaring Right Where We Are EP, “dedicated to a world of peace, love and equality for all.”
The Link: thebuddysystemproject.com / fhlostonparadigm.bandcamp.com
The Reference Points: Star’s End, Back2Basics, collaboration
The Genre: interdisciplinary interplanetary pop
The Story: Camden, New Jersey dancer, vocalist, electronic composer, and songwriter Kingsley Ibeneche followed up his Astro Nautico records debut Realms with three effervescent singles this year. The socially conscious “My Freedom” was released in June for his label’s fundraising singles series, he and Ivy Sole teamed up with Lee Clark on the collaborative dreamscape “Evaporate,” and the buoyant “I Try” is his latest staement.
The Link: astronautico.bandcamp.com
The Reference Points: Gabriel Garzón-Montano, Moses Sumney, song and dance
The Genre: ambient trumpet
The Story: Once lockdown happened, Philly musician/ photographer / writer (and Key contributor) Koof Ibi Umoren began exploring the possibilities of what a solo catalog could look like with nobody else to partner with. A stunning, Sigur Ros-esque meditation called “Prolog For A Dream” launched his Bandcamp page in June, and since then he’s released biweekly-ish EPs called Live / Raw, riffing over loops, exploring melodies, wandering in and out of pop covers, and generally enjoying himself in a way that’s just as fun for the listener.
The Link: koof.bandcamp.com
The Reference Points: Thundercat, Sigur Ros, Keyon Harrold
The Genre: mind-bending pop
The Story: Similar to his friend Eric Slick, Andy Molholt’s band Laser Background has always tried to negotiate a tension between pushing the experimental envelope and making music that’s more accessible. His new Evergreen Legend is his best job to date of striking that balance, with some of his most far-out sounds existing alongside some of his most memorable songs (see “Cerulean 20%”).
The Link: laserbackground.bandcamp.com
The Reference Points: Olivia Tremor Control, Lilys, muted color swatches
The Genre: jazz vocal
The Story: Prior to this year, singer-songwriter Laura Lizcano’s only recorded offering was a live set from Rittenhouse Soundworks called Chance on Me. It’s a delightful record, but the music she released this year really finds her going deep, exploring her voice and identity. A series of songs this winter and spring alternated between romantic balladry, Latin pop, and the swinging anticaptialst jazz of “Overworked and Underpaid.” This culminated in the Heart LP this October, an impressive debut that we can’t wait to hear performed live.
The Link: lauralizcano.bandcamp.com
The Reference Points: Norah Jones, Natalia Lafourcade, timeless songwriting
Lenny and Carl
The Genre: comedycore
The Story: Gab Landrum and Matt McMenamin straddle the music and comedy worlds in Philly, and while the duo created literal cartoon personas to go with their songs (and not just their namesakes, Lenny Leonard and Carl Carlson), the music is strong enough to stand alone. With drum machines, whirring guitars, and catchy choruses, this is gimmick-free indiepop perfection, and a fine example of local art scenes firing on all cylanders.
The Link: lennyandcarl.bandcamp.com
The Reference Points: The Simpsons, Mates of State, cartoon pop
The Genre: noirtronica
The Story: From the Philly class of 2020, I think singer-songwriter Lia Menaker is most deserving of the next available gig at Twin Peaks’ Bang Bang Bar. Gliding to pensive beats and onminous keyboard textures, this compelling vocalist reintroduced herself to the Philly scene this year with a moody, breathtaking EP called I Am Kyrøs.
The Link: liamenaker.bandcamp.com
The Reference Points: Portishead, Amy Winehouse, Twin Peaks
The Genre: indie singer-songwriter
The Story: A touch of country, a touch of indie rock, and a lot of childhood nostalgia went into Lily McKown’s debut album Backseat Driver. Recorded at Berlin Studio with Joe Michelini and his American Trappist bandmates, the record is personal and introspective, with stream-of-consciousness lyrical stories narrating one’s turbulent 20s and wishing for a simpler time.
The Link: lilymckown.bandcamp.com
The Reference Points: Jenny Lewis, Liz Phair, childhood nostalgia
The Genre: heady hip-hop
The Story: Hazy Philly beatmaker and rapper lojii had a semi-viral underground hit a few years back with the grimy groove of “No Ebola,” bounced around a few cities building his resume, and landed back home this year to work on the stunning new project lo&behold. It’s a haunting set of psychedelic hip-hop worth some quality headphone time, particularly if you’re up late and your mind is wandering.
The Link: lojii.bandcamp.com
The Reference Points: Tyler The Creator, Flying Lotus, late night strolls
Love? Said The Commander
The Genre: airborne folk
The Story: A pandemic year is also the year of duo power, musically speaking. Kate Hall and Chris Bishop make a big sound with just two voices, two acoustic guitars, and a violin, and though their live show mostly stuck to the internet this year, their charismatic new EP A Place For Our Heads found them fleshing out their robust folk into the twinkling jam-guitar stratosphere, and then bringing it back to solid ground.
The Link: lovesaidthecommander.bandcamp.com
The Reference Points: Richard and Linda Thompson, Phish, maximal minimalsim
The Genre: indie troubadour
The Story: After watching singer-guitarist and songwriter Matthew Scheuermann play paintive, unadorne indie folk for many years in his lowercase roses project, the new Titanic Planet feels like an arrival. His crystalline tenor vocals soar, his guitar playing is bold and emphatic, and his overall spirited delivery brings to mind Rilo Kiley’s Blake Sennett and Yo La Tengo. Worth the wait.
The Link: lowercaseroses.bandcamp.com
The Reference Points: Elliott Smith, The Elected, church choirs
The Genre: pit orchestra party
The Story: Emily Mineo has grown tremendously over her past few years in the Philly scene, evolving from a poppy acoustic songwriter to the dynamic frontperson of the theatrical rock project lylyly, where cabaret pianos mix with raucous guitars. Their self-titled album comes at the end of a long-running singles project, with songs touching on macabre monster movie themes, hometown memories, fear of mortality, and being the best you that you can be.
The Link: lylyly.bandcamp.com
The Reference Points: Regina Spektor, Rocky Horror, musical theater
The Genre: FASHION for the fight
The Story: Similar to Philly’s Gladie, the pandemic pushed local rocker Madalean Gauze into mass-productivity mode. The snarky and endlessly fun Suburban Square takedown “IDC ABT Fashion” was their first release of the year, followed by a collab with Garden Gate drenched in surreal psychedlia. The Happy Birthday, Birthday Girl collection this summer was touted causally as a collection of loose demos, but it’s an incredibly satisfying listen, serving as a reminder of how many knockout songs Madalean Gauze has in their catalog. Most significantly, though, are the two massive Fuel The Fight compilations the songwriter organized, collecting over 100 new songs from Philly artists raising money for essential workers on the frontlines of COVID.
The Link: madaleangauze.bandcamp.com
The Reference Points: PJ Harvey, Patti Smith, punk history
The Genre: industrial hip-hop
The Story: Bathed in low red light, wearing an intimidating leather mask, Carl Kavorkian cut an imposing figure performing in his solo project Manikineter at this March’s benefit concert for West Philly community center LAVA Space. Reminiscent of the more rap-inspired moments of Nine Inch Nails, or of Trent Reznor’s production work with Saul Williams, the gripping set gave us a taste of the Copper Fields tape that dropped on the cusp of autumn.
The Link: manikineter.bandcamp.com
The Reference Points: Nine Inch Nails, noise rock, wearing your damn mask
The Genre: Illvibe vibes
The Story: One of Philly’s DJ luminaries, Matthew Law wasted no time pivoting to digital in the initial days of the pandemic, when most of us where figuring out where the hell we were going to get our toilet paper. His regular Law’s Lair parties gave him an opportunity to keep his chops active while reaching a potentially wider audience than your standard nightclub might hold, and his releases on Bandcamp throughout the year included imaginative remixes, sample packs, and slick singles like the recent “Un(Turn)”
The Link: matthewlawofficial.bandcamp.com
The Reference Points: dance parties, DJ mixes, creative collaboration
The Genre: indie roots
The Story: Singer-songwriter Maxwell Stern spent a lot of 2019 working with Headroom’s Kyle Pulley on an album that would move him beyond his emo-punk roots in Signals Midwest and into more contemplative, Wilco-esque territory. And despite the circumstances of its release during a pandemi, Impossible Sum does exactly that — it’s a majestic record, filled with witty wordplay (“Light Later Lately” was my springtime anthem), gorgeous pedal steel playing by Mike “Slo-Mo” Brenner, and a mature lyrical perspective that captures a sense of place, a sense of self, and deep emotions.
The Link: maxwellstern.bandcamp.com
The Reference Points: Wilco, The Weakerthans, skatboarding videos
The Genre: modern rock
The Story: Intensely relatable and infectiously poppy, local synth / rock trio Moonroof makes music about love and interpersonal connection, as told from the perspective of lead singer and songwriter Dave Kim. The band’s two singles from 2020 are intensely radio-ready, and as the recent “First” makes quite evident, Kim is an unashamed romantic at heart.
The Link: moonroofmusik.bandcamp.com
The Reference Points: Cheerleader, Jukebox The Ghost, trios
The Genre: experimental
The Story: Where to begin with Philadelphia genius Camae Ayewa? After releasing the tremendous, revolutionary rap / poetry / noiserock record Analog Fluids of Sonic Black Holes and its companion poetry book last year, Moor Mother used practically every Bandcamp Friday to unveil some new project in her catalog. The haunting narratives of CLEPSYDRA started it off, followed by collaborations from her live archives with Nicole Mitchell and Olof Melander. A Junteenth mixtape landed amid the summer uprisings, a wild project called Dial Up with soundscaper Yatta followed. She took part in the Sub Pop singles series, and released an album on Don Giovanni called Circuit City documenting her FringeArts production from 2019. That’s to say nothing of two live recordings by her free jazz band Irreversible Entanglements, or the driving punk project Moor Jewelry. If anybody won Bandcamp Friday, it was Camae, but she’d also be the first to tell you that this isn’t about winning, this isn’t a game, this is about living and caring for our communities — creative and otherwise.
The Link: moormother.bandcamp.com
The Reference Points: poetry, noise, revolution
The Genre: percussion impressionism
The Story: Michul Kuun started the year off taking his noisy dance party NAH on a pre-pandemic tour with GHÖSH and Deli Girls; by summer, he was doing IG live streams for unexpected spots like Burberry. Night and freaking day, for sure, but the NahStuff Bandcamp kept active, swirling with noisy groovy projects like the propulsive Urgent My Blood For You and the chopped-and-re-chopped hip-hop punk audio collage Mortal Glitch. Intense, turbulent, and endlessly fun, NAH is like nothing else you’ll ever hear.
The Link: nahstuff.bandcamp.com
The Reference Points: punk rock dance parties, barebones drumkits, the second half of Skinny Puppy’s “Download”
No Thank You
The Genre: emo revival revival
The Story: Singer-songwriter and guitarist Kaytee Della Monica has a knack for making music that’s honest, vulnerable, and emotionally in-touch — and that’s something we all needed in 2020. With crunchy guitars padding cathartic melodies, No Thank You’s Embroidered Foliage album has an intrinsic sense of comfort and compassion.
The Link: nothankyouband.bandcamp.com
The Reference Points: Rainer Maria, Rilo Kiley, introspection
The Genre: doomgaze
The Story: Philly four-piece Nothing keeps getting better and better — and they’ve been a sick band since their Downward Years To Come EP a decade ago, so four albums deep, they’re a force. The heavy new project The Great Dismal is loud guitars and nihilistic squalor, perfect for soundtracking the endtimes while keeping a glimmer of hope on the horizon.
The Link: nothing.bandcamp.com
The Reference Points: Hum, Sleep, squalor
The Genre: visual album pop
The Story: Philly’s Pastel Williams makes sounds that seem to descend from the Alex G school of pop impressionism — acoustic beds and digital noise, intimate vocals cut with autotune artifice. The music on their Cusp project works as an offbeat indie collection, but if you experience it without the EP-length video — where green screens and layers of animation layer perplexingly — you’re missing out.
The Link: pastelwilliams.bandcamp.com
The Reference Points: (Sandy) Alex G, psychedelic pop, animation
The Genre: downtuned psych-punk
The Story: The pummeling Philly punk trio Plot recorded their latest EP, Hellhole, at Kensington art space Jerry’s On Front, and the boundary-pushing curatorial mindset of the space had them fearlessly trying out new things. Its four songs are atmospheric, even pretty at points, with unexpected synth textures and offbeat vocal melodies that glow ominously, but glow all the same.
The Link: plotphilly.bandcamp.com
The Reference Points: The Fall, Pissed Jeans, trippy textures
Reef the Lost Cauze + Dumhi
The Genre: boom-bap original rap
The Story: These Philly hip-hop veterans released impressive work both separately and in unity this year. Reef and Dumhi’s latest collaborative project, The Airing of Grievances, dropped last Friday with a killer release party on Twitch. Its beats are timeless, and lyrically it finds Reef meditating on staying hungry, staying relevant, and fighting injustice for his family and friends. His standalone single “Old Boy” from late last year gave us a heads up that the next record would pull no punches, and in the space between he released a couple pandemic live sets for the fans. For Dumhi’s part, he launched the stellar Fermented Spirits project with MicheleQJ of the Philly soul ensemble Adornment. Their Like Minds EP produced the perfect Philly summertime jam with “Water Ice,” and the expanded edition with bonus remixes featured the first Ethel Cee verse we’ve heard in like six or eight years maybe? Ethel appeared on Reef’s “Brother Muzone,” too, the lead single from The Airing of Grievances. We want to see her have her own entry on this list next year.
The Link: reefthelostcauze.bandcamp.com + dumhi.bandcamp.com
The Reference Points: Little Brother, Mobb Deep, Anderson Paak
The Genre: horror pop
The Story: Philly singer, rapper, and formidable presence Regothereshego presents her songs with a lot of ominous fanfare — spooky production flourishes, horror movie-esque music videos, surreal costumes, haunting lighting. It’s part of the act, for sure, but it’s also a way for Rego to armor up against the trauma she sings and spits about. From this year’s stunning To Be Determined EP to the gripping “Killing My Friends” and the explosive “Beg For It” (not on Bandcamp but worth a listen), it’s clear this macabre pop star is building to something big.
The Link: regothereshego.bandcamp.com
The Reference Points: Lady Gaga, Dua Lipa, letting your freak flag fly
The Genre: Power Pop Punk
The Story: Indie rock songwriter Sophia Greenberg teamed up with friends from the Manayunk music scene — including key members of The Tisburys (see below) — to build out Riverby from their solo project into a fantastic rifftastic four-piece with emotionally riveting songs and hooks to spare. Their stellar Smart Mouth, released on Take This To Heart Records, is perfect for screaming at the mistakes of your younger self while cautioning your future self against falling into similar patterns. We’re never to old to learn, to grow, or to slam around the house headbanging.
The Link: riverby.bandcamp.com
The Reference Points: Charly Bliss, Rilo Kiley, Paramore
The Genre: WillieNelsonCore
The Story: Pittsburgh-via-Philly folk punk songwriter Roger Harvey has shared a host of heartwarming mellow country tuneage over the last 15 months. (That’s three singles in 2020, but if you don’t go back to last October for his cover of Kacey Musgraves’ “Burn One With John Prine,” you’re missing out.) This year, he dueted with his partner Anika Pyle on “In Spite Of Ourselves,” got autumnal with “Halloween,” and celebrated the Keystone State post-election with “You’ve Got a Friend In Pennsylvania.”
The Link: xorogerharvey.bandcamp.com
The Reference Points: John Prine, Pennsylvania, weed
The Genre: guitar diety pop
The Story: Another reliably handy pickup player in the Philly scene, Ross Bellenoit can shred on guitar and then use his pedalboard like you’ve never heard it before. But he’s also an ace songwriter, as the beautiful new LP Where Does The Light Go? puts on prominent display. Featuring collabs with friends and peers Jaron Olevsky on keyboards, Andrew Keenan on pedal steel, and bass duties split between Jonathan Colman and The Stray Birds’ Charlie Muench, it’s truly a circle of friends dancing around the circle of fifths and beyond.
The Link: rossbellenoit.bandcamp.com
The Reference Points: Josh Rouse, John Mayer, shredding
The Genre: ghost pop
The Story: After a long run on the road with Speedy Ortiz, Sadie Dupuis reanimated her solo outfit Sad13 this year. Though a lot of my shopping on her Bandcamp page was for the excellent merch options (Sad13 loosleaf tea! Sad13 hazlenut spread), her record this year, Haunted Painting, is excellent. Catchy, complex, and filled with vivid lyrics and stirring visuals, it needs to be on your Bandcamp shopping list if it’s not there already.
The Link: sad13.bandcamp.com
The Reference Points: booming synths, banging production, haunted studios
The Genre: Roadtrip folk
The Story: Another alumnus of Fake Boyfriend, singer-songwriter Sarah M. released a solitary folk EP early this year called Highway 9. A beautiful collection named for a North Jersey thoroughfare, the three song set is introspective and emotional in the spirit of Lucinda Williams and Songs: Ohia.
The Link: sarahm.bandcamp.com
The Reference Points: acoustic guitars, long drives, Mojave 3
The Genre: genre-fluid visionary
The Story: A Philly producer and vocalist with a robust Bandcamp back catalog, Savan DePaul had busy year playing with trippy beats and a haunting flow on his rap-oriented output, and then crossing into another dimension for their space/glam pop project Ishtar Sr. Though you can never be quite sure what they’re bringing you with each release, it’s always wonderfully unusual.
The Link: savandepaul.bandcamp.com
The Reference Points: watery beats, spectral synths, cicadas
The Genre: garage rock
The Story: James Everhart’s badass South Philly retro rock ensemble had their best showing yet this winter with Electric City, and then promptly followed it up with a killer standalone single called “The Information.” Though much of Scantron’s lineup is expanding into the Cosmic Guilt crew (listen for stuff from them in 2021), they gave us jams to remember for a year we’d prefer to forget.
The Link: scantronmusic.bandcamp.com
The Reference Points: The Sonics, The Original Sins, Fender Rhodes
The Genre: piano grit
The Story: Andrew Mars is closing the chapter on the first five years of their Settled Arrows project with OMNAEOPIC, a blistering live recording out today that captures a socially distanced show the band played back during that window this summer when we actually thought concerts were coming back. (Sigh.) Backed by drummer Robert Beamer, cellist Yoomi Kwon, and multi-instrumentalist Jesse Sparhawk, this raw performance captures delicate beauty and wild frenzy in equal parts, and Mars considers it a bookend to the first phase of their career.
The Link: settledarrows.bandcamp.com
The Reference Points: Kate Bush, Leonard Cohen, tasteful scarves
The Genre: pop perfection
The Story: Las Vegas transplant Shamir Bailey has spent his time in Philly making pretty much whatever kind of music strikes his fancy at a given time. Blistering punk set? Check. Country melancholia? On it. The new self-titled album doesn’t exactly return to the dance pop roots that Shamir broke out with a decade ago — the “On The Regular” days, as far as he’s concerned, are over — but in cuts like “Running” and “On My Own” we hear that same spirit of joy, connectivity, and celebration.
The Link: shamir.bandcamp.com
The Reference Points: Robyn, Little Dragon, Alanis Morrisette
The Genre: the private psychedelic reel
The Story: Philly beatmaker extraordinare Small Pro collected career highlights and new vibes this year in the three-part series A Jawn Supreme, a great listen for when you’re working, reading, or vibing. Bonus appeal for the brilliant Dewey Saunders artwork on the cassette edition cover.
The Link: smallprofessor.bandcamp.com
The Reference Points: DJ Shadow, Large Professor, dollar bin digging
The Genre: acoustic soul
The Story: Philly son Aaron Livingston aloha album showed us a comparatively mellower side than we’ve seen in the past with Son Little’s latest outing, aloha. It dropped in January — so he sort of got to tour it, including a lovely acoustic Free at Noon — and after lockdown, he peppered his Bandcamp with a remix and an unreleased cut, gems both.
The Link: sonlittle.bandcamp.com
The Reference Points: Leon Bridges, Otis Redding, Sam Cooke
The Genre: Garden State rock and roll
The Story: Dynamic singer / songwriter ZouZou Mansour and her bandmates in Soraia found themselves on tour in Las Vegas on Friday, March 13th: the day their album Dig Your Roots dropped. They played a show, had every intention of making it back to the east coast for their local album release party, and though the show wasn’t in the cards, the record’s energy — running the gamut from proto-punk to grunge — provided the perfect release, for band and fans alike. They’ve reconvened this holiday season to record The Sonics’ “Santa Claus,” and it’s on their Bandcamp too, along with eight years of blistering records.
The Link: soraiawcr.bandcamp.com
The Reference Points: Joan Jett, The Sonics, leather jackets
The Genre: future-pop
The Story: Longtime Philly indie songwriter Steve Yutzy-Burkey teamed up with a group of old friends in the river wards to record a stellar electro-tinged rock record called Give Me The Bad News. It explores ennui and anxiety in the 2020s, it’s out today, and the band plays a release party livestream on Sunday night.
The Link: staticshapes.bandcamp.com
The Reference Points: Tame Impala, The Cure, Wilco
The Genre: punky indiepop
The Story: Samantha Stoakes had sold me on her indie rock project Susie Derkins on the strengths of two stripped down solo-electric demos and an entertaining social media presence, so hearing the band step into its own in a big roaring indie rock way with the how to talk EP was a delight. For fans of gang vocals, catchy melodies, and remembering how we used to dance at basement shows.
The Link: susiephl.bandcamp.com
The Reference Points: P.S. Eliot, Ratboys, lo-fi funtimes
The Genre: singer-songwriter soul
The Story: This local singer-songwriter has been straddling the worlds of jazz and pop in Philly since 2013, and she’d made a lot of friends along the way. On her latest Bandcamp single “I Am” — a resplendent R&B gem that rocks a slow disco bump — we hear voices like A Day Without Love’s Brian Walker and ThebandIvory’s Frankie DeRose singling along Kelly’s own smooth alto; the emotive springtime single “The Fire” is more of a minimal affair, but with Trap Rabbit’s Logan Roth collaborating on the soundscape. Clearly Kelly is full of soul and all about community.
The Link: taylorkelly.bandcamp.com
The Reference Points: Emily King, Stevie Wonder, slow grooves
The Goodbye Party
The Genre: indie rock
The Story: This fall, singer-songwriter and DIY scene connector Michael Cantor returned to his project The Goodbye Party for the first time since 2014. The stunning record Beautiful Motors is full of rousing rock and delicate pop that’s more than worth the wait, with Cantor’s breathtaking voice and knack for melody in top form.
The Link: thegoodbyeparty.bandcamp.com
The Reference Points: Big Star, Bright Eyes, beautiful falsetto
The Naked Sun
The Genre: roots rock
The Story: With a clever and eye-catching cover nostalgically designed after the West Coast Video logo, Philly Americana rockers The Naked Sun returned this year with their fifth EP, Sun Rising. It heralds a new era for the sprawling ensemble, led by songwriter Drew Harris, and is full of heartwarming contemplation for times of self-isolation.
The Link: thenakedsun1.bandcamp.com
The Reference Points: Springsteen, CCR, barn rock
The Side Chicks
The Genre: jazz and beyond
The Story: In the throes of a rough year, there’s something liberating about hearing a group of seasoned musicians swap solos in the midst of a joyous pop song. That’s “Foreign Creatures,” the opening track on Philly six-piece The Side Chicks’ debut EP, and the six-song set delightfully walks that line between jazz and rock.
The Link: thesidechicks.bandcamp.com
The Reference Points: Lianne La Havas, sax solos, trading fours
The Genre: American band
The Story: We loved the work that The Tisburys did with Riverby’s Smart Mouth, but let’s not forget that they’ve been building their own name and finding their own voice for the past five or so years. Led by lead vocalist Tyler Asay (an occasional Key contributor) and propelled by Tom Petty worship, a reverence for the classics, a drive to make their own classics, and a formidable skill when it comes to jamming, their 2020 record Sun Goes Down is their finest outing to date.
The Link: tisburys.bandcamp.com
The Reference Points: Tom Petty, The Replacements, Bruce Springsteen
The Genre: art pop
The Story: Frankie DeRose’s strumming acoustic guitar opens “Anthropocine” all alone, but boy does that song sneak up on you. Before you know it, ThebandIvory is surrounded by a crescendo of flutes, synths, and strings, and the record that shares the song’s name has a similar effect. Start small, end massive, making DeRose’s lyrics exploring gender, sexuality, family, and interpersonal power dynamics all the more gripping.
The Link: thebandivory.bandcamp.com
The Reference Points: Radiohead, Jeff Buckley, mystical soundscapes
The Genre: expansive folk
The Story: A songwriter with roots in the theater world, Josh Kirwin (aka Tubey Frank, which it took me embarrassingly long to realize is not just a stage name but a delightful pun) has an innate versatility to step into a variety of roles. This year, he’s done that by releasing a gripping meditation on police tear-gassing protesters on 676, an atmospheric rocker called “Hell House,” and an odds and ends collection called Quarantine Sketches that you can happily lose yourself in.
The Link: tubeyfrank.bandcamp.com
The Reference Points: Pete Seeger, Bob Dylan, Grant-Lee Buffalo
V. Shayne Frederick
The Genre: jazz vocal
The Story: This local singer’s slick vocals and nimble piano playing shine on the jazz circuit, whether he’s doing a cover of “Strange Fruit” or “What A Wonderful World.” But V. Shayne Frederick is a songwriter in his own right, and his elegant Blacklight project from this summer is short, sweet set of soul-stirring goodness.
The Link: vshayne.bandcamp.com
The Reference Points: Charles Mingus, Nina Simone, grand pianos
The Genre: rock and roll badass
The Story: Central PA rocker Wallace Gerdy is rolling out their new record Grapefruit one track at a time, and it finds them expanding their instrumental palette (piano?! hell yeah) and production scope (these are dialed up from garage punk to tear-the-roof-off modern rock). The band is still a power trio at its core, but in a much bigger way than we knew was possible, and we are here for it.
The Link: wallace.bandcamp.com
The Reference Points: The Strokes, The Distillers, citrus
The Genre: hip-hop family
The Story: The long running collective of Zilla Rocca, Curly Castro, PremRock, and Small Professor have paired off in twos and threes over the years, but this’s summer’s brilliant Raheem’s Lament album is the first full-crew release we’ve gotten…since Wu-Tang Pulp? Don’t let this rare convergence of planets and hard-body lyricists pass you by.
The Link: wreckingcrew.bandcamp.com
The Reference Points: Wu-Tang Clan, pulp fiction, black and white photography
The Genre: skronk and shred
The Story: Noisy punk duo Kevin Nickles and Daniel Provenzano are coming off two years of killer Writhing Squares EPs, making freeform punk expanses with bass, beats, saxophones, and a variety of other noisemakers. Their 2020 offering Sonic Control is a focused two-song EP — one a blistering, Suicide-esque jam, the other an ephemeral collage of incidental voices and music placed trippily in the distance. The band made the project pay-what-you-wish on Bandcamp, and is donating its proceeds to Black Lives Matter Philly.
The Link: thewrithingsquares.bandcamp.com
The Reference Points: Suicide, Flipper, Ecstatic Vision