WXPN Best of 2020: A pandemic scene report
As the year winds down, we’re continuing our look back at the music of these past twelve months with an ongoing series of XPN Best of 2020 deep dives. Today, The Key’s Yoni Kroll reflects on the state of the Philly DIY scene during the Coronavirus pandemic.
Music is many things. It’s a language. It’s entertainment. It’s art. It provides joy, warmth, and a sense of community. But most of all, music is an outlet. It’s not just an outlet for those who create but it serves a similar role for audiences. That’s why it feels so good to listen to music and especially to see it performed live. It’s also why the last nine months have felt so excruciatingly lonely for those of us who are used to going to as many shows as possible.
I do a bi-monthly column here at The Key called The Skeleton Key, where so much of what I write about is live music: what I saw last week, what I plan on going to this week, and what was just announced for next month. When the pandemic hit I was really, really worried that I wouldn’t have enough to talk about every two weeks. Thankfully between new releases, news both positive and negative, and online concerts – hey, they’re better than nothing! – my column is just as busy as ever.
There haven’t been much that’s made me happy over the past number of months. I know I’m pointing out the obvious, but it feels necessary to do so, because one of the few things that has helped, that has given me some sort of hope for the future, is not just music but specifically the Philadelphia music community. With that in mind I’ve put together a short list of bands, performers, labels, and so on that have really gotten me through 2020. Think of it as a bit of a scene report, pandemic style, but also just me saying thanks.
Joe Jack Talcum
I’ve always been a big fan of Joe Genaro’s music, from the absurdist, fun punk of The Dead Milkmen and Low Budgets to all of the different solo recording projects, duos, and occasional full bands he’s put together to showcase his own songs. Those songs, recorded under the name Joe Jack Talcum and various other nom de plumes, are some of the sweetest, saddest, and most clever ever written and I’ve come back to them again and again over the years.
During the pandemic Joe has kept up a steady schedule of online performances which have quite literally never failed to put a smile on my face. The same can be said about the wonderful drawings he’s been doing that he posts to his Instagram every day. He has also put out a couple of albums of home recordings – one of which got a physical release on This & That Tapes, who we wrote about back in March – and contributed to a comp This & That did benefiting the Mütter Museum. Also be sure to check out the regular podcast he’s been doing with the rest of the Milkmen cause it’s hilarious.
During normal times musician and poet Camae Ayewa aka Moor Mother would easily be described as prolific. Between her solo career, various collaborations, and her jazz band Irreversible Entanglements, she is very, very busy. While shows have of course been canceled, that hasn’t stopped her at all. Over the past year Moor Mother has put out no fewer than ten albums, which is astounding.
I’m not going to play favorites because I think they’re all great. There’s the soundtrack to the Circuit City musical she did last year, a 7” on Sub Pop Records, soundscapes, hip hop, jazz, industrial noise, and more. I was especially into the Moor Jewelry album, a collaboration with Mental Jewelry. You can hear a track from that below:
It’s really as simple as that. I’ve always found catharsis in loud, heavy music and I feel like that’s been magnified tenfold during this pandemic. Thankfully Philadelphia is always on that same wavelength. Here’s what you need to check out from this past year:
Hallucination – S/T – Crashing d-beat punk from West Philly. This one has been on a loop since it came out at the end of October. Just absolutely catchy and fun.
Ghösh – 2020 EPs – Industrial dance duo Ghösh have released four EPs worth of songs this year, three of them in the spring and summer. This stuff reminds me of Atari Teenage Riot but much nastier. It rules.
Manikineter – Copper Fields – Manikineter’s new one is a perfect mix of pulsating harsh noise and hip hop. This is angry music, that much is clear, but there’s so much more going on than just that. Check the liner notes for background and be sure to read our interview with Carl Kavorkian over here.
Heavenly Bodies – LIVE AS FUCK – This collection of live performances from experimental post-rock drone freaks Heavenly Bodies is really just lovely. Not only is the music great but knowing that these songs were recorded at spots including Kung Fu Necktie and Jerry’s On Front makes them sound even better. Look for the band’s debut album, White Dwarf, sometime at the beginning of 2021.
Deep Tissue – Patience Or Fear – Sure it’s not blow-your-eardrums-out loud like everything else on this list but that’s what the volume knob’s for. This is one of my favorite releases of the year and I wrote about all its post-punk goth brilliance for the Best of 2020 albums list that we published earlier this month.
Soul Glo – Songs to Yeet at the Sun – Every single time Soul Glo puts out something new I am lining up to get a copy. It’s really that simple. The four piece punk / hip hop / hardcore band have gotten even better over the past few years and if this EP is any indication of what’s next, I am even more excited for 2021, a return to shows, and a new Soul Glo album. Like with Deep Tissue, I wrote about this for The Key’s Best of 2020, this time in a list of the top songs of the year.
World Gone Mad Records
I’m such a fanboy for everything this label is doing right now that I wanted to quickly highlight their 2020 output. They released tapes for EAT, Dridge, and DeStructos – all awesome Philly punk bands that you owe it to yourself to check out – put together some really cool international punk compilations, and also served as a distro for people to get their hands on stuff that would otherwise be too expensive to order from abroad. On top of all that, label head Aaron Muchanic plays in Blank Spell, Haldol, and Soft Torture and I know I’ll be talking about each of those bands in this very space next December.