LAVA Space | photo by Bob Sweeney
The Skeleton Key: Start the year right with new releases from TVO and Glazer, a plethora of jazz and electronic streams, modular synths, and so much more
Welcome to 2021, Philadelphia. This time last year I’m sure I was waxing poetic about all the upcoming shows, all the new releases, all that stuff that keeps us grounded and happy on this mortal coil. Now? Well, now we’re in a bit of limbo. There are still things to be excited about – really! – but we’re just all holding our breath and hoping things don’t get worse before they get better.
Don’t worry, this is not going to be me doing a rundown of 2020 and going on about how terrible it all was. We all know by now and it really doesn’t need to be rehashed, again. This also isn’t me telling you to focus on the positive. That’s definitely not going to help, we all know that as well.
Instead I’m going to do what I always do in this column: tell you about everything going on, give you some things to listen to and watch, talk about what I’ve been spinning recently, and just share my love of Philadelphia and our great music scene with all of you. Cool? Cool.
Before anything else I want to just gloat a little bit, by proxy, about all the local releases that ended up on year-end lists around the country and around the world. I can remember when nobody else cared about music coming out of Philly and while that was totally okay – “Nobody likes us / We don’t care” is still a great slogan and don’t you forget it – it’s nice to get some recognition for all the cool stuff that happens here.
I saw Moor Mother in all her various iterations get mentioned on a huge number of year-end lists, including Pitchfork and Brooklyn Vegan. The Arkestra, Soul Glo, Astute Palate, Korine, No Thank You, and Nothing also turned up a bunch. I was especially pleased to see multiple Philly artists on this list from the hardcore band Converge.
Say what you will about these year-end rundowns — and yes I’m being a bit meta but there is a lot to say, both positive and negative — but they are a big-time barometer. Living in what has long been relegated a secondary music city, despite the fact that we are better than anywhere else, I love seeing this kind of recognition in national and international outlets.
Related: congratulations to Adam Weiner from Low Cut Connie for being named a “Pandemic Person of the Year” by The New Yorker! Weiner has been doing weekly variety show webcasts for the past few months that very much recreate his high energy, super fun concerts and has developed a dedicated – and rather large – audience who have come to rely on him to make their lives a little bit less bad. Even if you’re not a fan of the music you should check out the New Yorker piece. Hearing what these performances have meant to so many is incredibly moving.
Alright! Now that we got that back-patting out of the way, let’s talk about some of the events happening over the next couple weeks as well as the slew of recent releases. Nose to the grind, always!
Tonight at 8 p.m., the Great Circles crew are presenting a set from Phil Yeah that promises an “ambient/jazz/dub/free association and all-around ‘Good Music’” experience. I’ve been a big fan of everything Great Circles have been doing over the past few months and I look forward to everything they’re going to do in the future. Check their website for the full schedule and be sure to also tune in on the 15th for Exequias, a new show for “lovers of goth, ethereal and all forms of dark electronic music” with DJ Gravers Lane who you might remember from John Morrison’s DJ roundtable from 2019 or the Spellbound goth night that happened at Voltage a couple years back.
Speaking of electronic music, I am very excited for blk¤patches, a two day festival happening via Twitch the afternoon of the 9th and 10th that’s “designed to showcase Black voices in the modular synth arena.” Curated by Philadelphia’s Chaka Benson, the lineup includes musicians both local and national.
While the event is free there will be a tip jar set up benefiting Afrorack, a cultural and community organization that gives “young people access to modular synthesizers and broad exposure to the science of sound.”
Since we’re on the topic, I want to mention the video the Sound Museum Collective just published called “Patches n’ Pathways with Florence & Chris” that is a really great and fun introduction to everything synthesizer. Be sure to follow them on Instagram cause they’ve been doing a ton of cool stuff during quarantine, including putting together “build your own radio receiver” kits and delivering them around the city to future radio nerds.
Also during the afternoon on the 9th, the Philly Folksong Society is presenting an online concert and workshop by English singer and fiddle player Eliza Carthy. She might not be a household name in the States but she should be. Not only has Carthy released a ton of albums in more than three decades of performing – side note: she’s only 45 but has been playing since she was 12, which is what happens when your parents are the well-known traditional folk musicians Martin Carthy and Norma Waterson – but in 2014 she was named a Member of the Order of British Empire for her contributions to English music, which is just plain cool. On top of all that she played on Mermaid Avenue, the Wilco / Billy Bragg collaboration of previously unrecorded Woody Guthrie songs that is hands down one of the best albums ever.
That night Myles Donovan (Myles of Destruction, Forgotten Bottom, and Erik Ruin’s Ominous Cloud Ensemble) is debuting his new harp and guitar duo Narco Medusa on an eclectic bill including the Chiptune-esque Swampwalk,the “one woman post punk product-of-the-eighties electronic diva extraordinaire ensconced in the crystal mountains of rural New York” Nixie Unterwelt, and more. While Myles might have left us for NYC a year or so ago, he will always be a Philadelphian and I will always be excited for whatever he does next. Check that out on Twitch.
If you made a resolution to listen to more new local music, I am totally here to help you out with that. And if you didn’t make that resolution? Well, maybe you should. Just saying.
TVO – It’s Alive
First up on my list is It’s Alive from TVO. The five piece garage punk band has been around for a couple years but this is their first real release and it is undeniably catchy. The four songs on this 7” slither around like a demented, drunk snake rolling around a filthy Philly basement. You need this.
This isn’t a new album for The Goodbye Party’s Mikey Cantor – Beautiful Motors came out in October – but it is the singer and guitarist playing some of the songs from that fantastic release as well as a selection of older tracks. I know I mention this often but I am forever impressed by everything David Settle, the brains and brawn behind the Under the First Floor podcast, has been able to accomplish over the past 10 months or so.
Wojtek – S/T EP
This is a bit of a 180 from that last one but whatever, that’s the nature of things sometimes. Wojtek is a long-running Newark punked-up black metal band and this two song self-titled EP is the first thing they’ve put out in more than a year. While the name of the album pales in comparison to some of the stuff they’ve released in the past – Usurping the Throne of Cadaveric Detritus has a pretty good ring to it! – the music is quite solid and I’m hoping this is a tease for a new full length sometime in 2021.
Raffi Kelly Ohanian – Moorings in Decay
I didn’t know what to expect going in but this 15 minute long cello, violin, bells, and sax track is incredibly pretty and just very pleasant to listen to. I’m hoping that when we can have shows again that this turns into more than just a studio project because I’d love to watch this sort of neo-classical ambient piece performed live.
Ghoul Friends – I was Hungry so I Ate
While Ghoul Friends are obviously very inspired by the horn-heavy pop music of Elephant 6 – Neutral Milk Hotel, Apples in Stereo, Olivia Tremor Control, and a bunch more – they manage to not be obnoxious about it. That alone deserves kudos, and I mean that sincerely. They’ve managed to take those influences, combine them with the folk punk sweetness of Defiance, Ohio and similar bands, and create something new and downright fun. On I was Hungry so I Ate the group has expanded to eight, including trombone, trumpet, a second clarinetist, and more. It’s a heady mix of sounds and definitely deserves your attention.
Like many of you, I listened to Jon Solomon’s 25 Hour Holiday Marathon last week so I wanted to quickly run through three of my favorite new local submissions he played this year.
Maria T – You might recognize Maria from any one of the awesome bands she’s been in over the years – No Other being the most recent – or as a long-time WPRB DJ. She recently set up a Bandcamp for the songs she’s been working on during quarantine, one of which is a fabulous cover of Scrawl’s “11:59 (It’s January)” that debuted during the marathon.
Glazer – I once overheard someone at a Glazer show refer to the Philly/South Jersey three piece as “They’re like Pavement but better!” I don’t know if that’s fair to either band but I appreciate the over-the-top candor. While it’s been a few years since their absolutely wonderful LP On a Prairie, Live in the Dirt, they have been putting out a steady stream of excellent songs including “Deathwish For Christmas,” which was released last week.
Sinead On’Donner – This might seem like a joke band – “Sinead On’Donner” get it?? – but I can assure you that … well, it is amusing. I’m not going to pretend it’s super serious or anything. But that being said, the band is made up of some familiar faces who have been contributing songs to the marathon for years and the two tracks on the Bandcamp are both absolute bangers. You might be tempted to just go straight to the Sinead O’Conner-style track “This is a Christmas Song” but the other one, “Lovers and Friends,” a takeoff of a Sean Mone classic, is equally good.
Alright! Let’s hop back to the calendar real quick and then I will wrap this whole thing up.
Chris’ Jazz Cafe has kept up a very, very active schedule as online show host over the past few months. Take a look at their calendar cause there’s probably something you want to see. I’m excited for Christian McBride on the 11th, not just cause McBride is an excellent and entertaining bassist but because he was almost certainly the last jazz performance I saw before the pandemic started. Last February I got to watch him and noted poet Sonia Sanchez at an amazing concert and lecture at the Penn Museum.
The McBride show is part of what Chris’ is calling JazzAid, a week-long fundraiser of online concerts benefiting the long-running Center City bar. There’s a very long list of musicians who will be performing including Denise King, Uri Caine, Kurt Rosenwinkel, Orrin Evans, and so many more. Check their website for the full schedule and be sure to tune in on the 10th for a 24 hour video marathon of past concerts.
If you haven’t yet been to Milford Graves: A Mind-Body Deal at the Institute of Contemporary Art, it’s running until the end of the month and the building will be reopening tomorrow. I’m not a doctor and I’m not going to tell you what’s safe and what isn’t, but when I went to the ICA a few months ago to experience this awe-inspring art and music exhibit there was barely anyone else there because the gallery only lets a handful of people in at once in order to make social distancing very easy.
Regular readers of the column know I’ve been pushing this pretty hard ever since it opened last September. Graves is a treasure: not only did he play on a ton of hugely important jazz records but he is a visionary artist, a scientist, an amazing gardener, and he created his own martial art. You can read more about him over here. Ars Nova and the ICA have organized a ton of really great online programming around the exhibit and that continues with a Zoom discussion on herbalism and Graves’ garden on the 10th and a virtual tour of the gallery with curators Mark Christman and Anthony Elms on the 13th.
Before I finish this column I want to mention a few other things that might be of interest:
• Hats off to the always-amazing crew at Freedom Has No Bounds for posting FIVE Ramones bootlegs from Philly and the surrounding area between 1977 and 1990. How cool is that?! The two from ‘77 are Houston Hall and the Tower, while ‘83 is at Ripley’s Music Hall at 6th and South, ‘87 is the Chestnut Cabaret, and ‘90 is at The Silo in Reading. Bonus: if you’re into that sort of thing – God knows I am, for better or worse – they’ve included two Dee Dee Ramone songs from a Chestnut Cabaret show in ‘89. F-f-f-f-f-f-funky!
• The most recent LAVA Broken Roof Session from the top of the West Philly community center and venue is by Kyle Gilbride of Swearin’ and Missing Earth. If you don’t know, LAVA’s roof is in rough shape (thus the name) and as part of an ongoing fundraiser they’ve been having friends come by and play some music. What’s great about this one outside of the music, which is obviously awesome, is the drone footage of the space and the rest of Lancaster Ave. covered in snow that starts off this Bob Sweeney-made video.
• Keep an eye out for the new Bowerbird series “Liminal States” that’s kicking off at the end of the month. From the website: “Bowerbird and The Rotunda are pleased to announce Liminal States, a new series of late night, live streamed concerts intended to be listened to as you fall asleep. Aiming to center and calm, the musicians will seek to lead listeners to that magic space between awake and asleep. Tune in and bliss out.” Running through May, the performers include Laraaji, Laura Baird, Marilyn Nonken, Jeff Zeigler, and more. I’ll definitely be talking about it a bunch in the next Skeleton Key but I just wanted to mention that real quick to make sure you put it on your calendars.
Okay! Thanks for sticking with me to the end. I know this column went a bit long but it’s the first of the year and as always there was a lot to talk about. If you’d like to say hi, you can find me on Twitter at @talkofthetizzy.