The Heathens cassette tape | Photo by Chuck Meehan
The Skeleton Key: End the month with documentaries, concerts near and far, new music from Desertion Trio and Sonagi, a long-lost tape from the Philly punk underground, and more!
We need more songs about Philadelphia. I know, I know: “Philadelphia” by Atom & His Package and Reef the Lost Cauze’s “Sound of Philadelphia” are all you really need. Well that, “Punk Rock Girl” by the Dead Milkmen, and of course “Motown Philly” by Boyz II Men. But a lot has happened over the past few years and we definitely need an updated anthem. Now what does “Black Doctors Covid Consortium” rhyme with …
Hello and welcome to the Skeleton Key, your bi-monthly roundup of goings on in our fair city! As always I have a bunch of new releases to get to, a full calendar of events, and even the debut of a documentary about local cymbal maker Mike Mongiello.
Let’s kick things off with that. Back in November of 2019 we introduced you to this South Philly guy who had the ridiculous idea to start making his own cymbals out of a workspace in his neighborhood. Not only does it require a TON of work just to figure out what you’re doing in the first place but it’s basically unheard of in the music world to do that as a DIY endeavor. I’m pretty sure ten out of ten drummers would laugh in your face if you asked them if they wanted to hammer their own cymbals and for good reason.
Mongiello decided to complicate his life even more by initially crafting his cymbals out of stainless steel, an easy metal to work with but not traditionally used on cymbals, because it’s very soft. As we saw the article, he definitely figured things out. Almost two years later and Mongiello has made a name for himself with those and also with more conventional bronze ones.
Recently he was the subject of a short documentary filmed by Nick Thomas that he has graciously allowed us to debut:
I want to get into the calendar cause there’s a lot to talk about starting with tomorrow night’s premier of the newest edition of the Unprecedented Sessions, a collaboration between The Key, Cherry Veen-Zine, and Power Cycle Productions. The sixth in the video series features performances from Hey Slow and Ali Awan, both performing at The International in Fishtown (where members of both acts work day jobs). Read our preview over here and check out the performance on Facebook.
On Wednesday, a couple Philly jazz bassists, Mike Boone and Gerald Veasley, will be talking about their peers past and present in an online conversation put together by the Philadelphia Jazz Legacy Project. I attended the previous event the Jazz Legacy Project hosted, a conversation about the long lost Legendary Hasaan album that just came out, and I am very excited to check out more stuff from this organization.
Thursday, Tuareg guitar gods Mdou Moctar will be performing live from their home base in Niamey, Niger. Sure, they might not be from Philly, but there are very few current bands that have been shown so much love from the get go – shout out to those shows at PhilaMOCA and their excellent WKDU set – so I wanted to include them in this. Their new album is excellent and I am stoked to hear some songs off of it. That starts at 8pm and tickets are available on their Bandcamp.
Also that evening, the Free Library of Philadelphia is hosting an online discussion about the 2010 biography Thelonious Monk: The Life and Times of an American Original by Robin D.G. If you’d like to participate, it’s available from the library in both physical format and as an ebook. This is just the latest in a series of great jazz programming the FLP has been doing for past few years. I’ve been really into the series of blog posts that librarian and friend of the column Ben Remsen – also the host of the aforementioned Monk conversation – has been putting together about Philly jazz greats. The most recent is on trumpeter Lee Morgan and it’s totally awesome.
Let’s break from the calendar real quick to talk about some new releases that have dropped recently or will be released very soon. Because of Bandcamp Friday, a lot more albums are coming out towards the beginning of the month but as usual there is no lack of things to discuss.
Sonagi 소나기 –
West Philly skramz four piece Sonagi has been making waves in the Philly hardcore scene for the past couple years but has only released a small handful of comp tracks during that time. I can only hope that the two songs on the new Pansori single are a taste from a full length album because this is some excellent stuff.
Not only is the music fantastic – vacillating between atmospheric post-hardcore and mathy screamo reminiscent of bands like Reversal of Man, Orchid, and Frail, this truly hits all the right notes – but following the anti-Asian attacks in Georgia all the proceeds are going to support Red Canary Song, described on their website as “a grassroots collective of Asian & Migrant Sex Workers.”
I would have loved this 20 years ago and I love it now. I can’t wait to hear more.
Desertion Trio – Numbers Maker
I’m always excited for a new release from guitarist Nick Millevoi and his band Desertion Trio. I got to write about Nick and his Streets of Philadelphia project a couple years ago and was happy to see some of those songs get reworked on Numbers Maker, his first album for Cuneiform Records, one of my favorite labels.
While still retaining the surfy, jazzy sound the band put forward on their first two albums, the tracks on Numbers Maker have a certain noisier and angrier tone to them. Considering the state of the world I am all about it.
Birds of Maya – Valdez
Veteran scuzz rockers Birds of Maya might have been recorded Valdez seven years ago but it was never released so it is still very much a new album, if just cause the trio hasn’t put out anything since 2013’s Celebration. Watch the video for “BFIOU” below and read a preview of the album by our John Vettese over here.
The Heathens – Ladies And Gentlemen,These Are The Heathens
When it comes to stuff recorded a long time ago and never put out Birds of Maya have nothing on The Heathens. The early 80s art punk band, made up of members of The Stick Men, King of Siam, and Informed Sources, only had two tracks released officially – both on the legendary Philly comp Get Off Our Backs, We’re Doing It Ourselves – until a few days ago. That’s when Chuck Meehan of Mace Canister Recordings, with full permission from the band, uploaded a long-lost cassette to his Bandcamp and with that graced us with an additional 25 minutes of music from this forgotten group.
This is some fun, noisy, and totally weird no wavey stuff. The songs are a mix of studio recordings and a live on a WXPN session, all from 1981-1984. While it’s pay-what-you-can, Chuck is donating proceeds to the Environmental Working Group per request of the band’s singer Steven Kishlo and including a PDF of liner notes and a copy of the original tape insert with all paid downloads so give, give, give.
Zorn – Hardcore Zorn
I miss live music so much and I especially miss seeing Zorn. The West Philly metal band ALWAYS brings it and by ‘it’ I mean a large wooden coffin set down in the middle of the room for people to jump over, jump into, and at one memorable outdoor show a couple years ago set on fire. Good times had by all. This 7” is a repress of songs that originally came out on a self-released tape in 2018. Grab a copy and play it loud! Better days will be here soon.
Before I get back into the rest of the dates for April I want to mention a few other bits of music that have ended up on the internet recently. The always-awesome Freedom Has No Bounds – if you haven’t read our spotlight on the site you’re slacking – uploaded two WKDU sets from surf punk freaks More Fiends, one from 1988 and the other from eleven years later. There are also newly unearthed recordings from Electric Love Muffin, Mel’s Rockpile, The Fluid, Scram, and more up on the site. Also be sure to check out the zine section as that’s been updated, too.
A couple podcasts for you: hometown hero Jon Wurster was just on the In The Pocket show to talk about his bands – Superchunk, Bob Mould, and the Mountain Goats, of course – but also about his time growing up in the Philly punk scene. As always Jon is a complete delight and quite hilarious. Even if you don’t have an interest in drumming I’d seriously recommend giving this a listen.
Another person from that same era is Nancy Barile who was recently a guest on the fantastic Killed by Desk podcast talking about the years she spent booking shows here in the early 80s and the influence that had on her career as a public school teacher. Pick up a copy of Nancy’s memoir I’m Not Holding Your Coat; it’s a great story and a very fun read.
Speaking of books, I just saw that DiWulf Publishing House has announced they’ll be releasing a history of SST Records, which is rather exciting. The local publisher has put out books on everything from Trenton venue City Gardens to a compendium of the noted Hard Times zine from the 80s. Their most recent is “Ska Boom! An American Ska & Reggae Oral History” by Marc Wasserman. You can pick it up, pick it up, pick it up in July – I had to do it, I’m sorry! – though it’s available for pre-order now.
Back to the calendar! We have a few more things to get to including a real, honest-to-goodness in-person (masks and social distancing enforced) concert. Very exciting.
On Friday the 23rd former West Philly-based noise project Suicide Magnets, last seen here at Two Piece Fest 2020, will be performing live from her adopted home in Providence. The next night at the High Note Hollow in Germantown it’s Kim Pedro’s Nu Gruv featuring Kendrah Butler Waters with opening acts trombonist Dan Blacksberg and his Radiant Licht Trio and singer Elise Moureau. Tickets are very limited for this outdoor concert and masks are required. I’ve been extremely hesitant to promote any live events in this column but I trust Dan to not be leading people astray.
This is something all of us will have to contend with in the coming months as more people get vaccinated and everything slowly starts to reopen. I have no problem sharing my excitement over shows that are booked for August, September, that kind of thing, but when it comes to spring … you’re probably not going to see a lot promoted in this column. Get back to me when more than half of Philadelphians are vaccinated and I might have a different answer. Maybe.
That Tuesday is the next in the Philly chapter of the American Composers Forum “Artist to Artist” online series where two musicians chat about their work and take questions from the audience. I know that on paper that might sound a bit dull, especially if you don’t know the people involved, but if you have any interest in music making it’s all quite fascinating. I attended the previous one which featured the aforementioned Dan Blacksberg alongside oud player Kinan Abou-afach and very much enjoyed it. This edition of the series is with Daniel Fishkin and Peter Blasser, “two composers whose creative practice incorporates electronics, self-made instruments, and improvisation.”
The last thing on my calendar is an online comedy and drag show on Thursday the 29th that’s being hosted by the folks of YallaPunk. While the Middle Eastern and North African music festival isn’t happening this year, it does feel important to support everything the organization is doing. Also I’m sure this event will be wonderful. It’s a fundraiser for the YallaPunk community kitchen so be sure to pony up a few bucks for the virtual donation bucket.
Alright! That is it for this column. A couple more things to check out quickly before we go our separate ways: the first part of the documentary Another Word for Paradise about hip hop in India — co-produced by our friends at the Serious Rap Shit podcast — just dropped. Part two will be here on the 25th so be sure to keep an eye out for that. Also The HIRS Collective is going to be announcing The Third 100 Songs compilation on the 20th which is super exciting. More on that next column, I’m sure.
As always feel free to hit me up on Twitter with any hot gossip and your favorite songs about Philadelphia at @talkofthetizzy. See you in May!