The Skeleton Key: Get weird and stay weird this May with new death metal and noise rock, a Palberta record release stream, some socially-distanced jazz, and a choral sound installation on the Rail Park
Philadelphia has always been weird.
That’s not fair. “Weird” can come off like a pejorative, something to be avoided. We’ve embraced that chaos, that antagonistic spirit, that uniqueness. It is not just a defining quality of the city and everyone that lives here, past and present, but it’s very much something that’s expressed in everything we do including art and culture.
Don’t get it twisted: this isn’t a push to make things weird or, as some more boring cities have decried, keep it weird. Our attitude is a priori and – for better or worse – it will not bend or change.
I thought about this a lot last week while putting together the guide to Philly no wave that we just published. Bands like The Stick Men, like Crash Course in Science, they wore that like a badge. It was “Nobody likes us / We don’t care” but in 1980 when that rejection felt even more poignant. You can say the same about similar bands today like Eat or Cheap Meat or Ghosh. Why be normal when you can be loud and abrasive? I mean, for real.
Hello and welcome to the first Skeleton Key of May! As always – and I know I say this every column but it’s true – there’s a lot to get to, from virtual AND in-person gigs to a ton of new music. Let’s actually start this off talking about the slow but steady push towards normalcy or whatever word you want to use to describe the future we’re all hoping for. As venues like Johnny Brenda’s and Union Transfer flood social media with show announcements for the fall and there’s finally good news about PhilaMOCA reopening, we all need to consider what we feel most comfortable with.
Speaking as someone who used to go to at least three or four shows a week — what, you think they gave me this job cause of my charming personality and brilliant writing skills?! — I seriously can’t wait. But this is a global pandemic, one that is still very much raging here and around the world. We can’t treat it like some minor inconvenience standing between us and fun. Which is to say that I am 1000% not ready to jump back into things and I can’t imagine that changing before August or September, assuming everyone gets vaccinated and things don’t take a turn for the worse between now and then. I’m not much of a pessimist but the cons are still very much outweighing the pros.
Still, there is that faint but steady glimmer of hope that I’m certainly not going to ignore. How could you? So while we’re still mostly going to be promoting online shows in the column you’re probably going to see more masked-up, socially-distant, outdoor in-person stuff, though nothing wilder than a jazz or classical show I’m sure.
The first thing on my calendar is tonight’s premier of Episode 6 from Fire Museum Present’s 20th anniversary celebration. Because they can’t have in-person shows right now, the organizers of the series have instead asked some of their favorite musicians to record sets for them to broadcast. This one features performances from multi-instrumentalist Julius Masri, violin player Swetha Narasimhan, and saxophonist Keir Neuringer. That starts at 8:30 p.m. and lasts about an hour so that means you can take a short break and tune back to the internet at 10pm for the latest from Liminal States, the Bowerbird-presented concerts you’re supposed to listen to in that “magic space between awake and asleep.” The band tonight is Variant 6, a chamber music sextet that explores drone and early music.
The following day is BANDCAMP FRIDAY – that’s the first Friday of the month when the music-hosting site waives their fees so everything goes to the bands – and I want to go through some new local releases that have caught my eye but before I do that there is one show to talk about that evening and that’s the Palberta record release! Yes, the album from the Brooklyn/Philadelphia three piece did come out a couple months ago, I know, but there’s a lot going on right now so give them a break. Philly favorite Sunk Heaven will be opening and you can catch the whole thing via Bandcamp Live.
Eulogy – December 2000 8-track Tapes
My Bandcamp list starts with this newly unearthed recording by Eulogy, one of my favorite West Philly punk groups of the last twenty or so years. I talked about them back in March when they put the majority of their recordings up on Bandcamp for the first time but in the interim more and more is showing up.
While I’m not necessarily in favor of new bands putting up whatever random demo tracks they’re working on – that’s what SoundCloud is for! – I am almost always down to hear recordings from two decades ago. That’s especially true with a band like Eulogy that had so many changes to its lineup over the years. The most recent upload is called December 2000 8-track Tapes and it’s from when they were a six piece including two guitarists and a theremin player. Parts of it remind me of Neurosis, parts of Lungfish, and taken together that’s altogether great.
Sieve – Prudence b/w Around
This is the last will and testament from Sieve, a four piece experimental pop band with members of Corey Flood, Snake Boy Gang, Likes, and more that has unfortunately broken up. Maybe you got to see them open for The Beths at the First Unitarian Church. Maybe this is your first time hearing them. One way or the other, these two tracks … well, they’re not enough. This is some fun and very catchy stuff and I want more and I’m not going to get more and that’s entirely too frustrating. The saving grace is that I know that whatever comes next is going to be just as good if not better.
Phurpa & Queen Elephantine – Ita Zor
Phurpa is a Tibetan Buddhist monastic choir from Moscow. They are dedicated to the practice of Bon, described on their Bandcamp as “practices involving shamanic rites derived from various ancestral cults.” Queen Elephantine is an experimental psych and drone band that started in Hong Kong and is now based in Philadelphia. Together they have created Ita Zor, a beautiful melding of both their musical traditions with throat singing, bells, horns, guitar fuzz, and a sparse-but-steady beat rising out of all that noise.
Clocking in at around 50 minutes, Ita Zor is not a casual listen but it’s definitely worth it. So grab your headphones – headphones are definitely necessary – tune in, and bliss out. And if you like what you’re hearing make sure to grab a digital copy of the album as all Bandcamp proceeds go to the Vipassana Prison Project, an organization that teaches meditation to incarcerated people around the world.
Blood Spore / Coagulate / Soul Devourment / Gutvoid – 4 Way Split
There isn’t enough metal in this column so I was stoked when Fred Grabosky from local death metallers Blood Spore reached out to let me know of their new release, a split with three other similarly-named bands from the deepest, darkest corners of hell. Well it doesn’t say where they’re from but I think one of them is Canadian.
I love death metal band and song names. The Blood Spore track on this split is called “Olfactory Cordycipitaceae Ingress” and it’s about a type of parasitic fungus. Very metal. I’m just a normal college radio DJ – Sunday nights at 8pm on WKDU 91.7 FM, that’s my plug – but sometimes I wish I played death metal so I could say all that stuff on the air. I leave that to Double Hockey Sticks, Philadelphia’s only death metal show on the FM dial and probably the only show of its kind between here and WSOU out of South Orange, NJ which is currently in the news because a bunch of zealots are trying to get them shut down for playing heavy metal. Totally absurd and actually way more scary than the so-called “satanic” music these people are protesting.
But let’s get back to Blood Spore: the four piece band gets the opening slot on this split, which is awesome. Their song is nine minutes of total brutality that starts off as a slow, sweet burn and ends up completely obliterating everything. If you want more Blood Spore they’ll be playing a live set on the 22nd via the Cvlt Nation website. More on that here.
Keystone Blight – S/T
Had I only listened to a couple tracks from the Keystone Blight debut I would have described the two piece bass and drums band – one half of the always-fun Body Spray, who despite their name are not death metal – as a “classic noise rock duo in the vein of Godheadsilo or Heavy Medical if you want to get local.” But there’s a lot more going on than just that. Some of the songs are downright heavy and kinda proggy – “Satellite Office” for one, especially with that keyboard – and others are much more pop. My favorite is the bouncy “Let’s Get Bland” that ends the album because I’m a sucker for hand claps but really the whole thing is great and there’s definitely something for everyone here.
Also be sure to check out the new album from Hurry – we published a whole article about it so you don’t need my blurb, trust me – as well as that excellent Kinks cover False Tracks just put on their Bandcamp as a fundraiser for the Black Doctors COVID Consortium. Both good things! And as always spend some time on Freedom Has No Bounds, the Philadelphia punk archive site, because they’re constantly adding more and more and more amazing content. I was very excited to see they put up a discography from 90’s garage rockers the Immaculate Hearts who had absolute legend and total sweetheart Freddy Pompeii from The Viletones and Fight Fuck or Dance on vocals and Dee Pop from Bush Tetras on drums.
Back to the calendar! On Thursday the 13th the Philadelphia Orchestra is hosting an “interactive virtual gala” to celebrate their home at the Academy of Music. Hosted by Whoopi Goldberg and with performers including orchestra conductor and pianist Yannick Nézet-Séguin, opera singer Renée Fleming, and so many more, this is sure to be a very cool night. One of the parts of the program I’m most looking forward to as a Philly history nerd is the behind-the-scenes tour of the building which has been in use for more than 150 years.
The following evening you actually have a choice of events, one of which is even in-person! Let’s start with that: at 5 p.m. over at the Community Education Center on Lancaster Ave. the Dezron Douglas Quartet are playing a BYOLC – that’s ‘bring your own lawn chair’ – socially-distanced, masks-required outdoor gig. Timothy Vaughan and the Inside / Outside Ensemble will be opening the show.
At 7 p.m. Tubey Frank and the Philadelphia Magic Gardens are presenting the Mouth House Sessions: A Visual Music Experience, a two part series filmed at the iconic South Street art spot and broadcast online. The bands playing that night include Taylor Kelly, justmadnice, and Erik Kramer, and you can read more about it here. An hour later it’s the regular Monthly Fund show, this one with Erica Corbo, Upholstery, DiamondBlacc, and Savan DePaul’s Ishtar Sr. project. You can view that on Instagram.
On Saturday and Sunday afternoons the Mendelssohn Chorus of Philadelphia are setting up a sound installation on the Reading Viaduct Rail Park on 13th between Callowhill and Spring Garden. The Fetter & Air “immersive sound installation experience of word and voice” will loop continuously starting at 4 p.m. Also on Sunday up by Temple there is a socially-distanced outdoor jazz show featuring musicians including Dan Blacksberg, Leo Suarez, Julius Masri, Salina Kuo, Kevin Murray, and more.
Okay! That just about does it for this column. I will see you in about two weeks to wrap up the month. Before I go I wanted to share the latest video from the LAVA Space Broken Roof Sessions, where bands play on the roof of the West Philly community center to raise a bit of money to help with ongoing building repairs. This one is by Christo Johnson from King Azaz, who just put out their latest Forever Green last month.
As always you can get in touch on Twitter at @talkofthetizzy. Feel free to reach out with any questions, suggestions, or if you just want to gab about death metal. I’m here for you!