“A Gift From Philadelphia To The World”: How three excellent new records define the city's past and present - WXPN | Vinyl At Heart
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Sometimes you work for weeks coming up with the perfect story idea. You hone, you edit, you work the angles, you come up with an airtight approach to covering the always fascinating Philadelphia music scene. Then, other times, they just Tweet it out. We might only be two months into 2024, but March 1 will be a hard day to match on the Philly music calendar. Mannequin Pussy, Pissed Jeans, and Sheer Mag – three of Philly’s biggest and most exciting bands – are all releasing new records today, a fact that could have easily slipped by me, if not for that helpful reminder. For those counting, that’s over 40 years and 13 LPs of Philly greatness coming to a head in a single, blessed Friday in late winter (“absolutely iconic” indeed). These bands are each forces of nature in their own right – singular, inventive, and undeniable  – but as a group they represent something unlike any city has to offer. From hardcore vets Pissed Jeans, to classic rock-revivalists Sheer Mag, to the ferociously talented and eclectic heavy rockers Mannequin Pussy, this is a threesome held together by more than just a date on a calendar. Each, in their way, represent something essential about the city they call home and those here that love them.

Half Divorced by Pissed Jeans (Sub Pop)

We, as Philadelphians, take pride in a lot of things about our city, be it the rich history, the art scene, or when certain teams win certain big games. But what might just set us apart from any other city is how much pride we take in the things no one in their right mind would take pride in; the line of age-old gum lining a center-city sidewalk, the trashcan tumbling across a crowded South Philly street, the gray-black fog billowing across the sky. If we don’t love it, who else will? In many ways, this is the driving force behind Pissed Jeans, a band that has been called sludge punk, dystopic punk, noise rock, hardcore, post-hardcore, commiseration rock, and more over the course of their near 20-year career, but might best best described as Philly punk, through and through.

Singer Matt Korvette, guitarist Bradley Fry, and bassist Randy Huth first met back in the early 2000s at Nazareth High School in Allentown, Pennsylvania before moving here to Philadelphia. Since then they released five grimey, guttural, oil-stained albums defined largely by the interplay between Korvette’s sandblasted vocals and the constant jackhammer thrum of the band at his side. Their newest record, Half-Divorced does not deviate from that sound so much as adjust the dials ever-so-slightly. The acerbity is still there, but there’s a bit more contrast to be had between moments of harsh discord and their sneakily melodic throughlines. Lyrically, Korvette is as adept as ever, somehow managing to sneer, wink, and laugh maniacally within a single line. “Everywhere Is Bad” embraces a timeless call-and-response formula while running through a laundry list of reasons why where you are isn’t all that bad only in comparison to the shit that is everywhere else. “Junktime”, meanwhile, serves as a volatile screed against cancer rashes, soggy brains, and exotic fruits grown in engine waste, framed cleverly around a situation that bears a striking resemblance to the 2019 South Philadelphia refinery explosion. These two songs, pragmatic and pissed as they may be, might not seem like love letters to one’s city, but love comes in many forms.

Pissed Jeans - Moving On

Playing Favorites by Sheer Mag (Third Man)

If Pissed Jeans’ goal is to find a way to honor the gravel beneath our feet, a band like Sheer Mag aims for something higher. Perhaps the most purely anthemic band to come out of Philly in decades, Sheer Mag first moved to the city after graduating from SUNY Purchase, quickly becoming one of the buzziest bands around. Led by vocalist Tina Halladay, the band broke out by adopting the kind of sound that, while not necessarily cool, is undeniably powerful and, more often than not, a hell of a lot of fun. A blend of Thin Lizzy, disco, and swaggering blues, Sheer Mag’s first record Need to Feel Your Love was a massive hit for a band in their earliest stages and announced them as a legitimate force in the Philly scene. They are also a band who, in the past, embraced a decidedly political bent within their songwriting, their fist-up, righteously outraged anthem “Expect The Bayonet” a perfect encapsulation of the specific time and place in which it was released.

However, this time around, Halladay and company – which includes Matt Palmer, Kyle Seely, and Evan Campbell – are less focused on the political and more on the personal. Big feelings can come in many forms and, with Playing Favorites as evidence, Halladay is just as skilled at conveying the immensity of infatuation as she is at railing against oppressive politics. “I got no shame, I want your love. I want your love or I want no one,” she wails on “Moonstruck”, a herky-jerky groove of a song. Shamelessness is a mode that works quite well for a band like Sheer Mag. They are, at their heart, an unbelievably likable band, their charm oozing from every big chorus and brain-scrambling riff. Philly plays and loves as hard as it works, and Sheer Mag can’t help but represent the side of the city that thrives within late-night dive bars, their music a neon-glow spreading across a game of pool as two strangers fall in love before eight ball hits the corner pocket – big, unabashed swagger carrying us headlong into the early hours of the morning.

Sheer Mag - All Lined Up

I GotHeaven by Mannequin Pussy (Epitaph)

A word to the wise, don’t tell anyone from Philadelphia what they can’t do. I can sit here and try to describe to you just what it is that Mannequin Pussy does best as a band. I can describe to you the punk immediacy of their early records or go into detail about the chaotic vulnerability of 2019’s hugely successful Patience. I can do that, but as soon as I do, they’ll probably do something completely different, rendering any concrete statement about the band obsolete. It’s this elasticity, this refusal to remain one thing, that makes Mannequin Pussy one of the best representations of the Philly music scene working today. Formed in 2010, founding members Marisa Dabice and Athanasios Paul were first lured to Philly, like so many, because of cheap rent and a thriving DIY scene. Since then, they established themselves a central part of that very scene, forming bonds with bands like Japanese Breakfast and playing shows everywhere from Golden Tea House to Union Transfer. In 2021, they even served as the inspiration for the fictional band Androgynous in the Delco-set Mare Of Easttown, recording original music for the series. Their latest, I Got Heaven, is, without a doubt, their most accomplished record to date and, more than even, represents just how irrepressible a force they truly are.

2019’s Patience may have served as their official introduction to a larger audience, but I Got Heaven is something else entirely. The band’s range has always been impressive but Dabice and company have outdone themselves here, somehow stuffing enough ideas for a handful of records into this breakneck 10-song collection. From the driving vitriol of the title track, to the skittering, distorted indie-pop of “I Don’t Know You”, to the two-headed monster that is “OK? OK! OK? OK!”, Mannequin Pussy have effectively distilled their entire discography, ethos, and charisma into I Got Heaven without sacrificing a single bit of their jagged-edge charm. Mannequin Pussy is a band that is, right down to the name itself, inherently confrontational, but hearing them embrace vulnerability alongside their more cutting venom vaults them onto another level. In many ways, that slipperiness is the point. Mannequin Pussy, like the Philly scene that brings together bands like Sheer Mag, Pissed Jeans, and so many more, cannot be defined as easily as onlookers might have you believe. March 1 might be a banner day for Philly music but, truth be told, if you know where to look, Philly music is the gift that never stops giving.

Mannequin Pussy - I Got Heaven

Pissed Jeans Half-Divorced can be streamed and purchased here, via Sub Pop Records; the band plays Underground Arts on March 15th, and tickets can be found here. // Sheer Mag’s Playing Favorites can be streamed and purchased here, via Third Man Records; the band headlines the First Unitarian Church on Friday, May 10th, and full tour dates can be found here. // Mannequin Pussy’s I Got Heaven can be streamed and purchased here, via Epitaph Records; their April 4 date at Phantom Power and their May 22 and 23 dates at Union Transfer are all sold out, so check their tour schedule for the show closest to you.

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