John Morrison's Philly Top Five: Spring is here with Angelo Outlaw, Anyee Wright and more - WXPN | Vinyl At Heart
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As the late great Biz Markie once said: It’s Spring again! There’s still a slight chill in the air, the new season is in motion and as always, the music is flowing. Culture Cypher Radio has been going strong as a weekly show (every Wednesday night at 10 p.m. on XPN!) and I’ve been intentionally putting more time into my own music-making practice. It’s been nice to find a semi-consistent schedule of playing piano and making beats in the morning and practicing on the turntables at night. Over the past few years, writing has become my primary outlet (both professionally and creatively), so it’s felt good to jump back into the role of musician. Spring usually brings an uptick in music-making for me, and it’s been that way since I was a kid, so it’s a welcome return to form of sorts.

Besides that, March has been pretty chill and uncomplicated. I was nominated as Best Arts Reporter by The Pen & Pencil Club’s Philly News Awards. I didn’t win, but it was lovely hanging out and drinking with a room full of journalists at the March 7th awards ceremony (shout out to everyone who voted). There’s an obvious metaphor to be drawn for Spring as a time of renewal and rebirth and I’m more than comfortable approaching this season as such. Just because a thing is cliche, doesn’t mean that it isn’t true or useful. So, in that spirit, I’ll be here writing new stories, checking out new music and waiting for the weather to break. Here are five releases that caught my ear and lit up my spirit this month.

Grimace Federation – Ultra Prime / Live On Girard / 2.1.24

Grimace Federation is one of Philly’s finest purveyors of trippy, kosmische sound. This 9-track beast of an album was recorded live in February with the band plugging in and improvising for about 40 minutes straight. The album’s intro sets the tone with a drifting, Tangerine Dream-esque synth piece before the band launches into “Turbo Tiger,” a trippy piece that sounds like a proggy alternate reality version of Dilla and J.Rocc and Karriem Riggin’s “Body Movin’.” Standout tunes like “Sun Sauce” and “Weird Neighbors” highlight the bands ability to conjure dreamy, utopian soundscapes while a cut like “La Honda” is a dark and nasty vision of the future. The music here is good whether you’re into jazz, post-rock, prog, or electronic psychedelia, and it’s perfect if you happen to dig all of the above.

Angelo Outlaw – Axis Of Time

Axis Of Time is the debut full-length from poet/mallet percussionist, Angelo Outlaw. Traversing genre lines, the album offers slick jazz-funk, and cinematic soul instrumentals. Backed by the Eraserhood Sound house band, the playing throughout the album is nimble and dextrous with Outlaw’s vibraphone leading each song’s funky groove beautifully. Following in the footsteps of groovy jazz vibraphone legends like Roy Ayers, Jay Hoggard, Bobby Hutcherson and the like, Outlaw’s album provides a potent showcase for the instrument to shine.

Anyee Wright – Dial 215

Dial 215 is the latest release from Philly rapper/producer, Anyee Wright. A short, five-track listen, the tape takes listeners on a journey into Wright’s rich production style. “Function” combines a bouncy, double-time groove with synth leads. “Just Ride” is built around dreamy vocal harmonies and glitchy edits. As skilled a producer as she is an MC, Dial 215 is a refreshing display of Wright’s skill and great ear.

Z- Pak – 15 Minutes with Z-Pak

I don’t know anything about this band, but their new tape 15 Minutes with Z-Pak is pretty badass. Taking notes from the great hardcore punk bands of the 80s, Z-Pak kinda sounds like a more fucked up Christ on Parade. The members are based in Philly but come from “everywhere else in America” and they play a pretty unique brand of leftfield hardcore. The riffs are gnarly, vocalist Alex Bean’s voice is twisted and the entire recording is drenched in a fuzzy sheen of caustic distortion.

Lil’ Dave – Work Around EP

West Philly’s own Lil’ Dave is not only a peerless DJ, he’s a fantastic producer in his own right. With its four club-ready gems, the Work Around EP mirrors the kind of deep and soulful electronic dance music that Dave plays in his sets. “Overdrive” opens with a swinging four-on-the-floor drum groove, monstrous bass and a 3-chord synth progressions. Once the soaring vocal sample enters, we find ourselves in the midst of some kind of slick bridge between tech-house and 80s rave. The title track is a pulsating house jam with Es Hamidi adding some flavor on baritone sax. “Move With You” darkens the mood and closes the EP out with its rich piano chords, synths and dramatic atmosphere. Every track here is a banger, ready to light up a party near you.

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