Philly Music 101: An Overview

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  • Say what you will about Philadelphia; it’s small, stuff closes too early, public transportation leaves much to be desired, etc. One thing that you can’t knock is our music scene. From world famous Philly soul and hip-hop to an underground indie scene, rock to folk, goth to punk … it’s all-encompassing. Not every band that comes out of the city o’ brotherly love is gold, mind you, but there are plenty to be excited about. This week’s Temple News will take a look at what’s goin’ down in town, and to get things rolling, here’s an overview of who’s-who, who’s-not-who, and who-might-be-who-if-they-tried-a-bit-harder.

    One of the area’s most exciting new bands is Laguardia. They’re something of a retro-futuristic bunch, brooding in Floyd-ian psychedelic tones while kicking out neo-prog riffs and rhythms that push the envelope of sonic intensity. The quartet performs backed by offbeat video footage and slide projections, something that — depending on the venue — works as often as not, but their music alone is impressive enough.

    Conversely, am I the only music critic in Philly who’s not absolutely gaga over jam-rock boys Townhall? Okay, they’ve got undeniable chops … I’ll give them that. Their compositions are tight and rich, boasting trumpet, trombone, congas, and frequent mid-set instrumental trade-offs. But the local press has been kissing their ass, with nobody mentioning how much room they have for improvement and maturity. Many of their songs are far too sprawling, and they’re lyrically stuck reveling in the bliss of slacker/hippie-dom. One song opens with “Puffin’ on a fat blunt in Philadelphia, PA.” If that ain’t the worst kind of pandering, I don’t know what is.

    Local mainstays are sure workin’ hard. Folkified girl-rockers Stargazer Lily have a new CD due out next year, and the punked-up Undergirl just released She’s Too Much For My Mirror. Blues-jammers K-Floor put out the excellent live album Ratsliveonnoevilstar in the spring, and the lofty psychedelics of Bardo Pond are still going strong with Dialate.

    In the hip-hop/R&B scene … do I even need to mention The Roots, Jill Scott, or Musiq Soulchild? We all know they’re great. Then there’s Flo Brown, droppin’ rhymes at Black Lily (see features section), the jazz-based LM Mental recalling a young Tribe, Bilal with one of this year’s best R&B LPs (1st Born Second), Beanie Siegal and his beef with Jadakiss, and on and on.

    We’ve got our own File 13 Records to represent for indie rock, home to the lush and elegant Matt Pond PA. Unfortunately, label honcho Matt Werth also produced Aspera, a brooding pretentiousness-fest. Outside of F13, we’ve got Clock Strikes Thirteen playing gentle dream pop, and along the same lines, there’s the twee-as-fuck Snow Fairies, featuring TN’s own Neal Ramirez on guitar.

    As far as goth/industrial goes, Tapping the Vein and Stendhal are where it’s at. The former is fronted by one Heather Thompson, whose vocals are as beautiful as they are ripping, the latter is aggressive with an innovative percussion setup. Sadly, the scene’s most prominent players — Carfax Abbey — are its downfall. They gig constantly, but their McMinistry metal and hyperdramatic singer are just plain campy.

    Keep your distance at all costs from 1929. This guitar-bass-drums trio is made up of two bartenders from The Khyber and some other guy who play long, wanky, feedback-laden instrumentals. They seem to think they’re doing something deep and profound, but wind up just creating noise for a half-hour.

    And finally, weirdos whose names begin with the letter A: Adam Brodsky (side-splittingly funny, irreverent anti-folk) and Atom and His Package (a dude who takes the stage with only a drum machine and a delightfully sick mind).

    Of course, mine is not the final say on any of these, and there are plenty more where they came from. For more on the sounds of Philly, read on.

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