It’s a great time to be a music fan in Philadelphia.
The scene is rich, both with touring bands and local stalwarts. This Top Ten list omits acts that might have had big years but that didn’t put out new albums in 2018, like the War on Drugs, who won a best rock album Grammy for last year’s A Deeper Understanding, and promising bands like RunHideFight, that have yet to put out a full-length album.
Am I forgetting anyone? Probably.
Hop Along, Bark Your Head Off, Dog. The Frances Quinlan-fronted rock band broke out to a national audience on 2015’s Painted Shut, and this album builds on that record’s foundation with increased sophistication. Quinlan’s poetic narratives take a while to get stuck in your head but reward repeated listening.
Meek Mill, Championships. The North Philly rapper was in prison when the Eagles won the Super Bowl. You can’t blame him for acting like he’s won a title himself, since he got out of jail, headlined Made in America, and released this impressively consistent effort that demonstrates his increased range and maturity.
Low Cut Connie, Dirty Pictures (part 2). It’s like The Godfather: The sequel is better than the first movie. Piano-pounding LCC leader had a big year, with Elton John showing the band love during a stop at the Wells Fargo Center, and this follow-up to last year’s (part 1) collection reveals emotional depth along with the barroom swagger. The band headlines the Trocadero on New Year’s Eve.
Swearin’, Fall into the Sun. Reunited, and they sound so good. This raucous collection brings former paramours Allison Crutchfield and Kyle Gilbride back together in the band that broke up after their 2013 album Surfin’ Strange. Like the band X, these exes take turns on lead vocals, and their art benefits from the dual perspectives.
Kurt Vile, Bottle It In. Philly’s most hirsute constant hitmaker stayed on top of his game with his first solo album since 2015’s b’leive i’m goin’ down. This is stretched out KV, with three songs lasting more than 10 minutes in sustained mood pieces that hold the attention. Vile and the Violators are at the Met Philly on Dec. 29.
Palm, Rock Island. The experimental rock band has an approach that’s so unorthodox, with drums and bass in front and guitars providing the rhythmic foundation, that’s its surprising how melodic and accessible their music actually is.
Orion Sun, A Collection of Fleeting Moments and Daydreams. Orion Sun is the stage name of songwriter Tiffany Majette, who sings and raps and works a warm, jazzy vibe that shows the influence of ’70s soul. She and her fluid, funky band were side-stage standouts at this year’s Made in America fest.
RFA, RFA. This four-piece garage band of St. Joe’s Prep grads mentions the Rolling Stones and the Strokes as influences, but the band that keeps coming to mind as I listen to their self-titled debut is the great early ’00’s band the Libertines, who count as the British Strokes, I suppose.
Hurry, Every Little Thought. Hurry bandleader Matthew Scottoline is expert at conjuring up a wistful mood in power-pop songs that jangle and yearn and swoon, communicating longing for romance that remains just out of reach.
Spirit of the Beehive, Hypnic Jerks. This Philly four-piece sweeps the listener up in a mood-altering psychedelic swirl. And they’re prolific. In addition to this trippy collection, the band will celebrate the release of another new album, pleasure suck, on Sunday at Johnny Brenda’s.