Philadelphia has always been a city of music. But 2013 brought along so many good albums from Philly-area bands, it might just look like we're in the midst of a sonic renaissance here in the City of Brotherly Love. Forget Hall & Oates and Will Smith, we've got hundreds of groups pumping out exciting, innovative tunes the likes of which you've never heard.
Ranging from hip hop to bluegrass and metal, our musical stylings as a city don't leave much to be desired in terms of being ecclectic. The only remaining question after this year's musical growth spurt is when we'll get the recognition we deserve as an East Coast sonic powerhouse. Not if.
Here, the greatest local music of 2013.
With Man Man polishing their loveably sardonic aesthetic since 2004's The Man in a Blue Turban with a Face, their 2013 release shows a group more Patrick Bateman than Leatherface. Man Man's fifth studio release might make you think they're matured, but don't let it fool you—they've simply just reorganized their macabre mojo. Not short on frontman Honus Honus' usual dark inclinations, On Oni Pond represents the group's most hook-laden, approachable release yet.
If Smoke Ring for My Halo represented the pinnacle of Kurt Vile's ability to construct succinct pop music, then Wakin On a Pretty Daze is Vile shifting those pop sensibilities to their next plain of evolution. The tracks move in and out gradually, flowing along with Vile's trademark stoney loner wisdom. Though now it's fully realized thanks to the space and depth he's afforded himself with his fifth studio release. Plus, having an album cover shot in front of a mural you can see from the El doesn't hurt, either.
Rarely do you find an album that is immediately as fun to listen to as Toy Soldiers' 2013 effort, The Maybe Boys. Rockabilly comes to mind, but what we're really talking about here is Americana--and Toy Soldiers are experts in the subject. From within seconds of hearing frontman Ron Gallo croon out the lyrics to shred-worthy opener "Tell the Teller," it's clear that these guys are here to make you shake your tail feather. And shake your tail feather you will.
Sometimes going from cutesy to cool requires a name change and the addition of two band members to fill out your sound. Formerly Reading Rainbow across two previous full-lengths, 2013 brought us a change to Bleeding Rainbow and their first release as a four-piece in Yeah Right. Edgier and more psychedelic while still maintaining a poppy undercurrent, their current release is a reinvention that manages to actually work—and well.
If Man Man and Kurt Vile have grown in their artistic scope and sensibility, Allentown punk rockers Pissed Jeans have only raised their middle fingers higher with their 2013 release, Honeys. If you're looking for personal growth, self-actualization, or moody hooks, this ain't it. Brutally fast, incredibly addictive, and expertly perfected Pennsylvania punk rock, though, they've got. And it only took four albums to get there.
As self-reinventions go, it doesn't get much more extensive than Dr. Dog's route on this year's B-Room. For their seventh full-length, the band took to Clifton Heights to build up a new studio and living space in an abandoned silversmith mill. The result is a cleaner, tighter sound for a band now running on a decade-plus career with no signs of slowing their creative output. And that, of course, is much more important than any studio.
It's been more than two decades, but Bardo Pond is still proving why they put the "acid" in acid rock with their latest release, Peace on Venus. Dark and intensely psychedelic, their 2013 release is a five-track, 40-minute magnum opus that comes on strong with shoegaze-y guitars, echoed-out flute and hypnotic, surrealist imagery. Altogether strange and magnificent, Peace on Venus is a modern psychedelia masterpiece.
All right, so it's not an album. But South Philly hip hip up-and-comer Lushlife may has well have put one out with his 10.5-minute Toynbee Tile-inspired mega-track, "Toynbee Suite." Epic and sonically layered, "Toynbee Suite" rocks through four movements of verses that correspond with the Toynbee Tiler's usual four-line messages. And, what's more, they might represent the most insightful interpretation of the tiles' messages to date. It's a 20-year mystery, and while the Tiler's Toynbee Idea might fade from Philly's streets one day, the legend is now and forever enshrined on wax (or, Bandcamp, as it were).
West Chester-based math rock outfit Canada's Stay Home, doesn't make any sense, but in the best way possible. With a style changing song-to-song with similarly drastic changes in tone and musical directions within the songs themselves, the band's debut full-length doesn't fail to keep you interested on pure frenetic amnesia alone. Self-released and recorded out of the School of Rock in Downingtown, Stay Home is, above all else, a promise of great things to come from these young Philly musicians.
His award for "Artist of the Year" at this year's Philly Hip-Hop Awards provide Chill Moody is the future of Philly hip hop. His debut solo album, RFM, proves that he's the future of hip hop, period. An acronym for Running From Myself, RFM is virtually a who's-who of Philly rap, with features from the likes of Beard Gang commander Freeway and production from fellow up-and-comer Jahlil beats. But given the heat Moody deals out on his 2013 debut, he's poised to be throwing down features as West Philly's next prodigal son.