November 3-9, 2005
Music & Nightlife
It was the year that was. An annum of beginnings and endings wherein we bid farewell to The Point and Y100 and said hello to the Spinto Band and JuJu Mob and a whole different Y100. We listened as King Britt went to the archives and raised the dead, the Roots went to the Kimmel and raised the roof, and G. Love led us onto a Bella Vista rooftop to raise a soda. It was the year that new sounds wafted onto the scene and keepers of the flame kept keeping on. It was weird. It was wonderful. It was.
Lifetime Achievement Award for Dedication to Cold Beverages
To be honest, we've always been a little uncomfortable with the whole Garrett Dutton-as-face-of-Philly-music thing. Yes, we love cold beverages, too; we'd like to think we're a little bit deeper than all that. However, we can't but appreciate G. Love's single-minded pursuit of an ideal, and when his national "I'd Like to Teach the World to Chill" Coke Zero spots started airing -- all him and Chuck Treece and a whole Bella Vista roof-full of sippers -- we couldn't help but feel a gush of special, saucy Philly pride. www.cokezero.com
Record Most Worth the Wait
Via poetry slams and record jams, Rich Medina -- voice, writer, spinner, producer -- has been a cornerstone in the life of funky Philadelphians. He didn't put out as much as he should have. Didn't produce as much as he could have. But if there was one Afro-jazzy-house 'n' hop album that's been worth its wait/weight, it's Connecting the Dots. Chatty yet lovesexy quiet, head-noddingly hip-hoppy yet smoothly jazzy, Dots will def make my top 10 of the year. But I'm also listening to this as, like, the best never-heard album of the '90s. Not because there's one iota of retro anything here. But because it's late. And if I have to wait another 15 years for more original Medina music, I 'mo punch him.
Best Teen Soap Hookup
The scene is familiar to Newport's faithful viewers. Summer's pouting. Seth's apologizing and mumbling something about Death Cab. But what's that song? Could it be? Has Philly indie rock arrived? Yes, that's the sweet sound of Audible´s "Sound Makes a Circle" rippling through Harbor's student lounge on the April 21 episode of The OC. Sure, it was only a snippet, but teenage emo hearts across America went right to their fan sites to swoon over what we're lucky enough to catch at The Khyber (and Sunday, Nov. 13, at that).
Best Format Flip
Just booking The Roots at the Kimmel was a brilliant surprise, but getting indie freakshows Deerhoof and TV on the Radio to open? That was pure genius. No, we don't expect the big glass house to open itself up like that all the time -- we know they've got, oh man, union ushers to pay -- but it felt great on that special occasion and it's exciting to know that option is there.
Most mind-boggling music series
To mark the fifth birthday of Ars Nova Workshop, director Mark Christman brought a staggering selection of free jazz and improvised music to town, from Henry Grimes to Oliver Lake to Peter Brotzmann's Chicago Tentet. But his biggest coup is ongoing, a truly thrilling celebration of the AACM's 40th Anniversary, boasting rare Philly appearances by Roscoe Mitchell, Henry Threadgill, Leo Smith and Anthony Braxton. www.arsnovworkshop.com
City's Best Bad Band
Since it was spawned a few years ago, Canibal Cow has billed itself as Philadelphia's worst band. Even their fans hate them. Their Web site is filled with love notes that say shit like, "You guys suck!" Is it tongue-in-cheek, or do they really suck? Decide for yourself: These thrashy punks with the misspelled moniker recently released their first full-length CD, May Cause Birth Defects. God love 'em 'cause somebody has to. www.canibalcow.com
Best Weird Band, Fishtown
At first, you're captivated by Golden Ball's look: Lots of steely eyes, high cheekbones, and an arty post-Goth fashion sense. But it's the music that you'll come back to, where colorful synths, guitars and percussion slink up to nervy vocals. Live, the six members trade instruments and vocals, bringing a communal warmth to such an appealingly oddball sound. www.goldenballmusic.com
Most Unexpected Music Scene
This town has always had its share of deadly serious MCs, it's only recently that we've started spawning a school of mostly white, totally dance-punky hip-hoppers. V.I.P., The Yah Mos Def and Plastic Little play it cool and silly, with clever rhymes, pop culture references and the occasional lewd allusions, but all of them have the skills and are in a dead heat for a breakthrough.
Best Weird Band, West Philly
They wear spooky animal masks while performing, live together in a house and demonstrate definite prog leanings. What more do you need to know about Make a Rising? How about assurance that they're not something out of a lesser Wes Anderson film? There's real menace and spooked beauty in their theatrics. Plus they have some of the coolest rock-violin playing since the heyday of Camper Van Beethoven. www.tonewplanet.com
Now that Hollertronix lions Diplo and Low Budget are running the rails worldwide someone has to burn the home fires on the racy, messy krunk pop tip. Say hello to Town Jewelrz. The sound? Techno-joanjett-ludacris-zulunation-emo-timbaland shit. Only dirtier. They spin at Fluid, Wax, Pleasuretown and wherever the sound of hellfire is welcome. Check the CD they threw out at Transit, Youth Suicide Fantasy. Live the dream.
Best Odd Couple
Nothing so weird made so much sense as Pine Street steel guitar superstar Slo-Mo teaming up with laid-back West Philly MC Mic Wrecka. Orchestral and rootsy but oddly urban and fresh, My Buzz Comes Back raises hell like the Beck record of the future: rocking, hip-hopping, swinging and grooving all at once.
Best New Hot Spot in Old City
Old City's nightlife is typically fueled by impertinent dress codes and mainstream music aimed at dimwit out-of-towners. With laid-back venues like La Tazza and SoMa now out of the picture, Wax comes to the rescue and sidesteps the shiny-shirt vibe, top-40 crap and overpriced drinks. With a spacious lounge and jazzy decor, Wax hosts DJs like Diabolic, Adam Bomb, Town Jewelrz and others dishin' out hip-hop and rock mash-ups to a more, well, intelligent crowd. 112 Chestnut St., 215-275-8628
Most Missed Music Venue
More than four months after The Point closed because of a hassle with its lease, city and 'burb-based music fans still bemoan the intimate (and acoustically stellar) Bryn Mawr "listening room." A replacement hasn't been found, and "we don't want to go off half-cocked and open a venue that isn't perfect," says talent buyer/publicist Jesse Lundy. Meanwhile, Point Entertainment stays busy producing shows at the Saturday Club in Wayne, and Phoenixville's Colonial Theatre. www.atthepoint.com
Most Impressive Debut
Eclectic but deliberate, effortlessly catchy without being pandering, smart but never snooty, funny yet never, ever silly, B.C. Camplight's Hide, Run Away is a near-perfect indie-pop record. Brian Christinzio's lofty vocals and lyrical daredevilry make every track feel like a hit.
Most Missed Indie-Folk Doyenne
Oxford, England's Sharron Kraus set up shop in Fishtown for a couple years, and this city just didn't appreciate her while she was here. Hers was a clear-eyed kind of folk, and she possessed a soprano that made the oft-brutal scenarios all the more tangible. She's back home now, but her music's still worth checking out, especially by those who suspect the New Folk-Rock is merely so many Tiny Tims channeling Yo La Tengo. www.sharronkraus.com
Most Loving New Orleans Tributes
Before Katrina was a drizzle over the Atlantic, King Britt and Tim Motzer were paying tribute to long-departed Preservation Hall treasure Sister Gertrude Morgan, laying down groovy, dancey backing tracks behind her glorious a cappella preachings. It's an amazing, timeless CD. And after the storm, hip-hop heroes The Roots turned their long-planned Kimmel Center debut into a fundraiser/upbeat revival. Black Thought, ?uestlove and company plucked the TBC Brass Band out of the shelters and marched down the aisle with 'em to start the show. Unforgettable.
Inexpensive outdoor concerts for umpteen years on summer Sundays in Upper Merion Parks might be enough to win David Broida his crown. But his heart leads him to persuade the performers to become parts of countless benefit performances, from aid to ailing local artists to Camp Dreamcatcher to Katrina relief, Broida thrives on service to the community.
Best Superfriends Team-Up
After 10 years of rhyming and spinning, practicing and collaborating, MC Flipside and DJ Skipmode of Electric City are finally ready to drop their debut CD this month. Technically they should be getting this award next year, but we're tired of waiting.
Best DJ Night to Get '80s New Wave Nostalgic AT
Maybe only a handful of you remember Old City's revival during the late '80s/early '90s. DJs Robert Drake (of WXPN fame) and Pussy Galore resurrect the vibe by mixing up The Cure, Siouxsie, Love & Rockets, Bauhaus and almost always Joy Division's "Love Will Tear Us Apart." Sex Dwarf was once held every last Tuesday of the month. But the party became so damn good, Fluid moved the night to third Fridays. 613 S. Fourth St., 215-629-0565, www.djrobertdrake.com
Best Venue for Wannabe DJs With No Actual DJing Skills
Which came first: the cocaine sex jams or the roller-skating jammy-jams? The shell-top hip-hop ghetto bass and fax machine anthems or the dancefloor magic from the genre of good? Upstairs at the Khyber, there's no cover, no dress code and no saying "no" to aspiring DJs with armloads of Case Logic sleeves and an aversion to beat matching. Think you've got what it takes to man the booth? Use your Synonym Finder to select a tagline, hire a fuck-off art-school dropout to design some go-go fliers and strap on that fanny pack. You're in. 56 S. Second St., 215-238-5888, www.thekhyber.com
Best Live Zigaboo
Lauryn Hill likes them now. The Roots like them now. Not to sound petty, but I liked them first. Because no one makes such an absurdly complex roar -- hyper-gospel-punk-funk -- as do the players, speakers and writers of Phil Moore Browne. To really appreciate them is first to hear them in a small setting: jumbled Dada spoken word with just darts of skewed angular funk poking through. Then find them at full bore, pounding relentlessly through the art skronk of "Albino Clark."
Best Obi Wan Kenobi Move
No, Y100 did not return from death more powerful than we could possibly imagine, but it did turn into a hungry, free-format Web station, Y100Rocks.com, unfettered by the FCC, payola and Hoobastank.
Best Rocky Impression
(For the record: We're referring to the underdog/battling-adversity original Rocky, not the old yeller/battling logic recent Rocky.) To our eyes, nobody's a more inspiring, more talented fighter than young singing-songwriter phenom Melody Gardot. She turned the pain of a life-changing car accident into surprisingly mature and utterly enthralling music. www.melodygardot.com
Most Dedicated Purveyors of the Neighborhood Jam Session
Perhaps it's his under-recognized decades as leader of the Arpeggio Jazz Ensemble, but bassist Warren Oree is adamant about promoting Philly jazz. He and partner Graziella D'Amelio have geared the Lifeline Music Coalition towards pitching in for revitalization of the West Oak Lane neighborhood. They now host a yearly festival jam-packed with local talent, twice-weekly gigs at the Ogontz Grill and special events throughout the year. 7152 Ogontz Ave., 215-424-7100
Most Epic and Ridiculous Band From Philadelphia That Nobody Ever Knew or Cared About
Playing a show with Fuck with the Bull… Get the Horns made me want to stop playing music forever. The West Philly trio's performance was a complete sonic assault of loops, chaos and quadratic equations. FwtBGtH tantalized the musical palate and then tore that shit apart, audience mouths agape, with more spastic energy than a taurine processing plant.
Best Blog Diss Track
Badminton Stamps and Chronikill: "Central Village Idiot." When local blogger Philabuster teamed with New York-based SkinnySlim to start BadmintonStamps, a music blog, they sent out e-mails introducing themselves to other bloggers in the music scene. All but one responded: Jeffrey Baum of "Central Village." Feeling snubbed, the duo teamed with the rap group Chronikill to create what we are assuming to be the first ever blog diss track. The song, dubbed "Central Village Idiot" leaves Baum disgraced and emasculated. As CharlieCypher says, "How much head you give to get your column in the Gothamist?/ Everybody says it sucks and they're just being optimists." www.badmintonstamps.com
The Party You'll Miss the Most
I can't say for sure if he's leaving once the cold weather hits. I mean, it is, at best, a garden party, in Rittenhouse's most secret green sanctuary -- the back of the Art Alliance currently operated by Le Jardin restaurant. But hissing, warm-sunny 2005 was made so much more sweetly musical by the supple house grooves of DJ Lee Jones (late of Judy Boots fame). Entire Sunday afternoons could be spent outside Le Jardin if you liked, listening to the smooth deep house sounds Jones splayed forth. If he'll do it during winter, I'll lie out on Rittenhouse ice anytime.
Best Bluegrass Busker With No Audience
If a banjoist busks at the corner of Broad and Christian but no one's around to hear it, how's he make a living wage? Social Security, of course. Robert Pfenninger, aka Banjo Bobby, has been working the Broad Street stretch with his hand-painted "Retired-Rewired" sign as long as he can remember. Cars en route to South Philly may catch a stray note or two floating through a cracked window, but by and large the strumming, plucking and dizzy-fast picking is for Pfenninger and Pfenninger alone.
Best Molester Mustache, DJ Division
Alongside DJs like Dave P, Diabolic and Mike Z, Julian S. Process is one of Philly's key trendsetters, co-organizing events like Making Time (Transit, Pure) and Click (Fluid, Silk City). In this scene, it's "cool" to look as if you've stepped straight out of 1985. Julian adds a new dimension to "coolness" with his newly groomed molester-style mustache. Uncool parents might be terrified to leave their kid alone with that upper lip. But hey. It's cool. www.igetrvng.com
Lifetime Achievement in Piano Killing
Nobody leaves blood on the keys the way Dave Burrell does. The 65-year-old pianist-composer mixes gospel and blues into his jazz athletics and puts absolutely everything into his live performances.
Best Place to See a Culture Clash in the Audience
T-shirts and tats next to elegant saris, ponytails next to yarmulkes, the Painted Bride´s Jazz Jaunts have melded jazz with world music for a series of unique performances. Steven Bernstein brought smarmy downtown NY attitude to cantorial songs, and Rudresh Mahanthappa brought Indian altoist Kadri Gopalnath to jam. A promising new season has just gotten underway. 230 Vine St., 215-925-9914, www.paintedbride.org
Kal Rudman told me, once you're a hit, you're always a threat. I'm going to apply that theorem to Chris Schwartz. The goofball who co-founded Ruffhouse made Philly's hip-hop scene (a la The Goats) shine big. Ten years later, when his deal with Columbia was shot, Schwartz tried RuffNation at Warner Bros. Naaathin. Rumors of his demise persisted. Yet, here he is in 2005 with a RuffNation distribution deal through Fontana/Universal, pushing CDs on the reggae-hop (Kulcha Don) and tech-rock (the posthumous release of God Lives Underwater's Dave Reilly) tips.
Best Don't Call It a Comeback
Quentin Stoltzfus didn't go anywhere. And he didn't even stop writing and recording songs. So we can't, technically, call it a comeback. But after the 2001 release of Mazarin's A Tall Tale Storyline we were forced to wait, agonizingly, twiddling our thumbs to pulpy stumps, till the 2005 drop of We're Already There. And there, at long last, was Quentin, with the spacey fuzz pop, the lilting vocals; and there we were, all nodding along, goofy, satisfied grins on our faces.
Best U.K. Grime DJs in Philly
U.K. Grime -- generally a raw and gritty mix of hip-hop and dancehall -- has become one of the hippest styles in underground music. DJs Dev79 and Starkey continue as the only ones in town grinding out the ear-splitting, head-banging, party-frenzied mash-ups at clubs like Silk City and The Khyber -- also periodically bringing some of U.K.'s big-name grime stars to Philly. www.seclusiasis.com
Best Non-Native Keeper of Philly Music History
Amazingly, after programming a full day of the most asinine, hate-mongering talk radio this side of Nazi propaganda, The Big Talker (WPHT 1210 AM) turns its airwaves over to Rollye James, who likes to talk oldies. Yeah, this always-moving host is a hardcore libertarian, but nothing gets her riled up like the Geator and Cameo-Parkway. And she really knows her stuff. Normally you'd call this kinda show "a breath of fresh air," but on that station it qualifies as a damn tornado of love.
Best Beat to March Differently To
Getting hired by Ornette Coleman at 17 is impressive enough. But as leader of Big Tree, G. Calvin Weston bolsters his harmolodics-trained drumming with a jam-band looseness and open-door policy. His monthly Mad Cow shows at Tritone gather all manner of guests for jams that are always funky even at their most out. The only way to find a heavier groove is to seek out his frequent pairings with Jamaaladeen Tacuma. www.calvinweston.com
Best Philly Represent
When feisty San Francisco culture journal The Believer dropped its June/July music issue complete with a CD of indie rockers covering indie rockers, we ran out and bought it for the hot Devendra Banhart-on-Antony and the Johnsons action. But lo and behold, there on the sneaky smash compilation of 2005 were Schuylkill punchers Cynthia G. Mason (breathing a sort of desperate, trembling life into Richard Buckner's "Surprise, AZ") and Espers (doing their past-perfect nu-psych thing to Fursaxa's "Firefly Refrain"). Well played.
Best Album You Can Get for Free and Without a Guilty Conscience
Monika Bullette´s The Secrets has quickly become every music blogger's best friend. Since the album's Internet release in May, the tally of full-zip downloads is well past 2K. The Web-savvy Bullette ain't too bad behind a microphone either, sprinkling her vast influences from Nancy Sinatra to Holly GoLightly to Stereolab. One thing is clear: This isn't just another folk singer. Gank it while you can. www.bullette.net
Most Hip-Hop Bang for Your Buck
Philly's got a wealth of underground hip-hop, but if you had to pick one label to represent the city you'd have to go with Good Hands, home base to Reef the Lost Cauze, Chief Kamachi, Charon Don and State Store. And let's say you're really being strict about things, and you want it all on one CD. You're asking for Black Candles by JuJu Mob, the four-MC-strong powerhouse they put out in May. www.goodhandsrecords.com
Best Third World-ly DJ
He does it alone: at Walnut Room and Tragos. He does it in a pack at "Esta Bien" as part of G-13. Sometimes he does it with his own congas in tow. But DJ Rahsaan is living otherworldly no matter what the circumstance -- making music from le isle Puerto Rico, whether it's big reggaeton (the most powerful dancefloor aphro-dizzy-iac there is) or hearty dancehall on the Portuguese tip.
Best New Philly Classical Music Star
The Curtis Institute of Music accepts one applicant for every 500 who apply. It shouldn't be surprising that the quality of the music-making by Curtis students is as good as it gets, really. And yet every couple of years a standout shows up even in this elite bunch. One of the latest is violinist Hilary Hahn, now 25, and in the midst of a major career. She deserves all the hype she gets; in addition to a seemingly flawless technique and a gorgeous tone, there is a naturalness of expression in her playing that seems to bring the music directly from the composer's mind to the listener's ears. www.hilaryhahn.com
Busiest and Most Diverse DJ in Philly
While most DJs stick to one style, Jon Gill provides unlimited varieties. He spins almost every night of the week for different crowds ranging from the hipster '80s fucks (Valanni, Fluid, Transit) to the teenage Goth crew (Shampoo) to the Old City knuckleheads (Swanky Bubbles, Continental) to Bump's fun-loving gay crowd. Jon Gill spins it all -- soulful house, electroclash, new wave, synth punk, trip-hop, retro classics the list goes on.
Best Place to Hear Music They Should Play on Mainstream Radio
Remember when it used to be worth it to buy a two-pack of cassette tapes and sit up all night to record that one hot jam? The feeling is gone -- because current mainstream radio sucks. But DJs Junior and Lil' Dave are keeping the vibe alive every second Thursday of the month at the Latest Dish with their Excursions event. It's the live version of their WKDU radio show Eavesdrop and features soul jams that Clear Channel don't know a damn thing about. www.recordbreakin.com
Best Place to Get Your Gay Caballero/Burly Mustache Fix
The shelves are stocked with familiar names like Goya and El Yucateco, but it's the space behind the registers at Las Lupita´s Grocery in the Italian Market that we find so intriguing. Wallpapered counter-to-ceiling with dozens of CDs, you've got your Tejano, your merengue, your mariachi, your Latin rap, even your rock en Espanol. Every purchase is a gamble when you don't speak the language, so we recommend buying CDs based purely on meaningless aesthetics, such as the sparkliness of the matador outfits or the ratlike thickness of the mustaches. 1002 S. Ninth St., 215-238-9552
Best Trance DJ in Philly.
Every city needs its Paul Oakenfold or DJ Tiësto -- someone to impel dancefloors to go ballistic amidst four-to-the-floor beats, heart-wrenching melodies and anthemic buildups. A regular DJ at venues like Emerald City, Lounge 125, Metro Lounge and Atlantic City's Club Tru, Tommyboy has established himself as Philly's beloved provider of club-storming bliss and uplifting progressive trance. www.tbmmusic.com
Best Custody Battle
The judge just ruled. While we have proven ourselves a fit and loving city, I'm afraid we've officially lost custody of Clap Your Hands Say Yeah. Sure frontman Alec Ounsworth grew up in Germantown, but Brooklyn is his home now, and it's time we accepted it. Let him run free. If he comes back to us, then it was meant to be. And if not, fuck him. That said, we're not giving up on you, Spinto Band, we'll sue the hell out of Wilmington until you're ours.
Biggest Crush on a Girl We've Never Met
First there was "Ginger" of circa-'94 Lilys' lore. She came and went but mostly went. Then there was that Mazarin chick "Wheats" it took us some 30 rainy days to tell we were over, but oh yeah, that's right, we weren't over her. But now there's a new girl in town we've never met and are all agog about. The spinny, singsongy "Oh Mandy" (so dreamy! So Sears commercially!) makes us sing out loud to our iPods. Oh, Spinto Band, you put it right on the X mark. That's where the money is.