Lost Classics: The Psychedelphia Story

tapem200bThey’re nobody’s buzz bands anymore. But since 1993, MAGNET has discovered and documented more great music than memory will allow. The groups may have broken up or the albums may be out of print, but this time, history is written by the losers. Here are some of the finest albums that time forgot but we remembered in issue #75, plus all-new additions to our list of Lost Classics.

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You should hear the collective groan around the MAGNET office whenever the idea of writing a scene-report article is discussed; most bands pay more attention to their MySpace page than their hometown. But geography is a powerful thing, and we have been guilty of chasing its musical meaning, sometimes with success (the Chicago post-rock family tree we published in 1996), sometimes with failure (Texas psych/rock or Norwegian pop scenes, anyone?). But one of the most genuine groundswells was in our own backyard in the late ’90s.

Sounds From Psychedelphia, a 10-band compilation issued in 1999, is the main artifact of that era of Philly sound. On it, you can hear Lenola taking a My Bloody Valentine-like, effects-bent riff and stretch it like taffy; witness the Asteroid #4 delve into neo-Pink Floyd bliss; take in the shimmering guitar-pop heroics of the Photon Band; and hear Aspera Ad Astra imagine what Brian Jones’ own personal orchestra would’ve sounded like. While shape-shifting noise merchants Bardo Pond and jangle-pop outfit Mazarin aren’t present on Psychedelphia (the former was signed to Matador at the time, and the latter debuted afterward), both bands filled in pieces of the local puzzle.

But, predictably, you had to be there. Live, the Asteroid #4 employed a fog machine and a kaleidoscopic light show, while Bardo Pond would stage sit-down performances at art museums and Lenola (which actually hailed from nearby locales in southern New Jersey) cooked up its own visual schemes. “At one show, we wore suits that were covered in Christmas lights and handed out light-refraction glasses to the crowd,” remembers Lenola singer/guitarist Jay Laughlin. “We were plugged into extension cords at our feet. It looked awesome, but (drummer) Sean (Byrne) was getting shocked while we played, so that was a one-off thing.”

Beneath all that onstage window-dressing, Philly’s psych/rock scene was steadfastly DIY, with nearly every band forming its own label to release its albums. There was Lounge (Asteroid #4’s imprint, which issued the Psychedelphia comp), Tappersize (Lenola), File 13 (Aspera Ad Astra) and Colorful Clouds For Acoustics (Azusa Plane). “The DIY thing was out of necessity, really,” says Laughlin. “We sent the albums to every label we knew of and never got a bite.”

No widespread national attention was forthcoming, and Lenola called it a day in 2002; the band’s members now play in Like A Fox and the Twin Atlas. Aspera also disbanded, with members joining Rollerskate Skinny’s Ken Griffin in Favourite Sons. The Asteroid #4 is still around, but 2006 saw an endpoint for Mazarin (a cease-and-desist order was issued by a Long Island bar band of the same name) and a tragic epilogue (the suicide of the Azusa Plane’s Jason DiEmilio; pictured above).

:: THE AZUSA PLANE
America Is Dreaming Of Universal String Theory // Colorful Clouds For Acoustics, 1998

Effectively the solo guise of Jason DiEmilio, the Azusa Plane represented the experimental outer limits of Philadelphia’s otherwise rock- and pop-leaning psych scene. America Is Dreaming was a two-disc symphony of guitar-and-amplifier manipulations, a melodic beehive of sound that never submitted to drone. What John Fahey did for guitar strings (harnessing a miasma of notes and harmonics with godlike grace), DiEmilio did for feedback.

“Strings 2”:

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