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.

azusa66

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”:

Philly Ex Post Facto: East Hundred

We’ve spent the past few weeks posting items from issue #80’s 15 In Philly feature, our 15th-anniversary spotlight of favorite music from MAGNET’s hometown. Guess what? It’s year 16. This week, we pay attention to the newcomers, make amends for the omissions and basically try to cover our asses. Because all beatdowns are local.

easthundred2c31

On paper, East Hundred appears to be a prime candidate for Metallica-style band therapy sessions. The Philadelphia quintet contains brothers (guitarist Brooke and drummer Will Blair) as well as ex-lovers (Brooke and singer Beril Guceri), and its new full-length debut, Passenger, is a break-up album whose lyrics all but declare, “We shan’t work together again.” Consider, for example, Beril’s words on album track “Pony”: “Our love is the perfect shade of blue/If you’re heading out/Don’t think I’m coming with you.” The underlying sentiment of Passenger may be part Fleetwood Mac’s cut-and-run Rumours, part Marvin Gaye’s more reflective Here, My Dear, but the members of East Hundred insist their tangled personal relationships are a benefit.

“Plus Minus” from Passenger:

Continue reading “Philly Ex Post Facto: East Hundred”

Philly Ex Post Facto: Pi Lam

We’ve spent the past few weeks posting items from issue #80’s 15 In Philly feature, our 15th-anniversary spotlight of favorite music from MAGNET’s hometown. Guess what? It’s year 16. This week, we pay attention to the newcomers, make amends for the omissions and basically try to cover our asses. Because all beatdowns are local.

pilambldg3601

From the outside, Pi Lambda Phi looks just like every other University of Pennsylvania frat house on the 3900 block of Spruce Street. The large, three-story stone building is decorated with intricate carvings of leaves and vines and preceded by a tiered porch with iron and brick fencing. A giant gold column of a banner hangs from the rooftop, the end of it just barely brushing the cement of the porch. Three Greek letters, massive and purple, stare down at passersby: PLF.

Of course, appearances can often be deceiving. While its flowerbeds may be littered with empty beer cans and plastic leis, the Pi Lam house is better known as a music venue than a Thirsty Thursday hot spot. The 30-some Pi Lam brothers are more likely to get their exercise biking to Wawa for cigarettes than playing lacrosse, and they’re much more fond of brightly colored American Apparel tees than Abercrombie polos with popped collars. Instead of Natty Light, PBR is their drink of choice.

The Dead Milkmen’s “Ask Me To Dance” from 1983’s A Date With The Dead Milkmen:

Continue reading “Philly Ex Post Facto: Pi Lam”

Philly Ex Post Facto: Canadian Invasion

We’ve spent the past few weeks posting items from issue #80’s 15 In Philly feature, our 15th-anniversary spotlight of favorite music from MAGNET’s hometown. Guess what? It’s year 16. This week, we pay attention to the newcomers, make amends for the omissions and basically try to cover our asses. Because all beatdowns are local.

canadianinvasion350

As if handed some imaginary baton from the late, great Bigger Lovers, the five-piece Canadian Invasion has inherited the title of Philadelphia’s best power-pop band. The proof is in sophomore album Three Cheers For The Invisible Hand (Transit Of Venus), a smartly written critique of—and ode to—suburbia. Three Cheers doesn’t rock the suburbs with rote teenage angst or anti-sprawl tirades, however; the voice of singer/guitarist Andy Canadian is coming from inside the ranch house, detailing the funny and sad lives of the members of an American family lost in their own bland anonymity. The clever lyrical conceit is held up by sturdy guitar-pop songwriting; Canadian Invasion sounds like Fountains Of Wayne with considerably less cheese, swapping regressive teenage fantasies and gimmicky Cars keyboards for Kinks-like character sketches and Teenage Fanclub guitar chime.

MAGNET spoke to frontman Andy Canadian and bassist Jim Foley about the big ideas and small details behind Three Cheers, out Feb. 17.

“Three Cheers For The Invisible Hand” from Three Cheers For The Invisible Hand:

Continue reading “Philly Ex Post Facto: Canadian Invasion”

Philly Ex Post Facto: A Sunny Day In Glasgow

We’ve spent the past few weeks posting items from issue #80’s 15 In Philly feature, our 15th-anniversary spotlight of favorite music from MAGNET’s hometown. Guess what? It’s year 16. This week, we pay attention to the newcomers, make amends for the omissions and basically try to cover our asses. Because all beatdowns are local.

sunnydayinglasglowc525c

A Sunny Day In Glasgow may be the closest thing that Philadelphia has to a blog band (perhaps with the exception of Philly/Brooklyn’s Clap Your Hands Say Yeah). “The Best Summer Ever” from The Sunniest Day Ever, the band’s 2006 debut EP, caused a justifiable stir among those looking for an unknown to claim as their own: It’s a shimmering, sunny update of Cocteau Twins/My Bloody Valentine dream pop with a joyful melody, and it’s so densely saturated that everything—the soprano voices, the reverberating guitars, the processed drums—seems mixed at an equal level.

“The Best Summer Ever” from The Sunniest Day Ever:

Continue reading “Philly Ex Post Facto: A Sunny Day In Glasgow”