Not many BIG POP STARS call Philadelphia home these days. The most popular artists currently representing the city are arguably Meek Mill and Jill Scott. We still love The Roots, and we will always consider them a local group despite our better judgment, but are they really? The jury is out and it might stay out forever.
But one cool thing about music these days is that you do not need BIG POP STARS to have a good time. There were many great albums released by talented bands and rappers and recording artists from Philadelphia this year. Most of them may have dwelled just below the radar, but that was fine with us. Here are 15 such local albums we suggest you listen to if you haven’t already.
1. Pissed Jeans – Honeys (Sub Pop)
Media: “Romanticize Me”
The name of this hard-rocking punk quartet’s fourth album is partly inspired by Philly’s popular brunch spot Honey’s Sit ‘N Eat. So when you hear frontman (and fairly-new-father) Matthew Korvette howl about how miserable his life is and how badly he wants to watch his boss die, keep in mind that he might be the handsome young man sitting next to you at brunch feeding his son pancakes.
Recommended if you like: The Melvins, Harvey Milk, Nirvana
2. GrandeMarshall – Mugga Man Mixtape (Fool’s Gold)
Media: “Mugga Man”
This young rapper signed to the hip Fool’s Gold label late last year, but he has yet to put out an official studio album. This mixtape did not pick up too much steam outside of Philly, but it was the city’s best rap release this year.
RIYL: A$AP Rocky, Danny Brown, The Underachievers
3. Kurt Vile – Wakin On A Pretty Daze (Matador)
Media: “KV Crimes”
On August 28, Philly celebrated its first Kurt Vile Day. There was a concert at City Hall and Mayor Nutter was there and it was a blast. And Vile, whose latest album was packed with slick guitar riffs and sweet lyrics about being a homebody but tour-worn dad, deserved every minute of it.
RIYL: Neil Young, Tom Petty, Dinosaur Jr.
4. Elvis Costello & The Roots – Wise Up Ghost (Blue Note)
Media: “Walk Us Uptown”
Hip-hop and rock collaborations do not normally end well. This one was not much different. Let’s just say, “It’s worth listening to at least once.” It’s The Roots!
RIYL: Elvis Costello, The Roots, Elvis Costello & The Roots
5. Little Big League – These Are Good People (Tiny Engines)
Media: “My Very Own You”
There was some buzz from the music media this year about an “emo revival.” The conversation was pretty stupid, namely because emo never went anywhere. Either way, this emo-flavored rock album by up-and-comers Little Big League is awesome.
RIYL: Titus Andronicus, Sunny Day Real Estate, Built To Spill
6. Matt Mitchell – Fiction (Pi Recordings)
Pianist Matt Mitchell has been grinding on the Philly and New York City jazz scenes for years, working in bands led by Dave Douglas, Tim Berne and John Hollenbeck. Fiction is his debut album as a group leader and he sure came out swinging with this gorgeous collection of smart, dazzling songs.
RIYL: Craig Taborn, Tim Berne, Vijay Iyer
7. Man Man – On Oni Pond (ANTI-)
Media: “Hold On To Your Heart”
Man Man is a Philly indie-rock institution. The rambunctious band has been around for a decade now and we can still never predict what they will do next, but we always assume it will be something wild and carnivalesque. So when the first single, “Hold On To Your Heart,” from their fifth album turned out to be a soft, sincere, beautiful ballad, we were confused. In a good way! Man Man has grown up and it has been very fun watching them do so.
RIYL: Tom Waits, Captain Beefheart, Dr. John
8. Chris Forsyth – Solar Motel (Paradise Of Bachelors)
Media: “Solar Motel Part 2”
Chris Forsyth has been on the Philly scene for a while now, but normally as a guitarist playing shows alone at small galleries and clubs. Well, he decided to put a band together and that turned out to be the best idea he has ever had. If you are into scorching, dirty, dizzy psych-rock, this one is for you.
RIYL: The Grateful Dead, Endless Boogie, The Allman Brothers Band
9. John Legend – Love In The Future (GOOD/Columbia)
Media: “Made To Love” video
John Legend is not technically from Philadelphia. But he graduated from Penn! The Grammy winner’s latest album, his fifth, features guest appearances by rapper Rick Ross and singer Seal, and it was executive produced by Kanye West. Not bad for a Penn grad, right?
RIYL: Jill Scott, Seal, Anthony Hamilton
10. Meek Mill – Dreamchasers 3 Mixtape (DatPiff DL)
Media: “Levels” video
After dropping his well-received and highly anticipated studio debut, Dreams & Nightmares, last year, Philly’s hottest rapper was fairly quiet in 2013. Even when he released his free Dreamchasers 3 mixtape, he did so on a Sunday evening, in late September, which is not an optimal time to do anything music related. Poor timing aside, it was a relentlessly hard batch of songs that will keep Meek’s huge Philly fanbase satiated until his next official album.
RIYL: Beanie Sigel, 2 Chainz, Waka Flocka Flame
11. Charles Cohen – The Middle Distance / Group Motion / Music For Dance And Theater (Morphine)
Media: “Club Revival Performance”
Electronic musician Charles Cohen, 67, has been a fixture of the city’s experimental scene for decades. But if you have not seen him play his rare Buchla Music Easel live in person, then you probably have not heard his music because very, very few recordings of it exist. That changed this year when the Morphine label released this superb three-LP collection of Cohen’s old work. This is weird, weird stuff but you will love it. Well, if you don’t, your cat will.
RIYL: Sun Ra, Oneohtrix Point Never, Devo
Find him: Website
12. RJD2 – More Is Than Isn’t (Electrical Connections)
Media: “Her Majesty’s Social Request”
Even if you think you have never heard producer/musician RJD2’s music, you have heard RJD2’s music. He is the guy responsible for the theme song of a pretty popular show called Mad Men. You know it? Yeah, we thought so. This is his fifth solo album and it is his most intense one yet.
RIYL: DJ Shadow, Diplo, El-P
13. Light Heat – Light Heat (Ribbon Music)
Media: “And The Birds…”
Quentin Stoltzfus, the man behind the much-loved early-2000s Philly psych-pop band Mazarin, returned this year after a nearly decade-long silence with his new band, Light Heat, which includes members of The Walkmen. This self-titled debut is a kaleidoscopic stunner. Play it on a Friday night and then play it again on Sunday morning.
RIYL: Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, Phoenix, Mazarin
14. Dr. Dog – B-Room (ANTI-)
Like Man Man, Dr. Dog is a Philly institution. The folk-rockers have been together for over a decade now, and the hazy, warm B-Room is the band’s seventh album.
RIYL: The Head & The Heart, Fleet Foxes, My Morning Jacket
15. Mary Lattimore – The Withdrawing Room (Desire Path)
Media: “You’ll Be Fiiinnne”
Perhaps you have heard harpist Mary Lattimore play in bands with Sonic Youth‘s Thurston Moore or Kurt Vile. But this is her solo debut (she is joined on a couple tracks by Arc In Round‘s Jeff Zeigler, who plays electronics). Lovely, ruminative, New Age-y harp and electro-drone zones perfect for, well, withdrawing.
RIYL: Alice Coltrane, Brian Eno, Joanna Newsom