Ted Leo And The Pharmacists / Amanda X at Union Transfer
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Ted Leo and the Pharmacists
Ted Leo is one of the finest songwriters of our generation, even if it’s not entirely clear what generation that is. Starting in New York Hardcore with Citizen’s Arrest, making the ‘90s safe for power-pop and Weller-esque hair with Chisel, then singing our turbulent lives like we were smarter than we were with The Pharmacists, and most recently providing equal parts sweetness and solace with Aimee Mann as The Both, Ted never let us down. And now, seven years after The Brutalist Bricks, he has a new solo album. And it’s wonderful.
The songs on The Hanged Man, recorded at a home-studio-in-transition in Wakefield, RI, with Ted playing almost all the instruments, are some of the finest and most finely wrought of Ted Leo’s career. Ted describes the time working on the album as one of “personal desolation that felt fallow but was actually very fertile” and, indeed, lyrically, The Hanged Man is suffused with hope of sorts but crushingly heavy. The concerns addressed, whether personal trauma or the national disaster we’re all currently existing in, matched with the range and vitality of the songcraft is inspiring, even uplifting.
The Hanged Man offers the sharp bursts of skinny tie pop-punk fury one would expect from Ted—and even these feel streamlined like never before—but they are offset with an adventurousness in both tone and structure. The intention was to upend expectations but, on songs like the bookends of “Moon Out of Phase” and “Let’s Stay On The Moon,” the intention never gets in the way of the result. There’s no strain of effort in songs that are unlike anything Ted has done previously. The Hanged Man is a career high, born through industry soul sickness, nausea-inducing crisis, and a talent that feels like secular grace.
Born out of the Kensington neighborhood of North Philadelphia, where you can't throw a rock without hitting a great band, Amanda X is the three-piece antidote to bumming on grey days and the Sunday night blues. The Philadelphian women—Cat Park on guitar, Melissa Brain on drums, and Kat Bean on bass—make music to remind you that colorful riffs and lilting oo's are meant to complement post-punk shredding and astute songwriting. Their debut full-length, Amnesia, rattled you out of your wintertime slumber like a cannonball straight into the pool, and their sophomore record, Giant, brings more expressive solos, sharper vocals, and a few shots straight through the heart by way of a grimey Fender guitar and production by Steve Poponi at Gradwell House Recording.
Amanda X self-released their bedroom-cozy EP, Ruin the Moment, in 2012 to great acclaim, taking the sunny-serious vibes with them to venues all over Philadelphia, as well as on a number of tours up and down the East Coast and Canada. They’ve since toured all over the country, opening for bands like Parquet Courts, Marnie Stern, Dum Dum Girls, FIDLAR, The Vaselines, The Thermals, and Protmartyr, bringing playful stage banter, garagey guitar earworms, and dual harmonies that hit just as hard live.
After catching wind of their dedicated show schedule and powerful new songs, Philadelphia's own Siltbreeze picked up their first album; their followup will release digitally with Charlotte-based Self-Aware Records. The release of the sophomore record sees the trio growing their songwriting for a wider audience—just as strong, just as fast, but with a cleaner edge, one laced with an ever-present mix of sadness and hope. The lovely melodies and honey-tinged singalongs they've built their sound on are just as available, but now with wider eyes and more cutting lyrics. All of the proceeds from their sophomore followup will be donated to Women Against Abuse, a local Philly organization.
Imagine if Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks took a few lessons from The Raincoats, or if the K Records lineup of yesteryear had a little more distortion in their repertoire. Amanda X manages to deliver smarts and sweets in poppy songs so tightly packed that they come with a punch so strong they are really, really hard to forget.
1026 Spring Garden St.
Philadelphia, PA, 19123