Rock music in Philadelphia ranges from heavy metal to psychedelic rock, with many stops in-between. These nine bands have cut through the clutter with an alternative take on what it means to rock. Far from a definitive best-of, this list is really a sampler – training wheels to aid you in finding your own niche within Philly’s original rock scene. – Peter Marinari
Blood Feathers are alternative because they’re actually pretty straightforward — a slightly indie take on hyper-catchy, sensibly structured blues-ish rock with smarmy Tom Petty-esque vocals. You don’t hear new rock this solid very often on the airwaves these days, but Blood Feathers has it in spades.
West Philadelphia’s Dr. Dog is Philly indie-rock royalty, and here’s why: they make lo-fi folk rock highly thrilling with focused riffs and multi-part harmonies. They’re like a locally-grown Grizzly Bear or Blitzen Trapper, but their songs bare more teeth and hooks than either near neighbor.
East Hundred layers riffs and humming organs beneath atypical vocals of frontwoman Beril Guceri — assertive without ever getting belty. Their recordings emphasize keyboard vibes and hooky vocals in a similar vein to Metric, but live, the band is a different beast — one that’s increasingly comfortable delivering unapologetic rock.
Fooling April is a piano-driven rock band that remembers when guys could have emotions and not be dubbed emo. You’ll instantly hear the Ben Folds and Billy Joel influences on their self-aware piano pop, but it never feels imitative. Keep an eye on their live schedule for occasional treats like a fully-orchestrated, note-for-note take on Abbey Road.
Post Post mashes up shoe-gaze with off-kilter indie pop, topping it off with vocals that might remind you of a less fierce Karen O. Recordings emphasize the swirl of their guitars, but live the four-piece puts on a transfixing, high-energy show that’s not going to stay confined to the Philly city limits for very long.
Reading Rainbow treads the lo-fi outer rim of alternative, and if you don’t like far-away vocals, this won’t be your favorite. On the other hand, if you enjoy warped-sounding garage rock that knows where its hooks are (think Guided By Voices or Deerhunter), then Reading Rainbow is for you.
The Sleepwells merge Lilith Fair folk rock with layers of atmosphere. Singer and songwriter Katie Barbato’s reverb-drenched, clarion vocals act like a siren’s call, drawing you close to the more sinister side of the band’s songs and then lifting you clear with a soaring chorus.
Stonethrown is like Muse minus the melodrama — taking a similar active approach to rock with hard guitars and high-flying vocals, but without the campy Queen influence. Don’t trust their recordings to tell the whole story – this is a band worth seeing live.
TJ Kong & The Atomic Bomb
Picture the White Stripes, but replace Jack White with a surly, drunken TA from your English Lit class who has got a little bit of a Johnny Cash obsession. This duo has too many words in their bodies and whimsy to spare, which sounds like code words for “acquired taste,” but they’re as entertainingly unhinged on record as they are live.
The MLMs are a vibrantly melodic four-piece rock band from Philadelphia fronted by 2010 Grammy nominee Ben O’Neill and Chris Gibbons. After studying jazz and working with some of the best talents in the worlds of R&B, Hip-Hop, and Gospel (Common, Christina Aguilera, Musiq Soulchild, Erykah Badu,etc…), Ben decided to return to the music of his childhood and form a rock band with his old friend Chris.