Forgotten Bottom – Hostile Architecture (digital: self-released, 25 July 2019 / cassette: Black Horizons, coming soon)
Around here, we’ve had a bit of a history picking on the city of Philadelphia, and its residents, and especially its sports fans. But we’ve also spent plenty of time listening to and enjoying — and writing about — the variety of musical output from “The City that Bombed Itself.” And here is yet another example of that, in the form of a uniquely-orchestrated instrumental two-piece.
Forgotten Bottom, which has just recently come to my attention, includes one person we’ve mentioned multiple times on this website: swiftly becoming perhaps the most significant experimental-music violist since John Cale‘s stint with The Velvet Underground, the prolific Myles Donovan has also appeared with Disemballerina and A Stick and a Stone.
The line-up is then rounded out by Eric Bandel who plays a bit of guitar here, but mostly bouzouki. If I hadn’t already been excited to hear this project, that’s the part that fully sold me. A life-long fan of uncommon musical instruments of all ethnicities, I’ve especially enjoyed the bouzouki ever since Monty Python taught me what it was called.
(As a kid, I had this double-cassette set, which I listened to a zillion times — and “The Cheese Shop” was always one of my favorite sketches included here. While this was also performed on the Flying Circus tv show, the audio-only version included on Final Rip-Off clearly mentioned the instrument by name: check it out here, specifically from 0:40-0:50 and from 3:33-3:43.)
Anyway. The name Forgotten Bottom comes from a section of the Grays Ferry neighborhood in South Philly, tucked into a bend in the Schuylkill River — not historically one of the more affluent parts of town, but nowadays seeing major renovations and developments being planned. AKA gentrification.
This also inspired the title of the recording: Hostile Architecture is a reference to aspects of urban design that are included specifically for their inhospitality. Like those little spiky things that go on window ledges to discourage birds from roosting, or the much larger spiky things at ground level to chase away human beings from doing the same. Because naturally, to the wealthy building owners, those people are just as undesirable and distasteful as pigeons.
So there’s a bit of insight into the overall mood of the material here. These six tracks (around twenty-four minutes total) are less like songs and more of individual vignettes or scenes, each titled with a quote from nearby residents: “Shoot Me or Give Me a Place to Live” and “The Dog Has Been Poisoned So It Will Not Bark,” just to name a couple.
While the sound of a bouzouki usually tends to inject an exotic Mediterranean flair into music, these pieces are unlikely to be gracing the overhead speakers at your local corner café. They are filled with minor-key despondency; despite the occasional bouncy, plucky viola part or rapidly-strummed flourish, the tone here from top to bottom perfectly encapsulates the dismal and dingy atmosphere of a destitute inner-city down on its luck. And the recording style, which incorporates little bits of shaky percussion here and there, as well as blanketing everything in subway-tunnel reverb (with snippets of genuine city ambience tossed in for good measure) serves to heighten that effect dramatically.
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