Review Summary: Wrap your loving arms around it.
Although Joseph Shabason, Nicholas Krgovich, and Chris Harris recorded Philadelphia
in the autumn of 2019, its themes of solitude and homey comfort feel especially poignant in the year of social distancing and quarantine. The album is an exploration of the “Great Indoors”, as they put it, and how the spaces we inhabit and the people and things we allow inside tie into who we are on a fundamental level. Their relaxed ambient pop has the joyous feeling of three friends in a room, an aspect that achieves unintended poignancy now that such a simple thing has become a tenuous one for many. Fittingly, Philadelphia
is a hushed and unhurried listen, maintaining a consistently meditative tone over its 44-minute runtime. Muted percussion loops, sequenced synths, and nature/room tones permeate the tracks, allowing ample space for each uniquely talented member to make their mark throughout—you’ll find Shabason’s signature layered saxophone, Harris’ spectral guitar work, and Krgovich giving heartrending details through his sandy crooning. At their best, the trio (aided with a handful of guest musicians) can achieve quietly stunning results with their relatively limited sonic palette.
Krgovich gives a particularly moving performance throughout the album. The minimal music is hugely flattered by his nimble (and subtly catchy) vocal lines, while his tender baritone imbues his stirring lyrics about mundane, everyday things with a yearning melancholy—watching the dust dance in the sunlight while making the bed, or flower petals gathering in a curb. Much of Philadelphia
sees Krgovich rediscovering hidden beauties within familiar spaces, be it his home, his parents’ garden, even "the track by the high school”. His imagery invokes distant emotions that are hard to place, while his gently wounded vocals are seemingly able to create whole histories for things and people who are merely mentioned. Moments of genuine connection on Philadelphia
are rare, and indeed mostly happen with animals: he lets in the upstairs neighbour’s cat, and later on the simple wagging of his dog’s tail makes everything okay. But in other spots, he passes by a perfumed woman and takes in her presence while avoiding her gaze, ends up alone among some flowers and cacti, and passes by an empty barbershop—and while the title track is a cover of Neil Young’s theme song for the 1993 film, its desperate themes of acceptance and loneliness blend in seamlessly, with Krgovich begging the City of Brotherly Love not to turn his back on him. Disconnection and loneliness pervade the lyrics of this album, and though Krgovich is often opaque with his emotions, his words are hugely moving in spite of their simplicity.
Whereas the lyrics are rife with feelings of isolation, the trio falls into an easy musical chemistry, and the best moments of the record feel invigorated with the spirit of true collaboration. Pianos, pedal steel guitars, and trumpets float weightlessly over beds of rolling synth pads; the songs on Philadelphia
manage to convey a sense of rediscovery, using familiar elements for newly exciting ventures, especially when paired with Krgovich’s stirring vocal melodies. It’s a languid listen to be certain, and many listeners might be turned off by the almost aggressively restrained quality. The album starts to drag with “Waltz” and “Tuesday Afternoon”, two meanderings songs paired in the middle that never hook onto anything particularly noteworthy. But at its best—the stunning “Friday Afternoon”, the lithe “I Can’t See the Moon”, the haunting title track—Philadelphia
can be very beautiful and memorable.
The joyous collaborative spirit is palpable, yet it only makes the isolation that Krgovich wrangles with in his lyrics more potent: “I don’t hear that basketball bounce in the park/I don’t notice that it is gettin’ dark” he remarks “I Don’t See the Moon”, his layered voices in the chorus howling like wolves in the night. Moments like this are particularly ear catching, but not for reasons that Krgovich could’ve predicted. At the time of writing, COVID-19 cases are spiking where I live; if things don’t get better, it’s not unreasonable to expect a second lockdown. I’m sure many will be able to relate to how unexpectedly emotional it felt to do certain things again after restrictions were gradually lessened, like going to the park, or being able to be in a room with another person. Things that I started to look back on and say that I might have taken for granted—the everyday, the commonplace. During the heart-wrenching final minutes of “Friday Afternoon”, Krgovich repeats a potential mantra for those that have done the same, and simultaneously offers a succinct, and deceptively profound, summary of Philadelphia’s
ethos: “wrap your loving arms around it.”