To fans of Trailer Park Boys, Philadelphia Collins is a morbidly obese, cheese-burger loving, motel owner.

To fans of Boston’s Exploding in Sound Records, Philadelphia Collins is now Devin McKnight (of Speedy Ortiz and Grass is Green) and Theo Hartlett (of Ovlov and Flat Swamp).

Philadelphia Collins’ debut EP, Derp Swervin’, is a collaborative effort between McKnight, Hartlett, and a cast of other EIS stalwarts. The five-track EP includes contributions from members of Dirty Dishes, Two Inch Astronaut, Grass is Green, and more – making Philadelphia Collins a veritable supergroup of local talent. McKnight seems to be the ringleader of the group, bringing his mathy, post-punk guitar skills and unorthodox songwriting to a new venture.

On the first single “Sofa Queen,” we heard Palehound’s Ellen Kempner on vocal duties. “Sofa Queen” delivers everything you’d expect from the supergroup: fuzzy guitars, pounding drums, crashing cymbals, and a lot of noise courtesy of McKnight, whose roaring solo ends the track. The melismatic chorus (melisma is when a single syllable is stretched over a bunch of notes) is pretty cool too. “Sofa Queen” is off-kilter catchy, with the same unusual groove of oh-so-many EIS tracks – music this jarring shouldn’t be catchy, but it usually is.

On “Dogsbody,” the second released Collins’ track, Sam Rosenberg of Two Inch Astronaut joins McKnight and Hartlett. The first part of the song, upbeat and in unorthodox but groovy 7/4 time, includes a buried bass line, loud guitar, and screeching vocals. The second part sounds pretty much like Two Inch Astronaut with layered vocals and piercing chords that grow louder and louder to a satisfying conclusion. As the guitar decays, you can hear the subtle stomp on a stompbox, a small sign of an intimate home recording.

After these two memorable tracks, the rest of the EP drops in quality. “Ted Rock” features a strong guitar riff and melodic turns unsurprisingly reminiscent of non-defunct Ovlov. “Sapphire” has a big sound even for the guitar-rock of EIS. Echoing bass chords and tinny guitar picking accompany Jenny Tuite’s (Dirty Dishes) processed vocals. Besides a spacey, spasmodic guitar solo, the track doesn’t really go anywhere.

In the closer, “Bells and Dimes,” the drummer audibly counts in with his sticks and the murmur of the fully engaged distorted guitar lingers in the background. This lo-fi aesthetic can work, like on Sufjan Stevens’ “No Shade in the Shadow of the Cross,” in which he is accompanied by the whir of his air conditioner. It can create a sense of intimacy, closeness, or banality. But here, the nonchalance gives the track a demo-like quality.

Still, Derp Swervin’ is a good effort and a worthwhile side project from McKnight and Hartlett. It isn’t Phil Collins, but if you like complex guitar-rock and tasteful noise more than bland soft-rock and vacuous pop, that is probably a good thing.

Album Review: Philadelphia Collins – Derp Swervin'
  • Star-studded lineup
  • A couple of standout tracks
  • Not Phil Collins
  • A couple of duds
  • Lo-fi
7.2Not Phil Collins

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