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Ahead Of Their Time: The 40-year journey of inspiring Detroit rockers Death

Death | photo by Samdarko Eltosam | via facebook.com/deathworldwide

As an Afropunk, interviewing an all-Black punk band called Death might be the most existential thing I could possibly do on a Tuesday afternoon in 2019, but five minutes into the discussion, this writer also realized another thing was true: it was one of the most revealing.

Death’s start began in 1971, when three Detroit brothers — guitarist David, bassist Bobby, and drummer Dannis Hackney — turned on their instruments in a room in their parents’ modest home and got to channeling the raucous sounds of The MC5, the grandiose rock of local upstart Bob Seger, and The Who, much to the chagrin of their slightly more buttoned up neighbors. Despite their reverence to the most obvious, looming musical influence of the city at the time, Motown, and in a move especially treacherous for Black musicians, the brothers instead decided to play music that wasn’t going to get them booked at any R&B studio sessions: rock n roll. Continue reading →

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With new music on the horizon, CRUISR shares single “Get Out”

CRUISR | photo by Natalie Piserchio | courtesy of the artist

CRUISR is up to something. The Philly indie-pop trio has been hinting at new music for a while now, and they just shared their second single of 2019. The upbeat new tune “Get Out” is out now wherever you listen to your music, and it’s certainly worth a listen — or two or three. Chances are you’ll soon have the bright, poppy tune on repeat; and like most CRUISR tracks its smooth, catchy melody makes it a great one to dance to, too. Continue reading →

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Free at Noon Flashback: Ryan Bingham is a standout in his genre

Ryan Bingham | photo by Gabriela Barbieri for WXPN

Ryan Bingham sings the blues — on his own terms. Raised in New Mexico and Texas, Western influences run in the songwriter’s blood, and he’s channeled them into everything from his role on the TV show Yellowstone and his Grammy and Oscar wins for the Crazy Heart soundtrack, to his curated music festival outside of Austin and his six albums of grooving Americana tunes.

Bingham played sold-out Free at Noon set today, following the release of his latest record American Love Song earlier this year. His unique sound makes him a standout in his genre — with timeless, traditional elements like gospel backup singers and fiddle solos, Bingham’s brand of country is more authentic than anything you’re likely to hear on country radio. Backed by a rock band and making full use of the venue’s disco ball, he knows how to turn a show into a party, too. Continue reading →

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J.S. Ondara shares video for “Television Girl”

J.S. Ondara | photo by Josh Cheuse | courtesy of the artist

After he released his debut album Tales of America earlier this year, there’s been a lot of buzz surrounding J.S. Ondara, XPN’s February Artist to Watch. Sold-out audiences are now to be expected for the folk singer-songwriter, but Ondara shuts out any outside noise in his intimate new video for “Television Girl.” Shot in black-and-white, the minimalistic video captures Ondara with just an acoustic guitar, his captivating voice echoing throughout the room. It’s easy to see why Ondara, who immigrated to Minneapolis from Kenya just a few years ago, cites Bob Dylan and the American folk tradition as influences — and why everyone is calling him an artist you need to know. Continue reading →

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American Trappist walks the line, drunkenly, in the “Holy Moses” video

American Trappist | still from video

Joe Michelini of American Trappist is a generally positive person, but that doesn’t mean he hasn’t dealt with his share of darkness. His last album, Tentanda Via, was born out of a struggle with existential dread, rejection of the religion he’d been raised in, but also a fear of a world sans faith.  His latest song, the distressed rocker “Holy Moses,” came from a different kind of low where Michelini needed to work out the idea of forgiveness. Continue reading →

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The Key Studio Sessions: Empath

We weren’t even ten minutes into setting up for Empath‘s Key Studio Session this week and conversation had already shifted from record pressings and tour schedules to laser light shows and the prospect of finding one that works at a basement gig scale.

Which, for four people dubbed “2018’s trippiest punk band” by Rolling Stone, it’s not entirely surprising. On the one hand, the booming low end blasts from Randall Coon’s Moog bass synthesizer throw us back to the cutting indie-dance of The Faint, or earlier to the sheen 90s noise-popsters Stereolab, earlier still to 70s experimentalists Suicide, while singer-guitarist Catherine Elicson spends the outro of “Soft Shape” coaxing caustic squeals out of her instrument, feverishly picking way up the fretboard in a frenzy reminiscent of Sonic Youth and Versus. Empath is punk at heart, and when it wants to hit, it hits hard and unrelenting, choosing the path of vivid and visceral expression over a more approachable conventionality.

But listen to their performance of “Hanging Out of Cars,” another song from their new Active Listening: Night on Earth, and a spark of serenity enters the picture. The introductory minute and a half of warbling guitar, racing rhythms and lyrics about travel, freedom, and desire give way to an ambient expanse. For the next four minutes, we’re adrift in upper-register keyboard pulsations from Emily Shanahan, soft and subtle free-time beats by drummer Garrett Koloski, bubbling loops from Koon, waves of sound from Elicson, with an underbelly of windchimes, bird sounds, and a voice murmuring indistinctly. It’s peaceful without being overly pretty, a potent improvisation in the spirit of Pink Floyd at Pompeii, and an immersive experience for performers as much as the spectators. Watching from the mixing console, the phrase Active Listening clicked in a big way. I also realized that, yeah, they weren’t at all joking about those laser lights. Continue reading →

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Cayetana will play its final shows this August in Boston, New York, and Philly

Cayetana | photo by Jeremy Zimmerman | jeremy-zim.com

Things have been extremely quiet in the world of Philadelphia power trio Cayetana since they wrapped a European tour with The Menzingers over a year ago. Singer-guitarist Augusta Koch founded Gladie, bassist Allegra Anka went back to school, drummer Kelly Olsen co-launched Zimmerman’s Deli with Dan Zimmerman of Restorations. And today, the band re-emerged to share with fans that it would be officially closing the book on this part of their lives. Continue reading →

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Two To Tango: &More’s Donn T and Chill Moody

&More | photo by Dejanaya Spicer | courtesy of the artist

Two members of Philly hip hop royalty such as songstress Donn T and rapper Chill Moody would usually be found headlining their own shows and making their own records. Yet, for 2018 and 2019 — and beyond, in accordance with their wishes in this interview — the regal twosome will be known as  &More. The pair’s poignant, passionate debut is Ethel Bobcat, and that release’s celebration / live reveal is April 26 at Johnny Brenda’s. Continue reading →

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Birdie Busch and Rachel Alina tackle time, place, friendship and growth in multimedia project Locals // If You Swim Far Enough

Birdie Busch and Rachel Alina | photos courtesy of the artists

Local songwriter Birdie Busch has teamed up with sound engineer and poet Rachel Alina and illustrator Ashley Smestad Vélez for a collaborative project. Locals // If You Swim Far Enough sees each artist drawing on their respective creative forms to build a work that tackles time, place, friendship and growth.

Alina’s chapbook of poetry, Locals, is accompanied by over 80 of Vélez’s illustrations, and complements Busch’s acoustic album If You Swim Far Enough, which she recorded with Alina several years ago at Scullville Studios in New Jersey, featuring acoustic versions of several previously released songs from her catalog Continue reading →