Another year in music is drawing to a close, and by this point, you’re probably tired of scrolling through the same-old same-old recaps of the best music of 2013. Here at The Key, we find those things tiresome and kind of predictable – which is why last year we introduced Year-End Mania, our roundup of the year’s Top Five Whatevers from our contributing staff, XPN’s on-air hosts, and some of our friends in the Philly music community.
Today begins The Key’s Year-End Mania 2013, and I’ll kick it off the same way I did a year ago – by recounting some of the most exciting new artists to emerge from the Philly scene since January. I would say it was a banner year in local music – and I could certainly provide evidence to back that claim up, such as new record deals for Cold Fonts, The Districts and Strand of Oaks; solid albums from Philly regulars like Dr. Dog, Man Man and Birdie Busch; and any number of incredible concerts and festivals – but you already know about that stuff. Let’s go beneath the surface a bit.
1. Pine Barons – This four-piece caught my eye in May when they popped up on the lineup for Caravan Festival 2013. With its play on the storied, Jersey Devil-filled pine barrens of the central Garden State, it was undeniably a typical instance of “Woah, great band name!” Less common is a clever name actually directing me to a worthwhile band, so when these guys were not just listenable, but actually incredibly good, I was floored. Their self-released EP is lo-fi and snappy like Dr. Dog’s Easy Beat, and stylistically they recall the indie-Americana of Built to Spill, with emo peaks like Sunny Day Real Estate and warbly space jams akin to early Kurt Vile. Very stylish, very sophisticated, and the super friendliest dudes to boot. They went on a U.S. tour with The Districts this summer, and play The North Star Bar on New Year’s Eve with Clap Your Hands Say Yeah. Listen to the infectious “Since I’ve Been Away” below.
2. Cayetana – The women of this local power trio got a nice wave of attention back in February when they got picked up by local-ish label Tiny Engines Records, a signing that came with a ringing endorsement by Tom May from punk scene uber-stars The Menzingers. But really, even if their Menzo-bros didn’t give them that little push, it would have only been a matter of time before Cayetana found the spotlight. Their songs are just too good – “South Philly” mixes Allegra Anka’s New Order style bassline with 90s rock fuzz and Kelly Olsen’s powerhouse drumming to paint an honest picture of being young and broke in the city. Elsewhere, frontwoman Augusta Koch turns reflective, singing about her aging grandmother in “Miss Thing” and emotional abandonment in “Mountain Kids.” Their Key Studio Session was a knockout, they landed some sweet gigs opening for Waxahatchee at Golden Tea House and The Thermals at Union Transfer, and the record they’re putting out next year (based on its initial single anyway) is shaping up to be awesome. Download “Hot Dad Calendar” below.
3. Mic Stewart – This MC has been kicking around the Philly scene for a couple years now, winning a Red Bull-sponsored freestyle competition in 2012 and opening the show when Chill Moody played The TLA last December. This year, he came into his own with Peaceworld, an incisive and very philosophical LP (boasting a sweet NoseGo-designed album cover) that might have gotten swept into that whole hippy-dippy “backpacker” subgenre were Stewart not such a wicked good rapper. Rock to his anthemic banger “I’m Not From Brooklyn” below, sample the whole set at Soundcloud and see Mic Stew with DJ Phsh at Kung Fu Necktie on Saturday.
4. Commonwealth Choir – This one almost seemed like too an obvious choice – of course I’m going to pick Commonwealth Choir! They’ve been around forever and they’re always doing something, right? But wait a minute. It’s easy to forget, as I did, that this Doylestown five-piece has only been playing together for a year. With a slick and uptempo indie rock sound reminiscent of The Strokes crossed with early Squeeze, they took the Philly scene by storm with boisterous live performances and a sirplus of charisma and chemistry. You’ll like hearing songs like “Rest” (below) in your headphones; you’ll love seeing them hammered out onstage in front of you by these gentlemen. Catch them on New Year’s Eve at MilkBoy with The Lawsuits.
5. Dan Kassel – Every once in a while, an artist contacts me out of the blue with a super humble “hey, I have an album if you want to check it out” email and their music blows me the heck away. That’s the case with Mr. Daniel Kassel, a classically trained cellist who’s done traditional ensemble work and session playing before deciding to strike out on his own and explore the possibilities of his instrument. With a tasteful addition of loops and delay, his covers of pop songs like “Pumped Up Kicks” are easy attention-grabbers. But his instrumental originals are breathtaking stunners that span the worlds of movie soundtracks, meditative pieces and post-rock experimentation. Listen to “Space Race” below and see Kassel live at Melodies Cafe in Ardmore on January 25th.
(Incomplete) Honorable Mentions: Doylestown psych-Americana soundscapers (and Commonwealth Choir brethren) Heat Thunder, hard rocking hook-masters Amanda X, jazzy harp-led popsters Liz and the Lost Boys, producer-turned-MC Reek.