Year-End Mania is the Key’s annual survey of the things below the surface that made 2015 incredible. Today, Key editor John Vettese shares the top Key Studio Sessions of the year.
It was a banner year of Key Studio Sessions in 2015. Not only did my production team and I (shoutouts Dan Malloy, Drea Rose and Rachel Del Sordo) record 54 Philadelphia-region bands over the past 52 weeks, totally housing our standard band-a-week benchmark, we captured in my estimation some of the best performances in our short history. We also documented a range of styles from the local scene, folk to jazz, hip-hop to punk, hard rock and beyond. By the numbers, here are the ten most popular sessions of the year.
10. Lou – Singer-songwriter Tess Emma, in collaboration with her friends in Modern Colour, reinvented herself at the top of the year as the leader of a propulsive indie rock band. She named the crew Lou, and stepped in the studio this summer for a slick performance that featured a Pine Barons cover and five originals with captivating vocals and tight instrumental interplay. Watch “Grains” below and download the session here.
9. Mike “Slo-Mo” Brenner – A versatile guitarist and longtime player in the Philadelphia music scene, Slo-Mo brought his acclaimed Tripti project – a cycle of songs written and performed on sitar – to the studio in April. Listen to “EZ Come” below and download the session here.
8. Church Girls – Twin siblings Mariel and Max Beaumont began releasing great songs last year under the name Church Girls, and this year developed the project into a full-fledged live band that spans the worlds of indie rock and folk. Listen to “Dead” below and download the session here.
7. The Burgeoning – This modern rock four-piece caught our ear in 2014 with the Love Alchemy, Life Algorithm and a catchy, big sound in the vein of Real Estate and Bastille. This year they gigged hard, played Communion Philly at MilkBoy and started to record a new full length, testing out some jams in their late May Key Session. Listen to “Beautiful Rampage” below and download the entire session here.
6. Family Volleyball – Speaking of Real Estate, there’s an undeniable echo of their jangley indie-pop in Cheltenham four-piece Family Volleyball, who impressed a lot of people during their set at the Beta Hi-Fi competition this year. The young (still in high school) four-piece has a remarkably confident sound and very obvious chemistry; listen to “Key West” from their early December performance below and download the entire session here.
5. Alex G – Lo-fi bedroom rocker turned international indie music sensation Alex G. came into his own this year, releasing Beach Music on Domino Records and touring relentlessly. His hometown trajectory has been pretty crazy, going from basement shows to PhilaMOCA to First Unitarian Church in the span of 12 months (the latter two being sell outs). In April, he headlines Union Transfer. You go, dude. Watch a video for “Soaker” and “Rules” below and download the entire session here.
4. Petal – Scranton-to-Philly outfit Petal is a band that not enough people were talking about in 2015. Led by singer, songwriter and guitarist Kiley Lotz, the band’s Will Yip-produced Shame was criminally overlooked in the flurry of best-of-2015 lists (admittedly, unfortunately, including our own). It’s a remarkable collection of songs that can rock out, fists flying, or go inward in a woven tapestry of meditative guitars. Or captivate you with nothing but Lotz’s voice and a single drum. Their Key Session was equally engaging; watch the video for “Sooner” below and download the entire session here.
3. Dylan Jane – This dynamic singer-songwriter also made the move from NEPA to Philly this year, and integrated herself into the scene with the quickness, recording her session (our first of the year) with scene heavy-hitters Brad Hinton, Phil D’Agostino and Matt Miur. Her sound is a great mix of Bright Eyes, Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan, we were psyched to have her on our inaugural Key Fest in April and see her at Philadelphia Folk Fest in August, and we’re looking forward to what she has in store for 2016. Listen to “Land and Sea” below and download the entire session here.
2. The Innocence Mission – This session came out only yesterday and it’s already the second-most popular of 2015. That should give you an idea of how good it is. Minimal, beautiful, moving songs performed by Karen and Don Peris and their longtime bandmate Mike Bitts. And on the subject of albums that not enough people are talking about this year, you need to get yourself a copy of The Innocence Mission’s Hello, I Feel The Same it’s just wonderful. Listen to “Down on the Boulevard” below and download the entire session here.
1. Bardo Pond – This was an undeniable high point of my year, of our Key Studio Sessions series, of life in general – having one of Philly’s loudest, longest-running bands (and a personal favorite of mine) record an epic set of songs in our performance space. Bardo Pond wrangled their instruments and amplifiers to crush performances of music from Peace on Venus and their 2010 self-titled record as the production team (along with photographer Katie Tapman) watched in awe from the control room. The Gibbons brothers’ guitar interplay was visceral, Isobel Sollenberger’s flute playing and singing was hypnotic, and best part: two new, unreleased songs that were debuted in the session, and they’re just stellar. Listen to “Kali Yuga Blues” below, and download the entire performance here.
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