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Summertime Sips and Summertime Sounds: ILL Doots

ILL Doots | Photo by Charlie Arnold | courtesy of the artist

This summer, for ILL Doots, has been all about preparation—like a volcano building magma before it explodes. “On the surface, it may seem like we’ve been kind of quiet,” explains Anthony Martinez-Briggs (stage name: Phantom) over drinks at Boot & Saddle. “But there’s so much going on behind the scenes.”

By “kind of quiet” of course he means “kind of quiet for ILL Doots,” who have spent the past 6 years playing, dropping tracks, and hosting workshops in Philly and beyond—with nary a sign of slowing down. Their “quiet” period included a handful of live performances, curating shows at their South Philly home, affectionately known as “Tasker House,” and writing and performing the soundtrack to the Wilma Theater’s production of An Octoroonin addition to recording and preparing for tour. Octoroon’s soundtrack drops later this week, and this Saturday they’ll kick off a 3-week, U.S. tour with a show at Boot & Saddle; while on the road, they’ll also host a series of free workshops teaching music to kids.

If it sounds ambitious, that’s because it is. But the dudes of ILL Doots—”ILL” being an acronym for “I Love Learning”—have never been ones to shy away from a challenge. Since coming together in the U Arts dormitories back in 2009, the Philadelphia eight-piece has consistently challenged expectations of what it means to be a hip-hop band today, marrying cool raps and fresh production with a focus on collaboration, community betterment, and positivity. Originally conceived as a jam sesh between roommates Jordan “Rodney” McCree (drums) and Scott “Sly Tompson” Ziegler (bass), the band added emcees Martinez-Briggs and Kirschen “Tex” Wolford soon after, then slowly grew to the monolith it is today.

These days, ILL Doots is a growing force on the local scene, whose stock continues to rise. Before heading out on tour, I caught up with 4/8th of the band—McCree, Ziegler, Martinez-Briggs, and guitarist Sam “BPAD” Borrello—to talk weekends in the Wissahickon, classic summer jamz, and what they’re most psyched about this fall. Continue reading →

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Summertime Sips and Summertime Sounds: Mercury Girls

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It’s been a brutal summer this year, the type of brutal that makes me wanna curl up on the couch in the air conditioning with my cat and watch re-runs while sipping a (whiskey) lemonade. (Some call it the dog days of summer, I call it the cat days). One thing that’s been helping me survive? Making playlists of my favorite songs, just like I did back in high school, when summers were alll about cruising through in town my ‘93 Taurus, windows down and cool jams on the tape deck. (Some of my friends had CD players, but I kept it old skool).

Philly five piece Mercury Girls are essential mix-tape material. The band burst onto the scene just 2 years ago, but has already morphed into one of the city’s brightest up-and-comers, thanks to a sparkling mix of warm vocals, playful guitars, and plenty of fuzz—earning props from everyone from Brooklyn Vegan to The Pains of Being Pure at Heart’s Kip Berman, and sharing stages with Fear of Men, Beverly, and Allo Darlin’ (during Pop Fest ‘16). Earlier this year, their 7” “Ariana”/”All That Heaven Allows” dropped on Slumberland Records; later this fall, they will hit the road with Balance and Composure for a North American tour. Continue reading →

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Summertime Sips and Summertime Sounds: Queen of Jeans

Queen of Jeans | courtesy of the artist | photo by Bob Sweeney
Queen of Jeans | courtesy of the artist | photo by Bob Sweeney

South Philly in the summer doesn’t get enough credit. Sure, we don’t have the natural shade, or farmers markets, or outdoor screenings of other neighborhoods—but we have something else. There’s a certain summer vibe that seems to seep into the air when you cross Washington Ave; a sense of solidarity that’s palpable, as you sit on your stoop, air-conditioning units humming above. A few houses down, someone’s selling clothes and cookwear on the sidewalk; a block away the ice cream truck—not Mister Softee, but the South Philly ice cream truck that plays “Fur Elise”—is meandering toward you, offering temporary relief from the pounding sun.

I’ve lived in South Philly for 3 years now; Philly rock band Queen of Jeans live here as well (in fact singer/guitarists Miriam Devora and Matheson Glass are practically my neighbors). Their name, Queen of Jeans, is both a re-appropriation of, and commentary on, the iconic (if misogynist) “King of Jeans” sign that hung on East Passyunk Ave. at 13th Street for 21 years, before being removed in 2015.  It’s a sweet name for a (mostly) girl band from South Philly, but it’s also more—as if adopting the name, the band acknowledge the sign’s legacy, while at the same time offering their own (non-misogynist) alternative. Also it’s pretty funny. Continue reading →

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Interview: Philly native Steve Gunn talks Kurt Vile, Wawa, and new record Eyes on the Lines on Matador Records

steve gunn
Steve Gunn | photo by Constance Mensh | courtesy of Matador Records

For almost as long as I’ve been listening to music, Steve Gunn has been making it. The Lansdowne native first picked up a bass at age 13, and a guitar one year later. Since then, he’s morphed into one of the great—if underrated—American guitarists, capable of evoking a world of emotions, most of them breezy and warm, with a few nimble finger picks.

Over the past two-and-a-half decades, Gunn has done (nearly) it all. He started off playing hardcore punk in the Philly burbs, before discovering folk, alt-country, and classical Indian and Moroccan tunes. He played with the late finger-picking master Jack Rose, released two records with famed drummer John Truscinski, and even logged some time in Kurt Vile’s band, The Violators—all of which undoubtedly shaped his writing today. Since 2007, he’s released more than a dozen splits and solo records and has toured across the globe, sharing stages with the likes of Wilco, Vile, members of Sonic Youth, and more.

Early last year, he signed to Matador Records, who released his latest effort, Eyes on the Lines, this June. A dreamy, wandering record that seems made for road trips and Sunday mornings, Lines is arguably his best record yet, and his ticket to greater exposure. Continue reading →

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Summertime Sips and Summertime Sounds: Church Girls

Mariel Beaumont and Rob Dywer of Church Girls perform at Ortlieb's | Photo by Charlie Wrzesniewski | Courtesy of the artist
Mariel Beaumont and Rob Dywer of Church Girls perform at Ortlieb’s | Photo by Charlie Wrzesniewski | Courtesy of the artist

Hello there, it’s me. Your good friend summer. I’m here to tell you: congratulations on making it through fall through spring. It’s been a tough row, for sure: the pumpkin-flavored everything, the bulky coats and jackets, the “April showers” that last well into May. The good news is: the worst is over. From here on out it’s nothing but music festivals and going down the shore; water ice and jean shorts and cocktails with tiny umbrellas. Isn’t that what this column is all about?

It’s true. This is year THREE of Summertime Sips and Summertime Sounds, our seasonal foray into summer drinking and summer vibes, where we kick back with our favorite bands, share a drink, and wax poetic about summers past and present. For our first 2016 edition, I meet up with rising Philly band Church Girls, whose cathartic basement rockers bring back memories of sweating it out at DIY punk shows in Jersey, on summer nights when the only thing holding you back was your imagination and your car (a ’93 Taurus for me) – your ticket out of the suburbs and into something real and raw.

Church Girls formed in 2014 in Philadelphia, around singer/songwriter Mariel Beaumont, a soft-spoken beauty who comes alive when performing. Prior to our interview, I catch Church Girls Saturday night at Boot & Saddle (appropriately, opening for first ever Sips band, Work Drugs)—and am impressed by her passion and talent. Especially striking is a cover of Modest Mouse’s “Custom Concern,” Beaumont closing her eyes as if feeling every lyric.

2016 has been a big year for Church Girls. Their debut full-length, Thousand Lives, dropped this January (listen here on Spotify); post-release they gigged regularly in Philly and NYC, earning the requisite blog buzz along the way. It also saw some changes, such as the departure of original members Jack Firneno and Max Beaumont—the latter Mariel’s twin and confidant (read about it here) —and the addition of new members James Udinsky and Will Schwartz. As for Mariel herself, 2016 has been a year of growth—she tells me she recently quit her job to focus on Church Girls full-time, and has been writing songs with longtime guitarist Robert Dwyer.

For our interview, I meet up with Mariel and Rob at South Philly’s Cantina—in between margaritas and tequila sodas, we talk summer soundtracks and summers spent skating and lounging. Read on to discover what tunes are on their summer soundtrack, their best and worst summer vacations, and why they’ll never be able to re-capture the exuberance of summers past, no matter how hard they try. Continue reading →

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How Philly psych band Grubby Little Hands found destiny in the wake of tragedy

Grubby Little Hands (photo by Claire Abribat)
Grubby Little Hands | photo by Claire Abribat | courtesy of the artist

There’s a striking image present on “Dial Tone,” the first track off Grubby Little Hands’ forthcoming record Garden Party. Amidst lush swirls of psychedelics, songwriters Donnie Felton and Brian Hall paint a picture of the perfect garden party—at a pristine spot with “elegant shadows.” There’s only one thing missing:  the people. Instead, the party is seemingly automated: “The garden party starts right after we’re gone,” goes the chorus. “The automatic lights will turn themselves on.”

Read one way, it’s a metaphor for things not always being as they seem—a theme that recurs throughout Garden Party, which is built on the marriage of pop euphoria with dark subject matter. Read another way, it’s about the interplay between apathy and unease—about feeling disconnected, and going through the motions (another theme). But when you actually talk to the band—which I did, for this story—you start to realize there’s a third meaning too. It’s about time, and growth, and learning to take charge of your destiny. Garden Party is not only Grubby Little Hands’ best record yet—it’s them controlling their destiny. Continue reading →

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Ten things we saw + heard at Pilam’s Human BBQ XXXVIII

Street SIty Surf at Human BBQ XXXVIII
Street SIty Surf at Human BBQ XXXVIII | Photo by Kate Bracaglia for WXPN

Ah, Human BBQ, the sweet celebration of music and roasting flesh (or at least hot dogs) took over Pilam again this year, with 17 bands playing the UPenn frat house between noon and midnight. We went, we headbanged, we ate hot dogs, and we soaked in a lot of cool bands. Here are ten things we saw + heard at Human BBQ XXXVIII. Continue reading →

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Chairlift’s Caroline Polachek talks music, danger, and what the band once did at the First Unitarian Church altar

Chairlift
Chairlift | photo courtesy of the artist

Caroline Polachek, vocalist, songwriter, and one-half Brooklyn pop duo Chairlift, has for many years now earned a reputation as one of indie’s most mesmerizing front women, thanks to her smart lyrics, strong pipes, and ability to completely immerse herself in a performance. Together with band-mate Patrick Wimberly, Chairlift has helped refine and defy expectations about pop music for over a decade, moving from a trendy band in an Apple commercial to an innovative musical force, whose repertoire includes everything from re-appropriated action-flick music to choose-your-own-adventure-style music videos—and has continued to grow and evolve with time.

Case-in-point: the band’s third full-length Moth, which dropped earlier this year and might be their best record yet. A glistening, sun-soaked journey through lows and super highs, Moth navigates vulnerabilities and triumphs while always remaining firmly planted in the groove. This month, the band will bring Moth to Philadelphia, playing Underground Arts on April 12. In advance of the show, we rung up Caroline to talk writing, tour, and what Chairlift once did at the First Unitarian Church altar. Continue reading →

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Band on the rise: Behind Mock Suns’ playful pop

Mock Suns (photo by the author)
Mock Suns | photo by Kate Bracaglia for WXPN

It has been a very long winter, and longer still, I imagine, for Philadelphia four-piece Mock Suns, whose practice space in Fishtown is basically a cement box with no heat. The band tells me it doesn’t bother them too much though—“we have a space heater and once we start playing it gets really hot,” they explain.

Nevertheless, they’re excited for spring because it signals the release of their new record, Stay True (out March 8), and their corresponding release show March 19 at Johnny Brenda’s. Plus, there’s something about Mock Suns’ breezy brand of pop that seems made for warmer weather: the sun streaming through your window, plants and flowers beginning to bloom—as if the name “Mock Suns” was chosen deliberately to signify these Vitamin D-esque effects. (In truth, it was selected somewhat randomly).

Stay True’s breezy weekend feel however, is intentional, and may well be the vehicle that launches the band to (at least local) acclaim.  Since 2012, Mock Suns have released three records, but it’s with Stay True that they really hit their stride. Inspired by ‘90s culture and nostalgia, the record blends psych-pop with odd samples and a sense of mischief, for a record that feels fresh and on-trend (Ariel Pink comparisons are not far-off), but also a natural evolution of their sound. Continue reading →

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UNLOCKED: Not-so-casual business: Rising beatmakers CSLSX talk history and new record Ritualize with Lushlife

The band, with Lushlife (Photo by Ebru Yildiz)
The band, with Lushlife (Photo by Ebru Yildiz)

In some ways, the business of CSLSX (that’s “casual sex”)—started just as you’d expect it: casually. “We were all living at Broad and Tasker, and we had a room set up with all these instruments,” says producer/guitarist/vocalist Andrew Alburn, from a high-top table at Vincenzo’s Deli in South Philadelphia. “So people would come over and mess around. Originally CSLSX had no defined members; it was meant to represent music curated by the collective.” Continue reading →