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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 →

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UNLOCKED: The Key’s review of Lushlife + CSLSX’s Ritualize

 

lushlife
Lushlife’s Ritualize album cover | photo courtesy of the artist

Ritualize is a record that’s concerned with vibe and feeling—it’s a record that wants to transport you somewhere, then set the mood in broad, sweeping strokes. The collaboration between Philly rapper Lushlife (a.k.a. Raj Haldar) and production trio CSLSX is a dreamy journey through a jungle of smoke and sex, through which Lushlife, our narrator, weaves yarns and offers cinematic snapshots of the people and things he sees.

It’s beautiful, sultry record, with Lushlife’s raps the muscle that keeps it moving ahead. Constructed painstakingly by Haldar and CSLSX over the course of 3 years—in a process that Haldar describes as “Herculean”—Ritualize succeeds because it spares no detail in achieving its after hours vibe. Production is pristine, and listening on headphones, you get the sense that there is a real depth to these songs, even if they were layered together one piece at a time in the studio. Continue reading →

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Tuning In: How Philadelphian Liz Ciavolino uses music to foster community and activism

Ciavolino is a harpist and organizer of local shows, such as the CADBI benefit shows occurring this winter at W/N W/N (Photo by the author)
Ciavolino at Ahimsa House in West Philly | Photo by Kate Bracaglia for WXPN

Liz Ciavolino is who you want as your neighbor. The 20-something Philadelphian is all about fostering community, whether it’s organizing DIY shows in her backyard, playing for tiny, living room crowds, or getting involved in local politics. For her latest project, a series of benefit concerts for the Coalition to Abolish Death by Incarceration, it’s a little of all three—the series, which kicks off January 17, aims to raise awareness for prison sentencing reform as well as introduce Philadelphians to local talent.

For Ciavolino, it’s a natural pairing. A musician since childhood, whose interest in grassroots activism was sparked in college, she grew frustrated upon graduation when she felt forced to pick between the two. Until she realized she didn’t have to.

“When you’re in a band, you can attach your name to so many things. So why not attach it to something important?” explains Ciavolino, who fronts her own band, Liz & The Lost Boys, when not teaching music. Continue reading →