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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

 

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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 →

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The Key’s Year-End Mania: Kate Bracaglia’s top 5 Spotify discoveries of 2015

Clockwise from left: WIN WIN (photo by Alice Proujansky, via the band's Facebook page); Letissier (center, via the band's Instagram); exmagician (via the band's Facebook page); Dirty Ghosts (photo by Liz Caruana, via the band's website); and Screaming Peaches (photo by Ann Beasley, via the band's Facebook page)
Clockwise from left: WIN WIN (photo by Alice Proujansky, via the band’s Facebook page); Héloïse Letissier (center, via the band’s Instagram); exmagician (via the band’s Facebook page); Dirty Ghosts (photo by Liz Caruana, via the band’s website); and Screaming Peaches (photo by Ann Beasley, via the band’s Facebook page)

Year-End Mania is the Key’s annual survey of the things below the surface that made 2015 incredible. Today, Key contributor Kate Bracaglia shares five musicians she found on Spotify in 2015.

2015 was all about discoveries. This year, I discovered the best way to cook Brussels sprouts (with ginger and soy); the best spot in South Philly for Manhattans (the revamped Triangle Tavern); and re-discovered 9 years of That 70s Show re-runs on Netflix (remember this episode?) I also became a Spotify subscriber, and through the streaming service discovered dozens of bands that I probably wouldn’t have stumbled upon otherwise, who helped soundtrack my year. Here are five of my faves from 2015. Continue reading →

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Summertime Sips and Summertime Sounds: Commonwealth Choir

The author, with Commonwealth Choir (via @BookishKate's Instagram)
The author, with Commonwealth Choir (via @BookishKate’s Instagram)

Summertime Sips and Summertime Sounds is our occasional, seasonal foray into summer vibes with our fave local “summertime” bands, in which we meet up, share a drink, and revel in the sunny weather (check out past editions here). Today, as summer gives way to fall, we catch up with Fishtown band Commonwealth Choir.

I wasn’t very cool in high school, and for the most part I used to hate waking up for class in the mornings. But I remember feeling oddly liberated come summertime, when there were no cliques stalking the hallways and I could lounge around the backyard or go on drives with my friends—usually to the diner (it was Jersey) or down the highway to see Saves the Day or Ben Folds at the Starland Ballroom.

Commonwealth Choir (mostly) hail from Doylestown, PA, where members Davis Jameson Howley, Nick Cislak, and Wil Chamuris went to high school together (Maurizio Mazza hails from Brick Township, NJ and Andrew Torre—who’s not present for our interview—is from Philly). They too spent summers driving around the suburbs, looking for trouble—or at least a spot to grab pizza, and maybe bowl a few games. Years later, it’s clear they still value these same experiences—spontaneous, joyful nights with friends. Continue reading →

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South Philly’s That Dream Was Our Life finds beauty in the banal

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That Dream Was Our Life | photo by RayAna Park | via facebook.com/ThatDreamWasOurLife

For years now, Philly has been a nurturing environment for DIY and bedroom musicians, from the orchestral pop of A Sunny Day in Glasgow to the GBV-inspired punk nuggets of former Temple student Alex G. On the smaller, quieter side of things is James Cuartero, who writes and performs under That Dream Was Our Life, and who for 2 years now has been self-releasing simple, lovely songs mostly drawn from his life in South Philadelphia.

In the past 20 months, Cuartero’s released 11 EPs, with a 12th due this week, all self-recorded on his iPhone from his South Philly bedroom. Each EP—whose names range from Inside Us There Is a Word We Cannot Pronounce and That Is Who We Are to We Are Very Happy Together—contains four to six songs, which run the gamut from quirky electro-pop jewels to gripping, melancholy melodies. That’s 60 songs total, in less than 2 years—although Cuartero tells me has many more ready to go. Later this fall, he hopes to collect 10 or 12 of his favorite and release them as his debut LP.

Continue reading →