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Now Hear This: New songs from Cat Power, Elvis Costello, Matthew Dear, Half Waif, Richard Swift, Spiritualized and more

Half Waif | photo by Tonje Thilesen | courtesy of the artist
Half Waif | photo by Tonje Thilesen | courtesy of the artist

Every month, noted song expert K. Ross Hoffman presents Now Hear This, a sampling of fresh specimens for your consideration.

This past Saturday was my 36th birthday, and, as it happens, this is my 36th Now Hear This column.  (I’ve been secretly keeping track: the first fifteen installments ran weekly over at Philly Voice during the fall of 2016; the monthly columns for The Key started in February 2017).  Thirty-six feels like a significant year – more so than 35 in many ways (especially considering what’s been happening to the institution of the presidency).  It’s divisible by more numbers, even if five isn’t one of them.  As one friend pointed out, it means I’m now old enough to vote twice! And, more notably, it means that I’ve been a quote-unquote “adult” for fully half of my life; that the time since I left my parents’ house now equals the time that I lived there.

So it’s afforded a nice opportunity to reflect back on the time around my 18th year – an age perhaps less overtly mythologized in song than sixteen or seventeen, but probably even more transformative in real (contemporary) life – which in my case was also the era of Y2K.  I’d reckon that nobody felt the cultural and historical shift from the 20th to the 21st century, from the 1990s to the still-nameless-after-all-these-years 2000s, more acutely than those of us for whom it paralleled the end of high school and the start of what-comes-next; i.e. me and my fellow circa-1982 babies: the oldest, truest millennials.  Conveniently, just two days before my birthday, September Now Hear This boy-toy Troye Sivan joined up with plasticwave popgenius (and certified ‘90s bitchCharli XCX to drop a video memorializing and celebrating the pop culture of that period – specifically 1999, although the references span roughly 1997-2000 – when, as many have mentioned, its creators were still in single digits, if not diapers.  It represents exactly, and in exquisitely realized detail, the “borrowed nostalgia for the unremembered (late) ‘90s” that I have been ambivalently anticipating for quite some time now.

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Now Hear This: New songs from Dizzy, Mitski, Mirah, Tirzah, Jake Shears and Years & Years, and more

Mitski
Mitski | photo by Bao Ngo | courtesy of the artist

Every month, noted song expert K. Ross Hoffman presents Now Hear This, a sampling of fresh specimens for your consideration.

Alright, here we go: it’s prime time! Besides bringing with it probably the most satisfyingly distinct, decisive seasonal shift of them all – both meteorologically and culturally – September is reliably one of the biggest and busiest months for new music releases. And this year is no exception: every Friday this month is marked by a veritable embarrassment of riches, with plenty of big names and lots more worthy lesser-knowns in danger of being overshadowed. I’ll do my best to sift through the glut of goodness and report back to you next month – I’m only the scraping the surface of September’s bounty in the selections below, many of which date from later August. This month’s trawl, meanwhile, brings us a mixture of autumn-ready atmospherics and last-gasp-of-summer throwback vibes (keep ‘em handy, though; it’s bound to heat up again for at least a minute.) In approximate sequence, you’ll find: a bevy of single-named singer-songwriter beauties, some slinky mood jams of varying degrees of oddness, a trio of big, bold, brazenly gay pop bangers, and a bit of truly bizarro R&B. NB: Over half of the featured artists also have upcoming Philly concert dates! Continue reading →

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Now Hear This: New songs from The Internet, Dirty Projectors, Bodega, Daniel Bachman, Bad Bad Hats, Steve Hauschildt and more

Shy Boys | photo via shyboys.bandcamp.com

Every month, noted song expert K. Ross Hoffman presents Now Hear This, a sampling of fresh specimens for your consideration.

We are officially in the dull. drums. of the dog. days. of the slow end of summer. Musically speaking. Not that there’s nothing going on, of course. I mean, this month alone I have already seen fantastic shows by several of my longtime favorites – a triumphant return to Johnny Brenda’s from the perennially entertaining Jeffrey Lewis, and a basement show by the great guitarist Glenn Jones – both of them previewing material from super-promising new albums still forthcoming (later this month in Jones’ case; no official word yet from Lewis.) And yeah oh yeah, I got to see Radiohead for the first time in way too long and fall completely and utterly back in love with them, which seems like it was more or less the consensus regarding their just-wrapped US tour. That said, the column below, as it turned out, only manages to highlight a couple of shows this fall. (Several of these artists, I’m sorry to report, already played Philly in the last month or two, well before their respective album releases – some of them in opening slots, which gives me hope that they might return to headline before too long.)

The upside of a month with a relatively slow release schedule (at least for big-name new releases) is that it inspires me to dig a little further than I might otherwise. Because, let’s face it, we live in an age when it’s all but impossible to get away from worthwhile if not downright vital new music on a virtually weekly basis. Or anyway, it feels that way if you spend an ungodly percentage of your waking hours (and plenty of the ones you should be sleeping too) poking around on the internet as if furiously trying to prevent it from passing you by. (My lord, when will it stop?) Anyhow…here are some knockouts, knick-knacks and novelties from the last month or so. Enjoy, and I’ll See You In September! Continue reading →

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Now Hear This: New songs from Andy Jenkins, Gang Gang Dance, Gorillaz, Arp, LUMP, Wilder Maker, and more

Orquesta Akokán | via orquestaakokan.bandcamp.com

Every month, noted song expert K. Ross Hoffman presents Now Hear This, a sampling of fresh specimens for your consideration.

Aw yeah, summer. The entropy, the lethargy, the visceral extremes.  Now, summer makes all sorts of things weird anyway, but I feel like summertime in music-land has gotten especially wonky in recent years. Basically, my take is that the focus on large-scale music festivals which has ballooned over the past decade or so has taken a palpable bite out of non-festival-centric touring itineraries, and thus summer concert calendars, and even, indirectly, album release schedules. (Aside from the overwhelming hype cavalcade of Drake, Jay-Zeyonce and Kanye and Co. all dropping within a matter of weeks, the last few weeks have felt a bit thin for noteworthy new releases, and the rest of July and August, peering ahead, are looking even sparser.) Maybe I’d be less sore about all this if I felt closer to the target audience for either Firefly or Made in America, but as it stands those festivals’ biggest impact on me, personally, has been (presumably) shutting Philly out of proper local headline dates for the makers of some of my favorite music of the year: Janelle Monáe, for instance, and Amen Dunes.

Still, there’s plenty that’s worth seeing, concert-wise, in the coming weeks – it just feels like (even) more of an unpredictable hodge-podge than usual. Some of it is coming in the form of smaller, locally-targeted festivals: there’s XPN’s own XPoNential Festival, of course, and the decidedly weirder and more DIY All Mutable Summer Jam which is running the same weekend (July 27th-28th); I’m also pretty hyped about the free, Latin Roots-affiliated Nuevofest which is coming up this Sunday (read on for more about that.)

Anyhow, this being summertime, what do you say we all take a trip? Just a little musical vacation around the globe and beyond, to points both familiar and strange; real, imaginary and somewhere in between. I can’t say that it will all be straightforward or entirely uncomplicated – what is nowadays, after all – but I do promise we’ll have some fun along the way. And it’ll feel oh so nice to arrive back home at the end.

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Taylor Mac’s 20th century: Twelve hours of song and struggle, solidarity and sex

Taylor Mac | photo courtesy of the artist

As I entered the Merriam Theater on Saturday, June 9th, as the PIFA street festival was slowly whirring into life outside on South Broad street, I braced myself. What I was about to experience, whatever it turned out to be, was definitely going to be way too much. How could it possibly not be? We’re talking about a non-stop, twelve hour long performance; an epic history-inspired drag cabaret-as-endurance feat, featuring upwards of one hundred songs – roughly ten per hour, or per decade since the starting point of 1896. Actually, this was only the second half of what is, in full, a twenty-four hour work, the first twelve hours of which – covering the decades between 1776-1896 – were staged a week prior. (It’s been presented as an uninterrupted 24-hour marathon only once – in Brooklyn two years ago – but the Philadelphia iteration notches a solid runner-up in the insanity stakes.) Still, much too much seemed like a foregone conclusion.

Here’s the funny thing though: it really wasn’t. Not everything in the twelve hours worked, of course, but an astonishing amount of it did. I was engaged more or less instantly – for one thing, I was called onstage twice within the first two hours (first as part of a wave of immigration from “Eastern Europe” – a.k.a. the back of the house – to an increasingly crowded turn-of-the-century “Jewish tenement” represented by the stage; second, along with every other male in the audience between 14 and 40, as a WWI conscriptee.) And I was never bored. I was never turned off, or overwhelmed in an unfavorable way. I only left the auditorium twice, for no more than two minutes (it was all I could bear.) And when I left for good, shortly after midnight, I was fully satisfied and yet still ready for more.

The show, A 24-Decade History of Popular Music, is not just a cabaret performance; not merely a concert, but (also) a costume spectacular, a psycho-political identity-poetics deep-dive, an audience-participatory historical re-enactment and re-calibration, a rip-roaring communal performance art party. Or, as described by its mastermind, master of ceremonies, constantly captivating central figure and the singer of all but a handful of those seemingly-innumerable songs – one Taylor Mac – it is a “radical faerie realness ritual…sacrifice.” Continue reading →

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Now Hear This: New songs from Ry Cooder, Neko Case, Wajatta, Bernice, Dear Nora, Stephen Malkmus and more

Neko Case
Neko Case | photo courtesy of the artist

Every month, noted song expert K. Ross Hoffman presents Now Hear This, a sampling of fresh specimens for your consideration.

Happy summer, is it?  I guess I got all the pop out of my system last month, cuz it’s about to get pretty indie in here.  You like indy music, right?  Good, cause I’ve got nothing major planned for this month.  After all, independence day is coming up soon.  In this June installment of Now Hear This, at the halfway point of an already-pretty-excellent year for all kindsa music, we’ll take some stock of the wide, white, anglophone (though in this case, hardly at all male) world of probably the least useful genre descriptor there is.  Then, eventually, we’ll get to some other places – Holland, Africa, outer space, Takoma Park.  We’ll meet some bands named after names, check in with some artists who’ve been around for fifty years, or seventy years, and some who went away for a while and have come back to us.  First, though, let’s hear a heavy hit from one of the least-categorizable heavy-hitters out there… Continue reading →

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Now Hear This: New songs from Kylie, Kali and Koze; PC, PCM and SMD; Daphne, Damien, Daniel and the Decemberists

Kylie Minogue | photo via facebook.com/kylieminogue

Every month, noted song expert K. Ross Hoffman presents Now Hear This, a sampling of fresh specimens for your consideration.

This year was already off to a pretty good start, musically speaking, but at some point around the beginning of last month things really started popping off. By which I mean we started getting a steady stream of bright, shiny, undeniable capital-P Pop music, the kind of stuff that’s going to become truly indispensable / inescapable come summertime – which, for all intents and purposes is basically already here – and which will likely wind up defining 2018 in our memories forevermore. And I’m digging it! First off, we got Cardi B’s debut album, Invasion of Privacy, which was not just a major cultural event but also way more fun than I would’ve expected, and has been rightly celebrated as such across the board. (Truly, if you haven’t at least heard the made-for-the-summer Latin-pop sizzler “I Like It,” featuring Bad Bunny & J. Balvin, do yourself the favor – also, she’s coming to town in September with Bruno Mars.) Then there was Drake, of course, replacing himself at the top of the charts with “Nice For What” and having more fun than he’s had in ages (maybe ever?), even if at least half of the song’s appeal is down to that Lauryn Hill sample. (He’s also got an album on the way, and a just-announced September Philly date with Migos.) Continue reading →

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Now Hear This: New songs by Kacey Musgraves, Alexis Taylor, Gwenno, Baloji, Young Fathers, Mount Eerie and more.

Young Fathers
Young Fathers | photo by Julia Noni | courtesy of the artist

Every month, noted song expert K. Ross Hoffman presents Now Hear This, a sampling of fresh specimens for your consideration.

Last month I was seeing double; this month I’m going solo.

I spent a probably unreasonable amount of time in the last couple weeks compiling a list of my personal top 25 albums of the past 25 years – a time period which happens to correspond, more or less, with my lifespan as an active, conscious listener to contemporary music – and then discussing/dissecting said list in detail via Facebook comments, which turned out to be a surprisingly emotional process.  (The whole undertaking was inspired by a prompt commemorating the 25th anniversary of Philly-based staple Magnet Magazine, wherein the list will eventually be published.)

One thing that struck me along the way was how astonishingly many acts from this time-frame – even the earliest years of it – remain (or have again become) relatively musically active.  Now, maybe it’s just a factor of my age, but I don’t really remember the musical landscape of the ‘90s, for instance, being quite so well populated by artists who’d been around since the ’70s.  Of the twenty-five artists who made my list, all but four are either still at it or at it again: two have died (Elliott Smith and Aaliyah; three if you count Stereolab’s Mary Hansen), but only two – Rachel Stevens and Aberfeldy – have, to my knowledge, simply stopped making music.   Continue reading →

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Lorde’s artful, unconventional pop captivates at the Wells Fargo Center

Lorde | photo by Natalie Piserchio for WXPN | nataliepiserchio.com

Lorde may be merely “a little sensitive person, alive in this world,” as she described herself on stage Monday night – but she’s got no trouble captivating an awfully big roomful of people.  Notwithstanding the appropriately huge, high-energy parts of her show at the Wells Fargo Center – like a surging, triumphal, set-closing “Green Light”: lights flashing, synths blaring, crowd shouting along with every word, confetti cannons filling the air with tissue-paper stars as a glass cage filled with dancers drifted up to the ceiling… –  the moment that felt the biggest, and resonated the loudest, was also the simplest and smallest. Continue reading →

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Less War, More Leisure: Miguel holds court at The Fillmore Philadelphia

Miguel | photo by Lissa Alicia for WXPN

I first saw Miguel Jontel Pimentel at South by Southwest, what feels like a very long six years ago. Back then, he was a promising but relatively conventional second-string R&B hitmaker – though already (unbeknownst to us at the time) in the midst of a metamorphosis that would lead him to the dazzling creative breakthrough of his second album, Kaleidoscope Dream. But even at that early stage, his nascent star power was blinding, and blindingly obvious. Some time later, mostly by happenstance, I caught the livestream of his set at Pitchfork Festival during the summer long hot of 2016 – just about a week after the deaths in Baton Rouge, St. Paul and Dallas – and witnessed the singer, dressed in angelic white, seizing an emotionally fraught historic moment and channeling it into an empowering, healing and utterly captivating performance.

Last night’s show at the Fillmore offered neither the thrill of discovery and sense of limitless possibility of that 2012 showcase set, nor the urgent topicality, coherence and moral force of the Pitchfork performance. But it didn’t need them. Even as nothing wilder than a seasoned working entertainer, punching in for another showbiz night, Miguel is among the best in the business. Throughout a generous twenty-plus-song set that drew from each of his four albums – including almost the entirety of his most recent, last year’s War and Leisure – he held the enthusiastic crowd in the palm of his hand all night long. Continue reading →