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Lana Del Rey offers a gloriously moody counterpoint to South Philly revelry at Wells Fargo Center Sunday

Lana Del Rey | photo by John Vettese for WXPN

A few minutes after the Eagles clinched their NFC championship victory on Sunday night, Lana Del Rey took the stage at the Wells Fargo Center, just across the sports complex. Someone had tipped her off. “Philadelphia…I hear your team won tonight,” she beamed to jubilant crowd – “so it should be a good night.” And so it was – although, to be sure, the gloriously moody, brooding strains she had in store for us were a far cry from the gleeful mayhem presumably erupting in the parking lots just outside the stadium. Aside from her penchant for Americana and for grand, dramatic pageantry, there probably aren’t all that many similarities between a Lana Del Rey concert and a football game. At least her backup dancers’ velvet minidresses were approximately the right shade of green.

As a committed fan who was blown away by Lana’s debut back in 2012 and has been eagerly anticipating an opportunity to see her live ever since, I still had some major doubts about this concert, particularly related to it being an arena show. For one thing, it’s always been strangely difficult to get a clear sense of her actual popularity. Could she even come close to filling the Wells Fargo? Turns out she did much better than I’d feared: the lower stands, as far as I could see, were relatively well populated all the way around the arena – at least, they didn’t feel embarrassingly empty (as was pretty much the case when I saw Arcade Fire there a few months back.) The GA floor section, however, was at best a quarter filled, which put a slight, odd damper on the energy of the evening. (Not that there’s necessarily a better indoor venue for her to play in town – she would have handily sold out the Fillmore and left many fans wanting – but perhaps the pricing tiers could have been adjusted to help avoid a big empty space in the middle of the room.) Continue reading →

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Now Hear This: New music by Miguel, Baths, Karl Blau, Phoebe Bridgers, Little Mazarn, King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard and more

Phoebe Bridgers | Photo by Frank Ockenfels | via Dead Oceans

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

Happy 2018! The year’s off to a great start, musically speaking, with much to look forward to on the horizon (including some heavy-hitters poised to return – The Breeders, David Byrne, Superchunk and Jack White among them) and a surprising number of strong releases already out in the world, a mere two weeks into the year. Plus the local concert calendar is already heating up, possibly more than any January I can remember. Let’s take a look at some of what’s ahead, concert-wise, by simultaneously taking one final glance back to 2017 at some cuts by artists who had notable breakthrough years, a few great late fall/early winter releases, and a smattering of others that you (or I) might have overlooked along the way. All but one have upcoming Philly tour dates – many of them happening this month and several further on down the line. Continue reading →

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The Key’s Year-End Mania: K. Ross Hoffman’s megamix dance party for NYE 2017

Lil Uzi Vert | photo by John Vettese for WXPN

Year-End Mania is the Key’s annual survey of the things below the surface that made 2017 incredible. In this installment, Key contributor K. Ross Hoffman presents a megamix of 2017 highlights for all your New Year’s dance party needs.

Welcome to my year end mania. My most cherished, and certainly most insane annual personal ritual, every December since 2006 (the year of Girl Talk, not so coincidentally) is to construct a monster mash-up DJ mega-mix of music from the year that was. The idea is for it to serve as a dance party for New Year’s Eve. This year, I’m sharing my mix – finally completed, with just hours to spare – with you.

I think this is my longest New Year’s mix ever. It also ended up being the dirtiest mix I’ve ever made – I’m not sure what that says about this year. As Fever Ray observed perceptively in a track that I didn’t end up including, this country made it hard to fuck in 2017 – still, it was a year in which even Taylor Swift was #readyforit. Continue reading →

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Now Hear This – Ambient Edition: New music by Bitchin Bajas, Marcus Fischer, Gyða Valtysdottir, Tom Rogerson with Brian Eno, Gas, The Caretaker, and more

Gyða Valtýsdottir | via gyda.bandcamp.com

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

Last year, in my final installment of Now Hear This over at PhillyVoice, I inaugurated what I’ll now establish as an annual tradition: a column dedicated to the wide, unobtrusive world of ambient music. Ambient is always around us, but the winter is an especially good time for it. No other genre better evokes (or soundtracks) the placid, frosty stillness and/or the glowing, contented, indoorsy warmth that represent the season’s great duality.

Accordingly, there’s been a bumper crop of worthy ambient-leaning releases in the past month or so. Just to name a few, in addition to those I’ll feature below: an intriguing, formally innovative modular drone experiment by the always worthwhile Eluvium; a pair of reissues from indie favorites The Album Leaf; a gorgeous new set of swirling, marimba-heavy instrumental chamber-pop from Thor and Friends; an enjoyable record of ambient-adjacent electronic burblings from Coupler, a.k.a. Lambchop’s Ryan Norris, and a massively acclaimed left-turn into stark ambient purism by the habitually eclectic producer Bibio – whose work I typically enjoy, but which in this instance leaves me persistently, inscrutably cold. Continue reading →

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Now Hear This: New songs by Kelela, Parquet Courts, Fever Ray, Alvarius B., Special Request, Circuit Des Yeux and more

Fever Ray | via facebook.com/FeverRay

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

Much as I may pride myself on keeping my ears as wide open and omnivorous as possible, I’m often struck, as the time of reckoning draws nigh, that so much of the music that really affects me from any given year tends to fall into a few relatively narrow categories.  Looking back on the 2017 releases that I’ve spent the most time with and returned to most consistently, most of them can be sorted into two general buckets: emotionally resonant electronic pop made by (relatively young) women – Lorde, MUNA, Sylvan Esso, Kelly Lee Owens – or wordy, wide-ranging critical statements made by opinionated and perhaps over-analytical old (or at least aging) men: Randy Newman, Jens Lekman, LCD Soundsystem’s James Murphy, Stephin Merritt of The Magnetic Fields.

Is there a throughline there?  I tend to think of it in terms of personality: if there’s one thing most likely to pique my interest in a new artist, or keep me engaged with a familiar one, it’s in their music’s ability to serve as a tool for human expression, straightforward or otherwise; a means of telegraphing a vivid and recognizable individual identity – whether that individual be a quote-unquote “real person,” a constructed persona or, as it surely is in the vast majority of cases, some ambiguous, unparseable intertwining of the two.  Perhaps that quality is more readily apparent in the second group of aforementioned artists.  It’s not that those verbose songmen are single-mindedly preoccupied with age and mortality – though it’s clearly on their minds (see: Newman’s heartwrenching “Lost Without You”; Murphy’s “tonite”; Lekman’s bouncy but pensive “Wedding in Finistère”; the entire conceit of Merritt’s 50 Song Memoir) but it certainly informs their outlook, helping to distill a clarity of perspective (and tendency toward warts-and-all honesty) translating into albums that function as poignant, if sometimes roundabout self-portraits.   Continue reading →

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Courtney Barnett and Kurt Vile bring living room intimacy to the Tower Theater

Courtney Barnett and Kurt Vile | photo by Natalie Piserchio for WXPN | nataliepiserchio.com

From the moment it was first announced, there’s been something tremendously appealing about this team-up. Kurt Vile, Philly’s humble hometown guitar hero, and the wry Melburnian riffster Courtney Barnett are two of indie rock’s most beloved, affable slackers, and the notion of the two of them palling around, goofing off and trading drawled vocals and casually sublime guitar licks was worth a bucket of grins. So it is with Lotta Sea Lice, the duo’s goofily-named, pointedly low-stakes collaborative LP, out last month, which, if hardly revolutionary in any respect, is just so abundantly pleasant. And so it was with their sold out Philly date last Friday night: just a couple of friends giving the kind of amiably understated performance that can make a majestic, storied venue like the Tower Theater feel like a big, cozy living room. Continue reading →

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Now Hear This: New Songs from Cold Specks, Moses Sumney, Cults, Susanne Sundfør, Laura Baird, Eamon and Mavis Staples

Moses Sumney | photo by Breanna Keohane for WXPN
Moses Sumney | photo by Breanna Keohane for WXPN

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

October is the coolest month – musically speaking.  There are more (and, pound for pound, bigger) new releases flying around these days than any other time of year.  It’s dizzying.  And correspondingly, of course, there are also many many artists touring through town, now and in the coming weeks.  It’s left me with little choice but to offer an, umm, especially generous baker’s dozen by way of my monthly recap below.  So come feast your ears! 

Among other things, last month saw a considerable number of comebacks, of varying magnitudes – returns to action, artistic reinvigorations, etc – from artists all across the spectrum.  I’ve highlighted a good number of them below, along with a smaller, select handful of shining newcomer – most of whom turn out to be not entirely that new, after all.

The biggest (unintentional) theme for this month, a through-line linking all of these widely ranging selections, is the power of the voice.  The playlist below features a striking array of voices – extraordinary voices and commonplace voices, singly or in multiple, highly processed or unadorned.  And whether or not I call attention to to it in my write-up, each and every cut here offers something memorable in terms of its vocal dimension; a certain quality of the voice (or voices) at hand, or of the way that voice are used.  Let it be a reminder for us all, to keep on using our voices. Continue reading →

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In a sea of infinite content, Arcade Fire holds its own at Wells Fargo Center

Arcade Fire | photo by Jeremy Zimmerman | jeremy-zim.com

I first got over Arcade Fire more than a decade ago. I guess you could say we peaked early. I was head over heels the first time I saw them, yelping and jumping, clattering countless tom-toms and swapping instruments with abandon. They were crammed onto the stage of a tiny club in Carrboro, NC, where I happened to be passing through on the night before Merge Records’ 15th anniversary festival. (I’d mostly stopped in to check out another new signee to the label, Lou Barlow. According to my blog, the night also included Win and Regine doing an impromptu rendition of The Magnetic Fields’ “Born On A Train,” as part of “Merge karaoke.”)

That show was a true, rare rock’n’roll thrill, one which even the mighty Funeral, when it finally arrived, couldn’t quite recapture (but I loved it anyway), and which had already begun to fade when I saw them again, in the First Unitarian basement, that fall. (It’s slightly hard to imagine, but I was significantly turned off by their lackluster cover of my all-time favorite song, Talking Heads’ “This Must Be The Place.”) That was the last time I saw them play live – that is, until this Sunday night, when they gave a decidedly (and yet, not entirely) different, undeniably thrilling performance at Wells Fargo Center as part of their “Infinite Content” tour. Continue reading →

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Now Hear This: New songs by Torres, Alvvays, Lucky Soul, EMA, Partner, Dent May and more

Alvvays | Photo by Shervin Lainez, courtesy of the artist

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

It’s prime time. As summer winds to a close, we’ve arrived emphatically at the part of the year where seemingly every week brings a fresh trove of high-profile new releases. The last few weeks have seen records from what feels like a who’s-who of top-tier “prestige” indie rock acts: The National, Grizzly Bear, Iron and Wine, LCD Soundsystem and, of course, Philly’s entry in the conversation, The War on Drugs. And there’s more right around the corner from Beck, St. Vincent, Destroyer, Wolf Parade and, of course, Philly’s entry in the next phase of the conversation, Kurt Vile (in collaboration with Courtney Barnett.) As always, it’ll be interesting to see which of these albums manage to live up to the anticipation, and how many wind up largely forgotten in a few months time.

But it’s a great time of year for all sorts of music; not just the big names and known entities. There’s so much stuff coming out it’s hard to even keep track of it all, and the influx of well-established acts means higher-than-usual potential for worthy smaller records to slip through the cracks. But I’ll do my best to help – read on for a smattering of relatively under-the-radar releases from the past month or so. No deliberate themes or through-lines this time, but there are a few trends that stick out. Notably, we are now sufficiently far enough removed from last November’s election – and the many varieties of devastating fallout that ensued – that an increasing number of new releases are referencing or responding to the national (and global) political situation at least on some level – and there are several examples below. Also, for no particular reason except that it just happened that way, all of these songs were made by women – well, with one or two exceptions right at the end, but at least those are sung in falsetto. Enjoy! Continue reading →

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Now Hear This: New songs by Haim, SZA, Kesha, Daphni, Aminé, Julia Michaels and more.

SZA | photo by Cameron Pollack for WXPN
SZA | photo by Cameron Pollack for WXPN

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

Ciao!! Now Hear This is coming to you this month one week later than regularly programmed, due to your faithful correspondent’s international travel schedule: I recently spent ten days in Sicily, where I got to experience firsthand the pleasures of a record-setting heatwave fondly dubbed “Lucifer.” Trips abroad always afford an interesting lens on pop music – you never know quite what you’ll get when you flip on a radio. The Italian pop I encountered seemed generally jaunty and decidedly dorky, featuring a surprising amount of accordion. The DJs were effusive and highly entertaining, speaking faster than I could probably follow even if I did know any Italian. I heard “Young Folks” and noname (the latter playing in a shop.) I heard one DJ leapfrog from The Beatles to Run-DMC to Empire of the Sun; rambling excitedly over the introduction to each song. The only current American pop number I heard in multiple places while in Italy was Calvin Harris’ “Feels” (ft. Pharrell, Katy Perry and Big Sean), a supposedly “summery” song that I guess I support more in theory than in practice. Continue reading →