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Philly musical underdogs The Wonder Years pack it in at Boot & Saddle for Peace & Noise

The Wonder Years | photo by Rachel Del Sordo for WXPN | racheldelsordophotography.com

2018’s Peace & Noise concert series wrapped on Wednesday, Jan. 31 with an immensely sold out show headlined by Philadelphia’s The Wonder Years.

Given the collective high the city has been riding on since the Eagles earned the NFC Championship title—and advanced to Super Bowl LII this Sunday—the second-annual set of benefit concerts could not have ended on a more raucous note.

Following sets from Brooklyn’s Nervous Dater (whose tightly written LP Don’t Be a Stranger remains among 2017’s hidden gems) and Philly flagship punk band Mannequin Pussy, The Wonder Years took their place onstage—in hometown hero fashion—to a room-encompassing rendition of “Fly, Eagles, Fly,” kicking off a 15-song set composed of material spanning their now-dense ouvre of working class, near-theatrical, shoutalong pop punk. Continue reading →

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Diner Food, Punk Rock Style: The Tasty’s owners reflect on their first year in East Passyunk

The Tasty | photo by Rachel Del Sordo for WXPN | <a href=http://racheldelsordophotography.com target="_blank">racheldelsordophotography.com</a>
The Tasty | photo by Rachel Del Sordo for WXPN | racheldelsordophotography.com

“Three punks open a vegan diner in South Philly.”

Sounds like a setup for some classic olde thyme comedy, but The Tasty, located at 1401 S. 12th St., is the real deal. Since moving to East Passyunk last spring, the breakfast-and-brunch spot has been on my radar as a bustling neighborhood zone for vegan takes on the diner-inspired comfort food we all know and love.

(Seriously, good luck grabbing a seat after 10 a.m. on a Saturday. The Tasty is generally quite packed with vegans and omnivores alike at any given time of day.)

With a menu boasting tofu scrambles, breakfast burritos, fried chicken sandwiches, pork rolls, cheesesteaks, chicken and waffles, and pastries baked in-house (not to mention the endlessly rotating weekend specials and carefully curated coffee selections), The Tasty’s runaway success is multifold.

Yes, the menu is consistently dope, and dually serves a growing demographic that often has a tough time finding a wider range of options in Philadelphia’s network of diner, and diner-inspired, brunch spots.

But all credit is due to co-owners Kate Hiltz (who manages New Jersey punk band The Bouncing Souls and owns Chunksaah Records), Sofia Baltopoulos, and Restorations guitarist/keyboardist Ben Pierce, who imbue The Tasty with a sense of community, care and white-knuckled work ethic that stems from their collective—and extensive—background in a do-it-yourself music scene.

Since The Tasty celebrates one year in business this month, I recently sat down with Hiltz, Baltopoulos and Pierce over vegan Buffalo wings to talk about its first 12 months, absurd city bureaucracy, and why punks are the best at getting shit done. Continue reading →

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The Key’s Year-End Mania: Marc Snitzer’s Top Five Things I Did Not Understand Until 2014

Lorde | Photo By Noah Silvestry | silvestography.com
Lorde | Photo By Noah Silvestry | silvestography.com

Year-End Mania is the Key’s survey of the things below the surface that made 2014 awesome. In this installment, contributing writer Marc Snitzer shares five things he didn’t get till this year.

I like to believe that, for the most part, I have my finger on the pulse popular culture and #trendingtopics. I spend a lot of time looking at the Internet and all sorts of blogs and websites that can be found on it. It’s great. I think I was able to talk about Black Mirror like five times at a party last weekend. But I am also stubborn and sometimes it takes a while for my eyes to open up, like dewy flower petals on the first day of spring, to cool-ass shit. Here are five times this has happened to me this year. Sorry in advance that this list is so me-centric, but Time Magazine once named me 2006’s Person of the Year. Continue reading →

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A conversation with Superheaven’s Taylor Madison about making one of the heaviest records of next year

Superheaven in the studio | Photo by Danielle Parsons | danielleparsonsphotography.com
Superheaven’s Taylor Madison in the studio with Will Yip | Photo by Danielle Parsons | danielleparsonsphotography.com

Superheaven vocalist/guitarist Taylor Madison is anxious. It’s early December, a few weeks after recording wrapped on the Philly-area post-hardcore band’s second LP at producer Will Yip’s Studio 4. The album follows up 2012’s Jar (released under the band name Daylight) and it is currently off in mixing and mastering land for an early 2015 release through SideOneDummy Records. “My anxiety is far outweighed by excitement,” he assures me. “We’re all just trying hard to be patient and waiting to be able to play this stuff in front of people.”

Between his balance of nerves and eagerness, Madison makes clear there are internal expectations on this record as well. With a blunt transparency that has quickly become his trademark as a frontman, he explains how “none of us want to reach our 30s and hoping we’ll be able to pay our rent next month.” Madison and his bandmates are chasing after something bigger, and based on early impressions alone, they’ve found it. Details remain pretty mum at this point (until their label gives the go ahead), but LP2 is tighter, hits (way, way) harder and presents a fully realized and focused vision of what grunge can look and sound like in the mid-2010s. Superheaven doesn’t shy away from a heavy acknowledgment of its influences and instead bolsters every flag flown on Jar.
I was able to have a quick chat with Madison about the process and scars behind what is certain to be one of 2015’s heaviest records. Continue reading →

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The Gaslight Anthem leads a stacked bill of late-summer punk at The Mann

The Gaslight Anthem| Photo by Megan Kelly | keganmellyphotography.tumblr.com
The Gaslight Anthem| Photo by Megan Kelly | keganmellyphotography.tumblr.com

“Proficiency” was the common thread throughout this particularly brisk Friday evening at the Mann Center’s Skyline Stage. A thoroughly stacked lineup, it’s tough (and downright reductive) to refer to the bands who played before The Gaslight Anthem as “openers.” Based on the draw each act produced during their respective sets, Friday night’s audience would heartily agree. Continue reading →

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XPoNential Artist Spotlight: Strand of Oaks talks prepping for tour, summer hangouts and the songs that didn’t end up on Heal

via instagram.com/strandofoaks
via instagram.com/strandofoaks

It’s pretty much impossible to miss the gleeful buoyancy in Strand of Oaks frontman Tim Showalter’s voice when chatting with him. Maybe it’s something encoded into his personality, or maybe he’s still riding the waves of critical and commercial acclaim that the fourth Strand of Oaks record, Heal (Dead Oceans), has been generating since its release last month. Regardless, his cheer is infectious, and that acclaim for HEAL, an examination of catharsis steeped in the burst and bloom of a decades-spanning rock ‘n’ roll (as opposed to “rock”) tradition, is well deserved. But in that month since its release, Showalter has been taking this summer relatively easy, and was happy to catch up with The Key to chat about HEAL, how he manages his songwriting, and his (lack of) preparation for a nearly three-month tour, which starts this Saturday at the XPoNential Music Festival.

Continue reading →

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Aaron West: A punk popster’s personal transformation into a Llewyn Davis styled troubadour

Photo courtesy of the artist.
Photo courtesy of the artist.

The Wonder Years’ 2011 release, Suburbia: I’ve Given You All and Now I’m Nothing, with its frequent references and allusions to Allen Ginsberg’s marathon poem “America,” felt like a turning point in singer Dan Campbell’s songwriting. There was something about the way he appropriated Ginsberg’s text to work with his own that broke out of the traditional pop punk tropes. The next Wonder Years record, last year’s The Greatest Generation, established a wide thematic scope in its choruses, couplets and bridges, all reprised in a seven-minute closing track, “I Just Want To Sell Out My Funeral” — not totally unlike musical theatre. Aside from penning relentlessly catchy pop punk songs, Suburbia and Generation proved Campbell not only capable of viewing The Big Picture in writing a record; he’s highly literate in it.

That’s why Aaron West and the Roaring Twenties, Campbell’s conceptual folk-rock solo release, doesn’t come as much of a surprise. We Don’t Have Each Other (out today on Hopeless follows a very rough year in the life of Aaron West, Campbell’s proxy and all-around Llewyn Davis-troubadour-type sad sap. Gone are the heavy, three-guitar-strong power chords that always trustingly flank Campbell’s voice — always vulnerable and without shame — in the Wonder Years. In their place, We Don’t Have Each Other is flush with keys, horns, pedal steel guitars, banjos and what would almost be a heavy-handed smack to the face telling you, “This is Americana! This is a departure!” if the whole thing wasn’t so expertly executed. The opening track “Our Apartment” delivers all of this before the song is even half finished.

Campbell may be trying on hats, but they look pretty good on him and complement his figure. Part of what makes this record work so well is that while the whole idea here is to assume a character, an identity, by no means does that experiment isolate any listener knowledgeable of Campbell’s past work. Instead of making some swift, stylistic left turn, these songs instead feel filtered through that lens of trying something new. “St. Joe Keeps Us Safe” and “Runnin’ Scared” feel comfortable in the way the alt-country instrumentation is organized; these could be stripped-down Wonder Years songs, even. But it’s in the quieter, mid-tempo songs, in “Divorce and the American South” or “Get Me Out Of Here Alive,” that feel carry to most excitement, as they stray furthest from Campbell’s assumed comfort zone.
Continue reading →

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Review: The Menzingers’ Rented World

menzingersRented World, the fourth full-length album from The Menzingers, is, for lack of a better word, big. That word can be construed in a few different ways. Yes, the track lengths themselves average in at a little bit longer (one song breaks the five-minute mark, a first for the Philly-by-way-of-Scranton punks) and they enlisted the audio muscle of producer Jon Low for this one, but there’s more to it than that. After three records, including 2012’s breakthrough On the Impossible Past, there’s a weight of confidence and precision laced throughout Rented World. And confidence allows songwriters to try some new things.

That idea presents itself pretty immediately on Rented World, especially when contrasted against On the Impossible Past’s Americana-leaning loose narrative of lyrical and melodic themes: Good things, nice things, American muscle cars, kids getting high, etc. Singer/guitarists Greg Barnett and Tom May keep the songs on Rented World decidedly contained. Barnett has mentioned in interviews recently that this was the first Menzingers album to not be solely written on an acoustic guitar; rather, songs were pieced and structured carefully instead of over a couple of chords. As a result, many tracks, with their riff-specific construction, feel like nods to ‘90s alt-rock – a fun direction to see The Menzingers explore.

But as with each Menzingers record, May and Barnett split songwriting duties nearly 50/50, and on Rented World, they continue to characterize their own differing methods. Continue reading →

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Unlocked: 8 tips on recording and producing your own album from Modern Baseball

Modern Baseball | Photo by Allison Newbold | allynewbold.com
Modern Baseball | Photo by Allison Newbold | allynewbold.com

So here’s a sort of little-known fact about Modern Baseball: they record and produce their
music themselves.

Local studio luminaries Jonathan Low and Will Yip pitched in on You’re Gonna Miss It All when the album reached the mixing and mastering stages respectively, but all the initial tracking was done by the band itself. Vocalist/guitarist Jake Ewald and bassist Ian Farmer are both students at Drexel University in the Music Industry program. That means they spend a lot of time learning the ins and outs of the recording process. We asked Ewald to share some tips on the recording process for other folks who choose to opt out on hiring an extra hand to man all the knobs and dials. Here’s what he had to say.

“As a pair of 20-year-old college ding dongs, we’d like to preface this by stating that we (for
the most part) still have no idea what we’re doing in the world of recording. But after recording the last two Modern Baseball records, it’s safe to say we learned a few things along the way. Here are some of the most important ones.” Continue reading →

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Unlocked: Hanging out at home with Modern Baseball

Modern Baseball | Photo by Allison Newbold | allynewbold.com
Modern Baseball | Photo by Allison Newbold | allynewbold.com

Jake Ewald is a big fan of New Girl.

In fact, when he asks me what I think about the show, the Modern Baseball guitarist and co-vocalist lets out a long, resounding “Yyyeah” and pumps his fist when I safely tell him I think it’s a pretty cool program. From across their West Philly kitchen, cherubic Brendan Lukens, Modern Baseball’s other guitarist and co-vocalist, folds his arms and shakes his head knowingly.

“I’m coming around to it as of yesterday,” Lukens sighs. “Jake just keeps talking about it so I sat down the other day and started watching it and thought, ‘this is fucking stupid.’ I’m still not sold though. It’ll come on and I won’t go ‘ugh’ anymore, you know?” Drummer Sean Huber just laughs to himself as he digs through the refrigerator.

This appears to be the general tone over at Modern Baseball HQ, a house not too far north of Drexel University’s campus, in the week leading up to the release of Your Gonna Miss It All, the young, spritely, punkish group’s second full-length album. The pressure may be on, but these boys – Lukens, Ewald, Huber and bassist Ian Farmer, who had a scheduling conflict and couldn’t make the interview – are keeping things casual. Which is an impressive notion, considering how much is exactly on the band’s collective plate in the coming weeks and months.

Photo by Allison Newbold |  allynewbold.com
Photo by Allison Newbold | allynewbold.com

The day after this interview is over, the band will be spending the rest of the week running around Philadelphia to shoot a video for “Your Graduation,” You’re Gonna Miss It All’s acid-spitting lead single, in an upwards of 10 locations, culminating in a performance scene at FDR Skate Park. “We’re shooting in all these different spots because the concept [of the video] is basically me getting broken up with over and over again,” Lukens chuckles. On March 5th, they’ll be heading out on a month-long national tour supporting local pop-punk heavyweights The Wonder Years. A couple weeks after that ends, they’ll be touring Europe for the first time with Real Friends and You Blew It!

Wait. Aren’t these guys still in school? Continue reading →