The Key’s Top 15 Albums of 2015

The albums that moved us in 2015
This is the music that moved us in 2015

It was a year of powerful records. Of loud guitars and brazen beats, of electronic tapestries and vocal abandon. It was a year of personal introspection and rallying cries for social change. It was a year when music felt inextricably tied to the world around us. When it felt more important than it had in a long time. Like we’ve said before, to narrow 12 months of incredible music down to a “top 15 albums of 2015” list is to exclude dozens of other worthy releases. This year, we had 26 writers and photographers cite a collective 82 albums as their favorites – you can view everybody’s top fives here, and I know fully well that had I asked The Key crew to give me top tens, I’d be easily looking at quadruple the titles. But we’ll go deep when our annual Year-End Mania roundup launches tomorrow. Today we take the long view and explore what rose to the surface of consensus in 2015, from the expressive moments of Kamasi Washington, Joanna Newsom and Jamie xx, to the pop permutations of Carly Rae Jepsen and Grimes , rock and/or roll from Courtney Barnett and Alabama Shakes, Philly representation from The Districts, Waxahatchee and of course, Hop Along‘s incredible breakout LP Painted Shut, which alongside the great Kendrick Lamar rose right to the top of our voting. Let’s recap the year. 
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The Key’s review of 1989 by Ryan Adams

Not really the cover of Ryan Adams' 1989, alas.
Not really the cover of Ryan Adams’ 1989, alas. | via the internet

Let’s face it, covers are rarely good. They normally begin with the best of intentions – take a song you admire, and put your own personal touch on it. However, even with the best intentions, they often come off uninspired and uninteresting.

When Ryan Adams announced he was covering pop superstar Taylor Swift’s album 1989, it was certainly possible to imagine the worst: that it would be some sort of half-hearted attempt at pop chart relevance or ironic clickbaity attention-grabbing. But if you thought that, you’d be wrong; it’s much more than that. This week that album was released, praised and mocked – most amusingly by none other than Father John Misty – and here is how we at The Key feel about it. Continue reading →


Unlocked: The Key’s review of Painted Shut by Hop Along

Painted Shut cover art
Painted Shut cover art

It’s Tuesday, meaning we’re at the part in our occasional Unlocked series where the person writing the series shares their review of the album we’re featuring. Thing is, we pretty much all love Hop Along and Painted Shut. So for today’s installment, we bring you our first-ever Key Staff collaborative album review. Enjoy!

Philly greats Hop Along have been hanging out in the shadows for quite some time. Although the band has been putting out exceptional music for the better part of a decade, they have kept a relatively low profile until now. Their new album Painted Shut, released this week on revered indie label Saddle Creek, introduces Hop Along to the masses. The album reads like a collection of short stories, leaving the metaphor and ambiguity of 2012’s Get Disowned behind and spinning narratives that pull you in like a great book.

The track “Horseshoe Crabs” exemplifies this beautifully. The song’s haunting melody perfectly accompanies the lyrics of loss illustrated through the lens of childhood memories about summertime adventures. Frontwoman Frances Quinlan reflects on memory throughout the album, memories that are pivotal to her – “Powerful Man” describes her fear and failure to intervene when, as a teenager, she saw a young child being abused by his father – but in some cases, the memories may not be the way others involved remember the situation.

Take “Waitress”: Quinlan blows up a frustrating, awkward scene in her head upon seeing somebody walk into her restaurant – “your friend looked over from the bar, she must have known who I was / the worst possible version of what I’d done” – but in reality, the people she’s waiting on may not have given the moment a second thought – “call you enemy because I’m afraid of what you could call me.” It definitely reflects that normal anxiety and overthinking self-consciousness that we are all prone to from time to time. Continue reading →


The Key’s Top 15 Albums of 2014

top 15 albums of 2014
This is the music that moved us this year.

Here at The Key, we’ve gone through four year-end best-of seasons since launching in August of 2010 without weighing in on top albums. Why did we change that this year? Simply put: music in 2014 was outstanding. On the local front, on the national front, from pop to rock to experimental and hip-hop, there was a tremendous offering of front-to-back solid records. Annie Clark got mind-bendy on St. Vincent; Tim Showalter got emotional on HEAL; Sylvan Esso caught us by surprise on their self-titled debut; Cayetana blew up in a big way on their debut Nervous Like Me, voted the best record of the year by our staff of contributors. To narrow it down to the top 15 albums of 2014 is to exclude hundreds of other worthy inclusion, so you can read our contributors’ individual top fives here. Then again, there is power in consensus, and these are the albums we collectively agreed were the best. Continue reading →


5 songs we hope Neil Young plays in concert at the Academy

Neil Young | Photo by Danny Clinch
Neil Young | Photo by Danny Clinch

Singer, songwriter, guitarist and rock and roll legend Neil Young begins a two night solo acoustic stand tonight at the Academy of Music. With so many incredible albums to pull from – and a new record on the way – Young fans can expect both some classics and some surprises tonight and tomorrow night. Recently, he’s been covering Gordon Lightfoot’s “If You Could Read My Mind,” and Tim Hardin’s “Reason To Believe,” and trotting out some of the old faithful classics from Harvest, After The Goldrush, and some new songs. Here’s five songs we hope he plays while in Philly. We hope he plays all your favorites. Continue reading →


Tonight’s Concert Pick: Joe Pug at Johnny Brenda’s

Joe Pug—who, a little over a year ago, released a split 7-inch with Philadelphia’s own Strand Of Oaks—is currently touring behind his new LP, The Great Despiser. You can listen to the title track (which features The Hold Steady’s Craig Finn on backing vocals) below. Joe Pug performs with Vandaveer at 9 p.m. at Johnny Brenda’s; tickets to the 21+ show are $12.


This Week’s Contest: Win a pair of weekend passes for The Roots Picnic (June 2nd-3rd at Festival Pier)

This week, we’ve got a pair of weekend passes for The Roots Picnic this Saturday and Sunday, June 2nd-3rd, at Festival Pier. For a chance to win, all you have to do is leave a comment below by 5 p.m. TODAY (May 30th). We’ll select the winners at random this evening and notify them via email. You MUST confirm that you will be attending the event by noon on Thursday, May 31st; once you’ve confirmed that you and your guest will be attending the show, your names will be added to the guest list. (Just make sure to use a valid email address when posting your comment; we promise not to sell your contact info or sign you up for anything—we just want to be able to get in touch with you if you win.)

This year’s lineup includes: The Roots, Kid Cudi, De La Soul (backed by the Roots), Wale, Diplo, Major Lazer, St. Vincent, Tune-Yards, Shabazz Palaces, OCD: Moosh & Twist, Danny Brown, The Hood Internet, Chill Moody, Flosstradamus, Stretch Armstrong, Star Slinger, Mr. MFN Exquire, Kids These Days, DJ Diamond Kuts. Also in the mix is James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem who will be doing a special DJ set. Below, listen to the official Roots Picnic mixtape mixed by DJ Low Budget.


Watch the new video for “Wandering Star” by Polica (performing at Union Transfer on October 3rd)

Photo by Joe Del Tufo

Polica, which recently played at WXPN’s 2012 Non-COMMvention, has just released the new video for the song “Wandering Star.” The Minneapolis-based band will be performing at Union Transfer on October 3rd as part of a fall tour in support of the their debut album, Give You The Ghost, which was released back in February on Totally Gross National Product. (Via Pitchfork TV)


Tonight: XPN Welcomes The Spinto Band at Kung Fu Necktie for the final night of their May residency

Earlier this month, The Spinto Band released their new album, Shy Pursuit; tonight, they will finish their month-long residency celebration with Cheers Elephant and Langor. Go here for tickets and more information about the shows.

The Spinto Band has compiled a free sampler of the bands playing the Kung Fu Necktie shows, which you can download here. The band recently stopped by the XPN studios to record a Key Studio Session, which you can listen to here.