The Key’s Year-End Mania: Running Away With 2018 — Rob Huff’s favorite music to marathon to

Robyn | via NPR Music

Year-End Mania is the Key’s annual survey of the things below the surface that made 2018 incredible. Today, Key writer Rob Huff shares a playlist of music that motivated him through the Philadelphia Marathon.

Just keep moving.

It’s a sentiment that can feel both tired and tiring. Yet at the same time, it’s the only ambition that feels attainable in adulthood. And that’s under the best of circumstances. This year, it was an ambition I decided to amplify as a recreational runner when I signed up for the Philadelphia Marathon, my first ever.

As one of the few healthy habits I have, running has proven downright lifesaving amidst the injustice and insanity of the past two years. It’s cleansing yet calming, lending itself simultaneously to deep focus and a welcome absence of thought. As my weekly training routine grew longer and more time consuming, it also became a chance for me to dive into music in a manner that life hadn’t truly allowed in some time. Continue reading →


Self-Discovery and Sincere Pop: In conversation with Helena Deland

Helena Deland
Helena Deland | photo by Jodi Heartz | courtesy of the artist

Patience is a virtue too often underestimated in today’s musical climate. When even the biggest pop stars of the world have taken to releasing their albums with little to no advanced notice, it can be easy to miss artists that take their time introducing their music, and themselves, to the world.

Take Montreal up and comer Helena Deland, for example. Over the past year, she’s slowly but surely made herself known by releasing a just handful of songs at a time, like a bedroom pop Body Talk. These songs, “volumes” of a collection called From the Series of Songs “Altogether Unaccompanied”, cover as wide a range of genres as they do feelings. Those emotions and genres come together under the umbrella of what Deland calls “sincere pop”. She’ll be presenting these songs, along with what could potentially be on her proper debut LP in time, via a run of U.S. shows through the first half of December that will include a stop at Philly’s own Johnny Brenda’s next Wednesday, December 5th.

Before those shows kick off, Helena was gracious enough to chat with The Key about what motivated her release schedule this year, what to expect on stage and on record, and how her view has changed on what pop music is and can be. Continue reading →


Christine and the Queens hold court at Union Transfer

Christine and the Queens | photo by Matthew Shaver for WXPN

Héloïse Letissier is a star. That may not be news to you if you’ve been following her work as Christine and the Queens since her 2014 debut Chaleur Humaine, or even its English 2015 translation simply titled Christine and the Queens. It might not even be a surprise if you’re just getting acquainted with her via this year’s commanding, life-affirming sophomore album Chris. There is a difference, however, between recognizing stardom and witnessing stardom, in real time, on stage. Letissier’s performance at Union Transfer last Friday was a showcase of stardom at its best. Equal parts vivacious, vulnerable, and virtuosic, it saw the radiant French popstart bring the kind of spectacle usually reserved for big arenas and amphitheaters to an indie club without losing any of its grandeur. Continue reading →


Gorillaz come down to earth at Wells Fargo Center

Gorillaz | photo by Isaiah Spicer for WXPN |

It has been fascinating to witness the evolution of Damon Albarn’s iconic “virtual band” Gorillaz over the better part of two decades, musically, lyrically, conceptually. What began as a commentary on the lack of substance on MTV—I can only imagine what Albarn thinks now—has expanded to explore issues personal, political, and environmental, using both the conceit of a cartoon musical act and the shape-shifting textures of hip-hop and electronic music to lend such heady subjects a deceptively danceable accessibility. This evolution also informs the project’s live translation, which on paper could conceivably present a challenge. And this is all before considering recent release The Now Now’s relative simplicity compared to its predecessors’ complexity and ambition. On Albarn’s visit to the Wells Fargo Center earlier this week, he did his best to not only reconcile the newer Now material with the rest of his repertoire, but his animated avatars with the living breathing people behind them. Continue reading →


Entering Kazuashita with Gang Gang Dance’s Brian DeGraw

Gang Gang Dance | photo by Ari Marcopoulos | courtesy of the artist

Seven years after blowing minds with 2011’s Eye Contact, the alchemists of Gang Gang Dance finally re-surfaced this summer with their most beatific sounding album yet in Kazuashita. Its ethereal ambience juxtaposes with lyrics that emerge from the ether to reference police brutality, the protests at Standing Rock, and several other forms of tumult that inform life at large.

To hear founding member Brian DeGraw tell it, making the record didn’t come without its own share of struggle. Ahead of the band’s show at Boot & Saddle this Thursday, we talked about how the record came to be, how the band’s process of making music had to change, and what to expect when they take the stage this week. Continue reading →


Radiohead reign over the Wells Fargo Center

Radiohead | photo by Natalie Piserchio |

Confession time: I wasn’t 100% sure what to expect when revisiting Radiohead in a live setting for the first time in a decade. Sure, I knew objectively that I would be witnessing a technically proficient and dynamic performance, rich with songs from one of the strongest catalogs in modern rock history. I also knew that I would be ensconced in the enthusiastic energy of the crowd who filled in before, full of fans that no doubt pored over the relatively restrained material that the band has released over the last ten years with the same piety they devoted to the more conventionally accessible albums that preceded it. However, I didn’t know what or how I would feel, personally, when the lights went down on Tuesday night and that opening twinkle of “Daydreaming” filled the still air of the venue. In an instant, it was like no time had passed. For the two hours and change that followed, it was like time ceased to exist altogether. Along with the rest of the rapt audience, I was treated to a transfixing, transcendent night of music—the first of two in Philly that closed out the band’s tour for 2016’s elegant A Moon Shaped Pool—that simultaneously felt like catching up with an old friend and discovering a new favorite artist all over again. Continue reading →


Tending soil with serpentwithfeet

serpentwithfeet | photo by Ash Kingston | courtesy of the artist

Experimental pop-star serpentwithfeet is an artist who knows how to power clash, both sonically and emotionally. His music is at once vulnerable and volcanic as influences from the baroque to the Björk collide with each other. On stage, his presence is imposing yet inviting. His debut full length soil, out now on Secretly Canadian and Tri Angle Records, finds him wearing these occasionally messy dualities like finely tailored couture as he sings about the comforts and complexities of queer love. It’s somehow more expansive than his 2016 EP Blisters and more incisive.

He’ll be realizing these narratives on stage at Johnny Brenda’s in Philly next week. It’ll be a semi-homecoming for serpentwithfeet (born Josiah Wise), as he attended The University of the Arts in Philadelphia before ultimately moving to New York. To prepare for his return, I had the chance to chat him up about what motivates his creative output, how and when to exorcise one’s inner should, and what parts of Philly he always remembers to visit when he’s back in town… Continue reading →


Kendrick Lamar continues to kill it in Camden

•champion• #topdawgentertainment #kungfukenny #dna #legend #damn

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Pulitzer Kenny.

These words were the first to emblazon the massive screen behind Kendrick Lamar as he kicked off his headlining set at BB&T Pavilion last Friday. This screen, towering atop another that doubled as a platform where he prowled throughout a ferocious rendition of opening salvo “DNA,” both reminded everyone of Lamar’s most historic artistic achievement to date and provided as succinct a description of the night as any Tweet or blurb.

Sure, Lamar’s set was but the last in an electrifying evening of music dubbed the “TDE Championship Tour,” featuring an Avengers-worthy roster of Lamar and label mates from Ab-Soul to Schoolboy Q. But make no mistake. From doctored banners listing each of his albums’ accolades, to a stage set up of checkered flags and a customized Formula 1 race car, to that screen, this evening was ultimately a victory lap for a modern rap legend at the top of both his game and the world. Continue reading →


Romaplasmic Rumblings from Baths’ Will Wiesenfeld

Baths | photo by Mario Luna | courtesy of the artist

As Baths, Will Wiesenfeld has a rare gift for making the fantastic feel smaller, more intimate, and vice versa. Over the course of three records and various singles, he has built a subtle but instantly distinct world where emotional epiphanies will seem to appear out of nowhere from networks of beats and ambient sounds that move and mutate around each other with an impressive fluidity. This is no small feat, particularly considering the specifically queer bent those epiphanies take on record while also feeling universal.

His latest album, 2017’s Romaplasm, offers the most vivid and welcoming tour of his world yet. He’ll be opening that world on stage tonight at The Foundry here in Philadelphia. I caught up with Will while he was on the road to talk about the artistic influences and evolution that went into making his most accessible statement to date while staying true to his interests… Continue reading →


Sweet Talk with Beth Ditto

Beth Ditto
Beth Ditto | photo courtesy of the artist

Beth Ditto is the kind of artist where one’s fandom can and often does feel like friendship.

From her tenure as the formidable frontwoman of iconic queer punk band The Gossip all of the way through her recent debut solo album, Fake Sugar, listening to her songs possess a fun but familiar feeling to them, like you’re having a conversation with a friend you either just met or haven’t seen in forever. That intimacy becomes even more immediate when you see her do her thing live, which she’ll be doing at Union Transfer this Sunday.

It felt more instant still when I had the pleasure of chatting with her on the phone last month. It was freewheeling discussion that covered a lot of topics both mundane—we commiserated over our dirty laundry piles and the state of my shoe collection—and more relevant to her music, her philosophies about life and work, and what she gets from both. The highlights from the latter can be found below. Continue reading →