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Calle 13 make Philly debut (and history) this Saturday at the Merriam Theater, and we all should be paying attention

Calle 13 | Photo courtesy of Kimmel Center Presents
Calle 13 | Photo courtesy of Kimmel Center Presents

With more than enough English-language music flooding American airwaves to make even the most eclectic music-lover’s heads spin, a group like Puerto Rico’s Calle 13 might easily fall under the radar. Maybe you were lucky enough to hear their eccentric mid-2000s breakout hits “Atréve te-te” and “La Jirafa” at a college- or work-sponsored Latin music night and thought “Hey, this is a pretty cool beat,” before shimmying your hips off-rhythm for the next few hours. Continue reading →

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What’s ‘What Scene?’ trying to do with Foxtail Fest?

Noah Breakfast will perform at Foxtail Fest | Photo via thefader.com
Noah Breakfast will perform at Foxtail Fest | Photo via thefader.com

Given Philadelphia’s recent penchant for high-profile festivals whose acts carry the torch for pop’s evolutionary bent – a wordy way of saying that the festivals “aren’t lame or played out” -  Saturday’s Foxtail Fest has remained conspicuously under-the-radar. This isn’t for lack of star-billing by any means – Saturday’s all-day electronic- and hip-hop-focused festival features a headlining set from SZA, a buzzed-about downbeat RnB singer whose evocative vocals and lush instrumentals led to her 2014 EP Z receiving tremendous acclaim. Sets from A$AP Mob upstart A$AP Ant and Philly’s own master-producer DJ Noah Breakfast (a.k.a. Xaphoon Jones of Chiddy Bang), among others, promise to bring large audiences of their own. So why is this festival so comparatively hushed? Continue reading →

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The Obscura showcase gives hip-hop and indie a new voice in West Philly

Photo courtesy of Kieko Photography

For many local music fans, “West Philadelphia” is synonymous with DIY ethics and dingy basements, guitar howls and lost hearing. While there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that, those whose predilections lean towards hip-hop and breathing room might feel short-changed.

Obscura creates a space for those others, building off of the Cedar Park neighborhood’s rich diversity and deep-rooted progressivism to create a space where incendiary hip-hop and indie music can find a home. Continue reading →

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Jonathan Pfeffer’s “Bodega”, featuring a cast of Philadelphia rappers and musicians, comes to ballet-dancing life in Atlanta this Friday

Jonathan Pfeffer | photo via www.soundcloud.com/jpfeffer

Although The Key normally doesn’t publish the artistic goings-on of other cities, the use of local artists’ work in boundary-pushing art is certainly worth celebrating.

It has been roughly a year since former Capillary Action frontman and composer/multimedia artist Jonathan Pfeffer premiered “Bodega”, an avant-garde piece that employed a cavalcade of local musician collaborators including emcees Lushlife and Yikes the Zero, drummers Eric Slick (Dr. Dog) and Ricardo Lagomasino (Many Arms/Deleted Scenes) and Uniform Recordings’s Jeff Zeigler in the service of abrasive and entrancing aesthetics. On Friday, the piece will take on new life further south as the Atlanta Ballet features it in the new work showcase “Yours is Mine”. Continue reading →

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Listen to local emcee MilLionZ’s “No Tomorrow” and join him for Saturday’s video shoot in response to violence in Ferguson

Photo by Kate McCann | www.katemccannphotography.com

As the country and world turn their attention to the turmoil that has engulfed Ferguson, MO, in the wake of Michael Brown’s death at the hands of police, the music world has responded in its own way. Unforgiving and stark musical messages from respected hip-hop artists like J.Cole and Ms. Lauryn Hill contribute to a conversation that also sees Killer Mike, Talib Kweli, Frank Ocean, and St. Louis native Nelly taking to social media and the press, attempting to address a community and nation at odds with how to handle the violence. The responses bare some similarity to the ways in which hip-hop addressed the post-Rodney King verdict violence in Los Angeles almost two decades ago, providing the rest of the country with a sobering look into the realities of violence and racism in the American inner city.

Gifted Overbrook Park-based rapper and singer MilLionZ, who burst onto our radar last year with a searing guest verse during singer-songwriter Ryan Tennis’s “Fight Song” (check out Tennis’s Key Studio Session to listen to the track), is adding his unique voice to that conversation. Continue reading →

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King Britt and co. reign supreme at Friday’s Back2Basics reunion

King Britt
via facebook.com/KingBrittFanPage

Let’s get something out of the way: it’s really easy to make plays on King Britt’s name. The king is back! Long live the king! Even the title of this piece was painstakingly chosen after a lot of agony over what would be slightly witty without being superfluously cheesy (you can argue about whether or not this was successful in the comments).

Still, the man whose official documents read “King James Britt” has left a legacy for which such comical proclamations are actually quite accurate. For over two decades, the 40-something DJ and Philly native has commanded a tiny kingdom of rabid followers through a variety of beloved and critically lauded endeavors. For these fans, which endeavor they care about the most says a tremendous amount about who they are. Perhaps they were drawn to Britt’s multi-year tenure with the bi-costal hip-hop institution Digable Planets, where his genre-mixing aesthetic slant sat effortlessly with the Plantes’ Afro-centric, laid-back brand of quiet innovation.

Some might’ve instead been captivated by Britt’s unquenchable experimental and avant garde tendencies, manifest in numerous groundbreaking and headscratchingly trippy side projects;  these projects have propelled him to a very different kind of recognition, garnering him Pew and NEA grants and putting him on stage at places like TEDxPhilly and the Institute of Contemporary Arts. Continue reading →

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XPoNential Artist Spotlight: The beat-heavy road to the top of Marian Hill

Photo by Paul Gilmore via facebook.com/marianhillmusic
Photo by Paul Gilmore via facebook.com/marianhillmusic

Of all the shining local stars we’ve featured on WXPN, few have seen their fortunes rise quickly as Marian Hill. When they take the stage this Friday at the XPoNential Music Festival, they will be doing so on the heels of escalating tour momentum, glowing reviews in national news outlets, and a boatload of raw talent – all of which has come together within only a year-and-a-half of their official formation.

It would be foolish, however, to think too much of the duo’s relative youth (both as a band and as 24-year-olds). Vocalist Samantha Gongol and producer/beatsmith Jeremy Lloyd possess the rare mix of gracious humility and insatiable, studied ambition that strongly correlates with creative longevity.

“We still have a long way to go, but already realizing so many dreams and having this type of audience…it’s been out of this world,” says Lloyd. Continue reading →

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Queens of the Stone Age stop hearts at the Mann Center’s Skyline Stage

Queens of the Stone Age | Photo by Matthew Shaver | mattshaverphoto.com
Queens of the Stone Age | Photo by Matthew Shaver | mattshaverphoto.com

Few moments make music lovers swoon like the moment when a band goes off book, ditching their planned setlist to play old songs, new songs, and whatever the heck else they want.

The everlasting California desert rock institution Queens of the Stone Age did just that in the middle of their electrifying concert last night at the Mann Center’s Skyline Stage. Opting to skip playing “Kalopsia” from 2013′s …Like Clockwork, frontman Josh Homme announced that the band would instead play 2000′s “In the Fade” to rapturous applause.

Moments like this littered a night permeated by a celebratory atmosphere for many. For the Queens, it’s the last US show for a while on a touring cycle that began last year. Their electrifying performance was preceded by a brutal opening set from thrash metal wunderkinds Unlocking the Truth (those 8th graders who just inked a $1.7 million deal with Sony that you’ve been hearing about) and an equally hard-hitting one from Spinerrette/Distillers frontwoman Brody Dalle (a.k.a Mrs. Josh Homme). The Queens refused to disappoint, though, and the near-capacity crowd at the Mann was ever-grateful.

From the stage, Homme pontificated on whether or not this was the best show of the tour. We’re inclined to say that yes, indeed, it was. Check out the setlist below, as well as a gallery of photos from The Key’s Matthew Shaver.

Continue reading →

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Marsha Ambrosius talks industry, history, Friends & Lovers

Marsha Ambrosius | photo via http://www.marshaambrosiusmusic.com/
Marsha Ambrosius | photo via http://www.marshaambrosiusmusic.com/

The music industry, like any other momentum-bound field in which people can become loyal professionals, tends to bestow its employees with a sort of tunnel vision. The brilliant young artists who enter the songwriting hustle in their teens or early adulthood, shrouded behind the scenes while quietly architecting major hits for the pop elite, are the ones most likely to feel this myopia. Their craft is plied for the highest bidder, and momentum can build over a painstaking period of time in which songs may go to a poorly-fit artist or languish unearthed for years. Maybe they’ll make it to a songwriter’s own album, but few are so lucky as to have a bigger solo mark than the artists for whom they end up writing.

“Right now, I’m sitting on a patio, looking at palm trees and blue skies, and just taking a moment to just go,” says Marsha Ambrosius over a spotty phone line, exhaling deeply, her exhaustion apparent even in her laughs. “Come next week Tuesday, I’m probably not going to sleep for a year, so I have to get my vacation in now The Liverpool-born singer/songwriter extraordinaire, whose near decade-and-a-half in Philadelphia has done nothing to her accent, is in Los Angeles on a break between tours (one opening for John Legend and another on her own, which lands at the Mann Center on August 2nd). Like any conscientious musician in the public eye, she’s using her break to do the most relaxing thing ever – a gating gun of 20-minute phone interviews, one after another, with music journalists. She’s quick, though, to state her graciousness at being in her unique position.

“Well this is my life, I signed up for this part. This is the part I enjoy, because I get to give it away first,” she says about interviewing. Artists who reach these heights – a solo debut that moved over 90,000 units in it’s first week alone, shared songwriting credits with Justin Timberlake and Michael Jackson, and membership in a definitive neo-soul group among them – have probably sat through enough of these interviews to know just how a public image gets managed and scripted at every turn. But for Ambrosius, who’s lyrical signature lies in the no-holds-barred exploration of deeply personal scenarios, the exhaustion and graciousness is best understood as nothing but honest.

Marsha Ambrosius live | via visitphilly.com

On Friends & Lovers, her second solo album which dropped this week via RCA records, Ambrosius is continuing to mine this familiar territory to increasingly grandiose and high-energy conclusions – something, she admits, is somewhat borne of her showbusiness lifestyle.

“I do have a private life to manage…or mismanage, but it makes for great music, especially from a distance. To withstand a lucrative career for the past fourteen years, I’ve been on the road. So anybody who I’ve encountered, whether it be love or lust has had to handle that…or not handle that,” explains Ambrosius about the source of her narratives. One could understand Friends & Lovers as a definitive look into the life of a fast-moving recording industry star – a person who, surrounded by the pace of constant movement and creative energy interspersed with frequent performative obligations, grasps for intimacy in fleeting moments.

In this sense, the album builds from 2011’s Late Nights and Early Mornings in scope. Where Friends & Lovers deviates from its predecessor is precisely things start to get especially interesting. The album is expansive in scope, laced with atmospheric tapestries and shimmering synths at nearly every turn. Ambrosius winds through narratives of erotic passion, emotional vulnerability, and every emotion that runs the gamut of her and others’ deeply personal dalliances. Not every song mines this very specific moment of intimacy – some songs, like album closer “Streets of London”, are based in feelings of homesickness and rootlessness – but the album is unified by these tales of people who have entered and exited Ambrosius’s life as quickly and loudly as they entered it. Ambrosius admits great intentionality here, as many of these songs are sequels to songs on Late Nights. Continue reading →

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Marsha Ambrosius continues her ecstatic personal exploration on Friends & Lovers

marsha-friends-and-lovers-e1402450508879
Album art for Friends & Lovers

If an artist’s credentials are supposed to speak for themselves, then few musicians working today have a louder imprint than Marsha Ambrosius. The British-born, Philadelphia-based singer-songwriter is probably best known for her deeply sensual and evocative work as one half of Floetry, the duo whose early-2000s blend of RnB- and hip-hop/spoken word aesthetics made them (and this city) synonymous with neo-soul’s golden age. For those who chose to pay attention, however, the 36-year-old chanteuse has continued to supersede expectations and quietly architect some of the best pop and soul music of the past 15 years; her virtuoso vocals and keen ear for soundscapes and hooks are featured on superstar tracks like Justin Timberlake’s “Cry Me a River” and Michael Jackson’s “Butterflies”, as well as deeper cuts from Alicia Keys, Kelis, and Jazmine Sullivan.

To be sure, “those in the know” are a pretty big group – her 2011 solo debut, Late Nights and Early Mornings, opened at number 2 on the Billboard 200 and sold almost 100,000 copies in its first week. Propelled by big-name production and co-writing from folks as varied as Keys, Just Blaze, and the ever-enigmatic Lauryn Hill, Late Nights mined the depths of Ambrosius’s fiery passion on songs that quietly overtook the RnB charts.

On Friends & Lovers (RCA), which drops today after prolonged record label troubles, Ambrosius builds off of the first album’s themes to deliver something laced with both continuity and explosive uniqueness. This may be Ambrosius’s finest work since her Floetry days, as well as the most complete manifestation of this pop veteran’s creative mission yet.

Ambrosius’s musical genius is based in a mix of her immense talent and lyrical frankness. Seeds planted while she was in Floetry have come to fruition on her solo records, both of whose titles point towards the kinds of experiences that have influenced most of her work. But whereas Late Nights was a bit scattered, a compendium of amazing songs that worked best in isolation, Friends & Lovers is conceptual and inextricable from its whole. Continue reading →