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The Key Presents: Secret American

Secret American | photo by Jeremy Zimmerman | jeremy-zim.com

Secret American is a project of two coasts. A couple years back, frontman Derek Krzywicki found himself living in Southern California, where he moved with his old band Cheers Elephant. After parting ways with those guys, he began melding a retro-rock songwriting style with his unstoppable charisma onstage and at the microphone. But Krzywicki is a Philadelphia-area native, and some of his favorite folks to record with were located back in Philly. So he grabbed cheap airfares when they popped up and bounced back and forth across the U.S. to record his debut album, due out early next year. The result is pretty nicely aligned with the band’s jovial tagline: “California country landscapes from the seat of an overhead SEPTA train.”

Secret American found itself convened back in Philadelphia on a sunny day in early September of 2017. And so Krzywicki and his bandmates — Kevin Killen on drums; Todd Mecaughey on bass; Rory Geoghegan and Alex Baranowski on guitars, Katie Frank on keys and Tony Unander on percussion — met up at Fergie’s Pub in Center City. It’s an incredibly musician-friendly establishment, between weekly open mics, residencies from Philadelphia vets like John Train, a regular traditional Irish music session, the musicians slinging drinks from behind the bar, and more. So the seven bandmates gathered together on the tiny second floor stage of the pub for an afternoon jam out.

This is The Key Presents: Secret American. Continue reading →

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Indie Rock Hit Parade Live Session: Cold Specks

Cold Specks | Photo by Katie Tapman for WXPN

Joining us in the studio for this Indie Rock Hit Parade Live Session is Cold Specks, the Canadian group led by singer Ladan Hussein. On earlier albums, Hussein dabbled in menacing folk and piercing guitar rock, but on Fool’s Paradise her tone is brooding and delicate. With longtime bassist/producer Jim Anderson and drummer Josh McIntyre providing the dark electronics, Hussein performs three selections from the album in this session.

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Indie Rock Hit Parade Live Session: Mister Heavenly

Mister Heavenly | Photo by Katie Tapman for WXPN

Joining us for this Indie Rock Hit Parade Live Session is a group whose members have all visited us before, both separately and together (long, long ago). Mister Heavenly was formed by Nick Thorburn of Islands, Ryan “Honus Honus” Kattner of Man Man and Joe Plummer of Modest Mouse and The Shins around seven years ago. Back then, when their debut album Out Of Love came out, they stopped by our studios to record a handful of live tracks. Joining the trio this time around is bassist Brett Morris, who doubles on guitar in Kattner’s solo Honus Honus band. Even if you can’t keep all those affiliations straight, it’s easy to fall in love with Mister Heavenly’s long-awaited new album, Boxing The Moonlight. Before a sold-out show, the four friends returned to our studio to perform a few of the new songs live.

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On this day thirty years ago, The Cars were rocking Philly’s beloved venue, The Spectrum

The Cars | photo via artist’s Facebook page

“Happy 30th anniversary, The Cars!”

“Thanks, but, eh, for what exactly, random lady shouting at me?” I can only imagine the alarmed power pop icons would answer in question.

“For playing Philly’s The Spectrum thirty years ago, ya loons!” I’d respond emphatically before sprinkling a handful of confetti. Then we’d part ways. End scene. Continue reading →

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The High Key Portrait Series: Ivy Sole

Ivy Sole | photo by Josh Pelta Heller for WXPN

High Key” is a series of profiles conceived with the intent to tell the story of Philly’s diverse musical legacy by spotlighting individual artists in portrait photography, as well as with an interview focusing on the artist’s experience living, creating, and performing in this city. “High Key” will be featured in biweekly installments, as the series seeks to spotlight artists both individually and within the context of his or her respective group or artistic collective.

This past September, Ivy Sole played a set at Philly Music and Arts Fest at World Cafe Live that showcased best the talent and skill that she’s honed for engaging her audience. Closing that night with “Life,” a track that’s maybe her best-known to date, the artist modulated several times from theatrical gesticulations to rap verses, and slipped seamlessly into song for her choruses too, a swaying audience in tow.

In this interview, recorded earlier that evening, the 24-year-old artist describes her relationship with the performing arts, and how a background with spoken word poetry may have informed the arc of her artistic development, ultimately lending an element of effortless elegance to her stagecraft.

Having returned from show dates in Berlin and London, and with a new EP out recently, Ivy Sole looks toward a full-schedule though this year, with a focus on video production and a new full-length on the horizon too.  Continue reading →

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PREMIERE: Curtis Cooper’s Messy is a visceral work of compelling catharsis

Curtis Cooper | photo by Abigail Townsend Photography | courtesy of the artist

“I feel like all my closest friends are damaged,” says Philly’s Curtis Cooper. “And I don’t mean damaged in a bad way. I mean they have been beat down in one way or another and they’ve come back, and now they know the difference between having a good life and having a bad life, and they really appreciate what’s going on in their lives now. Those are the kind of people I want to spend time with.”

We’re talking one evening last week over falafel at Mama’s Vegetarian in Center City; “I love coming here,” Cooper comments, “there’s always somebody behind the counter wearing a Clique shirt.” And indeed, we’re handed our pita sandwiches from somebody wearing a jet black LIZARED tee. We grab a table and proceed to talking about Cooper’s personal and creative journey – through drugs, depression, and breakdowns – to their new album Messy, released this week. Continue reading →

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With The Fall of the Fool, Andrew Mars of Settled Arrows searches for solutions

Settled Arrows | photo by John Vettese for WXPN

Andrew Mars likes to keep busy. After debuting his emotive, atmospheric songwriting project Settled Arrows with 2015’s Public Privacy — an album that finds moving beauty in personal tragedy, the loss of friends and the death of loved ones — Mars existed in that body of work for a year. He released Unsend, a stripped-down solo-piano revisit of the album recorded in one take. He released two live collections, one of Public Privacy performed before a studio audience at South Philly’s Buckeye Recording, and one a collection of covers from the same gig, rooted in his then day job at a piano bar. He even took part in an ambitious production with BalletX last fall, writing operatic lyrics for a production of Sunset, 0639 Hours at the Wilma Theater.

At the time, his next body of work was poised to be more surreal and abstract — and we definitely hear sonically free-form moments on INNOCENCE//The Fall of the Fool, the latest Settled Arrows album, released last Friday on Bandcamp. But topically, we find Mars responding to world events: a tense and uneasy climate both politically and socially, a litany of men behaving badly and a public demanding accountability, an uneasy undercurrent of aggression. On one level, the album is a takedown of toxic masculinity, but it also sees toxic masculinity as one component of much more deeply-seated societal ills. I caught up with Mars this week to chat on the phone about all of these things, as well as the current four-piece configuration of Settled Arrows that will perform live at Ortlieb’s tomorrow night.

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Step Into the Light: The ascent of Bishop Briggs

Firefly 2017 | photo by John Vettese for WXPN

 

It was only two years ago that Sarah Grace McLaughlin — the Scotland-born, nomadically-raised modern rock singer and songwriter better known as Bishop Briggs — was living in Los Angeles, hustling for gigs at any venue that’d give her a space to play.  And then “River” happened.

Released in January of 2016, the earworm single was an instantly captivating blend of sinister, simmering electronic rock, with an undercurrent of retro soul and R&B, tied together by a powerful vocal delivery from the then-23 year old Bishop. The single crawled its way up the modern rock charts and got something of a second life this past summer, when her self-titled debut EP was released on Island Records. Her set at the main stage of Dover, Delaware’s Firefly Festival this summer was gripping on a sweltering June afternoon; her pop-up performance in the shade of the festival’s Treehouse stage was even better.

This fall, Bishop returned with her latest single, “Dream,” a hugely uplifting gospel anthem with a lyrical dark side; it’s been slaying on her fall tour. This Thursday night, Bishop plays the main stage of The Fillmore, opening up for Bleachers, but when I caught up with her via phone, she was pulling in to Toronto’s almost-certainly haunted Massey Hall, getting ready to open for Alt-J. “It’s been insane, it’s a dream come true,” an effusively positive Bishop says at the top of our chat. “I love Alt-J so much, I love seeing them every single night. They’re unwaveringly good and consistent.”

Our conversation from there touched on collaboration, knowing one’s limitations, the slow-and-steady release strategy, and the influence of place on the creative mind.
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Remember Sports as they vanquish confusion from their so-simple-its-confusing-as-heck name

Remember Sports | photo via twitter.com/remembersportsb

Attention all Sports fans: ehr no — I mean, not like the “football” kind of sports. No, not basketball either, or any other form of recreational sporting team activity. Sports, like the band. But not that band, the other one. You know, the Philly one.

My goodness, who could’ve known how exhausting an uberly simple band name could be. Probably not Sports, the four-piece band of Kenyon College pals. Or maybe they did, and these wholesome punks wanted to be ironic like me with my beloved, context-less COLLEGE tee I found at a thrift store (no, middle-aged frat dad, this is not a nod to John Belushi in Animal House, I’m trying to be ~ironic~ here.)

A google search to find the band’s crunchy tunes or social media sites more often that not quickly free-falls into an enigmatic online quest, where you must pass through a forest of sweat arm bands and athletic watches before dueling a “band of wizards from Oklahoma” — eventually feeling small and confused as you find yourself shouting “no you’re not!” at your inanimate laptop while “You Are the Right One” streams in blissful ignorance at your weird and unexpected journey.

Well, friends, please stop screaming. First, because that song is a jam. Second, because Sports hears your calls for help and is taking action. This valiant move comes in the form of smacking on a permanent qualifier to their name. Without further ado, world, meet the new and improved, Remember Sports. Continue reading →

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Lukas Nelson and Co. bring the real

Lukas Nelson | photo by Myriam Santos | courtesy of the artist
Lukas Nelson | photo by Myriam Santos | courtesy of the artist

Two years ago, Lukas Nelson, his brother Micah Nelson, and the membership of the ragged Promise of the Real were just coming into its own as backing band-collaborators of Neil Young for his Monsanto Years album and tour. The Nelson Brothers and their surfer buddies in Promise had recorded rough, jammy, Cali-countrified albums such as 2010’s Promise of the Real, and 2012’s Wasted, by that time (Micah is a solo artist under names such as The Particle Kid and Insects VS Robots), yet, between this then-new association with Young – to say nothing of their personal and professional lineage, playing and touring with their dad, Willie Nelson – there could have been a fear that legend would overshadow youthful ebullience and individuality.

“Willie’s my dad, Neil is our friend, both are masters and originals; why run from that?” Lukas Nelson told me back in 2015. Besides, with its slow, syrupy 2017 album Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real topping the Americana charts (along with the December 1 release of his collaboration with Young, The Visitor), Nelson & Co have found a sound, a niche and an audience all its own.

With that, they hit Union Transfer on November 14 as WXPN’s Artist to Watch for the month of November. Continue reading →