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Listen to “Shadow,” featuring Trevor Young, from SOJA’s new album

SOJA
SOJA’s fifth album, Amid the Noise and Haste, is still about a month away from its release date, but you don’t have to wait that long to hear some new music from the reggae group. You can lsietn to the catchy reggae track, “Shadow,” featuring guitarist Trevor Young on vocals and has a laid-back beachy vibe to it. Catch SOJA live when WXPN welcomes The Soulshine Tour featuring Michael Franti & Spearhead, SOJA, Brett Dennen and Trevor Hall to the Mann Center on July 22. For tickets and more information, check out the XPN Concert Calendar.

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PREMIERE: The Extraordinaires video for “Blue Moon,” the story behind Dress for Nasty Weather, and their creative new label

Photo courtesy of the band.
Photo courtesy of the band.

Matt Gibson had a tough decision to make in 2011. He either had to figure out how to keep his band, the Extraordinaires, alive in the wake of Punk Rock Payroll, the record label they’d been a part of going under, or accept an offer to go on tour playing in Man Man.

He ended up accepting and touring with Man Man as a multi-instrumentalist in support of their album Life Fantastic until 2012. His experience touring in a nationally recognized act didn’t yield the results he’d originally imagined though.

“I think I was going into it with a lot higher hopes of meeting more people and meeting more people that wanted to hear new music, or being able to share the Extraordinaires music with them,” Gibson says. “Or meeting people to make contacts with them that may be able to help with the Extraordinaires. But now looking back, that may have been a naive thought. Because the reality of it is that everybody is trying to do the same thing and you really need to have something that’s impressive to peak your head out above everybody else’s. Nobody really cares unless there’s really some hype behind it.”

But he did come away with added comfort for playing in front of larger crowds among other things that helped his main band after rejoining in 2012, which come up later in this piece.

However, Gibson later found out what he thought about bands needing hype to catch the attention of the public may not be true. He and the rest of the Extraordinaires took the crowd-sourcing approach in the winter of 2012 to aid in releasing their upcoming album, Dress for Nasty Weather, their first on their new label, Color Theory Records, which they are running with Justin Wolf of Lux Perpetua. Through a Kickstarter campaign the Extraordinaires surpassed their goal by $2,000.

“Because for what we accomplished with Punk Rock Payroll,” Jay Purdy says, “it was really hard to lose that support system. But it was really inspiring to know that people had taken notice enough that we could do another book.”

Now working under the Color Theory flag, the Extraordinaires want to “keep the spirit of Punk Rock Payroll alive,” as Purdy puts it about the original label that released their first couple albums – with handmade books.

“Our current goal is to be an outlet for bands to do interesting releases,” he says. “As far as vinyl, CDs and digital downloads go that’s kind of standard practice. Because when we were on Punk Rock Payroll, simply by aggregating all of our resources, we were able to do these really unique releases.”

Punk Rock Payroll started as a small merchandise company in 2003, by Frede Zimmer focusing on buttons and screen printing and eventually grew into to being a label for a small roster of bands. Releases on PRP weren’t just conventional CDs, tapes, vinyl records, or even digital downloads, but much more. The boutique label put out music that were more like art projects than just albums.

For example, the Extraordinaires have put out each of their albums on CD accompanied by a hard bound book with the albums’ lyrics printed on its pages. This is more than appropriate for the band’s tendency of telling stories in their music. A song about to come out on Dress for Nasty Weather and personal favorite of Purdy’s is “Stray Bullet,” a tune that he says a bit like a modern version of Pinocchio but a bit darker. And don’t forget about “The Egg of Columbus,” from 2009’s Electric and Benevolent that tells the story of that certain Italian that discovered the Americas. And from the upcoming Dress for Nasty Weather, they are bringing their first music video to light for “Blue Moon.” In it each member of the band plays the role of a Charlie Chaplin-like character, meets what Purdy describes as an “Amerlia Earhart character,” document their day together with her and maybe fall for her, too.


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Watch The War on Drugs perform “Red Eyes” on Letterman

The War on Drugs | photo by Mark Schaffer
The War on Drugs | photo by Mark Schaffer

Before heading overseas for a summer of European and UK festival dates, The War on Drugs stopped by the Late Show with David Letterman last night.  The Philadelphia band performed a killer version of “Red Eyes” from this year’s Lost in the Dream LP, accompanied by Late Show house band leader Paul Schaffer.  Check out the video below.

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PREMIERE: The Underwater Sounds get reflective in their new “Become Mighty”

Photo via facebook.com/TheUnderwaterSounds
Photo via facebook.com/TheUnderwaterSounds

Local reggae-pop group The Underwater Sounds released a new video today for “Become Mighty,” their first new music since 2012′s Que Se Queda. Led by the charismatic and talented Sonni Schwartzbach, the band blends together different styles to make an unique listening experience. A few years ago, the band did a great Key Studio session, with songs that are as uplifting as the band’s name.

However, “Become Mighty” – from their forthcoming EP Visions Of Love & Light (Part 1) – portrays a slightly different, contemplative direction for the band. Through alternating clips of Sonni singing in different locations along with the rest of the band, the video reflects on the growth that people experience when fantasy and reality don’t match up. It’s a bittersweet song, full of regretful lyrics like “Thinking we could have done more to cheer you up / it’s not like we thought it would be / we come undone and we become mighty.”The song builds up slowly and Sonni’s voice captures the emotions perfectly. Though the message may not be the cheeriest, Sonni still sounds as sunny and happy as ever.

The Underwater Sounds will be playing tonight at an after party for Phish’s first night headlining the Mann Center. Get more info here. Watch the video below.

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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.
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Jason Isbell & Amanda Shires cover “Born in The U.S.A.” for Springsteen tribute album

photo via nashvillearts.com
photo via nashvillearts.com

Riding on the heels of this weekend’s patriotic festivities, singer-songwriter favorites Jason Isbell and Amanda Shires have released their cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the U.S.A.,” appearing as the title track for an upcoming song by song tribute to Springsteen’s breakout album. The style on the album, called Dead Man’s Town: A Tribute To Born In The USA hearkens back to Springsteen’s somber Nebraska, bringing a different tone to the album’s original lively spirit.

Isbell and Shires told Rolling Stone:

“Born in the U.S.A.’ is one of my favorite songs of Springsteen’s, making it one of my favorite ever…I love that the song paints a picture of struggle in the face of the American dream, and the irony in the chorus is delivered with such force that it nearly transcends irony altogether.”

Shires also cites the song as a favorite, “Because I write songs and play rock & roll shows, Springsteen is obviously a hero of mine. ‘Born in the U.S.A.’ is one of my favorites because so many people have seemingly misunderstood the lyrical content and the song’s overall tone. When you listen to the demo, the dark, minor key arrangement makes it clear that this is not strictly a song of celebration. We wanted to stay true to that version.”

Check out the track listing below, and listen to Isbell and Shires’ cover of “Born In The U.S.A.” Jason Isbell plays the Philadelphia Folk Festival on August 17th.

1. Jason Isbell & Amanda Shires, “Born in the U.S.A.”
2. Apache Relay, “Cover Me”
3. Quaker City Nighthawks, “Darlington County”
4. Blitzen Trapper, “Working on the Highway”
5. Joe Pug, “Downbound Train”
6. Low, “I’m on Fire”
7. Holly Williams, “No Surrender”
8. Ryan Culwell, “Bobby Jean”
9. Trampled by Turtles, “I’m Goin’ Down”
10. Justin Townes Earle, “Glory Days”
11. Nicole Atkins, “Dancing in the Dark”
12. North Mississippi All-Stars, “My Hometown”

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Meet The People, a band all about bringing the people together

The People | facebook.com/thepeoplephiladelphia
The People | facebook.com/thepeoplephiladelphia

The People have been a band for a little over 2 years now, making music centered around folk, rock and jazzy sounds (often including a stomp & clap portion).  Lead vocalist Alexa Barchini has a gruff yet rich tone to her voice that makes you want to listen closely to her lyrics. Barchini’s vocals are only enriched by her talented bandmates: Dan Hanrahan on lead guitar, Charles Lane on rhythm guitar/vocals, Mark Przybylowski on bass and Gabriel Globus-Hoenich on drums.

Their newest single, “Vega” is filled with meaning. The inspiration for the title comes from the purpose the star Vega holds within the constellation, Lyra.  It is the brightest star in Lyra, and completes the constellation by drawing attention to it. According to Lane:

 It’s about not seeing yourself as an empty vessel to be filled by a significant, but rather seeing yourself as a unique individual that a significant other can contribute to, embrace and support.

The beginning of the song actually sounds like stars twinkling in the sky. It slips into a dreamy melody up until 1:35 when they introduce a striking rock & roll chord.  From there, “Vega” really morphs into pop/rock & roll track as if the twinkling star was really a shooting star flying through the constellation.

The People are a band that you can’t stylistically pigeonhole. Their ability to go from playing Sufjan Stevens covers to stomp & clap folk anthems showcases their musical interests and dexterity. They are a band dedicated to making music that engages their audience – not to mention that they like to have fun on stage either.

Download the single “Vega” below.