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Marsha Ambrosius continues her ecstatic personal exploration on Friends & Lovers

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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 →

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Rose’s Pawn Shop: not your average roots rock alt-country band

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Rose’s Pawn Shop are a swirling vortex of rock and roots music from Los Angeles. The band releases their new album, Gravity Well, on September 9th. Blending bluegrass and folk with rock and alt-country, Rose’s debuted in 2006. While frontman Paul Givant leads the five piece through various musical styles on the new album, those styles – and influences – coalesce nicely into a unified voice on their songs. There’s a lot of very talented bands performing a similar kind of music as Rose’s Pawn Shop, yet this highly charged band manage to create their own unique sound, in large part due to the craftiness of the songwriting, their storytelling and the musical virtuosity.

Below, download the high energy “What Were You Waiting For.”

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Support for My Morning Download, from Flying Fish Brewing Company
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Stereogum names Cayetana “Band to Watch” and shares an awesome new song called “Dirty Laundry”

Photo by Mary Ferrigno, courtesy of facebook.com/cayetana
Photo by Mary Ferrigno via  facebook.com/cayetana

Philly punk band Cayetana recently sat down for an interesting interview with Stereogum, where they talk about the Philly music scene, what it means to be punk rock, and why laundromats are sucky and depressing. Here’s an excerpt from the interview:

STEREOGUM: What’s “Dirty Laundry” about?

KOCH: The song is about sitting in a Laundro-mat and equating that dreadful experience with feelings of disappointment in yourself and others… but mostly it’s about being pissed off doing laundry.

STEREOGUM: How’d you get involved with Tiny Engines?

KOCH: We put a three song demo up on Bandcamp a while ago and Tiny Engines got in contact with us shortly after. They were extremely patient and supportive, and they completely share the ethics that we believe in so it’s been working out very well.

STEREOGUM:What’s your live show like and how different is it from what you record?

KOCH: I’d like to think that our live show and the record are a fairly similar experience. We try to put a lot of energy into our live shows. I feel like the only huge difference between them is you’re not going to hear a lot of awkward banter and bad jokes when you listen to the record.

Along with this “Band to Watch” interview, Stereogum premiered a brand new track from the band called “Dirty Laundry,” which will be on the band’s Nervous Like Me LP, out on Tiny Engines in August. The song showcases the good old punk rock skill we’ve come to expect and love from Cayetana. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like the band has any shows scheduled around the area right now, but they did just get back from a huge U.S. tour with The Menzingers and Pup, so it’s understandable. We’ll be sure to let you know once a new show is announced. Check out the full interview and the song here.

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PREMIERE: Palm Ghosts’ new “Seasons” video does French New Wave, Philly-style

Photo courtesy of the artist
Photo courtesy of the artist

The elegant and sweeping pop of Palm Ghosts comes from longtime Philly music scene fixture Joe Lekkas, who fronted the indie-pop collective Grammar Debate! for several years in the aughts while also working as a promoter and founder of the Philly F-M festival. But as all things run their course, Grammar Debate dissolved, F-M discontinued after its 2011 installment and Lekkas got out of the club booking business, giving him more time to write and reflect. Palm Ghosts is the result of that time looking inward.

Tell me about Palm Ghosts. Who are the players, what brought y’all together?

“I was working so hard all the time that I kinda neglected everything else around me, which led to some major anxiety problems,” Lekkas tells us. “Writing and recording these songs myself really helped me work through those issues and rekindle my love for writing and performing music again. It also made that brutal winter go by a bit faster. I realized I am happiest when writing and recording songs, so I need to make time for that every day. It’s like meditation for me.”

Appropriately, the new music video for “Seasons” from Palm Ghosts’ self-titled debut has a wistful and yearning vibe to it. Directed by David Kain of BITBY and conceived in collaboration with Lekkas, it strikes a dreamy French New Wave tone on the Schuylkill Banks. Keith Pierce of Northern Arms (who previously starred in a short called Check Please, which made Lekkas want to cast him in the lead) and Lisa Zeuner (formerly of Surefire Broadcast, currently a dance instructor) are a star-struck couple who encounter one another repeatedly in various Philly locales. Their dress and the tone of the film is vintage, but it’s juxtaposed by a comically modern undercurrent: street signs and cyclists that pepper the background.

“We wanted to do a video influenced by Goddard films,” Lekkas says. “I thought it would be a good visual compliment to the moody vibe of the song. When we figured out that Keith and Lisa would be our actors, we kind of told them what we were doing and let them do their thing. Lisa brought that french new wave vibe we were looking for, but then Keith has a natural Charlie Chaplin-esque thing going. We thought it worked really well! A double tribute to American AND European cinema.”

On record, Palm Ghosts is made up of Lekkas (lead vocals, guitar) with Walt Epting on Drums (“We’ve been playing together since we were teens,” Lekkas says), Maura Dwyer on cello, Alex Yaker on keyboards, Dan Storer on bass and Vince Tampio on trumpet. Live, Lekkas, Epting and Tampio are joined by Alec Meltzer on keys and Jim Becker on guitar.

Their self-titled debut record gets an independent release on August 27th, and the band will embark on a 10-day east coast that month as well. Their live debut takes place on August 9th at Bourbon and Branch; more information on the XPN Concert Calendar and the band’s website. Watch our premiere of “Seasons” below.

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The Key Studio Sessions: Taylor Dunn

Philly-bred MC Taylor Dunn got his start in music while playing basketball at LaSalle University, and his rap style has a coolness and focus that probably came in just as handy on the court as it does behind the mic. He debuted in 2011 with the Daydreamin’ mixtape (the one with the catchy Where the Wild Things Are cover art) and followed it up the following year with On the Contrary. Skillful with wit, wordplay and pop culture references – listen to his Key Studio Sessions set for references to Sister ActCarissa Explains it All, the Branch Dividians, old school Nintendo games and more – Dunn’s rhymes are free-associative and fun, and he has impeccable taste in music to mine for beats (with all due credit to his producer and creative partner Philth Spector).

Samples of Erykah Badu, The Roots and old soul records pepper his songs, giving him the vibe of a classic rapper who might have come up at the same time as A Tribe Called Quest and Digable Planets; “Orange Juice and NowAndLaters,” on the other hand, is positively crunk, and his overall sound and style recalls a young Jay Z…seriously. See below for a video of Dunn performing that last one in our studio, download the entire set and hear more on the new Collective Theory mixtape, available for download now at Soundcloud.

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Download “Wrapped” by the indie dream pop band Letting Up Despite Great Faults

Photo courtesy of the artist
Photo courtesy of the artist

The Austin based indie dream-pop band Letting Up Despite Great Faults was founded by Mike Lee in 2006. Since then the band has released three albums, with a new record, Neon, coming out on August 12th. Letting Up make beat-driven, super catchy songs that result in jangly indie rock anthems. It’s been two years since the band’s last record, and during that time Mike Lee moved from Los Angeles to Austin which he said gave him a renewed sense of creativity. On Neon, as with their previous releases, the shimmering, shiny guitars, keyboards and drums lock in with precision and Lee continues to write joyously melodic songs. If you’re a fan of Death Cab, Passion Pit, and Ride, you should dig into Letting Up’s catalogue. You can start by download “Wrapped” below.

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Support for My Morning Download, from Flying Fish Brewing Company
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Listen to a new Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers song, “Fault Lines”

Photo courtesy of the artist
Photo courtesy of the artist

We’ve already had a taste of two new Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers songs, “U Get Me High,” and “American Plan Dream B.” Petty has shared a new song, “Fault Lines,” that you can listen to below.

The new album, Hypnotic Eye, is out July 29th on Reprise Records, and the band return to Philadelphia on September 15th to headline Wells Fargo Center with Steve Winwood.

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