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Bike Crash have a Surprise! for you

Bike Crash | via bikecrash.bandcamp.com

In the endless revivals of 70’s art rock, it’s often forgotten that amidst the subversion, provocation, and politics, the music was also actually fun. But West Philly rock trio Bike Crash—whose bandcamp bio accurately places them in the lineage of “Devo, dashes of early Deerhoof, Sleater Kinney, B-52’s and more”—have avoided the pitfalls of artsy over-affectation to deliver an exhilarating new EP, Surprise!, that supplants the lightning-in-a-bottle energy of their influences into a picaresque journey through modern Philadelphia. Continue reading →

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Cult of YE: The latest from an ever-complicated Kanye West unpacks fame, fear, remorse and more

Kanye West | photo by John Vettese for WXPN

“When you hear about slavery, that was 400 years. 400 years? That sounds like a choice!”

During a heated exchange that followed Kanye West’s surprising (and downright idiotic) proclamation that African Americans’ role in (or inability to break out of) chattel slavery was in fact “a choice,” TMZ reporter and Hip Hop podcaster Van Lathan scolded Kanye for this toxic and irresponsible statement. “Kanye, you’re entitled to your opinion, you’re entitled to believe whatever you want, but there are facts and real-life consequences to everything you just said. And while you are making music and being an artist and living the life that you’ve earned by being a genius, the rest of us in society have to deal with the marginalization that comes from the 400 years of slavery that you said, for our people, was a choice! Frankly, I’m disappointed, I’m appalled and brother…I am unbelievably hurt by the fact that you have morphed into something that, to me, is not real.”

When weighed against other hot topics that captured our instantaneous 24-hour news and entertainment cycle, this moment between Lathan and West is significant on a few levels. On one level, this confrontation represented an ideological collision between the working class and the rich/famous celebrity cult that Kanye has centered in both his artistic and social life. It can be argued that Kanye’s calculation that slavery was ultimately “a choice” for African Americans is a logical conclusion of the type of quasi-spiritual “law of attraction” self-help doctrine that many Hollywood celebrities traffic in (popularized by Rhonda Byrne’s “The Secret”).  If you only believe in yourself more and think positively, you too can be rich, famous, successful, not a slave. This confrontation between Lathan and West was also significant because it created a brief space for open discussions on the systemic nature of racism. Lathan’s response to West concisely identified racism as an all-encompassing system of social, economic, political and legal oppression that exists as a historical continuum stretching from the past to the present day and NOT a mere set of prejudices and attitudes that play out on the individual/interpersonal level.

For the most part, the general public processed this discussion much in the way that we process any significant event that happens in the public sphere: through an endless stream of tweets and memes, on our favorite daytime talk shows and podcasts. Hate him or love him, the public ate it all up and it became clear (to me at least) that Kanye was and has been sacrificing himself on the altar of fame and his own personal mythology. To the man who once packaged himself as a starry-eyed college kid who just wanted to get on, all press is now good press, and it doesn’t matter if the world around him is moved by affection or outrage.

Many dismissed Kanye’s statements (coupled with his fervent support of Donald Trump) as a publicity stunt or a cry for attention. This may be true, but a close listen to his latest album, YE, and considering his past as an artistic and public figure, it becomes increasingly difficult to write Kanye’s public and artistic choices off as mere stunts designed to sell records. His eighth album to date, YE is graphic, joyous, and a horrifying glimpse into the mind of Kanye West. If the inspiration for his haunting and lovelorn classic 808’s & Heartbreaks were the women in his life and the love he couldn’t give/keep, YE’s muse, the album’s raison d’etre, is Kanye West himself, his own heart, mind and the celebrity that threatens to tear him apart. Continue reading →

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Major Pursuit strikes a balance in sound and emotion on new With Feeling LP

Major Pursuit | photo by Ashley Gellman

The last thing many musicians would want to be is predictable. But for Philadelphia’s Major Pursuit, that’s never really been an issue. Since the project began several years back as Olivia Bellito’s solo endeavor it’s evolved steadily and naturally, all the while avoiding falling into a routine.

On previous recordings, Major Pursuit’s sound was sparse, but as they played more shows, a full band formed and their sound grew into the kind that can fill a room (or basement) with ease. With Feeling, the project’s second full-length, is the first to translate that sound onto record. The album is now out in full, just a few days after the band shared its opening track “When It’s Convenient for You.” We’ve also previously heard lead single “Rough,” which comes in the middle of the record as one of its most dynamic moments. Continue reading →

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Leon Bridges is contemporary yet timeless on Good Thing

Leon Bridges | photo by Joe Del Tufo for WXPN

Leon Bridges’ sophomore effort is not only a display of his maturity and development as an artist, but also a reflection on growth and change. Between the release of 2015’s Coming Home and Good Thing, Bridges toured extensively, gaining new experiences in cities and countries the Texas-native had not previously visited. Featuring these experiences through love songs and heartbreak ballads alike, not to mention funk tracks, Bridges crafts a well-rounded follow-up album to the 2015 release that landed him on the map. Continue reading →

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On Philly’s Great Weights and the future of hardcore

Great Weights
Great Weights | photo by Carolyn Haynes | courtesy of the artist

In the early 90s, the hardcore scene pretty much meant slight variations on a single thing: angry dudes being loud and screaming on stage in front of angry dudes being violent and shoving each other around in the crowd. In some circles, it still means exactly that. Elsewhere, things have grown more nuanced.

Twenty five years ago, Riot Grrrl was a feminist response to the cishetero white male dominance of 90s punk; emo embraced a sensitive, introspective outlook to counter all that rage-for-rage’s-sake. Both subgenres and their offshoots brought us brilliant records, though neither was without its faults — from internal division rooted in scene politics to predatory sad boys using the relatability of their feelings to take advantage of their fan base.

Which brings us to 2018. Is there still something that gives punk a purpose? Or is it just basement shows, ten-year-anniversary full-album tours (or fifteen, or twenty) and little bigger-picture momentum? As somebody who has been a mere observer on the periphery of the scene for my entire life, I’m sure my answer is different than somebody else in the thick of things. But I see the future of punk and hardcore in inclusive labels like Get Better Records and their “QUEER AS IN FUCK YOU” mantra; in events like Break Free Fest, which puts artists of color and other marginalized voices front and center (which, isn’t that act of uplifting kinda the point of a counter-culture?); and in bands like Great Weights. Continue reading →

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Listen to new albums out today by XPNFest artists Sunflower Bean and Courtney Marie Andrews

Sunflower Bean | photo by John Vettese for WXPN

New Music Friday has blessed us this week, with the release of two new full-lengt albums from artists we’ll be getting better acquainted with this summer at XPNFest.

First, Sunflower Bean‘s Twentytwo In Blue – written while the band were all 22 years old – sees the New York City trio grappliing with an array of modern day topics, ranging from dealing with relationships to reacting to the current political climate. An eclectic range of sounds, the band takes inspiration from glam rock and punk, shoegaze and hints of folk. XPN hosted the trio of Brooklynites for a Fee at Noon set this past January, and the then-unreleased songs sounded sublime.

Throughout the album, frontwoman Julia Cumming displays her wide vocal range, from the angsty anthemic-punk track “Crisis Fest” to the blissfully atmospheric “I Was A Fool.” On the former, the band channels everyday anxieties, ranging from mounting student debt to seemingly-more-frequent missile tests and false alarms. Cumming shouts “Reality’s one big sick show,” a sentiment many can relate to in this day and age. Read our recap of their Free at Noon set and stream today’s World Cafe Session including a live performance and interview with contributing host, Stephen Kallao. Continue reading →

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The Guests link Popular Music and populist politics on their new LP

The Guests | photo by Kevin Spaghetti | courtesy of the artist
The Guests | photo by Kevin Spaghetti | courtesy of the artist

It would be easy to ignore the message on Popular Music, the new album by Philadelphia new wave act The Guests, because the songs are just so damn pleasant. The band knows this. That’s why they’ve put their politics front and center, making it all almost impossible to ignore. You can hear this in their lyrics, with songs like, “Kicked and Punched, Rounded Up, and Stunned” and “Watching the War” driving home the band’s anti-capitalist, populist platform.

Despite having formed in late 2014, this is The Guests’ first full length release, following two cassettes and a European-pressed record collecting the songs from the tapes. According to guitarist Alki Meimaris, the band, made up of him, Florence Lin on synth, lead singer Christian Vogan, Kyle Seely on drums, and his brother Hart on bass, has always kept the same intentional approach to making music: “The purpose of the band is to make the idea of radical left politics more approachable as a solution to global issues of poverty and inequality, to whoever listens.” Continue reading →

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Philly friends STS and Khari Mateen have a song for everyone on their duo album Better on a Sunday

S.T.S. and Khari Mateen | still from video
S.T.S. and Khari Mateen | still from video

This past Friday, rapper STS (aks Sugar Tongue Slim) and singer / producer Khari Mateen released their new duo album, Better on a Sunday, and it is an easy listen. The beats are mellow and laid back, the content is relatable. It honestly has a song for everyone – your little brother, your mom, your best friend, your girl, your girl’s friends, and your own various personalities. Continue reading →

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Listen to AllegrA’s self-titled debut ahead of their record release show

AllegrA | photo by A.W. Klass | via facebook.com/allegrabandmusic

AllegrA announced their new LP just a few weeks ago, but with enough time for quite a bit of excitement to build. The solo project of former Yes Yes A Thousand Times Yes bassist Allegra Eidinger, AllegrA released their first EP a year ago and returned recently with a few singles from the new album, “My Pillow is My Punching Bag” and “I’m An Introvert” (which has a delightful video to go along with it). After moving back to their native Philly after a few years in Pittsburgh, they’ve been previewing the new tunes at shows around town — including an appearance at Weller’s record release gig last weekend — and now we can treat our ears to the LP in full. Continue reading →

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Mahatma X provides an introspective look on millennial culture with diverse flows and complex instrumentals

Mahatma X | photo courtesy of the artist

After releasing the highly jazz-influenced A Mobtown Suit Vol. 1 earlier this year, underground Philly MC Mahatma X makes a strong return with a 23 song epic entitled Social Capital. The new album features a slew of complex instrumental tracks as well as unique lyrical tracks highlighting Mahatma’s crackly voice and enticingly choppy flow. Continue reading →