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Listen to Low Dose’s self-titled, Nat Turner Rebellion’s Laugh to Keep from Crying, Caracara’s Better, and other Philly albums out today

Low Dose | photo by Rachel Del Sordo for WXPN // Nat Turner Rebellion | photo courtesy of Mad Dragon Records // Caracara | photo by Ashley Gellman | courtesy of the artist

Once again, it’s happened. The stars have aligned and several Philly releases we’ve been eager to listen to all landed on the same day. We’ve got our headphones and flame emoji ready; here are five new Philly records released on March 29th: Low Dose‘s self-titled, Nat Turner Rebellion‘s Laugh to Keep from Crying,Caracara‘s Better, S.R. Frost‘s Moving Light, and Lily McKown‘s Sea of Junk. Continue reading →

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Unpacking Strand of Oaks’ Eraserland in 10 essential lyrics

Strand of Oaks’ Eraserland | courtesy of Dead Oceans

Complicated thinkers make compelling art, and Tim Showalter was never one to look at the world simplistically. Whether it’s the hazy metaphorical view of loss and death in Pope Killdragon or the gutting emotional catharsis of HEAL, the Strand of Oaks frontman has historically excelled at reflecting on the turbulence of his life — and by extension, all of our lives — in an acute, multidimensional manner.

The latest Strand of Oaks record, Eraserland, is out today. It’s Showalter’s sixth release under that banner, it’s a culmination of most styles he’s dabbled in over the past 15 years — the folk introspection of his early years, the atmospheric mysticism of Killdragon and Dark Shores, the bold rock of the HEAL era, the dripping psychedelia of Hard Love — not to mention, as has been much discussed in the album rollout, it was made with some pretty famous friends.

Showalter’s backing band in the studio included most of My Morning Jacket — guitarist Carl Broemel, keyboardist Bo Koster, bassist Tom Blankenship, and drummer Patrick Hallahan — with contributions from Jason Isbell as well. In that regard, the album sounds extraordinary, but for this longtime Oaks listener, the people who worked on Eraserland might be the least interesting element of it. These songs are the most honest, raw, and vulnerable Showalter has ever been in his music. In them, we see a person who is not simply sad, or angry, but hopeless and terrified, confused and at an impasse, unsure of where or whether to go. And throughout the album’s ten songs, he articulates every one of those feelings. Continue reading →

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20 Years of Grandiose Hip-Hop: How Things Fall Apart taught The Roots to balance art, commerce, and deeply personal perspectives

The Roots, circa 1999

“We had given most of our adult lives to that point to the band. What if success never came to us, or never came in the form we expected? – Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson

As a teenager growing up in Philadelphia in the mid-to-late 90s, radio was a really big deal. Guided by that old algorithm of the human spirit, a handful of radio shows and the DJs and personalities that captained them fed and diversified my ever-growing musical appetite, from J. Michael Harrison’s electric Jazz fusions on Temple’s The Bridge, to the quirky Indie Rock of the Sarah and Laurie Show from Princeton’s WPRB. I’d bounce off my bedroom walls to sounds of mainstream Alternative Rock on Y-100 and fall asleep to the ambient soundscapes of John Diliberto’s Echoes and Chuck Van Zyl’s Star’s End on WXPN.

Like many kids, I’d often call into radio stations and request whatever songs I wanted to hear. Unlike most kids, the budding archivist in me would compel me to press record on my combination radio / cassette deck each time one of my request calls made it on air or my name was shouted out by a show’s host. By the time I graduated high school and I had filled up a tape of my radio mentions and shout outs.

One night, a new song by Philadelphia’s own The Roots had come across the airwaves and floored me. Slick and modern, the song fused lovelorn verses from Black Thought and a pre-fame / pre-Ruff Ryders Eve with a killer hook sung by Erykah Badu (and written by Jill Scott). Two bars into the song’s final chorus, the plodding, straight-forward drum beat that Questlove had held lockstep for the entire song transformed into something altogether different. Continue reading →

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Reef the Lost Cauze emerges in top form on the all-encompassing The Majestic LP

Reef the Lost Cauze | photo by Reji B. for WXPN | rejibphotography.com
Reef the Lost Cauze | photo by Reji B. for WXPN | rejibphotography.com

It’s seems like veteran Philly MC Reef the Lost Cauze is always cooking up some project or another — the Bear-One collaboration Furious Styles, the Snowgoons set Your Favorite MC, his regular Reef Radio podcast — but there’s something special about The Majestic. Arriving on the internet this morning, just 24 hours before his 37th birthday, the project is an all-encompassing survey of everything Reef is all about.

He’s on the offense, taking shots at superficial rappers who book studio time just to take selfies (an actual lyric, an actual practice as well), but he’s also reflective and sensitive, effusively showering love and affection on his family, spitting bars of eternal dedication throughout the project and focusing an entire song on his three-year-old son Manny.

At some moments, he’s both those things at once. Continue reading →

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The Key’s Top 15 Albums of 2018

This is the music that moved us in 2018

In her review of Lucy Dacus’ Historian, Key writer Sarah Hojsak uses a vivid phrase that sums up both the record, as well as the emotional landscape of 2018: “desperately sad but never hopeless.”

Oh, wait, I’m sorry…would you describe your year as happy? That must be nice, good on you. For many of us, it’s not as straightforward: the toxicity of the country at this moment in history, and the various players that fuel that toxicity, has a draining effect, whether you’re a marginalized person who is in the line of fire or an empathetic soul who is distressed from afar. There’s also the let-down: the pouring of our energies into something to watch it fail, whether personal or public.

And yet we experience moments of joy throughout it all: weddings are had, families are started, a breathtaking sunset is observed from the westbound platform of the Berks Avenue el stop. And there’s music, a constant source of joy and comfort that centers our lives. Continue reading →

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Meek Mill flexes his increased social consciousness on Championship

Meek Mill | photo via facebook.com/MeekMill

In a recent New York Times op-ed, South Philly-born, North Philly-raised rapper Meek Mill laid out a harrowing first-person account of how he has been railroaded by a lying cop and a judge with a grudge. Reading through this sad and horrific account, a broader question begs to be asked: if this could happen to a rich and famous Black Man, how many others have had their lives swallowed up by an unfathomably cruel and racist justice system?

Since his dramatic helicopter-led release from prison before game five of the Sixers vs. Heat playoff series, Meek has (metaphorically) hit the ground running. Dropping new music, spearheading several charitable efforts in the city, and refashioning himself as an advocate for criminal justice reform. Earlier in the year, his song “Dreams and Nightmares (Intro)” served as the official soundtrack of the Philadelphia Eagles storied Super Bowl run. As he sat in a cell, the streets were filled with his music while the people organized mass rallies demanding he be freed. Meek Mill had become the spiritual symbol of a city’s ambition and determination, but more importantly, his celebrity and (most of) his music would come to represent something bigger. Continue reading →

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Hear Phoebe Bridgers, Julien Baker and Lucy Dacus in supergroup form on the boygenius EP

Phoebe Bridgers, Julien Baker and Lucy Dacus | photo by Lera Pentelute | courtesy of the artists

After generating two months’ worth of buzz following the announcement of their new project boygenius, the three artists behind the supergroup have released their self-titled debut EP two weeks early. The collaborators, Phoebe Bridgers, Julien Baker and Lucy Dacus, formed a fast friendship when they crossed paths while touring behind their individual solo material. When the trio of singer-songwriters finally booked a tour together, the idea to collaborate took form, and the result, a six-track EP under the name boygenius, is out today digitally. Continue reading →

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Restorations brings a wiser perspective to LP5000, now streaming at NPR First Listen

Restorations

Restorations | photo by Emily Dubin | courtesy of the artist

Philly indie five-piece Restorations conceived their latest album LP5000 during a period of turmoil and transition. In the wake of the 2016 presidential election, and facing setbacks within the independent realm of the music industry, the band took a mental health break. Each member pursued their own projects or made strives in their personal lives: for Jon Loudon, the giant leap was marriage, for Dave Klyman it was heading to grad school, and for Ben Pierce it was opening his own vegan restaurant in South Philly, The Tasty. After switching record labels and taking time to get it together, the band returned for this piece of work — which is streaming a week ahead of its release date over at NPR Music. Full of reflective songwriting and pensive lyrics, LP5000 portrays a slightly wiser perspective and heightened awareness of the world. Continue reading →