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Two to Tango: Mirah and Sammus

Mirah, Sammus
Mirah | photo by Shervin Lainez | courtesy of the artist // Sammus | photo by Zooloo Brown | courtesy of the artist

Brooklyn-based (but Philadelphia born) Mirah Yom Tov Zeitlyn would seem radically different from the Ithaca-raised, Philadelphia-based SAMMUS (Enongo Lumumba-Kasongo) at first, with one playing askew folk pop and the other hip hop. Yet, both women keep their musical and melodic processes raw, and both lyricist/vocalist/rappers are emotive, clever and cutting in a fashion that you may not recognize until after the song or the set is over. The subtle glories of Mirah and SAMMUS sneak up you – as you shall find when the make a tour stop at Johnny Brenda’s tonight.

This interview was conducted late this week, via email, and sadly SAMMUS fell off the email chain, but I think the essence of the “tango” is still shared between these two women. Continue reading →

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Years & Years and Troye Sivan: Queer pop turns a corner

Years and Years | photo by Ed Cooke | courtesy of the artist

If queer pop with subtle, social message points about the ups and downs of the movement for LGBTQ equality and a sense of lyrical sexual freedom had banner years, they would be 2015 and 2018. Those are the years that Australia’s Troye Sivan and England’s Years & Years (and its frontperson, Olly Alexander) first made themselves known in larger, broader ways.

With both starting their careers as actors (Sivan continuously, in this year’s Boy Erased), each explored the melodic ends of ambient dance-pop since their start: Sivan with 2015’s Blue Neighbourhood and 2018’s Bloom, Years & Years with 2015’s Communion, and 2018’s Palo Santo. Further connecting the two is each act’s upcoming tour schedule. While Sivan headlines The Tower tonight, Years & Years play Theatre of Living Arts, October 10. Continue reading →

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Falling Back Into It: Allison Crutchfield on the new era of Swearin’

Swearin
Swearin’ | photo by Alexander Rotondo | courtesy of the artist

It wasn’t long ago that Allison Crutchfield swore off the possibility of a future for Swearin’. 

The band she co-founded with singer-guitarist Kyle Gilbride and released two albums with dissolved not long after the songwriters’ romantic relationship did. Swearin’s breakup, perhaps inevitable at the time, gained a sense of finality as the years stretched on.

“We really had an idea about how this band was just gonna be,” says Crutchfield now, looking back on the events that led to Swearin’s end. “And so when we broke up, it was because none of us could imagine the band existing in the way that we were.”

Until recently it didn’t seem likely that Swearin’ would be revived. Its members moved on to other projects, and Crutchfield released her first solo album, the fantastic Tourist in This Town, last year. But then a conversation between Crutchfield, Gilbride and the band’s third core member, drummer Jeff Bolt, led each of them to admit they missed Swearin’. Weighing what it would take to do the band again, they realized it could be possible — just with a different approach than before. Continue reading →

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Vogue Evolution: Philly’s DJ Delish leads queer electronic music into the future

DJ Delish | photo courtesy of the artist

The hope for underground music fans with regards to vogue and ballroom culture leaping into the mainstream via FX television drama Pose (on the stiletto-adorned heels of VH1’s RuPaul’s Drag Race, and other national TV shows highlighting colorful, performance aspects of the LGBT communities) is that the DJ’s, producers, dancers and emcees involved in crafting and embodying the culture can get a little shine.

Believed to have its origins in 1960’s Black and Latino discos and cabaret clubs, the vogue counter-culture — so named for the dancers who took many of their poses and awkwardly-arched, angular dance moves from the images in Vogue and other fashion magazines as a means of aspirational appropriation — moved from those venues and into underground clubs, community centers, and basements. The music was at first pumping, hard-edged and lesser known disco tracks (like Cheryl Lynn’s “Too Be Real” or Loose Joint’s “All Over My Face”) and eventually, house (Marshall Jefferson’s “House Music” and Derrick May’s “Strings of Life”).

As generations changed, techno-infused house music became the go-to dance beat for vogueing, with songs like Robbie Tronco’s “Walk 4 Me,” and particularly “The Ha Dance” — a rousing, swirling track by Masters at Work that compliments the equally swirling, ninja-like movements of the dancers. As DJ’s like Vjuan Allure (often considered the father/mother of “the Ha” remix movement) became frustrated by dancers only wanting a distinct collection of songs — those songs that had throbbing tribal beats; sassy vocalists chanting; horn stabs to accentuate the ultimate vogue move, the death drop — on the runway or dancefloor. And so, the Ha Remix genre was born.

 As a member of the current generation, DJ Delish‘s music takes the sound beyond what even her influences could have imagined. Her tracks are laced with a deep, resounding soulfulness that speaks to her Philly-injected approach to music. Underneath the slamming club beats are the warm bass and piano lines in songs like “U,” all riding on sinister string arrangements.  But don’t get it twisted: when it’s time to slay, Delish has the ability to do just that — the afro-beat inspired thump of “Men are Doomed” is laced with perfectly timed vocal snippets and an artful placement of the ever-present crash from the aforementioned “Ha Dance” that is the backbone of the genre.

Ironically, it’s on “Bag” that Delish really shines. It’s a simmering, playful piece of summery electronic soul that doesn’t ignore chillwave’s reinvention of the genre, but instead transcends it by paying closer attention to modern R&B’s roots. With its sweetly irreverent lyrics reminiscent of Diana Ross’s mid-’70’s, matter-of-fact storytelling on songs like “Upside Down,” words embedded in assured West Philly vernacular, Delish’s voice sits perfectly amongst the stammering synths and boom bap of the bass drum. We sat down with Delish to chop it up about beats, inspiration and where queer electronic music will take us in the future. Continue reading →

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Storytelling with Shannen Moser

Shannen Moser
Shannen Moser | photo by Emily Dubin | courtesy of the artist

Some people move to places like Philadelphia for the appeal of city life — to leave the rural or suburban communities they came from far behind. That’s not the case for Shannen Moser. When the songwriter talks about growing up in the mountains of Berks County, Pennsylvania, her words spill out of her. Both her love for her hometown and the influence it’s had on her music are immediately evident; she speaks as passionately about the details of her rural former home as she does about her career as a musician. So if Moser’s songs make you think of back country roads, looming mountain ranges, and crisp fall days, then you’re on the right track.

After five years in the city — years spent becoming a key figure in a music scene that is full of heavier, louder music than her own — Moser still returns to the kind of music that has always come the most naturally to her. She’s back with her latest record, I’ll Sing, out now. It’s 15 tracks of what you could call folk, even country (though Moser herself prefers to just call it storytelling), but either way, it’s music that transports you to a different time, a different place. And yet it’s incredibly real — and proof that Philly music doesn’t have to sound like it comes from Philly. Continue reading →

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Out Of Hand: In conversation with The Jesus Lizard’s David Yow

The Jesus Lizard | photo by Joshua Black Wilkins | courtesy of the artist

“David, very nice to talk to you.”

“Oh, well, you say that now.”

When I think of the days of the so-called Alternative revolution, memories of a musical underground poised to take center stage after Nirvana’s major label colossus Nevermind finally cracked the very polished veneer of the 1980s, I remember being in a state of constant epiphany. Entering relevancy were bands that had been working tirelessly throughout the prior decade, stretching their music across the country via a self-made and self-sustaining network of venues, fanzines, and record stores, and the record labels that saw fit to produce their music. Around this time, The Jesus Lizard was one of the era’s most threatening rock bands.

The Jesus Lizard, whose origin can be traced back to Austin, Texas in 1987, were nihilism personified, a beautifully antagonistic and often vulgar foursome who, in their early days as artists for Touch and Go Records, earned the title of Best Live Band. Unfiltered, blistering, and energized, it was vocalist David Yow who matched every decibel that the other band members (guitarist Duane Denison, bassist David Wm. Sims, and drummer Mac McNeilly) could conjure with sweat and (likely) blood, his clothing-optional and confrontational style the stuff of legend. “Well, I like it when things get out of hand,” Yow explains. “I always hoped that things would get out of hand because it’s a lot more fun that way. I mean, pretty much for everybody except David and Duane. Other than maybe dressing up in a funny costume or something like that, I rarely if ever had a pre-conceived notion of what I was going to do other than just play the show.”

Following a successful run of performances last December, and an invitation to perform at this year’s Riot Fest in Chicago, The Jesus Lizard decided to hit the road again, adding eight more shows to the series — including one tonight at Union Transfer. Prior to December, the band hadn’t toured since 2009. Continue reading →

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The High Key Portrait Series: Noah Selwyn of Agent Zero

Agent Zero | 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.

About eight years ago, Noah Selwyn began creating electronic music in his studies at The Community College of Philadelphia.

Since that time, the producer’s been advancing Philly’s homegrown dubstep and house scene, as he reimagines traditional EDM with a pop edge and his steady crew of live instruments, and evolves his studio- and stagecraft under nom-de-plume Agent Zero.

In May, Agent Zero released The Awakening, and has been playing a heavy roster of local appearances this summer with a live band — one we got to see in action during their Key Studio Session earlier this year. They just performed at the SENSORiUM Music & Arts Festival at Fishtown’s Ukie Club, and this weekend, they trek up to Northeastern Pennsylvania for the Satellite Ranch Music and Arts Festival.

This conversation with Selwyn took place a couple years back in Philadelphia’s Boom Room Studios, where the ambitious producer had recently taken up residence as an in-house engineer and producer.

Continue reading →

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Espers Everywhere Now: Beloved Philly psych-folks reflect on life ahead of their hometown reunion

Espers
Espers | photo by Alissa Anderson | courtesy of the artist

Family. Work. Relationships. Relocation. Life.

These are things that closed a chapter on Philadelphia’s Espers in 2010, not long after the release of its final album, III, in 2009. “It might have been 2010, maybe sooner, like toward the release of the album, I’m not certain,” said Meg Baird, the one-time singing Epser(s) of how the band dissolved.

And that is it: Espers gently faded out just as they faded in, on a billowing, beautiful, undoubtedly dark and cumulous cloud of psilocybin-laced folk touched by occasional thunderbolts of electricity. Now, with the looming possibility of reissues of its brief catalog — four woodsy, gauzy, tactile albums and EPs — co-Epsers Baird, Greg Weeks, Brooke Sietinsons, Helena Espvall and Otto Hauser return to their rural, ancient-to-the-future roots tied (and unmoored from) folk’s traditions.

Maybe it’s just for one night (August 24 at Union Transfer), but the pairing with the like-minded Andy Cabic and his band Vetiver is perfect. Cabic’s handcrafted, shapeshifting, urbane folk was introduced to the world in 2004, the same year as Espers initial album, and the two in the birth of the modern folk movement, unified by the (then) further adventures of newbies Devendra Banhart, Ólöf Arnalds, Animal Collective and Faun Fables, as well as the return of alternative folk elders such as Clive Palmer, Bert Jansch and Vashti Bunyan.

Calling from San Francisco, where she’s lived for six years, it is odd speaking with Baird about Espers presently, as we have discussed her solo work (albums such as 2011’s Seasons on Earth and 2015’s Don’t Weigh Down the Light) without ever discussing Espers’ slip into darkness.

“It’s strange talking about Espers now, but not in a negative way,” said Baird, days before leaving for Philadelphia and rehearsals with her old band. “More of it is surprising that we’re here. It has been good, nice, that we’re revisiting the old material, and I’m glad we are able to play music together again.” Continue reading →

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The High Key Portrait Series: Jake Morelli

Jake Morelli | 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.

About fifteen years ago, guitarist Jake Morelli met wife Donn Thompson, when he saw her perform with her vocal duo The Day at Iron Hill Brewery in West Chester. “I actually purchased a CD [after the show] that didn’t exist at the time, I found out,” Morelli recalled recently during an interview with two of them at WXPN’s studio. Morelli is charming, easygoing and disarming, and seems to put a great deal of thought into his reflections. He continued in earnest, “I mean I was so moved by what I witnessed [that night] on a lot of levels, that I just [gave them] whatever they asked for — and I think it was very modest, six or eight dollars.”

Thompson interrupted his account with a laugh. “We weren’t thieves, can I just interject here? It was eight dollars. And we were embarrassed that we had taken your money!”

The chemistry between the two of them is evident, as they took turns recalling the origins of their relationship: how half a year later the “very basic CD-R” of The Day’s finished recordings that appeared in Morelli’s mailbox would become his favorite piece of music; how a call a few years later from the late Rich Nichols — The Roots’ producer and a friend of Morelli’s — would connect the two of them for a live musical project to promote a new record; how Morelli recognized her voice during the sessions immediately from that recording that he loved so much, even without realizing at first who the singer was with whom he’d be working.

Since arriving in Philly from New York City two decades ago, the third-generation musician has had his skilled guitar handiwork in projects of all kinds. He’d played regularly at the legendary Black Lily sessions at The Five Spot in the early aughts, a beloved Philly soul artist showcase of which Thompson had hinted at hushed murmurings of a revival. Morelli started a reggae project with renowned drummer Chuck Treece, and he’s played gigs and toured extensively with the likes of Ed Sheeran, Bruno Mars, Jennifer Hudson, Lady Alma and Roberta Flack, citing the latter two as a major influences in helping him hone his recording and stagecraft skills. Morelli produced some of Thompson’s work too, as she records now under nom de plume DonnT, and started a record label with her that’s now distributed by Sony’s label group Red Music, out of New York. And he’s leant his guitar stylings to new music from Donn’s nascent project &More, a collaboration with Philly rap artist Chill Moody, He’s also produced their two singles, “My Own Light” and “Woah,” and will join the band when they perform at the XPoNential Music Festival on Saturday July 28th.

At the same time, Morelli’s been working on his own music as well, including new EP Good News, featuring Chuck Treece on drums and Nahla Bee on vocals. He’s constantly on the road as a touring guitarist, currently on a west coast run with Village People, and plans to launch a reggae/punk project called OnWa when he returns. He documents all of it on Instagram at @jmotone. Below, read our indepth conversation about his musical background, and how Philly helped amplify it. Continue reading →

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Strange Parts reaches across years and time zones to create its debut LP

Strange Parts | photo by Emily Carris | instagram.com/carrisbears | via facebook.com/strangeparts

“I want to be in that band.” That was the shared sentiment between Attia Taylor and Corey Duncan when they first met and heard each other play back in 2012. At the time, Duncan had close ties to Girls Rock Philly where Taylor was participating as a camper; he was also releasing music in the Oh! Pears project, while Taylor dropped a series of solo EPs on Bandcamp. Fast forward six years later, Taylor and Duncan combined forces to release their first full length project under the name Strange PartsOh God, What a Beautiful Time I Spent In The Wild.

The album, which was released on June 8, includes 12 tracks of what Duncan describes as psychedelic art pop. The debut track “Treasures”  offers listeners a folky yet dreamy vibe that is accompanied by languorous vocal pairings of both Duncan and Taylor. The closing track “Glorious Things” is a free spirited song that makes one reminisce on listless summer days with minimal responsibilities. The entire project is simply, effortlessly cool. Continue reading →