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Interview: Meg Baird on stage fright, recording Light and holding on to her Phillies hat

Meg Baird | Photo by Akshay Sawhney | akshaysawhney.com
Meg Baird | Photo by Akshay Sawhney | akshaysawhney.com

There’s a type of folk music that’s difficult to listen to in an abstract way, a type that’s difficult to extricate from the rich context of its history. A type that seems to always evoke a sort of timelessness, along with its most prominent practitioners and all of the artists who have carried it into the modern era. Nick Drake. Fairport Convention. Pentangle.

Oh, and “The Battle Of Evermore. “ Obviously.

Toward the end of her until-then lifelong residency in the Philadelphia area, in December of 2010, Meg Baird opened for the late great folk singer and guitarist Bert Jansch at Johnny Brenda’s, at what would be his last appearance here. Shortly following that show – in retrospect, an evening on which the proverbial torch of this tradition and this artistry was arguably passed, metaphorically speaking, between its masters in two generations – Jansch would pass away, sadly, and Baird would uproot, and relocate to the West Coast. Continue reading →

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Summertime Sips and Summertime Sounds: The Bul Bey

The Bul Bey
The Bul Bey

Summertime Sips and Summertime Sounds is our occasional, seasonal foray into summer vibes with our fave local “summertime” bands, in which we meet up, share a drink, and revel in the sunny weather (check out past editions here). Today we catch up with rising West Philly emcee The Bul Bey.

South Philly’s the best around the holidays, when row homes battle for “brightest” and “most festive,” and Old City’s gorgeous in the spring, when the national park gardens come alive. But I’ll take West Philly in the summer hands down, when everything is green and lush and farmers’ markets dot Baltimore Ave., yet the bars remain comparatively empty, the college kids and shore-goers all away for the season. Is it a coincidence that The Fresh Prince, in West Philadelphia born and raised, chose summertime as the subject of his epic, seasonal anthem?  Is there anywhere east of 40th you’d rather than be than your friend’s giant, wrap-around porch, drinking a beer, after Ethiopian / Eritrean / Vietnamese food at Gojjos / Dahlak / Vietienne?

Amir Richardson, who performs under the name The Bul Bey, is like Smith in that he grew up in West Philly; unlike Smith, he still lives there now. In fact, his neighborhood is the subject of his breakout music video “Where I’m From,” a lively and complex portrayal of a place where, yeah, you better lock your doors—but where there’s also a real sense of community, whether hanging with your crew at a house party or laughing at your drunk uncle’s block party dance moves. The video, with its bright colors and enthusiastic participants (Bey tells me he did not instruct the kids to dance; they just did it) is sort of the ultimate tribute to summers in Philadelphia. So who better to talk summer vibes with than Richardson, who not only created a new summer classic, but is also one of our very fave rising hip-hop artists in the city right now? Continue reading →

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New Jersey’s YJY blends their unique brand of fuzz pop into the DIY community

YJY | photo by Jill Hendershott | courtesy of the band
YJY | photo by Jill Hendershott | courtesy of the band

Philadelphia may have an amazing music scene, but there’s an entirely different world across the pond in New Jersey. One of the megacenters of NJ’s music scene is the northern town of New Brunswick, although that’s nothing new – legendary shows have been going down there since the mid-20th century.

Countless bands, such as Thursday, Screaming Females, The Gaslight Anthem, Streetlight Manifesto, and even bigger rock acts like The Smithereens and Bon Jovi, got their start underground in crowded suburban basements. Later, they moved on to more official venues like the Court Tavern and the Starland Ballroom, which accelerated their fame. New Brunswick’s scene is apparently so well-known that it has its own Wikipedia article. You can explore that on your own time.

While those bands have risen to national prominence and beyond the tight-knit scene of New Brunswick, a new generation of underground bands is filling in the gaps at a record pace. One of these bands is fuzz pop four-piece YJY. I was lucky enough to listen to their stellar debut EP, COUCH SURFIN USA, and catch them just after the EP release show. Continue reading →

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Interview: Powerdove on improvisation, academia and working with acoustic instruments

Powerdove
Powerdove | collage by John Dieterich

Outside Nashville, the “song” – with its vaudevillian and Tin Pan Alley roots – has become an increasingly irrelevant form. The dominance of crowd-sourced festival culture has pushed popular artists to work less with the “song” as a vehicle for storytelling and more toward designing functional, ambient tracks for the polo grounds, the dancefloor, the gym, the office, the bar, or the bedroom. In many ways, mainstream music increasingly resembles what many of us define as “noise.”

On the surface, Ithaca-based pianist, improviser, and Cornell lecturer Annie Lewandowski’s explorations with Powerdove seem blissfully removed from any larger musical/cultural conversations. However, on closer inspection, Lewandowski’s skeletal vocals nestled amidst house-of-cards instrumental arrangements point to a future where improvisers might be able to bridge the gap between our present thirst for novel timbres and our past predilection for narrative-driven songs.

Continue reading →

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Pitchfork gazes into the future of Will Yip and Studio 4

Photo by John Vettese
Photo by John Vettese

Pitchfork recently published a feature story about Will Yip, the celebrated and highly-regarded producer based in Conshohocken, and the studio and scene surrounding his work.

Yip has produced albums for numerous Pennsylvania bands, including Circa Survive, Title Fight, Tigers Jaw, Balance and Composure, Nothing, and Superheaven. He works out of Studio 4, a legendary area recording space run by Phil Nicolo. The article explores his work with some of these bands in-depth, observing their genre-bending tendencies that draw heavily from music of the latter 20th century. It also touches on the fact that Yip’s bands have reached younger generations that are constantly told underground music scenes are “dead”. Continue reading →

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Bethlehem’s VoirVoir reminds us what local music is really about

VoirVoir | photo by Jess Cuttic | via facebook.com/Voirvoir
VoirVoir | photo by Jess Cuttic | via facebook.com/Voirvoir

Bethlehem, PA was once a towering empire, thanks to Bethlehem Steel, America’s second largest steel producer during much of the 20th century. Now, as the buildings and machinery of a bygone era rust away, a new empire is taking the reins in Bethlehem: the music scene.

With the help of annual events like Musikfest, as well as the addition of the SteelStacks and Sands Bethlehem Casino venues, Bethlehem’s music scene is growing at an astounding rate. Behind the scenes, local and underground venues are popping up all over the city. This is good news for bands that are working their way through the music world. One of these bands is indie rock outfit VoirVoir.

I had a chance to talk with one of the band’s masterminds, Matt Molchany. We chatted about the recording of VoirVoir’s debut album, their upcoming shows, and what’s happening in the Bethlehem music scene. Continue reading →

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The inside story of Little Furnace with label owner Jack Firneno

Little Furnace Label | Photo courtesy of Jack Firneno
Little Furnace Label | Photo courtesy of Jack Firneno

Little Furnace is a relatively new local label, run by Jack Firneno. The label’s roster includes Cicada Jade, Borrowed Equipment, The Band Sheep, Tim Schmid, Alyssa Marsdale, Dime Street Joker, and Ashton John. The creator and backbone of the fresh faced record label reflected over email with The Key about a the label, its roster and a Little Furnace show at Connie’s Ric Rac in South Philly last month. The show included many of the artists on the label, including Ashton John. Firneno wrote: ”I’ve never seen a bar go from empty to packed as fast as when he’s (Ashton John) playing.” Here’s more on Little Furnace from Jack Firneno: Continue reading →

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Spelling Reform (ex-The Quelle Source) announce Diving Bell EP; Johnny Brenda’s release show on 7/18

Spelling Reform
Spelling Reform’s “Fake Conversations” Cover Art

On Philly power pop band Spelling Reform’s lead single, “Together Apart”, Dan Wisniewski utters, “Now I realize that there are no rules; I can do whatever I want.” This self-absorbed line permeates the rest of their debut EP Diving Bell, which will be released on July 17 via Hope for the Tape Deck. It’s four songs about discovering identity, the fallacies of love, and dealing with millenial misfortune, with a little bit of nihilism thrown in. Continue reading →

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Creepoid’s new album, Cemetery Highrise Slum, spins webs of dreary but thoughtful noise rock

Creepoid | Photo by Noel Conrad | courtesy of the artist
Creepoid | Photo by Noel Conrad | courtesy of the artist

Imagine walking into some downtown dive bar late at night, and recording what you see when you first step through the door. Hazy swirls of cigarette smoke coat the place in a fog. Over at the bar, the ancient TV is playing an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000, and the only three patrons are all slumped against the counter. In a booth, a couple is halfheartedly kissing, trying to escape the burdens of life and temporarily replace them with love. Philly noise-punks Creepoid would probably be a fitting soundtrack to this dreary scene. Continue reading →

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Stream Year of Glad’s debut EP, out today on Lame-O Records

Year of Glad | via brooklynvegan.com
Year of Glad | via brooklynvegan.com

Punk music is known for its supergroups made up of members that the Average Joe would never know about. But inside their scene, they’re all celebrities.

Enter the Philly scene’s newest supergroup, Year of Glad, who is streaming their debut EP over on over on Stereogum. Its members come from all walks of the punk scene here: Nona’s Mimi Gallagher and 1994!‘s Chris Diehm trade off on vocals, and they’re backed by Mike Harping of Good Luck and Mike Bell from Mike Bell & the Movies. Continue reading →