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The Key Studio Sessions: New Sound Brass

In more ways than one, Philly’s New Sound Brass is a band of leaders.

They lead by introducing regional audiences to the long-standing New Orleans tradition of the second line. They lead in that they’re adding their own spin second line, giving it a bit of bravado and emphasizing that it’s a celebration. They lead by showing Philly audiences that brass music doesn’t have to be limited to dudes in feathered attire and face paint, sauntering up Broad Street on New Year’s Day.

And in the biggest way, the folks of New Sound Brass are leaders in quite a literal sense — you might have seen them at the XPoNential Music Festival in 2014, marching the crowd from Wiggins Park to the BB&T Pavilion. They did the same thing this summer at Firefly, beginning at the campground and waking up the weary audience with a lively Pied Piper strut into the festival grounds. Continue reading →

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Download The Key Studio Sessions Volume 17 (featuring Aaron West, Mercury Girls, The Dove and The Wolf and more)

The Key Studio Sessions Volume 17
The Key Studio Sessions Volume 17

The Philly music community is our first love around here at The Key HQ, it’s something we’ll always rep loudly and proudly. But on the latest installment of our Key Studio Sessions compilation series, we allowed ourselves to get a bit more geographically relaxed.

There are still Philly ties across its 19 tracks, make no mistake. But many of the artists on this set are ones who started locally and moved away, or recently arrived on the scene from other places on the map. Or, in some cases, both. Continue reading →

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The Key Studio Sessions: Bel Heir

It may be the first day of autumn, but Philly modern rock four-piece Bel Heir are firm subscribers to Brian Wilson’s “endless summer” school of thought. In other words, today’s Key Studio Session does not shy away from sunny vocal hooks, energized riffs and rhythms and breezy hints of reggae, and it’s all the awesomer for it.

The regional band first caught our ear in 2013 when brothers Paul and Patrick Mencel began dabbling in a new studio recordings after the dissolve of their previous band Find Vienna. Where that crew aimed for Kings of Leon-style arena rock stratospheres, Bel Heir takes a more contemplative and laid-back route — “beachy,” as the kids like to say, and very much in step with the globally-informed electronic pop tones of Vacationer and Vampire Weekend. Continue reading →

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The Key Studio Sessions: Voss

Philly rapper Voss has been rocking a pretty funny hashtag of late: #notthewater. While it’s handy as far as name recognition that he’s got a popular aqueous doppelgänger — no sponsorship to speak of yet, though — he’d be making waves even if his last name and stage name were, like, Smith.

Which is to say: Voss is a confident and cunning MC who raps over a choice selection of beats from producers Rob Devious, Ron Swerdon, Architekt & Fearmongerz. Earlier this year, he dropped his debut album Insatiable, and its tone ranges from menacing club bangers matched with bold lyrical swagger (“CSN”) to soulful slow jams (“Respect My Mind”) and pop euphoria (“Oasis,” a flip of the brit rock icons’ “Champagne Supernova”).

His focus as an MC is bold declarations of personal ambition as well as intellectual and spiritual reflections — the closing song he performed during his Key Studio Session, “Found,” pairs him up with vocalist the means on the hook for a study of faith and religion, dissecting its role in modern life. Continue reading →

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The Key Studio Sessions: Field Mouse

Rachel Browne and her sister Zoë have called Philadelphia home for the past few years, and in a way, their asskicking indie rock crew Field Mouse has come with them.

Rachel founded the group in Brooklyn back in 2010, and three of her musical companions — guitarist Andrew Futral, bassist Saysha Heinzman and drummer Tim McCoy — still live there. It’s a band of two cities, and as Rachel told Bandcamp Daily earlier this year, both of those cities are equally important to her. Brooklyn is where everything started, it’s got deep nostalgic significance, and it’s also where a lot of her oldest friends reside. But Philly’s DIY music community has opened doors for Field Mouse in a way that they hadn’t previously experienced. Continue reading →

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Here’s what Alexander Charles – fka Azar from Ground Up – has been up to lately

Alexander Charles | photo via alexandercharles.com

After spending the better part of a decade building a grassroots following across the country on the strength of free mixtapes produced at their Temple apartment, Philly hip-hop trio Ground Up ended their run as a collective earlier this year in a heartwarming and humble announcement on Facebook. But this set everybody in the crew in a good position for launching solo careers, and first up is Azar – going now by his first and middle names instead of his last.

Alexander Charles began dropping tracks on Soundcloud about a month ago, and it finds him in reflective, introspective mode over backings that range from haunting ambient soundscapes to muted trap tones and atmospheric funk-soul. Continue reading →

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The Key Studio Sessions: Aaron West and the Roaring Twenties

Dan Campbell has always been a powerful storyteller, going back to the howling vignettes of personal catharsis he’s been delivering as frontman of The Wonder Years for the past decade and change. A few years ago, the Lansdale native decided to pick up an acoustic guitar and stretch out his narrative scope with the solo project Aaron West and the Roaring Twenties.

It debuted on 2014’s We Don’t Have Each Other by tracing the story of the band’s fictional namesake — a young man who, between drinking problems, divorce and deaths in the family, has a very difficult year. When we chatted earlier this year, Campbell said he was inspired to pursue the project after seeing The Mountain Goats for the first time. Songwriter John Darnielle bowled him over with his ability to create intensely detailed songs about very specific situations that nevertheless connect in a universal sense.

That’s exactly what Aaron West and the Roaring Twenties achieves, between its debut and the new Bittersweet EP, both on Hopeless Records. Campbell estimated there are at least two more albums worth of songs in the Aaron West saga. Continue reading →

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The Key Studio Sessions: Heart Harbor

Kerry Hallett has come a long way since her first-ever open mic at Atlantis: The Lost Bar in 2005. The Philadelphia-based singer, guitarist, songwriter and mastermind behind Heart Harbor has bounced between cities and coasts over the past decade and change, landing on a great batch of songs and the remarkable Tender Trap EP, which came out last autumn.
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The Key Studio Sessions: Clique

Typically speaking, basement scene bands with two-minute-long songs tend to play hard, fast and aggressively. Not so with Philadelphia four-piece Clique. Over two years and just as many LPs, the band has developed its own unique brand of slow punk; songs that present an idea – abandonment, loneliness, empathy and apathy – stew over it gradually for a burning moment, and move onward to the next existential concern.

Clique’s latest, Burden Piece, came out in May on TopShelf Records, and delivers on the promise of its 2014 self titled debut which, as our Julie Miller put it earlier this year, was pretty much an instant hit around town. You’ll hear bits of Pavement and Weezer in the new songs, delivered with an intense sense of introversion and self-reflection by dueling singer-guitarists P.J. Carroll and Brandon Shipp, drummer Tom Anthony and bassist Travis Arterburn.

The tagline, per their label, is “regular music for regular people” – and it’s a fitting one. Continue reading →

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The Key Studio Sessions: The Dove and The Wolf

Paloma Gil and Louise Hayat-Camard have been playing music together since they were teenagers in Paris, and in a more formal sense as The Dove and The Wolf since 2012. But the duo came on our collective radars in a big way over the past year.

First there was word that these great singers and songwriters, both 26, had relocated to Philadelphia last autumn. Then there was their exquisite Shaking Through session in December, followed up by a meditative set for Folkadelphia back in March.

Their songwriting is reflective and dynamic, wandering serpentine paths of joy and melancholy with interlocking guitar lines, brilliant vocal harmonies and vivid lyrics. “The further you dig into yourself, the further you see into the battle,” they sing on “Going East.” “He has got a heart so big, it must be a hard heart to handle.”
Continue reading →

Support for The Key Studio Sessions, from Dogfish Head