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The Key Studio Sessions: Mercury Girls

If you haven’t yet seen Mercury Girls live, you’re missing out. The Philadelphia five-piece takes the high-spirited, playful tones of classic indiepop — which they clearly have a deep reverence for — and delivers them with punk rock ferocity. Leaps, spins and kicks from guitarist Kevin Attics mix with the unflappable delivery of vocalist Sarah Schimineck and the thundering force of drummer Chris Schackerman. Add in sick leads from co-guitarist Kevin O’Halloran, and the energy levels approach metaphorical combustion (thankfully there’s cool, collected bassist Andrew Hagiwara to keep things on relative terra firma). In short: one of the best live bands on the scene right now, and we were stoked at the opportunity to capture some of that energy in our studio this week. Continue reading →

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The Key Studio Sessions: Liz De Lise

Philly singer-guitarist Liz de Lise writes arresting songs rooted in observational honesty – whatever tone they happen to take. When we first met her early this winter, the music was jazzy folk-pop, and reminded us of 70s Joni Mitchell and Laura Nyro records. The project at hand was a series of monthly DIY videos completed across the course of 2015, preceded by 2014’s To & Fro – an acoustic collection based on stories the songwriter gathered from homeless youth she encountered in Portland, Oregon.

In the time since, de Lise has developed her sound into something more cerebral – yet no less catchy. As we hear in this Key Studio Session, she has two chief collaborators: Mark Watter on bass and vocals (you might know him from Rosu Lup, Caroline Reese + the Drifting Fifth, and his own band Howlish), and a tight network of effects pedals and loopers, which she works with skill and finesse (I guess that’s more of a tool than a collaborator, but you get the picture). The set swallows you in sound, with layers of vocal rounds floating alongside askew lead guitar reminiscent of St. Vincent’s Annie Clark. Continue reading →

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The Key Studio Sessions: Littler

The story of Littler is the story of circumventing expectations, of forging your own path. It’s the story of artists coming together for the first time and making something honest and awesome. The band got its start under the name Calamity Jane back in 2014 at the inaugural First Time’s The Charm festival at PhilaMOCA, and though it’s evolved, those origins are important to note. For those not familiar, FTTC encourages creative people marginalized in the music community to say the hell with it and play a show anyway – bands on the bill have feature either first-time-musicians, people new to their instrument, or musicians who identify as female, trans, queer and/or a person of color. The idea, as frontwoman Madeline Meyer put it on Facebook last year, is a firm reminder: “if you want to be in a band, you can be in a band!” Continue reading →

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The Key Studio Sessions: Prowler

If math and memory serves, postmodern funk punks Prowler are the first Philadelphia band to visit WXPN on three separate occasions over the years to record a studio session with me. Of course, in their trademark mix of cockiness and self-depreciation, they shrug that off. When I recently showed the band its original signature on our studio wall, guitarist Ryan Kerrigan looked at the tags of his local peers surrounding it and concluded that many artists making the scene in 2008 have since broken up. Prowler, on the other hand, kept on keeping on.

In 2008, pork pie hats and LCD Soundsystem were all the range, and the band brought us a fierce, crisp and disco-fied set from its En Garde! EP. They hung multicolored lights from the rafters in our production studio and rocked a party for myself and my co-host Jake Rabid. Flash forward several years and the terra firma had shifted – indie rock was becoming scuzzier, less shiny. Their Wooly Mammoth EP reflected this change, and a session in our large performance space (also disco ball’d up) had teeth (tusks?) in a way that its predecessor did not.

Along the way, the band shared the stage with V.V. Brown and Janelle Monae, collab’d with Reef the Lost Cauze and Plastic Little, and dished a steady string of singles and EPs, its preferred medium. The latest one, a cassette release called Trash Bag, finds Prowler at its most unguarded and experimental. Continue reading →

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The Key Studio Sessions: Meddlesome Meddlesome Meddlesome Bells

Meddlesome Meddlesome Meddlesome Bells | Photo by Michelle Goodwin Photography for WXPN
Meddlesome Meddlesome Meddlesome Bells | Photo by Michelle Goodwin Photography for WXPN | michellerosegoodwin.com

Bookspace was a great DIY venue on Frankford Ave circa five years ago, if for nothing else than the sheer novelty of seeing crushingly loud rock shows in a towering warehouse stacked floor to ceiling with books. There was something about that straddling of artistic disciplines, sounds and literature, and it seems appropriate that this was the first place I saw Meddlesome Meddlesome Meddlesome Bells, the subject of this week’s Key Studio Session. I caught the Philly five-piece on a bill with the late great An American Chinese and they immediately impressed with arcing, angular blues guitar riffs and a thunderous rhythm section centered by soaring, dynamic vocals of frontwoman Kerrin Pantelakis. Continue reading →

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The Key Studio Sessions: Sunwatchers

We’re heading a bit beyond our regular geographic region on this week’s Key Studio Session, but that’s okay – Sunwatchers is a band that knows no geographical boundaries.

I was hipped to them a few months back, care of NPR Music’s Lars Gotrich, who featured their song “Herd of Creeps” in his Viking’s Choice column (which you should definitely follow if you’re a fan of unusual and reliably compelling music). It’s a heavy, meditative jam rooted in Southeast Asian folk, krautrock and free jazz, exploding out of the speakers in simultaneous brilliance – and it totally bowled me over. Turns out, the New York-based four-piece features Philadelphian Peter Kerlin on bass, who we also know from Chris Forsyth’s Solar Motel Band. After swapping a few emails, the band was setting up in studio on a Thursday afternoon following a late night gig and a long drive back home.

There was no loss of energy, as Sunwatchers powered through a set of riveting instrumental music. Continue reading →

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The Key Studio Sessions: The Snails

It’s like that Bob Marley song goes: roots, rock, reggae.

Central Pennsylvania rooted Philly rockers The Snails got their start playing reggae as high schoolers, but quickly expanded their sonic palette. A big influence, undeniably, was punk rock and The Clash, who dipped their feet in all manner of sonic waters in a decade-long career. But also The Specials, Bob Dylan…even the gruff soul of Dr. Dog, who you can hear undeniable traces of on “Sedated,” which opens The Snails’ Key Studio Session.

At the front of the band is songwriter-guitarist Todd Fausnacht, whose timeless vocals bounce and cavort across tracks that move energetically from one to the next. The swaying breeze of “Liberty Street Lights” glides directly into the swaggering garage rock dance of “Press Play,” into the confrontational anthem of “Basement,” an ode to authenticity and artistic integrity.  Continue reading →

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The Key Studio Sessions: Brian McGee

From Southwest Philly to Asbury Park and Asheville, NC, Brian McGee is a rock and roll lifer. Almost twenty years ago, he first connected his songwriting with a rabid audience in the punk power trio Plow United, arguably the most important band in local independent music circa late 90s.

While that band was steeped in quadruple time raucous rhythms (thanks to fierce drummer Sean Rule) and searing vocals (McGee’s own), the songwriting at its core was rooted in traditions of of protest folk, of Woody Guthrie and the music of the people, of speaking up for the downtrodden and using songs as a means of universal self-discovery. Continue reading →

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The Key Studio Sessions: Laser Background

When we last heard from them, Philly’s Laser Background was feeling a lot more confrontational. The project of songwriter-composer Andy Molholt led its psychedelic pop tunes down dark and abrasive corners, exploring harsh realities of life in a candy-coated sheen that was equal parts hooky and demented.

In our interview from 2013, Molholt talked about that process of drawing his listeners in, pushing them over the edge and then pulling them back from the abyss. A few years time has passed, and on the new LP Correct – out on May 13th via La Société Expéditionnaire & Endless Daze – Molholt feels less angry and more focused. The project is still unconventional, to be sure. It might still pose a challenge to listeners who, when they think psychedelic, they think The Monkees.

But it also finds Molholt keeping his pop craft front and center as it assembles lucid lyrical puzzles evoking the clash between nostalgic memory and alternate reality. Continue reading →

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Download The Key Studio Sessions Volume 16 (featuring Queen of Jeans, Hardwork Movement, Abi Reimold and more)

The Key Studio Sessions Volume 16
The Key Studio Sessions Volume 16

Four months can be a long time, but it totally flies by — it seems like only yesterday that we were coming at you with our last free-downloadable compilation of songs by regional artists recorded for us live in the studio for The Key Studio Sessions. And here we are, 94 days and 20 songs later. Continue reading →