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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.”
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The Key Studio Sessions: The Afterglows

Here’s a perfect example of the influence of proximity in a tightly knit music community: Mikey Cantor has set up shop in West Philly for a couple years now with his spectral indie rock project The Goodbye Party, and moved in the same circles as the folks from Swearin’ and Waxahatchee, among others. A while back, he found himself housemates with Sam Cook-Parrot, who helms the prolific punk outfit Radiator Hospital. Both share an affinity for DIY home recording, playing gigs in warehouses and basements, and generally going against the grain in an oft-brutal music industry.

But as they told NPR earlier this summer, living together while working on music for their own projects made them realize their sonic similarities. Sure, Cantor reaches for stratospheric heights with shoegaze and psych-tinged anthems, while Cook-Parrott jams econo with distortion pedal rock at an incredible clip. But the songwriting bones of both date back to classic American pop of the 50s and 60s. Enter The Afterglows.
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The Key Studio Sessions: Ceramic Animal

Stylish Bucks County four-piece Ceramic Animal dabbles in psychedelic rock of the classic variety. The keyboard-and-guitar interplay you’ll hear in this week’s Key Studio Session hits an undeniable Doors-esque sweet spot; the guitar solos (particularly on “Codename Righteous”) are totally Pink Floyd. However, as much as the band informs its sound by history, it works with one foot in the now, and is getting ready to release its self-titled debut album this fall. Continue reading →

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The Key Studio Sessions: Loose Tooth

I finally managed to see Philadelphia punk outfit Loose Tooth this spring. We’ve dug their music for a while over here at The Key, ever since the first songs from 2015’s Easy Easy East began to surface in the blog world — but it wasn’t till the band was paired with Abi Reimold on the release show for the latter’s Wriggling that I got to experience the force of nature these four Philadelphians are in concert. From the stage at Johnny Brenda’s, a torrent of interlocking guitars by Kian Sorouri and Kyle Laganella were led by intricate bass lines from Larissa Sapko and thunder drums from Christian Bark – it was dynamic, reaching from simmering lows to scorching highs. And it made me super psyched to hear the new record that’s wrapping up production at Headroom Studios.

When Loose Tooth stepped in the XPN studio to record their Key Session this past weekend, it was a double treat of sorts – firstly because of the six songs they played, only one (“Lizzy”) was previously featured on Easy. The rest are getting their first airing here, and I’m purely pumped about how fierce they sound. Continue reading →

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Watch The Grateful Dead play the last-ever show at JFK Stadium this day in 1989

The Grateful Dead at JFK Stadium in 1989 | via YouTube
The Grateful Dead at JFK Stadium in 1989 | via YouTube

Best known as the half-oval that filled to the brim for Live Aid in 1985, South Philadelphia’s JFK Stadium was something of a nerve center for rock in Philly during the 60s, 70s and 80s – hosting performances that range from Judy Garland’s final show in 1968 to The Rolling Stones in 1978 (headcount: 100,000 people in attendance), Blondie in 1982, and U2 in 1987 for The Joshua Tree tour (headcount: 86,000 in attendance).

Suffice it to say, this place was massive, though by the end of the 80s had outlived its useful existence and was shuttered. Short of the Rolling Stones using it as a practice space for their Steel Wheels tour dress rehearsals – the most epic practice space of all time, wow – the field went dormant and was leveled in 1992 to pave the way for what is now the Wells Fargo Center.

The final show at JFK was a great one – The Grateful Dead performed a two-hour and 53-minute gig at JFK on July 7, 1989, 27 years ago today – but it was at the same time unceremonious. Continue reading →

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The Key Studio Sessions: Those People

The best pop is, of course, subversive pop. So while you can easily appreciate Philly modern rock five-piece Those People for their hooks, sharp playing and tight arrangements; their music that balances early aughties riff rawk with a showtunes-y sense of catchiness; you can hear some pretty remarkable stuff going on below the surface as well.

When the band recorded its Key Studio Session last week, it opened with “Who’s Watching You” – a song built around bright guitars and bop-bob harmonies that’s actually a frank reflection on power and an indictment of those who abuse it. Take these lyrics, belted with passion and conviction by frontman Assad Khafre: “Light me up for disobeying you / all that power must make you feel good / tie my arms behind my back and knock me on my face / blue blood on the streets, they keep me in my place.” Continue reading →

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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 →

Support for The Key Studio Sessions, from Dogfish Head