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Go inside the studio as Restorations makes the most important album of its career

Restorations Jon Loudon records vocals at Miner Street | Photo by Mitchell Wojcik | mitchellwojcik.com
Restorations’ Jon Loudon records vocals at Miner Street | Photo by Mitchell Wojcik | mitchellwojcik.com

When a young music fan hears stories about their favorite bands recording new music, they often invent grandiose visions of the studio and its space. There’s a certain mystique inherent for those who haven’t stepped foot in one; like most unlived experiences it’s portrayed in our heads as distant, unattainable, a place where all-time art is created. A place where “regular people” don’t ever go. Of course, that’s not really true. Studios come in all shapes, sizes and budgets, from cavernous state-of-the-art compounds where million-dollar records are made, to dirt-floor basements walled with smoke-stained eggshell padding.

Philadelphia’s Miner Street Recordings, which has gone through several locations in its two decades of existence (and is no longer located on Miner Street, for the record – the name comes from its original location in West Chester), lies somewhere in between the two extremes of the studio spectrum. Situated at a central crossroads in Fishtown, it’s a nondescript, vaguely abandoned-looking building in a city full of them. Off-white and faded blue paint peels from the exterior walls, exposing bricks underneath. The only visual confirmation that it’s the right place is a small piece of black tape on the front door with the words “this is Miner Street” written on it.

Before spotting the “sign” though, there’s an aural confirmation; standing on the sidewalk outside, the sound of muffled, droned, noteless guitar strumming breaks through the walls. We’re here to observe Restorations as they record their third full-length and second for SideOneDummy Records, and even those distant, cacophonous non-notes are immediately identifiable with the band’s growing reputation for weaponizing sharp, bright melodies by weaving them into heavy, distorted riffs, an unassumingly thunderous rhythm section and the occasional organ, all of it anchored by the throaty vocals of Jon Loudon. Continue reading →

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Why you should listen to Bear in Heaven’s new album in a thunderstorm

Bear in Heaven | Photo by  Shawn Brackbill
Bear in Heaven | Photo by Shawn Brackbill

Bear In Heaven’s latest record, Time is Over One Day Old, has a telling song called “Dissolve the Walls.” It song starts off as a faraway confusion of conversation, blitzy synth running down a long tunnel as an upbeat womanly chorus chants: “Let the walls dissolve/ till there’s no room at all/ there’s no ceiling, no floor/ no windows, no door.”

Given this particular track and the cover art of the 2014 album (on which I can’t help but see a galactic rolling paper), you might think you could easily file it under ‘other worldly weirdness,’ right next to 2001: A Space Odyssey. But the group never has stopped with just one sonic style compartment, so you really can’t file this album as a whole under anything (and not next to any of the group’s previous releases, either).

“We’re always talking about output or creation, so it’s certainly not this, ‘alright, let’s definitely make this an effort to strip things back…’” says Adam Wills, guitarist and co-founder of Bear in Heaven, and writer of the song. The group, which headlines Johnny Brenda’s tonight, began 10 years ago as a project between Wills and co-founder/vocalist Jon Philpot. Continue reading →

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Philly native Orrin Evans talks about paying tribute to a friend in Liberation Blues

Orin Evans | Photo by Jimmy Katz
Orrin Evans | Photo by Jimmy Katz

It was a time before cell phones when Orrin Evans moved to New York City in 1996 with friend and trumpeter Duane Eubanks. So when he’d meet other musicians on the scene he’d simply tell them, “Call me at Duane’s crib if you need to find me.” The only problem was that Evans and Eubanks had been preceded by another Philadelphian named Dwayne a few years earlier – bassist Dwayne Burno. Evans realized his mistake when he received a phone call from the none-too-pleased bassist, who skipped past the pleasantries and proceeded to play an answering machine full of messages intended for the young pianist. Continue reading →

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Clocked In: A conversation about the difficulties of working and touring with Little Big League’s Michelle Zauner

little big league

I called Michelle Zauner on the phone a couple weeks ago and this is what she said to me: “I forgot this was happening.”

It is easy to forget things are happening, especially in the summer. Plus Zauner was on vacation, in Oregon, the state where she grew up and where she lived before attending college at Bryn Mawr, before making Philadelphia her home and before starting the band Little Big League.

It was recently announced that Little Big League signed with Run For Cover, the Boston label that released the new album by fellow Philadelphians Modern Baseball, You’re Gonna Miss It All. A new Little Big League LP, the follow-up to the well-received These Are Good People (Tiny Engines; 2013), is expected to arrive later this year.

In addition to her work as the singer and guitarist in Little Big League, Zauner also makes music under the name Japanese Breakfast. Last month, the Seagreen Records label released her cassette American Sound & Where Is My Great Big Feeling?

Zauner is clearly very busy with music, but when she’s not on tour, she works elsewhere. For this new installment of Clocked In, we spoke with Zauner about her non-music-related work history, from clerical work at her dad’s truck broker business, to bossing a grill at Bryn Mawr, to holding down the comic shop Brave New Worlds. Continue reading →

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Summertime Sips and Summertime Sounds: Chill Moody

Chill Moody | Photo by John Vettese
Chill Moody | Photo by John Vettese

There’s something about old-school hip-hop that just oozes summer in the city—whether it’s DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince  celebrating chicks at Fairmount Park or Snoop paying tribute to his favorite bev—and the videos, with their beach chairs, bbqs, and wild block parties—only drive this home. Summer in the city is not like the other seasons: people go wild and indulge, as if their inhibitions melt under the summer sun.

West Philly rapper Chilly Moody is no stranger to summers in the city. The up-and-coming rhyme-spitter grew up in Philly, and has proven himself a master of all things SUMMER—whether ruling it on stage on the festival circuit, mixing up a perfect cocktail, or even (yes) having the coolest swim trunks this side of the Schuylkill. He’s also responsible for one of this summer’s flyest bangers, the bbq-ready “Concrete Jungle” – which makes a nice nod to Bob Marley, another summertime staple.

Every year to celebrate summer, Chill hosts a #nicethings Weekend (#nicethings is his catch-all catchphrase), complete with bbq, bowling, and a pool party at a mystery location. This year’s #nicethings event runs August 22 through 24. Curious about the event—and his summer go-tos in general—I met up with Chill at one of his fave Center City bars, Time, to talk Will Smith, cocktails, and how he’d spend his ultimate summer in Philly. Continue reading →

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Amir ElSaffar and Omar Dewachi bring traditional Iraqi music to the Random Tea Room tomorrow night

Amir ElSaffar | photo courtesy of the artist
Amir ElSaffar | photo courtesy of the artist

On their own, there’s nothing traditional about the music made by Amir ElSaffar or Omar Dewachi. An Iraqi-American trumpeter born in Oak Park, Illinois, ElSaffar has integrated Iraqi maqam with jazz in a series of stunning and unique hybrid projects. Dewachi is an Iraqi-born anthropologist and professor at the American University of Beirut who plays the oud in the free-improv and experimental band City of Salt.

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King Britt and co. reign supreme at Friday’s Back2Basics reunion

King Britt
via facebook.com/KingBrittFanPage

Let’s get something out of the way: it’s really easy to make plays on King Britt’s name. The king is back! Long live the king! Even the title of this piece was painstakingly chosen after a lot of agony over what would be slightly witty without being superfluously cheesy (you can argue about whether or not this was successful in the comments).

Still, the man whose official documents read “King James Britt” has left a legacy for which such comical proclamations are actually quite accurate. For over two decades, the 40-something DJ and Philly native has commanded a tiny kingdom of rabid followers through a variety of beloved and critically lauded endeavors. For these fans, which endeavor they care about the most says a tremendous amount about who they are. Perhaps they were drawn to Britt’s multi-year tenure with the bi-costal hip-hop institution Digable Planets, where his genre-mixing aesthetic slant sat effortlessly with the Plantes’ Afro-centric, laid-back brand of quiet innovation.

Some might’ve instead been captivated by Britt’s unquenchable experimental and avant garde tendencies, manifest in numerous groundbreaking and headscratchingly trippy side projects;  these projects have propelled him to a very different kind of recognition, garnering him Pew and NEA grants and putting him on stage at places like TEDxPhilly and the Institute of Contemporary Arts. Continue reading →

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21st Century Psych: Temples carry golden age traditions into the digital age

Temples | photo via www.facebook.com/templesofficial
Temples | photo via www.facebook.com/templesofficial

We are not experiencing a psychedelic revolution. Psych music, since its inception, has oscillated through pop culture. In the beginning, when love, drugs and the Beatles were free, the Byrds spun their dark web of bad trip/good trip to a lesser audience. The 70’s saw momentum from groups like T.Rex, with their fearlessly tripped-out glitz and glam rock. In the 80’s, I’m sure there were some dark underlords dosing people with anti-disco, and the 90’s had the Brian Jonestown Massacre, keeping the scene very much alive and kicking.

“There have been bands every decade who’ve revived what’s good about that Golden era of music and kind of carried it on to the next generation,” says Thomas Warmsley of the UK-based psych-pop group Temples. It’s a few hours before the group’s set at London’s Latitude Festival, and we’re on the phone discussing the past.

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Love for Locals: Why XPoNential performances mean more to hometown acts

The Lawsuits | Photo by Michelle Montgomery | michellemontgomeryphotography.com
The Lawsuits | Photo by Michelle Montgomery | michellemontgomeryphotography.com

For the touring acts playing – and certainly the audience watching – this year’s XPoNential Music Festival can be summed up as a fun weekend full of great music, great people and relatively little rain.

But for local bands playing the festival, it means just a little bit more. For some, it was their first time playing outdoors in a festival setting. Others were returning to play for the third or fourth time. Several artists thought their sets went well, but a few had technical difficulties or other problems to work through.

From the Marina stage to the Susquehanna Bank Center, the hometown audience seemed to clap a little louder and listen a little more intently to the local acts. For Philly-based pop rock outfit Viv and the Revival, the first act to perform Friday, the admiration even elicited shouts of, “You rock!” and “Way to start our festival!” from the crowd. Continue reading →

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Tales of the Open Road: Get Real Gang leader Juston Stens on riding his ’72 Triumph cross-country to write and record Share the Road

Juston Stens | Photo by Ellie Tremple | courtesy of the artist
Juston Stens | Photo by Ellie Tremple | courtesy of the artist

About 45 minutes before I’m supposed to meet Philly pop rebel Juston Stens for a poolside cocktail at North Shore Beach Club, I get a text: “Kate, I’m so sorry. My van broke down in South Philly. Should we reschedule?”

I’m headed back to South Philly myself, and his van just so happens to be near my neighborhood. So I tell him no worries, we can do the interview as he waits for a tow. It’s about 90 degrees out and by the time I reach him, he’s already been waiting 4 hours. “They sent a guy out already, but the trailer bed wasn’t big enough,” he quips, gesturing towards his monolith of a vehicle.

Considering how long he’s been waiting, he’s in a surprisingly good mood. He apologizes profusely for ruining our pool plans, then eagerly starts describing his new record. When the tow truck arrives, he chats with the driver, then helps push the van into a parking spot post-tow. “I work as a mover, part-time,” he tells me, unphased by its enormity. “This is nothing.” Continue reading →