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The Key Studio Sessions: Chelsea Sue Allen

Chelsea Sue Allen is a leading light in the Philadelphia folk scene, but then again, she’s something more. The West Chester singer-songwriter crafts intensely emotional songs that transcend the coffeehouse world, much as she’s a favorite over at Burlap and Bean. On last year’s Lonely Ages, she detailed the tug-of-war between aspiration and self-doubt – “I’ve got daydreams pressing against siren walls / will I become something better if I let them out” – as well as the crash of colossal letdowns – “you’re not the one I’m bankin’ on anymore, anymore?” – and does so over a bed of pattering electronics (“Creaks and Moans,” “Bankin’ On”) and full band swiftness (“Tall Dreams”).

Live, the flourishes are brushed away – Allen goes minimal and meditative, and the songs remain every bit as powerful. Continue reading →

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The Key Studio Sessions: Ben Arnold

Veteran Philly singer-songwriter / rock-n-roller Ben Arnold has covered a lot of ground in the two decades he’s been making music. In the mid-90s, he was signed to Ruffhouse / Columbia and released the slacker-pop nugget Almost Speechless – which is a tiny bit ironic since the man is the total opposite of a slacker.

By the early aughties, he had grown into a more nuanced singer-songwriter and received a lot of attention from WXPN for In Case I’m Gone Tomorrow, as well as his acclaimed 4-Way Street supergroup with Jim Boggia, Scott Bricklin and Joseph Parsons. Continue reading →

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The Key Studio Sessions: Queen of Jeans

They got their name by putting a feminist spin on an uber-masculine piece of South Philly signage. They write pointed fuzz-rock songs punctuated by hooky melodies and retro-pop harmonies, washed in a dreamy soundscape. They’re Queen of Jeans, and they’re a band that needs to be on your radar. Continue reading →

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The Key Studio Sessions: Residuels

There’s a smoky, blues-from-a-gun furor to Philadelphia trio Residuels. The band, fronted by singer-guitarist Justin Pittney, caught our ear in the past with the heavy, heady Jesus and Mary Chain guitar jams it’s tapped into over various self-released singles. Continue reading →

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The Key Studio Sessions: Bryant Eugene Vazquez

You’ll doubtless hear nods to the masters in the songwriting of Bryant Eugene Vazquez: Lou Reed, Tom Waits, Bob Dylan. But this local rock and roll dude – who moved to Philadelphia in 2013 after growing up in Flagstaff, Arizona – has a strong and singular voice at the center of it all. It’s husky yet melodic, poppy yet vicious, the sound of celebration and desperation.  Continue reading →

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The Key Studio Sessions: The Innocence Mission

Lancaster folk trio The Innocence Mission had been hard at work for a decade by the time they broke through to mainstream recognition with “Bright As Yellow” from their 1995 album Glow. While it remains their best-known song on a certain level, the band’s best work was truly ahead of them. Continue reading →

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The Key Studio Sessions: Family Volleyball

Family Volleyball is an indie pop four-piece from Cheltenham, Pennsylvania, that made a big impression at this summer’s Beta Hi-Fi competition over at World Cafe Live. They’re a young crew, still in high school with bandmates averaging age 16, but they’ve got a self-assured of sound and chops to back it up. The wash of dreamy guitar textures and jangling leads recalls Beach Fossils and Youth Lagoon as readily as New Order and The Feelies, and frontman Ethan Kerr’s voice interacts with the songs almost like another instrument, ebbing and flowing along with the tide. Continue reading →

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The Key Studio Sessions: Summer Scouts

Hailing from a couple exits up the Northeast Extension, Allentown’s Summer Scouts deliver a bold blend of atmospheric guitar soundscaping and infectious modern rock. A great comparison that I heard recently from Sonnder frontman Ryan Weidman: it sounds like Paramore’s Hayley Williams singing while Explosions in the Sky rages on. In that blend of pop and post-rock we also hear notes of The Cure, Metric, Chvrches and more. Weidman first caught it late this summer, when the band opened for Anthony Green at a Siren Records instore, and he promptly asked them to play Sonnder’s year-end gig at World Cafe Live this Saturday, December 19th. Continue reading →

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The Key Studio Sessions: Petal

When Scranton’s Kiley Lotz founded Petal in 2012, she didn’t have a lot of expectations attached to it. A lot of her close friends from were musicians, playing in bands like The Menzingers and Captain We’re Sinking. Surrounded by such a fertile DIY community, a bit of inspiration seeped off, but Lotz wasn’t making music for anybody but herself.

She recorded the EP Scout with Ben Walsh and Brianna Collins of Tigers Jaw, she self-released it online and then something happened. People really dug what they heard. The EP was reissued on Run for Cover Records in 2013 and Petal began emerging on the show scene, all while Lotz pursued a parallel career in theater that had her living in New York City for a while.

These days she calls Fishtown home, and has a fantastic new set of songs to enhance the Petal catalog. Continue reading →

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The Key Studio Sessions: Friendship

Since we stumbled across Maine-to-Philly transplants Friendship earlier this year, we’ve been hooked. The band’s simmering, tempered take on meditative Americana struck a huge chord – Dan Wriggins’ emotive vocals and vivid lyrics about companionship and disconnection, Michael Cormier’s restrained drums, Peter Gill’s expressive pedal steel. Like I said in our feature profile of Friendship earlier this fall, “it’s reminiscent of Pedro the Lion and Jason Molina, but also of Gram Parsons and George Jones.” Continue reading →

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