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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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The Key Studio Sessions: Abi Reimold

Wriggling, the debut LP from Philly’s Abi Reimold, is the very definition of “music with feeling.” Over the course of a dozen tracks, the album cavorts with joy and seethes with rage. Through an unbridled vocal delivery Reimold conveys pain and sorrow in a way that few of her peers can match; backed by members of Mumblr and Roof Doctor, dynamic arrangements echo the sentiment.

But these feelings, even when heavy and unpleasant, are greatly preferable to feeling nothing at all. They’re part of life, and I think that Reimold – an optimist at heart – is trying to embrace all of that with her art, both visual (she’s a talented photographer) and sonic. Wriggling is about hurt and mortality as much as it’s about love and friendship, and Reimold and her band put it on bold display when they stopped by WXPN to record a Key Studio Session. Continue reading →

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The Key Studio Sessions: The Lawsuits

Over the course of their five-year career, Philly rockers The Lawsuits have tried just about everything. Truckstop country and introspective, spectral folk. Shimmering psychedelic rock and bright 60s pop. Smooth Philly soul and boisterous hip-hop (for those who remember that legendary gig when they backed up Ground Up in Rittenhouse Square).

In short, the Philly-via-Bucks-County five piece has serious range – they can take whatever style fits their mood and make it work. But on the band’s latest, Moon Son, we hear The Lawsuits bringing that broad range into into focus. Continue reading →

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The Key Studio Sessions: Hardwork Movement

Philly hip-hop collective Hardwork Movement is a force of nature. Anchored by four longtime friends – singer Jeremy Keys with rappers Sterling Duns, R.B. Ricks and Rick Banks – the crew released the impressive debut Good Problems in January via Bandcamp, and assembled a band of talented Philly musicians to bring it to life on stage. And then from there, the movement took on a life of its own. Continue reading →

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The Key Studio Sessions: Johnny Popcorn

Hezekiah Davis spent a decade building his name as a relentless player in Philadelphia’s hip-hop community. He earned a rep as a charismatic, engaging stage presence and honed his skill for thought-provoking, observational lyrics met with driving beats (“Put Your Toys Away” from his 2005 debut Hurry Up And Wait is pretty classic). But like most passionate consumers of music, Hezekiah’s tastes aren’t constrained to a single sound.

Enter Johnny Popcorn, the project and persona he’s immersed himself in of late. On the surface, it’s rock and roll, but defining the band by genre sort of defeats the point, since Hezekiah and co front-person Jani Coral dip and dive across an exploration of various styles and vibes. Continue reading →

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The Key Studio Sessions: Archawah

Chances are, you already know Chris Archibald as the leader of the long-running Bucks County indie rock outfit Illinois. He’s a busy songwriter, so much so that one Illinois release (2009’s The Adventures of Kid Catastrophe) was broken up into a year’s worth of digital EP releases. Typically, the band takes several years between albums, and while he loves working with his longtime friends, Chris was in need of another outlet.

Enter Archawah, his solo project that debuted last year with the brilliant and serene single “Supermoon,” and subsequently released the 1 EP in January. As he told our Julie Miller at the time, the EP is the first of six we’ll hear from him this year. “Archawah is not going to wait around for anyone,” he said. “I’ll release my music when it is ready in my ears.” Continue reading →

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The Key Studio Sessions: Square Peg Round Hole

It was one of those gigs that’s become quasi-legendary: about a year and a half ago, I got a frantic text message from Philly drummer Al Smith (then of Cold Fronts, now of American Babies) raving about the show he was at. “Dude, I’m seeing Darla and Square Peg Round Hole at The Fire right now and it’s incredible. You need to check these bands out!” I took his advice, and was equal parts impressed and surprised. Both were instrumental bands – an unexpected tip coming from a rock and roll kinda guy – and both featured crews of musicians from an obviously studied jazz background branching in vastly different directions, the former down a jammy funk path and the latter down a prog-tinged ambient path.

Darla went on to make waves as the ultimate Philly music scene party band in 2015 – rocking nightclubs as enthusiastically as Kamasi Washington crowds with spunky originals intermixed with covers of “The Boys Are Back In Town” and “Do They Know It’s Christmas.” (Check out their Key Studio Session here.) Now that we’re into spring of 2016, Square Peg is having a moment of its own. Continue reading →

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