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The Key Studio Sessions: AllegrA

An old friend once made an observation about Ani Di Franco’s classic live album Living In Clip that’s stuck with me for 20-odd years: you can hear it in Ani’s voice when she’s smiling.

Even when the songs are devastatingly tragic, or fuming with rage, listening to the record (or, honestly, Ani’s entire catalogue) is a total joy, because at the end of it all, there’s this warm beacon of hope staring down an uncompassionate world, this realistic optimist standing at the microphone and singing words they wrote that, for that moment anyway, have the ability to make them happy…and by extension, make others happy.

I don’t bring that up to necessarily align Philly’s Allegra Eidinger to Di Franco in a musical sense; yes, both are masters of the fretboard-tapping guitar licks like you hear in folkies Tim Reynolds and Kaki King (or twinkle emo bands like Cap’n Jazz and Marietta). But beyond that stylistic affect, AllegrA the band has a sound all its own; bits of classic 70s singer-songwriter music in a Janis Ian sort of way, an effervescent energy straight out of the basement show scene, and a singing voice more mellifluous and honest than many of the band’s peers.

That idea of hearing a smile, though. That’s something that Eidinger carries forward into their work, whether intentionally or subconsciously.  Continue reading →

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The Key Studio Sessions: Queue

East coast modern rock four-piece Queue has had a wild ride of a 2017. Despite being geographically split between Philadelphia and Washington D.C., the band — a project of singer-songwriter Olivia J. Price and lead guitarist Aida Mekonnen, with bassist Matt Clinkscales and drummer Steve Vannelli filling out the rhythm section — finds time to rehearse weekly, play gigs on the regular…and when the stars align, go somewhat viral.

That’s what happened to their song “Frontier,” a high energy jam with entrancing vocal harmonies and an indelibly catchy guitar lead from Mekonnen zipping you across an anthem about escaping into the unknown. The song was released this spring, landed on Spotify’s coveted Fresh Finds playlist shortly thereafter, and is presently closing in on 60K spins — not too shabby.     Continue reading →

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The Key Studio Sessions: Young Statues

South Jersey indie rock four piece Young Statues became something of a surprise hit about six years ago.

Led by songwriter Carmen Cirignano, the band started super casually; just a writing and recording project with friends at Haddon Heights hub Gradwell House Recording. Those sessions became their self titled debut, which was picked up by Boston label Run for Cover Records, and Young Statues was off to the races touring with Saves the Day and The Early November.

The band’s sound, undeniably indebted to Death Cab and The Promise Ring, played well with those crowds, but their tastes went beyond the emo canon. Their 2014 sophomore LP The Flatlands are Your Friend, explored darker and moodier sounds and textures, and a covers EP showcased a collective fondness for Billy Bragg, The Magnetic Fields and Ryan Adams. And then life came calling. Continue reading →

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The Key Studio Sessions: Ryan Tennis

Somewhere, somehow, Ryan Tennis is probably playing music right now. The Philly singer-songwriter has logged quite a few frequent flyer miles this year, between his summer tour in Colombia and the autumn European run he just completed with percussionist Joseph Keim. Both excursions mixed up busking shows and venue performances, and we caught up with Tennis and his band in the between-time this fall when he and his full band were home in Philly. Continue reading →

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The Key Studio Sessions: Killiam Shakespeare

Over the past few years, Philadelphia’s Killiam Shakespeare has become known for its nimble incorporation of sick beats and space age instrumental sprawl with skilled under-the-radar rappers and singers from all around the Philly scene. In that context, this five-piece sounds like a production unit cranking out some seriously left-of-center beats and backings for the next generation of local hip-hop and R&B (not to mention legends — they had a Freeway collab on last year’s Killiam Season1). But take away the voices, and just listen to the music — like we hear in this week’s Key Studio Session — and it becomes something else altogether.   Continue reading →

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The Key Studio Sessions: Kingsley Ibeneche

When we first met Kingsley Ibeneche, he was dancing.

More specifically, he was onstage backing Kate Faust and her sensual electronic rock with impressive poise and fluid motion. The Camden artist, who studied ballet at University of the Arts and spent a few years after school practicing modern dance in Germany, has always been an interpreter of music, the vehicle that a current of music sets into motion. But the more time he spent around it, the more he began to absorb and incorporate music directly into his practice. This year, Ibeneche debuted with CHi, an eclectic EP that serves as a fine introduction to him as a singer and songwriter, an interdisciplinary artist. Continue reading →

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The Key Studio Sessions: The Vernes

One of the best moments in The Vernes‘ Key Studio Session this week — one that encapsulates them as a band, I think — happens at about a minute and 54 seconds into their performance of “H. Roark.”

It’s a midtempo, sorta breezy jangle-pop number, the kind The Vernes have done so well since moving to Philly from the Bay Area (following a NYC pitstop). After a buildup from gentle arpeggios to buoyant lead licks from guitarist Fabian Mera — who sways back and forth when he plays in a way that reminds me of Dr. Dog in the early days — we see singer-guitarist Matthew Gragg taking a solo when, while hitting a chord fervently, he gets the his guitar tangled in his headphone cord.

He keeps playing, the headphones get more tangled, and ultimately they topple forward, hanging off his neck until the end of the verse. We’re back in breezy midtempo territory at that point, but not really, since this sort of immersive playing from The Vernes can make even the quietest song electrifying.

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The Key Studio Sessions: Japanese Breakfast

Japanese Breakfast | photo by Galea McGregor for WXPN

A lot’s been said already this year about Japanese Breakfast — not to mention its driving force: singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Michelle Zauner.

Candid and vulnerable lyricist. Charismatic and inspiring frontperson. Tight and transcendant live band. Sonic visionaries. Near-universal acclaim for JBrekkie’s Soft Sounds From Another Planet has come in from all corners — The Guardian to The New York Times and NPR — and it is, quite frankly, incredible to see, as we’ve been fans of Zauner and her bandmates in their various forms over the years. She and bassist Deven Patrick Craige go back to beloved punk four-piece Little Big League, she goes further back to Post Post and her production partner (and drummer) Craig Hendrix has worked with anyone from Birdie Busch to Jesse Hale Moore, The Dove and the Wolf and his solo project Auctioneer.

The band is rounded out by guitarist and keyboardist Peter Bradley, and it’s safe to say that Japanese Breakfast has become the highest profile pursuit that any of these Philly-rooted musicians has taken on…and rightfully so. Beyond the emotional hook of Zauner’s songs — which, on Soft Sounds, dissect human connection and communication, positing that our only barriers to intimacy and trust are one another — the band has a tremendous ability to translate that emotion sonically, to make listeners at home and folks in the crowd feel what they are feeling.
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The Key Studio Sessions: Alright Junior

A case study in less-is-more, Philly rockers Alright Junior keep things contained to the time-honored rock and roll elements — guitar, bass, drums, voice — and in the process, they sound massive.

Maybe it’s the way the stringed instruments interact, with ample space carved out in arrangement and tone for each to howl. Maybe it’s the way drums are methodically paced, coming in at just the right moment with just the right amount of force to elevate the fray. The band’s emotive, heavy rock hits any number of touchstones, from Queens of the Stone Age and Soundgarden, to less-remembered artists of the modern rock era like Our Lady Peace and Remy Zero. Performed live in WXPN studios recently, it sounds particularly badass.
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The Key Studio Sessions: Worriers

As far as album titles to encapsulate the state of the world in the year 2017, Survival Pop is about as on the nose as you can get.

The sophomore outing from punk rock four-piece Worriers — the project of singer / guitarist Lauren Denitzio, who relocated to Philadelphia from Brooklyn last year — boils over with rage and frustration in an era where the rights of marginalized members of American society are under attack.
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