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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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The Key Studio Sessions: Woven In

Mariah Johnson first caught our ear last September with a digital demo of moody, jagged, lo-fi pop called Feel. It was the first release of her solo project Woven In, which she founded in Florida before moving to Philadelphia last May. The tones are very gothic, the textures were reverberant and ominous, like eraly 80s records by The Cure. Upon arriving in town, she teamed up with drummer Brendan Och, played shows with Madalean Gauze and Straw Hats, and dropped another demo back in February called New City No Money (yielding some fantastic flickering visuals by Bob Sweeney on the song “Midriff”).

The buildup was all heading towards the Highs and Ultra Lows LP, her proper debut LP released last month on Bandcamp. The album continues to embody those haunting roots and melds them with swift and drifting Cramps-style guitar leads, leading Woven In to characterize itself as purveyors of dark surf anti-love songs. When they stepped into the studio this week for their Key Session, however, we heard and saw yet another step in their evolution. 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 →

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The Key Studio Sessions: Liz De Lise

Philly singer-guitarist Liz de Lise writes arresting songs rooted in observational honesty – whatever tone they happen to take. When we first met her early this winter, the music was jazzy folk-pop, and reminded us of 70s Joni Mitchell and Laura Nyro records. The project at hand was a series of monthly DIY videos completed across the course of 2015, preceded by 2014’s To & Fro – an acoustic collection based on stories the songwriter gathered from homeless youth she encountered in Portland, Oregon.

In the time since, de Lise has developed her sound into something more cerebral – yet no less catchy. As we hear in this Key Studio Session, she has two chief collaborators: Mark Watter on bass and vocals (you might know him from Rosu Lup, Caroline Reese + the Drifting Fifth, and his own band Howlish), and a tight network of effects pedals and loopers, which she works with skill and finesse (I guess that’s more of a tool than a collaborator, but you get the picture). The set swallows you in sound, with layers of vocal rounds floating alongside askew lead guitar reminiscent of St. Vincent’s Annie Clark. Continue reading →

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The Key Studio Sessions: Littler

The story of Littler is the story of circumventing expectations, of forging your own path. It’s the story of artists coming together for the first time and making something honest and awesome. The band got its start under the name Calamity Jane back in 2014 at the inaugural First Time’s The Charm festival at PhilaMOCA, and though it’s evolved, those origins are important to note. For those not familiar, FTTC encourages creative people marginalized in the music community to say the hell with it and play a show anyway – bands on the bill have feature either first-time-musicians, people new to their instrument, or musicians who identify as female, trans, queer and/or a person of color. The idea, as frontwoman Madeline Meyer put it on Facebook last year, is a firm reminder: “if you want to be in a band, you can be in a band!” Continue reading →

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The Key Studio Sessions: Prowler

If math and memory serves, postmodern funk punks Prowler are the first Philadelphia band to visit WXPN on three separate occasions over the years to record a studio session with me. Of course, in their trademark mix of cockiness and self-depreciation, they shrug that off. When I recently showed the band its original signature on our studio wall, guitarist Ryan Kerrigan looked at the tags of his local peers surrounding it and concluded that many artists making the scene in 2008 have since broken up. Prowler, on the other hand, kept on keeping on.

In 2008, pork pie hats and LCD Soundsystem were all the range, and the band brought us a fierce, crisp and disco-fied set from its En Garde! EP. They hung multicolored lights from the rafters in our production studio and rocked a party for myself and my co-host Jake Rabid. Flash forward several years and the terra firma had shifted – indie rock was becoming scuzzier, less shiny. Their Wooly Mammoth EP reflected this change, and a session in our large performance space (also disco ball’d up) had teeth (tusks?) in a way that its predecessor did not.

Along the way, the band shared the stage with V.V. Brown and Janelle Monae, collab’d with Reef the Lost Cauze and Plastic Little, and dished a steady string of singles and EPs, its preferred medium. The latest one, a cassette release called Trash Bag, finds Prowler at its most unguarded and experimental. Continue reading →

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Tonight’s Concert Pick: Christopher Paul Stelling at World Cafe Live

Christopher Paul Stelling
Christopher Paul Stelling | Photo by Breanna Keohane for WXPN

After making a splash opening for Ben Harper this spring, Florida-born, NY-based and otherwise nomadic troubadour Christopher Paul Stelling returns to Philly tonight on a solo tour to headline World Cafe Live. He’s been hard at work on the road in support of Labor Against Waste, which came out last summer on Anti- Records. Tickets and more information on the show can be found at the XPN Concert Calendar. Continue reading →

Support for The Key Studio Sessions, from Dogfish Head