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Unlocked: The Key’s review of Ataloft’s self-titled debut

a3607964194_10Darren Schlappich might be known as the lead guy in one of the region’s  Americana staples, Frog Holler, but that doesn’t mean Americana is his whole world.

The singer-guitarist has an evident appreciation of expansive pop-rock productions stylists like Brian Wilson, Phil Spector and John Brion, and while those leanings might not always get a chance to shine in his main project, his new band does an admirable job of scratching that itch.

On the debut LP from Ataloft, released on ZoBird Records earlier this month, Schlappich explores tones and takes chances with his music that he might not have in Frog Holler. Banjo player and multi-instrumentalist Mike Lavdanski also made the jump from Holler to Ataloft for the project, and it’s clear that the two have a very distinctive writing style. We hear it in “Bucket of Blood” – the midtempo shuffle and the twangy chord changes – as well as the delicate “A Heart Attack on the Holidays,” a plaintive solo acoustic number. Indeed, these were selections from Schlappich’s songbook that he wrote thinking that they may wind up being Frog Holler tracks, but here they’re dressed up in different tones and textures, aided by third-member and studio guru Bruce Siekmann, who sparked the collaboration. Continue reading →

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Unlocked: Download “The End Is Nearer Than We Know” by Ataloft

Ataloft | Photo via Facebook
Ataloft | Photo via Facebook

For almost 17 years, Darren Schlappich and Mike Lavdanski have performed in the Reading-rooted Americana outfit Frog Holler, a band that has developed a loyal following regionally and beyond through engaging live shows and expressive albums that crystalized the the five-piece’s energy as performers into a handy plastic disc.

For these musicians, the new Ataloft came about kind of in reverse. A casual recording project with Bruce Siekmann of Amoeba Audio in Reading clicked in ways the players didn’t expect, and what everybody thought was a one-off collaboration spawned a full album, and a new band.

Though Schlappich regards the two groups as “first cousins,” by working outside of the Frog Holler label, he was able to explore sounds and sonic territories he might never have before. The resulting self-titled album is at once reminiscent of Brian Wilson and John Brion in its lush arrangements, ethereal orchestrations and big sounds – but tips the cap to the roots of these musicians with little florishes, like the banjo we hear on the moving album opener “The End Is Nearer Than We Know.”

We’re exploring the album all week long on Unlocked, The Key’s regular spotlight on new and significant releases from Philadelphia-area artists. Tomorrow we’ll bring you a record review, we’ll spotlight a video on Wednesday, sit down with Schlappich on Thursday, and more. To start things off, download “The End Is Nearer Than We Know” below, and just imagine how haunting it will sound when the band performs it at their Philly album release party May 3rd at Ardmore Music Hall.

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Unlocked: Check out an album of photos from Pattern is Movement’s self-titled record release show at Boot & Saddle

Pattern is Movement | Photo by Mark Schaffer
Pattern is Movement | Photo by Mark Schaffer

Our week closes with a triumphant homecoming for Pattern is Movement. Supported by their fellow Philadelphians Busses and Brooklyn-based Hometapes label mates Yellow Ostrich (featuring ex-We are Scientists drummer Michael Tapper), Pattern is Movement played the penultimate show on their first support tour for Pattern is Movement to a rapturous audience. Tearing through songs from the new record with an ideal balance of hit-by-hit perfection and erratic fluidity (mainly thanks to Chris Ward’s J. Dilla-inspired breaks and Andrew Thiboldeaux’s acrobatic live vocal runs), the band have proven that the gambles they took with their new record are starting to pay off.

Significant praise also goes to Busses and Yellow Ostrich, both of whose idiosyncratic takes on psych rock set an appropriate atmosphere for Pattern is Movement’s ecstatic return. Check out this gallery of photos from local musician and photographer Mark Schaffer.

Pattern is Movement has been the featured album on this week’s edition of Unlocked. Download the song “Suckling in Monday’s post, read Tuesday’s album review, learn about their videos for “Untitled and “Little by Little in Wednesday’s post, read yesterday’s interview, and stay up to date for future editions of Unlocked.

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Unlocked: Pattern is Movement see their mission statement come to its fullest realization

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Pattern is Movement started out as a Christian rap group. You heard it here first.

Well, that’s not completely true. But understanding this side of keyboardist/singer/composer Andrew Thiboldeaux’s and drummer/producer Chris Ward’s experience, rooted in strict Pentacostal practice (the same faith in which Marvin Gaye and D’Angelo nurtured their prodigal musicianship), might explain a lot. It certainly makes the eccentricity inherent to Pattern is Movement’s music – occasionally frantic, layered with intense stimuli and popping with vibrancy at every beat – a little easier to understand. Far more importantly, it allows us to understand the motivation behind what they have tried to do with their new self-titled album. The band celebrate the release of their album tonight at Boot & Saddle.

“Andrew and I started making Christian rap when we were 14, and we were in a Christian rock group when we were teenagers. We were so connected to music that…I think for me, as a 35-year-old musician who’s been doing it for 20 years with this guy, I wanted to go back to the roots of my childhood and figure out why I loved music so hard when I was a kid,” explains Ward over a crackling phone line. He and Thiboldeaux have just pulled into Austin, right on the cusp of an extremely ambitious South By Southwest schedule, but that’s not quite where he’s at mentally. “Rather than running away from that past experience – which was very painful and traumatic – I tried to embrace it and see what about it was positive. One of the things it gave me was this intimate musical relationship with this guy, and I hear a wonderful conversation between the two of us in this record,”

Through these artists’ eyes, the message behind the record becomes clearer and clearer. Past the surface-level complexity is a strong communicative purpose that has been the hallmark of all great music; that said, when Pattern is Movement’s history is looked at under the microscope, their gravitation towards RnB makes perfect sense. RnB as we know it is born of desire to bring the pulpit to the concert hall, to equate ecclesiastical power in a non-sacred setting, to find God in human passion. The genre’s greatest luminaries, folks like Marvin and D, all grew up and became artists in church. The power of music to bring people together in the service of something omniscient and massive is certainly not lost on Ward or Thiboldeaux.

“Chris and I like church, but we’re not so interested in Jesus, so we like the emotion and ecstasy of RnB music,” explains Andrew.

“I started challenging my beliefs and thought that all the stuff I saw – the speaking in tongues, the emotions that I had in service – that all of that was false. And as I got older, I started realizing the opposite. Like, yeah, maybe there is no God, maybe all the stuff they were telling me was bulls***. But the feelings I had in those church meetings were TRUE. My brain was registering it, I was high as a kite. There’s something about RnB and hip-hop that resonates with me as a result,” adds Ward.

This desire to create something ecclesiastically powerful is one of a few missions that guided the new record, but those implications resonate throughout the other circumstances that brought the record about in this form. In the six years between this record and 2008’s All Together, Ward went through a difficult divorce and picked up a full-time job doing bookings at Johnny Brenda’s that he still maintains. These events, mixed with a strong urge to get away from the record-tour-repeat cycle that made their previous albums feel stagnant to them, precipitated a need to step back and re-evaluate. Even though they started tracking songs in 2009, they ended up scrapping a whole mix by 2011, re-recording into 2012 (tracking separately, for the first time in any of their records), and spending 2013 getting things prepared to be played live. They essentially made a record in the way most bands don’t anymore, and they’re fully aware of the sea changes that have happened in the broader world during this time – changes that they, as an indie group authentically embracing RnB and hip-hop, are better prepared than ever to handle.

Continue reading →

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Unlocked: The Key’s review of Pattern Is Movement’s self-titled new album

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In the six years since Pattern is Movement’s last full-length release, the indie kingdom where they (perhaps precariously) stake their ground has seen some significant changes. 2008’s All Together hit at a time when the orchestral, whimsical flourishes of indie rock were in full swing. Albums like Arcade Fire’s Neon Bible and Grizzly Bear’s Veckatimest were the defining statements of that ethos – a textured, intellectual lens on cathartic and catchy tunes predominated over those works more subtle rhythmic components. While All Together is an extraordinarily rhythm-heavy work, with drummer Chris Ward’s breakbeat and time signature-dodging drum lines underscoring Andrew Thiboldeaux’s piano and vocal acrobatics point-by-point, the band’s groove-heavy elements are overshadowed by the cabaret aesthetic and almost-nonsensical quality to some of the lyrics (“Jenny Ono” is a stand-out in this regard). The album fits well within this era.

The ensuing six years would see this entire world change under everybody’s feet, and that musical world’s most persistent and celebrated artists deemphasizing their rock roots in favor of more conspicuous flirtation with EDM, hip-hop, and RnB. The lines between these worlds have blurred considerably, and are now almost invisible. Nobody bats an eyelash at Justin Vernon appearing on Kanye West tracks, or Drake pulling Jaime xx onto his album’s title track. These worlds were not meant to stay apart, and the ethereal qualities that permeated the best products of both musical worlds were destined to bring them together.

With this background, Pattern is Movement (released today on Hometapes Records) might appear late to the party. Fortunately for everyone involved, this album might be the best statement of the indie rock-hip-hop fusion that has been made. Whatever the Dirty Projectors, Grizzly Bear, and acts of their ilk were attempting when they began taking obvious cues from 90s RnB, Ward and Thiboldeaux have lapped them in their dedication to the artform’s roots. They trade angularity for warmth and shimmering beauty, cheeky surrealism for heart-on-sleeve passion.

All of this is not to say that the band has let go of their flair for the dramatic (just listen to “Make it Right”, which could probably have fit in on All Together if not for the D’Angelo-styled vocal harmonies) — rather, they’ve commuted it into something more accessible, both aurally and poetically. Instead of feeling like a show or a musical, Pattern is Movement evokes a feeling of ecstasy that is inextricably intimate and communal. Intended to capture the atmosphere of first encounters (supposedly inspired by a trip undertaken by Thiboldeaux to the Dominican Republic, laced with the energy of what the Spanish conquistadors and Native Americans felt upon first meeting), the album employs every blippy keyboard, every auto-tuned vocal run, every string-and-horn ensemble buildup in the beautiful service of capturing something as ephemeral as it is universal.

On “River”, the album’s opening track, the new direction comes into crystal clarity. Continue reading →

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Unlocked: Download Pattern is Movement’s expansive epic “Suckling”

Photos by Peter English
Photos by Peter English

2008’s All Together saw the Philly band Pattern is Movement expanding its sonic palette, eschewing the typical definitions of “math rock” for a sound with more orchestral flourishes. It seems that as the band has refined and solidified its artistic base, honing an interlocking core between singer / keyboardist / multi-instrumentalist Andrew Thiboldeaux and drummer / producer Christopher Ward. It actually broadened their sound to include elements of cabaret, RnB, and hip-hop. The resultant sound was something that exposed the duo for what they really are – multi-form masters, destined to make music that redefines genre boundaries that were way too small to begin with. Math rock is too tight of a pigeonhole for ambitions as big as theirs.

With this week’s release of their latest full-length, Pattern is Movement, the band weaves a new tapestry of RnB-heavy music with agility and conviction of purpose. In what can be seen as a logical progression of non-rock elements in indie music, the band construct layered vocal harmonies and lush instrumental textures over broken, J Dilla-inspired drum beats throughout songs that explore the fragility of a beautiful world. Despite the six-year break between full-lengths (characterized by false starts and one-off releases and shows / special events teasing the album), the band sound fresher than ever as they throw off the angularity of past releases for something wholly different.

Pattern is Movement is the focus of this week’s Unlocked, The Key’s regular series highlighting new and significantreleases from local artists. This includes a record review for tomorrow, with a video and interview later in the week; all of this coincides with the Thursday album release show at Boot and Saddle.

“Suckling”, a track as part of a 12’’ single in October, most clearly indicates the direction of the new album. Starting off as sultry, low-key crooner with percussive snaps and pulsing bass, Ward’s bombastic drums jump in to usher forth an expansive epic with tinny horns and syrupy vocals. If “Suckling” has you hooked, you can stream the full album (for as long as it lasts) via the A.V. Club here. Be sure to check back for more on Pattern is Movement on Unlocked.

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Unlocked: Check out a gallery of photos from Katie Frank and The Pheromones’ album release party by Caitlin McCann

Photo by Caitlin McCann | caitlinmccann.4ormat.com
Photo by Caitlin McCann | caitlinmccann.4ormat.com

Wrapping up our week with Katie Frank and the Pheromones here on Unlocked, we’re pleased to bring you some visuals of the band in action care of Caitlin McCann, a Brooklyn-based photographer who – in a twist of geography – does a lot of work shooting the Philly roots music scene. (Check out her amazing travelogue of The Districts on tour that Rolling Stone published today, or similar work with Satellite Hearts and Toy Soldiers). The gallery below was shot at Katie Frank and The Pheromones’ album release party for Counting Your Curses on February 21st.

Counting Your Curses has been the features album on this week’s edition of Unlocked. Download the song “Halfway Gone” in Monday’s post, read Tuesday’s album review, watch an early video of “False Alarm” in Wednesday’s post, read yesterday’s interview, and keep checking back for future editions of Unlocked.