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Unlocked: Download “Got The Knife” from Young Statues’ new The Flatlands are Your Friend

Young Statues | Photo via facebook.com/youngstatues
Young Statues | Photo via facebook.com/youngstatues

Young Statues’ 2011 self-titled debut album wasn’t exactly unintentional, but it was somewhat unplanned.

The South-Jersey based indie rock band was born from the collection of songs written by frontman Carmen Cirignano on a prolonged trip to Athens, Georgia. He had just left another band behind and was encouraged by people there and then upon returning home to turn what he thought would be solo material into a new project.

That collection of catchy, intricate indie pop tunes won over fans for a reason. Continue reading →

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Unlocked: The daily grind of a Vacationer

Vacationer  | Photo by Beth Ann Downey
Vacationer | Photo by Beth Ann Downey

Vacationer makes music meant to alleviate stress and forget troubles.

If they can help the rest of us do this, than the band members must lead pretty relaxing lives, right? Well, not really.

Kenny Vasoli (bass, vocals), Matt Young (vibraphone), Greg Altman (guitar), Michael Mullin (keyboard) and Ryan Zimmaro (drums) have a lot in common outside of the music they make together. They drink copious amounts of coffee, avidly bike ride and make a TON of music in projects other than Vacationer.

And they work, a lot.

Read summaries of each of the band members’ daily lives below, and see how they balance musical and career success with plenty of chill time.

Photo By Abi Reimold | AbiReimoldPhoto.com
Matt Young of Vacationer | Photo By Abi Reimold | AbiReimoldPhoto.com

Matt Young: ”My days are usually pretty simple. I wake up, I have coffee, and then I basically have a home studio in Brooklyn, New York, so I write music all day. Some days I have good days, and I write a couple songs. Some days I have bad days where I can’t really write anything.

So I write in the morning, then usually around 2 p.m. I go and bike like 15 miles. I’ll go down to Prospect Park and bike around the thing like 15 times. Then I’ll come back and write more songs. Then I cook dinner, write more, and maybe watch an episode of something or listen some records. Then I go to sleep and do the same thing the next day.

That’s pretty much it, though, I just write music all day. … I do it in my pajamas. I have a pair of slippers that I literally wear more than any other pair of shoes. I think it’s important to have a regimented schedule, and it’s kind of maddening because I’m in my house a lot. But my studio is a totally separate space in the front, and then the back is where I live. But yeah, I’m basically there all the time unless I’m on tour or out playing shows. I’m writing for Vacationer and Body Language. I have another project called Seafloor that’s just beats, and I have a new solo project that I’m working on. I also work on random commercial sound design and rebranding, and that’s basically it.” Continue reading →

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Unlocked: The past, practice and perception that make Vacationer’s perfect electro-pop

Kenny Vasoli of Vacationer | Photo via facebook.com/vacationermusic
Kenny Vasoli of Vacationer | Photo via facebook.com/vacationermusic

Residents on this quiet street in Horsham probably don’t mind the sounds coming from Kenny Vasoli’s childhood home.

Vasoli is leading practice for his electro-pop band Vacationer inside, down in his parent’s finished garage area that has been converted into a basement. Waters and beers are handed out. Guacamole and chips are set down in the corner of the room. It’s the first time the band coming together to run through their new live show – songs like “Stay,” “Go Anywhere” and “Shining” from their new album, Relief, released this week on Downtown Records.

The new tunes are quite audible from outside the house, but neighbors probably don’t mind chill serenade to their summer evening. Several years earlier there was probably much louder, angrier music coming from this house, as Vasoli started his career in popular pop-punk band The Starting Line, which formed in 1999 and disbanded in 2008, save for sporadic reunion shows and a recent tour.

Those who know Vasoli from those days may not recognize him now. His curly, chin-length hair is tucked beneath a backwards maroon Phillies cap. He’s surrounded by new band mates playing a new variety of instruments, a few of which would never be seen on stage for a punk show. But one instrument has remained through Vasoli’s time spent in both bands – his soothing, very distinct vocals.

Vacationer at SXSW 2013 | Photo by John Vettese
Vacationer at SXSW 2013 | Photo by John Vettese

“My favorite is when [fans] say, “You sound so much like that guy from The Starting Line,’” recalls guitarist Greg Altman of various Vacationer shows since the band started touring more than two years ago.

“It’s happened more times than you would think,” adds Vasoli. “What’s that Val Kilmer movie, The Saint? I’m like The Saint of emo.”

Though Vasoli’s comment definitely was not meant in the context, early 2000 Starting Line fans might have considered him a “saint” of the genre. The music Vasoli was moved to make more than 10 years later couldn’t be more different than what his admirers might have expected from him, but they and other fans have seemed to latch on to Vacationer, no questions asked.

“I’ve really started to embrace the whole emo back story thing, because at this point, I’m confident enough in the music that I make with Vacationer and we’ve sort of cemented some fans in there enough for me to be little more confident in who I was and who I am,” Vasoli says. “It’s nice, I don’t really have to compartmentalize too much anymore, or keep anything a secret anymore, because the people who are into it are into it, and the people that aren’t are just kind of waiting for another one of those records. With anything else in my life, I like not focusing on the past too much, and also not on the future.”

Living in the moment is an idea that Vacationer holds dear, and that comes out on Relief. Continue reading →

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Unlocked: Despite frequent “Trips,” watch Vacationer cater to hometown audience

 

Vacationer | Photo by Rachel Barrish | rachelbarrish.com
Vacationer | Photo by Rachel Barrish | rachelbarrish.com

Vacationer does exactly what their name would suggest.

The Philadelphia-based band has toured and traveled all over the world. They’ve shot videos in Hawaii and Costa Rica. They’ve played festivals in Iceland, and toured all over the U.S. alongside bands like Bombay Bicycle Club, Tennis, Hellogoodbye and The Naked and Famous.

But the Vacationer hasn’t always taken their party on the road. They’ve also played Philly enough times since 2012 to make it hard to keep track of. The band has brought its chill-wave sounds to venues like Union Transfer, the Theater of the Living Arts and the Dock Street Brewing Company, as well as outdoor festivals like 2nd Street Festival in Northern Liberties and the Fishtown River City Festival. Their home-away-from-tour, however, seems to be Underground Arts, where Vacationer has played a handful of shows including the two installments of the “Nude Beach” concert series the band started.

To celebrate tonight’s release show and the band’s first time performing at Johnny Brenda’s, we’re recapping a few of Vacationer’s most memorable hometown shows in the live videos below. You can also catch them playing the first day of the Made in America festival on August 30th, Vacationer being the only local band announced on the bill so far. Continue reading →

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Unlocked: The Key’s review of Relief by Vacationer

vacationer
Vacationer’s Relief | via vacationermusic.com

Relief is full of what one might describe as “Bali Hai” moments.

The album is Philadelphia dream pop band Vacationer’s sophomore release, out today via Downtown Records. Though it features modern technology – electric guitars, vibraphone flourishes and Logic-produced beats – Relief echoes the score of 1949 Rogers and Hammerstein musical “South Pacific.” In the show, Bali Hai is the name of the magical, mysterious island that is seen as an exotic paradise to the main characters. The native Tonkinese people invite American troops fighting during World War II to visit the island, and it becomes a tropical haven for the soldiers to forget about the fighting and killing that surrounds them. Every time that Bali Hai is mentioned or seen off in the distance, the show’s score elicits waves of brass, strings and a chorus of voices that bolster the island’s enchanting qualities.

The musical motif that starts Relief feels like an invitation from Vacationer to join the band on its own version of Bali Hai. Voices swell and fifes sound as the album launches into the first track, “Stay,” and frontman Kenny Vasoli sings, “Want you to taste summer winds as they’re gusting around/ I want you shaking those habits just in time, worth it if you look around.”

On Vacationer’s enchanted musical island, there are definitely no signs of the war, racism or other hardships that thicken the plot of “South Pacific.” But Relief also isn’t all chill waves, summer sun and good vibes like its predecessor, 2012’s Gone. Continue reading →

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Unlocked: How a trip to the Jersey Shore in the winter brought City Rain’s new album to life

via instagram.com/cityraintunes

In early 2013, when Ben Runyan and Scott Cumpstone began working on the music that would become City Rain‘s new LP Songs for a High School Dance, they worked in fits and starts.

Runyan would lay out a tapestry of beats and send it to Cumpstone, who would add guitar florishes and shoot it back. Ideas would build, songs would develop. But there was never a more concentrated block of recording than maybe two hours in a shot.

“It was a lot more like The Postal Service,” Runyan reasons. “Moreso than feeling truly like a band.”

This changed when the duo decided to wrap up High School Dance with a vacation. Runyan and Cumpstone traveled to Avalon, New Jersey, in early December, holed up in a family shore house and found their voice as a band.

“The shore is a great place to go in the off-season,” Cumpstone says. “Nobody is there. Everything’s closed. It allowed us to really focus, and to have more than half a night to get stuff done with the record.”

Runyan describes the experience as intensely creative experience of trying ideas, scrapping ideas, arguing over sounds and arrangements, walking away for a cool-off walk on the beach and returning back to the fray. But it resulted in the album taking the dynamic shape it has. Rather than 12 tracks of high-BPM dance beats, High School Dance has a rise and fall – midtempo and hushed moments in addition to the dancefloor ragers.

“Walls” emerged from a guitar line Cumpstone was jamming on during downtime that Runyan heard potential in; album closer “Mama I Want to Go Home” emerged from one of those beach walks, and the duo rushed in to get their acoustic guitar and microphones and laid down the song with the waves in the background. Continue reading →

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Unlocked: Watch City Rain go acoustic and outdoorsy in their Sequence session

Yesterday, in our review of City Rain‘s Songs From a High School Dance, we talked about how the album saw frontman Ben Runyan finding his voice as a songwriter. A classic way to test that claim out: take away all the bells and whistles and electronic layers of the music, listen to the songs in their most basic, stripped-down format, and consider the results. Do they hold up?

Filmmaker Matthew Albasi did just this over the winter months, bringing Runyan and his City Rain partner Scott Cumpstone into a wooded outdoor path (looks like the Wissahickon Valley Park, but I could be wrong) and had them play two songs with only an acoustic guitar and a boombox to add a bed of tones and beats. You might call the boombox cheating, but it’s only minimally audible, leaving these performances of “The Optimist” and “Mama, I Want To Go Home” to be carried by Cumpstone’s fervent strumming and Runyan’s singing.

A few takeaways – Runyan is a really good singer. Take away the studio reverb and vocal doubling and whatever the heck else makes his voice sound huge on the record, and guess what? It still sounds huge. Cumpstone should consider working an acoustic into City Rain live sets sometime – it adds a nice nuanced touch to the music. And the music and the melody absolutely hold up. Check it out and decide for yourself below. Who knows, maybe there’s still time for City Rain to work an acoustic micro-set into their Thursday album release show at Underground Arts.

Songs for a High School Dance is the featured album in this week’s edition of Unlocked. Download the single “Waiting on a Feeling” in Monday’s post, read yesterday’s album review, and check back tomorrow for an interview and Friday for a travelogue.

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Unlocked: The Key’s review of Songs for a High School Dance by City Rain

The most compelling thing about Philly electropop outfit City Rain used to be its sense of vibe.

Frontman / sonic architect Ben Runyan is a massively energetic and endlessly creative spirit. With former recording partner Jarrett Zerrer (who left the band in 2012 to pursue his solo project Dokument), Runyan crafted funky, beat-heavy and texturally alluring tracks on two LPs (2009′s Running Man, 2011′s self-titled follow-up) and three EPs (I’m Gone in 2010, Watch Out in 2011, Montage in 2010). Zerrer’s jamband-esque guitar riffing paired with Runyan’s clever layering of synthesizer tones, samples and knob-twisty effects. Enter emphatic baritone vocals, and result was pure ear candy for EDM heads – if perhaps a bit lacking in terms of pop structure and focus.

On the new Songs for a High School Dance, Runyan has found himself as a songwriter. It’s a collection of cuts that aim for arenas moreso than nightclubs. It sounds dramatic and dynamic and BIG. Most importantly, Runyan has a clear message he’s shooting to convey, a story he’s trying to tell; the experience of coping with troubling human emotional states – bipolar disorder, depression, love loss and friendship loss – and doing so as a young person in post-recession 21st century America, a time that’s particularly unkind to dreamers.

There’s a bit of self-help-ness and motivational-speakerdom about it all, and some moments of the album get a bit too heavy-handed in their heart-on-the-sleeve nature. The single “Join the Human Race,” for instance, sells the catharsis pretty hard. See also “Don’t Choke,” which is actually a particularly moving song about Runyan being uncertain about his creative future following Zerrer’s departure (a breakup that happened at the same time Runyan was ending a romantic relationship) – but the hammering kick drum bombast on the verse almost obliterates this emotional core, not to mention a great vocal contribution from Kate Faust.

That said, in considering songs that are memorable for the neato beeps and sounds they contain versus songs that are memorable for maybe overdoing the drama a bit, but also has passion and hooks and a message…I mean, the choice is obvious. Passion all the way. Continue reading →

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Unlocked: Download “Waiting on a Feeling” from City Rain’s Songs for a High School Dance

City Rain at SXSW | Photo by John Vettese

City Rain has always been a vehicle for catharsis, whether it was frontman Ben Runyan leaping around with frenetic energy to booming Fatboy Slim-esque beats in the duo’s early days, or the more sentimental electropop turn it took on the transitional EP, Montage.

When the band debuted its single “The Optimist” a year ago, it heralded an even bigger sound, heightened drama and a more impactful emotional release. It was heart-on-the-sleeve, and it totally worked. This feeling carries across Songs for a High School Dance, City Rain’s third LP, which we’re featuring all week long on Unlocked, the Key’s regular spotlight on new and significant releases from Philadelphia artists.

The album title is very telling – it speaks to both levels City Rain works at, crafting music that makes you want to feel like a teenager, until you remember the feelings of a real-live emotional teenager. (To paraphrase James Murphy.) Runyan has talked a lot already about depression, antidepressants and the various way they play into the songs on Songs. In a sense, it’s a collection of music about learning to feel again.

Tomorrow we’ll bring you an album review, with a music video spotlight on Wednesday, an interview on Thursday and a travelogue from Runyan, a personal journey of sorts, on Friday. Today, we spoptlight “Waiting on a Feeling,” the apex of the album’s second act, and one of the most ecstatic and affecting vocal performances Runyan has delivered. Check it out below – thanks to the band, we’re offering it as a free download all week.

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Unlocked: Ataloft’s definitive guide to the sights and sounds of Berks County

Ataloft at Main Street Music | Photo courtesy of the artist

Last Saturday, Ataloft played a short but inspired set at Main Street Music in Manayunk for Record Store Day. It was a fun day, a chance for us to play our new songs, promote our May 3 album release show at Ardmore Music Hall and maybe gain some new fans.

For this final installment of our Unlocked series, XPN gave me the go-ahead to talk about whatever I want. It got me to thinking about RSD and the T-shirt that our keyboard player Cory Heller was wearing that day. “Reading PA, no one likes us, and we don’t care”.

Reading fell on hard times, was kicked while it was down and was subsequently branded the poorest, most dangerous city in America. We got a bad rap. In reality, Reading/Berks may actually be on a cultural upswing—and the surrounding county is beautiful and diverse. There are plenty of reasons to like us, and secretly, we do care. Here’s my definitive guide.

Places of Interest

The Pagoda – We don’t know why it’s here or what it means, but it is uniquely ours and we love it. The Asian-inspired Pagoda offers spectacular views of Reading and the surrounding countryside. Conversely, from most points in the city or county, you’ll know exactly where you are by locating the Pagoda high atop Mt Penn.

The Sacred Oak Tree – a 500-year-old yellow oak tree with magical powers? It stands in a farmer’s field in the Oley Valley. (Ask around to find it.) According to Native-American legend, the wife of a powerful chief became very ill. Desperate for a cure, the young chief traveled to the Sacred Oak and there prayed to the Great Spirit for his wife to be saved. When he returned to camp, his wife was well again. Great spot for first dates and curiosity seekers. Continue reading →