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20 albums you shouldn’t overlook in 2018

Some of our unsung favorite albums of 2018

Fun fact: in a total coincidence of timing, The Key released our best albums of the year list on the same morning that NPR Music, The Guardian, and Paste rolled out their respective lists. Most other major and minor music publications followed suit in the week that followed, social media was aflurry with immense list excitement as much as total list fatigue.

The best hot take I saw in the fray came from Boston journalist Nina Corcoran (a writer for NPR Music, and Pitchfork, among others), who simply Tweeted: “The 50 Best Albums of 2018 That Didn’t Have a PR Machine Churning Behind Them.”

It’s frustrating, but true. It’s daunting when you’re reading about mostly the same albums in a slightly different order, and it begs some consideration. Like I’ve said in the past: while there is power in consensus, how does that consensus get there? Through mass recognition, through large teams of music journalists with widely eclectic tastes finding 15 or 50 or 500 albums (seriously tho, I’d love to see a top 500 list in haiku form) that they can all agree are great. And that happens when artists and their labels have the resources to seriously and steadily push those records to said journalists.

So what’s to become of a release by Philly rapper Ivy Sole, who self-released and self-promoted her outstanding 2018 outing Overgrown? Or one by Columbus psych/folk/punk collective Saintseneca, which did have label support on their beautiful Pillar of Na, easily the best record of their career, but the “campaign” behind it was limited?

My favorite lists, by comparison, are like the one you’re about to read — not driven by consensus, not presented in a ranked order. Not fostering a frustrating sense of competitiveness in an already-frustrating music scene. One that merely collects records that our team is tremendously excited about, and thinks you should make a point to spend some time with. Continue reading →

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The Skeleton Key: The end of the year, called and counted, filled with reggae, klezmer, punk, film screenings, and more

Pinkwash | photo by Yoni Kroll | courtesy of the artist

Everybody is out here with their 2018 top ten list and I’m still completely obsessed with one of last year’s favorites, the self-titled debut from jazz quintet Irreversible Entanglements. It’s not just the music or the lyrics or the delivery, all of which are, for the record, incredible. Really it’s the fact that I still haven’t had the chance to see them play despite them being from here. Somebody please book this band a show in Philadelphia! Continue reading →

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Alexander Charles fights misogyny in new track “Lady God”

Alexander Charles | photo courtesy of the artist
Alexander Charles | photo Ian Hirst-Hermans | courtesy of the artist | instagram.com/ihhphila

Philly singer/rapper Alexander Charles started the 52 Weeks project at the start of 2018, the goal being to produce one song a week. At 42 weeks in, the latest release, “Lady God” references Ariana Grande’s “God Is A Woman” in the first line: “I know that God’s a women / and now I have a the proof / my mom inspired me, taught me what I had to do.” Continue reading →

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Rust sleeps as Neil Young plays (mostly) pretty songs at The Tower

Neil Young | photo by Dan Drufovka | courtesy of Live Nation

You know how you have instincts about things, and you’re pushed to trust them above all reason?

I had a feeling about that pump organ of Neil Young’s, the one he brings on stage when he performs as a solo act; that he would save its… hmm…pumping for the second of two sold out Tower Theatre shows. And from what I heard from my many-beer-drinking neighbors seated in my row at the Tower last night — the second of his two-night stand — I was correct In my choosing. “Brother, you got the pump,” the one gentleman yelled.

I did. I did indeed. Continue reading →

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Listen to Get Better Records talk running a DIY label on the Razorcake Podcast

Ally Einbinder and Alex Licktenhour of Get Better Records | photo via razorcake.org

Alex Licktenhour and Ally Einbinder of Philly / San Francisco punk label Get Better Records showed up on the latest episode of the Razorcake Podcast to play some tracks, and between sets, discuss the operations of their label and the bands they work with. Get Better Records works to represent Philly’s queer arts community, primarily focusing on punk, hardcore, and experimental music in the DIY scene. Some of the artists they have worked with include Sheer Mag, HIRS, Thin Lips, Among Giants, and Cayetana, among others. Listen to the full podcast below. Continue reading →

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The Skeleton Key: Pilam is dead, long live Pilam

A flyer for Pi Lam’s notorious Human BBQ, circa 1987

Starting off August’s edition of the Skeleton Key with some breaking news, which for the record is a strange thing when it comes to a column that comes out once a month. Pilam, the venerated “freak frat” at the University of Pennsylvania, is closed, at least temporarily. After more than four decades of being a space for DIY music in Philadelphia, the organization has lost its home. Details are still emerging as to what’s going on but for the time being I’d much rather just focus on the positive. Which, to repeat what I just said, is more than four decades of serving as a home for music in our city. That’s just incredible.

If you were to compile a list of every band that ever played Pilam we’d be here for a very long time. Hell, just looking at the listings of who performed at Human BBQ, the annual all-day concert at the house, is wildly impressive in both quality and quantity. This past year was the 40th BBQ with bands including Old Maybe, Norwegian Arms, Slingshot Dakota, and EDO. Screaming Females and Sadie from Speedy Ortiz played last year, along with a ton of other great bands. Two years ago it was Moor Mother, HIRS, and Japanese Breakfast. We could seriously go on like this forever.

The first time I specifically remember being at the festival was way back in 2001 to see An Albatross, Stinking Lizaveta, and … EDO. Some things never change. Also, I somehow missed Wesley Willis. Maybe I was getting pizza? Continue reading →

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The Skeleton Key: Multitudes of new music for July, a First Time’s The Charm recap, and gigs from black metal to beatmakers to punk wrestlers

First Time’s The Charm | photo by Yoni Kroll for WXPN

This is a special Skeleton Key and not just because I’m checking in with you a bit later than usual. Don’t worry, my neighbors are still shooting off fireworks all day every day so it’s basically still the 4th and will probably stay that way at least until August. For this column I want to talk about all the new music coming out this month because there’s seriously just so much of it. And check this out: last weekend was First Time’s the Charm which was the debut of eight bands playing their very first sets ever. So much new music! Let’s start with a list because you should always start with a list: Dark Thoughts, Smarthearts, Rosali, Lester, Dark Web, Rabbits to Riches, Empath, and Fleabite. Oh, and a just-announced split between Jenna & The Pups – the solo pop punk band from HIRS frontwoman Jenna Pup – and, well, herself. The PUP/HIRS album will be out in August. Continue reading →

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The Week Ahead: Emmylou Harris, Kimya Dawson, Strange Parts, York Street Hustle and more

strange parts
Strange Parts | photo by Adam Haney | courtesy of the band

What’s that you say? It’s a holiday week, it’s a heat wave, everybody’s going down the shore or hiding out in A.C.? Guess what, friends: the music doesn’t stop for any of that, and this week we bring you 14 shows to see in the next seven days — from the all-local Chill Moody stage at Wawa Welcome America to a heavy dose of punk to close your weekend at West Philly’s Lava Space.  Continue reading →

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Warm up for the XPN 5K with this playlist from Team Rave On founder Debbie Blum

Team Rave On | photo courtesy of Debbie Blum

This fall, WXPN will hold our fifth annual 5K Run to raise awareness and funds for the Musicians On Call program.

Last year was a very special run in memory of XPN supporter Andy Katz, who passed away on October 14, 2016. His wife Debbie Blum, along with his sons Aaron (20) and Daniel (18), began Team Rave On with family and friends to celebrate Andy’s life. It was an amazing day for everyone, and after the run, Debbie’s mother, Gwen, became a MOC volunteer guide and is working at St. Christopher’s Hospital.

Team Rave On will be joining us again this October. I asked Debbie to put together a list of songs that celebrate Andy, an XPN member, lover of music and a believer in the healing power of music. Continue reading →