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Julien Baker contemplates enormity of the universe in new song, “Distant Solar Systems”

julien baker
Julien Baker | photo by Jake Cunningham | courtesy of the artist

Space and the universe and all that kind of freaks me out. So when I heard news about the NASA-discovered earth-like planets in the TRAPPIST-1 solar system, my reaction was a mix of total excitement and also ever-crippling fear and smallness.

 In Julien Baker‘s new song, the beautiful and haunting “Distant Solar Systems,”  she perfectly encapsulates this jumbled up feeling of wonder and awe and trepidation.  In the song — the b-side to her new single “Funeral Pyre,” released via new label Matador Records – Baker’s minimal instrumentation and clear, emotional vocals layer to create an ethereal, soothing tone. Keeping with the title, the song matches large, atmospheric sounds that sweep a vast empty space, with a feeling of fragile vulnerability. Continue reading →

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Tonight’s Concert Picks: Julien Baker at Underground Arts, Bardo Pond at Johnny Brenda’s, Corinne Bailey Rae at Union Transfer

julien baker
Julien Baker | photo by Jake Cunningham | courtesy of the artist

Julien Baker makes a return visit to Philadelphia for a show at Underground Arts tonight. The Memphis native brought her acclaimed Sprained Ankle debut to town earlier this year, wowing the audience with her gut wrenching but graceful songs about personal challenges and growth. Stream “Something” below and pick up tickets for the 21+ show with Grayling here.

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Just Announced: Julien Baker to headline Underground Arts on 9/13

julien baker
Julien Baker | photo by Jake Cunningham | courtesy of the artist

Memphis native Julien Baker will headline Underground Arts on Tuesday September 13th in support of her critically acclaimed 2015 debut Sprained Ankle. Philly’s Grayling (who we’re fans of here at The Key) will perform as the opening act. The show will mark Baker’s return to Philly after playing Boot & Saddle back in January. Continue reading →

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Tonight’s Concert Picks: Julien Baker at Boot & Saddle, Madalean Gauze at Kung Fu Necktie, Torres at Johnny Brenda’s and more…

julien baker
Julien Baker | photo by Jake Cunningham | courtesy of the artist

Memphis native Julien Baker brings her debut solo LP to Boot & Saddle tonight. K. Ross Hoffman explored Sprained Ankle for a Key profile last week, noting that that the songs are “harrowing stuff; an impressionistic but unflinching annal of addiction, self-loathing and spiritual crisis…” set up against “unadorned but graceful melodies and simple, minimal acoustic guitar and piano arrangements.” Listen to “Something” below and pick up tickets to the 21+ show with Abi Reimold here.

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Julien Baker pulls no punches on Sprained Ankle

Julien Baker | photo by Jake Cunningham | courtesy of the artist
Julien Baker | photo by Jake Cunningham | courtesy of the artist

The Sprained Ankle in the title of Julien Baker’s debut record happens to be purely metaphorical.  But that’s a rare and merciful exception among the litany of pain, both physical and psychological, that the Memphis-based songwriter catalogues across the album’s 34 minutes: from wrapping a car around a streetlamp to the jitters of withdrawal, to the wrenching agony of heartbreak, to the empty, gnawing tedium of days spent in a hospital bed.  It’s harrowing stuff; an impressionistic but unflinching annal of addiction, self-loathing and spiritual crisis – and perhaps all the more striking given Baker’s young age: she’s twenty now but was closer to eighteen when she wrote these songs. Continue reading →

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Listen to Abi Reimold’s “Sugar,” see her open for Julien Baker at Boot and Saddle

elliott smith
Abi Reimold | photo by Haley Richter | haleyrichterphoto.com | courtesy of the artist

We’ve been following Philly singer and songwriter Abi Reimold for a while now – ever since she worked for us a photography intern a few years back – and just like her images exhibit a remarkable depth and sensitivity, so does her music.

Reimold is releasing her debut full-length, Wriggling, this month via Sad Cactus records, and recently got the Artist to Watch treatment from Stereogum. In that story, she admitted that the album was written and recorded in late 2014, but she sat on it for a while because of the subject matter. Continue reading →

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Items Tagged Philadelphia: Light and shadow, low and high

Chiaroscuro | via therealchiaroscuro.bandcamp.com

Here at The Key, we spend a lot of time each week digging through every new release from Philadelphia that shows up on Bandcamp. At the end of each week, we present you with the most interesting, most unusual and overall best of the bunch: this is Items Tagged Philadelphia.

Pet peeve: the word “beachy” as a description of music. I’m sure we’ve used it a fair share of times in these pages, and I apologize. It’s typically a catch-all for carefree breezy pop, particularly of the mindless electro-tinged indie dudebro variety. And I don’t know about you, but I — like Philly’s Dead Milkmen — am not the biggest fan of the beach, or “the shore” in the parlance of our region. It’s a tremendously sad place on any number of levels: desolation and decay, ennui and loneliness, the desperation of clinging to some societal myth about youth and conventional beauty while the tide of time literally washes it further and further away.

Not that there isn’t worthwhile art to be made in those surroundings, of course. Last night I watched The Promise, a doc on the making of Bruce Springsteen’s Darkness on the Edge of Town, the brooding and quote-unquote difficult followup to his blockbuster 1975 LP Born to Run. Bruce wrote the album’s songs (along with, like, a gazillion others) while living on a farm in Homdel, just north of his Asbury Park stomping grounds. These new digs came in the wake of Born to Run‘s massive success, but rather than following the 70s rock cliche of songs bemoaning success — and before diving into the nostalgia-laden body of work that became The River — Springsteen used Darkness to focus even harder on the lives of those who he grew up around, the hard-working regular people looking for a break.

The doc included a short live set filmed inside the empty carousel house on Asbury’s Casino Pier, and the chipped and cracked grandeur of the building at sundown provided a perfect setting for these songs about the endurance of faded glory. It’s worth Netflixing — possibly a double feature with The Wrestler — whether you’re a fan of The Boss, or you’re just interested in seeing a different take on that place where the ocean meets the sky.  Continue reading →

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Tonight’s Concert Pick: Harmony Woods at The Pharmacy

Harmony Woods | photo by John Vettese for WXPN
Harmony Woods | photo by John Vettese for WXPN

Things have changed a lot for Sofia Verbilla of Harmony Woods over the past six months. For starters, hair has gone from sky blue to bright red — though in either case, she’s relatively easy to spot in the crowd at a show. More important than the visual changes, however, are the sonics. Verbilla started the project last as a place to collect her contemplative acoustic songwriting — a mix of spacious guitar leads and her captivating vocals, which shake with equal parts emotion and confidence. Her early gigs were played in this unadorned fashion, either solo acoustic or solo electric, but as she performed more, she began to assemble a live band, which totally shined last month when it played the Punk Talks benefit gig at Everybody Hits.  Continue reading →

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Pinegrove releases benefit live album Everywhere for Southern Poverty Law Center

Pinegrove | Photo by Sydney Schaefer for WXPN | sydneyschaeferphotos.com
Pinegrove | Photo by Sydney Schaefer for WXPN | sydneyschaeferphotos.com

Just across the river, Montclair beauties Pinegrove have been continuing to use their music as a means to help others who need it. The band’s recent release Everywhere finds eight tracks recorded live during their tour with Kevin Devine, Petal, and Julien Baker, with all proceeds going towards the Southern Poverty Law Center, a “non-profit organization that combats hate, intolerance, and discrimination through education and litigation”. Continue reading →

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Just Announced: The Decemberists will headline The Fillmore this spring

The Decemberists | photo courtesy of the artist
The Decemberists | photo courtesy of the artist

Portland folk rock favorites The Decemberists are seven albums deep into an illuminating career, with their most recent outing — 2015’s What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World — garnering acclaim among fans and critics alike. The band just announced a short, two-week run in April along the east coast, with singer-songwriter Julien Baker in tow, and the tour stops at The Fillmore on Friday, April 14th. Continue reading →