Maybe it’s something in those icy North Atlantic waters. Two of this young year’s finest, most quietly intriguing records have come from a couple twenty-something artists approaching what you might broadly call American musical traditions – folk, country, blues, indie rock, etc. – with a contemplative, slyly curious outsider perspective and from unexpected corners of the Anglophone world.
From Ireland, Dublin-bred guitar whiz Cian Nugent, who made his first decisive foray into singer-songwriterdom with January’s Night Fiction (Woodsist); from Nova Scotia, folk-rocksy Haligonian quartet Nap Eyes, the brainchild of biochemist-by-day Nigel Chapman, whose playful, poetic musings on February’s sophomore outing Thought Rock Fish Scale (Paradise of Bachelors) strike a balance between casual and considered. I caught up with Nugent and Chapman, in their respective maritime hometowns, in advance of a joint American tour which brings them to the Boot and Saddle on Thursday.
On record, Chapman comes off as hyper-articulate and self-consciously cerebral, very much a words-first sort of songwriter – he was, indeed, delightfully chatty and effusive in our conversation – and Nugent as a man of fewer, cautiously chosen words; a patient instrumentalist equally comfortable letting space and silence (and his nimble fingers) speak on his behalf. But both described similarly gradual, even painful processes of finding their voices. When Chapman first picked up the guitar in his teens, he says, “I felt like I certainly couldn’t sing and also certainly couldn’t write songs” – but he made a conscious determination that the latter was the “more important” goal; a decision whose pay-off is now gloriously evident. Continue reading →
Today hometown boys The Fleeting Ends played the River Stage at the XPoNential Music Festival.The indie rock group rallied the crowd with their tune, “I Feel Cursed,” and guitarist Matt Vantine showcased an impressive range of vocals, dropping several octaves towards the end of the track. For “Operator,” he switched to the keyboard and slowed things down to get the audience swaying. For their second to last song, the group performed “I’m like That,” perhaps their most popular single — and for good reason. The beat was catchy and the vocals were right on point, and the audience snapped fingers and beat heels in appreciation of the local band. Their most recent album, Our Eyes are Peeled, was released in March 2013.See photos of the performance in the gallery below, read the setlist after the jump, and listen to the set in its entirety here (via the WXPN media player).
Every month, noted song expert K. Ross Hoffman presents Now Hear This, a sampling of fresh specimens for your consideration.
It’s prime time. As summer winds to a close, we’ve arrived emphatically at the part of the year where seemingly every week brings a fresh trove of high-profile new releases. The last few weeks have seen records from what feels like a who’s-who of top-tier “prestige” indie rock acts: The National, Grizzly Bear, Iron and Wine, LCD Soundsystem and, of course, Philly’s entry in the conversation, The War on Drugs. And there’s more right around the corner from Beck, St. Vincent, Destroyer, Wolf Parade and, of course, Philly’s entry in the next phase of the conversation, Kurt Vile (in collaboration with Courtney Barnett.) As always, it’ll be interesting to see which of these albums manage to live up to the anticipation, and how many wind up largely forgotten in a few months time.
But it’s a great time of year for all sorts of music; not just the big names and known entities. There’s so much stuff coming out it’s hard to even keep track of it all, and the influx of well-established acts means higher-than-usual potential for worthy smaller records to slip through the cracks. But I’ll do my best to help – read on for a smattering of relatively under-the-radar releases from the past month or so. No deliberate themes or through-lines this time, but there are a few trends that stick out. Notably, we are now sufficiently far enough removed from last November’s election – and the many varieties of devastating fallout that ensued – that an increasing number of new releases are referencing or responding to the national (and global) political situation at least on some level – and there are several examples below. Also, for no particular reason except that it just happened that way, all of these songs were made by women – well, with one or two exceptions right at the end, but at least those are sung in falsetto. Enjoy! Continue reading →
On July 17th, the Fleet Foxes Instagram account posted an announcement that they had added several artists to their upcoming US tour: (Sandy) Alex G in the Northeast, Natalie Prass in the Northwest, Bedouine in the Southwest, and Nap Eyes in the Midwest in addition to the already-billed Animal Collective and Beach House.
For a good 24 hours, information on this news was nowhere else to be found, save the account (likely run by frontman Robin Pecknold) answering direct fan inquiries in the comments section. Either way, I naively thought that it was safe to assume the addition of Philly’s own Alex G to the upcoming July 31st show at The Mann Center was a given, as he had no other scheduled shows that day and Philadelphia is a Northeast location. Continue reading →
The more of your life you spend consuming music, the more you realize an essential truth: the records deemed “the best” in any sort of ranking system — whether it be year-end lists or the Grammys — are not necessarily the ones you should be listening to.
Or not the only ones, rather. An as I said last year, the stuff everyone agrees on is a mere starting point. So while we brought you The Key’s top 15 albums of 2017 earlier this month, today we encourage you to dig deeper and further explore the spectrum of compelling music that was released this year. For this list, we highlight critics’ favorites from The Key’s staff of contributors; albums that topped individual lists but did not crack our overall top 15.
From the life-affirming punk rock of Amanda X to the eviscerating metal of Converge, the defiant electro rock of Fever Ray to the compellingly personal rap of Ruby Ibarra, our writers and photographers make their case for those albums: why they moved them, why they impressed them, why they loved them and why they’re important for you to listen to in 2017. Read (and listen) on for The Key’s roundup of 20 albums you should not overlook in 2017. –John Vettese
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The duo of Lisa-Kaindé Diaz and Naomi Diaz — also known as Ibeyi, the word for twins in Yoruba — showcased their soothing vocals and unapologetic, youthful energy at Union Transfer last Saturday. They darted around the stage to their different instrument stations in complementary colored red and blue jumpsuits, utilizing every inch of the stage. Continue reading →
“High Key” is a series of profiles conceived with the intent to tell the story of Philly’s diverse musical legacy by spotlighting individual artists in portrait photography, as well as with an interview focusing on the artist’s experience living, creating, and performing in this city. “High Key” will be featured in biweekly installments, as the series seeks to spotlight artists both individually and within the context of his or her respective group or artistic collective.
When you speak with Chris Smith, you don’t get the impression that it’s a nervous energy, so much, that drives the discursive discourse — or even that the discursiveness is necessarily a negative quality, in his case. Rather, you immediately understand that he just has so much to say about all of his rich experiences, that he’s thought so deeply about it all: from the city streets he’s stomped for his decades living here, to the venues he’s played, the neighborhoods he’s called home, and most of all to the expansive community of musicians and artists and friends that he clearly feels so fortunate to have.
Smith is a veritable encyclopedia of music knowledge — for all music, sure, in the way you might expect or hope any passionate musician to be — but specifically and profoundly for Philly’s scene. He can’t seem to be able to say enough in his adoration for what this city’s managed to cultivate, over the past twenty years and even earlier, and parts of the conversation can begin to trend toward extemporaneous encomium.
But although the multi-instrumentalist’s psych-folk outfit Espers were a beloved staple of Philly indie music back in their heyday, some 15 years ago now — back in the days when he wore his straight hair a lot longer — you don’t catch Smith dwelling much on that, beyond a passing reference, even if you might have hoped for a tale or two. In fact, he never even really references or plugs his own band’s really remarkable catalog and achievements at all, but instead directs almost of all of his acclaim outwards. From his accounts, you end up with a much broader picture of a reverie that wanders between the actual brick-and-mortar record stores of South Street record stores, through recurrent Philly occasions like First Fridays, his exploits and encounters with local artists and poets, and into a cheap rental property in the mid-’90s with his indie-rock compatriot Steve Gunn for a snapshot of the sometimes-controversial revitalization the Northern Liberties. And on top of all that, Smith is uniquely poised to be able to offer both an insider’s and outsider’s perspective on the Philly’s arts culture, as well as both a successful musician’s and a successful indie-record-label-owner’s perspectives on how to enable yourself to be both — even in a place that artists can sometimes have the tendency to malign as unconducive to that sort of professional growth.
At one point in this interview, after all of that, Smith catches himself, and feels the need to advise you that he’s not usually an unbridled optimist, lest you begin to feel your Philly-stiffened upper lip start to soften on the spot from all of his exuberance. Frankly, you really don’t buy his reminder.
Still kicking around in Philly, Smith is mostly focused these days on continuing to build remotely his record label, Paradise of Bachelors, based outside of Durham, NC, in partnership with co-founder and Carolina counterpart Brendan Greaves. The label has been blowing up lately, most recently offering new releases from The Weather Station and Gun Outfit — not to mention this fantastic and seasonally relevant sci-fi literature review. ”Paradise of Bachelors,” declares Smith after the interview ends, “Just check it out!” True to form, he adds after a short pause, “That’s about it . . . I’m so bad at plugging myself.” Continue reading →
The second Friday the 13th of 2017 is upon us, so we’ve assembled a playlist of songs for the superstitious and non-superstitious alike.
If you have even a tinge of concern, we would urge you to avoid black cats, walking under ladders, opening umbrellas in doors, and definitely do not accept any invitations to cookouts, late-night bonfires or sleep over trips to Camp Crystal Lake.
With music by Stevie Wonder, Howlin’ Wolf, Harold Melvin & The Bluenotes, and Johnny Cash, we hope you enjoy our Friday the 13th Spotify playlist. Continue reading →