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Tonight’s Concert Picks: Jens Lekman at Union Transfer, Sheena & Thee Nosebleeds at Kung Fu Necktie, Octave Cat at Johnny Brenda’s, and more…

Jens Lekman | photo by Ellika Henrikson
Jens Lekman | photo by Ellika Henrikson | courtesy of the artist

Swedish songwriter Jens Lekman will bring his idiosyncratic pop stylings to Union Transfer tonight in support of his latest album, Life Will See You Now. It features the infectious lead single “What’s That Perfume That You Wear?”, probably the most romantic song about smells I’ve heard. Stream the video for the track below. Then, head over to XPN’s Concert Calendar for tickets and more info on the show. Continue reading →

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PREMIERE: Members of Lotus and Dopapod team up for new Octave Cat project, share “Fever Subsides” single

octave cat
Octave Cat | photo by Mike Ryan | courtesy of the artist

Octave Cat is an experiment that went right.

The funky new collaboration from Jesse Miller (Lotus), Eli Winderman (Dopapod), and Charlie Patierno, (Kate Faust, Kuf Knotz), was supposed to just be a day spent messing around with some vintage synths. But the tapes were rolling as Miller and Winderman twisted knobs and pressed keys on The Cat, a rare synth made by Octave in the 70s (see what they did there), and on playback the pair heard something more than just experiments. That session turned into a full-fledged project that will release its debut self-titled album this year, and today we have the premiere of new single “Fever Subsides.”

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Faces of Philadelphia (Musicians) portrait series opens at Brewerytown Beats tonight

anna mraz
Portrait of Raj Haldar by Anna Mraz | photo via Philebrity

Local artist Anna Mraz is celebrating the diverse spirit of the Philly music scene with her Faces of Philadelphia (Musicians) exhibit, opening tonight at Brewerytown Beats. We want to give several hat tips to Philebrity, who spotted the First Friday event and gave us a sneak peak into the watercolor-on-plexiglass portraits that will be lining the walls of the Brewerytown record store.

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Jake Ewald grows up on Slaughter Beach, Dog’s eclectic debut

Slaughter Beach, Dog | photo by Jess Flynn | courtesy of the artist
Slaughter Beach, Dog | photo by Jess Flynn | courtesy of the artist

When an established musician starts a new band, it’s hard to avoid drawing comparisons. There’s almost bound to be some overlap, especially when that musician is a primary songwriter for both projects. While this is definitely the case on Welcome, the debut record from Jake Ewald’s Slaughter Beach, Dog, the Modern Baseball guitarist manages to take his songwriting in a new direction. In fact, he takes it in several, and it’s those deviations that make the album so successful. Continue reading →

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I saw Ween three times in one week. Here’s what happened.

#ween and their happy colored marbles #lockn

A photo posted by julie miller (@clamcostume) on

It wasn’t supposed to happen this way.

Two kids from New Hope shouldn’t have been able to get as famous as they did by performing original tunes about regional breakfast meat sandwiches and “The Refrigerator That Wouldn’t Close” (an actual early song title). It doesn’t make sense that anyone would have paid attention to two high school kids playing guitar and singing over a pre-recorded drum and bass track from a DAT tape. It’s nothing short of miraculous that at age 22, they would release a major label debut with song titles like “Flies On My Dick” and “Poop Ship Destroyer”, let alone that it would produce a charting single.

They shouldn’t have risen to festival-headlining status. They shouldn’t have been able to cultivate a ravenous, age-spanning fan base with a culture and mythology all their own. It defies logic that 28 years after these two best friends started their band, that they would suddenly split up, leaving their fans confused, outraged, and devastated.

Ween’s very existence is mysterious. Their rise and fall is as unlikely as their genre-bending catalogue of music is vast. Quite possibly the only thing that makes sense about Ween is their triumphant reunion, currently 13 shows deep. Their music, however, is still just as impossible to pin down as it ever was. They play festivals with jam-band-heavy lineups, but who would call Ween a jam band? They don’t exactly “jam”, although in their prime, versions of their funk odyssey “Let Me Lick Your Pussy” were known to cross the half-hour mark. They’re musical character actors, not just channeling the vibe of an 80’s hair-metal anthem or a drunken sea shanty, but fully committing and embodying the spirits of these songs. They can be 12 different bands across the span of a record, which is precisely why I jumped at the opportunity to see them play three times in a single week.

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Forget Everything You’ve Learned: Philly gamer brings a playful spirit to musical improv

Tonic Game
Tonic Game | Photo courtesy of Scott Hughes

Where improvised music is concerned, every moment on stage is a roll of the dice. Scott Hughes wants to help beginning or struggling musicians by taking that idea literally.

The former UArts piano major successfully raised nearly $10,000 in a Kickstarter campaign earlier this summer to create Tonic: The Card & Dice Game for Musicians, which prompts players to create sounds prompted by techniques more reminiscent of a round of Monopoly than a late night jam session.

“It’s a practice tool disguised as a game,” says Hughes, who eventually shifted his academic focus to a Physics major at Temple and now considers himself an avid amateur musician. “It’s not a game in the sense that you’re going to keep score. It’s a way to explore and play and get out of your comfort zone. You can do it alone or with a group, but it’s certainly not competitive in any way.” Continue reading →

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The Key Studio Sessions: Ganou

Ganou | Photo by Ian Lewis

Late last year, Morgane Fouse released a mixtape under her stage name, Ganou. It was called Catharsis, and it was quite literally an act of catharsis for the Paris-born, Philadelphia-based electronic composer and vocalist. Fouse tells me that making music is, for her, a means of coping with depression; you easily notice it in her song titles (“This Is Why I Make Music”; “Can’t Sleep? Make Music”) as well as the emotional release you hear in her performances. Take a listen to her Key Studio Session take on “Detainment;” after a heartfelt bridge where Ganou raps about trying to confront pain but being dismissed and discouraged by those around her, her vocals soar into a tremendous coda – “How do I move on, how do I move on, from the monsters in my soul?” It’s powerful, exhilarating stuff.

But it’s also very beautiful, serene and tender. There’s an element of playfulness to her sound, most evident in “Hey Ya (Cover of a Cover).” And there’s a contemplative side. Ganou studied music at West Chester University, but has been practicing all her life, taking piano and voice lessons since she was in elementary school and taking part in choirs in high school. When she warmed up for our session, she did it in the proper vocal student way: by singing her way through an octave of scales.

Feeling creatively restricted, Ganou dropped out of school, moved to Philly and developed the sound she has today – an eclectic fusion of genres. You can hear the haunting minimalism of James Blake in the evocative “Waves,” which she performed for us, but she also finds inspiration in deadmau5 and Animal Collective. Two of the songs played – the yearning opening of “Set Yourself Free,” the reflective conclusion of “Fell In Love With A Boy” – are brand new, seeing their first release here. But where and when they will come out in finished form is still uncertain. We caught Ganou just before she went into a creative hibernation of sorts; she tells us its not permanent, but rather a means of calming some of the hurt she sings about while seeing how music and art can fit in her life.  Doing this “is shedding a lot of light on my future,” Ganou says, “and I can’t wait to see my creative end results.” Neither can we.

Support for The Key Studio Sessions, from Dogfish Head
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Adventures in loudspeakers and Stockhausen will introduce composer Nathaniel Bartlett to Philly in a new series at Crane Arts

Nathaniel Bartlett | photo courtesy of the artist
Nathaniel Bartlett | photo courtesy of the artist

Major changes in life are always followed by a period of readjustment and acclimatization. Having recently moved to the Philadelphia area from his native Madison, Wisconsin, composer and percussionist Nathaniel Bartlett has decided to take the initiative and introduce himself to his newfound community via a five-concert series beginning Wednesday night and continuing monthly at the Crane Arts Old School White Space.

“My experience in the past has been that if you go to a new city and give one concert, it just doesn’t make a very big impact,” Bartlett says. “Doing it piecemeal just doesn’t seem to achieve a critical mass. I’m hoping this series will introduce interested people in Philadelphia to what I do.”

The series, dubbed “Sound-Space Audio Lab,” will provide an introduction not just for Bartlett but for his unique, technologically inventive approach to composing and performing. Bartlett’s music augments his five-octave acoustic marimba with high-definition electronic sound, utilizing his 8-channel loudspeaker cube. The system surrounds the audience with eight speakers, allowing for an immersive, highly dimensional sound space.

Bartlett revealed a nascent version of his loudspeaker rig to Philly audiences at a Bowerbird-presented concert in 2006, while he was briefly residing in Bryn Mawr. He’s had several years to tinker with the idea since, and will arrive at Crane Arts with a far more developed set-up this time around. “If you’ve ever listened to a really good, well-made audio recording on a properly set-up stereo system,” Bartlett says, “you’ll notice that the sound exists seamlessly between the loudspeakers. This idea takes that concept, where the sounds can exist anywhere between the speakers, and applies it to a much, much larger and truly 3D space.”

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The Key Studio Sessions: Kate Faust

One thing about Philly musician Kate Faust that cannot be denied: the woman has range. That’s in the sense of her vocals – a couple octaves, at least – as well as her ability to bounce between styles. When we met her, she sang backup in the lively but short-lived ragtime-rock outfit Perkasie, who played a great set at XPoNential Music Festival in 2008; a year later, she’d moved on to a longer stint with soul-blues troopers Toy Soldiers, which at that time were rocking an eleven-piece configuration. Lady followed, which was the first project she fronted and which delved into even more eclectic worlds, drawing influence from torch-song jazz to Tropicalia, and a lot in between (download their Key Studio Sesison from 2011 here).

This year, she released music under her own name for the first time, the Crucial Companion EP, and it’s another stylistic 180. With her signature soaring and emotive vocals over an alluring electropop undercurrent, this is the stuff of Bjork and Kate Bush: very evocative, very emotional, very cool. Live, she performs with two backing players – Jonathan Colman on bass and Justin Lee on drums – and they add a solid down-to-earth texture to Faust’s otherworldly songs. Their Key Studio Session includes three songs from Crucial, as well as two new ones – the sleek groove of “In Bloom”, the solo tearjerker “Torture” –  providing a taste of what’s to come when Faust and her band play MilkBoy next Saturday, the 14th of September. Tickets and information on the show can be found here; stream and download the session below.

Support for The Key Studio Sessions, from Dogfish Head
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The Key’s Week of Folk: Ursula Rucker, and four other artists you didn’t realize are playing #PFF2013

RuckerThe Key’s Week of Folk is our series of interviews, reviews, artist spotlights, playlistings and general ephemera to get you ready for the 52nd Annual Philadelphia Folk Festival, happening August 16th to August 18th at Old Pool Farm in Schwenksville. This installment highlights a handful of artists we didn’t even were realize were playing – so it’s possible you didn’t know either.

On Monday we talked about what a daunting task navigating a festival lineup can be. Between sheer volume of names, late lineup additions and lag time between initial announcements and the actual show, I find myself at festivals – any festival – saying at least once “oh, woah, they’re playing!” (Confession: it even happens at our own XPoNential Music Festival.)

For this installment of The Key’s Week of Folk, we’ll highlight a handful of don’t-miss you-almost-missed-thems, beginning with the one and only Ursula Rucker. Her’s is a name that Roots aficionados should know well; the Philadelphia poet first came to prominence closing the group’s first several albums with spoken word pieces (and appearing throughout the mix on 2003’s Phrenology). Sometimes tender, sometimes shocking, but always marked by beauty and eloquence, Rucker’s collaborations with The Roots – as well as with Bahamadia and King Britt – ultimately paved the way for a solo career that notably includes 2001’s Super Sista, 2006’s Ma’at Mama and most recently, 2011’s She Said. Along with writing, Rucker is an educator and activist, and recently has been combining her words with the stylish guitar of fellow Philadelphian Tim Motzer. The two will perform together at the Cultural Tent on August 16th at 7 p.m. Below, watch a video of Rucker and Motzer on the 1k Sessions, and listen to Rucker’s contribution to The Roots’ Things Fall Apart, “Return to Innocence Lost.”

Tim Motzer & Ursula Rucker – 1k Sessions, Episode 11 Preview from Dejha Ti on Vimeo.

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