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DIY scene underdogs Greg Mendez and Sleepy Freak join forces for a digital split

Sleepy Freak | photo by Emily Dubin | thedubyscoop.com

There have been more than a few great splits from Philly musicians this year, and the latest, from Greg Mendez and Sleepy Freak, is really something special. Both artists are remarkably talented on their own, yet relatively quiet forces within the scene — they’ll pop up for sets at shows around town pretty often, but outside of the DIY community, they aren’t being talked about nearly as much as they should be. But the new split certainly gives us reason to talk about them. The six-track EP accomplishes what the best splits do, capturing both artists at their best and weaving their combined efforts into a powerhouse recording that’s impossible to ignore. Continue reading →

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The Week Ahead: Hardwork Movement, Ivy Sole, YallaPunk, Made In America and more

Hardwork Movement | photo by Dylan Eddinger for WXPN | dylaneddingerphoto.squarespace.com

We’re in the last week of summer, people. Even though the season officially continues for another three weeks, with school starting this week and Labor Day on the horizon, this is pretty much it — so let’s make it count. Here are 12 concerts you can see in and around Philadelphia this week, starting out tonight at Johnny Brenda’s with rapper Kuf Knotz’s classically-oriented new project, and wrapping up with the giant party on the Parkway that is Made In America.
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Items Tagged Philadelphia: Coming soon to a basement near you

My Name Is Tom | via mynameistom.bandcamp.com

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

Somewhere in the push-pull between blue skies and grey hearts, the thing we like to think of as summertime 2018 is finally, for the most part, here. There will be gigs on porches and gigs in basements, there will be packed nights in clubs and rainy days in fields. And that’s just this weekend! For real though, as our musical agenda starts to fill up here in Philly, heading into the equinox and beyond, let’s not forget about the unknown. The songs and sounds we haven’t heard yet that may occupy a big portion of our listening in the coming months.

Here are six standout Philly releases I found on Bandcamp this month — some are out in full already, some are just teasers for projects that drop in June — and they run the range from blown out head trips for stormy afternoons to sidewalk chalk speckled romance in the form of classic soul connecting with retro-futuristic rock. Dig in below, and always remember to keep extra space on your playlist.  Continue reading →

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Watch Alyssa Joseph play “n i g h t” live at Miner Street

Alyssa Joseph | photo by Perry Longo | via the artist’s Facebook page

For many regional musicians, recording at Fishtown’s Miner Street Recordings is something like a rite of passage. And although her new EP, [ir​]​rational, is Philly singer-songwriter Alyssa Joseph‘s first release, she looks right at home in the bright, cozy studio. Joseph’s soulful and resonant voice fills the entire space as she performs her song “n i g h t”  — its no surprise she counts the likes of Regina Spektor and Brandi Carlile among her influences. Continue reading →

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Now Hear This: New songs from The Internet, Dirty Projectors, Bodega, Daniel Bachman, Bad Bad Hats, Steve Hauschildt and more

Shy Boys | photo via shyboys.bandcamp.com

Every month, noted song expert K. Ross Hoffman presents Now Hear This, a sampling of fresh specimens for your consideration.

We are officially in the dull. drums. of the dog. days. of the slow end of summer. Musically speaking. Not that there’s nothing going on, of course. I mean, this month alone I have already seen fantastic shows by several of my longtime favorites – a triumphant return to Johnny Brenda’s from the perennially entertaining Jeffrey Lewis, and a basement show by the great guitarist Glenn Jones – both of them previewing material from super-promising new albums still forthcoming (later this month in Jones’ case; no official word yet from Lewis.) And yeah oh yeah, I got to see Radiohead for the first time in way too long and fall completely and utterly back in love with them, which seems like it was more or less the consensus regarding their just-wrapped US tour. That said, the column below, as it turned out, only manages to highlight a couple of shows this fall. (Several of these artists, I’m sorry to report, already played Philly in the last month or two, well before their respective album releases – some of them in opening slots, which gives me hope that they might return to headline before too long.)

The upside of a month with a relatively slow release schedule (at least for big-name new releases) is that it inspires me to dig a little further than I might otherwise. Because, let’s face it, we live in an age when it’s all but impossible to get away from worthwhile if not downright vital new music on a virtually weekly basis. Or anyway, it feels that way if you spend an ungodly percentage of your waking hours (and plenty of the ones you should be sleeping too) poking around on the internet as if furiously trying to prevent it from passing you by. (My lord, when will it stop?) Anyhow…here are some knockouts, knick-knacks and novelties from the last month or so. Enjoy, and I’ll See You In September! Continue reading →

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Now Hear This: New songs by Kacey Musgraves, Alexis Taylor, Gwenno, Baloji, Young Fathers, Mount Eerie and more.

Young Fathers
Young Fathers | photo by Julia Noni | courtesy of the artist

Every month, noted song expert K. Ross Hoffman presents Now Hear This, a sampling of fresh specimens for your consideration.

Last month I was seeing double; this month I’m going solo.

I spent a probably unreasonable amount of time in the last couple weeks compiling a list of my personal top 25 albums of the past 25 years – a time period which happens to correspond, more or less, with my lifespan as an active, conscious listener to contemporary music – and then discussing/dissecting said list in detail via Facebook comments, which turned out to be a surprisingly emotional process.  (The whole undertaking was inspired by a prompt commemorating the 25th anniversary of Philly-based staple Magnet Magazine, wherein the list will eventually be published.)

One thing that struck me along the way was how astonishingly many acts from this time-frame – even the earliest years of it – remain (or have again become) relatively musically active.  Now, maybe it’s just a factor of my age, but I don’t really remember the musical landscape of the ‘90s, for instance, being quite so well populated by artists who’d been around since the ’70s.  Of the twenty-five artists who made my list, all but four are either still at it or at it again: two have died (Elliott Smith and Aaliyah; three if you count Stereolab’s Mary Hansen), but only two – Rachel Stevens and Aberfeldy – have, to my knowledge, simply stopped making music.   Continue reading →

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20 albums you shouldn’t overlook in 2017

20 albums you shouldn’t overlook in 2017

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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Watch Phife Dawg rock a Ricky Watters jersey onstage at Penn’s Annenberg Center with A Tribe Called Quest

Q-Tip and Phife Dawg onstage at Penn's Annenberg Center | still from video
Q-Tip and Phife Dawg onstage at Penn’s Annenberg Center | still from video

The thing about hip-hop icons A Tribe Called Quest — they were purists all the way, coming up during the three-MCs-and-a-DJ era, and that’s how they always brought their show to the stage. Even when their sound evolved beyond its sampledelic beginnings, even when original arrangements and instrumentation became part of their records, the live show always remained true to the classic hip-hop form.

Certainly, in nightclub settings, this rocked the freaking house; as the venues got bigger, though, results were more mixed. As much as the 90s were a golden era of hip-hop, and Tribe was very much a band responsible for breaking down the barriers of genre to reach bigger audiences, mainstream promoters and show producers were still very much confused by it as a live art, clearly didn’t know what the heck what to do with it in big rooms — which is why my two encounters with the band in its heyday were very mixed.

Seeing them open for the Beastie Boys at the First Union Center in 1998, their mix pumped through the massive and reverberant arena without much in the way of sonic reinforcement; their performance was live as hell, but from the stands it sounded like Tribe was lost in a cavern. Playing the Vet for Temple’s football homecoming that fall, they only got a couple songs in before the performance got called.

However, this video I came across today — as I reflect on the anniversary of Malik Isaac “Phife Dawg” Taylor’s passing — sits more comfortably on rock-the-house side of things. It was April 18th, 1997, and the band was playing the Annenberg Center at the University of Pennsylvania, a pretty spacious room, and you can hear the booming mix trying to find its proper space within the walls. Q-Tip mentions mic problems throughout the set, and even freestyles about the topic at one point. But once DJ Ali Shaheed Muhammad finds his sonic groove — I’d put this at about the 8 minute and 20 second mark, a remarkable transition from “Buggin’ Out” into “Oh My God” — it’s truly OMG amazing.  Continue reading →