Tonight’s Concert Picks: Ben Kessler at Tin Angel, Shannen Moser at Ortlieb’s, Active Child at World Cafe Live and more…

Ben Kessler
Ben Kessler | photo by Howard Pitkow | via

Local singer-songwriter Ben Kessler performs at Tin Angel tonight. Though he’s still in high school, Kessler has already released a handful of EPs, sold out a show in Chicago and won the Philadelphia Songwriters Project competition last year. He’ll be performing some new, unreleased songs tonight in addition to fan favorites from last year’s So It Goes. Listen to “These Days” below and pick up tickets to the show here.

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Listen to “Nolita,” a new track from Philly rapper Gilbere Forte (Pray releases next Tuesday)

ForteBack in March, native Philadelphian Gilbere Forte inked a deal with Epic Records after a long while of bouncing between Philly and L.A. pursuing his hiphop career. Today, we get a taste of his forthcoming record in the new single “Nolita.” Like the title track “Pray,” it’s a hugely sophisticated leap forward from his buzz-making early mixtapes. Moody, mysterious and based around a melodious Active Child sample, it’s a stunning opening statement from Forte, making us pretty psyched for the entire Pray LP (out on May 15th) . Listen to it below, and find out more at Forte’s website.


Listen to a Spotify playlist from Strand of Oaks’ Tim Showalter (playing Union Transfer tonight)

On the heels of releasing his latest full-length record, Dark Shores, Strand of Oaks plays Philadelphia tonight, opening up for recent Free at Noon highlight The Tallest Man on Earth. Knowing Oaks’ main man Tim Showalter to be a fellow with broad-ranging and exquisite taste in music, we asked him to make us a Spotify playlist to provide a snapshot of where he was while working on his new record. Interestingly, he talked about how focused on his craft he becomes in the album-writing zone that finding new music becomes secondary to making new music. From Showalter:

My approach to music listening is pretty boring. Especially when I started making records, my appetite for discovery really subsided. My manager Ryan sends me new records that I always love and my friend Morgan is huge source for tunes. It really feels like I’m some recluse that people are sending little bits of the outside world too. If you ask my wife what I listen to it would be probably be youtube demo videos of synthesizers and guitar pedals. With that said I will try and combine a list that feels somewhat relevant to where my life has been in the past year or so. Some of these songs influenced what became Dark Shores. Actually, the two songs (Active Child, Future Islands) we’re big influences in me NOT making a Dark Shores a synth album. They made such beautiful albums that I really didn’t want to compete. I was also considering making a pure Pumpkins list but spotify seems pretty weak on deep cuts…

You can listen to Showalter’s mix in the player below. Strand of Oaks plays with The Tallest Man on Earth at Union Transfer, 1026 Spring Garden Street, tonight at 8 p.m. The all-ages show is sold out.


Listen to Active Child’s interview and performance on XPN2

The project of singer/harpist Pat Grossi, Active Child recently released its debut album, You Are All I See. Combining electronics with classical and gospel influences, Active Child’s music is both delicate and expansive. In the session, Pat and his band perform a selection of new songs from our studio, and Eric Schuman talks with Pat about his time in the Philadelphia Boys Choir and his family’s connection to the world of hip-hop.

You can listen to the interview and performance here.


Tonight’s Concert Picks: Active Child at First Unitarian Church, James Vincent McMorrow at Johnny Brenda’s

For an album that’s supposedly all about intimate engagement with its audience, Active Child‘s You Are All I See sure likes to keep listeners at a distance. Pat Grossi has said the band’s debut full-length is “an attempt to build a bridge between the listener and I, in that, I wrote these songs for you as much as I did for me. And right now when you are listening to my voice, by yourself, it really is just you and I.” Yet—outside of Grossi’s shimmering harp lines and choir-boy falsetto—You Are All I See is primarily defined by the empty space between the occasional synth line, minimal drum-machine beats, and layered vocals. From a songwriting perspective, that is territory most bands would try to fill with as many blips and bloops and other electronic flourishes as possible, until it was overflowing with ideas; it’s to Grossi’s credit—and the album’s benefit—that he’s able to rein in such impulses. But make no mistake: This is a cold, cold record, even if that’s not Grossi’s intention. Despite how much Active Child wants to keep you close, You Are All I See proves that it’s in the band’s nature to push you away. (The London-based electro/synth-pop outfit Young Athletes League—which is making its US debut on this tour—opens.) Active Child performs with Young Athletes League at 7 p.m. at First Unitarian Church’s Side Chapel; tickets to the all-ages show are $10–$12.

Are indie-folk junkies finally over musicians who hole up in an isolated cabin to write their masterpiece of an album? If the answer is a resounding “YES,” well, James Vincent McMorrow wants you to forget the process and focus on the finished product. Truth be told, the Irish singer-songwriter’s debut full-length, 2010’s Early In The Morning, was written during a period of self-imposed seclusion. (To be fair, it was in a beach house, not a log cabin in the middle of the woods.) Thankfully, McMorrow’s songs—which consist of lingering harmonies over restrained instrumentals—speak for themselves, regardless of how they came together. The arrangements often make it difficult to hear the lyrics at first; once identified, however, they’re clearly the crux of each song, telling environmental and humanistic tales. Sure, the line “Sea is not my friend / seasons they conspire / still I choose to swim” probably could have been conceived someplace other than a shack near the sea. But who knows? Maybe McMorrow really was in mid-backstroke when he came up with it. James Vincent McMorrow performs with Christopher Paul Steling at 9 p.m. at Johnny Brenda’s; tickets to the 21+ show are $12. —Caitlyn Grabenstein



Stream Active Child’s new album, You Are All I See (band performs at the Church on Sept. 8th)

Anticipation for Active Child’s full-length debut You Are All I See has been building over the past few months with the release of several acclaimed tracks, including “Hanging On” and the How To Dress Well-featuring “Playing House.” The solo project and album come courtesy of Pat Grossi, an L.A.-based singer-songwriter and harpist who sang with the Philadelphia Boys Choir while growing up. Though he has only been performing for a few years, Grossi has already toured with the likes of James Blake, School of Seven Bells, and White Rabbits.

You Are All I See will serve as a follow-up to Active Child’s 2010 Curtis Lane EP, and was produced by Ariel Rechtshaid (Cass McCombs, Glasser). It’s an enchanting work, featuring shimmering, gorgeously textured synths and harps layered over rolling drum machines. Grossi’s vocals draw influences from his choir-boy days, and are also reminiscent of high-pitched contemporaries such as Bon Iver. “Playing House” is a standout track; the perfect R&B vocals from How To Dress Well’s Tom Krell provide a groovy lo-fi surprise.

Said Grossi of the album:

You Are All I See is an attempt to build a bridge between the listener and I, in that, I wrote these songs for you as much as I did for me. And right now when you are listening to my voice, by yourself, it really is just you and I.”

“The songs focus primarily on the joy and heartbreak of relationships, love lost and rediscovered, battles with monogamy, battles with identity,” Pat says. “It came out much darker than I had intended, but sometimes you only have so much control.”

You Are All I See is due next Tuesday, August 23rd via Vagrant Records. You can pre-order the album here.

Active Child will be performing in Philadelphia at the First Unitarian Church (Side Chapel) on September 8th. Tickets cost $10 and are available here.

Stream the full album below, via Hype Machine.