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Tonight’s Concert Picks: Trails and Ways at Boot and Saddle, Neutral Milk Hotel at Mann Center, OOIOO at Johnny Brenda’s

Photo via facebook.com/TRAILSANDWAYS
Photo via facebook.com/TRAILSANDWAYS

Oakland quartet Trails and Ways are causing quite a stir. Two years ago, the band released their debut EP Trilingual, which had multilingual lyrics, political themes and an eclectic blend of 90s shoegaze and modern beats. For example, “Border Crosser” is in support of the National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights. When they’re not making great, politically active music, the band also does dope covers, like their trilingual take on Frank Ocean’s “Lost”. Watch their video for “Tereza” below. The band will make its Philly debut tonight with another talented band, PHOX. Get more details at the XPN Concert Calendar.

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Tonight’s Concert Picks: Fresh Cut Orchestra at Underground Arts, The Chelsea Kills at MilkBoy, David Poe at Tin Angel and more

via facebook.com/thefreshcutorchestra
via facebook.com/thefreshcutorchestra

Philly based jazz ensemble Fresh Cut Orchestra formed in fall of 2012 when the Painted Bride Arts Center commissioned a performance by trumpeter Josh Lawrence, bassist Jason Fraticelli and drummer Anwar Marshall. The orchestra recently released their debut album, From the Vine, while the core trio hosts a monthly concert series at the Painted Bride, featuring other guest artists and educational workshops. In December 2013, the orchestra was awarded the Kimmel Jazz Residency, through which they played a work-in-progress performance and hosted two educational workshops at the SEI Innovation Studio. They will play a finished performance on June 21st. Join FOC at Underground Arts along with the Dan Monaghan Quartet and Ensemble Novo for a night of jazz innovation; get tickets and more information at the XPN Concert Calendar.

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City Rain will perform at World Cafe Live for the CW Henry Elementary School benefit concert on 5/24

City Rain's Ben Runyan performs with CW Henry music teacher Nikki Trisdorfer at Underground Arts
City Rain’s Ben Runyan performs with CW Henry music teacher Nikki Trisdorfer at Underground Arts

Recently CW Henry Elementary School in the Mount Airy section of Philadelphia was broken into and computers, iPads and music room equipment were stolen.

As the school begins the recovery and replacement process, parents and local musicians are stepping up to “pay it forward” on Saturday, May 24th from 4pm – 6pm at World Cafe Live upstairs.

I spoke with Paula Hanson, a parent of CW Henry first-grader Phoebe and an audio engineer who has worked with Rob Zombie, Stevie Nicks, kd lang and Korn.  Along with her husband Ringo, Paula is trying to raise funds to buy new equipment for the school.

Helen Leicht: I’m sorry to hear that there was a burglary at C W Henry Elementary school.

Paula Hanson: Yes, we had several iMacs the kids use, as well as a teacher’s MacBook and the flat screen TV in the music room the kids use to watch performances and whatnot on.  Probably the most crushing was the theft of the iPads the autistic kids use as part of their immersion into the classroom.  They really loved those and they were a great help.

HL: You have organized a fund raiser concert for CW Henry Elementary School.  Can you tell me about the school and what grades and children have been affected by this theft?

PH: CW Henry is a neighborhood public K-8 in West Mt Airy.  It’s a wonderful neighborhood.  There’s a bit of a misconception that because we’re located in an affluent hood that we do better than other Philly schools.  However we’re subject to the same budget as everyone else, and nearly half our kids come in from other parts of Philly.  The parents and teachers work really hard to supplement all the budget woes.

Some of the gear that was stolen was donated in the first place.  The whole school is taught music by Ms Paulino Trisdorfer, who runs an astoundingly good music program, so the theft of her computers affects everyone.  The two first grade classrooms had everything electronic taken, so we had to drag up an eMac from the basement so they had at least one for their centers.  And the iPads that the two classes use, but especially the four kids in each room in our Autistic Support Program were really left hanging.

#CWHenryOptimist from Paula Hanson on Vimeo.

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Tonight’s concert picks: HAIM at Tower Theater, Hoots and Hellmouth at Boot & Saddle, The Interest Group at Underground Arts and more

Photo by John Vettese
Photo by John Vettese
Sister rock trio HAIM (a former XPN artist to watch) are putting a big year behind them. After their debut album, Days Are Gone, was released this past September, they’ve gotten a deal with Target to have their song “Forever” appear in the store’s commercials, and have planned out their first nationwide and European tour. Tonight, they’ll stop by Tower Theater. The show will start at 8 p.m. and the $32 tickets can be purchased here.

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The Week’s Best Free MP3s, incl. Ganou, Marisa Anderson, Power Animal

marisaFolkadelphia welcomed instrumental guitarist Marisa Anderson in to the studio for this week’s live session.  The Oregan based musician released two divergent records in 2013; get a sampling of her music with this session, available as a free download below.

Power Animal, a local project built around Keith Hampson, has returned with a new single called “Unkept.”  This new experimental / electronic material is focused on Hampson’s experience with mental illness, which he discussed in an accompanying essay for Impose Magazine.  Stream and download “Unkept” below

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Unlocked: Things discovered on City Rain’s two-and-a-half day train journey from Philadelphia to Austin

Photo courtesy of the artist
Photo courtesy of the artist

When City Rain played SXSW this year, frontman Ben Runyan made the trip not by car, bus or plane, but on a two-and-a-half day rail trek. For the final installment of the band’s Unlocked spotlight, we share his experience in the form of an essay written on the ride home.

Life is a tremendously meticulous and fragile gift. It involves risk. It involves bravado…..brashness……insanity. To make the “right” decisions for yourself the only way to be vindicated is to dive in. I remember leaving the train station from NYC with a 55 hr train ride Into the unknown wondering if I was in over my head. Hell, everyone had told me I was crazy for doing this. Take a plane they said….. What was I thinking. Shall I return to the “safety of home”? Or shall I press on Into the night to a place I’ve never been — with people I’ve never met — around confines I’ve never Iived within…… I’d become a bit predictable up to this point and wanted to try something big. But this trip —- well this trip turned everything on it’s head in ways I could never imagine.

IMG_2291America is best seen by train. Not because its not being done. Not because some hipster steampunk that thinks we should return to the days of locomotive and horse (could be cool) and not because I’m afraid of flying (I am). I’ts best seen by train because of what you SEE —- which is to say there’s a big America out there… It’s a shock to most to know that you can travel across the entire country by AMTRAK. NYC to LA. PHL to CHI. CHI TO AUS. Our rail lines zig zag across this great country as directly and wildly as plane routes, albeit longer and shared by freight trains. Yes years ago our country failed to have foresight into the needs of the American rail system or high speed rail that our Asian and Europeans brothers utilize. A high speed rail system analogous to the ones europeans have could bring us from NYC to LA in 10 hours. But who could blame them; the car was the future as early as the 1910′s. Cars are the future they said.

My trip started out about 2 blocks away from my house in the Germantown section of Philadelphia. Continue reading →

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Unlocked: How a trip to the Jersey Shore in the winter brought City Rain’s new album to life

via instagram.com/cityraintunes

In early 2013, when Ben Runyan and Scott Cumpstone began working on the music that would become City Rain‘s new LP Songs for a High School Dance, they worked in fits and starts.

Runyan would lay out a tapestry of beats and send it to Cumpstone, who would add guitar florishes and shoot it back. Ideas would build, songs would develop. But there was never a more concentrated block of recording than maybe two hours in a shot.

“It was a lot more like The Postal Service,” Runyan reasons. “Moreso than feeling truly like a band.”

This changed when the duo decided to wrap up High School Dance with a vacation. Runyan and Cumpstone traveled to Avalon, New Jersey, in early December, holed up in a family shore house and found their voice as a band.

“The shore is a great place to go in the off-season,” Cumpstone says. “Nobody is there. Everything’s closed. It allowed us to really focus, and to have more than half a night to get stuff done with the record.”

Runyan describes the experience as intensely creative experience of trying ideas, scrapping ideas, arguing over sounds and arrangements, walking away for a cool-off walk on the beach and returning back to the fray. But it resulted in the album taking the dynamic shape it has. Rather than 12 tracks of high-BPM dance beats, High School Dance has a rise and fall – midtempo and hushed moments in addition to the dancefloor ragers.

“Walls” emerged from a guitar line Cumpstone was jamming on during downtime that Runyan heard potential in; album closer “Mama I Want to Go Home” emerged from one of those beach walks, and the duo rushed in to get their acoustic guitar and microphones and laid down the song with the waves in the background. Continue reading →

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Tonight’s Concert Picks: City Rain at Underground Arts, Robert Glasper Experiment at Tower Theater, Holy Ghost Tent Revival at MilkBoy and more

Last year, electro-pop duo City Rain premiered its single for “The Optimist,” a unique blend of synth and rock that tells a story of loss and positivity. Since its release, the song has garnered more than 200,000 views on YouTube and has been nominated for an Independent Music Award. It’s just one song off the duo’s latest album, Songs For a High School Dance, which is being featured all week in The Key’s Unlocked series. The album officially drops on May 6, but celebrate at their album release show tonight at Underground Arts. The show starts at 8 p.m. and the $7 tickets can be purchased here.

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Unlocked: Watch City Rain go acoustic and outdoorsy in their Sequence session

Yesterday, in our review of City Rain‘s Songs From a High School Dance, we talked about how the album saw frontman Ben Runyan finding his voice as a songwriter. A classic way to test that claim out: take away all the bells and whistles and electronic layers of the music, listen to the songs in their most basic, stripped-down format, and consider the results. Do they hold up?

Filmmaker Matthew Albasi did just this over the winter months, bringing Runyan and his City Rain partner Scott Cumpstone into a wooded outdoor path (looks like the Wissahickon Valley Park, but I could be wrong) and had them play two songs with only an acoustic guitar and a boombox to add a bed of tones and beats. You might call the boombox cheating, but it’s only minimally audible, leaving these performances of “The Optimist” and “Mama, I Want To Go Home” to be carried by Cumpstone’s fervent strumming and Runyan’s singing.

A few takeaways – Runyan is a really good singer. Take away the studio reverb and vocal doubling and whatever the heck else makes his voice sound huge on the record, and guess what? It still sounds huge. Cumpstone should consider working an acoustic into City Rain live sets sometime – it adds a nice nuanced touch to the music. And the music and the melody absolutely hold up. Check it out and decide for yourself below. Who knows, maybe there’s still time for City Rain to work an acoustic micro-set into their Thursday album release show at Underground Arts.

Songs for a High School Dance is the featured album in this week’s edition of Unlocked. Download the single “Waiting on a Feeling” in Monday’s post, read yesterday’s album review, and check back tomorrow for an interview and Friday for a travelogue.

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Unlocked: The Key’s review of Songs for a High School Dance by City Rain

The most compelling thing about Philly electropop outfit City Rain used to be its sense of vibe.

Frontman / sonic architect Ben Runyan is a massively energetic and endlessly creative spirit. With former recording partner Jarrett Zerrer (who left the band in 2012 to pursue his solo project Dokument), Runyan crafted funky, beat-heavy and texturally alluring tracks on two LPs (2009′s Running Man, 2011′s self-titled follow-up) and three EPs (I’m Gone in 2010, Watch Out in 2011, Montage in 2010). Zerrer’s jamband-esque guitar riffing paired with Runyan’s clever layering of synthesizer tones, samples and knob-twisty effects. Enter emphatic baritone vocals, and result was pure ear candy for EDM heads – if perhaps a bit lacking in terms of pop structure and focus.

On the new Songs for a High School Dance, Runyan has found himself as a songwriter. It’s a collection of cuts that aim for arenas moreso than nightclubs. It sounds dramatic and dynamic and BIG. Most importantly, Runyan has a clear message he’s shooting to convey, a story he’s trying to tell; the experience of coping with troubling human emotional states – bipolar disorder, depression, love loss and friendship loss – and doing so as a young person in post-recession 21st century America, a time that’s particularly unkind to dreamers.

There’s a bit of self-help-ness and motivational-speakerdom about it all, and some moments of the album get a bit too heavy-handed in their heart-on-the-sleeve nature. The single “Join the Human Race,” for instance, sells the catharsis pretty hard. See also “Don’t Choke,” which is actually a particularly moving song about Runyan being uncertain about his creative future following Zerrer’s departure (a breakup that happened at the same time Runyan was ending a romantic relationship) – but the hammering kick drum bombast on the verse almost obliterates this emotional core, not to mention a great vocal contribution from Kate Faust.

That said, in considering songs that are memorable for the neato beeps and sounds they contain versus songs that are memorable for maybe overdoing the drama a bit, but also has passion and hooks and a message…I mean, the choice is obvious. Passion all the way. Continue reading →

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