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Listen to the Arbor Christmas All-Stars Interview and Key Session

The Classic Brown | Photo by John Vettese
The Classic Brown | Photo by John Vettese

Our first ever Christmas Key Studio Session was released this week, featuring the Arbor Christmas All-Stars – members of numerous South Jersey bands who each year record a compilation of original holiday songs and throw a benefit Christmas pageant. The session aired on WXPN on Christmas Eve, featuring an interview with Dave Downham of Gradwell House Recording (where the performances were taped) and longtime Arbor contributors Brian Mietz, John Masino and Tom Ryan. You can listen to the entire session as it aired in the player below; download the songs plus outtakes, see a short video and check out a photo gallery at the Key Sessions post here.

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The Key Studio Sessions: Arbor Christmas All-Stars

It's A King Thing | Photo by John Vettese
It’s A King Thing | Photo by John Vettese

On the one hand, the annual Arbor Christmas Compilation and Pageant is a local curiosity, something that could only happen in this area (South Jersey, along the PATCO line to be specific) with this particular group of local musicians, creative folks and friends acting as the driving force. Every year, bands like Ages, By Surprise, It’s A King Thing and The Only Ghost in Town converge at Gradwell House Recording in Haddon Heights to record emo / indie / punk inspired holiday songs for a series of free compilations (Volume 14 is out now!) and put on a loose and lighthearted holiday pageant, typically heavily informed by geek culture, at various South Jersey venues.

On the other hand, it’s something more, and speaks to the strength of community. The Arbor Christmas shows began in 2000 when a group of local musicians, spearheaded by Jon Montague, got together to put on a show for their friends. When Montague passed away after battling GIST shortly after the second show, his friends carried on in his memory. As founding member Mike Maier remembers on the Arbor Christmas website:

Jon and I wrote the script for the first two shows together. There almost wasn’t a show the second year because Jon had been in the hospital, but he insisted on doing it when he got out. It was that following January that he had passed away. After that, I had made promises to everyone that we would continue doing shows in memory of Jon. Jon’s brothers, Adam and Jamie, were in full support of this idea and became heavily involved. Brian Mietz had also been a big part of the show since the second show.

Since then, the four of us have assembled the show every year. I write the script with plenty of help from Adam, plus ideas pitched by Brian and Jamie. Brian also designs the artwork for the CDs that are given out at the show (another idea of Jon’s. The first year was a cassette!) Most everyone involved in the show helps in some way with putting it all together. Between the food, the decorations and Dave and Steve (Gradwell House Recording) providing time at the studio to record. I think the fact that it’s such a group effort is why it’s more like a party than a show. It’s all very personal to us.

Over the past fourteen years, the Arbor Christmas Pageant has not only become an annual celebration of Montague’s memory, but also a time for friends to converge and families to mingle. It’s even begun to span generations – while some participating bands are in their mid-20s, folks who were there at the beginning have kids now, and in some cases, kids old enough to participate. Singer Jeffrey Blatcher of the band Ages has participated in so many Arbor Christmas installments that it has its own Christmas album collecting all their songs, and Blatcher’s two daughters Iris and Starla, who perform as The Infiniteens. And the pageant has grown in size and scope, with its beginnings in Montague’s apartment for a small group of friends and growing today to an event at larger community halls that draw hundreds of attendees.

Not only is the show cross-generational, it’s civic-minded. The compilation may be a name-your-own price download (which, sure, sometimes means “free”) but when money is donated,  it is split along with proceeds from the pageant between a scholarship fund at Haddon Township High School in Montague’s name; a GIST research charity; and music programming in Camden public schools.

This Christmas, we got together a crew of the Arbor Christmas All-Stars – Ages, The Classic Brown, The Infiniteens, It’s A King Thing, Bacio, Norick Eve and Endor Endor – to record some of their favorites Christmas originals from over the years on location at Gradwell House Recording. Check out photos of the session in the gallery, stream and download the set below and watch a video montage of the recording session after the jump. And have a very happy holiday from all of us here at The Key!

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Tonight’s Concert Picks: Eternal Summers at the First Unitarian Church, Cold Fronts at Kung Fu Necktie, Thurston Moore at Space 1026

Photo by Brian Hamelman
Roanoke, VA trio Eternal Summers open for Nada Surf tonight at the First Unitarian Church.  The indie dream-pop/”who-cares-rock” band released their second full-length record earlier this year called Correct Behavior through Kanine Records, with the opening song “Millions” earning a Best New Track rating on Pitchfork.  Tickets and information for tonight’s intimate show with Nada Surf and It’s a King Thing can be found here.  Below, watch Eternal Summer’s video for “Good As You.”

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Listen to two progressive/electronic jams from Philly’s Endor Endor and Crozet (playing tonight at Kung Fu Necktie)

Versatile South Jersey indie rocker Tom Ryan busies himself as a player in so many other projects (three, at last count—Young Statues, It’s a King Thing, The Atomic Square), that it’s always a treat when he gets to indulge his own creative whims. Endor Endor is the post-rock outfit Ryan unveiled last December, and it dabbles in tones and riffs reminiscent of Explosions in the Sky and Mogwai. Tonight, the band makes a rare appearance out, a late-night free show at Kung Fu Necktie with synthpop duo Crozet. The night is presented by the Strangled by the Stereo Wire DJs – Mike Maier and John Masino of it’s a King Thing, two dudes with an evident fondness for Archers of Loaf and ’90s-centric Spotify playlists.

Below, you can download free mp3s by both bands on the bill.

From Endor Endor, it’s the new number “Sleepless”, an unexpectedly hushed synthesizer meditation reminiscent of Bon Iver recent work, as well as Coldplay’s Mylo Xyloto - don’t let it space you out too much, though, since it blasts off into hyperspace for its third act.

And from Crozet, its a chillwave’d take on the 80s pop hit “Missing You” by John Waite from their covers EP Alterations – where you’ll also hear renditions of songs by Yo La Tengo, Geneva Jacuzzi and Memoryhouse.

Endor Endor and Crozet play tonight at 11 p.m. with the Strangled by the Stereo Wire DJs at Kungfu Necktie, 1250 North Front St. Admission to the 21+ show is free.

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Watch the Christmas light-centric new video for Endor Endor’s “Bedford Falls”

Endor Endor is the new instrumental post-rock project of South Jersey’s Tom Ryan: lead guitarist in The Atomic Square, guitarist and keyboardist in It’s a King Thing, bassist in Young Statues. (Yeah, he’s a busy dude.) He’s also the fellow you see wandering around Philadelphia in the video above, taking a walking tour of both city lights and Christmas lights to the tune of his new song “Bedford Falls.” The video was shot by Tommy Oceanak, and the song closes out this year’s Arbor Christmas compilation, Volume 12 in the series. Grab a download of the song below, and find out more about Arbor Christmas (and peruse volumes 1 through 11) over here.

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Tonight: Gradwell House Showcase (featuring It’s A King Thing, Ages, and Bacio) at Kung Fu Necktie

It's A King Thing

South Jersey’s Gradwell House Recording has become a hub for some of our favorite musicians in the region: The Atomic Square, By Surprise, In Grenada. There’s even a name for this loose-knit collective: the Diner State Scene. One gets the vibe that this is the type of recording space run by musicians for musicians—and indeed, the space is helmed by Steve Poponi of It’s A King Thing and Dave Downham of Ages. Both of these bands are on a Kung Fu Necktie bill tonight, celebrating recent releases; King Thing is unveiling the vinyl pressing of last year’s Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo (an album title only a linguist could love). Meanwhile, Ages is performing a set of songs from its phenomenal new record Made In The Trade. (You might remember the band from its extensive catalog of Christmas songs, but don’t pigeonhole—this album is awash in all manner of Idlewild-by-way-of-Nada-Surf goodness.) Also on the bill is West Deptford post-rock combo Bacio, featuring sometimes Gradwell House engineer Matt Weber on drums. Call it a scene showcase, or a studio showcase, or a solid bill rooted in South Jersey. Download a track from each act below, and check out the show tonight at Kung Fu Necktie. It’s A King Thing performs with Ages and Bacio at 8 p.m. at Kung Fu Necktie; tickets to the 21+ show are $8.