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Nightlands bring magic harmonies to Kung Fu Necktie (review, setlist, photos)

Standing front and center for Nightlands’ performance Saturday night at Kung Fu Necktie felt like standing in the entranceway of a grand cathedral, a choir’s golden melodies wafting through the air. It was a transportive, although not unexpected experience—when I spoke to front man/creator Dave Hartley about Nightlands’ live show a few weeks back, he told me he would focus mostly on the vocals. “I want to get some people who sing really well, and we’ll just sing together,” he said.

Said “people who sing well” were of Eliza Jones (of Buried Beds) and Jesse Moore (of Auctioneer/Ladies Auxiliary), who together with Hartley added heart and corporeality to songs which on record, twinkle with space-age mystery—while drummer Michael Johnson’s (Ape School) beats added velocity and momentum. Continue reading →

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Tonight’s Concert Picks: Sun Airway at Johnny Brenda’s, Ruby the Hatchet with Attic Dancers at MilkBoy, Brethren at The Grape Room

Photo by Shawn Brackbill | ShawnBrackbill.com
Glittery pop outfit Sun Airway play Johnny Brenda’s tonight with Historics and Cruiser.  On last year’s expansive sophomore release Soft Fall, Sun Airway washed their synths and vocals in the waters of some faraway cascade and dried them in the echo-y halls of a sky-high cathedral, creating an all-together other-worldly aura around the project.  Tickets and information for the 21+ show can be found here.  Below, watch the video for “Close” and dig deeper into Soft Fall with The Key’s Unlocked series here.

Continue reading →

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Does cover art make the album? (plus 10 great album covers from the Philly scene in 2012)

Hideaway
Hideaway Music in Chestnut Hill uses album art as wall art

We can all agree (I hope) that the old “can’t judge a book by its cover” adage applies just as easily to albums. From Magical Mystery Tour to Rumours, The Talking Heads to The Smashing Pumpkins, and even this year’s standout Cat Power LP Sun, there’s a rich history of great music hiding behind heinous artwork. So does album art matter?

I think no and yes. “No” in that it’s about the music, not the packaging. In a world of digital listening, we interact with the songs themselves more immediately than ever before – there’s not that barrier of a bizarro / ugly sleeve to “get over,” in the event you find the sleeve bizarro and / or ugly. But also, “yes” in that cover art is still a way an musician represents themselves and their work. It may no longer be a first impression, but it is an impression, and you can almost look at it as an indicator of how much care they put into their overall project. And even on a more practical end, sure, physical releases no longer drive sales, but they are prized by collectors – the 180 gram vinyl editions and so forth are the sort of thing where people use the download card, then frame the LP cover and hang it on their wall. Would you really want to have Grimes’ frantic scribbled acid freakout hanging in your living room? (Okay, maybe you do.)

This week, UK music and culture blog The 405 listed their worst and best album covers of the year – lively reads, always – and it got me thinking about the role album art plays in 2012. Do you ignore it? Do you (like me) get antsy when your iTunes doesn’t have artwork for all its mp3s? What was the worst decade for album covers? (Hint: the 90s.) Which album covers blew you away this year? Which made you wretch? Discuss in the comments section, and check out some standout Philadelphia album covers from 2012 after the jump. Continue reading →

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Just Announced: Sun Airway playing Johnny Brenda’s on 01/05

Photo by Shawn Brackbill | ShawnBrackbill.com
Philadelphia synth-pop group Sun Airway will dazzle the stage at Johnny Brenda’s on January 5th.  The indie outfit is touring in support of their sophomore album Soft Fall, which we highlighted in The Key’s Unlocked series last month.  Jon Barthmus and his crew showed a lot of growth on their second offering while staying true to the explosive, sparkling sound they developed on their 2010 debut.  Tickets are $12 for the 21+ show and will go on sale this Wednesday, November 14th.  Below, watch Sun Airway perform “Close” at Making Time, filmed by Bands in the Backyard.

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Unlocked: Find out more about the artwork on Sun Airway’s Soft Fall by N-A-M Creative Collective

In our interview with Jon Barthmus of Sun Airway yesterday, we talked about the band’s visual sensibility and the stunning album sleeve photographs by Tokyo art collective N-A-M. With its sophomore album Soft Fall out this week and a homecoming show happening at Voyeur tonight, the band released a making-of video showing the preparation and staging of the shoot. Here’s how Barthmus described it:

I didn’t realize when I contacted them how labor intensive it all was It was like a thirty-hour shoot ‘cause they actually hang all those wires—and they tie a leaf to a wire and hang it up, and they do that hundreds of times. And there’s a dozen people all doing this at the same time. Then they set it up and bring in the model and take the picture and that’s it. There’s no crazy computer trickery, which is kind of what I assumed it all was. What you see in the photo actually happened.

Check out the video below, and dig deeper into Fantasy and Reality – N-A-M’s series that inspired the cover – at this Huffington Post gallery, look at more of the collective’s work at its website and get information and tickets for tonight’s Sun Airway appearance at Making Time here.



Soft Fall is the featured album in this edition of Unlocked; hear the spotlighted single “Close” in Monday’s post, read Tuesday’s album review; watch the “Wild Palms” video in Wednesday’s post, read my interview with Jon Barthmus from yesterday. And stay tuned to The Key for future album spotlights on Unlocked.

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Unlocked: Sun Airway’s Jon Barthmus on orchestral collages, visual art and finding your onstage stride

Photo by Shawn Brackbill | ShawnBrackbill.com

Philadelphia’s Sun Airway can be a lot of things. Musical and visual stylists. Surrealist dreamers, lovelorn introverts, sonic trailblazers – often all within the same song. Their dazzling sophomore record Soft Fall was released on Dead Oceans on Tuesday, and the band is celebrating its release with a hometown show on Friday for the Making Time $2 Bill at Voyeur. We’re exploring the album this week on Unlocked, The Key’s regular spotlight on new and significant releases by Philadelphia-based artists, and today we have an interview with band leader Jon Barthmus. He and I sat down after Sun Airway played XPN’s Free at Noon concert a few weeks back and dug deep into the band’s creative palette, from collaging five full orchestras to finding the right photographs to accompany its sound.

The Key: So firstly – congrats on Soft Fall! It’s a really bold record, it has a confidence and groove to it that sets it apart from from Nocturne of Exploded Crystal Chandelier. Did you feel more confident making it?

Jon Barthmus: I definitely did. The first record was done with like no money whatsoever —really cheap microphones and very little gear, and I was learning those programs that I was using as I was going along. There was such fundamental things that I just didn’t know, like really simple things to do in programs that when I learned them I was like “Oh my God, how did I not know this? How did I make a whole record without knowing this?”

TK: “There’s this keyboard shortcut that could have just saved me hours…”

JB: Yeah, or even stuff like, “I guess you can’t do this, I guess I can’t crossfade anything.”But of course you can, and I just didn’t know! And I wasn’t really learning other than just doing stuff and trying to figure it out as I went along. So this time I got to buy better mics and got to take my time with it, actually got to do a couple days in legit studios, and had more people’s hands on it. They know what they’re doing better than I do, so that was definitely really helpful. Continue reading →

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Unlocked: Watch Sun Airway’s “Wild Palms” music video, filmed at the First Unitarian Church

We love that they explore expansive musical tones, but Philly’s Sun Airway also has a stunning visual sensibility. As we feature their new album Soft Fall on this week’s edition of Unlocked, I’ll discuss the “look” of Sun Airway (as well as its sound) with frontman Jon Barthmus in our interview tomorrow, and on Friday we’ll dig into the surreal photography on its latest album. Today, we showcase at the music video for “Wild Palms,” filmed in the sanctuary of Philly’s First Unitarian Church. As Barthmus enters along the garden walkway, he begins to dissolve into dozens of translucent doppelgangers. They sing, sit in pews behind one another, look and interact with one another, culminating in a wide shot of a congregation of Sun Airway. Check it out below.

Soft Fall is the featured album in this edition of Unlocked; hear the spotlighted track “Close” in Monday’s post, read yesterday’s album review; and check back tomorrow for an interview with Barthmus.

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Unlocked: The Key’s review of Soft Fall by Sun Airway

The impressive aesthetic is one thing. But a more important trait, perhaps, would be the groove, the beat, the ability to make listeners move and feel and really respond. On its sophomore album Soft Fall, Philly electronic pop outfit Sun Airway achieves both.

The album, released yesterday on Dead Oceans, opens with a placid, pulsating synthesizer note that swells and hums, building up alongside a gradual spectral beat. The minute-long scene-setter – one of three “Activity” interludes across the record – then launches fearlessly into lead single “Close,” and the song’s fierce snare drum hits and shaker percussion carry us away. This dramatic entrance is a contrast to the way their 2010 debut Nocturne of Exploded Crystal Chandelier began; a supernova of chimes, echo and mystical reverberations on the song “Infinity.” Also kind of dramatic, sure, but that gauzy dream-like vibe never quite let down – it was the sound of that album. So even when songs like “The American West” and “Put The Days” away were, underneath the clouds, kind of upbeat, it was hard to really feel it. On Soft Fall, the fog has lifted and Jon Barthmus is standing there with his musical collaborators, energized, invigorated, ready to go. Continue reading →

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Unlocked: Download Sun Airway’s “Close” from the new Soft Fall

Tomorrow, Philly-born electronic pop outfit Sun Airway releases its second album, Soft Fall, on Indiana-based indie label Dead Oceans. The album is a sonic leap forward for the band, carrying a pulse and urgency that its 2010 debut Nocturne of Exploded Crystal Chandelier only hinted at. But this isn’t a reinvented Sun Airway, but a refined one – band leader Jon Barthmus and his crew of collaborators continue to explore dreamy, blissed-out atmospheres and sonic territories, but this time its been shaped by two years of ideas and experiences. I’m excited to dig into the album this week on Unlocked, The Key’s regular spotlight on new and significant releases from Philadelphia artists. Tomorrow, I’ll review Soft Fall; later in the week, we’ll discuss the album with Barthmus, and explore its video and design components. Today, to set the scene, we’re spotlighting the song “Close.” This was the first single we heard over the summer, and it still feels like the song rushes right out in front of you at a vigorous, exciting pace. Thanks to the band, we’re making it a free download for the next 24 hours, so grab your mp3 below, and check back later in the week for more on Soft Fall. UPDATE: 24 hours are up! Listen to the song in the YouTube player you see below, and stream Soft Fall in its entirety at MTV Hive.

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Stream Sun Airway’s Soft Fall now via MTV Hive (playing Making Time on 10/5)

Photo by Shawn Brackbill | ShawnBrackbill.com
MTV Hive is now streaming Soft Fall, the new album from Philadelphia indie group Sun Airway, who just performed at one of our own Free at Noon shows last Friday. Read MTV’s full interview with singer Jon Barthmus and stream the album here. The band performs next Friday, October 5, at Making Time’s $2 Bill show; tickets and information on that show are available here. Look for more next week when we feature Soft Fall on The Key’s featured album spotlight, Unlocked.

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