Year End Mania is the Key’s survey of the things below the surface that made 2013 awesome. In this installment, our trusted reporter Kate Bracaglia talks Philly tunes.
Living in Philadelphia, I’m always blown away by how many amazing artists there are right in our back yard, crafting tunes capable of filling many, many carefully curated playlists. 2013 was no exception. There were so many great songs released this year that picking just five was really tough. And so—in support of all the unsigned and DIY bands out there—I limited myself to tunes that were self-released or on small indie labels (sorry Kurt Vile/Man Man/Purling Hiss). These are bands you might not have heard of yet, but who are very capable of becoming new faves. Happy 2013!
5. Laser Background, “Disappearing Ink”
The first tune off Laser Background’s first full-length, Super Future Montage, teems with lush vocal layers, wiggly guitar lines, and Andy Molholt’s nasally vocals. Molholt tells John Vettese the record was inspired by childhood, Roald Dahl books, and imagination, a combo that apparently yields breezy, summertime pop.
Opening this Friday at Port Richmond’s Pterodactyl Gallery, the Unnatural Behaviour exhibit is a month-long celebration of up-and-coming Philadelphia artists – illustrators Jenn Hall and Luca Chiriani, painter Nicholas Stathopoulos and more – and Philly art-pop luminaries The Chairman Dances will headline the opening night concert. The band released its ambitious second LP Michael and the Prophetess earlier this year, blending literary allusions, modern classical motifs and pop songwriting (read Kate Bracaglia’s interview here); to coincide with the Pterodactyl opening, they released a music video for “The Words Came Out at Once,” the song that opens the LP in a progressive swell, building from airy and minimal to orchestral. The music video, produced by J. Randolph Brown and Steady State Productions, follows band members through black and white Old City with an alluring color overlay. Check it out below, and find out more about the Unnatural Behaviour opening at its Facebook event page.
Philly-based group The Chairman Dances, whose latest LP Michael and the Prohetess is available now via their Bandcamp, recently took a break from writing their own music to do a charming cover of Joni Mitchell’s “Blonde in the Bleachers” from her 1972 album For The Roses. Check out the Gregor Knell-directed video for the cover below, as well as the original, and be sure to catch The Chairman Dances this coming Friday, August 2nd, when they’ll be performing at Milkboy Philly. More info can be found here.
If the Philly music scene were a school, The Chairman Dances would be the library, an endless trove of information and stories; if it were a food court, they’d be an artisan bakery, selling handmade pastries crafted with care. The Philly art-pop foursome take a classical, craftsmen approach to songwriting—while other bands are getting stoned in the basement and jamming mindlessly, The Chairman Dances are fastidiously arranging string and horn parts, and working in allusions to their favorite literary works. It’s all in a day’s work for the band, whose members all boast music degrees, and whose new LP Michael and the Prophetess, out Friday, teems with lush strings, horns, and yes, allusions.
“We’re sort of library band,” says bassist Ben Rosen with a smile.
It’s an appropriate description, given that Rosen met vocalist/guitarist Eric Krewson while working at U Penn’s rare books department; the friends teamed up with drummer Mike Giuliana (a classmate of Krewson’s) in 2010, and The Chairman Dances were born. Guitarist Andrew Ciampa came on board earlier this year, rounding out the current line-up.
The band’s name is a nod to the 1985 outtake of John Adam’s opera Nixon in China, which Krewson (who adapted the moniker while still an undergrad), finds particularly inspiring. The rest of the band shares his fervor. “Modern classical music has always had an influence on our songwriting,” says Ciampa.
As eldest statesman, Krewson is the band’s primary songwriter. A wiry, bookish type who graduated from Drexel’s music industry program, and Temple’s musicology program, he gushes about the influences of Mikhail Bulgakov (who Michael was named after), Vladimir Nabokov, and Gabriel García Márquez in his songwriting, and explains how Michael employs magical realism to access complex emotions.
“In some ways I think that [magical realism] can be more true than writing in a sort of Hemingway style,” he explains, noting how Michael fuses the magical and the mundane— “because I think when you make that leap, or use hyperbole in that way, it can resonate more emotionally.”
Michael tells the story of a young man growing up in 1956 Brooklyn, and peppers its narrative with supernatural elements. Continue reading →
Matt Marchinowski of Big School Records is moving out of Philadelphia. To celebrate his time here, Marchinowski has pieced together a snapshot of the local music scene with a 27-track mixtape called Philamixington II, available as a free download via his Tumblr. The second installment in the local music mixtape series, this collection samples various genres, circles and side projects with tracks from radio favorites like Cheers Elephant (pictured), basement staples Roof Doctor and The Hundred Acre Woods and new-projects-from-old-buddies like Avery Rosewater. From Marchinowski:
Although April will see my moving out of Philadelphia for the peaceful confines of the sticks I will still consider its scene ‘home’. It wasn’t easy narrowing this collection down to 27 jawns but I can assure you it won’t be the last notch in the Philamixington series.
Download the full mixtape for free on Beat the Indie Drum here and stream a sampling of the tracks below. The first Philamixington set can be downloaded here.
In advance of their upcoming debut full-length, local five-piece Oldermost dropped a download of two free tracks earlier this week. “Close to the Fire” and “Once I Left” display two distinct moods of the band, recalling dreamy Americana favorites My Morning Jacket and Lord Huron. Stream the songs below and download them on Oldermost’s Bandcamp here.
New Paradise Laboratories have announced that they will put their production of 27 back on the stage this spring. The play takes a surreal and improvised look at music’s “27 Club” with portrayals of Amy Winehouse, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison and Kurt Cobain. Narrator / musical accompanist Alec MacLaughlin stopped in the WXPN studios for an interview and improvisation session during the play’s run last fall – download his appearance below.
Tuesday’s My Morning Download featured Philly’s The Lawsuits and their new single “Onion.” The track, and the album it will appear on, was recorded by Bill Moriarty. With the release of Cool Cool Cool happening this summer, the band has some free time on their hands, which they will fill with a few shows next month – catch The Lawsuits at Johnny Brenda’s on May 3rd, at The Fire on May 5th and at Hard Rock Cafe on May 10th. Tickets and information for all shows can be found here. Download “Onion” here and check out the Key Studio Session version below.
Ruby the Hatchet stopped by to record this week’s Key Studio Session, reprising two songs from their wild Ouroborosalbum that was released last fall and previewing a new one, “Paralyzed,” which you can stream and download below. The Angry Mountain was also on hand to capture the local band’s performance of “Paralyzed” on film. Ruby the Hatchet will be at Kung Fu Necktie on April 25th – tickets and information can be found here. Check out the full session here.
Local art rock outfit The Chairman Dances shared their new two song Michael and the Prophetess EP this week. The free download is “a song cycle steeped in biblical language and set in a fictionalized 1950s era Brooklyn” and follows the band’s longer form concept efforts A Promise and Long Lost / A History of Iniquity. The Chairman Dances will perform at Kung Fu Necktie on June 14th; tickets and information can be found here.