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The Key Studio Sessions: Mannequin Pussy

It’s certainly not inaccurate to call Philly’s Mannequin Pussy a punk band. We’ve described them that way quite a bit, and given the revved up guitars, vocal howls and minute-and-a-half songs that make this year’s Romantic such a gripping listen, it’s not entirely inaccurate. But sometimes “punk” can be a limiting bit of jargon, especially when used in the more puritanical sense — the definition that eschews ambitious production, or nuanced songwriting, or any kind of artistic complexity.

And complexity, no doubt, is compelling. It can be the dynamic tide of the album’s title track, or the interspersing of acoustic arrangements amid the fray. It can be frontwoman Marisa Dabice’s bold vocals that are as much of an emotional gut-punch on the tender melodies as they are on the visceral snarls. So in that regard, I would say that Mannequin Pussy are absolutely not punk, and all the better for it. Continue reading →

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The Key Studio Sessions: Ron Gallo

If we’ve learned anything watching Philly-bred songsmith Ron Gallo for the better part of the past decade, it’s this: dude can do it all. Propulsive electric blues? Check. Sprawling big-band Americana? Check. Jangling global pop? Check. Leon Redbone-esque roots folk excursions? Check.

After logging innumerable Philly hours as leader of Toy Soldiers, a solo artist, a variety show promoter and sometimes comedian, Gallo skipped town late last year for a new start in Nashville, which suits his current musical interests quite well. Sure, it’s the capital of twang, and Gallo’s back-catalog has twang in spades. But the city has experienced a massive garage-punk resurgence in the past decade, from JEFF The Brotherhood, Diarrhea Planet and The Ettes to Jack White making the city the home base of his Third Man Records.

Gallo’s new Heavy Meta LP fits right into that zeitgeist, with propulsive riffs, hair-raising howls and a fierce power trio configuration: Joe Bisirri on bass, Dylan Sevey on drums, all three chipping in on vocals. Continue reading →

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The Key Studio Sessions: JaE the Artist

One night a few weeks back, I left the XPN performance studio and immediately noticed the louder-than-usual power rock jams wafting down the staircase from World Cafe Live’s upstairs stage. The source was JaE the Artist, a regional singer and songwriter playing a benefit organized by Ladies’ Night to help victims of the 2016 Louisiana floods.

JaE has been active locally for a couple years now, and earlier this year released her first LP, The Evolution of JaE. As she describes it, her musical path was indeed an evolution: she grew up in a highly musical household that raised her on soul and R&B. But she also had a strong interest in rock music as well, Aerosmith to Alanis to Lenny Kravitz. Working on the record helped her find a way to fuse those sounds, and you hear it in the live band that assembled in our studio for this week’s Key Studio Session.  Continue reading →

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The Key Studio Sessions: HOUND

HOUND | photo by John Vettese for WXPN
HOUND | photo by John Vettese for WXPN

It’s been a rough week, people. That’s to put it lightly. There’s a lot of aggression in the air, a lot of frustration, and we’re collectively in need of some release. Thankfully HOUND is here to help.

The Philly rock and roll power trio are favorites of ours around here at The Key. Singer-guitarist Perry Shall first caught our ear in the lively surf-punk band Dry Feet, and is a talented visual artist in addition to a badass musician: he has designed t-shirts and album art and gig posters for folks from Modern Baseball to Mannequin Pussy, Hurry and more. Bassist Patrick Hickey hails from the jagged and atmospheric post-punk outfit Shape Breaker. Drummer Chris Wilson is best known for tub thumping in Ted Leo and the Pharmacists, though he’s been touring with Titus Andronicus of late. Basically these are three dudes seasoned in amped up garage / basement catharsis, and the four songs they performed live for us absolutely rage. Continue reading →

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The Key Studio Sessions: Aphra

Philly’s Rebecca Way is a multifaceted artist with a lot of ambition. Over the past several years, she’s dabbled in various avenues of songwriting, from humble beginnings as a folk-leaning solo artist to a long run in art-rock ensemble Tutlie. Lately, her attention has been focused on Aphra, an alluring electronic pop project bringing all aspects of her work under a single umbrella.

Its sound is very much in line with modern pop visionaries – James Blake, Banks, Lorde, Youth Lagoon – though Way’s songwriting has a distinctly broad reach. Take “Would You,” a yearning romantic ballad recorded for this week’s Key Studio Session: its structure is very traditionally rooted in folk, in sort of the way that Conor Oberst does folk, but the delivery is pure R&B, hitting some serious Lady Gaga highs. Continue reading →

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The Key Studio Sessions: Free Cake for Every Creature

Music writers love to romanticize DIY home studios — the hiss and static of the tape machine, the in-the-moment spirit of the performances, the images of bedroom walls lined with egg carton soundproofing and floors covered in piles of tangled cable.

The musicians themselves — they’re not always as sentimental about it. As Katie Bennett of Philadelphia’s Free Cake For Every Creature tweeted earlier this week, “[I’m] slowly realizing that, while my 100+ year-old apartment on a main street in a big city may be charming, it’s not the ideal place to record.” She continued: “listen for my neighbor’s trombone exercises and a minute-long trolly honk in every new song.”

While that definitely reads like Bennett’s West Philadelphia environs seeping into her recorded output, it also goes the other way around: the sound of Free Cake for Every Creature is the sound of Bennett and her musical collaborators reacting to their surroundings and turning their workarounds into strengths. Continue reading →

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The Key Studio Sessions: Bethlehem and Sad Patrick

If you’re in search of evidence that the Philly open mic scene is very much thriving, look no further than Bethlehem and Sad Patrick.

The local duo blends the focused minimalism and poetic lyrics of folk tradition with simmering, freewheeling jazz and blues — slick guitars, soaring vocals, nuanced melodies. And it all came together by chance.

A few years back, Patrick Arkins was running an open mic at what is now Malelani Cafe in Germantown, when Bethlehem Roberson stopped by one night to sing with her family. Arkins was blown away, and when he saw her returning to the series on the regular to perform, he approached her with the idea of singing one of his songs.

This led to her singing more of his songs, which led to Bethlehem and Sad Patrick’s first home-recorded EP release in 2012. Continue reading →

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The Key Studio Sessions: Curtis Cooper

Philadelphia’s Curtis Cooper laughs when asked about his the next shows he’s playing in town. He quickly rattles off some playful names of places that sound semi-familiar — All Night Diner, Overlook Hotel — then clarifies: “they’re all basements. All house shows.”

It’s true: Cooper has hit the DIY scene hard lately, particularly since the March release of his debut LP Laughing In Line. And it suits him well, between his explosive energy as a performer, his fuzzed-out guitar tones and his skateboarder’s demeanor, mellowed out and amped up all at the same time.

He’s a punk rock dude at heart, make no mistake. But there’s more to him than punk. His songwriting betrays a fondness for The Beatles and their descendants (Elliott Smith in particular) and if you see him with an acoustic guitar and no other accompaniment (check his Random Tea Session), he’s directly in singer-songwriter / busker / Avett Brothers territory. Continue reading →

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The Key Studio Sessions: Grayling

While Philly alt-punk upstarts Grayling packed up after its Key Studio Session this week, frontwoman Lexi Campion told us a story about an old drum teacher.

It was back when she was ten years old, early on in her percussive education. She went in for a lesson, and to her dismay at the time, her teacher said they were going to spend a day learning how to take the drumkit apart and put it back together, to screw and unscrew all its miscellaneous hardware components, to tune and retune the snare and toms. “You need to know how to do this stuff,” she was told.

To reiterate: Campion was ten. And getting such a diligent education early on shaped who she is as a musician today, it instilled a work ethic that carried into her two bands — the math-pop outfit Edelweiss (where she spent a year and change killing it on drums) and the more recently formed Grayling, where she runs the show. Continue reading →

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The Key Studio Sessions: New Sound Brass

In more ways than one, Philly’s New Sound Brass is a band of leaders.

They lead by introducing regional audiences to the long-standing New Orleans tradition of the second line. They lead in that they’re adding their own spin second line, giving it a bit of bravado and emphasizing that it’s a celebration. They lead by showing Philly audiences that brass music doesn’t have to be limited to dudes in feathered attire and face paint, sauntering up Broad Street on New Year’s Day.

And in the biggest way, the folks of New Sound Brass are leaders in quite a literal sense — you might have seen them at the XPoNential Music Festival in 2014, marching the crowd from Wiggins Park to the BB&T Pavilion. They did the same thing this summer at Firefly, beginning at the campground and waking up the weary audience with a lively Pied Piper strut into the festival grounds. Continue reading →

Support for The Key Studio Sessions, from Dogfish Head