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The Key Studio Sessions: Cabana Wear

There’s something of a common thread in all the bands we’ve seen South Jersey’s Brian Mietz play in over the course of the past decade.

Whether you’re talking the mathy pop of It’s A King Thing, or the poppy introspection of The Not Fur Longs, Mietz has a penchant for irresistible hooks and inviting melody, for nerdish wordplay and 90s style fuzz-tones, and for a sensitive outlook that’s presented in a somewhat self-deprecating way.

We see all of that at play in his new outfit, Cabana Wear, which is the summertime alt-rock project of singer-guitarist Mietz, teamed up with Haddon Heights, NJ scene peers: bassist Dan Saraceni (of By Surprise) guitarist Alec McVey (of Aspiga) and drummer Eric McConathey (of Brackish). Drop the needle on the tidal pool blue vinyl of their self-titled debut LP and you’re greeted with crunchy guitars and bright riffs paying homage to their power pop inspirations from Big Star to Nada Surf to Weezer and beyond.  Continue reading →

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The Key Studio Sessions: The Warhawks

Maybe it’s their working-class roots in Gloucester City, New Jersey, but the work ethic exhibited by rock and roll four-piece The Warhawks is tough to match.

We first met them at WXPN care of the Jake Rabid-hosted Local Show on our XPN2 webstream, and they were just-out-of-high-school teenagers who had already spent years hustling their music at shows around the Delaware Valley and online. They impressed us with a revved-up proto-Key Sessions set featuring serious Kings of Leon vibes; five knockout songs, blazed through on a Sunday afternoon. A couple years later, I ran into them on the streets of Austin, Texas and saw that work ethic in action again when they literally showed up to an unofficial SXSW showcase I was watching and talked their way onto the bill. Chatting to them afterward, that was pretty much their plan — pile in their van, drive to Austin, get their music of the hands of anyone who would listen, play every street corner that would take them.

They’ve kept me in the know about every piece of music they’ve put out since then — brash garage rock bruisers collected on like 2011’s Thief, or 2012’s Ordinary Time. And after a while, I admittedly almost began to take The Warhawks for granted as part of our local music fabric: four dudes who kicked out reliably asskicking projects now and again.

And then this year’s Never Felt So Good happened. And it was that level-up that we’d all been waiting for.

Continue reading →

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The Key Studio Sessions: Slingshot Dakota

With this appearance, Lehigh Valley indie pop duo Slingshot Dakota joins the Key Studio Sessions three-timers’ club. And while we haven’t yet decided if members of their elite society get a jacket, we can tell you that watching artists grow over a span of years and albums — and instudio performances — is something truly special.

In 2013, singer-keyboardist Carly Comando and drummer Tom Patterson were two contagiously upbeat people with catchy songs, deep feelings, and a record called Dark Hearts that showcased all of those things. In 2016, a Break-era session found them more at a more complicated place, and writing songs that reflected the good and the bad of adulting; the deepening of relationships as well as the frustration of not moving as quickly in life as you’d like.

Their solution: keep getting louder, as the lead single of their tremendous new record Heavy Banding suggests. It’s 2019, Slingshot Dakota are writing the best songs of their career, and as a musical two-piece they are more tightly in sync than we’ve ever seen — a connection that obviously carries over to Comando and Patterson’s marriage as well. (Keep tabs on their social media for lots of #couplegoals content, and find even more in this ongoing photo essay by photographer Matt Smith.) Continue reading →

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The Key Studio Sessions: Yarrow

With all due respect to the bassists of the world, I respect the hell out of artists that don’t buy into rock and roll convention, that firmly jettison the four-stringed low end from their instrumental setup. When they do that and sound as thrilling as Philly’s Yarrow, all the better.

Fronted by some familiar punk scene faces — Christo Johnson of King Azaz, Meri Haines of Great Weights — the band takes the Sleater-Kinney guitar-guitar-drums power trio approach, but with the density and catharsis of Drive Like Jehu’s “Luau.” Or, as our Yoni Kroll put it when he named Yarrow one of his favorite new Philly bands last year, Yarrow feels like it’s “channeling Slint and Unwound but in a perfectly pissed off kind of way.” In short: it’s heavy stuff.

Ahead of their appearance this Saturday, May 25th at Break Free Fest — the third annual edition of the festival centering black and brown artists in punk and hardcore — Yarrow (rounded out by drummer Dani Elephant) came by WXPN studios to play an explosive set of songs from A Mild Circus, their February release on Get Better Records. Continue reading →

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The Key Studio Sessions: Tact

Philly indie-punk staple Cat Park is commanding and cathartic on her latest project, channeling anger and aggression into the edgy noise rock of Tact.

Launched in late 2017 with drummer Jarret Nathan of Pears and also bassist Evan Demianczyk of Pocket — with guitarist Josh Agran of Paint It Black joining the fold more recently — the band’s music is a stark contrast to the cerebral pop of Park’s best-known band Amanda X, or the hooky nuggets of Eight, another of her projects.

In Tact, distorted guitars screech and squeal, Nathan’s drums thunder, and Park poetically details observations on the outside world in a mixture of sung and spoken word lyrics; a little bit Kim Gordon, a little bit Patti Smith. Continue reading →

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The Key Studio Sessions: The Low Road

From 1991 to 1997, The Low Road warmed hearts and fed minds in the Philadelphia music scene and far beyond. Call them roots, call them Americana, call them indie-folk — they’ve heard all those descriptions, and they’re fitting. But with the band playing two reunion shows this spring, some re-evaluation of the music The Low Road was making in the time that they made it is in order, and with that, you can also see a stateside equivalent of a band to whom they’re not oft compared: Belle & Sebastian.

Sure, The Low Road predated Belle & Seb by about five years, and one is decidedly more Scottish than the other. But think about it: in times when the dominant rock sounds were aggressive, distortion pedal punk dirges or grandiose, aspirational arena-ready anthems, these artists went inward. They drew on the folk traditions of their respective home countries and a time-tested approach to pop songwriting, and used those things as a backdrop to observational, highly literary lyrical stories. Their songs captured the concerns and emotions of being an introverted twenty-to-thirtysomething out of sorts with their surroundings but nevertheless trying to find a way. In that sense, Mike “Slo-Mo” Brenner’s Philadelphia is not unlike Stuart Murdoch’s Glasgow, and in these songs, they take us right into that world.

Earlier this month, a reunited Low Road — singer-guitarist Brenner, singer-violinist Rosie McNamara-Jones, drummer Mark Schreiber, bassist Alan Hewitt, and vocalist / harmonica player Palmer Yale — performed at WXPN studios, a warmup for their two June 1st shows at World Cafe Live, and played a set of songs that bring Philadelphia life circa early 90s to vivid life. Continue reading →

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The Key Studio Sessions: Big Nothing

Is three songwriters too many? Not when you’re talking about Philadelphia’s Big Nothing. The DIY rock four-piece finds singer-guitarists Pat Graham and Matt Quinn, and singer-bassist Liz Parsons, all sharing equal time at the microphone, and the vibe you’ll get from song to song shifts depending on who’s taking lead. Quinn’s jams sit best alongside the gravelly anthems of The Menzingers and Gaslight Anthem, while Parsons leans decidedly more indiepop (think that dog.) and Graham is all about spirited power pop with Replacements-style feeling.

What unifies Big Nothing, beyond their name and their collective great taste, is remarkably tight playing — snappy fuzz pedal jams propelled by drummer Chris Jordan and kicked out with expeditious run times of three minutes or fewer — not to mention experience, which stretches from West Chester’s Spraynard (Graham) to Gainesville’s Young Livers (Jordan). Non-musical bonus round: in addition to their respective roots in Casual and Crybaby, Parsons and Quinn are part of the team behind the amazing West Philly vegan bakery Dottie’s Donuts. In short, these people know how to kick out the jams as well as they know their plant-based treats, and after convening in Philly in 2017 to release their debut EP, Big Nothing will release their debut LP Chris this Friday on Detroit label Salinas Records.  Continue reading →

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The Key Studio Sessions: Empath

We weren’t even ten minutes into setting up for Empath‘s Key Studio Session this week and conversation had already shifted from record pressings and tour schedules to laser light shows and the prospect of finding one that works at a basement gig scale.

Which, for four people dubbed “2018’s trippiest punk band” by Rolling Stone, it’s not entirely surprising. On the one hand, the booming low end blasts from Randall Coon’s Moog bass synthesizer throw us back to the cutting indie-dance of The Faint, or earlier to the sheen 90s noise-popsters Stereolab, earlier still to 70s experimentalists Suicide, while singer-guitarist Catherine Elicson spends the outro of “Soft Shape” coaxing caustic squeals out of her instrument, feverishly picking way up the fretboard in a frenzy reminiscent of Sonic Youth and Versus. Empath is punk at heart, and when it wants to hit, it hits hard and unrelenting, choosing the path of vivid and visceral expression over a more approachable conventionality.

But listen to their performance of “Hanging Out of Cars,” another song from their new Active Listening: Night on Earth, and a spark of serenity enters the picture. The introductory minute and a half of warbling guitar, racing rhythms and lyrics about travel, freedom, and desire give way to an ambient expanse. For the next four minutes, we’re adrift in upper-register keyboard pulsations from Emily Shanahan, soft and subtle free-time beats by drummer Garrett Koloski, bubbling loops from Koon, waves of sound from Elicson, with an underbelly of windchimes, bird sounds, and a voice murmuring indistinctly. It’s peaceful without being overly pretty, a potent improvisation in the spirit of Pink Floyd at Pompeii, and an immersive experience for performers as much as the spectators. Watching from the mixing console, the phrase Active Listening clicked in a big way. I also realized that, yeah, they weren’t at all joking about those laser lights. Continue reading →

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The Key Studio Sessions: Full Bush

There are various reasons we’ve been losing our minds over Philly rock four-piece Full Bush these past couple years, but honestly, the biggest one might be how real they are.

Sure, they’ve got awesome moments of cheeky and clever commentary. They deservedly take down busted dudes in “Ill Tempered,” with indomitable vocalist Kate Breish hysterically running down a litany of shortcomings (“your mom still pays for your phone, you’re a virgin, and you can’t drive”) over wiry punk arrangements from guitarist Jayne Rutter, bassist Cassie O’Leary, and drummer Adesola Ogunleye. Meanwhile, the amazing garage rocker “Ray’s” looks to the famed South Philly dive for cathartic release from work-life ennui and toxic people in a gang-vocal shoutalong: “I! JUST! WANNA! GET! FUCKED UP!”

It’s catchy, it’s fun, it’s funny. But Full Bush are so much more than a funny band. Continue reading →

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The Key Studio Sessions: Archpalatine

This winter, Kevin McCall of Philly modern rock band Andorra emailed The Key to tip us off about a new artist called Archpalatine who he’d caught at Manayunk’s Grape Room…but his recommendation came with a caveat. “It is definitely an odd one,” he said, and a quick glance over photos of a singer with regal robes and a broadsword confirmed his take long before I listened. And when I hit play? Woah. The first thing that greets you is a staccato harpsichord synth sound and a breathy voice dancing nimbly across notes, stretching the song title out to practically twelve syllables: “Tuh-huh-huh-huh-HUH-huh-hur-urb-u-oo-LENCE.”

My initial “what in the hell is this” gave way to “this is so catchy,” and after a few repeat listens and the song “Turbulence” getting stuck in my head for the afternoon, it’d shifted to “I love this.” In a music world concerned so heavily with “cool,” it’s a bold choice for and artist to be this theatrical, this expressive, this unafraid to be odd in 2019.

Archpalatine is the project of Derek Anthony Wilson, and has been kicking around Philly for the past few years, dealing in a variety of sounds: funk and reggae, pop and classical, hitting operatic Queen heights and brooding Hozier depths, with style and panache. Wilson hosts the Grape Room open mic series, which is where McCall (who works at the venue as well) connected with him, and used it as a proving grounds of sorts for the eclectic ideas that would go one to make up his debut record AmalgamContinue reading →