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The Key Studio Sessions: Great Time

They’re rigorously schooled musicians, but as their name suggests, Great Time likes to have fun. Back in the early teens, vocalist Jill Ryan, guitarist / bassist Zack Hartmann, and drummer Donnie Spackman connected in New York City, where all of them were jazz students. They loved the music they were absorbing in class, but they also wanted to do their own thing. So after graduation, they moved to the Philadelphia burbs, built a home studio, and began writing electronic pop songs in the vein of Twin Sister, Sylvan Esso, and Little Dragon. Continue reading →

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The Key Studio Sessions: Boogieman Dela

Think you know Boogieman Dela? Think again. The Philadelphia artist has spent the past few years blurring genre lines, as we heard on his projects like last year’s Broken Watch series and 2017’s Feels Different. He can spit over hard-hitting trap rhythms just as easily as he can sing suave melodies, his love songs can be blunt and his raps can be sweet.

For this week’s Key Studio Session, Boogie stretches that musical grey area even further. Continue reading →

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The Key Studio Sessions: AnnonXL

AnnonXL is a singer who can stop you in your tracks. From strong core melodies to vibrant melisma, teasing drops of pitch-shifting and a constant sense of passion and joy, he is a commanding force as a vocalist…not to mention as a charismatic frontperson and left-of-center songwriter.

The emerging Philadelphia artist caught our ear with his second project, last year’s Teen Angst album; this year he followed it up with a breezy EP called Summer Affair. While both releases have their roots in pop and R&B, they branch into unexpected directions — bubbling, dancefloor-ready electropop as easily as cloudy and cosmic balladry. Some moments vibe like house jams, others like Disney theme songs. In a way, AnnonXL makes music in the spirit of other unable-and-unwilling-to-be-easily-defined artists — Prince to Frank Ocean to James Blake — and with a new six-piece band joining him for this week’s Key Studio Session, the sound and style expands even further. Continue reading →

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The Key Studio Sessions: American Trappist

In a sense, American Trappist is the project of a single person: New Jersey’s Joe Michelini. He’s a rock and roll singer-guitarist who led the blog-popular collective River City Extension in his 20s, and more recently refocused his song-craft and existential dread into records like last year’s great Tentanda Via, which is as cathartic as it is uplifting.

But American Trappist is also very much a band, as we see in this week’s Key Studio Session, and to whatever extent Michelini is a blossoming producer (he recorded the most recent album by The Vernes at his home base of Berlin Studios) and the visionary behind the songs (though we’re reasonably sure he’s too humble to embrace the term”visionary”), it’s the skill and chemistry of his bandmates Shane Luckenbaugh on drums, Max Kulicke on guitar, and Lewie II on bass that brings the music to life. Continue reading →

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The Key Studio Sessions Double-Header: Secret Nudist Friends and Blushed

Secret Nudist Friends (left) and Blushed | photos by Emily DeHart for WXPN

In a way, doing this week’s feature as two separate sessions wasn’t an option for us. As much as they are stylistically distinct, South Philly DIY faves Secret Nudist Friends and Blushed are very much inseparable, even when they’re each off doing their own thing.

A brief accounting of spaces where they overlap: Matty Klauser sings and plays guitar in SNF, while Missy Pidgeon plays keys; in Blushed, Pidgeon sings and plays guitar, while Klauser drums. Both bands are on the roster of the local Good How Are You label / collective, a group of artists (also including Trash Boy, Kelsey Cork and the Swigs, and Canine 10) that throws regular shows and one annual festival at the Vonnegut-referencing Newbold house venue Tralfamadore. And both artists upped their profile with So Cool, the Headroom-recorded split EP they released last year.  Continue reading →

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The Key Studio Sessions: Swim Camp

There’s a certain degree of mystique to the Philadelphia indie project Swim Camp, due in no small part to the hazy melodies and drifting tempos their songs are imbued with. Then again, this is a band that, when you Google their name, you’re met with more links to actual swim camps in the region than to their music.

The project of singer-guitarist and songwriter Tom Morris, Swim Camp been floating under the radar since debuting in 2017, building up their name in South Philly DIY show lineups and on stage at venue’s like Ortlieb’s in Northern Liberties. But with their beautiful debut album Barlow Hill, released this spring on Z Tapes, the band is beginning to surface. Continue reading →

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The Key Studio Sessions: Arnetta Johnson and SUNNY

Camden, New Jersey trumpeter Arnetta Johnson doesn’t like being put in a box — not herself, nor anybody else.

On a recent Sunday night as we were setting up for a Key Studio Session, Johnson and the members of her band SUNNY got in a spirited debate over gospel music versus jazz music. First it was about which style was the originator — yes, we all know that the distinctly midcentury format of gospel was the launching point into soul, and then rock and roll, and jazz’s roots in the early 20th century predate all of that. But aren’t hymns and spirituals early iterations of gospel? And so if you consider them, isn’t gospel a precursor to jazz, and not vice versa? This went on for a while, and then the discussion shifted to which style yielded better musicians — was it jazz, whose players boast technical prowess and excel at innovation, or gospel, whose brightest stars connect in a massive way?

By the time we were ready to soundcheck, Johnson put a swift end to the back-and-forth with some on-point, on-brand wisdom. “Why do we have to think of ourselves as jazz musicians or gospel musicians?” she asked. “That’s putting a limit on what you do and how you sound. Why can’t we just be ‘musicians’?” Continue reading →

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The Key Studio Sessions: Spelling Reform

Philadelphia indie rock four-piece Spelling Reform is a band that proudly wears its influences on its sleeve — but with influences this good, can we really complain?

As you listen to the band’s Key Studio Session, it’s impossible not to hear a little bit of 80s R.E.M. in the way singer-songwriter and guitarist Dan Wisniewski shares harmonies and trades counterpoint lines with bassist Tom Howley on the buoyant opener “The Second Coming.” Or the way the expansive closer “Merriweather Lewis on the Divide” begins on fervent Feelies-esque strumming, and then launches into a Weakerthans thump care of drummer Mark Rybaltowski. The chords and textures from new keyboardist Jim Gannon add a Pernice Brothers feel to the proceedings, and there are more than trace levels of The Mountain Goats’ John Darnielle in Wisniewski’s upper-register delivery (giving way to their self-depricating self-description, “nasal indie rock”).

Okay, then, we get it — Spelling Reform sounds like a lot of acclaimed, bookish-cool indie rock bands from the past 20 years. But they bring their own perspective to the table care of Wisniewski’s clever turns of phrase and cogent lyrical vignettes. Continue reading →

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The Key Studio Sessions: Baroness

Baroness | photo by John Vettese for WXPN

Scorching riffs and pulsing drums are two sounds you’d readily associate with Baroness if their albums were all you had to go off of. But these titans of the American metal scene, who call Philadelphia home, have lately taken to dialing down the volume — but not the intensity.

The first time we caught an acoustic Baroness set, it was at Boot and Saddle, where lead singer John Dyer Baizley was opening for Strand of Oaks’ Winter Classic in 2017. He brought lead guitarist and vocalist Gina Gleason along with him, and they played haunting renditions of cuts from the band’s most recent outing, 2015’s Purple. The way the songs transformed was remarkable; as we heard a generation ago in the MTV Unplugged era, not every heavy piece of music necessarily benefits from being stripped down to only an acoustic backing. And Baroness gets it: just because you’ve packed away the effects pedals and amplifiers, and given the drummer the day off, doesn’t mean you’ve arrived at something profound. Taking a song down to its skeleton can sometimes be a beautiful thing, and other times it’s an opportunity to rebuild in a new direction.

That night at Boot and Saddle, we saw Baroness take that opportunity, with thrilling results. The gravity of rock rager “Shock Me” came across palpably with urgent strums and impassioned cries, while “Chlorine and Wine” delved into the European folk influences suggested by its chord progression. Gleason tackled a nimble solo that danced up and down the fretboard, and shared subdued, yet moving harmonies with Baizley. We heard that version of “Chlorine and Wine” open up the band’s acoustic Key Studio Session this week, which comes on the tail end of something of an acoustic spring for Baroness. Continue reading →

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Watch a breathtaking performance by Philly instrumental ensemble Hour for Folkadelphia and The Key Studio Sessions

The seven members of Philadelphia instrumental ensemble Hour are intricately aligned, the pieces they play fitting together perfectly like a puzzle. In a recent visit to WXPN studios, the band showcased music from each of its two albums, last year’s moving Anemone Red — whose compositions are gradual bloomers, but deeply affecting, approximating the haunting film score for a naturalistic drama — and 2017’s Tiny Houses — an exercise in minimalism, and crafting sonic spaces marked by absence more than presence. Continue reading →