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The Key Studio Sessions: Vita and the Woolf

Photos by Chris Sikich | countfeed.tumblr.com

Philly art-pop trio Vita and the Woolf is going to knock you out. The band is about to release it’s vibrant, eclectic debut EP Fang Song, and it’s super-impressive for a first release, a sophisticated collection of songs that can be anthemic and expressive (the winning “Mary”) in the same breath that it’s quiet and withdrawn (“Song For Pedro”). But what’s most exciting is the way the band’s best work is clearly ahead of it. Continue reading →

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Download The Key Studio Sessions Volume 11 (feat. Roof Doctor, Verbatum Jones, PhillyBloco and more)

The Key Studio Sessions Volume 11
The Key Studio Sessions Volume 11

The cover art to this latest installment of The Key Studio Sessions free download comps is brought to you by the velvety guitar case of Maitland‘s Josh Hines. He has an outstanding live band and has been performing on the regular with them this year, but his set for us this summer was recorded completely solo, just himself and an acoustic guitar, and it was a knockout. In some ways, this was indicative of the approach I took to finding artists for this current batch of recordings, and the way they were recorded. While our traditional band-playing-live-in-our-performance-space approach continued – and had tremendous results with Roof Doctor, The Sixties, Heat Thunder, The GTVs and more – we also pushed and questioned the boundaries of what our Studio Sessions could be. Continue reading →

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The Key Studio Sessions: Cheerleader

Photos by Rachel Del Sordo | racheldelsordo.tumblr.com

Philly electronic indie rock outfit Cheerleader has had a swift rise to prominence this year, and it’s easy to understand why. The project of longtime songwriting partners Chris Duran and Joe Haller got its start as two teenagers making music in their parents’ basement in Hartford, CT. A few years of collaboration and a move to Philly later, and the band is dishing out a steady string of hooky, infectious singles. Continue reading →

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The Key Studio Sessions: Mike Bell and the Movies vs. Hurry

Photos by Peter Murray Photography | petermurrayphotography.com

In a strange, roundabout kind of way, this session you see before you today only exists because of Twitter. Two Philly DIY scene players, the fuzz-poppy Hurry and the punk poppy Mike Bell and The Movies, had been social media beef-ing -  or faux-beefing, perhaps, as they seem like friendly and amiable dudes all around – discussing who would win in a “power pop battle.” At one point, Bell called on The Key’s Twitter to “settle this once and for all” – and equally jokingly, I replied “what are we talking, a DJ-off or, like, a boxing match? Or a dueling studio session?” Evidently the latter was actually a viable option, all parties were into it, and ground rules for our first-ever competitive Key Studio Session were established. Each artist got three songs: one of their own songs, one of the other band’s songs and one cover of their choosing. We would record both bands live in the studio on the same day. And the reults wound up being so efficient and fun, I’m thinking about recording artists in battle format more often. Continue reading →

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The Key Studio Sessions: Verbatum Jones

VerbatumJones
Photo by John Vettese

As you can see in the above photo, Verbatum Jones performed his Key Studio Session seated. This rarely happens for us, at least with non-pianists – musicians are used to standing onstage when they perform, and that carries over to recording as well. But Verb smiled, shrugged, and said “hey, this is a radio thing, I want to get the full radio experience.” He’s a lively and outgoing dude, and by the end of our hour together, I felt like I really got to know him. But that’s exactly what makes him connect so much as a rapper – he knows how to connect as a person. Continue reading →

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The Key Studio Sessions: Needle Points

I know, I know, it’s a lot to take in. The shaggy hair, the flowing technicolor robes, the dreamcatchers and medallions. Just go with it. Philly psychedelic five-piece Needle Points might come across as bizarre folks of questionable seriousness – the sort who create a paisley alter with candles and empty beercans in the center of the studio – but when it comes to their music, they rock hard and don’t mess around. Continue reading →

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The Key Studio Sessions: ReeK Da Rookie

I’m not a lyrics-first listener. By that I mean that while lyrics are undeniably important to music, and most of my favorite musicians are also incredible lyricists, the initial thing I listen for when putting on a piece of music for the first time is, well, the music. So when I put on Philly rapper / producer ReeK Da Rookie‘s debut mixtape F.a.n.T.a.s.Y. for the first time, I was struck by the way he structured the songs, the way he paced the album. The way he mixed highly accessible pop with seriously introspective rhymes, the sentimental in-between-track samples of children and families, the general sense of warmth as he explored themes of dreams and aspirations, the challenges of life, and personal identity. As the album faded down in my headphones, I thought “Wow, this reminds me so much of The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill.”

The next time through, the point of listening when lyrics usually begin jumping out at me, I noticed a line on the opening title track that I had not heard on the first go-round: “With Lauryn Hill’s ‘Zion’ on repeat I can’t thank you enough for not deciding to retreat.” My read was right; he pretty much spelled it out for me and I didn’t realize. Continue reading →

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The Key Studio Sessions: The Sixties

The Sixties were reared in the DIY scene surrounding the Montgomery County burg of Lansdale, and are tight friends with some of its players (including The Wonder Years, who they opened up for at The First Unitarian Church last year). But don’t let that typecast them. They’re only sorta punk; they’re not even remotely pop-punk. More to the point, these dudes are unapologetically hard rock, aggressive and anthemic and loaded with hooks, vocal bravado by frontman C.J. Morgan and serpentine shreddery by lead guitarist Chris Wagner. Continue reading →

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The Key Studio Sessions: Roof Doctor

If you just went by Roof Doctor‘s irreverent personalities, their tongue-deep-in-cheek social media presence (Twitter handle: @roof_deezy), the fact that they once tried to start a beef with Conor Oberst, you’d have no reason to take them seriously. But consider their chops and multi-instrumental prowess. Chet Williams has a knack for juggling sax, keyboard, percussion, bass and vocals; Kevin Paschall delivers intricate rhythmic accompaniment from behind the drumkit (I’m still wrapping my brain around the beat at the beginning of “Bulldog,” which they played in their Key Studio Session); Mark Harper reigns in everything that’s going on and arranges it into ultra catchy tunes. These dudes are so serious. Continue reading →

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The Key Studio Sessions: Taylor Dunn

Philly-bred MC Taylor Dunn got his start in music while playing basketball at LaSalle University, and his rap style has a coolness and focus that probably came in just as handy on the court as it does behind the mic. He debuted in 2011 with the Daydreamin’ mixtape (the one with the catchy Where the Wild Things Are cover art) and followed it up the following year with On the Contrary. Skillful with wit, wordplay and pop culture references – listen to his Key Studio Sessions set for references to Sister ActCarissa Explains it All, the Branch Dividians, old school Nintendo games and more – Dunn’s rhymes are free-associative and fun, and he has impeccable taste in music to mine for beats (with all due credit to his producer and creative partner Philth Spector).

Samples of Erykah Badu, The Roots and old soul records pepper his songs, giving him the vibe of a classic rapper who might have come up at the same time as A Tribe Called Quest and Digable Planets; “Orange Juice and NowAndLaters,” on the other hand, is positively crunk, and his overall sound and style recalls a young Jay Z…seriously. See below for a video of Dunn performing that last one in our studio, download the entire set and hear more on the new Collective Theory mixtape, available for download now at Soundcloud.