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The Key Studio Sessions: Bel Heir

It may be the first day of autumn, but Philly modern rock four-piece Bel Heir are firm subscribers to Brian Wilson’s “endless summer” school of thought. In other words, today’s Key Studio Session does not shy away from sunny vocal hooks, energized riffs and rhythms and breezy hints of reggae, and it’s all the awesomer for it.

The regional band first caught our ear in 2013 when brothers Paul and Patrick Mencel began dabbling in a new studio recordings after the dissolve of their previous band Find Vienna. Where that crew aimed for Kings of Leon-style arena rock stratospheres, Bel Heir takes a more contemplative and laid-back route — “beachy,” as the kids like to say, and very much in step with the globally-informed electronic pop tones of Vacationer and Vampire Weekend. Continue reading →

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The Key Studio Sessions: Voss

Philly rapper Voss has been rocking a pretty funny hashtag of late: #notthewater. While it’s handy as far as name recognition that he’s got a popular aqueous doppelgänger — no sponsorship to speak of yet, though — he’d be making waves even if his last name and stage name were, like, Smith.

Which is to say: Voss is a confident and cunning MC who raps over a choice selection of beats from producers Rob Devious, Ron Swerdon, Architekt & Fearmongerz. Earlier this year, he dropped his debut album Insatiable, and its tone ranges from menacing club bangers matched with bold lyrical swagger (“CSN”) to soulful slow jams (“Respect My Mind”) and pop euphoria (“Oasis,” a flip of the brit rock icons’ “Champagne Supernova”).

His focus as an MC is bold declarations of personal ambition as well as intellectual and spiritual reflections — the closing song he performed during his Key Studio Session, “Found,” pairs him up with vocalist the means on the hook for a study of faith and religion, dissecting its role in modern life. Continue reading →

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The Key Studio Sessions: Field Mouse

Rachel Browne and her sister Zoë have called Philadelphia home for the past few years, and in a way, their asskicking indie rock crew Field Mouse has come with them.

Rachel founded the group in Brooklyn back in 2010, and three of her musical companions — guitarist Andrew Futral, bassist Saysha Heinzman and drummer Tim McCoy — still live there. It’s a band of two cities, and as Rachel told Bandcamp Daily earlier this year, both of those cities are equally important to her. Brooklyn is where everything started, it’s got deep nostalgic significance, and it’s also where a lot of her oldest friends reside. But Philly’s DIY music community has opened doors for Field Mouse in a way that they hadn’t previously experienced. Continue reading →

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The Key Studio Sessions: MH the Verb x ArtHouse95

Marcus Harris has bounced around the east coast quite a bit over the past few years, absorbing a tapestry of sounds and ideas. A hip-hop kid from Florida, he got his start mixing live instrumentation with DJ-based rap while going to college in Pittsburgh, performing in the band Beatz ‘n’ Verbz. When that crew split and he moved to Philly, his new persona MH the Verb was in full effect. He dropped a bunch of funky Bandcamp mixtapes and gigged at spots like World Cafe Live while holding down a day job at a boutique record label.

Later, a stint in New York inspired him to stretch the project further into the multimedia realm. The long MTA rides from his place in The Bronx to the gallery and studio community in Brooklyn gave him a lot of time to think and plan. The song “Melly’s Walls,” which he performed in this week’s Key Studio Session, was inspired by arriving at a gallery gig early and watching as the artists hung their work on the walls; lyrics were written on the spot, and the song was recorded the next day and released on 2014’s The Balloon Guide.

These days, MH is back in Philly, and has been doing some great stuff with the production collective ArtHouse95. Continue reading →

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The Key Studio Sessions: Aaron West and the Roaring Twenties

Dan Campbell has always been a powerful storyteller, going back to the howling vignettes of personal catharsis he’s been delivering as frontman of The Wonder Years for the past decade and change. A few years ago, the Lansdale native decided to pick up an acoustic guitar and stretch out his narrative scope with the solo project Aaron West and the Roaring Twenties.

It debuted on 2014’s We Don’t Have Each Other by tracing the story of the band’s fictional namesake — a young man who, between drinking problems, divorce and deaths in the family, has a very difficult year. When we chatted earlier this year, Campbell said he was inspired to pursue the project after seeing The Mountain Goats for the first time. Songwriter John Darnielle bowled him over with his ability to create intensely detailed songs about very specific situations that nevertheless connect in a universal sense.

That’s exactly what Aaron West and the Roaring Twenties achieves, between its debut and the new Bittersweet EP, both on Hopeless Records. Campbell estimated there are at least two more albums worth of songs in the Aaron West saga. Continue reading →

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The Key Studio Sessions: Heart Harbor

Kerry Hallett has come a long way since her first-ever open mic at Atlantis: The Lost Bar in 2005. The Philadelphia-based singer, guitarist, songwriter and mastermind behind Heart Harbor has bounced between cities and coasts over the past decade and change, landing on a great batch of songs and the remarkable Tender Trap EP, which came out last autumn.
Continue reading →

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The Key Studio Sessions: Clique

Typically speaking, basement scene bands with two-minute-long songs tend to play hard, fast and aggressively. Not so with Philadelphia four-piece Clique. Over two years and just as many LPs, the band has developed its own unique brand of slow punk; songs that present an idea – abandonment, loneliness, empathy and apathy – stew over it gradually for a burning moment, and move onward to the next existential concern.

Clique’s latest, Burden Piece, came out in May on TopShelf Records, and delivers on the promise of its 2014 self titled debut which, as our Julie Miller put it earlier this year, was pretty much an instant hit around town. You’ll hear bits of Pavement and Weezer in the new songs, delivered with an intense sense of introversion and self-reflection by dueling singer-guitarists P.J. Carroll and Brandon Shipp, drummer Tom Anthony and bassist Travis Arterburn.

The tagline, per their label, is “regular music for regular people” – and it’s a fitting one. Continue reading →

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The Key Studio Sessions: The Dove and The Wolf

Paloma Gil and Louise Hayat-Camard have been playing music together since they were teenagers in Paris, and in a more formal sense as The Dove and The Wolf since 2012. But the duo came on our collective radars in a big way over the past year.

First there was word that these great singers and songwriters, both 26, had relocated to Philadelphia last autumn. Then there was their exquisite Shaking Through session in December, followed up by a meditative set for Folkadelphia back in March.

Their songwriting is reflective and dynamic, wandering serpentine paths of joy and melancholy with interlocking guitar lines, brilliant vocal harmonies and vivid lyrics. “The further you dig into yourself, the further you see into the battle,” they sing on “Going East.” “He has got a heart so big, it must be a hard heart to handle.”
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The Key Studio Sessions: The Afterglows

Here’s a perfect example of the influence of proximity in a tightly knit music community: Mikey Cantor has set up shop in West Philly for a couple years now with his spectral indie rock project The Goodbye Party, and moved in the same circles as the folks from Swearin’ and Waxahatchee, among others. A while back, he found himself housemates with Sam Cook-Parrot, who helms the prolific punk outfit Radiator Hospital. Both share an affinity for DIY home recording, playing gigs in warehouses and basements, and generally going against the grain in an oft-brutal music industry.

But as they told NPR earlier this summer, living together while working on music for their own projects made them realize their sonic similarities. Sure, Cantor reaches for stratospheric heights with shoegaze and psych-tinged anthems, while Cook-Parrott jams econo with distortion pedal rock at an incredible clip. But the songwriting bones of both date back to classic American pop of the 50s and 60s. Enter The Afterglows.
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The Key Studio Sessions: Ceramic Animal

Stylish Bucks County four-piece Ceramic Animal dabbles in psychedelic rock of the classic variety. The keyboard-and-guitar interplay you’ll hear in this week’s Key Studio Session hits an undeniable Doors-esque sweet spot; the guitar solos (particularly on “Codename Righteous”) are totally Pink Floyd. However, as much as the band informs its sound by history, it works with one foot in the now, and is getting ready to release its self-titled debut album this fall. Continue reading →

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