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The Key Studio Sessions: Ensemble Novo

Philly jazz quintet Ensemble Novo is about to get busy. Both in terms of style — their music has a cool, contagious groove you’ll bob along to as soon as they begin — and in terms of their gig calendar. Tonight: SOUTH Jazz Cafe on North Broad Street. Sunday: 2nd Street Festival in Northern Liberties. Next Wednesday: Penn Museum’s summer concert series.

Led by sax player and flautist Tom Moon — who, in his previous life, was chief music critic for the Philadelphia Inquirer — Ensemble Novo draws on suave tones of Brazilian pop of the 50s and 60s. The iconic Getz / Gilberto record is one clear touchstone, as is the music of Antônio Carlos Jobim, whose songs sparked the initial bond between Moon and guitarist Ryan McNeely on the local local open mic scene. They are joined by vibraphone player Behn Gillece, drummer Jim Hamilton and bassist Mark Pryzbylowski, and I also hear echoes of sounds outside the Latin jazz spectrum in their playing: Caetano Veloso, for instance, or even Europop pastiche masters Stereolab. Continue reading →

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The Key Studio Sessions: Ellen Siberian Tiger

Many facets make up Ellen Tiberio-Shultz’s musical personality.

There’s the teenager from State College, cutting her teeth on folk and blues-inspired songwriting but discouraged by the dude-centricity of the local open mic scene. There’s the grad of Boston’s Berklee College of Music, studious and cerebral, with predilections for askew guitar licks and unconventional arrangements that draw unashamedly from the prog world (and the classical genres that inspired it). And then there’s the working Philadelphia musician who cuts loose with power trio fuzz and feminist punk rock.

With all these disparate elements in play, her band Ellen Siberian Tiger — possibly maybe a modified anagram of her name? For you to decide. — is a unique and wholly captivating listening experience. Continue reading →

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The Key Studio Sessions: Honeytiger

“If it wasn’t for Liverpool FC,” muses Josh Glauser, “we would never have become a band.”

The drummer of Philly garage duo Honeytiger is setting up in WXPN studios back in June, just before I left on a two-week vacation to England. As such, our conversation moved from UK music to UK sports and Glauser shared how first connected with singer-guitarist Isaac Clark over morning pints at Jose Pistola’s in Center City, watching football (the kind with a round ball) and cheering as “GOAAAAAAL” gifs got retweeted the internet around.

Turns out sports wasn’t their only commonality; Clark and Glauser shared a love of gritty, grungy garage rock in the vein of The Strokes and early Black Keys records. A band was formed (initially called Swimmer, promptly changed to Honeytiger when they realized the plethora of Swim-related acts in the indie rock sphere), a sound was honed, killer gigs at The El Bar were played and the band released the knockout Half Clean LP, one of the fiercest debuts from the Philly scene last year.

Continue reading →

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The Key Studio Sessions: Queen Jesus

This week marks, believe it or not, the third time Pat Brier has sat at the drumkit in WXPN Studios in the past six months. Back in January, he played with the propulsive punk trio Eight.

This week, though, is a little different. In Queen Jesus, Brier fronts the band from behind the kit. Continue reading →

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The Key Studio Sessions: Captain, We’re Sinking

A product of the remarkably fertile pop punk soil in Scranton, the gentlemen of Captain, We’re Sinking release their third LP this Friday. The King Of No Man, out on Run for Cover Records, is a reflective set of songs about mortality, loneliness and disconnection, and it finds the band’s craft in top form. Which makes sense, as they’ve been at it for a decade. Continue reading →

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The Key Studio Sessions: Katie Frank

At a West Philly gig earlier this spring, I watched local indie rock band Major Pursuit cover the Dixie Chicks immortal “Goodbye Earl,” an anthem about abuse, revenge and sisterhood. “If somebody hits you,” the band reasoned, “murder them.”

This is pretty much the aesthetic of the latest batch of songs singer-songwriter Katie Frank has cooked up over the past year. After debuting in 2012 with Covered Bridge Road and really stepping into the spotlight on 2014’s Counting Your Curses, the Elizabethtown native returned this spring with a revved up string of rocked up, honky tonk and blues inspired single about betrayal, scorn, emotional neglect and — in the case of “Through Your Window” — a search for a way out, pistol in hand. Continue reading →

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The Key Studio Sessions: Palm

There’s something about artists with origin stories in upstate New York university towns — they seem to run fearlessly against the grain, generally unconventional and all the awesomer for it. I’m picturing quiet seclusion in an area with a modest amount of commerce, a copious canopy of trees and a lack of excess pressure to be a dozen places at once. A place where you can take time to yourself to find yourself, focus inward and develop your art into something striking and unique. The experimental pop four-piece Palm got its start in 2011 in Hudson, New York, and by the time it moved to Philadelphia two years ago, its sound was out of this world. Continue reading →

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The Key Studio Sessions: Coping Skills

Philly’s Coping Skills need to start a podcast. Sure, Rachel Dispenza and Lauren DeLucca write fantastic punk / indiepop songs that are witty, catchy, humorous-yet-poignant, addressing issues that range from the college industrial complex and the mid-20s crash to gender roles and sexism; their self-released Relatable Web Content was a brilliant debut that not enough people talked about last year.

But the incredible chemistry heard on their songs carries over to Coping Skills as people. Being in the studio with them for a few hours earlier this month was wildly fun; even when they’re not technically “on,” Dispenza and DeLucca have a remarkable conversational rhythm, fast-paced and funny, building on one another’s thoughts, making cutting observations about gigs and touring and working in the service industry.

I mention how I almost wish the chatter was being recorded in addition to the songs; I said I could totally hang with an hour of Coping Skills in podcast form. They nodded, seemingly digging the suggestion. “That would be the longest con!” Dispenza shouts, grinning widely. “‘You thought you liked us for this music thing, but what about this…'” I’m not sure if a seed was actually successfully planted here, but if Coping Skills: The Podcast does emerge, we will be the first to let you know. Meantime, their music alone is stellar, and we’re glad to showcase a couple new songs for you in the band’s Key Studio Session. Continue reading →

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The Key Studio Sessions: Circadian Rhythms

Philly psych pop travelers Circadian Rhythms are coming up on their first decade as a band, and have they got a great new record to show for it. It’s called A Peculiar Kind of Afternoon and it releases early this summer. The nine songs contained within are a beautiful collection of catchy pop with delicate orchestrations and a psychedelic flourish in the vein of The Beach Boys and The Left Banke.

The sextet is made up of dueling singer-guitarist-songwriters James Mueller and Harry Murtha, bassist Yeho Bostick, violinist Jessica Tucci, keyboardist Michael Eckstrom and drummer Christopher Clark; collectively, they write music in the same spirit as their local rock forerunners Dr. Dog, drawing on the time-tested left-of-center approaches of yesteryear and recontextualizing them for today’s listeners. Continue reading →

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The Key Studio Sessions: Harrowgrove

South Jersey soundscaper C.J. Davis is a master of vibe and mystique. Under the banner Harrowgrove, he caught our ear in 2015 with the warped electronic tones and haunting-but-poppy vocal melodies on HOLY BROKEN FREE SPIRIT. At the time I called him a “captivating mix of Drake and Trent Reznor” — which wasn’t entirely inaccurate, though a bit reductive in retrospect. With the release of this year’s CAPS LOCK, he jettisons the pop leanings of his debut and doubles down on its raw, eviscerating industrial rock.

“I mean, I could make a whole record of Drake-sounding stuff if I wanted to,” he explained while setting up for his Key Studio Session. “But that’s not what I’m interested in doing.” Continue reading →