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The Key Studio Sessions: Rosie Langabeer and the BalletX Players

Experimental Philadelphia composer Rosie Langabeer is no stranger to ballet. She’s previously worked composing dreamlike scores and immersive soundscapes for Philadelphia contemporary dance company BalletX on 2016’s Sunset, 0639 Hours and on 2011’s Proliferation of the Imagination.

Likewise, BalletX is no stranger to doing interesting and unusual things with music; the’ve performed dance pieces based around the songs of Beirut and Amy Winehouse, and for their 10th anniversary, they did a retrospective of their greatest hits — dances to Rufus and Chaka Khan, to Joanna Newsom, to Ólafur Arnalds, to Bach and Handel.

For BalletX’s Summer Series, opening tonight at the Wilma Theater on South Broad Street, Langabeer once again joins forces with the dance company, working with choreographer Penny Saunders to create a score that broods with intensity and blisses out to heavenly pop. The piece, Rock-a-Bye, “explores transience and permanence, destiny and free will,” and Langabeer translates that into sound with the help of Tara Middleton of Sun Ra Arkestra and Gregg Mervine of West Philadelphia Orchestra.

We had Langabeer and the BalletX players in the WXPN studio this week to get a rare glimpse at the artists on the other side of a dance production. Continue reading →

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The Key Studio Sessions: Lovelorn

There’s always been an element of chaos to the three lifelong friends in Philly’s Lovelorn. It followed them all across their long running heavy psych punk outfit Creepoid, from brawls to arrests; for a survey of the more legendary incidents involving that band, check out this retrospective by Megan Matuzak, written prior to their farewell show in February.

With that kind of lineage, it couldn’t be more appropriate that a fire alarm went off during Lovelorn’s first-ever radio performance at WXPN. Continue reading →

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The Key Studio Sessions: Trap Rabbit

A couple years back, renowned jazz trumpeter Christian Scott introduced the concept of “stretch music” in his album of the same name. The idea was one not of total re-invention or boundary-smashing, but rather of taking one’s creative vocabulary and stretching it to include as much style and range as possible, incorporating uncommon influences while remaining true to one’s musical roots.

Philly duo Trap Rabbit could easily qualify as stretch music for the local scene…though they might prefer their own category of “weirdo beat rock.” Indeed, Arjun Dube’s complex drumbeats are prominently present in the band’s work, propping up and goading on Logan Roth’s expressionistic keyboard playing. Continue reading →

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The Key Studio Sessions: Dominic Angelella

There was a time that, whenever I’d write about Philly singer-guitarist-multi-instrumentalist Dominic Angelella, I’d begin by launching into a litany of local and national acts he’s been involved with over the past ten or twelve years. I’m not going to do that here — at this point, there are too many of them. And beyond being an exceptionally busy person in the supporting cast of other local and national bands, Angelella is a tremendous songwriter in his own right, and this spring he blessed us with a whole new batch of tunes. Continue reading →

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The Key Studio Sessions: &More

It started as a one-off collaboration. Philly singer-songwriter and author Donn T. was working on a new single called “Clear,” a musical companion to her short story “Time to Soar,” and she needed a rapper to provide a counterpoint to her simmering vocal. Enter Chill Moody, veteran West Philadelphia MC who’s been kicking out some serious jams since 2010. Working together on the cut felt effortless and natural for them — not unexpectedly so, as both artists have spent years cultivating their personal brands, building up their fan bases and running their own record labels. They’re stylistically different, but nevertheless simpatico, and as soon as the track was done, &More was born.   Continue reading →

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The Key Studio Sessions: The Retinas

As Philly indie rock trio The Retinas roared from their song “Checked Out” into “Dissatisfaction” in WXPN studios, I turned to my coworker Mike Vasilikos and said “I keep expecting them to launch into a Pixies song.”

That is not, I should note, a diss of any kind. Yes, these Philly gents wear their influences proudly on their sleeve, and yes there was a bit of a “Wave Of Mutilation”-ness to that one-two punch on the opening. But they sound great doing so, and what The Retinas bring to the table is an energy and chemistry that’s simply intoxicating to watch. Continue reading →

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The Key Studio Sessions: The Wonder Years

photos by Ashley Gellman for WXPN | agellmanphotos.com

It should be no surprise that the word “connection” comes up a lot when talking about The Wonder Years‘ sixth album, Sister Cities.

For one thing, it’s the primary theme that singer and lyricist Dan Campbell wanted to explore this time around — the idea of coming together, while also being further apart than ever before, both geographically and philosophically. The idea of finding common ground between humans divided by cities and continents, by the distance between Kyoto, Japan and Santiago, Chile and Cheyenne, Wyoming and their hometown of Philadelphia. There are Wonder Years fans in all of those places, and by superficial traits, they could not be any more different, but get them in front of a stage and they’ll be equally passionate about screaming along to “Dismantling Summer” or “Coffee Eyes” or “Came Out Swinging” or “Logan Circle.”

That’s the other reason why connection is an enduring theme of The Wonder Years. There’s a distinct feeling, being in the crowd at one of their gigs, an electricity in the air as the lights dim low and the bandmates step to the stage — Mike Kennedy on drums, Josh Martin on bass, Casey Cavaliere on lead guitar, multi-instrumentalist Nick Steinborn, rhythm guitarist Matt Brasch, and Campbell taking the lead vocal mic. The endorphin rush is palpable, the physical rush is sometimes treacherous as the audience surges forward to create as little distance as possible between them and the band. They want to lock eyes and grip hands, they want to share the moment with one another and with the band. To say The Wonder Years have a connection with their fans is an understatement.

And there’s also their connection with one another. Of the band’s six members, five have been in the lineup since first getting together in 2005 in the suburbs of Lansdale; Steinborn is the closest thing to a “new kid,” and he’s been on board since 2009. The band toured its last record, 2015’s No Closer to Heaven, for a solid two years of international dates. Those travels inspired much of the music on the new record, but when they concluded, the band fanned out to their separate lives. These fixtures of the punk community are no longer banging on in a South Philly basement every night; they’ve moved to different places in the greater Philadelphia orbit, many have wives or long-term partners, and the time they get together as a band is increasingly rare and precious. But when it happens, that connection is such a strong one that there’s no warm-up period — they go all in from the start.

That’s exactly what we saw this March when The Wonder Years set up shop in WXPN studios to record a live set for The Key Studio Sessions. Continue reading →

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The Key Studio Sessions: Agent Zero

A lot can change in seven years, and for Noah Selwyn, it’s been quite the journey from his earliest incarnation of Agent Zero to the collective of musicians joining him in WXPN studios this week.

In preparing this session, I found myself doing a deep dive on the Philly electronic dance musician’s Facebook archive of live photos and gig flyers, and discovered an early 2011 shot of him and three peers in We Are Psy-Fi productions on a rooftop near the Kimmel Center. Selwyn’s hair is short and spiky, he was mostly clean-shaven, and wore a button-down shirt and tie. It appears this was his standard stage attire at the time, and it seems like he often took the stage solo as well. Today, he’s got long, flowing and vaguely hippie-ish hair, rocks a beard, and dresses more casually to perform, including a stylish bead necklace worn during his Key Studio Sessions performance. And he has a band that takes the stage with him.

Beyond appearances, the more significant change is Selwyn’s music. It was always bright and upbeat, a bubbling concoction of trance, house and dubstep that he honed studying under Slit Jockey Records founder Starkey. Though his skill as a producer has certainly advanced over the past five years, you can still hear the Agent Zero of today in the Agent Zero of 2013’s EP Sound Sorcery Volume 1 — body-moving BPMs, ecstatic synthesizer tones, progressive rhythms that follow a dramatic ebb and flow. Selwyn always had the chops to make Agent Zero work in the DJ realm — potentially a new generation’s Pretty Lights or Quantic — but the big change that between then and now is his pop sensibilities developed and his ambition grew. Continue reading →

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Folkadelphia Session: Roger Harvey

For someone coming from the world of amped-up punk rock,  Roger Harvey‘s music is decidedly low-key and reflective.

The singer-songwriter relocated to Philly from Pittsburgh about three years ago, following stints touring with Against Me!, Dads and The Menzingers. His debut LP, Twelve Houses, was released that October, and it set introspective lyrics to lush acoustic arrangements in the vein of Neutral Milk Hotel and Death Cab for Cutie, with his haunting and tremulous vocal taking center stage.

Almost two years later, Harvey returned with a more outer-directed perspective on the Two Coyotes LP. This time, rather than personal ruminations, he tackles bigger-picture issues; immigration is unpacked in the title track, which tells a story of love across borders, while superconnected isolation is the focus of “Love In The Digital Age.” You can hear anger and frustration, albeit in a subdued manner, on “Gold,” which opens his studio session this week — when he sings “fuck the foundation, we’re in control,” it’s one of the prettiest punk rock moments we’ve captured in the studio. Continue reading →

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The Key Studio Sessions: Deb Callahan Band

Philly vocalist Deb Callahan has been singing the blues for 20 years, and plans to do a lot of celebrating to mark the milestone. The festivities kicked off back in March with a headlining anniversary showcase back in March; from there, Callahan and her three bandmates — bassist Garry Lee, guitarist Allen James and drummer Tom Walling — have a calendar of shows plotted out through June, showcasing their recent fifth album Sweet Soul and digging back through their back catalog.

We got to see some of what they can do in this week’s Key Studio Session, and for a four-piece without much in the way of fanfare or instrumental excess, their sound is remarkably full. James’ guitar emulates a Rhodes keyboard tone on the swinging “Seven States Away,” a Florida-to-Pennsylvania travelogue Callahan wrote about wanting to return home and see her son; on “Carry Me,” his playing resonates its way down a dusky delta swamp, while the set-closing “I Keep Things Running” has a jagged rock edge. Lee’s bass is warm and enveloping, filling in sonic nooks and crannies in subtle but important ways, and Walling’s drums are precision-tight, with loud accents aplenty but just as much studious simplicity.

The glue holding it all together, the reason we’re here in the first place, is Callahan’s voice, an instrument in itself that is dynamic in range and full of emotion, from determination to frustration to humor and more. Continue reading →