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The Key Studio Sessions: Mercury Radio Theater

If you’re a fan of Orson Welles and 1930s Hollywood, you’ll appreciate Philly’s Mercury Radio Theater for their name. If you’re a fan of adventurous music – gypsy punk, theatrical klezmer and general exotica – you’ll dig how they sound too.

The band has been kicking around the Philly scene for the past 15 years under the leadership of Buddy Mercury and his eight bandmates, who weird sax, horns, vibes and accordion in addition to the standard guitar-bass-drums. In the past, their music has covered dystopian sci-fi themes. The currently-in-progress Fabulous Red Menace is themed around Eastern European propaganda set in an American context. Continue reading →

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The Key Studio Sessions: RFA

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RFA | Photo by Jeremy Quattlebaum

Last April while combing through the Philly bands on Bandcamp – as we do from time to time at The Key – we came across a new four-piece with the kinda silly name Really Fast Automobiles (RFA for short). The raw and retro Just Don’t Turn The Lights On EP impressed us, and after writing it up, we noticed they had some gigs around town at The Balcony and in the Temple University house show community. This led me to believe that the band was a group of Temple students or recent grads, and their spot-on set at last year’s Beta Hi-Fi competition further confirmed this suspicion. This was not, however, the case. Continue reading →

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Download The Key Studio Sessions Volume 13 (featuring Bardo Pond, Girlpool, Moosh & Twist and more)

The Key Studio Sessions Volume 13
Photo by Ola Baldych | facebook.com/ola.baldych

I don’t want to gush. But I’d be lying if I said that this latest collection of performances from The Key Studio Sessions wasn’t special to me.

In the past four months, I’ve recorded one of my favorite Philadelphia bands of the past 20 years – shamanistic psychedelic rock masters Bardo Pond, whose performance was a thrill – as well as one of my favorite new Philadelphia bands – the brilliant duo Girlpool, transported locally from LA this winter with a unique sound and an incredible collection of songs in tow. I also recorded a local guitar icon whose work I’ve admired since I first began covering the scene for City Paper 15 years ago, Mike “Slo-Mo” Brenner, doing a set of his raga-influenced compositions on the 22-stringed chaturangui. (Brenner also sat in on lap steel with folk outfit Kicking Down Doors.)

And that’s only the beginning. Continue reading →

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The Key Studio Sessions: Family Vacation

Philly indie-pop four-piece Family Vacation will catch your ear with jangley guitars, drifting vocals and a positive psychedelic sound. They were still getting their foothold in the scene when we first met them in 2012; their usual haunts at that time were basement shows and Temple rehearsal rooms. But there was very clearly something there; Luke Harsel’s contemplative lyrics, the nimble guitar licks he swaps with bandmate Cody Bluett, the band’s slightly left-of-center poppiness. Continue reading →

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The Key Studio Sessions: Fresh Cut Orchestra

Two and a half years ago, the three leaders of Philly’s Fresh Cut Orchestra - Josh Lawrence on trumpet, Jason Fraticelli on bass and Anwar Marshall on drums – had never so much as jammed together. They were just three players from the local jazz scene who had reputations as versatile collaborators (we first saw Lawrence sitting in with Hennessey Bonfire at a World Cafe Live gig a few years back) when they were recruited by Lenny Seidman at The Painted Bride to work together on a night of music for the Old City arts venue’s 40th anniversary.

Shaun Brady told their story in City Paper earlier this year: as much as their beginnings were the result of essentially being thrown together, the trio’s chemistry clicked, and earlier this year the FCO (now a robust ten-piece) released their excellent debut LP, From the Vine, via local imprint Ropeadope Records.

Continue reading →

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The Key Studio Sessions: Kiska

When Owen Staszewski isn’t pounding the drums in Ruby The Hatchet, he’s at the mic for another band of heavy rocking Philadelphians – Kiska. The new four-piece is actually relatively seasoned; it formed from the ashes, as the expression goes, of Philly modern rock outfit Desoto Jones. That long-running band had been experiencing shifts in lineup as well as sonic directions, and last year came to the conclusion that it had become a different band altogether. Rounded out by Owen’s brother Adam Staszewski on guitar, alongside bassist Ean Kyler and drummer Adam Francois, Kiska was born, and set to work recording its debut LP. Continue reading →

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The Key Studio Sessions: Girlpool

The first time I saw Girlpool, they weren’t yet a Philadelphia band – they were the LA duo on tour with Slutever playing a basement in Kensington back in October. Not too many people knew them, but they had the whole room’s undivided attention. Guitar and bass, captivating vocal harmonies, no drums or excessive instruments getting in the way of powerful lyrics by Cleo Tucker and Harmony Tividad. They songs are very honest and direct vignettes – stories populated by busted dudes and stressful friends and family members they love – and yeah, it may very well be no more than the thoughts and observations of two people going about their day with no intended greater significance. But Girlpool’s songs do work on another level, painting an incredibly detailed picture of what it’s like to be a woman and young in America in 2015. All sides of that experience: strengths, insecurities and awkwardness, inequities, humor. Watching this as a dude in his 30s, I knew this perspective wasn’t one I could ever fully understand, I knew these songs weren’t exactly intended for me  - but they spoke to me all the same.

Girlpool was hands down the best band I found out about last fall. So when I learned they were moving to Philly as their burgeoning music career moved forward, I was ecstatic. Continue reading →

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The Key Studio Sessions: Mike “Slo-Mo” Brenner

If you’ve spent any amount of time watching the Philly music scene, it’s hard to miss versatile guitarist Mike “Slo-Mo” Brenner. He’s ingrained in the local roots / Americana community, performing currently with No Good Sister, as well as collaborating with Psalmships and Kicking Down Doors; way back in the day, he led The Low Road and frequently sat in with Marah. Despite being one of the most skilled slide players – well, anywhere, but particularly in Philly – he also is very much about pushing the boundaries of what roots guitar means. He had a long-running collaboration with rapper Mic Wrecka in the aughts; going further back, the first time I caught him was at the North Star Bar in 2001, playing bluesy licks while a guy named DJ Vincenzo dropped breakbeats from two turntables. And for his current project, Brenner looks to the east. Continue reading →

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The Key Studio Sessions: Left and Right

Power pop punks Left and Right got their start in Charlottesville, Virginia a few years back, then moved to Philly and set up shop locally with a few cassette releases. We premiered their single “Low Expectations” back in August, and it immediately struck a chord with a sound spanning Weezer, Archers of Loaf and Mudhoney. Since then the band has alternated between short tour runs and stints working at coffee shops back home and playing DIY-minded spots like The Pharmacy in South Philly. Continue reading →

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The Key Studio Sessions: Cold Roses

It’s both a blessing and a curse: the more a band adheres to a time-tested, tried-and-true rock n’ roll sound, the harder it can sometimes be for that band to stand out from the pack. But even in a city with as robust a blues / Americana scene as Philly, Cold Roses makes an impact.

Here’s how: killer arrangements punctuated by a punchy horn section. Hooks for days. Direct, heartfelt songwriting by frontman Rob Clancy. The term “Springsteenian” would not be inappropriate in this circumstance, especially on “No Silence in the City,” the title track from its 2014 debut LP. Though if you couldn’t pick it up by their band name, Ryan Adams is also a huge reference point for Clancy and co., and you can hear traces of him in the new “Stayin’ Alive Ain’t Easy,” one of a handful of songs the band debuted during its Key Studio Session this week.

Stream and download the set below, and catch Cold Roses during one of its shows this spring: May 1st at Bourbon and Branch, May 16th opening for Breaking Benjamin at Wells Fargo Center and May 22nd at Connie’s Ric Rac. Tickets and information can be found at the XPN Concert Calendar. Continue reading →