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The Key Studio Sessions: Free Cake for Every Creature

Music writers love to romanticize DIY home studios — the hiss and static of the tape machine, the in-the-moment spirit of the performances, the images of bedroom walls lined with egg carton soundproofing and floors covered in piles of tangled cable.

The musicians themselves — they’re not always as sentimental about it. As Katie Bennett of Philadelphia’s Free Cake For Every Creature tweeted earlier this week, “[I’m] slowly realizing that, while my 100+ year-old apartment on a main street in a big city may be charming, it’s not the ideal place to record.” She continued: “listen for my neighbor’s trombone exercises and a minute-long trolly honk in every new song.”

While that definitely reads like Bennett’s West Philadelphia environs seeping into her recorded output, it also goes the other way around: the sound of Free Cake for Every Creature is the sound of Bennett and her musical collaborators reacting to their surroundings and turning their workarounds into strengths. Continue reading →

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The Key Studio Sessions: Bethlehem and Sad Patrick

If you’re in search of evidence that the Philly open mic scene is very much thriving, look no further than Bethlehem and Sad Patrick.

The local duo blends the focused minimalism and poetic lyrics of folk tradition with simmering, freewheeling jazz and blues — slick guitars, soaring vocals, nuanced melodies. And it all came together by chance.

A few years back, Patrick Arkins was running an open mic at what is now Malelani Cafe in Germantown, when Bethlehem Roberson stopped by one night to sing with her family. Arkins was blown away, and when he saw her returning to the series on the regular to perform, he approached her with the idea of singing one of his songs.

This led to her singing more of his songs, which led to Bethlehem and Sad Patrick’s first home-recorded EP release in 2012. Continue reading →

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The Key Studio Sessions: Curtis Cooper

Philadelphia’s Curtis Cooper laughs when asked about his the next shows he’s playing in town. He quickly rattles off some playful names of places that sound semi-familiar — All Night Diner, Overlook Hotel — then clarifies: “they’re all basements. All house shows.”

It’s true: Cooper has hit the DIY scene hard lately, particularly since the March release of his debut LP Laughing In Line. And it suits him well, between his explosive energy as a performer, his fuzzed-out guitar tones and his skateboarder’s demeanor, mellowed out and amped up all at the same time.

He’s a punk rock dude at heart, make no mistake. But there’s more to him than punk. His songwriting betrays a fondness for The Beatles and their descendants (Elliott Smith in particular) and if you see him with an acoustic guitar and no other accompaniment (check his Random Tea Session), he’s directly in singer-songwriter / busker / Avett Brothers territory. Continue reading →

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The Key Studio Sessions: Grayling

While Philly alt-punk upstarts Grayling packed up after its Key Studio Session this week, frontwoman Lexi Campion told us a story about an old drum teacher.

It was back when she was ten years old, early on in her percussive education. She went in for a lesson, and to her dismay at the time, her teacher said they were going to spend a day learning how to take the drumkit apart and put it back together, to screw and unscrew all its miscellaneous hardware components, to tune and retune the snare and toms. “You need to know how to do this stuff,” she was told.

To reiterate: Campion was ten. And getting such a diligent education early on shaped who she is as a musician today, it instilled a work ethic that carried into her two bands — the math-pop outfit Edelweiss (where she spent a year and change killing it on drums) and the more recently formed Grayling, where she runs the show. Continue reading →

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The Key Studio Sessions: New Sound Brass

In more ways than one, Philly’s New Sound Brass is a band of leaders.

They lead by introducing regional audiences to the long-standing New Orleans tradition of the second line. They lead in that they’re adding their own spin second line, giving it a bit of bravado and emphasizing that it’s a celebration. They lead by showing Philly audiences that brass music doesn’t have to be limited to dudes in feathered attire and face paint, sauntering up Broad Street on New Year’s Day.

And in the biggest way, the folks of New Sound Brass are leaders in quite a literal sense — you might have seen them at the XPoNential Music Festival in 2014, marching the crowd from Wiggins Park to the BB&T Pavilion. They did the same thing this summer at Firefly, beginning at the campground and waking up the weary audience with a lively Pied Piper strut into the festival grounds. Continue reading →

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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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