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The Key Studio Sessions: Ill Doots

Philly collective ILL DOOTS has got to be one of the most creative forces at work on the local hip-hop scene right now.

Picture, if you will, a meeting ground between Hardwork Movement’s expansive big band arrangements (ten multi-instrumental members!) and non-stop hustle (ILL DOOTS’ Fourth Fridays at their Tasker House home base are always poppin’) with the ambitious, interdisciplinary performing arts outlook of musicians like Kate Faust (the band notably soundtracked a production of An Octoroon at the Wilma Theater last year) and you’re well on your way there. It’s no coincidence, in that sense, that ILL DOOTS were featured alongside both those artists on the sold-out opening lineup of Key Fest 2016, and we’re psyched to bring their vibes in the studio today.
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The Key Studio Sessions: Jesse Hale Moore

The thing about the retro R&B aesthetic that’s surfaced in the indie rock universe over the past five or so years: so many people do it at a merely superficial level. They do it out of irony, they do it to look cool, they do it for funsies. I won’t name names, but if you know what I mean, you probably know who I mean. And you know that Philadelphia’s Jesse Hale Moore is not one of those people.

This singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist has a deep appreciation of not only the smooth and suave style of late 80s / early 90s pop, but also the songcraft that lies beneath. Whether your reference points are Sade and Luther Vandross or the more contemporary James Blake, Moore genuinely loves this music, and it shows in Green End, the record he’ll release on April 7th.
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The Key Studio Sessions: Maitland

Last time we caught up with Central Pennsylvania’s Josh Hines, he was deep in the minimalist folk era of his ongoing songwriting outlet Maitland. The project has always existed in two forms, as I noted at the time: the multi-instrumental configuration Hines records with and brings out for shows on occasion, and the solo SoHo-inspired folkie that was making the rounds much more frequently in 2014.

As I wrote of the latter approach, which recorded Maitland’s first Key Studio Session: “It’s music that, in this most minimal of arrangements, sounds complete, but at the same time you’ll hear how Maitland the band might build on this foundation.”

Flash forward two and a half years, and the band does just that in Maitland’s return to the Key Studio Sessions.
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The Key Studio Sessions: Weller

Philly DIY scene dudes Weller are a wealth of knowledge, musical and otherwise. When the band — Alex Held on drums, Evan Clark Moorehead on bass and Harrison Nantz on guitar and vocals — came by to record their Key Studio Session last month, their soundcheck jams gave way to impromptu performances of Boston’s “More Than A Feeling” and Kansas’ “Carry On My Wayward Son.” Very unexpected, very fun.

Similarly, when I caught them live at Everybody Hits back back in the fall, Moorehead rolled out a banter shtick he used on Weller’s election season tour; he proclaimed that he could shit talk any president in U.S. history, and asked if anybody in the crowd could stump him. Someone screamed “TAFT!” — where the obvious slag would be “so large he got stuck in a White House bathtub” — but instead Moorehead didn’t take the low-hanging fruit and dove into a more nuanced dig at the 27th president’s economic policy and other spates of bad luck and irony from early 20th century. Again, not what I was expecting, and kind of hysterical in the context of a rock show.

So in short, Weller are a bunch of characters, and great guys to be around. But they’re also a tight band, the latest in a community of tight bands to rise out of the Philly basement scene.
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The Key Studio Sessions: Eight

Has there ever been a scientific study on levels of happiness, productivity and general life-fulfillment in multiple-band musicians versus single-band musicians? My hypothesis is the more outlets an artist has, the merrier, and I’d offer Philly’s Eight as a case study.

The indie rock power trio is led by the immediately recognizable voice of guitarist Mimi Gallagher, who just came off a couple super fun years with Year of Glad and NONA. On bass and backing vocals is Cat Park, who also devotes a lot of waking hours to co-fronting Amanda X. Possibly the busiest of the bunch is Pat Brier on drums, who concurrently keeps the beat in Three Man Cannon and writes the songs in Queen Jesus. They’re mad busy people, but they were an absolute joy to work with for their Key Studio Session. Continue reading →

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The Key Studio Sessions: Creepoid

After eight years, two moves, three lineup reconfigurations and incalculable miles logged on their various tour vans — an incalculable number of tour vans, perhaps — Philadelphia psychedelic punks Creepoid have come full circle.

The four childhood friends who founded the band in the winter of 2009 are the same four adults who rage in the band today. On bass and vocals, Anna Troxell; on guitar and vocals, Sean Miller; on lead guitar, PeteJoe Urban; on drums, Pat Troxell. Their sound has gone from tense-but-subdued (2010’s Yellow Life Giver) to loud (2011’s Horse Heaven, 2014’s Creepoid) to very very loud (2015’s Cemetery Highrise Slum) and back to a dynamic state that embraces moments decidedly subdued — something we hear in this week’s Key Studio Session.

Yes, the amplifiers are cranked — crushingly so, and used brilliantly to sculpt sound in breathtaking ways. “I’m Only,” the first of two new tracks the band debuted in their performance this week, is one of their hardest-hitting songs to date — it hammers right out the gate as syncopated beats, staccato chords and howling string bends pummel their way into a languid and drifting verse. Next to Bardo Pond, Creepoid probably possesses the best understanding of volume and vibe out of anybody we’ve recorded in this series. Continue reading →

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The Key Studio Sessions: Mars Parker

Philly’s Mars Parker came on our radar relatively recently, back when he opened for Camp Candle at Boot And Saddle in October.  But in the grander scheme of things, we’re a little late to the party — Mars has been active in the Soundcloud zone for a few years now, releasing singles, EPs and full-length mixtapes that explore a variety of sounds and approaches to this thing we call hip-hop.

His latest, Mars Museum 3, finds its focus in a surrealistic tapestry of tripped-out jazzy production and warm melodies that strike a the balance between bars that spit and bars that sing. It’s a comfortable flex zone inhabited by luminaries like the Grammy champ Chance the Rapper, party rocker Future, and local celeb PnB Rock. Mars has the style and charisma to sit alongside those names in due time, and he showed his skills off for us in this week’s Key Studio Session. Continue reading →

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The Key Studio Sessions: Flat Mary Road

Philadelphia five-piece Flat Mary Road has been honing its craft for the better part of the past decade, from the warehouses of Fishtown and Kensington to the Victorian homes of West Philly, where most of its members currently reside. Helmed by singer-guitarist and songwriter Steve Teare, the band draws strongly on 80s college rock and 90s indie rock influences. You’ll hear traces of R.E.M., The Smiths and Camper Van Beethoven in their playing…not to mention Wilco, Built to Spill and Shearwater. Askew yet infectious guitar lines, emphatic vocals and observational lyrics, a bit of twang and touch of rock and roll fiddle from Pete Clark.  Continue reading →

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The Key Studio Sessions: Louie Louie

How does one sing pop songs in times of despair? Let Philly’s Louie Louie be your guide. It was a rainy Wednesday in November the day the band rolled in to record its Key Studio Session. Not just any rainy Wednesday in November; it was the day after the 2016 presidential election, and there was an unsettled, uncertain stillness in the air.

To be perfectly honest, it was such a weird day that I wasn’t 100% sure that the retro rock four-piece was even going to show up as I arranged microphone stands and headphone amps around the studio. Ultimately, a knock at the door came, and upon answering, frontwoman Emily Robb seemed just as grateful to see me as I was to see the band; as she told me, they weren’t 100% sure that I would even be there. Continue reading →

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The Key Studio Sessions: Cuddle Magic

It’s hard to believe that Cuddle Magic has been a band for a decade at this point.

The Brooklyn / Philly crew is a conglomeration of artists from along the northeastern seaboard, over the years featuring members from Boston to DC. The band first got on our radar during West Philly’s heady Danger Danger Gallery days with its second record, Picture. It was one of the first artists I ever wrote about for The Key, actually, and at the time I called its music “a striking balance between earthy and ethereal.” I’d say that description still holds up.
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Support for The Key Studio Sessions, from Dogfish Head