The Key Studio Sessions: Needle Points

I know, I know, it’s a lot to take in. The shaggy hair, the flowing technicolor robes, the dreamcatchers and medallions. Just go with it. Philly psychedelic five-piece Needle Points might come across as bizarre folks of questionable seriousness – the sort who create a paisley alter with candles and empty beercans in the center of the studio – but when it comes to their music, they rock hard and don’t mess around. Continue reading →


The Key Studio Sessions: ReeK Da Rookie

I’m not a lyrics-first listener. By that I mean that while lyrics are undeniably important to music, and most of my favorite musicians are also incredible lyricists, the initial thing I listen for when putting on a piece of music for the first time is, well, the music. So when I put on Philly rapper / producer ReeK Da Rookie‘s debut mixtape F.a.n.T.a.s.Y. for the first time, I was struck by the way he structured the songs, the way he paced the album. The way he mixed highly accessible pop with seriously introspective rhymes, the sentimental in-between-track samples of children and families, the general sense of warmth as he explored themes of dreams and aspirations, the challenges of life, and personal identity. As the album faded down in my headphones, I thought “Wow, this reminds me so much of The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill.”

The next time through, the point of listening when lyrics usually begin jumping out at me, I noticed a line on the opening title track that I had not heard on the first go-round: “With Lauryn Hill’s ‘Zion’ on repeat I can’t thank you enough for not deciding to retreat.” My read was right; he pretty much spelled it out for me and I didn’t realize. Continue reading →


The Key Studio Sessions: The Sixties

The Sixties were reared in the DIY scene surrounding the Montgomery County burg of Lansdale, and are tight friends with some of its players (including The Wonder Years, who they opened up for at The First Unitarian Church last year). But don’t let that typecast them. They’re only sorta punk; they’re not even remotely pop-punk. More to the point, these dudes are unapologetically hard rock, aggressive and anthemic and loaded with hooks, vocal bravado by frontman C.J. Morgan and serpentine shreddery by lead guitarist Chris Wagner. Continue reading →


The Key Studio Sessions: Roof Doctor

If you just went by Roof Doctor‘s irreverent personalities, their tongue-deep-in-cheek social media presence (Twitter handle: @roof_deezy), the fact that they once tried to start a beef with Conor Oberst, you’d have no reason to take them seriously. But consider their chops and multi-instrumental prowess. Chet Williams has a knack for juggling sax, keyboard, percussion, bass and vocals; Kevin Paschall delivers intricate rhythmic accompaniment from behind the drumkit (I’m still wrapping my brain around the beat at the beginning of “Bulldog,” which they played in their Key Studio Session); Mark Harper reigns in everything that’s going on and arranges it into ultra catchy tunes. These dudes are so serious. Continue reading →


The Key Studio Sessions: Taylor Dunn

Philly-bred MC Taylor Dunn got his start in music while playing basketball at LaSalle University, and his rap style has a coolness and focus that probably came in just as handy on the court as it does behind the mic. He debuted in 2011 with the Daydreamin’ mixtape (the one with the catchy Where the Wild Things Are cover art) and followed it up the following year with On the Contrary. Skillful with wit, wordplay and pop culture references – listen to his Key Studio Sessions set for references to Sister ActCarissa Explains it All, the Branch Dividians, old school Nintendo games and more – Dunn’s rhymes are free-associative and fun, and he has impeccable taste in music to mine for beats (with all due credit to his producer and creative partner Philth Spector).

Samples of Erykah Badu, The Roots and old soul records pepper his songs, giving him the vibe of a classic rapper who might have come up at the same time as A Tribe Called Quest and Digable Planets; “Orange Juice and NowAndLaters,” on the other hand, is positively crunk, and his overall sound and style recalls a young Jay Z…seriously. See below for a video of Dunn performing that last one in our studio, download the entire set and hear more on the new Collective Theory mixtape, available for download now at Soundcloud.


The Key Studio Sessions: Milton

Though he’s not from here originally, Milton McCauley has a voice, sound and charisma that fits right into the heritage of Philadelphia soul. But even saying “Philly soul” is selling this very talented musician short. Originally from Maryland and currently based in Reading, Milton – an artist who prefers to go just by his first name – draws from an expanse of genres. Produced by Rob Devious (who also plays keyboards in his live band), the album pulls from jazz, pop, hiphop and electronic groove music. The live band that joined us in the WXPN studios this week for a Key Session adds an undeniable rock undercurrent to the mix as well. “Desire” is a pretty solid sonic mission statement, but the progressive swell of “Slippin Dippin” is also captivating, as is the guitar-vocal simplicity of “Emotion Picture.” Listen and download the set below, and see Milton take on the new Dockside Bar at Dave and Buster’s this Saturday the 12th of July; tickets and information on the show can be found here.


The Key Studio Sessions: Maitland

Central PA’s Maitland is a band, but it is also Josh Hines – a cheerful guy with long blond hair, an outgoing demeanor, an acoustic guitar and a knockout voice. Since debuting in 2012, Hines has fluctuated between being a solo performer and working with a band. When he’s in the group setting, they do the dramatic atmospheric slow burn thing; alone, Hines pares it back to Elliot Smith style simplicity and intimacy. That’s the version of Maitland we got when the barefooted troubadour visited XPN studios this past weekend to roll out four songs that, as yet, are unreleased, but if you’ve seen the band live in the past year or so, chances are they’re familiar.

“Mothers Touch” undeniably recalls I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning-era Bright Eyes (and, of course, the older stuff that album referenced: the SoHo folk scene of the 1950s); “Luna” is dreamy, mysterious and Jeff Buckley-ish, “Glimpse” strikes a resonant Iron and Wine chord and “Cup of Love” is a fervent strummer. 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 – Hines’ percussive playing can hint at larger arrangements if you let it. When it stops by MilkBoy on July 11th, you’ll be able to see in person how the group of players might embellish these songs – though, given their potency, I’m hoping for a solo Hines moment or two.


The Key Studio Sessions: Tiani Victoria

Photo via King Astro of Batcave Radio
Photo via King Astro of Batcave Radio

It was winter when we heard Philly’s Tiani Victoria, and our reaction was pretty amped: at the time, I called her an “emerging Philly rapper with a razor-sharp delivery and a fierce flow that would melt icy sidewalks as easily as melting faces.” Her video for “Million Dollar Flow” had just been released (watch it here) and I totally saw and heard big things:

It’s a quick clip, but sets an incredible tone – Victoria’s confidence is unwavering, her lyrics are clever and she handily establishes herself as a powerful new voice on the Philly hip-hop scene.

Tiani has done pretty well for herself since then, continuing to release singles on the regular via her Soundcloud page. The lovelorn “Is It A Crime” samples a song of the same name from Sade’s 1985 record Promise, while “Blow My High” is a dancefloor tour de force produced by the Digital Crates crew and featuring a verse from Spade-O. One of her best is the collaborative “Set It Off (The Symphony),” where Tiani is one of four Philly women rapping over a fierce beat – it’s all about empowerment and solidarity in a scene that, all too often, can feel like a boys’ club. Download the original here, or check out Tiani performing her verse solo in this week’s Key Studio Session. The performance also features those other tracks I talked about, as well as the more recent “Marinate” (watch a video for that one below, care of Bob Sweeney) and a boss freestyle.

All of this is leading up to two things: Tiani’s performance this Friday June 27th at the TLA on South Street for Urban Celebrity Mag’s Philly Summer Fest (tickets and info at the XPN Concert Calendar), and the release of Hard Candy, her debut full-length, out this summer.

The Key Studio Session: Tiani Victoria “Marinate” from Bob Sweeney on Vimeo.


The Key Studio Sessions: PhillyBloco

When we were going over the setlist for their Key Studio Session, PhillyBloco leader Michael Stevens pointed out that none of the songs from the set were their own; “We’re strictly a cover band,” he told me, but just looking around the room, I knew that this was a dramatic understatement.

For the past six years, the 20-piece ensemble modeled after the bloco Brazilian-dance tradition has been rallying audiences at venues from the TLA to World Cafe Live, getting a tremendous rep particularly for their annual New Year’s Eve throwdown at the latter venue. The band takes songs originally performed by some familiar names (Galactic, James Brown) along with lesser known artists from around the world (Jorge Ben Jor, Clara Nunes) and spins them in their own arrangements that blend samba, funk and rock sounds. When I say “lesser known,” though, I (unfortunately) mean lesser known to North American ears. But that’s part of the band’s mission, as our Sameer Rao pointed out in his New Year’s profile interview with Stevens and the band:

For the probable majority of their audiences, PhillyBloco might be their first exposure to this rich musical tradition. They needn’t be concerned, since samba’s percussive base sits comfortably alongside the reggae, New Orleans second line, and funk that PhillyBloco also incorporates into their music. They’ll recognize songs from folks like James Brown, and hopefully this unique spin will get them interested in digging further into something unfamiliar.

Call them musical ambassadors. Or just call them an incredibly tight band. As you can see from the photos in the gallery above, their numbers are huge, but they were remarkably efficient. Along with their regular sound engineer Craig Kaufmann, who did a remarkable job mixing this session, the band settled in our studio and plowed through a feisty set with ease and energy. The songs you hear below, in their original format, were done by (in order) Daniela Mercury, Galactic, Nunes, Jor and Skank, and PhillyBloco has more jams just like them in their repertoire. Listen to the set. Turn up your headphones. Dance around your desk if it suits ya. And consider taking in the full-on PhillyBloco experience at one of their upcoming gigs: Ardmore Music Hall this Friday the 13th of June, or over at World Cafe Live on the 9th of August.


The Key Studio Sessions: The Weaks

When they were both players in the dearly departed Philly indie pop collective Dangerous Ponies, singer-guitarists Evan Bernard and Chris Baglivo cooked up The Weaks as as writing exercise of sorts. The goal was a song a week, and though the schedule didn’t totally shake out that way, the first of their two Bandcamp pages quickly filled up with a huge variety of super-catchy singles – some were raw and lo-fi, others were polished and poppy; some were gruff 70s-style rockers, other were hard hitting jams reminiscent of the alt-rock 90s. Over time the project became a real-world band, and earlier this year its debut EP The World Is A Terrible Place and I Hate Myself and Want to Die was released on local label Lame-O Records. The record is a total stew of everything that’s loud and fun and thrilling about rock and roll – guitar harmonies and wild solos, counterpoint vocals and searing screams, slamming drumbeats and total infectiousness.

For their Key Studio Session, The Weaks played two songs from the forthcoming full-length they’re releasing on Lame-O, and you’ll hear undeniable hints of Weezer, Cheap Trick, Smashing Pumpkins and any variety of other popular faves. Bernard tells me that writing for for albums or EPs isn’t tremendously different from writing for the ongoing project. Basically, he and Baglivo just crank out songs at different paces – him more spontaneous and explosive, Baglivo more meticulous and crafted. When it’s time for a release, they pick the best of what’s ready to go. Of the 30-plus unreleased songs they’ve got in their repertoire right now, 11 will be on the LP, and the rest will be parsed out in the ongoing semi-weekly releases – which, when you think in terms of numbers, that’s a pretty impressive output. Stream and download this week’s Key Studio Session with the band below, and to take in The Weaks live – the lineup is nicely rounded out by bassist Corey Bernard, guitarist Austin Jefferson and drummer Mike Tashjian (another former Dangerous Pony) – set your sights on new NoLibs venue Bourbon and Branch on Friday night, where they’ll appear on the Sounds for Sustainability showcase.