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Aaron West: A punk popster’s personal transformation into a Llewyn Davis styled troubadour

Photo courtesy of the artist.
Photo courtesy of the artist.

The Wonder Years’ 2011 release, Suburbia: I’ve Given You All and Now I’m Nothing, with its frequent references and allusions to Allen Ginsberg’s marathon poem “America,” felt like a turning point in singer Dan Campbell’s songwriting. There was something about the way he appropriated Ginsberg’s text to work with his own that broke out of the traditional pop punk tropes. The next Wonder Years record, last year’s The Greatest Generation, established a wide thematic scope in its choruses, couplets and bridges, all reprised in a seven-minute closing track, “I Just Want To Sell Out My Funeral” — not totally unlike musical theatre. Aside from penning relentlessly catchy pop punk songs, Suburbia and Generation proved Campbell not only capable of viewing The Big Picture in writing a record; he’s highly literate in it.

That’s why Aaron West and the Roaring Twenties, Campbell’s conceptual folk-rock solo release, doesn’t come as much of a surprise. We Don’t Have Each Other (out today on Hopeless follows a very rough year in the life of Aaron West, Campbell’s proxy and all-around Llewyn Davis-troubadour-type sad sap. Gone are the heavy, three-guitar-strong power chords that always trustingly flank Campbell’s voice — always vulnerable and without shame — in the Wonder Years. In their place, We Don’t Have Each Other is flush with keys, horns, pedal steel guitars, banjos and what would almost be a heavy-handed smack to the face telling you, “This is Americana! This is a departure!” if the whole thing wasn’t so expertly executed. The opening track “Our Apartment” delivers all of this before the song is even half finished.

Campbell may be trying on hats, but they look pretty good on him and complement his figure. Part of what makes this record work so well is that while the whole idea here is to assume a character, an identity, by no means does that experiment isolate any listener knowledgeable of Campbell’s past work. Instead of making some swift, stylistic left turn, these songs instead feel filtered through that lens of trying something new. “St. Joe Keeps Us Safe” and “Runnin’ Scared” feel comfortable in the way the alt-country instrumentation is organized; these could be stripped-down Wonder Years songs, even. But it’s in the quieter, mid-tempo songs, in “Divorce and the American South” or “Get Me Out Of Here Alive,” that feel carry to most excitement, as they stray furthest from Campbell’s assumed comfort zone.
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Pop-punkers Only On Weekends are releasing a new EP and celebrating with some Philly shows

Only on Weekends | photo by Meg Hawkey

They’re the epitome of pop-punk. If you combined Saves the Day and The Wonder Years toned down a few notches, you’d get Only On Weekends. And with one album and an EP under their belt, the band is prepared to unleash its newest endeavor.

The new Light Years and Heavy Lifting EP is set to be released on May 30 and is produced by Fred Mascherino, who’s played in Taking Back Sunday and Terrible Things. Until, Only On Weekends has given the  of new tracks off the EP, including the thrashy, punky and shouty song, “The Prince of East 187th Street,” which showed up on AbsolutePunk last week.

Check out the track below and catch them as they play two upcoming shows. The first is on 5/18 at Connie’s Ric Rac, and the second marks their album release show at the Barbary.

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Modern Baseball will kick off its summer tour at The Barbary in June

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Modern Baseball | Photo by Allison Newbold | allynewbold.com

Modern Baseball may have just wrapped up a tour with The Wonder Years, but that doesn’t mean they’re slowing down any time soon. The never-wavering Philly based pop-punk band has announced a stacked summer tour with the likes of post-harcore band Tiny Moving Parts, emo/rock band The Hotelier and pop-punk outfit Sorority Noise. And to top it off, the tour kicks off right here in Philly.

Coming off of the release of their highly acclaimed album You’re Gonna Miss it All, MoBo played a sold out show with The Wonder Years at the E Factory April 13, and if you missed it, the Barbary show on June 1 should be at the top of your list. Tickets go on sale tomorrow via TicketWeb. Get tickets when they become available here, and see the full list of tour stops via MoBo’s facebook page. Check out the studio session Modern Baseball did with The Key here.

“Your Graduation” by Modern Baseball: The Key Studio Sessions from WXPN FM on Vimeo.

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The Key Studio Sessions: Modern Baseball

To say that Modern Baseball has transcended the punk scene would be an understatement. The band had already been solidly successful, touring tirelessly, amassing an impressive discography, cultivating a rabid fan base even before they released one of the best records of the year.

You’re Gonna Miss It All is a rare album that spans musical worlds. On the one hand, it stays absolutely true to MoBo’s trademark self-effacing, brutally honest songwriting self-portraiture of life as an awkward and uncertain twentysomething. It’s funny and its sad, it’s silly but lyrically sophisticated, and the hooks are in no shortage. On the other hand, or perhaps because songwriters Jake Ewald and Brendan Lukens come from such a sharp and smart perspective, the record is one that will appeal to listeners outside the pop-punk world. There’s a Weakerthens-ish sense of melody and wit for the bookish indie rock types, there is an unbelievable pop-rock production for people who just like good music, every single song is one you’ll sing along to. With righteous jams like “Charlie Black, “here is no reason for MoBo not to be burning up the radio waves. (In my own small way on the XPN Philly Local show, I’m doing my part.)

The record impressed the tastemaking blog world, notably Vice and Pitchfork; the band landed a massive tour with punk scene stars The Wonder Years, who headline a sold out show this Saturday night at The Electric Factory. if you have tickets, get there early – Modern Baseball is not a band whose set you want to miss. Get a taste with the six-song Key Studio Session they recorded below, and check out a video of the band playing “Your Graduation” care of photo-video crew Allison Newbold, Megan Kelly and Rachel Del Sordo.

“Your Graduation” by Modern Baseball: The Key Studio Sessions from WXPN FM on Vimeo.

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From Behind The Barricade: The Wonder Years tour kickoff had the Chameleon Club pulsing with energy

The Wonder Years / Photos by Elizabeth Mazenko
The Wonder Years / Photos by Elizabeth Mazenko

Last Thursday, The Wonder Years dropped by Lancaster’s Chameleon Club to kick off their U.S. spring tour along with Philly’s Modern Baseball, midwestern crew Citizen, and Detroit’s Fireworks. Never having been to a pop-punk show before, everyone assured me that I would have a lot of fun. But “fun” didn’t prepare me for the craziness of the crowd that night.

Modern Baseball / Photos by Elizabeth Mazenko
Modern Baseball / Photos by Elizabeth Mazenko

Modern Baseball began the five hours of punk rock madness with a few tunes from their February album You’re Gonna Miss It All. With a full crowd singing along to almost every song and a few early-bird crowd surfers, the quirky quartet warmed up the three-tiered sold-out venue with a more professional power-pop sound than their endearing 2012 release Sports.

Citizen ran up next with a more aggressive approach. Three security guards joined me behind the barricade, as more and more of the crowd was getting comfortable making their way to the stage atop their fellow rockers’ hands.

Delivering angst-ridden vocals, frontman Mat Kerekes thrashed about the stage with some favorites from their 2013 release Youth like “Sleep” and “Speaking With A Ghost.”

Fireworks took the stage with a performance more explosive than their name. From start to finish the crowd was pulsing with one another’s energy. (I was asked to leave the photo area as two more security guards rushed in to catch the people pouring over the wall.)

Fireworks / Photos by Elizabeth Mazenko
Fireworks / Photos by Elizabeth Mazenko

Kicking up the mood a few notches as a modest mosh pit erupted, the thrashy quintet opened with new song “Glowing Crosses” off of their anticipated album Oh, Common Life Out (out March 25th)and finished with 2009 favorite “When We Stand On Each Other We Block Out The Sun” from All I Have To Offer Is My Own Confusion.

I really did not think that the audience could get more rowdy than they did during Fireworks’ set, but apparently I was wrong. When The Wonder Years hit the stage, it was instantly a ruckus on the floor. The crowd pushed harder. The crowd surfers came non-stop. Trying to get to the back of the crowd, I found out just how much the small mosh pit grew. The double balconies were roaring with excitement as Dan Campbell started off the set with “There, There” off of 2013 release The Greatest Generation. Running through a fantastic set at a venue he used to frequent, Campbell finished out the show with an encore performance of “I Just Want To Sell Out My Funeral.”

So “fun” did not prepare me quite enough for this show. I guess I had to just experience it. But now I know one thing…If I had to describe it, I would call it a cluster-cuss of pure intensity and energy.

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Tonight’s Concert Picks: Communion Philadelphia with Vacationer and Pearl and the Beard at Underground Arts, The Wonder Years at Chameleon Club, TJ Kong at Kung Fu Necktie and more

Photo by Abi Reimold AbiReimoldPhoto.com
Photo by Abi Reimold AbiReimoldPhoto.com

Before getting back to work on a new album and kicking off a co-headlining tour with Hellogoodbye next month, Vacationer will headline this month’s Communion Club Night tonight at Underground Arts. The Philly-based pop band, who are working on their follow up to 2012′s Gone make relaxing music that echoes the sounds of summer and relaxation. Also on tonight’s bill is NYC folk-pop trio Pearl and the Beard who plan to release their third full-length this year. Check out Vacationer’s “Trip” and Pearl and the Beard’s “You” below and grab tickets here.

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Modern Baseball will release the new You’re Gonna Miss It All LP on 2/11, tour with The Wonder Years in the spring

Modern Baseball | photo via band's Facebook
Modern Baseball | photo facebook.com/modernbaseball

After releasing Sports last year, Modern Baseball kept the ball rolling in 2013 by signing to Run For Cover Records, touring all this past summer, and releasing a split with The Hundred Acre Woods. Now, Modern Baseball has announced their next album You’re Gonna Miss It All, which is due out February 11 via Run For Cover Records.

Truly a Philadelphia production, the album was produced by Modern Baseball’s own Ian Farmer and Jake Ewald, mixed by Philadelphia’s Jon Low, and mastered by Will Yip at Studio 4. Listen to “Your Graduation,” the first single off the album, below. Like most Modern Baseball material, it is instantly catchy and has a great chorus. Unlike Sports, however, the song is less polished, adding a sense of grittiness that and even a bit of yelling. Keep an eye out for the album, and catch up on Sports below while you wait for the new record.

Catch Modern Baseball at the TLA on 12/30 with Man Overboard, Real Friends, Young Statues, and Fireworks or at The Electric Factory on 4/12 with The Wonder Years, Defeater, Citizen, and Real Friends.

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