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Unlocked: Take a look inside the studio where Ataloft came to life

Ataloft | Courtesy of the artist
Ataloft | Courtesy of the artist

If you had to boil it down to a place, Amoeba Audio in Reading is where Ataloft came to life. As we’ll hear in tomorrow’s interview, Frog Holler members Darren Schlappich and Mike Lavdanski went into the studio owned by their friend Bruce Siekmann to mess around with recording some unreleased songs. The initial meetups went well, and the group kept returning until there was a full album and a new band in tow.

Earlier this month, the Reading Eagle met up with Ataloft to profile them upon the release of the self-titled album, and brought a video crew inside Amoeba to watch the band – now a six-piece – play live in the room where the music was born. Check out a performance of their very summery song “Old Jones” below, and get psyched to see these gents perform at Ardmore Music Hall on the 3rd of May.

Ataloft is the featured album in this week’s installment of Unlocked. Download “The End is Nearer Than We Know” in Monday’s post, read yesterday’s album review and check back later this week for an interview and more

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Unlocked: The Key’s review of Ataloft’s self-titled debut

a3607964194_10Darren Schlappich might be known as the lead guy in one of the region’s  Americana staples, Frog Holler, but that doesn’t mean Americana is his whole world.

The singer-guitarist has an evident appreciation of expansive pop-rock productions stylists like Brian Wilson, Phil Spector and John Brion, and while those leanings might not always get a chance to shine in his main project, his new band does an admirable job of scratching that itch.

On the debut LP from Ataloft, released on ZoBird Records earlier this month, Schlappich explores tones and takes chances with his music that he might not have in Frog Holler. Banjo player and multi-instrumentalist Mike Lavdanski also made the jump from Holler to Ataloft for the project, and it’s clear that the two have a very distinctive writing style. We hear it in “Bucket of Blood” – the midtempo shuffle and the twangy chord changes – as well as the delicate “A Heart Attack on the Holidays,” a plaintive solo acoustic number. Indeed, these were selections from Schlappich’s songbook that he wrote thinking that they may wind up being Frog Holler tracks, but here they’re dressed up in different tones and textures, aided by third-member and studio guru Bruce Siekmann, who sparked the collaboration. Continue reading →

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Unlocked: Download “The End Is Nearer Than We Know” by Ataloft

Ataloft | Photo via Facebook
Ataloft | Photo via Facebook

For almost 17 years, Darren Schlappich and Mike Lavdanski have performed in the Reading-rooted Americana outfit Frog Holler, a band that has developed a loyal following regionally and beyond through engaging live shows and expressive albums that crystalized the the five-piece’s energy as performers into a handy plastic disc.

For these musicians, the new Ataloft came about kind of in reverse. A casual recording project with Bruce Siekmann of Amoeba Audio in Reading clicked in ways the players didn’t expect, and what everybody thought was a one-off collaboration spawned a full album, and a new band.

Though Schlappich regards the two groups as “first cousins,” by working outside of the Frog Holler label, he was able to explore sounds and sonic territories he might never have before. The resulting self-titled album is at once reminiscent of Brian Wilson and John Brion in its lush arrangements, ethereal orchestrations and big sounds – but tips the cap to the roots of these musicians with little florishes, like the banjo we hear on the moving album opener “The End Is Nearer Than We Know.”

We’re exploring the album all week long on Unlocked, The Key’s regular spotlight on new and significant releases from Philadelphia-area artists. Tomorrow we’ll bring you a record review, we’ll spotlight a video on Wednesday, sit down with Schlappich on Thursday, and more. To start things off, download “The End Is Nearer Than We Know” below, and just imagine how haunting it will sound when the band performs it at their Philly album release party May 3rd at Ardmore Music Hall.

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Unlocked: Check out an album of photos from Pattern is Movement’s self-titled record release show at Boot & Saddle

Pattern is Movement | Photo by Mark Schaffer
Pattern is Movement | Photo by Mark Schaffer

Our week closes with a triumphant homecoming for Pattern is Movement. Supported by their fellow Philadelphians Busses and Brooklyn-based Hometapes label mates Yellow Ostrich (featuring ex-We are Scientists drummer Michael Tapper), Pattern is Movement played the penultimate show on their first support tour for Pattern is Movement to a rapturous audience. Tearing through songs from the new record with an ideal balance of hit-by-hit perfection and erratic fluidity (mainly thanks to Chris Ward’s J. Dilla-inspired breaks and Andrew Thiboldeaux’s acrobatic live vocal runs), the band have proven that the gambles they took with their new record are starting to pay off.

Significant praise also goes to Busses and Yellow Ostrich, both of whose idiosyncratic takes on psych rock set an appropriate atmosphere for Pattern is Movement’s ecstatic return. Check out this gallery of photos from local musician and photographer Mark Schaffer.

Pattern is Movement has been the featured album on this week’s edition of Unlocked. Download the song “Suckling in Monday’s post, read Tuesday’s album review, learn about their videos for “Untitled and “Little by Little in Wednesday’s post, read yesterday’s interview, and stay up to date for future editions of Unlocked.

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Unlocked: Pattern is Movement see their mission statement come to its fullest realization

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Pattern is Movement started out as a Christian rap group. You heard it here first.

Well, that’s not completely true. But understanding this side of keyboardist/singer/composer Andrew Thiboldeaux’s and drummer/producer Chris Ward’s experience, rooted in strict Pentacostal practice (the same faith in which Marvin Gaye and D’Angelo nurtured their prodigal musicianship), might explain a lot. It certainly makes the eccentricity inherent to Pattern is Movement’s music – occasionally frantic, layered with intense stimuli and popping with vibrancy at every beat – a little easier to understand. Far more importantly, it allows us to understand the motivation behind what they have tried to do with their new self-titled album. The band celebrate the release of their album tonight at Boot & Saddle.

“Andrew and I started making Christian rap when we were 14, and we were in a Christian rock group when we were teenagers. We were so connected to music that…I think for me, as a 35-year-old musician who’s been doing it for 20 years with this guy, I wanted to go back to the roots of my childhood and figure out why I loved music so hard when I was a kid,” explains Ward over a crackling phone line. He and Thiboldeaux have just pulled into Austin, right on the cusp of an extremely ambitious South By Southwest schedule, but that’s not quite where he’s at mentally. “Rather than running away from that past experience – which was very painful and traumatic – I tried to embrace it and see what about it was positive. One of the things it gave me was this intimate musical relationship with this guy, and I hear a wonderful conversation between the two of us in this record,”

Through these artists’ eyes, the message behind the record becomes clearer and clearer. Past the surface-level complexity is a strong communicative purpose that has been the hallmark of all great music; that said, when Pattern is Movement’s history is looked at under the microscope, their gravitation towards RnB makes perfect sense. RnB as we know it is born of desire to bring the pulpit to the concert hall, to equate ecclesiastical power in a non-sacred setting, to find God in human passion. The genre’s greatest luminaries, folks like Marvin and D, all grew up and became artists in church. The power of music to bring people together in the service of something omniscient and massive is certainly not lost on Ward or Thiboldeaux.

“Chris and I like church, but we’re not so interested in Jesus, so we like the emotion and ecstasy of RnB music,” explains Andrew.

“I started challenging my beliefs and thought that all the stuff I saw – the speaking in tongues, the emotions that I had in service – that all of that was false. And as I got older, I started realizing the opposite. Like, yeah, maybe there is no God, maybe all the stuff they were telling me was bulls***. But the feelings I had in those church meetings were TRUE. My brain was registering it, I was high as a kite. There’s something about RnB and hip-hop that resonates with me as a result,” adds Ward.

This desire to create something ecclesiastically powerful is one of a few missions that guided the new record, but those implications resonate throughout the other circumstances that brought the record about in this form. In the six years between this record and 2008’s All Together, Ward went through a difficult divorce and picked up a full-time job doing bookings at Johnny Brenda’s that he still maintains. These events, mixed with a strong urge to get away from the record-tour-repeat cycle that made their previous albums feel stagnant to them, precipitated a need to step back and re-evaluate. Even though they started tracking songs in 2009, they ended up scrapping a whole mix by 2011, re-recording into 2012 (tracking separately, for the first time in any of their records), and spending 2013 getting things prepared to be played live. They essentially made a record in the way most bands don’t anymore, and they’re fully aware of the sea changes that have happened in the broader world during this time – changes that they, as an indie group authentically embracing RnB and hip-hop, are better prepared than ever to handle.

Continue reading →

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Unlocked: How Pattern is Movement’s videos anticipate their evolution

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Artists use music videos to further a number of different aims. The most ambitious weave epics that read like short films, attempting (and often failing) to communicate a vision that would elicit comparisons to the greats of long-form film. For most artists, however, the goals are much simpler: to create the atmosphere in which the viewer understands some version of the artist’s present. This is why many rappers shoot videos in expensive cars, or why the “performance vid” has become a near-obligatory measure of a rock band’s credibility: they seek to bring you into their life, using the camera as the lens for you to see their life as they wish for you to see it.

Pattern is Movement doesn’t make too many videos, and a cursory search of the duo’s name on Youtube elicits a lot of random live videos that are either put up from touring shows or released under the auspices of other video series’ . But when they do make or officially sanction videos, they put a subtle twist on archetypal music video conventions by highlighting their innovation and eccentricity; instead of portraying the idealized version of their existence, or making some profound directorial statement (which they leave to established film directors), they bring the focus to their collective headspace, highlighting the path towards their artistic progression.

Continue reading →

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Unlocked: The Key’s review of Pattern Is Movement’s self-titled new album

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In the six years since Pattern is Movement’s last full-length release, the indie kingdom where they (perhaps precariously) stake their ground has seen some significant changes. 2008’s All Together hit at a time when the orchestral, whimsical flourishes of indie rock were in full swing. Albums like Arcade Fire’s Neon Bible and Grizzly Bear’s Veckatimest were the defining statements of that ethos – a textured, intellectual lens on cathartic and catchy tunes predominated over those works more subtle rhythmic components. While All Together is an extraordinarily rhythm-heavy work, with drummer Chris Ward’s breakbeat and time signature-dodging drum lines underscoring Andrew Thiboldeaux’s piano and vocal acrobatics point-by-point, the band’s groove-heavy elements are overshadowed by the cabaret aesthetic and almost-nonsensical quality to some of the lyrics (“Jenny Ono” is a stand-out in this regard). The album fits well within this era.

The ensuing six years would see this entire world change under everybody’s feet, and that musical world’s most persistent and celebrated artists deemphasizing their rock roots in favor of more conspicuous flirtation with EDM, hip-hop, and RnB. The lines between these worlds have blurred considerably, and are now almost invisible. Nobody bats an eyelash at Justin Vernon appearing on Kanye West tracks, or Drake pulling Jaime xx onto his album’s title track. These worlds were not meant to stay apart, and the ethereal qualities that permeated the best products of both musical worlds were destined to bring them together.

With this background, Pattern is Movement (released today on Hometapes Records) might appear late to the party. Fortunately for everyone involved, this album might be the best statement of the indie rock-hip-hop fusion that has been made. Whatever the Dirty Projectors, Grizzly Bear, and acts of their ilk were attempting when they began taking obvious cues from 90s RnB, Ward and Thiboldeaux have lapped them in their dedication to the artform’s roots. They trade angularity for warmth and shimmering beauty, cheeky surrealism for heart-on-sleeve passion.

All of this is not to say that the band has let go of their flair for the dramatic (just listen to “Make it Right”, which could probably have fit in on All Together if not for the D’Angelo-styled vocal harmonies) — rather, they’ve commuted it into something more accessible, both aurally and poetically. Instead of feeling like a show or a musical, Pattern is Movement evokes a feeling of ecstasy that is inextricably intimate and communal. Intended to capture the atmosphere of first encounters (supposedly inspired by a trip undertaken by Thiboldeaux to the Dominican Republic, laced with the energy of what the Spanish conquistadors and Native Americans felt upon first meeting), the album employs every blippy keyboard, every auto-tuned vocal run, every string-and-horn ensemble buildup in the beautiful service of capturing something as ephemeral as it is universal.

On “River”, the album’s opening track, the new direction comes into crystal clarity. Continue reading →

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Unlocked: Download Pattern is Movement’s expansive epic “Suckling”

Photos by Peter English
Photos by Peter English

2008’s All Together saw the Philly band Pattern is Movement expanding its sonic palette, eschewing the typical definitions of “math rock” for a sound with more orchestral flourishes. It seems that as the band has refined and solidified its artistic base, honing an interlocking core between singer / keyboardist / multi-instrumentalist Andrew Thiboldeaux and drummer / producer Christopher Ward. It actually broadened their sound to include elements of cabaret, RnB, and hip-hop. The resultant sound was something that exposed the duo for what they really are – multi-form masters, destined to make music that redefines genre boundaries that were way too small to begin with. Math rock is too tight of a pigeonhole for ambitions as big as theirs.

With this week’s release of their latest full-length, Pattern is Movement, the band weaves a new tapestry of RnB-heavy music with agility and conviction of purpose. In what can be seen as a logical progression of non-rock elements in indie music, the band construct layered vocal harmonies and lush instrumental textures over broken, J Dilla-inspired drum beats throughout songs that explore the fragility of a beautiful world. Despite the six-year break between full-lengths (characterized by false starts and one-off releases and shows / special events teasing the album), the band sound fresher than ever as they throw off the angularity of past releases for something wholly different.

Pattern is Movement is the focus of this week’s Unlocked, The Key’s regular series highlighting new and significantreleases from local artists. This includes a record review for tomorrow, with a video and interview later in the week; all of this coincides with the Thursday album release show at Boot and Saddle.

“Suckling”, a track as part of a 12’’ single in October, most clearly indicates the direction of the new album. Starting off as sultry, low-key crooner with percussive snaps and pulsing bass, Ward’s bombastic drums jump in to usher forth an expansive epic with tinny horns and syrupy vocals. If “Suckling” has you hooked, you can stream the full album (for as long as it lasts) via the A.V. Club here. Be sure to check back for more on Pattern is Movement on Unlocked.

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Unlocked: Check out a gallery of photos from Katie Frank and The Pheromones’ album release party by Caitlin McCann

Photo by Caitlin McCann | caitlinmccann.4ormat.com
Photo by Caitlin McCann | caitlinmccann.4ormat.com

Wrapping up our week with Katie Frank and the Pheromones here on Unlocked, we’re pleased to bring you some visuals of the band in action care of Caitlin McCann, a Brooklyn-based photographer who – in a twist of geography – does a lot of work shooting the Philly roots music scene. (Check out her amazing travelogue of The Districts on tour that Rolling Stone published today, or similar work with Satellite Hearts and Toy Soldiers). The gallery below was shot at Katie Frank and The Pheromones’ album release party for Counting Your Curses on February 21st.

Counting Your Curses has been the features album on this week’s edition of Unlocked. Download the song “Halfway Gone” in Monday’s post, read Tuesday’s album review, watch an early video of “False Alarm” in Wednesday’s post, read yesterday’s interview, and keep checking back for future editions of Unlocked.

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Unlocked: How Katie Frank became the leader of The Pheromones

KatieFrank
Photo by Will Hoover

“I feel so much more empowered when I’m onstage with the band,” says Katie Frank. “I can be timid when it comes to singing my songs.”

Timid. Hearing that word comes as a bit of a surprise since, in person, I’ve only seen Frank play with The Pheromones. With four other players and their loud amplifiers behind her, she’s energetic and sassy; her vocals are delivered with conviction and she doesn’t hesitate to bust her bandmates’ chops when the situation calls for it. That’s the antithesis of timid, right?

Then again, my first exposure to Frank was a solo acoustic video from Bands in the Backyard, and in it, we can see exactly what she’s talking about. Videographer Kyle Costill moves from side to side as she plays a sparse rendition of “False Alarm,” and the closer he brings the camera, the more she tries to look away. It’s almost like she’s uncomfortable with the whole idea of video in general, even as she plays her songs to the camera.

The difference there might be attributed to a newbie-ish performer as compared to a more seasoned player. The photographs on her releases tell a similar narrative – the “don’t take my picture” face on the cover of her pre-band EP Covered Bridge Road versus the much more poised and confident image on the new Counting Your Curses, where Frank looks like a freaking rockstar.

When I ask her about this, though, she laughs. She doesn’t deny it, but that isn’t quite how she sees things.

“Really, it’s just not as satisfying,” she says. “The rush I get from playing with the band, I don’t get that when I’m by myself.”

We’re grabbing beers at Bridgewaters with her longtime rhythm guitarist Josh Werblun, chatting about Curses and their respective paths that led to The Pheromones. Certainly its a catchy-as-heck name, kind of a sideways nod to Elvis Costello and The Attractions. But it also speaks to the collaborative nature of the group – of which Frank is the leader, but which she is wary of performing without.

She got started writing songs in 2005, when she was 15. At first she kept it mostly to herself, playing the occasional talent shows during her High School years in Elizabethtown, but never pursuing anything bigger. As a freshman at Temple in 2008, she took a pop songwriting class that provided a greater creative spark. The professor worked as a private songwriting coach, and Frank says her excited mom hired booked her some sessions with him. But the experience was dismaying.

“I’d drive in once a week, 90 minutes each way from E-town to Ambler, to work with him,” she said. “And he’d change two words in a song.”

Frustrated, she put her instrument away to focus on her behavioral health studies, and didn’t pick it up again until after graduation when she moved to West Philadelphia – which is where she met Werblun.

A guitarist and producer, Werblun has been involved in the local music community for over a dozen years – which is ridiculous when you consider he’s only 27. When he was 14, his parents took him to see his cousin Scott Bricklin play an early set at The Point with 4 Way Street – Bricklin’s supergroup with local XPN favorites Jim Boggia, Ben Arnold and Joseph Parsons – and the show made him realize his path in life was music. Continue reading →