Patti Smith holds court with covers and classics at The Met Philly

Patti Smith | photo by Ben Wong for WXPN |

“It better be alright because that’s what’s happening.”

This is the response Patti Smith offered to a gracious fan after having to restart a song midway through her Monday night performance at Philly’s Metropolitan Opera House. It was delivered in good humor but also succinctly summed up Smith’s performance, and her iconoclastic role in music in general. The indomitable “punk poet laureate” has always embodied a no-frills, no-fucks spirit and sincerity that the genre represents at its best. Over a two-hour, sixteen song set that blended classics, covers, and banter, that spirit of spontaneity filled the venue to render it, and the crowd inside it, electric. Continue reading →


James Blake assumes many forms at The Fillmore

James Blake | photo by Isaiah Spicer for WXPN |

James Blake has come a long way since he first introduced himself to the world through a series of gorgeously glitchy EPs back the start of the decade. From there, we’ve seen him undergo subtle but significant evolution. That early glitchiness gave way to dubstep-infused piano balladry, Mercury Prize-winning R&B, and elegant experimental soul, all anchored by Blake’s smooth, syrupy vocals.

This year’s Assume Form saw him adopting a different kind of shift, abandoning his trademark interiority in favor of collaboration and songs about romantic contentment. I’d dare say it’s the happiest collection of songs he’s put his name to yet. That happiness was both obvious and contagious at last Friday’s show at The Fillmore. Attendees were treated a generous, joyous selection of songs from his career, one that both properly showcased his new album and infused his past highlights with its positive vibes. Continue reading →


This Is Us: In Conversation with Empress Of

Empress Of
Empress Of | photo by Adam Elramly | courtesy of the artist

As Empress Of, Lorely Rodriguez crafts precise, deeply personal electronic pop that’s both specific to her own life experiences and relatable for any number of listeners who have had their own. That ability for her music to take on more collective significance is mirrored and magnified with her sophomore album, Us, which found her branching out sonically and thematically to explore the fruits and feelings that come from working with and opening up to others after the emotional autonomy of her 2015 debut Me. Ahead of her show at Boot & Saddle this Wednesday, Lorely and I talked about that shift and all that went into and came out of it… Continue reading →


Revisiting the road to Tomorrow with Sharon Van Etten

Sharon Van Etten | photo courtesy of the artist

Sharon Van Etten makes me feel like I don’t do anything.

In the five years since her 2014 opus Are We There alone, it would be hard to find something she hasn’t done. In addition to touring behind that album, she performed and collaborated with countless other artists. She started scoring films. She branched out into acting and appeared on some of the buzziest cult television shows of the era. She even started pursuing her degree in Psychology. On top of all of that, she settled into a long-term relationship and became a parent. Oh yeah, and she wrote and recorded her latest masterpiece, the soaring, sobering Remind Me Tomorrow. Just typing all of that out makes me want to go back to bed, but Van Etten sounds as energized and dynamic as ever. While this album’s songs aren’t about these life events and achievements, specifically, they do accurately convey the emotions and perspective shifts that came with them. It’s a meditation on what it’s like to be happy during unhappy times, and how important and challenging it is to stay happy.

Ahead of next week’s performance at Union Transfer, Sharon was gracious enough to have a long chat with me about everything that’s been going on in the years leading up to Tomorrow, the work and influences that went into it, and how she stays grounded and positive through everything going on around us. Continue reading →


The Key’s Year-End Mania: Running Away With 2018 — Rob Huff’s favorite music to marathon to

Robyn | via NPR Music

Year-End Mania is the Key’s annual survey of the things below the surface that made 2018 incredible. Today, Key writer Rob Huff shares a playlist of music that motivated him through the Philadelphia Marathon.

Just keep moving.

It’s a sentiment that can feel both tired and tiring. Yet at the same time, it’s the only ambition that feels attainable in adulthood. And that’s under the best of circumstances. This year, it was an ambition I decided to amplify as a recreational runner when I signed up for the Philadelphia Marathon, my first ever.

As one of the few healthy habits I have, running has proven downright lifesaving amidst the injustice and insanity of the past two years. It’s cleansing yet calming, lending itself simultaneously to deep focus and a welcome absence of thought. As my weekly training routine grew longer and more time consuming, it also became a chance for me to dive into music in a manner that life hadn’t truly allowed in some time. Continue reading →


Self-Discovery and Sincere Pop: In conversation with Helena Deland

Helena Deland
Helena Deland | photo by Jodi Heartz | courtesy of the artist

Patience is a virtue too often underestimated in today’s musical climate. When even the biggest pop stars of the world have taken to releasing their albums with little to no advanced notice, it can be easy to miss artists that take their time introducing their music, and themselves, to the world.

Take Montreal up and comer Helena Deland, for example. Over the past year, she’s slowly but surely made herself known by releasing a just handful of songs at a time, like a bedroom pop Body Talk. These songs, “volumes” of a collection called From the Series of Songs “Altogether Unaccompanied”, cover as wide a range of genres as they do feelings. Those emotions and genres come together under the umbrella of what Deland calls “sincere pop”. She’ll be presenting these songs, along with what could potentially be on her proper debut LP in time, via a run of U.S. shows through the first half of December that will include a stop at Philly’s own Johnny Brenda’s next Wednesday, December 5th.

Before those shows kick off, Helena was gracious enough to chat with The Key about what motivated her release schedule this year, what to expect on stage and on record, and how her view has changed on what pop music is and can be. Continue reading →


Christine and the Queens hold court at Union Transfer

Christine and the Queens | photo by Matthew Shaver for WXPN

Héloïse Letissier is a star. That may not be news to you if you’ve been following her work as Christine and the Queens since her 2014 debut Chaleur Humaine, or even its English 2015 translation simply titled Christine and the Queens. It might not even be a surprise if you’re just getting acquainted with her via this year’s commanding, life-affirming sophomore album Chris. There is a difference, however, between recognizing stardom and witnessing stardom, in real time, on stage. Letissier’s performance at Union Transfer last Friday was a showcase of stardom at its best. Equal parts vivacious, vulnerable, and virtuosic, it saw the radiant French popstart bring the kind of spectacle usually reserved for big arenas and amphitheaters to an indie club without losing any of its grandeur. Continue reading →


Gorillaz come down to earth at Wells Fargo Center

Gorillaz | photo by Isaiah Spicer for WXPN |

It has been fascinating to witness the evolution of Damon Albarn’s iconic “virtual band” Gorillaz over the better part of two decades, musically, lyrically, conceptually. What began as a commentary on the lack of substance on MTV—I can only imagine what Albarn thinks now—has expanded to explore issues personal, political, and environmental, using both the conceit of a cartoon musical act and the shape-shifting textures of hip-hop and electronic music to lend such heady subjects a deceptively danceable accessibility. This evolution also informs the project’s live translation, which on paper could conceivably present a challenge. And this is all before considering recent release The Now Now’s relative simplicity compared to its predecessors’ complexity and ambition. On Albarn’s visit to the Wells Fargo Center earlier this week, he did his best to not only reconcile the newer Now material with the rest of his repertoire, but his animated avatars with the living breathing people behind them. Continue reading →


Entering Kazuashita with Gang Gang Dance’s Brian DeGraw

Gang Gang Dance | photo by Ari Marcopoulos | courtesy of the artist

Seven years after blowing minds with 2011’s Eye Contact, the alchemists of Gang Gang Dance finally re-surfaced this summer with their most beatific sounding album yet in Kazuashita. Its ethereal ambience juxtaposes with lyrics that emerge from the ether to reference police brutality, the protests at Standing Rock, and several other forms of tumult that inform life at large.

To hear founding member Brian DeGraw tell it, making the record didn’t come without its own share of struggle. Ahead of the band’s show at Boot & Saddle this Thursday, we talked about how the record came to be, how the band’s process of making music had to change, and what to expect when they take the stage this week. Continue reading →


Radiohead reign over the Wells Fargo Center

Radiohead | photo by Natalie Piserchio |

Confession time: I wasn’t 100% sure what to expect when revisiting Radiohead in a live setting for the first time in a decade. Sure, I knew objectively that I would be witnessing a technically proficient and dynamic performance, rich with songs from one of the strongest catalogs in modern rock history. I also knew that I would be ensconced in the enthusiastic energy of the crowd who filled in before, full of fans that no doubt pored over the relatively restrained material that the band has released over the last ten years with the same piety they devoted to the more conventionally accessible albums that preceded it. However, I didn’t know what or how I would feel, personally, when the lights went down on Tuesday night and that opening twinkle of “Daydreaming” filled the still air of the venue. In an instant, it was like no time had passed. For the two hours and change that followed, it was like time ceased to exist altogether. Along with the rest of the rapt audience, I was treated to a transfixing, transcendent night of music—the first of two in Philly that closed out the band’s tour for 2016’s elegant A Moon Shaped Pool—that simultaneously felt like catching up with an old friend and discovering a new favorite artist all over again. Continue reading →