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20 albums you shouldn’t overlook in 2018

Some of our unsung favorite albums of 2018

Fun fact: in a total coincidence of timing, The Key released our best albums of the year list on the same morning that NPR Music, The Guardian, and Paste rolled out their respective lists. Most other major and minor music publications followed suit in the week that followed, social media was aflurry with immense list excitement as much as total list fatigue.

The best hot take I saw in the fray came from Boston journalist Nina Corcoran (a writer for NPR Music, and Pitchfork, among others), who simply Tweeted: “The 50 Best Albums of 2018 That Didn’t Have a PR Machine Churning Behind Them.”

It’s frustrating, but true. It’s daunting when you’re reading about mostly the same albums in a slightly different order, and it begs some consideration. Like I’ve said in the past: while there is power in consensus, how does that consensus get there? Through mass recognition, through large teams of music journalists with widely eclectic tastes finding 15 or 50 or 500 albums (seriously tho, I’d love to see a top 500 list in haiku form) that they can all agree are great. And that happens when artists and their labels have the resources to seriously and steadily push those records to said journalists.

So what’s to become of a release by Philly rapper Ivy Sole, who self-released and self-promoted her outstanding 2018 outing Overgrown? Or one by Columbus psych/folk/punk collective Saintseneca, which did have label support on their beautiful Pillar of Na, easily the best record of their career, but the “campaign” behind it was limited?

My favorite lists, by comparison, are like the one you’re about to read — not driven by consensus, not presented in a ranked order. Not fostering a frustrating sense of competitiveness in an already-frustrating music scene. One that merely collects records that our team is tremendously excited about, and thinks you should make a point to spend some time with. Continue reading →

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The Key’s Top 15 Albums of 2018

This is the music that moved us in 2018

In her review of Lucy Dacus’ Historian, Key writer Sarah Hojsak uses a vivid phrase that sums up both the record, as well as the emotional landscape of 2018: “desperately sad but never hopeless.”

Oh, wait, I’m sorry…would you describe your year as happy? That must be nice, good on you. For many of us, it’s not as straightforward: the toxicity of the country at this moment in history, and the various players that fuel that toxicity, has a draining effect, whether you’re a marginalized person who is in the line of fire or an empathetic soul who is distressed from afar. There’s also the let-down: the pouring of our energies into something to watch it fail, whether personal or public.

And yet we experience moments of joy throughout it all: weddings are had, families are started, a breathtaking sunset is observed from the westbound platform of the Berks Avenue el stop. And there’s music, a constant source of joy and comfort that centers our lives. Continue reading →

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15 reasons we’re thankful to be based in Philly in 2018

clockwise from left: Hop Along | photo by John Vettese // Serious Rap Shit | photo by Kate Devlin | courtesy of the podcast // Uncle Bobbie’s | photo by John Vettese // Keyon Harrold at South | photo by John Vettese

It’s our eighth year covering the wild and wonderful world of the Philadelphia music community here at The Key, and we can’t think of any place in the world we’d rather be doing this. Some of the best artists in the world call this city home. Some of the most forward-thinking promoters give them places to play on the regular. And beyond music, the city gives us plenty of things to look forward to seeing and experiencing every day. This Thanksgiving, we give you a rundown of reasons why we’re thankful to be in Philly in 2018. Continue reading →

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Margo Price discovers her country in the emphatically moving video for “All American Made”

Margo Price | still from video

Margo Price has shared a video for “All American Made,” the moving title track from her latest album. The video was directed by Kimberly Stuckwisch and Carlos Lopez Estrada, co-founders of the production company Little Ugly. It was shot on location in eight different cities including Detroit, Nashville, New Orleans, and a small Indiana town. It follows the lives of real people living in these communities, such as a widowed farmer; a student who was one of the first to be desegregated in a New Orleans school; and members of the Immigrant & Refugee Rights Coalition.

Price is shown singing from a miniature house being driven along the highway on a flatbed truck. The imagery is juxtaposed jarringly, weaving together people who don’t typically coexist in the same space. The final scene shows middle school kids reciting the pledge of allegiance, while audio of overlapping presidential speeches plays. The tone is conflicting, a mixture of patriotic pride and empathetic pain for all those suffering and without help in this country. Continue reading →

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Made In America round two was a mixed bag, but Kendrick Lamar, Miguel and Alessia Cara saved the day

Kendrick Lamar | photo by John Vettese for WXPN

On paper, the second day of this year’s Made In America festival was the stronger lineup — it had Kendrick, Nicki, Pusha, Miguel, and those were just the top-billed names. The way it played out was a bit different, with equipment malfunctions (and wardrobe malfunctions) scattered across the day. It felt at a point like we were alternating between artists who had their act incredibly together, and those who did not, and though it was a mixed bag, it was a lot of fun to sort through. Here’s what we heard and saw.
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Meek Mill reigns, Janelle Monae dazzles, Orion Sun and Armani White rep Philly at Made In America Day One

Meek Mill at Made In America | photo by John Vettese for WXPN

Grey skies hugged the city of Philadelphia earlier in the day before the sun peeked out from the clouds, sending relief to everyone at Made in America who was geared up for the possibility of rain. From there, the Benjamin Franklin Parkway was flooded with people from all walks of life, ready to dance and party ’til dusk. From amazing early sets by local artists Armani White and Orion Sun, to incredible performances from Sabrina Claudio and Saba, a massive throw-down from Janelle Monae and a tremendous homecoming from rapper Meek Mill, the first day of the festival was a blast. Continue reading →

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20 artists you didn’t realize are playing Made In America this weekend

Saba | photo by Tom Vin | via NPR Music

It’s less than 24 hours till the official kickoff of the seventh annual Made In America festival, and while we’re extremely excited to see headliners Janelle Monae, Kendrick Lamar, Nicki Minaj and Meek Mill over the next couple days, we’re equally excited for the reliably vibrant festival undercard. We dug into the lineup to see what surprises it contained; many of the artists in this list were new to us, many we know and love and had no idea they were in the mix. Read on, and see you on the Parkway this weekend!  Continue reading →

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The Week Ahead: Hardwork Movement, Ivy Sole, YallaPunk, Made In America and more

Hardwork Movement | photo by Dylan Eddinger for WXPN | dylaneddingerphoto.squarespace.com

We’re in the last week of summer, people. Even though the season officially continues for another three weeks, with school starting this week and Labor Day on the horizon, this is pretty much it — so let’s make it count. Here are 12 concerts you can see in and around Philadelphia this week, starting out tonight at Johnny Brenda’s with rapper Kuf Knotz’s classically-oriented new project, and wrapping up with the giant party on the Parkway that is Made In America.
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