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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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The Week Ahead: Saba, RJD2, Lotus, Franz Ferdinand, Hurray for the Riff Raff and more

Hurray for the Riff Raff | photo by Wendy McCardle for WXPN

We are here once again with your guide to Philly concerts for the coming week, and as always, your choices are many. Start out tonight with local folks Petunia opening the gig at Johnny Brenda’s, and maybe hustle across town after their set to catch the end of Jukebox The Ghost. Do not miss Saba’s first-ever performance of songs from his new CARE FOR ME project at The Foundry tomorrow. And keep the energy going across the week, ending up at Union Transfer next Monday for the terrific triple-bill of Waxahatchee, Hurray for the Riff Raff and Bedouine. Read on for more about the week ahead: 21 shows to see in Philadelphia this week.  Continue reading →

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20 albums you shouldn’t overlook in 2017

20 albums you shouldn’t overlook in 2017

The more of your life you spend consuming music, the more you realize an essential truth: the records deemed “the best” in any sort of ranking system — whether it be year-end lists or the Grammys — are not necessarily the ones you should be listening to.

Or not the only ones, rather. An as I said last year, the stuff everyone agrees on is a mere starting point. So while we brought you The Key’s top 15 albums of 2017 earlier this month, today we encourage you to dig deeper and further explore the spectrum of compelling music that was released this year. For this list, we highlight critics’ favorites from The Key’s staff of contributors; albums that topped individual lists but did not crack our overall top 15.

From the life-affirming punk rock of Amanda X to the eviscerating metal of Converge, the defiant electro rock of Fever Ray to the compellingly personal rap of Ruby Ibarra, our writers and photographers make their case for those albums: why they moved them, why they impressed them, why they loved them and why they’re important for you to listen to in 2017. Read (and listen) on for The Key’s roundup of 20 albums you should not overlook in 2017. –John Vettese
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Listen to a Matthew Law remix of Fhloston Paradigm’s “…GLOW” ft. Jacqueline Constance

King Britt | photo by John Vettese for WXPN

King Britt doesn’t rest for a minute. The Philly DJ and composer’s experimental ambient Fhloston Paradigm project released its latest album AFTER… earlier this year, and instead of waiting a while to ruminate over new music, King Britt’s releasing an entire new companion project in the form of throwback-style remixes.

The first remix rolled out a few months ago, following AFTER…‘s release. Now, King Britt and company are back with a Matthew Law remix of album track “…GLOW,” which features Jacqueline Constance. The remix gives an electro spin to the original with the addition of DJ Law’s signature grooves. The seven-minute track is vibey and atmospheric, filled with sonic layers — it’s versatile enough that you can keep it low for some soothing background tunes or crank it way up and dance your heart out. The full remix EP will also feature a version of the song by Philly beatmaker, soundscaper and contributing writer for The Key, John Morrison. Continue reading →

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Get to know Slingshot, a new artist-championing collaboration backing Big Thief, Jamila Woods and Lo Moon


Teased this spring at the annual NonCOMM-vention, the new program Slingshot is an artist-championing collaboration between NPR Music and 18 VuHaus member stations — including founding stations WXPN, WFUV, KCRW, KUTX and The Bridge.

Over the summer, programming staff from the member stations each nominated a handful of artists to throw their support behind over the coming year. The submissions were reviewed, and the stations came to a consensus — Big ThiefJamila Woods and Lo Moon would be backed by Slingshot affiliates through interviews, editorial coverage, live performances and more over the next several months.

“Everybody in this room knows the impact of public radio on artist development,”  XPN general manager Roger LaMay told the crowd at NonCOMM this spring. “It’s really been essential with NonCOMMs and public radio writ large to pool our resources and work together to grow our impact.” Continue reading →

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Now Hear This: New songs by Haim, SZA, Kesha, Daphni, Aminé, Julia Michaels and more.

SZA | photo by Cameron Pollack for WXPN
SZA | photo by Cameron Pollack for WXPN

Every month, noted song expert K. Ross Hoffman presents Now Hear This, a sampling of fresh specimens for your consideration.

Ciao!! Now Hear This is coming to you this month one week later than regularly programmed, due to your faithful correspondent’s international travel schedule: I recently spent ten days in Sicily, where I got to experience firsthand the pleasures of a record-setting heatwave fondly dubbed “Lucifer.” Trips abroad always afford an interesting lens on pop music – you never know quite what you’ll get when you flip on a radio. The Italian pop I encountered seemed generally jaunty and decidedly dorky, featuring a surprising amount of accordion. The DJs were effusive and highly entertaining, speaking faster than I could probably follow even if I did know any Italian. I heard “Young Folks” and noname (the latter playing in a shop.) I heard one DJ leapfrog from The Beatles to Run-DMC to Empire of the Sun; rambling excitedly over the introduction to each song. The only current American pop number I heard in multiple places while in Italy was Calvin Harris’ “Feels” (ft. Pharrell, Katy Perry and Big Sean), a supposedly “summery” song that I guess I support more in theory than in practice. Continue reading →

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Questlove, Christian McBride and Uri Caine are getting The Philadelphia Experiment back together at Newport Jazz Fest

The Philadelphia Experiment

It’s quite possibly that Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson‘s set to see of 2017 won’t be the one he played at the The Roots’ annual summer kick-off party, the Roots Picnic — awesome as that show was.

It’s not one The Roots will play in their hometown of Philadelphia, or on their nationally televised nightly gig on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon. No, it’s looking like 2017’s performance-to-see for fans of The Roots and their drummer/leader takes place in a week and a half on the quiet coast of Rhode Island, at the annual Newport Jazz Festival.
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Items Tagged Philadelphia: Back to life, back to reality

Saint Anytime | via saintanytime.bandcamp.com

Here at The Key, we spend a lot of time each week digging through every new release from Philadelphia that shows up on Bandcamp. At the end of each week, we present you with the most interesting, most unusual and overall best of the bunch: this is Items Tagged Philadelphia.

I have been out of practice, friends. First it was a week behind, coming off the Roots Picnic rush. Then it was a week and a half behind, caught up in the Firefly Music Festival. And then I was on a plane, flying across the Atlantic for two weeks’ vacation in England, and I hadn’t yet dove back into the fray of the Philadelphia tag on Bandcamp.

Like the well-behaved lot of creative folks that Philly musicians are, y’all kept creating. And when I arrived back at work last Monday, there were hundreds upon hundreds of new Bandcamp releases for me to dig through. I paged backwards through the feed to find the last block of releases I remember hearing — and paged and paged and paged — and once I got there, I hit play and began to move forward.
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Firefly Guide 2017: 20 artists to discover in the Woodlands this week

Firefly 2016 | Photo by John Vettese for WXPN
Firefly 2016 | Photo by John Vettese for WXPN

As any committed concert-goer will tell you, the best music you’ll find at summer festivals is often the stuff you come across far from the maddening crowd. Sets stumbled upon by chance when you’re looking for a spot to stretch out in the shade; artists you’ve never heard of who bowl you over as you’re waiting to catch one of the headliners; a DJ playing on a campground stage in the middle of the night or a band in the same spot come early afternoon.

Delaware’s annual Firefly Music Festival kicks off this Thursday afternoon; as we have said in the past, it is one of the most positive festivalgoing experiences of its scale. The headliners are massive, but quality; the crowds are packed, but comfortable; you’re essentially holed up in a ginormous camp-out for the weekend, but it doesn’t feel like you’re being gouged for cash. It’s a fan-friendly experience, and that extends to the fans who are down for discovering new music, seeing new performers for the first time.

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