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The Key’s Year-End Mania: The Django Pages 2018 – A.D. Amorosi’s greyhound rates the hits, disses the misses of the year gone

Django Amorosi at Kimpton Hotel Monaco | photo by Reese Amorosi | courtesy of the artist

Year-End Mania is the Key’s annual survey of the things below the surface that made 2018 incredible. Today, Key contributing writer A.D. Amorosi turns to his greyhound Django for another pass at the year’s hits and misses.

After the rush of respect, acclaim and fame from 2017’s The Django Pages at The Key – his critical debut – my fleet greyhound certainly felt a serious sense of responsibility when it came to documenting his continued love affair (and occasional disgust) with the music around him, and the multi-culturalism surrounding that. Plus, he got a gig writing for Pitchfork, something that has, so far, alluded me during my career as an arts journalist.

As it was a weird year (politically, socially), so much of what Django took in, and appreciated/dissected had to be filtered through the noise of rhetoric and correctness. With that came an addition to his usual outward signs of approval and disapproval (relaxed ears or laying with legs akimbo for the former, grimace and growls for the latter): a side-eyed glare as if to say, “c’maan, really?” Many of these looks got shot at me at the sound of anything having to do with Kanye West (from his innumerable rants to his Kids See Ghosts), Asia Argento, Jeff Sessions, 6ix9ine (even though his performance at Made in America was stellar), Larry Krasner and Justin Timberlake (really, just JT’s whole Man in the Woods burly guy routine. Everything else is cool). Continue reading →

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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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Now Hear This: New songs from Cat Power, Elvis Costello, Matthew Dear, Half Waif, Richard Swift, Spiritualized and more

Half Waif | photo by Tonje Thilesen | courtesy of the artist
Half Waif | photo by Tonje Thilesen | courtesy of the artist

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

This past Saturday was my 36th birthday, and, as it happens, this is my 36th Now Hear This column.  (I’ve been secretly keeping track: the first fifteen installments ran weekly over at Philly Voice during the fall of 2016; the monthly columns for The Key started in February 2017).  Thirty-six feels like a significant year – more so than 35 in many ways (especially considering what’s been happening to the institution of the presidency).  It’s divisible by more numbers, even if five isn’t one of them.  As one friend pointed out, it means I’m now old enough to vote twice! And, more notably, it means that I’ve been a quote-unquote “adult” for fully half of my life; that the time since I left my parents’ house now equals the time that I lived there.

So it’s afforded a nice opportunity to reflect back on the time around my 18th year – an age perhaps less overtly mythologized in song than sixteen or seventeen, but probably even more transformative in real (contemporary) life – which in my case was also the era of Y2K.  I’d reckon that nobody felt the cultural and historical shift from the 20th to the 21st century, from the 1990s to the still-nameless-after-all-these-years 2000s, more acutely than those of us for whom it paralleled the end of high school and the start of what-comes-next; i.e. me and my fellow circa-1982 babies: the oldest, truest millennials.  Conveniently, just two days before my birthday, September Now Hear This boy-toy Troye Sivan joined up with plasticwave popgenius (and certified ‘90s bitchCharli XCX to drop a video memorializing and celebrating the pop culture of that period – specifically 1999, although the references span roughly 1997-2000 – when, as many have mentioned, its creators were still in single digits, if not diapers.  It represents exactly, and in exquisitely realized detail, the “borrowed nostalgia for the unremembered (late) ‘90s” that I have been ambivalently anticipating for quite some time now.

Continue reading →

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Fitter, Happier: Watch Radiohead play the Electric Factory on the OK Computer tour in August of 1997

Radiohead
Radiohead in Philly, 1997 | still from video

Around the beginning of this century, Radiohead lost interest in being a rock band. And can we blame them, honestly? Any doc you’ll watch on the “alternative” era — from the band’s own Meeting People Is Easy, released in 1998, back to 1992’s The Year Punk Broke, documenting Sonic Youth’s run on the European festival circuit — demonstrates how for all its perceived authenticity, this generation of artists was never completely unspoiled by the gross clutches of corporate commercialism. Even if they kept it at a distance, global capitalism was never far, and it must have been exhausting and emotionally sapping: everybody around you is trying to use you to make a name or a buck, and your choices are either ride the wave and then check out, or play the long game flip it to your advantage.

Thom Yorke, Johnny and Colin Greenwood, Ed O’Brian and Philip Selway chose the latter route; each record they released was more challenging, and met with greater acclaim, and while none of their other 90s hits reached the chart-topping ubiquity of their debut single “Creep,” I don’t think you’ll find anybody arguing that Pablo Honey is their best album.

That honor typically goes to 1997’s OK Computer, a wild and wide-reaching magnum opus that dabbles in mind-bending psychedelic experimentation, the technical prowess of prog, and good old fashion anthems critiquing society and its mind-numbing, isolated, consumerist drudgery as the curtain fell on the 20th century.

But for all its unconventional intricacies, OK Computer still was, at its core, a rock record. This was before Radiohead began using its position and privilege to make, quite frankly, whatever the hell kind of music it felt like. Before the haunting minimal electronic tone-scapes of Kid A, before the broke-down patchwork of Hail to the Thief‘s unrest, before the orchestral elegies of A Moon Shaped Pool. And as such, Radiohead’s performance at the Electric Factory on August 24, 1997 was the last time they played Philly as a rock band. Continue reading →

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Bell X1, Vita and the Woolf make a stunning duo at Boot & Saddle

Bell X1 | photo by Joe Del Tufo | moonloopphoto.com

The Bell X1 / Vita and the Woolf tour swung through Philly last night, with Vita getting a strong showing from a hometown crowd in the packed Boot & Saddle. Vita and the Woolf played a strong and especially 80s-infused set, with vocalist Jennifer Pague showing her goth side. They played a strong selection from their excellent forthcoming album Tunnels, due in April. “Brett,” “Qiet,” “Super Ranger” and Mary “have” become live staples, and got the loudest response from the crowd. I could overhear Bell X1 fans comment positively after the Vita set. Big things for this band in 2017, and I look forward to seeing them at Firefly Festival in June. Continue reading →

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Become The Tourist in Clap Your Hands Say Yeah’s world and stream their new album now

Clap Your Hands Say Yeah | photo courtesy of the artist
Clap Your Hands Say Yeah | photo by Michael Regan | courtesy of the artist

Philadelphia art rockers Clap Your Hands Say Yeah are back with The Tourist. It drops next Friday, February 24th, following 2014’s Only Run, but you can stream it now via NPR’s First Listen. If you’ve been a fan of the project up to this point, the album is ready and eager to please, but it’s anything but a rehash of their old sound.

CYHSH may not sound as pleasantly rough-around-the-edges as they did on their debut, but they certainly haven’t lost that album’s frenetic energy. The drums on tracks like “Better Off” and “The Vanity of Trying” are as driving and scatterbrained as ever, while cuts like “Fireproof” and “Unfolding Above Celibate Moon (Lost Angeles Nursery Rhyme” ride more spacious, yet equally engaging grooves. Meanwhile, “A Chance to Cure” forgoes drums for almost half of its runtime, highlighting one of The Tourists’ defining characteristics–its doubled-down emphasis on the vocal. Continue reading →

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Back to Star: A conversation with Tanya Donelly on the return of 90s alternative faves Belly

Belly | photo courtesy of the artist
Belly | photo courtesy of the artist

On an MTV set in 1993, Tanya Donelly was interviewed in support of Star, the debut record she’d just released with her new band Belly. She exchanged several minutes-worth of witty banter with Kennedy, the mononymous veejay who always seemed to face the challenge of having to concurrently contain her effusive enthusiasm and her runaway ADHD. By contrast, the singer shows a unique guile and sly introspection, an unassuming administrator of a remarkably sharp tongue. Dressed in dark clothing and smoking a cigarette, Donelly is clearly a little uneasy in the spotlight, as she humors the host’s exuberant if erratic interrogation. Prompted early in the interview to address her place as a frontwoman in a predominantly male industry, Donelly responds almost immediately, as though she’d already given it plenty of thought, “Kurt Cobain’s allowed to be Kurt Cobain, and Michael Stipe’s allowed to be Michael Stipe, but it’s really hard to find a niche as a female. They have to put you somewhere.”

When asked about that quote during a recent interview with us, she debriefs about the industry’s evolution over the last two decades, in that regard. “I do think that’s updatable now, happily.” Twenty-three years on, the singer has rallied her seminal ‘90s dream pop band Belly for a new record and a reunion tour – which makes a much anticipated stop in Philadelphia this Sunday at Union Transfer – and when asked to reflect again on the role she played in several ways as pioneering female voice in a generally male-dominated industry, she seems glad to revisit. “I don’t think that the glass ceiling is totally smashed, but I do think that women in music are sort of taken much more individually now than back then. And I also think it comes in cycles, you know, that that waxes and wanes for women. And so there will be spaces sort of where everything feels like it’s moving forward, and then there’ll be a step back. But I would say for the most part I think that the playing field is much more level now than it was in the ‘80s.” Continue reading →