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A lost recording by Philly jazz collective Sounds of Liberation is getting a vinyl release

Sounds of Liberation | photo via The Vinyl Factory

Springing out of Philly’s progressively-minded Germantown neighborhood, the jazz six-piece Sounds of Liberation moved in parallel with the Black Arts Movement of the 60s and 70s, using their meditative and otherworldly compositions as a means of social activism. With sounds reminiscent of Ornette Coleman and Pharaoh Sanders, fueled with the urgency of The Last Poets, they played on behalf of students, prison inmates, and their community at large.

The band — comprised of Byard Lancaster, Khan Jamal, Monnette Sudler, Omar Hill, Dwight James, Rashid Salim, and Billy Mills — released a single studio record, New Horizons, in 1972. Before Sounds of Liberation disbanded, with various members traveling their own musical paths in the time since, they recorded a live session at Columbia University in 1973 that was previously thought to be lost. Continue reading →

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FKJ pushes the boundaries of the one-man show at Union Transfer

FKJ | photo by Koof Ibi Umoren | koofibi.com

French multi-instrumentalist FKJ put on a masterclass at Union Transfer on Thursday, showing how one-man bands can control the stage and visually and aurally pleasing to a crowd. Alternately known as French Kiwi Juice (or just Vincent Fenton), FKJ showcased his musicality and technical proficiency with an impressive rig comprised of three guitars, alto and tenor saxophone, a bass guitar, two or three synth keyboards, a sampler, at least one loop pedal, and the piece de resistance, a clear “piano” / lighting rig that added a noir aesthetic to some already haunting tunes. Along with creating live loops, while rapidly switching between all the instruments mentioned above, this “one-man show” also allowed for some great collaborations. Continue reading →

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The Strumbellas swept the crowd away with an engaging Union Transfer set

The Strumbellas | photo by Emily DeHart for WXPN | dehartvisuals.com

Six-piece Ontario-born indie-rock band The Strumbellas successfully combine relatable emotional grief and spirited tunes to create music that is able to touch each listener. At Union Transfer on Saturday night, lead singer Simon Ward  illuminated the band’s set with simple yet heartfelt words: “be kind, you never know what someone is going through.” This was a constant theme throughout the night, though it was certainly not the only aspect of the night that kept the audience engaged. The fact that The Strumbellas were able to make the audience feel as if they were a part of their family was quite the feat, and another major part of their appeal. Time and time again, the band made sure to reach out to the crowd in unique and humble ways, including them in their performance. Sure, other artists might try to do the same, but they certainly don’t connect as successfully as The Strumbellas do. Continue reading →

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Big Thief wants to believe on new single “U.F.O.F.”

Big Thief | photo courtesy of the artist

Big things are happening for indie rock/folk band Big Thief. After two successful albums — Masterpiece in 2016 and Capacity in 2017 — the group is set to release a third album this May mysteriously titled, U.F.O.F. This is the first album Big Thief has released since signing with 4AD, and the title track, “UFOF”, is out now. If that weren’t enough for you folk rock alien-believers, Big Thief has also released a North American tour that will stop at Union Transfer in November. Continue reading →

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Slow down time with Strand of Oaks’ heartwarming home movie music video for “Ruby”

Strand of Oaks | photo by Alysse Gafkajen | courtesy of the artist

Philadelphia’s Strand of Oaks is readying the spring release of its sixth LP, Eraserland, and today frontman Tim Showalter brings us another taste of the record. Following the pensive build-and-burn of album opener “Weird Ways,” this teaser is a joyous pop anthem called “Ruby,” built around a ringing chord progression, snappy staccato keys, and a hooky refrain about not losing sight of the joy in life as time marches on: “Ruby, won’t you slow it down, this is happening so fast.”

“Ruby is by far one of the happiest songs I’ve ever written, unabashedly so,” Showalter writes on Twitter. “I know this seems like strange, uncharted waters for the Oaks catalog and especially Eraserland, but even the darkest night has a dawn. This is a song about the time and how with each year passing it feels like a dream.” Continue reading →

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Sharon Van Etten stuns a sold-out Union Transfer, covers Sinead O’Connor on night two of tour

Sharon Van Etten | photo by Rachel Barrish for WXPN

Sharon Van Etten‘s new album Remind Me Tomorrow is a different direction for the singer-songwriter: futuristic and spacey synths colliding with her one-of-a-kind voice and old-school style. Her stop in Philly at Union Transfer explored all of this. Van Etten’s set on Thursday felt like a new awakening for the artist, who had taken a long break from touring after her previous album, Are We There. The energy from the stage was palpable, and the crowd was electrified by the band’s performance and Van Etten’s gripping presence. With it being only night two of eighteen, there are still kinks to be worked out, but they were far outweighed by the sheer star power Van Etten brings to her live show. Continue reading →

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Just Announced: Billie Eilish will play The Met Philly with Denzel Curry this June

Billie Eilish | photo by Isaiah Spicer for WXPN | iospicer.com

After a couple years of dazzling listeners, crowds, and YouTube subscribers with a gripping fusion of pop melody and macabre presentation, ominous R&B singer Billie Eilish will make her full-length debut this March with the Interscope Records release When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?. With last week’s news of the album comes this week’s news of a tour, featuring acclaimed rapper Denzel Curry, whose Loma Vista LP TA1300 was one of our 20 Albums Not To Overlook in 2018; their Philadelphia date is set for June 15th at The Met Philly, more information can be found at the XPN Concert Calendar. Continue reading →

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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 →

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Commonwealth Choir looks into their future with the new “Palm Reader”

Commonwealth Choir | photo by Abi Raymaker | courtesy of the artist

A few years back, indie rock four-piece Commonwealth Choir was a ubiquitous force on the Philly scene. They were always on some bill or another, they had songs pop up on Bandcamp EPs and cassette-only splits. Hell, singer-guitarist Davis Jameson Howely’s mug landed on an XPN digital billboard at one point.

But things slowed for a while, as they often do with groups of friends who have been making music together since their childhood. Though Commonwealth Choir never stopped gigging around the city, the space between releases slowed. After 2015’s “Palace” single, we didn’t hear from them until a 2017 song to benefit the ACLU, “Dark Times.” And after that, we didn’t hear from them until today. Continue reading →

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Hiss Golden Messenger brings Hallelujah Anyhow back to Union Transfer

Hiss Golden Messenger | Photo by: Ellen Miller for WXPN | ellencm.com
Hiss Golden Messenger | photo by Ellen Miller for WXPN | ellencm.com

It was an evening with Hiss Golden Messenger on Wednesday night as Durham, NC singer-songwriter M.C. Taylor brought his four-piece band to Philadelphia to headline Union Transfer. The band’s most recent album, Hallalujah Anyhow, is just over a year old, and their set mixed up songs from it, as well as their recent Heart Like a Levee from 2016 and a mix of their back-catalog, including cuts from 2012’s Poor Moon and 2014’s Lateness of DancersContinue reading →