Philly Synth-Pop Artist Catherine Moan Broadcasts Aspirational Joy with “Drop It!”

Philly isn’t really known for a bustling electro-pop scene, but emerging synth artist and songwriter Catherine Moan just might change that. The city’s known more for its contributions to punk and hip hop, and Moan felt a bit lost in it all, not sure where she fit in. “It [felt] sometimes like imposter syndrome, where I’m like, oh well, I’m not using all these real instruments, like guitar and bass, and I’m not making grimy real sounding imperfect music,” she says. But with the onset of the pandemic, Moan had the opportunity to stop everything else and really delve into her sound, without the insecurity that comes with comparisons to others. The fruit of this labor is her debut LP Chain Reaction, out in September on Born Losers Records. Today, she shares her first-ever music video, for single “Drop It!”

Like many artists, the pandemic became a sort of blessing in disguise for Moan, where the cessation of soul-crushing day jobs and the influx of government aid allowed her to refine the music that had been floating around in her head for many years. “The entire quarantine situation unlocked this creative outlet that was so liberating… I was doing schoolwork and everything before so I was super divided, and so my personal projects, I couldn’t really focus. With isolation I was able to make that my number one priority,” she says. It wasn’t all good, though, and the balance here further unlocked a lot of creative potential. “At the same time, all these terrible things were happening in succession with the world and personal stuff. I had so much going on that was like a perfect storm of all these things you have to worry about. I even lost my therapist, so the music became my therapy. Each song I was working on I’d pick a specific problem I was facing and flesh it out, make it into a song, a sound, poetry.”

And so she wrote the entirety of Chain Reaction during lockdown, citing early Depeche Mode, CHRVCHES, and TR/ST as influential for how they were able to use high energy beats alongside somber lyrics to create a sound that was both fun and serious at the same time. “The number one thing with music that I try to keep in focus is that it’s kind of silly,” she says, articulating her own vision. “It’s not entirely serious, because you’re dancing around and singing in your bedroom. Even if I’m writing about something super serious and personal, I try to keep a touch of light-heartedness and fun and clownery in it.”

The “Drop It!” video reflects this in its perfectly simple concept, in which Moan sings alone in front of a green screen background, solid colors and nightclub scenes superimposed behind her while the lyrics pop up in the foreground. It feels aspirational in nature, like she’s trying to manifest the fun she’ll have once it’s all over. There’s no one else at the party, only her cat and multiple animations of herself dancing in conjunction with her real body. “I feel like that one is less about me and more about a collective feeling of what [we were] observing or experiencing during the pandemic [at] the peak of it,” she explains. “That winter was super tough, probably the worst winter we’ll all experience together. The one thing I really wanted to do was be dancing, be out with my friends, in such proximity that you’re almost overheating, and just find a way to channel that and forget and put myself in a headspace where it was like, we’re having fun, we’re dancing around, we’re having a great time.” 

The timing of the release is serendipitous in that it aligns with the reopening of clubs and music venues. With this in mind, Moan begins to prepare for her very first live shows ever. She has no formal musical background, mainly just an urge to write music that was never placated by traditional instruments or outlets. “It was a bunch of attempts and failures the whole time,” she explains. “Once I got to college I got my hands on a mini-synthesizer and it clicked for me. I was just like, this is what I like! This is what I can do!” Which isn’t to say the rest was history – Moan attempted a handful of failed collaborations along the way, until she realized she created best on her own. 

She faces the prospect of her first live performances with a mixed bag of positivity and nerves, excited for the opportunity to finally share the music she longed to create with the world. “I’ve never performed before, so it’s going to be really interesting. I’m very manic about it,” she says, continuing to sum up the whole project rather succinctly. “But I’m gonna have fun with it.”

Follow Catherine Moan on Instagram for ongoing updates.

Tr38cho of Old City on How to Be a Man (Read: Good Person) in DIY Communities

Old City is a Philadelphia/Buffalo-based hip-hop/punk collective composed primarily of the eponymous producer Old City and rapper Tr38cho, who bring in other members of these musical communities for collaborations. Their latest release is “Class Act,” an explosive tribute to women in punk featuring Shawna Potter of War on Women as well as backing vocals from Melissa ‘Winter’ Hurley (BadXMouth, Pissbath) and Nastya Pavlov (Messed Up). The song premiered on BrooklynVegan in mid-May, and it combines a few of my favorite things – a good hip hop/punk mash-up in the style of The White Mandingos (rapper Murs’ 2012 collab with Darryl Jenifer of Bad Brains) or Ho99o9, and men policing other men in DIY scenes – so when they approached me for an interview, I couldn’t say no.

The intersection of these genres goes back as far as the genres themselves. The origins of punk in Britain in the 1960s owes heavily to reggae and dub, and by the 1970s, punk and hip hop were flourishing simultaneously. But because they attracted an “outsider” demographic, they relied heavily on a DIY ethos. “In one group you have a bunch of poor white kids, and in another group you have a bunch of poor Black kids, the misfits,” Tr38cho explains. “Black people weren’t going to clubs in Manhattan in New York city, in the Bronx, you know? They were going out in the park. They say, there’s the classic line, ‘Power from the streetlights made the place dark.’ We couldn’t go to the clubs so we brought the clubs to the street.” He noted too that basement shows have existed as long as punk, and even once you reached clubs with more legitimacy like CBGB, you might find Blondie on stage with Fab 5 Freddy.

“Class Act” offers classic, irresistible basement show energy, with Tr38cho dropping lines like “Pardon me/I don’t mean to alarm you/I just think it’s dope how you redefine normal” over a tight beat sampling Pennywise’s “Society,” produced by Old City. He goes back and forth with Potter, set over a visual video that sews together clips of all of contemporary punk’s best female artists.

Tr38cho explains the idea originated from a deep respect for the courage and “special something” these women bring to the genre. “I was, I don’t want to say envious, but had always fangirled women in punk,” he says. “You can hear a thousand bands that are like Black Flag or Dead Kennedys, and then as soon as you throw a woman’s voice into it, it’s immediately a very interesting sound vocally. So my appreciation for that came out. Let’s try to write a song that’s not like, I want you to be my girlfriend, but it’s like, let me be that girl.”

This is a refreshing take from a man in the DIY punk community, one that is often plagued by sexual misconduct and struggles to live up to the progressive ethos that once defined the genre. This thought process is crucial and necessary, because at least from my personal experience, men tend to get defensive when women tell them the many ways they’ve wronged them (we all remember #NotAllMen, yes?). A lot more progress can be made a lot more quickly when men stand up to police the behavior of their fellow men, a belief Tr38cho is quick to confirm.

“I feel like every white dude in these types of scenes, when they hear stuff like this, they immediately go to punisher mode,” he says. “You add the layer of toxic masculinity where somebody’s friend was groped or whatever, and the guy comes out of nowhere and is like ‘I’m gonna kill that dude!’ And it’s like okay, hold on, before you go, you could stop the situation but I don’t need to hear your theories on how all rapists should be killed. Just handle the fucking situation at hand. And be aware that some of your actions may mimic those [same people who wronged your friend].” He adds that it has to be an “everyday” thing, and that men should constantly be checking themselves in terms of how they react to volatile situations such as these, or even something as seemingly innocuous as why they are attracted to a certain woman and how they treat her as a result. 

Tr38cho also notes the intersectionality of it all, that as long as one group of people is oppressed, everyone is oppressed. “As a Black person I have a perspective, like I feel this way as a Black man, [so] this could be a thing that women feel like,” he says. “I grew up with women, I got a lot of cousins, my sister, my mom, I’m married. With all these women who surround me, you get those perspectives, you hear them and sometimes you have to be wrong for a second… And I do with LGBTQIA communities and feminist communities, what I would like done from white men towards the Black community.” 

While he would definitely like Old City to release a “party song” sooner or later, their work lately has focused primarily on thorny issues. In addition to “Class Act,” they’ve written a few songs dealing with police brutality, and hope to drop a song soon in the vein of Blink 182’s “Adam’s Song.” “It’s not just women who bear the weight of toxic masculinity,” he says. “It’s men. That song particularly brings out male vulnerability between two men, and how vulnerability between men is just not promoted enough. Without some sort of gaze of football, or sports, you have to have an extra layer. Men can’t just be vulnerable with each other without a reason for it.”

In the end, I share the world of Old City with the Audiofemme universe not only so you can rage to some good, old-fashioned punk rock this summer, but also that we might all find some hope in the fact that there truly are some good guys out there doing the work. For a lack of a better phrase than #NotAllMen, some of them really do want to heal these tender spots and make DIY communities, and the world at large, a more positive place for everyone. And Old City is it.

Follow Old City on Instagram for ongoing updates.

Remember Sports Sharpen Their Sound on Latest LP Like a Stone

Photo Credit: Sonia Kiran

Artistic evolution takes many forms, and for Philadelphia-based pop-punk quartet Remember Sports, that growth is represented in their latest LP Like a Stone. Released April 23 via Father/Daughter Records, the album signifies the next stage in Remember Sports’ development from friends with shared interests to becoming mainstays in the basement-rock scene.

“I think this album represents us finding our groove as not just a band who plays for fun but as one who takes things seriously,” Carmen Perry, the band’s lead vocalist, tells Audiofemme. “Not that we didn’t before! It’s just that we’ve been doing this for a while now and we’ve become more comfortable with the process.” The album was recorded at The Honey Jar in Brooklyn, with help from Carlos Hernandez and Julian Fader (of Minneapolis indie pop trio Nadine). They’ll celebrate with a release show via Bandcamp Live on May 22.

Initially called Sports, the band has seen numerous variations of members, and added Remember to their name in 2017. But the constant within the band has been the friendship it grew out of. “So much of our music is about memories and being nostalgic and sentimental,” says Perry, who formed the band while at Kenyon College in Ohio with Catherine Dwyer – who’s still in the band – and Benji Dossetter and James Karlin. “We were friends since the first day in freshman year; we liked the same kinds of music and really liked playing music together so it felt pretty natural to play in a band. We’ve gone through a lot iterations in the band since then, but its been me and Catherine since the beginning.” Currently, Remember Sports is comprised of singer-songwriter and guitarist Perry, bassist Dwyer, guitarist Jack Washburn, and drummer Connor Perry.

Like a Stone starts off with the punchy, pop-rock bop “Pinky Ring.” Utilizing their staple musical diet of rollicking drums and raw guitar chords, a quick, two-beat intro sets off the melody, fully immersing the listener into Remember Sports’ world. Tugging on themes of self-doubt and the inevitable self-imposed pressure that we tend to exert on ourselves, the melody captures that frantic emotional state. “It speaks to the themes of the album and is a good mix of the pop punk music we started out playing and what else we can do as a band,” says Perry. “Usually when we’re writing a new album I go through some dry periods where I’m not writing much and I think ‘I’m never going to write a song in my life!’ I think I then wrote ‘Pinky Ring’ in an afternoon. I don’t really write in minor keys a lot so this was outside my writing style but I like that it opens the album on this confusing note.”

Following the fast-paced chaos of “Pinky Ring,” “Coffee Machine” plays as an interlude in both a literal and metaphorical sense; it demonstrates the band’s experimentation with sound after “Pinky Ring” revisits their signature style, while the lyrics “Stay here ’til it don’t hurt anymore,” could read as a plea directly pointed at listeners.

The laid-back “Sentimentally” follows with electric guitar evoking a feeling of a nostalgic summer haze as Perry’s vocals paint a bittersweet picture detailing the trepidation that comes with change as we grow older. With “Easy,” Perry pulls on a thread of destruction and the breakdown of a toxic relationship, combining it with strong guitar riffs and a rapid drum beat. “Eggs” and “Materialistic” see Remember Sports break new ground as they change gears and come down, letting the energy and angst of the previous track settle before the title track picks up the pace again. Perry’s vocals command attention in a quietly confident manner throughout the album, while the band’s ’90s grunge influences and atmospheric guitar solos shine through as well.

Standout track “Out Loud” is a somber, yet inspirational listen that diverges from the album with pop elements. “It’s sort of a pop song that I always really wanted to write. When I was working on a popsicle truck one summer in Philly, the melody popped into my head and I had a lot of free time so I just sort of came up with the lyrics and was singing it to myself before I could get home,” Perry remembers. “I was watching Euphoria that summer and I felt really inspired by the camera work, the glitter and the make up of that show that just reminded me of being young and really feeling things very deeply.” The intensity of emotions that come with being a teenager is depicted in lyrics like, “Won’t stop/Never give up/Trying to get everything out/Of your head, into your mouth/We can make this last if you say it out loud,” Perry letting loose and letting her vocal soar at the titular words, which are then repeated back by each band member in turn during a mellow outro.

“Odds Are” ties up Like a Stone in a similar way to the final scenes of a coming-of-age film. Discussing themes of change and moving on, the track begins with the crystal clear notes of an acoustic guitar as Perry’s twangy lyrics recount a complicated relationship in cheeky lines like “I spaced out and walked past my street/I got lost in thinking something/Though the thoughts were cheap.” As more instruments and vocals gradually materialize, joining forces for the final verse, the album ends with the cautiously hopeful lines “Well I don’t know why but I think we all deserve another try/Yeah, I don’t know why but I think my odds are good this time.”

Perry might as well be talking about Remember Sports’ trajectory. Previous work, such as 2018 LP Slow Buzz, zeroed in on the breakdown of a relationship and as a result communicated an overall feeling of unbridled frustration. Like a Stone, on the other hand, emanates a sense of cathartic closure, and represents a marked departure for the band both in their sound and storytelling.

This shift owes itself not just to the investments they’ve made in new equipment but also the shift in their outlook. No longer interested in creating the “perfect” track, Perry has allowed herself to feel her way through the lyrics. “When we were writing Slow Buzz, recording it and putting the finishing touches on it, I really tried to make sure I put everything I was trying to say in it, to the point of reworking lyrics and taking things out,” she recalls. “It worked for that album, but this time around… I put less pressure on myself to say everything that I needed to say or wanted to say and being less definitive in the process, because this isn’t going to be the last album that I’ll make in my life. I just took some of the pressure off and wrote what was in my head.”

Remember Sports have a knack for capturing both a peppy wistfulness and an all-consuming emotional intensity. Partly a result of Perry’s diaristic style of song-writing and the musical rawness of the band’s sound, the combination of the two strikes an unexpected chord.

Throughout this album there is a sense of evolution, of looking at the parts that make us who we are and acknowledging all their effects on both ourselves and our environment. Like a Stone holds nothing back as Remember Sports use the album as a vector to tackle themes of self doubt, insecurity and self hatred, turning them on their head in the process.

Follow Remember Sports on Instagram and Facebook for ongoing updates.

Em Boltz of Enchanted Forest Premieres Two New Tracks Composed on a Synth Built From Scratch

Photo Credit: Juliette Rando

Over the last year, many of us have picked up new hobbies to fill the endless expanse of time between the initial lockdown and the present, the uncertain future of when life will go back to “normal” and what that even means at this point. No longer do we measure time in minutes, days, or weeks, it would seem, but rather through loaves of sourdough bread and craft projects and how long it took your tomato plant to produce fruit last summer. Em Boltz, one half of Philly experimental electronic duo Enchanted Forest, is no different than the rest of us, except they spent their year delving deep into the world of modular synth construction.

A recipient of the Audiofemme Agenda Artist Grant, Boltz used the grant money towards the completion of an ambitious project – a recreation of the Buchla Music Easel (the iconic Additive Analogue Synthesizer spoken of in reverent tones since its incarnation in 1973) using Eurorack modules. If that sounds like a foreign language to you, that’s okay – it does to me too. The most important takeaway is that the true Buchla Music Easel will run you over $3,000, whereas you can get pretty close to creating your own for much less.

Essentially, Boltz has been scouring the internet for elements that help to imitate the Easel’s unique sonic possibilities, bits and pieces like oscillators, low pass gates, and spring reverbs, and patching them together to try and produce the organic, “magical acoustic space” that only the Buchla itself offers as a compact package. Using a Eurorack format as the base allows the user to customize their desired experience as it has no set signal flow, so that one can gain the most from whatever singular modular components they desire.

A sneak-peek at Em Boltz’s set up, courtesy of the artist.

Boltz’s interest in the Buchla was born of their love of psychedelic and krautrock music, as well as the compositions of artists like Suzanne Ciani and Terry Riley, both of whom included the Buchla in their musical repertoire. “This isn’t by any means a precise replica of the Buchla,” Boltz explains. “And I’m still very much learning how to navigate modular synths, but this is like my intro to it as well. I’ve just been slowly adding modules and integrating them into this Eurorack that I’m creating, which has been overwhelming definitely, but also super exciting… It’s been interesting, building a synth, because I feel like my approach to music is so intuitive, and I’ve been reading so much and trying to recreate this thing.” 

The challenge is further magnified by Boltz’s background in the humanities; as a poet and an English student at Kent State University, they had no formal background in such a technical practice. They’ve largely depended on YouTube and web forums to amass the necessary knowledge. “I feel like I learn something new every day,” they say. “I’m constantly trying to watch videos of other people talking about their set-ups… because essentially you’re recreating what someone [else] has created when you go buy a synthesizer, so there are all these different variations of what you could do… the possibilities are limitless.” The goal here is to recreate the uniquely organic sounds the Buchla is capable of – a “60s zingy vibe,” or an “acoustic funk,” for instance, according to one video I watched to try to get a handle on this. The Buchla, even as a replica, makes what Boltz says is “the trippiest stuff. It’s the simplest way you can put it.”

So far they’ve been successful, utilizing the makeshift Buchla to write and record the latest Enchanted Forest release, a visual album appropriately titled Research, out on Dear Life Records on June 18. The tracks, and their accompanying videos, focus on the intersection of the natural and digital worlds; “a lot play with nature because I just love nature, and I feel like that’s something I see through all the work I do, like poetry, music, writing,” Boltz says. “Making things that sound like they’re created in nature, which is what’s so cool about working with analog gear. It’s this really organic sound to it that really aids that.” 

Today, Boltz shares what they call “abstracted visuals” for two of the LP’s tracls – “The Tap” and “Open Window” – premiering exclusively on Audiofemme. On “Open Window” you can hear the sound of birds chirping layered under the synth effects. Though they are already using the synthesizer to produce music, it seems as though the project could carry as long as long as Boltz wants it to, acquiring new pieces of equipment and patching them into the existing set-up.

Enchanted Forest began as a Boltz’s solo endeavor, but it has recently expanded to include Noah Jacobson-Caroll, who Boltz met in 2017 when both played guitar in dark pop group Corey Flood. Research was written and recorded through email correspondence over the last year. “This band started in May 2020, so it’s only ever known COVID,” Boltz says. “The new album is all recorded through this karaoke machine, at least on my part. It’s all just us sending stuff back and forth.”

As far as what’s next, they say, “We’re already working on another album. We don’t stop.” Enchanted Forest intends to continue to collaborate remotely, because Boltz says they’ve “really come to enjoy creating this way.” And with seemingly endless possibilities, Research seems like an intriguing prologue to what Em Boltz and Enchanted Forest will create as time goes on. “Honestly it’s the best album I’ve ever made, which feels really good.”

No Thank You Work Toward Self-Acceptance on Embroidered Foliage LP

Often called a cosmic rite of passage by astrologers, Saturn’s transit is said to have a huge impact as it returns to the same place in the sky it occupied at the moment of a person’s birth. Signifying entry to into adulthood, the phenomenon is occurs between the ages of 27 and 31, undoubtedly a fraught time for many. But Kaytee Della Monica, lead vocalist/guitarist of Philadelphia-based indie rock band No Thank You, sees the return of Saturn as a different kind of alarm clock. “It’s time to stop wasting time hating yourself,” she sings against energetic, escalating guitar chords on “Saturn Return,” the opening track of No Thank You’s third full-length album Embroidered Foliage. Della Monica was going through her own Saturn return when she wrote the LP, and this process of self-growth and shedding the past is portrayed in different ways throughout the albums ten relatable songs.

Astrology pops up again on the last song, “Leo Moon,” which is about Della Monica’s process of accepting flaws that she associates with her moon sign. “I am unusual, but that’s what the stars dealt me,” she sings in the laidback, catchy track. “Don’t want to rely on someone else to learn to love myself.”

Della Monica’s interest in astrology is rooted in its practice as a tool for understanding. “I don’t like the idea of using your birth chart as an excuse for being a shitty person, but I think it brought to light things I didn’t necessarily have that perspective on, and it helped me to grow and change,” she says. Whether filtered through the lens of the planets or everyday life, much of the album — which also features bassist Evan Bernard and drummer Nick Holdorf — deals with personal evolution and self-love, particularly at the end of a relationship.

Della Monica is still processing some of the grief that informed the band’s previous album, 2018 sophomore effort All it Takes to Ruin It All, written in the wake of her father’s death. But on Embroidered Foliage, she more closely examines the ways her anxiety around death plays into self-destructive tendencies, like becoming involved in an intense (and unhealthy) relationship.

The slow, somber title track was partly inspired a gift from her ex and her day job as a jewelry specialist at an auction house, where she came across a painting by an artist known as the Master of Embroidered Foliage. “There were a lot of ties with this imagery and the words, but I saw it as a whole when they were selling the painting,” she says. “It really struck me, and I just decided that Embroidered Foliage would be the perfect title for the record. It was definitely an ‘aha’ moment.”

The guitar riffs are reminiscent of ’90s pop punk, evoking a sense of nostalgia that fits the overall theme of learning from the past. Della Monica remembers listening to a lot of Placebo when she wrote it, which is evident in the dissonance and distortion that, to her, convey rage and self-loathing. The album Without You I’m Nothing in particular captured the persona she wanted to convey: “small and meek mixed with loud and strong and aggressive and powerful.” Indie rock band Pedro the Lion was another major influence, particularly the album Control, which similarly centers on facing your downfalls and dark side.

Della Monica also credits her band members for creating the album’s emotive sound. “Nick is very emotional in his drum playing and really honed in on my intent without really having to try, which was great, and Evan is kind of the master of tone,” she says. “He records a lot of bands — people respect him for his ability to embody the feeling people are trying to convey with tone, and I think he really nailed it with the right amp, the right guitar, and the right soundscape.”

During the recording process at Big Mama’s Recording Studio in Philadelphia, Della Monica made an effort to hand over more of the album to Bernard, who also produced it, than she had in the past, and rather than recording live, they recorded each track individually. Her goals were to be more specific lyrically than in the past and write more dynamic guitar parts.

No Thank You plan to stretch themselves even further as a band on their next LP, which they’re already working on. “We’ve been in talks of making a little bit of a pop thing that I really wanted to just explore and do for fun,” says Della Monica. “We’re looking to do more stuff because we’re tired of sitting around at home, so we thought we’d might as well buy some weird pop music apps and use them.”

The process of making Embroidered Foliage helped Della Monica process and solidify her growth as both a person and an artist. Her band name, which initially reflected her tendency to close people off and be negative, no longer defines her music like it used to. “Songwriting for me is very much a cathartic experience, and it’s very much self-discovery,” she says. “My perspective has grown and changed, and I think writing music really helps me to do that. I hope it’s changed for the better and that I’ve become a more rounded and well-equipped human being.”

Follow No Thank You on Instagram for ongoing updates.

ThebandIvory Delve into Queer, Indigenous Identity On Anthropocene LP

two members of ThebandIvory pose wearing velvet jackets
two members of ThebandIvory pose wearing velvet jackets
Photo Credit: Bob Sweeney

Frankie DeRosa needed to heal, but he didn’t realize it until he saw children of Mexican immigrants locked in cages. “Seeing that came with a sense of responsibility to have my voice be heard,” he says. He made a vow to finally finish Anthropocene, his debut full-length as ThebandIvory, alongside collaborator and real life partner Robbie Simmons. It’s been five years in the making and follows the duo’s 2015 EP, The Beast, and despite a winding road to get to this moment, they’ve more than earned it.

“We needed five years to grow into the album. There’s so much to be said, and especially with the way the world is right now, it took battling our own mental health and what it takes for healthy relationships,” DeRosa tells Audiofemme. “This year has definitely made me reflect on my place as a person of color [who is] gender non-comformig and queer. I take up a lot of space, and definitely these days, it’s harder to feel safe to be yourself. In making this album, I thought it was really important to address that fear.”

Anthropocene cracks open with gentle, soothing waves on the first track, “I’ve Come to Realize.” It’s an ethereal musical centerpiece, priming the body for a powerful expedition into pain, regret, uncertainty, angst, and the current political climate. Lead offering “After It’s Said and Done” vents frustrations over taking so long to make the record, blending musicality from a piccolo-laced tribal dance into a somber, soul-crying crescendo.

“You see your peers touring, and you compare yourself a lot when it comes to socials. I was trying to reignite the fire inside of me. Writing this song was a way to remind myself that when anxiety or depression seems to take over that it’ll pass, and there’s something on the other side,” he says.

Apt to infuse some lighthearted humor, “Factory Song (Hey-Oh, Goodbye)” recalls a time DeRosa worked in a clam canning factory. DeRosa and Simmons had just moved from Berklee College of Music to the Philly area, and they needed to make ends meet. “The cans going down the conveyor belt were [hitting] in this weird 6/8 kind of rhythm. When you work 12 hour shifts, it gets stuck in your head even when you go home,” he describes.

So, he wrote a song about it. His factory job also sparked a rush of millennial angst, seeping onto the entire record. “As millennials, we do everything we’re supposed to do and still society isn’t set up for us to be successful,” he points out.

That emotional tug-of-war peeks out from behind lush, elegant instrumentation. Even with “The Man in the Eye of the Storm,” perhaps DeRosa’s most moving vocal performance, he utilizes ornamental beauty to sculpt a tragic tale about his stepfather, whose toxicity and emotional abuse spread trauma like a plague into every facet of DeRosa’s existence. “No matter how far he’d go/The storm would still follow/Ghostly in nature, haunting its maker,” he cries, carving out what blossoms into a chilling folktale.

“I’ve seen a lot of people, especially those who suffer with depression and maybe aren’t aware they even have depression, have this black hole around them. It sucks energy,” he says. “My father wasn’t ever able to see that.”

Anthropocene became a conduit through which DeRosa could confront trauma from childhood and move onward to his destiny. The titular cut, drawing upon a term, which, as defined, outlines the geological age in which humans now exist, celebrates the discovery of his Indigenous lineage (Warao Venezuelan) and his “understanding in having a positive experience to the environment,” he reflects. “That culture, they know how to influence nature to benefit it, and we tend to, in an industrialized world, do the opposite. This song was a way to look at both sides.”

“This current age is unstable, to say the least. We all joke about how the world is gonna end, but it feels like it really is,” he adds.

He further reclaims his heritage with the gooey, electronic “Fake News,” also an obvious dig at the current U.S. political climate. It’s a languid, spacey performance that cuts deep with an array of instruments, including xylophone, guitar, and bansuri. DeRosa packs in such vibrancy “while talking shit about the administration,” he notes with a chuckle.

The record 一 co-produced with Simmons, whose sultry production style and foundational instrumentation accentuates DeRosa’s irresistible presence 一 threads together their evolutionary journey and inclination for rich tonal colors. “I tend to love different modes, which are scales with different personalities. I draw a lot from Caribbean music for grooves and Indian music for my melodies,” says DeRosa, who dove into various musical ensembles (Indian, Middle Eastern, and Caribbean) during his Berklee days. In working so intimately with Simmons, a collaboration that could get very heated at times, they bounced off each other’s strengths and diverse talents.

“I’ve learned so much by just being next to Robbie. We compliment each other in that way,” DeRosa gushes. “It definitely makes the stakes higher.”

By the album’s alarming end, “Open Your Mind/Surrender/Breathe,” DeRosa comes as close as he’s ever been to totally mended with what is truly a cathartic release. He learns to shed his old self, as well, and embrace who he was always meant to become. “I think often we get swept up in our own ideas of who we are, and we hold ourselves back by not being willing to change. I saw myself over the five years trying to get this album together. I was holding onto old ideas of myself,” he explains.

In this very moment, DeRosa stands in the spotlight next to Simmons. Together, they are a force to be reckoned with. “Even life and death is an illusion, and it’s hard to own that all the time,” DeRosa says. “I remind myself to find the beauty in irreverence and make fun of things. Live life without fear. Live the best life you can. You only get one. Humor makes life enjoyable. If I can find happiness in all the dark moments of my life, then moving forward shouldn’t be that difficult.”

Follow ThebandIvory on Facebook and Instagram for ongoing updates.

Playing Philly: Florry Gets Folky on “Oh You Vacation Time” EP

Florry. Photo by Amanda Silberling.

Three summers ago, a friend of mine (Deer Scout) opened for Francie Medosch’s band Florry on a short tour through New England. For some reason, they let me tag along. There’s no weirder way to discover a band than to jump in a minivan with them for a week, but that’s how I learned firsthand how wildly talented and dedicated Francie Medosch is. On that first night of tour at a mostly empty pizza parlor in suburban Connecticut, Francie blew me away with the expansive universes contained within her songs (just listen to “Kanagawa” and you’ll get what I mean).

Evidently, I’m not the only one who noticed Francie’s unique sound and perspective – the following year, Florry released the record Brown Bunny on Sister Polygon Records, the label run by Priests. Brown Bunny is dark and detailed – the kind of record you can listen to over and over, yet always find a new twist on a guitar riff or lyric. On her impressive debut, Medosch meddled through the messy work of growing up; but now, on her new EP Oh You Vacation Time, she reaps the benefits of that personal growth. On this EP, Florry trades in the guitar solos and distortion pedals from Brown Bunny for a more stripped-down, folky sound, where her vocals and acoustic guitar take center stage.

On “Oh You Vacation Time,” Florry is in motion: she’s driving through Hudson, she’s walking by the library, she’s climbing to the highest peak of a mountain. It’s fitting, given that this is a record about moving through personal challenges into a more calm, introspective space. Medosch’s writing is direct and confident in its simplicity: “I want to feel completely complete […] I want you to know me/and I want it to kill me,” she sings on “Yeah Yeah.” As usual, Francie isn’t afraid to get vulnerable in her songwriting (“Without bodies, we’re so happy” she sings after a harmonica interlude on “When Do I”), yet on this record, she seems more hopeful than ever.

Read Francie’s take on her new EP, influences, and songwriting in the interview below.

AF: In the Bandcamp “liner notes,” you write that you’re approaching these songs from a more positive space. How was this songwriting experience different for you?

FM: Being in a positive space just makes the writing and recording process exceptionally easier. Obviously, that is something I’ve always understood, but never really put enough effort into until the past couple years or so. It’s great though, when you’re able to create art that reminds you of a good or funny feeling – it makes revisiting and revising come much more naturally. Ultimately, I just feel that I enjoy these songs more, which I figure will mean other people will as well.

AF: You also say that even though these songs are coming from a more positive space, they might still sound sad. I feel like this comes through on songs like “When Do I,” where you talk about hating/having hated your body, yet finding places and people that help you not feel that way, which is a very happy thing! I feel like the songs “sounding sad” is honest, because when we talk about growing from trauma, we’re still talking about trauma, if that makes sense?

FM: I wouldn’t say that those lines had anything to do with trauma. It’s more of a general discomfort that every now and then comes over me, but that’s just something everyone ends up feeling here and there. I think that’s why I decided to use that example of anxiety; it’s a common, vulnerable feeling everyone has felt at some point, and it can be stirred to focus so sporadically and suddenly. Like something out of a Victorian gothic, where the protagonist looks out a window, sees something totally inconsequential like a pack of deer running or a leaf blowing in the wind, spontaneously becomes overwhelmed, and one single tear falls from their eye.

AF: Do you think that personal growth is linked with musical growth?

FM: Possibly, but only in the sense that growth can make you go about writing and playing music in a more prudent manner, which can sometimes mean discovering better ways to write or perform and so on.

AF: This EP is a bit more folksy than Brown Bunny – what’s it like for you to be able to explore different genres? 

FM: It’s something that I do naturally – I never think about it. Whatever I can use to emphasize an inflection in my voice, I will use. My singing almost always dictates the song. Over the years though I think my singing voice (and even my normal talking voice to some extent) has ended up taking on a funny rural twang with some bluesy affect. Someone once said I sounded like a drunken Lucinda Williams when I sing, which probably is the best descriptor I can think of.

AF: Your music always has a really wide range of influences – what was on your mind this time around? 

FM: “Stick It” was written last month after I learned how to play in Elizabeth Cotten’s “Cotten picking” style, which I used to guide how the song flowed. I had also been recently revisiting my favorite scores of musicals from the classical Hollywood film era and I think that certainly impacted the music. I’m a big Debbie Reynolds fan and have found a lot of my favorite songs from her movies, especially “A Lady Loves” from I Love Melvin, which I thought was a superb Yo La Tengo song from an alternate universe the first time I heard it (not sure if James from Yo La Tengo could detect that when I told him though, ha), and her version (the unused one) of “Would You?” from Singin’ in the Rain. She was never the best at singing, but that’s what endears me to her, y’know. Like David Berman.

“When Do I” was originally a poem I wrote last summer while finishing up recordings on an upcoming Florry record. I had been staying around the Hudson River Valley with my family and that environment always has a profound effect on me like nowhere else. I think at the time I was listening to Big Star, The Village Green Preservation Society by the Kinks, and also going back to a lot of my favorite country, blues, and folk music. Stuff like the Louvin Brothers, Mississippi John Hurt, the Kossoy Sisters, the Carter Family, Gillian Welch, John Fahey, Elmore James, GP, and more.

AF: What are you most excited about sharing with people from this EP? 

FM: I’m very proud of these songs. Since Brown Bunny came out, I’ve been gradually starting to see Florry as an excuse to write the most satisfying sounding songs possible, which I think probably suits me well.

AF: Is the EP title a reference to our current predicament (being stuck at home while the world around us is crumbling !?!?) or was this project in the works beforehand? 

FM: “Oh You Vacation Time” comes from a photo stand-in I once saw when my Nana took me and my sisters out one day when we were much younger. It was a classic two-girls-in-old-timey-one-piece-bathing-suits one with that phrase painted on it. We have a picture of Nana and my sister Lily posing in it. I really liked the sound of the phrase, so it wasn’t necessarily intentional to have it be a reference, but I definitely recognize that what’s going on in the world today gave it a charmingly queer name.

Antigone at Cousin Danny’s. Photo by Noah Balshi.

AF: Is there anything in particular that you’re looking forward to?

FM: There’s a new Florry album that is all wrapped up and hopefully will come out at some point this year. Still trying to figure out exactly how it will be released, so I’m glad I was able to get this record out there to fill the gap of time.

I recently started a junkyard rock/post-punk band called Antigone with Tyler Black, Kade Holt (Eat), John Murray (Baby Seals, Ray Gun, Garden of Snakes, and many more), and Raffi Kelly (Moon of Teeth). We had plans for recording a nice long record and that was unfortunately put on hold due to the current state of things, so we put out a brief collection of shoddy demos we took from different shows and practices. We are incredibly excited about this band and can’t wait until it becomes safe to play shows and record our LP.

Follow Florry on Facebook for ongoing updates.

New Tracks from Kilamanzego and Gladie

Photo courtesy of the artist.

“Jungle Frequency” by Kilamanzego

Kilamanzego has been on our radar ever since fellow Philadelphian superstar Moor Mother name-dropped her online, but in March, the electronic producer and multi-instrumentalist will release her first EP after years of releasing one-off tracks. Her first new single in several months, “Jungle Frequency” won’t appear on the EP. But, if that means that we have even more of Kila’s music coming our way, then lucky us.

“Jungle Frequency” is ever-evolving and brilliantly arranged. With each listen, “Jungle Frequency” seems to expand, revealing more of itself: the strumming of a metallic stringed instrument, airy wind chimes, atmospheric beats. The song itself exudes an aura of confidence – it’s dense and bursting with ideas, yet controlled and deliberate. It’s no wonder that Kila’s sound is so expansive; she played bass in a variety of rock bands from middle school onward, then turned toward funky electronic music. Her style is distinguished by her incorporation of Ghanaian musical motifs and influences, drawing from her own heritage to generate something uniquely her own.

Kilamanzego is a one-person show, managing everything from production, to publicity, to album artwork on her own. As an artist who is so deliberate about communicating a particular vision, it will be exciting to see what happens when she releases her first EP next month. If she can express something so bold in just three minutes, what will she be capable of with even more wiggle room? If live performances like her studio session at The Key show us anything, it’s that this EP will surely live up to the hype.

“When You Leave the Sun” by Gladie

No one was happy to hear about Cayetana’s hiatus/break-up last year, but nonetheless, it’s exciting to see what else Augusta Koch, former member of the beloved Philly trio, has up her sleeve. Now joined by Matt Schimelfenig, Koch is one-half of Gladie, whose debut LP Safe Sins is due out on February 28.

How torturous it is for Gladie to release a song about that feeling on your sun-kissed skin in the dead of February, which is inarguably the slushiest, harshest month in Philadelphia. It might be passé to talk about the weather, but what makes “When You Leave the Sun” so compelling isn’t so much its lyrics as its fuzzy, vintage sound – if the single were accompanied by a music video, it would definitely be shot on an analog camera. Its screeching, blown-out guitars sound like a Monomania-era Deerhunter, marking a shift from Gladie’s previous single “A Pace Far Different,” which is more soothing than discordant. On this track, Koch is hopeful, urging us to find inspiration in dull moments: “On the bright days, I can feel the sun […] But I still feel it when you leave,” she sings. It’s your standard two-minute surf rock ditty, but the simplicity is enjoyable, accurately capturing the feeling of pure contentedness.

So maybe this is an appropriate anthem for this icky time in Philadelphia – I mean, how frustrating is it that it’s cold, yet not cold enough for the chilling rain to turn to snow? But, as certain as ever, the various farmer’s markets around town rage on, and the dogs still run around outside sniffing for the scent of a friend’s urine. In honor of Gladie, I’ll try to remember what the sun feels like the next time I get stranded in the rain waiting for the bus, but I won’t make any promises.

Church Girls Set Apathy Ablaze With “Florida”

Photo by Natalie Piserchio.

When we last caught up with Philadelphia-based indie punk band Church Girls, they were just about to release their third EP Home; as the follow-up to their debut full-length Hidalgo, it showed a distinct evolution trending toward a rougher, more raw sound. That evolution has continued as the band — consisting of vocalist/guitarist Mariel Beaumont, drummer Julien Varnier, bassist Vince Vullo, and guitarist Joseph Wright — has released a steady stream of singles and last year’s Cycles EP. Simultaneously capturing the fun, energetic, beachy vibes of Best Coast, the angsty pop of Paramore and Garbage, and the campy, minimalistic style of CAKE (which Church Girls counts among its influences), the band is set to release its second full-length album this Friday, February 7 on Anchor Eighty Four Records. The Haunt, which ranges from the catchy, high-energy “Better” to the dark, brooding “Recede” and its aggressive title track, is some of the most honest and bracing music from the band yet.

Beaumont wrote the album’s latest single, “Florida,” about the conflicting feelings she experienced in a place where she spent time growing up and then visiting a love interest. The song encapsulates the ethos of a dull vacation in a way that perfectly conveys what it is like to feel stuck in life.

We talked to Beaumont about the inspiration behind her new single and album, the history of the band, and what punk music means to her.

AF: What are the central themes of The Haunt?

MB: I’d say we focused on addiction, like when a loved one or a family member closely is dealing with that, and then beyond that, other challenges that friends and family are going through, such as divorce and even sometimes not living up to your own standards. I was just watching close family and friends going through those kinds of things and was able to relate them with the issues that I’ve tackled myself.

AF: What do you hope listeners take away from the album?

MB: Although we explore some dark themes, the hope is that there is a little bit of hope among the maybe sometimes nihilistic or dark themes. I’d say often, the themes I’ve had are frustration with dealing someone else’s addiction but also knowing that no matter what, I’ll still be there for that person, even if I’m disappointing myself with my own behavior. The idea is that I’m recognizing it, and at least that’s the first step toward moving forward.

AF: What inspired the song “Florida”?

MB: I have a friend who lives down there, a guy I was kind of seeing, and I spent a lot of time down there. My mom actually lives there, too, and we’ve kind of grown up spending a lot of time there. I love it in ways, but I also kind of hate Florida because when you’re there, time kinds of stops, and the weather’s always nice, and you’re at the beach, and it can feel nice in the moment, but I start to feel very antsy after a while — I’m not moving forward. And sometimes I feel like my friend down there is stuck in the Floridian ways, and I’d like to pull him out. It’s nothing against Florida, by the way.

AF: Does the title of the song have anything to do with the Florida band Church Girls that you filed a trademark infringement lawsuit against?

MB: They’re not called Church Girls anymore, but it’s kind of funny. That wasn’t my intent when I wrote it, but I do find it kind of funny that we have a song called “Florida” now.

AF: Where does your band’s name come from?

MB: I grew up going to Episcopalian school, and I was an acolyte growing up. I discovered punk music in high school and started going to a lot of shows, and in a way, that became my new type of church. I’ve always found that live music especially provides the same kind of soul-feeding you’d look for in going to church. It’s communal, it’s cathartic, and it’s reaching at something metaphysical.

AF: In what ways do you find punk music spiritual?

MB: I’ve always loved the way punk music is physical, and there’s aggression in it, but I remember going to a lot of shows growing up — I was scared sometimes in these pits, but I found the people in them were accommodating if people fell down or something. So, there was this combination of tapping at something primal and aggressive, but also, there was a communal aspect to it. I got a feeling it was kind of above cognition.

AF: What are your next plans?

MB: We’re heading out for a seven- to eight-week tour, and we’ll be going pretty much all over the US and hitting SXSW, and then basically spending the rest of the year touring as much as possible and writing our next LP, which we’re hoping to record at the end of the year or early next year.

Follow Church Girls on Facebook for ongoing updates.

AF 2019 IN REVIEW: Mannequin Pussy’s Patience is Philly’s AOTY

Mannequin Pussy’s Patience isn’t just my Philly album of the year for 2019 – it’s one of the best records of the year in general. This shouldn’t be a surprise, since Philly has one of the strongest music scenes in the country (@ me, I dare you). But, in a time when the fabric of our scene feels a bit precarious, it’s worth taking the time to celebrate the year’s best moments.

When I was a teenager, I would plug my iPod Touch into the aux cord in my mom’s car, playing whatever music was on my “Recently Added” playlist. Inevitably, some rowdy punk band would come on, and over the discordant screeches, my mom would say, “You like this?”

What draws me to punk music has never been the shouting and wailing – I prefer a living room acoustic set over a gritty basement show nine times out of ten. But Mannequin Pussy’s Patience, their third album and first release on Epitaph Records, is a textbook example of why music doesn’t always need to sound pretty. Sometimes, the only way to get over a brutal breakup is to scream. On Patience, Mannequin Pussy encapsulates grief, turmoil, and recovery in a way that only punk music can. I’ll dare to describe it as a “roller coaster of emotion” without fear of exhausting the cliche: we accelerate up the one-two-punch of “Patience” and “Drunk II,” dive into a hellish descent on “Cream,” then slow down on “Fear /+/ Desire” – okay, you get the point.

Mannequin Pussy thrives when they eschew our expectations of what noisy Philly punks should sound like. This is a band of contradiction – they sell out shows despite having a name that is flagged as profanity in Facebook and Google ads, much to promoters’ dismay. It’s funny. It’s also funny to title a 25-minute punk album Patience, but the short album contains multitudes. It chronicles a hostile relationship, yet ends with “In Love Again,” a hopeful song reminiscent of The Cranberries. On songs like “Drunk I,” Patience oozes the kind of healthy aggression that lends itself to mosh pits, yet the record, despite its brevity, is interspersed with equally thoughtful, contemplative moments: “And if the words I’ve written have fallen apart/It’s insecurity, it’s violence starting to get to my heart,” singer and guitarist Marisa Dabice sings on “High Horse.”

“High Horse” is a painful victory march, beginning mellow and painful as it recalls abuse, only to evolve into a hesitantly confident declaration: “Your world’s on fire, as I watch up from my high horse/Your world’s on fire, and I walk away.” The song, which feels like a movie climax, calls us back to the album art for Patience: a desktop globe against a pale pink background, a small flame beginning to engulf this miniature world. It’s beautiful, yet foreboding, a piece of chaos beginning to spread across a picturesque Earth.

Patience reminds us that things aren’t always as they seem. On kickass single “Drunk II,” Dabice captures what it’s like to appear stronger than you feel. In one of the record’s most memorable moments, she sings: “And everyone says to me/’Missy, you’re so strong’/But what if I don’t wanna be?” Moments later, on “Cream,” we indulge in the catharsis of angry, expressive punk: “I was standing in the gates of my hell,” she shouts. It’s easy to imagine a crowd of punk kids shouting and dancing along as Dabice repeats the refrain. Then, in an unexpected, yet welcome transition, she shouts a Spanish verse, adding a deeper sense of personal intimacy.

Mannequin Pussy
Photo by Amanda Silberling

Patience is empowered, yet timid – vulnerable, yet confident. Perhaps this is because we can be all of these things at once as our world falls apart and burns: we can know that we deserve to sever ourselves from the people who push us down, yet still doubt whether we owe ourselves compassion to lift ourselves back up. But Patience is an album that can give you the strength to keep going.

Sophie Coran Premieres Dreamy “Saltwater” Video

Film still by William DeJessa.

It’s easy to get lost in particular nooks of the Philly music scene. Within a few blocks radius of where I’m sitting, there’s a coffee shop that blasts Screaming Females in the morning, a basement venue with metal shows every other night, three tattoo shops, two vegan donut joints, and – inexplicably – an anarchist street artist who tags “gay chaos” on every mailbox in town. I do love this strange bubble of a neighborhood, but I’ll happily let Sophie Coran‘s “Saltwater” burst it, adding something fresh and unexpected to my small corner of this city.

Lauded on NPR as one of “10 Artists You Should Know from Philadelphia,” Coran describes herself as a “Noir & B” artist, incorporating elements of jazz, soul, and pop into her own admirably ambitious sound. She could rock a dive bar as easily as an expansive theater; her music is best accompanied by a grand piano and a brass ensemble, but she could make it work on an electronic keyboard just fine.

Sophie Coran started garnering attention around Philadelphia after releasing the All That Matters EP in 2018. Themed around her experience working in restaurants, the powerful EP is adorned with retro diner graphics. There’s an aesthetic sensibility to her work – her rooftop sessions pluck Lana Del Rey from Venice Beach and drop her on the deck of a Fishtown loft. Coran thrives when she channels her eclectic songwriting through visual means, so it’s no surprise that the new music video for her single “Saltwater” is so captivating. Directed by Philadelphia’s own William DeJessa of Rittenhouse Filmworks, “Saltwater” is dark, dreamy, and evocative.

In “Saltwater,” Coran describes the alienating experience of growing up: “I measure every thought in fear, it’s not the right one/And further from the shore I steer, lost in the ocean.” She’s not the first writer to compare loneliness to floating through the ocean, but her surprising musical arrangements make the concept feel more fresh. Its verses sound like a jazzier Billie Eilish with a wider vocal range; its choruses feel oddly victorious, despite their melancholy lyrics. If you have a short attention span, you’ll love Sophie Coran – her clever song structures will keep you on your toes.

The music video for “Saltwater,” equally glamorous as it is vulnerable, offers us a first look into what this next phase of Coran’s style might look like. Like a pop star, Coran is showered with sparklers, glitter and confetti. Then, against a backdrop of moving water, she looks like a mermaid as she’s “swimming upstream.” In these tight shots, Coran sings directly into the camera, inviting us into her world. But before we can dwell on this image of a star in the spotlight, the shot pans out to show a “behind-the-scenes” look at how the music video was filmed. In the midst of a dark film studio, Coran sits on a stool, illuminated by intense spotlights. The further we zoom out, the darker and lonelier Coran seems.

In a press release, director William DeJessa says, “I wanted to show a sense of nostalgia and yearning as well as a celebration of life.” It’s clever to break the fourth wall on “Saltwater,” because it allows us to see two sides of the musician: her burgeoning stardom and vulnerability are intertwined, inviting us to dwell on what artists – particularly, women solo acts – must work through before they find themselves drowning in a sea of glitter and confetti.

PLAYING PHILLY: APHRA and Control Top Release New Videos

APHRA photo by Megan Matuzak

Between APHRA’s solemn plea for “Love & Affection” and Control Top’s wildly cathartic “Office Rage,” this week’s new releases in Philly music seem to span completely opposite facets of human emotion. That may be an exaggeration, but you’d be hard-pressed to find two new music videos that are as different from each other as these two are. At the same time, though, these songs share a particularly similar sincerity and urgency. Through APHRA’s soulful, somber pop and Control Top’s anti-capitalist punk rage, these Philadelphia-based musicians each beg us to remember that we must take care of ourselves, because if we don’t, no one else will.

APHRA – “Love & Affection”

APHRA, the solo project of multi-instrumentalist Rebecca Waychunas, released the full-length record Sadness is a Gesture in 2017. Now, the native Philadelphian is back with “Love & Affection,” a stand-alone single and video directed by Pollyanna Highgloss.

Like any APHRA song, Waychunas hooks you with her deep, expansive vocals, hypnotizing when layered over electropop guitar riffs. The video itself is nostalgic, echoing the intimacy of a childhood VHS recording. Waychunas skateboards through some faceless, suburban streets and sits at a coffee table among a sea of condolence flowers as she wails, “The thought of losing you/and your love and affection/It’s all I need.” However, after the song ends and the video credits roll, APHRA pulls us in deeper, sharing a voicemail from an unidentified family member. The message is supportive, yet somber: “If you feel you’re being coerced, Rebecca, in any way, by guilt, or a feeling of duty… My suggestion to you is put yourself first, honey.”

APHRA isn’t shy to share details of her personal life: her parents, both musicians from Philadelphia, died in 2017. In this light, it’s hard not to read Waychunas’ own grief into the video and voicemail – but, no matter how personal APHRA’s music may be (or not be) to her own experiences, her soothing, yet haunting songs retain a certain ambiguity that invites the listener in to project their own feelings into APHRA’s dreamy world.

CONTROL TOP – “Office Rage” 

Kristen Stewart made SNL relevant again this weekend as she dressed up like Paramore’s Hayley Williams and raged against corporate America. The punchline of the short is that punks need jobs too, and who would pass up a promotion to the twelfth floor sales team?

But “Office Rage,” which comes from Control Top’s first LP Covert Contracts (2019), tackles more serious issues than being bored in a cubicle. It’s passé to whine about “working for the man” when we all have to pay our bills somehow, but Control Top isn’t arguing against having a job – they’re arguing against having a job where you’re treated as sub-human. Vocalist and bassist Ali Carter tells Kerrang: “In a society driven by profits over people, it’s increasingly rebellious to say, ‘My well-being matters.’”

Control Top live photo by Alec Pugliese

With its brightly contrasting primary colors and wailing guitar riffs, the video is reminiscent of The White Stripes – the three-piece begins in a bland, black and white studio, only to emerge into a vibrant red and blue room where they can rest. Among Carter’s shouts to “Quit your job today,” guitarist Al Creedon grounds the anthemic punk song in the melodies of his boundless guitar riffs.

“Office Rage” is, of course, about the workplace, but its message holds true beyond break room politics: we deserve to prioritize our sanity.

PLAYING PHILLY: Frances Quinlan of Hop Along Releases First Solo Single

Frances Quinlan press photo by Julia Khorosilov.

Don’t get me wrong: Hop Along is one of the best bands in the business. But what would Hop Along be without Frances Quinlan’s distinctly shrill vocals and unparalleled, witty songwriting? On Tuesday, Frances Quinlan announced her first solo record, Likewise, out January 31 on Saddle Creek, and shared its first single, “Rare Thing.” The track feels fantastical because it was inspired by a dream, and though it is, admittedly, about Quinlan’s relationship with her baby niece, there’s a universality to her declarations of selfless love. It’s a typical Quinlan move – to lull us into a sense of comfort as her vocals lilt around the melodic plucking of a harp, only to drop a truth bomb on us when we least expect it: “There is love that doesn’t have to do with/taking something from somebody.”

Quinlan’s solo work isn’t unfamiliar compared to Hop Along, which makes sense, since bandmate Joe Reinhart engineered the record at Philadelphia’s Headroom Records. But there’s a certain sense of creative freedom and urgency on “Rare Thing.” Her solo project gives her room to veer away from the structure of a rock band – the baggage of its guitars and drums – and experiment with something more stripped down. It’s not unlike her live performance of Hop Along’s “Happy to See Me,” off of the band’s 2015 record Painted Shut (usually, Quinlan’s three bandmates will leave the stage for her to perform with just her guitar). Only this time, rather than just performing acoustically, she’s able to explore other instrumentation, incorporating synths, harps, and what sounds like a drum machine.

This isn’t the first time Quinlan has worked without a full band. After her first year at the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA), she wrote and recorded Freshman Year (2005) as Hop Along, Queen Ansleis. Though she was just a teenager when she released her first freak folk album, the low-budget project took on a digital life of its own, amassing such a cult fan base that Saddle Creek put out a vinyl reissue of the LP in 2015, its tenth anniversary. Waxahatchee’s Katie Crutchfield even has a tattoo on her arm of the Freshman Year album artwork: a surreal and somewhat indiscernable doodle, which looks like a goose wearing an oversized chef’s hat and apron.

Given her schooling at MICA, it’s not surprising that Quinlan makes all of Hop Along’s album art. When I wrote about her artwork for She Shreds in 2015, Quinlan said, “There’s going to be a point when my voice goes, and I’m not going to be able to tour anymore, but I think I’m going to have painting in my life forever.” So it’s exciting to see her painterly touch on the promotional materials for Likewise – Quinlan’s press photo looks like it’s taken in an art studio, and the album’s cover is almost undoubtedly of her own making. The limited edition pre-order of Likewise – which sold out within hours – even includes two signed screen prints.

Like her music, Quinlan’s artwork is beautifully incoherent. Something feels off-kilter, though her work – visual and aural – creates a sense of ease. The intimacy and overflowing wordiness of her songwriting feel like a friend who’s so eager to tell you a story that she has to stop to catch her breath; likewise, the paintings and screen prints that crop up on Quinlan’s Instagram are as soothing as they are frenetic: in the image below, the earthy landforms seem to morph into animals the longer you look, like an optical illusion.

Like her paintings, “Rare Thing” gains more depth the longer you listen – what at first sounds like it could be a Postal Service song ends up evolving into something more artful, with bassy riffs and melodic strings dancing through the song. Frances Quinlan’s music – whether solo or with Hop Along – demands close attention, and it’s a joy to sink deeper into her fantastical, cluttered world.

PLAYING PHILLY: Big Nothing is Back With Debut LP “Chris”

When Philly four-piece Big Nothing broke onto the scene back in 2017 with their self-titled 7” EP, they brought with them an impressive lineage. Guitarist Pat Graham fronted the punk trio, Spraynard, and fellow guitarist Matt Quinn played with Beach Slang’s Ed McNulty in band Crybaby. Liz Parsons played bass in NJ punk outfit Casual, and Chris Jordan (drums) hails from Gainesville, FL’s Young Livers. With that level of punk rock pedigree, it’s not shocking that their first release was well received, but with just four tracks clocking in around ten minutes total, it left fans in the Philadelphia scene wanting more.

Two years after their debut, Big Nothing has delivered. Chris, the band’s first LP, dropped May 10th, and it brings with it a heavy dose of 90’s-era indie (think: Superchunk), with laidback skate-punk vocals and the looseness of garage acts like the Replacements. What really sets Chris apart though is the piercing melancholic backdrop of the album juxtaposed against the infectious riffs that are on display in almost every song.

Big Nothing seems to have the unique ability to peer into the vast void of existence, and pull out songs that are sublimely catchy yet steeped in personal catharsis. “Being in a band is often a cheap alternative to therapy,” quips the group in their bio, and you’re inclined to believe them. As a whole, Chris is self-reflective and angsty—hurling itself toward big questions of existentialism (“If I don’t know why I’m looking/then what can I hope to find out?” rasps the album’s opening track “Waste My Time”) just as quickly as it voices more immediate frustrations (“I’m caught in a daydream about leaving here for good/Maybe if I move down to Virginia, I’ll find myself in a better mood” on “Autopilot”).

Though it grapples with understanding the looming “big nothing” that challenges our existence, the album is exceptionally big-hearted and vulnerable. It’s an accessible meditation on the human condition that speaks directly to lingering quarter-life anxieties but also has you singing along to its massive hooks—relishing in melancholy rather than being dragged down by it.

While the full album is worth a cover-to-cover listen (and with three different songwriters writing in widely different lyrical styles, you’d be cheating yourself if you tried to cherry pick), entry points to the LP include its lead single “Real Name,” featuring a bursting chorus and achingly relatable lyrics on being “seen,” and “Honey,” a track with soaring melodies and themes of externally seeking self-validation.

Listen to Chris via Bandcamp below, and follow the band on Facebook for updated tour dates if you want to see what promises to be a dynamic stage show with your own eyes.

TRACK REVIEW: Fried Monk “Heartbeats”


One thing I’ve learned from musicians like Steve Choi from RX Bandits, is that there are entertainers… and then there are true artists. While musicians can intertwine both elements, it’s rare to truly find an artist at core—not focusing on making a brand in music, but rather making music a brand. I’ve discovered Lucas Kozinski (alias Fried Monk) as one of those artists, who like the members of RXB, branch sideways to invent sounds uncharted to their own. But that’s really the artistry in all of this—there are no boundaries to this music thing. Kozinski’s studio in Germantown, Philadelphia gave him a chance to really jaunt out of his comfort zone. Philly is one of the best places to do it, really. There is no shortage of culturally driven neighborhoods and glorious people. The music scene is rad and there’s plenty of people keeping it dynamic, him included.

His studio, Sleepless Sound, was barely running when his latest project, Introduces, was recorded. “The idea of the record came about when I wasn’t super happy with how the instrumentals sounded by themselves. It was also while I was in the process of opening up Sleepless Sound Studio,” Luke explains about the collaborative venture.

Also based in Philly is Moonshine Heather; Maura Mullen and Alex Berenson, committed the vocals to “Heartbeats.” The track is synonymous with downtempo affectionate. Maura has a reverberating voice, only overshadowed by her sultriness — and while she’s not piercing the ends of your auditory canals, she shoots a fiery “There’s a lot of love out there, but none of it’s for me.” And while “Heartbeats” is a condensed version of what the rest of Introduces has to offer, you’ll dig it a hundred times over. Also, the beginning guitar vibrations will bring you back to early 2000’s John Frusciante.

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TRACK REVIEW: Kurt Vile “Wild Imagination”


There is no epic heartbreak suffered by Kurt Vile on his latest album b’lieve i’m goin down, no great struggle he has to overcome. There’s just everyday malaise punctuated by moments of deeper sadness as well as happier feelings. This is why b’lieve i’m goin down is so relatable – these feelings could happen to anyone, except they happened to the Philadelphia singer-songwriter, who is also a former member of The War On Drugs

He sounds tired and jaded, frustrated that even the life of a recording, touring musician eventually lends itself to its own brand of monotony.  On “All In A Daze Work,” he sings that he’s “Strummin’ unsuccessfully, but moreso  just pressing keys.” You may not write songs for a living, but you can empathize when something you’re good at – something you love – seems so far away from what you can and want to do at the moment.  On both “Pretty Pimpin” and “That’s Life tho,” he sings about the disconnect  he feels with his own image: Not recognizing himself in the mirror and therefore brushing a stranger’s teeth, and coming across as a “certified badass” when he goes out, though he admits to us that he took pills beforehand to take the edge off.

But one of the album’s best moments comes at the very end, on “Wild Imagination,” when he aims his frustration and sadness at the disconnect created by our lives online. It’s summed up neatly in the easy, folk-y song’s first verse: “I’m looking at you, but it’s only a picture so I take that back/But it ain’t really a picture/It’s just an image on a screen.” We live in an age where pictures are no longer cherished, personal memories to flip through. Now they’re social currency, and their worth is based on the reactions of others. So he goes on to ask, “You can imagine if I was though, right? Just like I can imagine you can imagine it. Can’t ya?” This is a scene that’s played out on iPhones everywhere, when we click  the little heart next to a friend’s Instagram photo because we know it signals to them that we see them, we like them, they are valued. 

Getting trapped in this world is just as depressing as being removed from it, but knowing it exists. Vile is definitely living in his own world, and while it’s one that isn’t perfect, it’s one that he made himself, offline. These days, doing that can be a little terrifying. But like he says on “Wheelhouse,” “You gotta be alone to figure things out.”

Though there’s no link specifically for “Wild Imagination,” you can stream b’lieve i’m goin down here and watch the video for “Pretty Pimpin” below.




Seagulls are a five-piece Philadelphia based band that describe their sound as “harmonic folk pop with glitches & surf influences.” Their debut LP, Great Pine, is being released February 3rd (my birthday, best present ever!) on Yellow K records. With angelic harmonies, and cool guitar-riff-filled mellow jams, the release of Great Pine is bound to be an AF favorite. I had the chance to ask band members Derek Salazar (drummer and producer) and Matt Whittle (writer, guitarist and singer) about their influences, favorite venues, and getting smacked in the face with food. Enjoy.

AudioFemme: So you recorded Great Pine in a cabin in West Virginia. How was that process? How did you decide on recording it in a secluded setting like that?

Derek Salazar: Basically, I was fortunate enough to be able to take a some time in life to sort of hit the reset button. Remaining very conscious of wanting an ideal spot to record Great Pine, I ended up finding this beautiful spot in on the top of a little mountain in West Virginia. Everything sonically, creatively…it turned out it was exactly where we needed to be. Matt would come down for periods of time so we could develop and track the outlines of each song. In between, the rest of Seagulls and our friends who played on the album would come stay. It was our own little world.

Matt Whittle: It’s kind of a funny situation, because yes, we’re holed up in a cabin off in the woods, but we’re not luddites. The cabin was full of all sorts of modern recording equipment, video games and things.

AF: Were there any albums or other artists that specifically inspired the sound on this record?

DS: I was super, super into the entire Beatles discography when we were recording this album. Matt and I share a love for The Beach Boys and Grizzly Bear. Paul McCartney’s RAM was on constant rotation as well.

MW: I’m a huge fan of Grandaddy. Their affinity for mixing organic and synthesized textures was a major influence on our recordings.

AF: I love the order you chose for the tracks on Great Pine. The instrumental opening goes pretty perfectly into “Swimmin.’” My favorite tune from it so far is “Old Habits,” what’s yours?

DS: “Old Habits” is actually a cover of a song written by a friend of ours, Jeff Pianki. His live show will stop you dead in your tracks. As for my favorite, it seems to switch from day to day. After spending so much time with the mixes, a lot of the time it’s from finding little surprises or things I forgot about. Today, I’d say “Love, Give.”

MW: Ocean Cyclone has a very dear place in my heart. It definitely encompasses all of the things I’m drawn to sonically in a short, succinct way.

AF: Do you have a favorite and least favorite venue to play in or see bands?

DS: Bourbon & Branch in Philly has been a consistent highlight to play and Johnny Brenda’s is an all-time favorite of mine to see bands. The 9:30 Club in DC and Mann Center in Philly have hosted the best sounding concerts I’ve ever been to.

MW: The Sanctuary at the First Unitarian Church in Philly and Union Transfer are my two favorite venues to see my favorite acts. I’d love to play either of them.

AF: Any plans for a tour or shows outside of Philly in the near future?

MW: Tour would be a blast. We’ll have to see how that shakes out in the future. We’re playing NYC and Frederick, MD in the upcoming weeks.

AF: Where did the name Seagulls come from? Do you just really really love seagulls? The beach? Animals that steal food off your beach towel?

MW: Indeed, I really do just enjoy seagulls. People love to shit talk animals that aren’t cute and fluffy, for some reason, like they know any better. If you were a crow or vulture or something, you’d be pretty gross, too.

AF: What is your dream show line up? (With you guys playing, of course).

MW: Opening for Kanye West and Grizzly Bear in a theater of some kind.  Or Gorillaz so I could finally understand how that whole thing works.  

AF: If your band was a food, what would it be and why?

MW: I’d say we’re that old ice cream baseball glove with the gumball on it.  Simple and sweet.

AF: Speaking of edible things, who thought of the concept for your “You and Me” music video? How was it to be wailed in the head with eggs, flour, and other questionable objects? Thanks for doing that for our enjoyment, though, we really appreciate it.

MW: It was my idea. I thought it would match the tone of the song, for whatever reason. It was a blast to film.  I caught an egg right in the mouth and immediately felt my lip swelling up.  It was a very cold Pennsylvanian October night… the shower afterward was definitely well-earned.

Watch the video for “You and Me” below.