Madrugada is the period between midnight and dawn, and this debut full-length from Philly’s Benjamin Poole should be listened to in that silent hour between 3 and 4 AM, when the first birds start to rustle but you are still very likely to see a shooting star or some other eerie phenomenon in the sky. It’s a record crafted like few are, with deft arrangements and instrumentation shot through with remarkable vision. Benjamin Poole is a composer as much as he is a performer. Several tracks feature primarily wordless vocal melodies, which build upon each other hypnotically. Moments of static and noise fade in and around brisk folk melodies strummed on a driving acoustic guitar. Benjamin’s songwriting has achieved a magical blend of artfulness and sincerity. Listen to “Stranger,” the first single from Madrugada, on Spotify, iTunes, and anywhere else fine songs are heard. Madrugada will be available January 29th, 2018 via Hickory Lane Records.
Congrats to Flounder Warehouse on the successful release of their killer new video! Some words Seann Cantatore on the release:
Thoughts on the song: “‘What To Do’ is different from any other song I’ve ever written. Most of my tunes tend to have a soulful tinge or an R&B vibe, but this has its own separate genre in my eyes. I’ve been playing it at our shows for close to 5 years but usually solo or as a duo with my violinist. Shortly before recording our most recent album, my drummer and bassist decided to play minimally on it at a rehearsal. We thought it sounded super cool and tasteful so we included that on the recorded track. I think they add just enough to the song without taking the attention away from the vocals, piano, and violin. I love how it turned out. Max Morgan, our sound engineer at Watts Studio, and our mastering engineer, Ryan Schwabe, did an incredible job. Because of them, this track sounds as raw and entrancing as I hoped it would (thanks guys!).”
Fun fact about the shoot: “The behind-the-scenes crew consisted of my parents, retired English teacher from high school, and friends of 10+ years (one of whom custom built a dolly for this shoot, making some really beautiful shots possible). It made the day truly special and full of mutual trust.”
Michael Cormier’s Debut LP Pre-Order Available Now
Heartfelt, warm songwriting abounds on Michael Cormier’s debut album, Make Believe It’s Nothing. Michael has found a place in the Philadelphia music community playing drums for locals Friendship, and has produced two evocative, ambient solo EPs. His latest release, due in June, takes the relaxed and solemn road once more in this focused collection of songs. Playing every instrument, with lush backing vocals from local group the Dove and the Wolf, Michael effortlessly guides the listener through fascinating, detailed arrangements and lyrics.
Make Believe It’s Nothing is available now for pre-order on Bandcamp, with two tracks included for immediate download. Michael will be hitting the road with Abi Reimold as she opens for the Districts this month, and again with Friendship later in the spring. Make Believe It’s Nothing is due out on Hickory Lane Records June 2017.
Van Wolf Issues Breakup Declaration to Philly in Debut Record
(Philadelphia, PA) Feb. 9th, 2017 – Philly-born songwriter Van Wolf is breaking up with his beloved hometown. You heard that right: He’s relocating to Los Angeles seeking new opportunities, but he’s left his heart in Philly. Over the past year Van Wolf, known to his comrades as Evan Hoskins, has poured his energy into a finely-wrought debut album that compiles the secrets and dreams of a young man making his way in a confusing world.
Assortment of Secrets spins a web of intersecting tales, from acid trips in Fairmount Park to the post-grad nightmare of student loan debt. The mundane and the fantastical meet in a stunning array of poetry set to rock and roll. “I’ve been twisting my tongue,” he says,“an assortment of secrets just coming undone.” Out of this unraveling, Van Wolf knits personal tribulations into gentle ballads, raucous and sensual sermons, and everything in between.
Assortment of Secrets is out digitally Tuesday, February 14th, 2017 on Hickory Lane Records.
On the merch table at Philly’s W/N W/N (Win Win) Coffee Bar lays a pile of t-shirts that say, simply, “A Day Without Love Is Not Punk.” Clearly this has a double meaning, as the act I’m here to see is called A Day Without Love – ostensibly a punk act. Well what, then, is punk? A Day Without Love has all the trappings – loud guitars, emotional and gripping lyrics – but these songs put the real powers of the genre on display. If punk is about honesty, A Day Without Love is ten times as honest. If punk is about speaking truth to power and creating a bond between performer and audience, A Day Without Love is masterful in this craft.
A Day Without Love is the stage name of Brian Walker, an incredibly friendly and creative young man. He has a charisma that’s almost unreal, and speaking with him is always a pleasure. Of course, his ambition, too, is clear. In conversation before the show he tells me that he has scheduled a number of video sessions in the coming months and that he’s afraid he’s going to forget about one. Brian is about to embark on a weekend tour with his friend Liz de Lise, another local act. This is a man about to step out into the world, and he has earned his place.
Brian is preparing to release a new record called Solace, produced and mixed at Philly’s Fresh Produce Studios by Jake Detwiler, and mastered by Mumblr’s Scott Stitzer. It explores the inner problems of young adulthood in an America still divided by race, set to a biting and energizing punk rock soundscape. One of the most remarkable sections of the record is in fact a conversation recorded with his grandmother on “I Hope It Ends,” on her experiences and ideas about racism and religion, recurring topics on the 13-track LP. As per its press release, Solace is “not exactly the documentation of a coming-of-age moment.”
His honesty comes from years of self-reflection, of the kind achieved, unfortunately, through incredible suffering. Thankfully, Brian came through the other side with lyrics that hide nothing and take nothing for granted – short, sharp bursts of sincerity. Brian’s world is his word, a place where spiritual growth is attached to self-healing through his art. Crucial to Brian’s stage presence is his recognition of the importance of context. Toward the end of his set, between songs, he gives a short speech, opening up about how his struggles with major depression have affected his life and his music.
He backs up his advocacy for sufferers of mental illness with a connection to the charitable organization Erika’s Lighthouse, described on their website as “a beacon of hope for adolescent depression.” Not many words are sung louder than those in a punk song, so if actions are louder than words than Brian’s are the loudest of all. Ninety covers in ninety days, uploaded to YouTube – that was his fundraiser for Erika’s Lighthouse, earlier this year. Impressive by any standard, and intensely meaningful when considered in terms of what drives Brian’s art. The numbers speak for themselves – his campaign raised $800. Not bad for a guy in his bedroom with an acoustic guitar. Brian Walker has revealed himself to his audience to be a committed and passionate warrior for equality and justice, fighting through music.
Hanging Hills aren’t your parents’ folk band. They bring a modern spin to tales about Civil War battles and hitting the country roads. They play as an inseparable, well-rehearsed unit, consisting of Greg Dyson, lead vocalist and guitarist, Elliott Woolworth, lead guitarist, Ross Paige on bass and Mike Arcata on drums. The sounds they make are timeless, loud and absolutely commanding. Whether bombastic and fuzzed-out or soft and soulful they are always entertaining. They have two records, the LP The Great Divide released in 2014 and the more recent EP Sewn, released this past February.
On their debut LP The Great Divide, Hanging Hills expertly hit all the notes of a more evolved ensemble. What would ordinarily be the aural palate of a band’s second or third album turns out to be these young Yankees’ opening statement. Mike told me that The Great Divide is a “concept album, in a lot of ways, with many of the tracks specifically laying out this mid 19th century post-civil war narrative. However, we never wanted Hanging Hills to be a ‘concept band’ anchored to that narrative and sound. Admittedly it’s a bit strange for a band to assume such an identity for it’s first project, but that’s just what came out of our writing. Sewn is definitely a step in a new direction, but the change is a natural evolution for us as we all continue to develop as musicians and writers.”
The Great Divide is a bold album, but the members of Hanging Hills are bold people. Not very many bands would up and leave their hometown together, continuing as a unit in an unfamiliar yet welcoming city. The four boys from Connecticut moved to Philadelphia last year to make their way into our booming indie rock scene. On the transition, Mike told me that the move felt right for everyone: “We moved from a rural part of eatern Connecticut that was very much a ‘college town’ type of area. A lot of young people, but most don’t stay for longer than a few years. We had all finished school and I don’t think any of us had intended on staying in the area permanently. Although we till have a lot of friends in the area and loved Willimantic, it was time to move on and Philadelphia was very attractive for all of us for its vibrant arts and music scene. And cheap housing. We know too many people paying way too much to live in NYC. Fuck that.”
Their latest effort, the EP Sewn, creates a distinct vision of their world. Ultra-folky, with Fleet Foxes-esque leads and vivid lyrics. The record was written and recorded before they moved to Philadelphia last year, with Massachusetts-based producer and engineer Andrew Oedel at the helm. Andrew played a “hands-on” role in the making of Sewn, according to Mike: “He directs things brilliantly in the studio and had a real grasp for our intentions on each project.” Andrew also produced The Great Divide, and after working together on two projects, the synchronicity between band and engineer is clear.
On Sewn, Hanging Hills combines old and new material to speak relatably to those who listen. The overarching tone of the record is quite melancholy, but in somewhat of a postive, forward-thinking way. These are artists on the verge of a great change, who know it, who know where they’re going and can’t wait to get there. “Highway 206” is a great example of these feelings. Written by Greg during a previous stint in Philadelphia, it has been retooled into a prophecy about the future of the band. This is a song about travel, creating visualizations of “driving through the Garden State in springtime,” stepping up in volume as the driver shifts into high gear.
This is what Hanging Hills is best at – in addition to being magnificent live performers and super nice guys, their songs beam imagery straight into the listener’s mind, with the same skill for interpretation of subject matter as a 19th century Impressionist painter. You forget that you’re listening to a band as their sounds consume, soothe, and wash-out the hard world around you.
As she steps onto the stage, a hush falls over the crowd. Not many solo performers have this effect on a room filled to capacity. This is Abi Reimold at Boot & Saddle, the R5 Productions venue in South Philly. She’s opening for Tennessee songwriter Julien Baker, also playing solo. This is Julien’s first time playing in Philadelphia, and although a great amount of promotion went into this show, most of the audience seemed to be there for Abi (at least where I was standing). She had returned just days previously from a tour that took her down to Florida and back, and it was as though she had undergone a transformation. DIY tour can change people – you bare your soul to friendly strangers, traveling possibly thousands of miles in the process and relying on your planning, instincts and the people you’re with. Abi’s instincts are of a rare breed – the same instincts that led her to the stage at Boot & Saddle. She was clearly well-prepared for this experience.
After the show, Abi told me that she felt overwhelmed. Later on, she admitted that, naturally, she felt a tremendous amount of pressure. “No matter how good you are,” she said, “if you play solo, someone is going to think you’re boring.” Unlikely, considering the crowd at Boot & Saddle was eager to hear her idiosyncratic mix of experimental songwriting and jazz-tinged crooning. It was an artful performance, incorporating a loop pedal to layer her voice in harmony. Memorably, her rendition of the track “Morning” was totally different from the loud build of the version on her Forget EP; she instead used the loop pedal to generate an otherworldly tension, which would be left unresolved going into the final songs of the set.
I started seeing Abi perform about five years ago at the storied Maggot House, off Temple’s campus. It was clear that the way she played and, even then, how she could hold a room in silence and awe, was very special. She has been consistently active since then, playing in Philadelphia houses and clubs. In the last year she formed a band with some other talented musician friends, filling out her sound and becoming something wholly more than a singer-songwriter. “Abi Reimold,” as a full-band act, creates an incredibly dramatic and dynamic space, noisy yet accessible, hinting at a much more impressive musical background and knowledge than your average alt-rock band.
Abi’s style hasn’t changed so much since the Maggot House days, by my observation and by her own feelings, but it has matured. Wriggling, her debut full-length solo record, is a sonic manifestation of the all-too-familiar crushing hopelessness felt by the recent post-grad, looking and even praying for a direction. Most of these songs were written, she says, in 2014 during a melancholic haze. Her lyrics reflect keen observations about this type of mental state – the song “Dust” is made entirely of the morbid lines “I will learn what dust tastes like/I am not immune.” They’re not all bleak, however; the final verse of the following track, the otherwise dark song called “Clouded,” sings like a mantra of personal empowerment rejecting those who hold you back.
Production on Wriggling began a year ago, at Stolen Studios in the Kensington section of Philadelphia. Scott Stitzer, of the band Mumblr, and Nick Barnes, a Drexel grad, helmed the project. The drums were expertly provided by Kevin Paschall, who plays in a number of local groups, most notably Dead and Roof Doctor. Ian Amidon and Nick Morrison, also members of Mumblr, filled out a dynamic rhythm section on guitar and bass respectively.
Most of the record was finished during a live tracking session one long January night in 2015. However, soon afterward, Abi found herself dissatisfied with the tone of the guitars and ended up re-recording them. This decision that paid off grandly. The tones on this record are as astounding as they are varied, pure ear candy. Abi notes the wisdom of working “within your resources” – her intent with this album was to give listeners a record worthy of their time. The sound is something like “mid-fi,” retaining a lo-fi mood but produced using equipment and techniques common to higher-budget studio albums. The result: a well-produced and utterly delightful record capable of standing up to repeated plays.
In addition to being a masterful musician, Abi is a gifted photographer (her funding for this album in part through wedding photography gigs). She took the album’s cover photograph herself, as seen in this short documentary premiered by WXPN in their week of featured articles on Wriggling. If art is meant to cause a reaction, the album’s cover in and of itself is truly a great work – a literal can of worms that has drawn out something visceral in listeners. Abi has received compliments on its artfulness, yes, but she has also had to deal with those who say that the photo disturbs them, including one particular “angry message.” The photo is actually of a collection of worms that a friend of hers uses for composting – a process to turn organic waste into useful dirt. These are “useful worms.” This cover works on many levels, not least of which being a metaphor for the process by which a songwriter turns their negative experiences and perceptions into beautiful music.
Abi Reimold, then, is following her instincts into a visionary 2016, this time with the ear of more than just her friends. Covered by Stereogum, The Fader and at length by WXPN, she has already made a huge hit with the meticulously devised and artistically inspired Wriggling. Soon, Abi will be hitting the road again to support the album, touring through Massachusetts and New Jersey February 16th-20th, with more plans to tour (and record a follow-up!) later this year. Check out her video for the song “Vessel,” and listen to Wriggling in the Bandcamp link at the top of the page!