The Key’s Year-End Mania: Download the ten most-popular Key Studio Sessions of 2016 - WXPN | Vinyl At Heart
Kississippi | Photo by Rich McKie for WXPN

Year-End Mania is the Key’s annual survey of the things below the surface that made 2016 incredible. In this installment, we bring you the ten most popular Key Studio Sessions of the year.

10. The Snails – May 18, 2016

At the front of the band is songwriter-guitarist Todd Fausnacht, whose timeless vocals bounce and cavort across tracks that move energetically from one to the next. The swaying breeze of “Liberty Street Lights” glides directly into the swaggering garage rock dance of “Press Play,” into the confrontational anthem of “Basement,” an ode to authenticity and artistic integrity.

9. Ceramic Animal – July 28, 2016

Stylish Bucks County four-piece Ceramic Animal dabbles in psychedelic rock of the classic variety. The keyboard-and-guitar interplay you’ll hear in this week’s Key Studio Session hits an undeniable Doors-esque sweet spot; the guitar solos (particularly on “Codename Righteous”) are totally Pink Floyd. However, as much as the band informs its sound by history, it works with one foot in the now, and is getting ready to release its self-titled debut album this fall.

8. Hardwork Movement – April 20, 2016

In the world of live hip-hop, typically you’ve either got rappers with a band, or rappers with a DJ. Rarely do you see a crew straddle both sides of the spectrum, but Hardwork’s live set is half performed in full force, and half with the core four backed by a mix. That’s how they approached their Key Studio Session as well, with “Walk It Off” and “Dance With Me” exploding off the walls in full nine-piece glory, while “Take Time” sat nicely with just the beat and the boys at the mic.

7. Loose Tooth – July 20, 2016

Of the six songs they played, only one (“Lizzy”) was previously featured on Easy. The rest are getting their first airing here, and I’m purely pumped about how fierce they sound. Like the music of their debut, these five cuts are a conglomeration of awesome: Pixies and Pavement and Dinosaur Jr., even bits of Brand New and Yuck. There are moments that lean more askew (“Free Skate”), moments that work the quiet-loud thing into an abrasive boil (“Roach Motel” – which you can watch the band perform in the video below) and moments that are pure, infectious fuzz-pop joy (“Sleep with the State Concept”).

6. Liz De Lise – June 22, 2016

In the time since, de Lise has developed her sound into something more cerebral – yet no less catchy. As we hear in this Key Studio Session, she has two chief collaborators: Mark Watter on bass and vocals (you might know him from Rosu Lup, Caroline Reese + the Drifting Fifth, and his own band Howlish), and a tight network of effects pedals and loopers, which she works with skill and finesse (I guess that’s more of a tool than a collaborator, but you get the picture). The set swallows you in sound, with layers of vocal rounds floating alongside askew lead guitar reminiscent of St. Vincent’s Annie Clark.

5. Mercury Girls – June 29, 2016

The Philadelphia five-piece takes the high-spirited, playful tones of classic indiepop — which they clearly have a deep reverence for — and delivers them with punk rock ferocity. Leaps, spins and kicks from guitarist Kevin Attics mix with the unflappable delivery of vocalist Sarah Schimineck and the thundering force of drummer Chris Schackerman. Add in sick leads from co-guitarist Kevin O’Halloran, and the energy levels approach metaphorical combustion (thankfully there’s cool, collected bassist Andrew Hagiwara to keep things on relative terra firma). In short: one of the best live bands on the scene right now.

4. The Afterglows – August 3, 2016

Cantor and Cook-Parrot’s newly minted duo project goes back to those roots of power pop, with close harmonies and engaging refrains a la Simon and Garfunkel and The Everly Brothers. As we heard in their performance for The Key Studio Sessions, The Afterglows trace that lineage through the 60s (the very McCartney “Born Again,” which opens the set) and 70s (they covered “You and Your Sister,” a beauty of a song by Chris Bell of Big Star), and brilliantly blends Cook-Parrott’s folksy acoustic strumming with warm electric tones and solos from Cantor.

3. Queen of Jeans – January 20, 2016

There’s been a praise chorus surrounding this Philadelphia four-piece since it emerged last summer, and rightfully so. Their music is catchy, clever and infectious, from the brilliant, Belle & Sebastian-esque “Dance (Get Off Your Ass)” – which has a certain effect on listeners that this music video doesn’t exaggerate – to the punk rock badassery of “Rollerdyke.” The players are no joke, either: though this band is new, singer-guitarist Miriam Devora hails from psych outfit The Interest Group while lead guitarist Matheson Glass was a longtime member of Work Drugs. Joining them are Nina Scotto on bass and Patrick Wall on drums, and their musicianship is tight and locked in, as you hear when they play live for us in this week’s Key Studio Session.

2. Aaron West and the Roaring Twenties – August 24, 2016

Campbell has, for the most part, toured Aaron West as one-man acoustic band. It started out as a place for his acoustic-oriented ideas, after all — songs that don’t necessarily fit with the full-drive punk rock of TWY — and it connects just as powerfully in intimate clubs as it does on the Ocean City boardwalk. But working in the studio with Ace Enders of The Early November, the music nevertheless grew into its impressive arrangements, awash in horns and banjo and lap steel. For their upcoming gig at Philly’s Made in America festival, Campbell has rounded up a seven-piece band to give a full Roaring Twenties treatment to his set, and we were super excited to bring them in the studio this summer for a Key Studio Session.

1. Kississippi – February 17, 2016

The EP is a sonic step forward for Kississippi, bringing Reynolds’ arresting voice to the forefront and surrounding it in lush, beautiful arrangements of slinky clean-tone guitar and measured drumming. It recalls a lot of bands from the sadcore 90s; central PA favorites The Innocence Mission, as well as NYC duo Ida and of course The Sundays.

If you ask Reynolds, though, her personal influences are decidedly more contemporary, and the band absolutely #slay with their cover of “It’s Okay” by Montreal cult faves Land of Talk during this week’s Key Studio Session.

Also performed are selections from Future that are more stripped down in arrangement but no less moving, from the poppy melancholy of opener “Indigo” to the lovelorn ache of “Googly Eyes” – the lyric “I think longing’s another thing I share with you / but not for me like I for you” gets me every time. We also hear an incredible new one called “Nativities,” which seems to deal a lot with death and the fallicies of faith. “Believing in God is such a beautiful thing,” sings Reynolds. “It hurts to know it won’t happen to me.” Wow.

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