Radiator Hospital | photo by Catherine Elicson | courtesy of the artist
The Key’s Year-End Mania: 2017’s ten best Philly artist portraits
Year-End Mania is the Key’s annual survey of the things below the surface that made 2017 incredible. Today, Sarah Hojsak takes a look at some of the best artist portraits of 2017.
During last year’s end-of-the-year rush, The Key took a brief step away from music itself and instead started digging through the images surrounding it. The result was 2016’s ten best Philly artist portraits — a collection of some of the most visually stunning, ridiculously outlandish or otherwise eye-catching promotional photos from our beloved local musicians.
As you well know, we have no shortage of great music happening here in Philly, and lucky for us so, so many of our favorite artists released new music this year. With those new tunes came a whole new batch of images to take in — they range from the standard artsy but professional press photo to the quirky personality pic and everything in between, and they come from some of music’s best photographers. The best ones, regardless of the forms they take or the themes they use, caught our attention and didn’t let go. Here’s a far from thorough but nonetheless delightful selection of some of 2017’s standouts.
Cayetana shared some traditional, serious-faced press photos around the release of their fantastic new record New Kind of Normal, but ahead of the band’s fall tour they unleashed these bright and colorful Brady Bunch-esque portraits. In the same way that it’s hard to watch Cayetana play a show and not be filled with joy, it’s downright impossible to look at these photos of the band and not smile. The portraits provide a lighthearted balance to the heavy themes New Kind of Normal tackles, and show the band members in their natural habitat — three friends just hanging out and taking goofy photos. Gotta love the Cayetana Bunch.
For Japanese Breakfast, a new year brought a new album, and with it, new press photos. A kaleidoscopic image of Michelle Zauner was featured in last year’s photo roundup, shot for the release of Psychopomp, her first LP as Japanese Breakfast. Zauner quickly followed up the album with this year’s Soft Sounds from Another Planet, and like any sophomore album that follows a debut so soon, it’s been described as the artist coming into their voice. This photo reflects that, with Zauner in a self-assured silhouette-like stance against the cloudy purple backdrop, looking totally cool and calm as Soft Sounds is released out into the world.
Philly scene newcomers Caracara made their debut with Summer Megalith this fall, and this hazy, green-washed photo gave an instantly recognizable visual to the band’s press. Shot by local photographer Emily Dubin, the photo makes use of the Philly streets in all their glory to capture the band in their hometown. The flash of green most likely comes from your everyday neon sign, but caught on film it looks practically otherworldly, almost like a symbol of how the band at once fits right into and adds something new to the indie rock scene they come from, letting the viewer take notice of the band and see that there’s something special there.
Ivy Sole is another new voice in the Philly scene, and she spent her 2017 catching the ears of some major media outlets after releasing her East and West EPs. This photo shows the UPenn grad staring into the camera from a concrete jungle perch. What stands out the most isn’t the rusty metal backdrop or the glint of sunlight, but the artist herself — with an image like this, Ivy Sole cements (ha ha get it?) herself as an artist to watch, well-deserving of national acclaim, but with a solid dose of Philly at her core. Just look at her contemplative expression — you can tell that she’s already thinking of what she’ll do next.
I’m not sure what catches the eye first in this photo of Eight, the jaunty camera angle or the vivid blue of the sky in the background. What’s really outstanding, though, is the way Philly photog Scott Troyan captures the band members’ distinct facial expressions. As they hold their guitar and bass up against the clouds, Mimi Gallagher and Cat Park look ready to take on the world with their awesome new tunes. Eight is the kind of band that’s so comfortable with who they are that they’ll release not just one, but two EPs that are titled, simply, Eight. And we’re fine with that, because Eight feels like such a necessary addition to the Philly scene. This photo only reinforces that.
Only Aphra could make being cloaked in heaps of sparkling tinsel look like so much fun. The project of Philly singer/songwriter/producer Rebecca Waychunas released its debut Sadness is a Gesture early this year, and a photo like this is both fun and bold in a way that lets you know that this is not an artist you should overlook. It’s also been a tough year for Aphra, though, as Waychunas has faced a series of personal tragedies along the way. Here, the artist’s serious, almost intimidating expression is balanced with the dazzling glittery backdrop, showing that she’ll face anything that may come her way head-on and with a dose of bright optimism.
If you’re familiar with perennial scene favorites Radiator Hospital, then this photo won’t surprise you in the slightest. The band’s been around awhile, and released their latest LP Play the Songs You Like this fall. Their laid-back, bordering-on-blasé attitude is as evident in their live performances as it is in this photo — Radiator Hospital is effortlessly cool, and they know it. My favorite part of this photo isn’t even Jeff Bolt flipping off the camera, but rather Cynthia Schemmer’s collection of color therapy glasses. Who hasn’t wandered into that New Age store on South Street and tried those on? Turns out they make for a great band photo, too.
Curtis Cooper‘s new album Messy may deal with some heavy themes of addiction and loss, but this photo simply shows the artist eating a grilled cheese in their kitchen. I always love when an artist lets you know they’re a pretty chill and down to earth person, and here Cooper does just that. The sharp clarity of the photo and lack of fancy visual effects make it easy to suspend disbelief for a moment and think that you’re right there with Cooper eating lunch. Music has the power to be super inspiring, but maybe this photo will even inspire you to head over to your own kitchen and make a grilled cheese to eat while you listen along to the new record.
When retro rockers Louie Louie released their debut album Friend of a Stranger in February, they must’ve known they’d need a photo that matched the album in bright 60’s-style quirkiness. Here, the band members have donned some colorful mod fashions, along with some super cool indoor sunglasses, and struck some smooth poses. You can’t look at this photo without hearing Louie Louie’s catchy tunes in the back of your head. Even though the it’s shot against a plain white backdrop, it’s full of enough psychedelic glamour to make you want to put on your own brightest clothing, find the nearest turntable and dance along while the record spins away.
Recent Philly transplant Shamirthrives when they’re true to themself. The artist’s wild brand of creativity was apparently too much for their first label, but since they’ve signed to Father/Daughter Records they’ve been able to fully unleash their unpredictable artistry. That came through loud and clear with this year’s LP Revelations, and this particular press photo, part of a series that all share the same pink backdrop, shows the artist comfortable with their newfound platform. Between the rolled-back eye and the butterfly hair clip, you can tell that Shamir’s got something pretty great up their sleeve. The photo is perhaps the definition of eye-catching, and does what all great press photos should: make the viewer want to know more, not only about the music but about the artist behind it.