John Vettese

John Vettese is a music writer and photographer based in Philadelphia. He is the editor of WXPN's music blog The Key, producer of the audio/video live performance series The Key Studio Sessions, and a contributor to Magnet Magazine.

Madison McFerrin is almost like a hypnotist: She creates expansive, atmospheric grooves that grow and bloom, layer by layer. It's the kind of music pulls you in before you even realize just how much is going on. And she does it all with just her laptop, a loop station and her voice.

In the 12 years that its members have expanded their palette from barreling heavy metal to complex, psych-tinged hard rock, one thing has been a constant about Baroness: It's a loud, loud band. Even its ballads are bruisers – something we hear in "Tourniquet" on this year's Gold and Grey, where roomy acoustic strums give way to scorched-earth distortion.

Note: NPR's First Listen audio comes down after the album is released. However, you can still listen with the Bandcamp playlist at the bottom of the page.


While versatile guitarist and composer Chris Forsyth can be a brutally free-form and frenetic player, his music is just as often warm, inviting and inspiring. The new All Time Present – out April 12 on No Quarter Records – does both in a single stroke, bridging worlds of unconventional abstraction and mass appeal.

The best songwriters are often deep thinkers, and Philadelphia's current crop of voices is no exception. In poignant narratives and vivid vignettes, emotional soliloquies and incensed rants, Philadelphian artists offer perspectives that reflect on not only what it means to be a Philadelphian, or an American, but a real-life emotional human being in the late 2010s.

Like any creative community, the Philadelphia music scene is best viewed as a constant state of collaboration.

The artists might take center stage, but they wouldn't be able to do what they do without an equally robust community of directors and videographers to imaginatively translate their work into narrative visuals, or without studios and curators eager to document their process and performances with breathtaking clarity.

Philadelphia is a city of neighborhoods. And in the same way that the high-density grittiness of South Philly's Pennsport is distinct from the multicultural bohemia of West Philly's Cedar Park, the music from different creative spheres across the sprawling metropolis boasts a variety of unique identities. From punk to psychedelic rock to hip-hop, Philly is neither a sonic monolith, nor is it an all-encompassing melting-pot. Rather, it's a spacious scene that allows each group to stand alone and blossom on its own. Here are 10 artists to discover from the Philadelphia musical community.

There comes a point in the bleak landscape of current events where those paying attention are left exhausted and speechless. Philadelphia R&B/hip-hop combo &More has a word for that moment when there are no words left: "WHOA." That's the name of the latest single from the duo's Ethel Bobcat LP, due out in April, and its World Café-premiered new music video sharply satirizes 24-hour news cycle fatigue.

Distance begets clarity; that's as true for punks as it is for the general populace.

Steve Ciolek digs a good turn of phrase. When the frontman of The Sidekicks sings "You've got that chronic 2000 high school state of mind" on the song "Twin's Twist," you can take it a couple ways.

Vivid images of hospitals, funerals and death are not uncommon in Dan Campbell's lyrics as of late. The frontman of the long-running Philadelphia punk six-piece The Wonder Years has always had a writerly sense of detail, even going back to the days of The Upsides when his biggest concerns were drowning his late-college feelings of alienation in Lucky Charms and soy milk.

Where does a person's true strength lie: in themselves or their community? The story of eclectic collective &More is the story of that tension.

Life can be a lot of things and convenient is rarely one of them. Hop Along's Frances Quinlan sings from this perspective on "How Simple," the Philly rock band's first single from their upcoming album, Bark Your Head Off, Dog.

The guiding principle on Dr. Dog's upcoming tenth album, Critical Equation, singer and guitarist Scott McMicken tells NPR, was a blunt one: "F*** Dr. Dog."

"I say that with as much love as you can have for anything," he says. "We're different people now than we were 10 years ago and we've grown so much as a band, but in certain areas we were stuck ... we needed to blow it up and we needed some help doing that."