The long stretch of Pennsylvania turnpike that takes you from Philly to Pittsburgh may be one of the most unexciting rides you’ll experience. But these two cities—as well as spots in between like Harrisburg or Lancaster—have no shortage of new, exciting bands to discover. Pennsylvania has it all: hip-hoppers, hard rockers, front-porch-folk rockers, indie rockers, dream weavers, power poppers, EDM’ers, and singers/songwriters galore. In alphabetical order, here are 11 Pennsylvania artists you need to know about.
1. Chill Moody
Album: wEST Chilly (2011), Freshmen, Take Cover (2012)
Over the last few years, Philadelphia’s hip-hop scene has flourished creativity, talent and mad beats. Out from under the shadow of the legendary Roots crew, rappers like Chiddy Bang, OCD Moosh & Twist, Lushlife, Reef The Lost Cauze, Zilla Rocca, Ground Up, Kuf Knotz and Chill Moody are all making fantastic music. Not only is Moody is one of the most charismatic and commanding rappers to come along recently, he’s also a smart/fun social-media user who’s building up a rather loyal and large fan base.
2. City Rain
Members: Ben Runyan, Jarrett Zerrer
Album: Watch Out EP (out April 17th)
Within seconds of hearing City Rain’s catchy electronic synth-pop, it’s nearly impossible to not hit the dance floor without joyous abandonment. Runyan and Zerrer’s upbeat music brings to mind Depeche Mode, but with Zerrer on guitar, there’s a serious rock element in the mix.
3. Dana Alexandra
Album: Wash Your Mouth Out
Singer/songwriter Dana Alexandra is a Top 40 secret weapon waiting to explode. Her music fits in the Taylor Swift/Katy Perry continuum. With her perky dance moves, gorgeous blonde hair and looks, and songs with hooks galore, she’s destined for mainstream success.
Members: Casey Hanner, Jake Hanner, Jake Churton
Album: Boyfriends, Girlfriends!
There’s a lot of indie-pop sweetness coming from Casey Hanner (lead vocals & guitar), Jake Hanner (bass) and Jake Churton (drums). Boyfriends is an impressive collection of heavy melodies from a band that isn’t afraid to rock. Casey’s got a memorable voice and vocal style that stands out, separating Donora from many bands working in the same broad, infectious genre.
5. DRGN KING
Members: Dominic Angelella, Ritz Reynolds, Joe Baldacci, Julie Slick
Single: “Barbarians” (debut full length, Paragraph Nights, coming soon)
It’s a challenge to draw any musical comparisons to DRGN KING (pronounced “Dragon King”). The four individual members bring unique musical talents to the mix. Bassist Julie Slick (a member of the Adrian Belew power trio along with her brother and Dr. Dog drummer Eric) anchors the psychedelic indie art-rock jams along with drummer/producer Joe Baldacci, producer Ritz Reynolds (Mac Miller, The Roots) on synthesizers and the soulful lead singer/guitarist Dominic Angelella. This is otherworldly soulful pop for now people.
6. New Shouts
Members: Cor Allen, Derek White, Mario White, Jonathan Chamberlain, Drew
Album: Sing New Shouts
New Shouts are a modern-day rock band channeling the best musical elements of ’60s AM pop—the kind of sunshiny and soulful pop songs you used to hear on the Top 40 charts in the days when bands like The 5th Dimension, the Sir Douglas Quintet and The Left Banke would fight it out for the number one hit song of the moment.
7. Nicos Gun
Members: Barney Cortez, Harry Zelnick and Nick Bockrath
With oodles of talent, an incredible live show and a super-sized love for Prince and many things rhythmic, Nicos Gun bring together elements of New Wave with electronic dance music. File under: not afraid to entertain.
8. Purling Hiss
Members: Mike Polizze, Kiel Everett, Mike Sneeringer
Album: Lounge Lizards
The Hiss are a trio of remarkable power players that weave in and out of psychedelia and hard rock. They released a hot collection of rock and roll tunes on Mexican Summer, but live this band is incendiary. If Philly had a guitar army, Purling Hiss’s Mike Polizze would be on the front lines right up there with Adam from War On Drugs and Kurt Vile.
9. Strand Of Oaks
Hometown: Wilkes Barre
Members: Timothy Showalter
Album: Pope Killdragon (2010); “Spacestations” (2012) single recorded for Shaking Through
Since his debut in 2009 Strand of Oaks’ Tim Showalter has been making haunting indie-folk music filled with imaginative storytelling. On his latest song, “Spacestations,” recorded for Shaking Through (an online collaboration between WXPN and Weathervane Music), Showalter has boldly expanded his sound, moving beyond guy-and-guitar folk music to incorporate synthesizers, electric guitars and backing musicians. At SXSW he debuted a new, driving rock band, and a forthcoming new album will showcase continued evolution of Strand Of Oaks.
10. Toy Soldiers
Members: Ron Gallo, Dominic Billett, Matt Kelly, Bill McCloskey, Luke Leidy
Album: Tell The Teller EP
Gallo and his band of merry roots rockers just completed a national tour and are putting the finishing touches on their new album, produced by Bill Moriarty (Dr. Dog, Man Man). They’re part of a broadly defined and thriving local indie-folk scene that includes bands like Hezekiah Jones, Hoots and Hellmouth and The Spinning Leaves. A cross between The Band and Eddie Cochran, Gallo is an impressive frontman.
11. Work Drugs
Members: Thomas Crystal and Benjamin Louisiana
Album: Aurora Lies
Since releasing their debut song “Rad Racer” at the end of 2010, Crystal and Louisiana have been releasing a string of ridiculously catchy pop songs almost monthly. They released their debut full length, Aurora Lies, in December 2011 and have done remixes for Little Scream and Madeon. The band draws inspiration from yacht rockers and classic rockers like Steve Winwood, Michael McDonald, Steely Dan and (of course) Christopher Cross.
Bruce Warren is the Program Director at WXPN in Philadelphia and the Executive Producer of World Cafe from NPR. He covers the local Philly music scene for WXPN’s local music site The Key. Bruce has been blogging about music at Some Velvet Blog since December, 2004. He tumbles at Some Velvet Blog.2, and you can follow him on twitter at somevelvetblog