Monday, May 22, 2017

Writing Letters With Audra Kubat About Chris Bathgate's Dizzy Seas, Track by Track: Part 1 - "Water"

The epistolary review, where I swap letters with a musical artist to collaboratively explore, dissect, ponder and inevitably illuminate the new release of songs by another individual music artist-- IS BACK



This time, Detroit's most charming and cerebral of modern folk singers, Audra Kubat, is putting down her guitar and going back to the keyboard to use her erudite ways with the written word, and instead of expressing her own lyrics, she will now divine what she can from the lyrics and sounds of Michigan/California-creator of ambient-folk-scapes, Mr. Chris Bathgate

Chris Bathgate released Dizzy Seas on Quite Scientific last Friday. 
Over the next 10 weeks, Kubat and I will share with you our thoughts and experiences of a single track. We hope this expands perspectives on how much can actually be discovered inside of an album, that the parts are greater taken one at a time, than as a whole...

Without further ado... Play the song below (maybe even loop it,) and enjoy the first bit of communique between Kubat and I....




Dear Audra,

I'm very excited to begin a fresh batch of letters about an album. I'm excited to transition from exploring YOUR work to, now, working with you, as we piece our way through the brand new album from Chris Bathgate.

I have to say, at the onset of this 2nd installment of epistolary album reviewing, that both of you have held a comparable sway over me, in terms of the relationship a listener has to a songwriter - not that your music or your lyrical signatures are similar so to speak, but that both of you create music that sounds quietly powerful.

I feel like I'm going to risk throwing around the word "profound...," too much, in the letters ahead. But let's just dive in to "Water," the first track from Dizzy Seas.

Chris' voice vaults in just a fraction of a measure before the music--not sure if that's a synthesized bassline, but it is quick to start carrying his striding cadence with this notable furtiveness. This song, slightly akin to the song "Calvary," from 2016, shows Chris' proclivity towards merging the meditative and the almost-manic. Putting soft, swaying ambient drones over a percussive element that sounds like it's urgent, or racing, or restless. This is the case with that elegant violin breathing sweetly over a bassline and a second analog synth pulse that are just about jittery... Or maybe not jittery... Maybe they are just babbling along like a brook.

Yes, I had to bring a brook into this, some kind of watery imagery. Bathgate's latest tract seems to be not quite folk or Americana, but something that jumps off of those organic sounds and seeks some new kind of genre - and whatever that genre is, it's a sound, production-wise, that seems bent on creating a magical effect that evokes a sense of the outdoors. I think that's evident in the way there seems to be lots of ambient tones sort of swaying or breezing at the very edged curtains of the song's aural environment. I feel, indeed, that there is space around me, and there are images that come in when his lyrics describe the water, and the way the light plays upon it...

I also appreciate the production here. There is, just about 45 seconds before its conclusion, the sound of what seems to be a motorboat starting up with a metallic growl... And it propels the song forward just after a lulling period. Either in a car or on headphones, that is a interestingly startling to hear.

It makes me wonder how typical it is, in terms of the experience of songwritnig (not the process, but the experience...) wherein images actually come to YOU. It makes me feel like you and Chris can be as painters, sometimes..., at least in the studio!

Eager to hear your thoughts
And eager to write more letters
Happy Spring,
-
-jeff


------


Dear Jeff,

I am also excited to begin the next installment of letters. As a songwriter, I'm often thinking deeply about music and lyrics, yet I rarely have the opportunity to talk in depth about my thoughts on songs by others.

I dove into 'Dizzy Seas' and its first track – 'Water'. I also took notice of Chris' voice as it enters alone (just for that split second, the song stands in frozen solitude). It's almost jarring and in that same space of time, it feels as if the song has always been playing. That it had existed before it was audible.

The entrance of this song calls me to attention. This seems like a purposeful shock as if, like his words, we are being cast across the unknown of the ocean's cold waters, cushioned only by that voice: singular, rounded, hushed yet knowing. I feel that this song is preparing us for our journey through this album. His thoughts aren't in his control, they reflect against waves, scatter and shift with the changing of tides and the whims of rippling seas. His words stretch out and can be felt or they can be quieted or stilled, and even lost in creases that flank pathways. Regardless, he 'calls it out'. He 'calms it down'.

I agree that the music is meditative, yet the rolling of the brushed drums asks me to stay attentive. The pulsing underbelly pushes me along – it's urgent without feeling rushed (tricky thing to accomplish in music). There's a place we're being led to through a soundscape with subtle pads and cymbal splashes, a distance voice and an additional layer of moody organ, maybe. This song extends past genre for me, it has a timelessness. Again, it seems to have always existed. I imagine Chris placing his hands in the bone-chilled river to capture this song.

Then the violins come in and turn on the light, a beacon, playing as voices that quell, calm, and call. A hymn. This brings me back to the beginning of this letter. For me this song is an invitation to walk along side this album, knowing each track is learning about themselves as they play out of headphones, car stereos, and laptops. I wonder if Chris is asking us to be open in this song...to understand that the songwriter sends their songs out into the world without knowing when, where, or how they will land.

I hope I was able to paint an image that reflects. On my first listen, I felt I was being called by it. To join, to submit, to close my eyes and go blindly. So I did.

I look forward to writing these with you, Jeff!


Thursday, May 18, 2017

Mango Lane - Video Premier - "Sex"

A song title like that's gonna get your attention...



Continuing this site's weekly series of new Detroit music premiers, pop duo Mango Lane have a new video for a single called "Sex," part of a new album coming out on June 16.

Austin Carpenter and Jack Engwall are longtime friends who started playing shows around town a couple years ago. They released a couple E.P.'s in early 2016 and spent the rest of the time honing their knack for setting a tone, a charming/chill/mellow-dance-pop tone that could enliven a body toward a shuffled/swayed dance, but ease the mind of its worries (maybe even repair a broken-heart or two...)



Mango Lane bring a sweet, minimalist funk that knows just the right amount of groove to put on the canvas to incur a dizzy splash of dopamine, a kind of low-key euphoric spell that they cast with synths, sequenced beats, organs, and sporadic rad riffs from an electric guitar. But the real charmer of their concoction are their harmonies, woozily interweaving their finely matched intonations in a mid-high serenade.

It's utilitarian for any occasion that needs the cultivation of good vibes; it could me make-out music, or you could just dance in your bedroom to this, you could dance in your kitchen to it too, while you're cooking something delicious, or maybe you but it could also soundtrack an ear-budded ambling through town on a quiet early summer's eve...

I just love the space they're creating in this arrangement; every guitar note, every bounce of the bass, and all of the vocal swoons, have enough space to breath. And that beat, a lean and languid tempo, never lets you go; your shoulders can't stop shimmying... But even if you aren't dancing by now, the duo are essentially giving you a how-to visual with this video. Particular props to the particularly dreamy ambiance provided by pouring hues of red, blue, and particularly purple - each of them a passionate/subtly-enchanting kinda hue...

Mango Lane release their next album on June 16. Ian Ruhala (from HALA) joins the band as a live drummer for concerts. HALA, meanwhile, is also on the lineup for their release party, a free concert, hosted at the Loving Touch. More info here. 

And find Mango Lane on Bandcamp & Facebook.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Culminating! Bathgate, Malerman, RSA Listening Party, Erlewine, Sheefy, Movement

What a week it's going to be...

Several artists that I've been covering/following & admiring for a long time, now, are all releasing, unveiling, or showcasing new works; works that show each of these respective artists at one of the most inspired, imaginative, progressive, and even profound respective moments of their individual careers.

On Friday, May 19, Chris Bathgate will release Dizzy Seas on Quite Scientific, the Michigan son's first full length album in almost seven years. Audra Kubat and I will be providing you week-to-week rundowns of all 10 songs from this album in a couple weeks, by way of an epistolary review of traded letters. I've spent the last week listening to this album at least once a day; it's a winding trail where you discover some new glistening leaf to turn over at each successive spin, some new gem muddied into hiding corners and curtains of dreamy distortion and astounding attention to dynamics of intonation.

His voice on this record sounds like an, if you'll allow me to co-op the name of another local Detroit band-- an Earth Engine-- something that hums & thrums with a kind of mightiness you'd expect from jet engines over your head, but it kicks itself so gently over the wading guitar ripples with a bit of natural soil caked onto its achey croon. ALSO-- There's a duet on here with Tunde Olaniran that's just going to blow your mind.



On Saturday, May 20, Matt Jones (of Matt Jones & The Reconstruction), is hosting another of his semi-annual Listening Parties for his ongoing/epic River Street Anthology. Three years ago, Jones broke out of what was only a temporary spat of creative ennui by completely self-effacing himself from the musical performance process and instead taking more of a backstage/producer position where he pointed a microphone (and a recorder) at any/every OTHER artist within driving distance of his home (on River Street), and captured special, poignant, personal tracks from each of them (in his basement). It's slowly grown into being a state-wide mission: to visit every creative community across the Mitten & the Upper Peninsula, to congregate with a dozen artists on any given day, and enter new subsequent chapters, city by city, into an Anthology that will now be preserved by The Archives of the State of Michigan!

Jones will be at Jack Spack's farm in Dexter (more info). Each of these events are very interactive and often feature videos, and exclusive live performances.

Here's a video by Mostly Midwest, of Lake City-area artist May Erlewine performing for the River Street Anthology.

May Erlewine - Grateful - The River Street Anthology from River Street Anthology on Vimeo.


Speaking of May Erlewine.. A radiant talent and prominent vocalist/songwriter/guitarist from the Earthworks label up in Lake City has had a busy year. The exciting news is, just recently, her newest batch of songs was successfully crowdfunded, to facilitate an autumn release. This would follow the release, last December, of her other project, a more dance/jazz/pop inclined EP called The Little Things... And, it was only one full year ago, that she released her previous EP in her most noted realm of folk/Americana, Lean Into The Wind. I'm expecting powerful things on this album - as my conversation with Erlewine in May of 2016 could not avoid the anxiety, dread, and turmoil that was permeating our collective conscience as a species --with the election having gone the way it went and with time to put her pen to paper, I think we could be in store for a record that can heal, as well as reinvigorate --not just our compassion, but our will.

Erlewine is performing this Thurs., May 18th at The Ark in Ann Arbor (more info)

THEN....

On Tues., May 23, Josh Malerman of The High Strung, is having his 2nd major novel published (via ECCO press). Malerman's been a writer all his life, really, with more than two dozen full manuscripts stored away--but he finally broke out into the mainstream horror fiction scene as a major/recognized talent in 2015, with Bird Box. His latest scary story is an odyssey into the deserts of Africa, circa 1957, with WWII veterans who spent their first decade out of the service becoming famous in the seminal rock 'n' roll scene of Detroit, being sent back into service to seek the source of what could be a potential new weapon - something no one would know how to defend against-- a powerful droning note that emits a devastating soundwave throughout your body, threatening to crush every bone inside...




Malerman is having a Book Launch party on Mon., May 22 at The Loving Touch in Ferndale, where there will be a live reading, as well as some live music from the members of The High Strung (starts at 7pm). AND-- Stay tuned for a full interview with Malerman in Paste Magazine, where we discuss the evolution of horror fiction writing, over the last five decades.

FINALLY
There's Sheefy McFly. The hip-hop emcee/electro-funk producer/rapper & accomplished muralist, is seeing his two main creative strains combine this month. The artist otherwise known as Tashif Turner is having a major art exhibition, hosted by PLAYGROUND DETROIT, on Fri., May 26. But it was just two weeks ago, however, that Sheefy put out his latest album Murals, which features collaborations with producers like Hir-O and Gabe Gonzalez, as well as cameos from singers like James Linck.





Turner is a multifaceted artist. He is a curator, Red Bull House of Art / Murals in the Market Alumnus, Detroit Metro Times "Best Artist" of 2017, and independent Detroit bred artist. More info on the upcoming exhibit -here.


And then it's time for Movement, 2017, - busy couple of weeks!! 


Thursday, May 11, 2017

Shady Groves - Video Premier - "Stay Strange"

Detroit's Shady Groves have a busy month ahead of them. But first, they're letting me premier their new music video, "Stay Strange...," check it out.



The band started out as a trio about three years ago, but have since grown into a quintet (with one of its founding members departing the group). They not only got this new music video together, but they're getting ready to re-release their debut full length, Bitzer, from early 2016, with a few songs from its original tracklist cut and replaced by some new & old b-sides.

Stay Strange is a dark, dreamy short film that sorta flows through three movements; the video was created/edited by Elaine Smith.  Tone, tempo, and the timbres of that mandolin (and that lightly touched atmospheric electric guitar) shift harmoniously with the drums along to the visual energies exuded from the screen's two actors as they slow-dance and swoon through a quiet, contemplative night together.

I've always associated the breezy pop and jangly glides of this band with this springtime/rejuvenative energy - something that propels the soul, or maybe even just chills away said-soul's lingering tensions. The neo-chamber-pop sparks combine a mellowed groove with a heart-on-the-sleeve crooner poetry. I'm eager to see what they do next...

Next weekend, they're playing at the Loving Touch (May 19th) with Jerry Dreams, Mom Barley, and Almost Free. (Info). Later on, on Thurs., the 25th, they'll be at the Hard Rock Cafe in Detroit for a Battle of the Bands!


INTERVIEW
Tell us about the song, "Stay Strange," and why it fits so well into the Shady Groves canon?
Adam Fitzgerald: Dylan
had the idea of having the song be in two parts, first slow, then the last half kinda peppy. It's really short and sweet. I like "Stay Strange" because I feel like it's an honest love song in the way that it doesn't hyperbolize anything like other love songs might.

Dylan told me he finished this song because his girlfriend told him he writes all these great songs but never actually finishes any, so he made it a point to finish "Stay Strange" and it ended up being for her. I think it's kind of an anthem for true love with some realness to it.

Dylan CaronExactly like Adam said, I wrote “Stay Strange” for and because of my girlfriend Josie. At the time I would get home from work about an hour before Josie and the song was made in about that exact time. I was trying to kind of sum up our relationship, without over complicating anything. I wanted the song to be short and happy. But to also highlight small things not usually incorporated in a love song. Kind of just tried to capture a very average day of ours. 

Tell me more about the video, the idea/story behind it, and about Elaine Smith...
Fitzgerald: Elaine Smith directed this video, we have done a couple videos with her now. She is graduating Oakland University after studying film. We love working with her because she is really really good at editing and creating experimental visuals. She had the idea to make the "Stay Strange" video more like a short film, which ended up giving us a chance to use more of our music. 

The first song you hear is a demo we recorded of a new song Dylan wrote called "Me & You" which is kind of a sister song to "Stay Strange" cause they are both honest love songs. I like both songs because they are cute but not cheesy, they feel genuine to me and we work hard to try and get our music across in the right way. While "Me & You" and "Stay Strange" play, the video shows a new relationship blossoming. 

There's three songs inside of this video.... It starts with "Me & You," then we go into "Stay Strange..." What about the third part of the video?
Fitzgerald: 
 The third and last song you hear in the video is "Dysthymia" - which Dylan recorded with Jeff Yateman (aka Jemmi Hazeman) as his B-side for Bitzer. That part of the video has a different vibe, kind of how life can be after you are in a relationship for a while. "Dysthymia" is a unique song because it touches on the darkness that can be in life and in love, but there is this longing to it. I think of that song as a song that encapsulates the struggle of modern day life and the questions that daily routines grind into us until we aren't even sure what's what anymore.



What can you tell me about the newest songs you've been working on?
Fitzgerald: 
We have more songs than we know what to do with. We are trying to whittle the track list down to 12 songs for the second album. Dylan & I have written almost all the songs together, then we'll bring them to the band, but certain songs have been born out of jams so there's a variety of vibes and structures. Everyone in the band writes, so now that we have a solid full band we can really bounce ideas around and it makes the process go a lot quicker.

We have all been going through a lot of crazy shit lately so we are trying to learn from it and relate the weird reality of being alive through our songs. We are really hard on our lyrics and with this album we are really taking the time to do everything in our power to make the best album we can. Elliott Smith used to write so many different versions of his lyrics, F. Scott Fitzgerald was known for his intense editing and constant revising; the extra work shows so we are trying to be patient and take our time.

How would you describe the new stuff?
Fitzgerald: 
We have some songs that are like hypnotic grooves, but we also have some songs that are like a combination of folk and shoegaze or something. That probably sounds bad. We always joke that we don't really have a genre. We like to make our instruments sound anything other than what they actually are, we like weird sounds and different combinations and layers. Plus we have songs with different instruments like banjo, ukulele, random old synths, different types of percussions. For this second album we have really tried to work on our best songs and keep the focus on the song and as a band do what's best for each particular song.

Over the last few years..., how's the band changed, or developed?
Fitzgerald: 
When we formed Shady Groves it was just me, Dylan Caron and Jeff Yateman. Dylan and I had these songs that we were working on, some we wrote on our own and some we wrote together. The idea behind Shady Groves was to have a supportive collective of musicians, like Broken Social Scene or Deerhunter or Grizzly Bear; different songwriters working together. That is still true of Shady Groves because we all write music and we all work on songs. We have so many songs we could never even release all of them as Shady Groves so all of us want to start releasing songs on our own as well

The band has evolved a lot because we went from 3 guys to a 5 man band. Jamie Dulin joined to play bass and sax and Colton Caron joined to play keys and synth right before we put Bitzer out. They actually recorded their parts on Coyotes, now they write and record all their parts. Sage Denam joined to play drums and he just took to it right away, he uses and live kit and electronic drums sometimes because we've always liked a mix.

So the approach, the creation process for a song has probably changed...
Fitzgerald:
Yeah, what's changed now is that we all write our own parts. We write music as a band more now, as opposed to writing and recording everything broken up. Jamie, Colt and Sage all write their own stuff and most times things just click. Dylan and I feel lucky because the other guys are so talented and we have all been pushing ourselves to get a cohesive sound and break new ground with new ideas and converging styles. The band keeps evolving because we all listen to so much music, all genres and types of artists so we like to try and push things further and get new types of sounds.

Find more at the band's site
or follow on Facebook 

Friday, May 5, 2017

Video Premiere: Bevlove - "Freaks"

Bevlove's "Freaks" was already a stunning production.

Photo by Jana Akaari 


























I mean..., ...just  the swoon and bend of those booming beats, the haunting chime of those synths, the blend of intonations Bev's belting, varying in growl, or a purr, or in this urgent, breathless cry... A song like this can just kinda break you, (in the best ways). The rhythm from the bass and the cadence of Bev's aggressive, empowering lyrics, it all just hypnotizes you -even without the visceral imagery of seeing actual/legitimate freaks pervading the dark, fire-lit pockets of the underground....

But here we are...
A brilliant short film produced by Lori Wild & The Right Brothers, and directed by Andrew Miller.


Bevlove 'Freaks' [Official] from The Right Brothers on Vimeo.



The film brilliantly juxtaposes an almost invisible everyman-looking dude with the radiant Aphrodite-aura of Bevlove: The bearded actor David Gazdowicz is camouflaged behind cumbersome, 70's-era style glasses that hang in front of an expression that seems permanently on-edge, while he quietly tries to unravel the mystery of what happened at an alleyway murder scene. Startling, vivacious images of a devlish/gothic/pleasure-party in a dynamically lit loft-space start to cut in across the storyline of our crime scene photographer as he uncovers the corruption of two detectives (played by Ryan Clancy from Stef Chura's band, and Matt Rickle from Javelins).

This is the best work I've seen from Miller & The Right Brothers - the transfixing filters they use, the pacing of the editing, the frame of Bev being photographed from five stories up before she hops on a motorcycle for a dashing getaway. And Bev, with the subtlety and the power of her gaze, when she just moves her face with a slightness, or shoots her eyes up and forward for those close-ups....! I couldn't take my eyes off the screen, as I'm sure you can't either...

Glad to see this song get a video treatment. Produced with SYBLYNG, it was my favorite track from Bevlove's latest EP Do What I Say. 

_______


More info: 

Freaks video - Directed by Andrew Miller (Prod. by Lori Wild & The Wright Brothers) 

Follow Bev on FB & Twitter, or take a listen to her latest EP, produced with SYBLYNG @ Assemble, via Soundcloud 

More info: Right Brothers 



Coming up next for Bevlove


"Freaks" A Right Brothers Production starring Bevlove with David Gazdowicz, Ryan Clancy, Matt Rickle Cinematography by Andrew Miller & Jamin Towsley Produced by Lori Wild Directed & Edited by Andrew Miller

Thursday, May 4, 2017

May Issue of Current

So I know that The Ann Arbor Current made a bold move with this month's issue, talking about The Blind Pig, and I just felt the need to clarify my role in it--considering my byline's on the page...

I talked to people. That was it. There is an editorial column to the right-hand side of the 2-page spread that I did not write.

The editorial staff at Adams Street Publishing had (and have) best intentions of stepping up to show their support for local music, but I--being a freelancer, had no idea what their plans were for the tone of the issue's cover/cover-art/design-layout, etc...  I just talked to people. I reached out to those who are quoted on the page, and had conversations with them about venues--conversation that I intentionally steered towards the more generic, or overarching aspect of: Why is it important that we support (and continue to be patrons of) local music venues... That was my role.

Since I am a freelancer and not on the editorial staff, I felt free to just put this down... What I contributed was: questions. And I even questioned the trajectory/tone of the issue as it came about... I felt it would be better to wait until June, maybe even July- until we actually knew what the future of the Pig was turning out to be... I've been covering Ann Arbor & Ypsilanti music for almost 10 years now and have nothing but admiration and respect for its artists, organizations and venues. So I reached out to folks who I knew would have strong feelings, informed opinions, and be able to provide insight as to the issue of: just venues! That was the core of my intention.





Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Diptopia

Get an early start on your Cinco de Mayo celebrating with The Real Diptopia... 




Can you imagine? A utopian society of dips, salsa's, pico de gallos, fresca spices and guacamole.... Maybe hummus? What about caviar? I dunno...

Here's what I know... The "dip," per se, is probably metaphorical. There's always layers of meaning to chip into when it comes to Doc Waffles. Doc Waffles is a veteran emcee on the Detroit hip-hop scene, and consistently in contention, year-in-and-year-out, for the title of quirkiest emcee-- Maybe not quirky, but he definitely has his own language, his own universe that he's strung together with a slew of themes, subjects and colorfully imagined symbology with his raps. Doc Waffles speaks in twisty-slides and he performs like a troubador magician...

Here's what else I know... Doc Waffles is hosting The Real Diptopia tomorrow night at Trinosophes. A legion of some of my favorite local music artists will be joining him to perform their various styles, from the indie-rock of Double Winter, to the cerebral hip-hop of Mister, to the neo-trip-hop ambient soul scapes of Eddie Logix, the mysterious Prince of Darkness, and the witty slow-motion-cartwheeled-rap quips of Goldzilla

With ping-pong roulette on the sculpture table. Should be an excellent late Spring evening in Eastern Market.

Why not listen to some music while you're here?






Monday, May 1, 2017

Bathgate. Milo. Kubat. "House On The Hill"

Chris Bathgate and I have swapped 10 letters. Each letter has been about a single track from Audra Kubat's Mended Vessel...
Today, we wrap it up...

This song is called "House On The Hill."
Put on some headphones and listen along, as we ruminate....




Dear Chris
I'm not ready to leave this album. I have cherished each week, with a fresh opportunity to explore a new track of Audra's with you; it's also just been a treat to get back into letter-writing.



We have a lot of wrapping up to do, and that means my inevitable complimenting of you, on your first round of formal "album-review-writing..." We chatted by phone 11 weeks ago, already, (has it been that long?), discussing what you and I could do as a collaborative "review" project. And here we are, track 10 of Mended Vessel: "House On The Hill." I can't wait to hear your thoughts...

That lap steel guitar, how it sounds like a piano at points, (and there is a piano in there, buried), and Audra's acoustic strumming - how the former sounds like a ghost wind departing the horizon and the latter is simultaneously furtive and meditative at the same time... Forgive the superlative, because of course it's hard to say at this point having taken each song week to week, but this might be the most emotional vocal performance Audra has given us...something as poignant as suggesting she could have any lyric creak into a broken down cry, but it remains steeled throughout. "I just keep walking..." Let's just repeat that lyric, as she does in the song... It's rephrasing the album's thesis statement in a new way, again, but still reiterating what we've struck upon as its main theme: resolution. Or, maybe even, departing from your pain or departing from your regret, and continuing...

There are also lyrics about reaching and climbing... The idea of a house on a hill is something like a salvation, or an answer to anyone's all-encompassing prayers or hopes. But on a less grand, and more grounded scale, her hopes in this song is also to see someone, a lover, a supporter, a friend, any fellow, appearing in the doorway, (but the album ends on a bittersweet note, because whomever she's waiting for does not arrive...) The sweetness countering the bitter is that she will keep on walking...

There's something about the significantly airy time signature, the breezy melody, the fluttery-ness of its phrasing, that feels calming, a winding down, tucked-in, near-slumber song. Not a lullaby, though. Nothing on this album has been a lullaby, because lullabies, by design, have a bit of the fantastical, a bit of the false hope pour.... Every song here has been so realistic, the narrator so bluntly honest with herself... This album doesn't feel like it's necessarily a closure-album, or a pure catharsis album, but I feel like that closure is SO near, with the way she sings, and with what she deals with, like our singer is on this cusp of a revitalization, a salvation---like she's walking, and climbing, and reaching, and very, VERY near to that proverbial house on the hill..........

I feel restored...., or maybe rejuvenated by a song like this, in a way I can't explain. She's singing of tatters and scars, and yet, there is this propulsion to her... Walking it off... And potentially, hopefully...hopefully bettering a situation by surmounting the next obstacle. I feel hope.

Chris, I don't want the album to end, but it has. It's been a beautiful experience to explore it with you...
---with the best of vibes,
-jeff



Jeff,

I feel I need to start off with a hearty Thank You. It’s so enjoyable to correspond with you, and yes, its so nice to consider these letters. Part of my thanks comes from the sating nature of this experiment. Other than the obvious joy I get from waxing with you on Mended Vessel, this experiment served my outcry, my curiosity about the realm of music-writing, a realm you so gracefully embody. Perhaps an extra thanks is involved, for providing an opportunity and framework to write. Swift on the heals of those thank’s though is a heartfelt thanks to Audra herself. She volunteered her work for this experiment. I hope it doesn’t feel strange to address her in this message to you.  Perhaps I’ll write her a letter after this, and say my thanks "off the record".  And yes, we have a lot to wrap up, though I won’t pretend to be able to tie all the loose ends this process might have unstitched. Regardless, I’m quite taken by how much (and in what ways) your last letter says.

First though, this strange sound:

Now, just beyond the soft sparrow drift of that lap steel, after a few vocal lines of Audra’s, including her first iteration of “I stare at the doorway, hoping that you would walk through, but you don’t, no you don’t”, there’s a sound in the right channel. You can hear it the most prominently after Audra’s acoustic strumming softens; in the moments before the pedal steel adds a few nods to the preceding lyrics.  Jeff, am I loosing it? Do you hear this?  My first thought was there is a mouse in the piano.  As a person whose had one, a mouse in the piano, I’m predisposed perhaps to hear this sound as exactly that.  It wasn’t until I had begun to process the lyrics, after they set in, I began to hear that sound as a doorknob. Maybe I’m too deep in this album...

These climbing and reaching lyrics, I feel them. Also, your soft suggestion that the House on the Hill is an Idea, yes. I’m thinking of the House conceptually. The metaphor is there, I’m gonna let it be that, and the roads, stand metaphoric in this song. And yes, the person in this song's narrative never arrives. Your take on this song as one of “near salvation”, that vibe, is one I’m thoroughly enjoying thinking about.

Maybe it’s the withholding happening musically. I’m not positive, I don’t have a guitar on me, but it seems Audra sparingly lands on the 1 chord in this song, the tonic chord, the chord of this song's key. Psychologically, i think there’s resolution, safeness, comfort, in being inside that moment in the a chord progression, the tonic cord specifically. Audra practices restraint, perhaps, here.  That chord falls as the 2nd and 4th n the verse’s first two lines.  Meaning, we start hearing Audra’s voice singing above that, and come to rest in that comfortable tonic chord.  In the first few seconds of this song we can notice it as she sings the lines “on the hill”.  She brings us into that musical landing zone, she doesn’t start us there.

This song feels like the soft waving of a hand, there’s some indirect comfort coming from the music that pushes what could be a stark message into gentleness. I attribute this to the that slow whine from the lap steel, the gentle calamity of this songs fluid time keeping. The piano might help undo what could be harrowing curtains, reflecting the raggedness of the speaker of this song, but still fulfilling some requirement, even while tattered. A micro gesture, a image that reiterates what Audra has been saying all along, perhaps, in a different way.

This choral image, of one walking through the doorway, changes.  At first it’s “I stare at the doorway”, followed by “I STILL stare at the doorway”, and finally “I WONT stare at the doorway. It might be easy to consider this album a simple record in initial listens, but there are details across the board on Mended Vessel; This is one of my favorites.  Amazing, what changing or adding a single word can do semantically. It’s this lyrical progression that makes the line " I’ll just keep walking", seem more like a decision than a circumstance. There is agency in the word “won’t”.

This kind of matter of fact, scarred yet marching, post wound existence, is peppered throughout Mended Vessel, but this closing track, House on the Hill, feels perfect to close this album. There’s a comfortableness in this song, a comfort with having to triumph over the bumps and knocks of life.  Strange though, this definition of triumph, graciously, doesn’t exclude falling apart in moments. Or, maybe its more precise to say that this definition of triumph doesn’t minimize the fact that wounds and scars exist, currently, on those rising above, or moving beyond.

All the best Jeff, it’s been pure joy.
-Chris




Chris....I replayed the song with headphones. 

There is certainly something scurrying there. Call me crazy, but that supernatural sound makes this song now feel like a cliffhanger. What else was in the room with Audra when she made it? Was it a force, a being, something celestial? Was it benevolent? Or not? Was it a mouse? I feel like if we could only hear another song by her, then my now somewhat spooked-out feeling would be calmed. Gah!
.......it's probably a mouse...
And I can't wait for Audra to release a new song...

Also, I've gotten a chance to think, again, about this song. About the slight change of words. I realize that IF we consider the house/hill to be metaphorical, then Audra's actually diverting from the typical metaphoric conception of "a house on a hill" as some kind of salvation. She specifically refers to it as "House On THE Hill....." And, boy, such a difference that makes.

But ya know what? I'm gonna leave it there...
I've loved this. One of my most cherished writing experiences of my life.
sincerely
-jeff

Friday, April 28, 2017

Britney Stoney - Song Premier: "Grip"

photo by Akhil Sesh

Britney Stoney has been writing and performing her music for several years around the scene, having released an EP back in 2012, followed by the seven-song EP Native in the summer of 2015. Today, I'm excited to share her latest single. "Grip" will also have a music video debuted on Monday, but this is a chance for you to sneak a listen...



You can see Stoney perform tomorrow night, (Sat., 4/29) at El Club, opening for Mother Cyborg's album release party (info

Stoney's a breathtaking vocalist and performer, with such a sensibility for soulful dynamics in her voice, as she secures something vulnerable yet defiant, soft yet steeled, tender yet tough...with a melodic current to her vocalizations that matches the groove, snap or sway of any beat beneath her voice. This one's a restorative song - even if the lyrics are laced with regret, its in her voice, her delivery, the dulcet/breathy tones she syncs, that sweetens everything into something radiant. The soft whirl of that groove and the bright clasp of those synths and that buzzy bass certainly help, too, but some strongest charms are in the subtlety of her own voice tracked in harmonization under the rise/fall melody of that chorus.....

Stoney is a singer/songwriter/guitarist and Kresge Music Fellow who's collaborated with a handful of producers, lyricists and other Detroit-area eletronica/hip-hop artists over the years. And we can also count playwright among her recent credits. Where as you might throw this in with dazzling neo-soul, trip-hop or electro-pop, we have to remember that Stoney is a folk singer at heart, with the human condition and a sense of compassion kept at heart, in her themes and compositions.

Just going back to how subtly powerful her voice can be - granted it's dressed here with ambient synths and shimmering beats--still, her roots are in more intimate performances, like open mics, coffee-house type settings, galleries, listening rooms, where it can be just her acoustic guitar and her solo voice; that's how she started, and she sustains that power to this day, with this latest track.

So, yeah, we throw around genre-splicings to help for categorization, like soul or neo-soul... Well, this is soul music in that it is an undeniable salve for the human soul.






Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Girls Rock Detroit - Rock Roulette 2017



Back in March, Girls Rock Detroit took applications from musicians all over the state. These drummers, bassists, guitarists, keyboardists, and vocalists were, it would go without saying, all women. Girls Rock Detroit is about breaking the boy's club lock on rock n roll music: the non-profit music education organization has chapters across the country, with Detroit's starting up about three years ago.

This Friday night, more than two dozen musicians will be performing in eight respective bands, for a "Rock Roulette" arranged to raise funds for Girls Rock Detroit's summer camp programming. These bands are one-night-only affairs, with the assembled members of each outfit having spent the last seven weeks writing and rehearsing two original songs, along with a cover song of their choosing.

Each band is also its own fundraising team--with their individual band pages through crowdrise.com, partnering with Assemble Sound, to see which band can independently raise the most money as the concert date gets closer. Whoever raises the most cash gets crowned "Queens of Noise" - and will then set up a recording date with a producer at Assemble to capture their original tunes as a split single release.

Some of the performers will be recognizable from other bands, like Junglefowl, Junk Food Junkies, White Bee, Dear Darkness, and many more.

There will be a panel of three judges assessing each of the 8 performances. Every band will be given a specific award from these judges, a certain superlative declaring their exceptional qualities in certain areas.

All the money being raised goes toward summer camp programming and tuition assistance. It's important for the local coordinators of Girls Rock Detroit that, above all, their programming remains accessible to anyone, regardless of income or any other circumstance.

There will be a silent auction, with lots of prizes from local businesses, like Avalon Bakery, and the Detroit Institute of Music Education.

For more info - check out the FB Event page

and follow Girls Rock Detroit



FRIDAY
PJs Lager House
Girls Rock Roulette 2017
Summer Camp Fundraiser
MORE INFO





*THE FLOODLIGHTS: https://www.crowdrise.com/the-floodlights
*THE MAW MAWS: https://www.crowdrise.com/the-maw-maws
*LOWBROW: https://www.crowdrise.com/lowbrow
*HISSYFIT: https://www.crowdrise.com/hissyfit
*PERSNICKETY: https://www.crowdrise.com/persnickity
*THE CHERRY BLOSSOM EFFECT: https://www.crowdrise.com/the-cherry-blossom-effect
*McDOUGALL CELLOPHANE & THE NASTY HANDS:https://www.crowdrise.com/mcdougall-cellophane-and-the-nasty-hands
*NATURE VS. HER: https://www.crowdrise.com/nature-vs-her 

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

What a journey... Milo & Bathgate on Mended Vessel (penultimate essay)

Chris Bathgate and I started writing letters two months ago. Each letter has been devoted to analyzing one singular track from Audra Kubat's Mended Vessel. 

We only have one more to go after this...
This song is called "Tear Out Your Eyes"




(ed. note: Audra Kubat performed this song on my talk show last October

Hey Chris

Your own album is going to be out soon! Are you getting anxious? What predominates your emotional silo, when something like this gets near... Be it an album release, or a "big show" or a tour, is it eagerness? Is it dread? Is it relief?

I can tell you, not to divert too much from the song we have to discuss ("Tear Out Your Eyes,") that the energy I detected from Aurda Kubat when I spoke with her a week before the release of Mended Vessel was something akin to a quiet transcendence. She seemed to have come out of a chrysalis--as this album had been gestating for four years, and she'd gone through it three times, only to finally discover this perfect span of time, circumstances, and collaborators, to create the album she'd been hoping to make--all along.



"Tear Out Your Eyes" sounds like a singer who has nothing to lose. And I don't mean that in the typical cliched sense. I mean that her voice, and the rather brutal phrasings she's employing for her expression, sound as though they're coming from someone who's been over a mountain; an unforgiving mountain. There's a bit of realistic/existential/resoluteness to the revelation of this song. I know this isn't what she is going for, but tearing out ones eyes is a startlingly profound way for me to imagine gaining a new perspective. Or, perhaps, to use another cliche - dropping the proverbial scales from ones eyes.

After working on her craft for 20+ years, Audra does not have any illusions. There is no mirage that her eyes can see. And this goes back to how raw, beautiful--yes, absolutely beautiful--but also raw, this whole album is. Beautifully raw. Tender. Vulnerable. Scars revealed from sleeves having been rolled up. "Love is too tired..." is a phrase that sticks out... That love, this thing that we give a sanctified power to (...thanks, Beatles), can actually be exhausted, is a sobering thought to consider.

But atmosphere, let's talk about that. I love the ghostly purr of that guitar, the way it bends-- not the acoustic guitar, but the quiet electric... And we have to reiterate her sense for dynamics, the way her voice gets fuller, and louder, and yet kind of breaks in a way, when she hits the chorus. The way you can hear thick, strong oak trees creaking with fragility when a wind storm comes through? And how that stops you, to consider how this big, bone-like, trunked organism could sound as though it might break, might snap....despite how majestic and mighty it may appear... that sums up this song, and Audra's sung sentiments... for me....

That's all for now, Chris
We have one more song ot go
talk soon
---jeff



Howdy Jeff,

It’s all of those: eagerness, dread, and eventual relief. It’s more as well. Perhaps I also feel some sort of paternal pride. Though, I have to admit my mental sights are set on whats next; I’m already in the throws of something new. My tinges of album publishing energy feel more like an undercurrent, rather than oppresively governing me. Now, the thing that has yet to happen, a show, THE show, fills my emotional windshield. That eagerness is very present currently..  

Quizzically, it's no shock that you witnessed Audra in “quiet transcendence”. I’m uncertain if the matter of factness of Tear Out Your Eyes (currently pouring out of my headphones) makes that sound logical, or if speaking to Audra in person recently gave me some flash of what you experienced. Maybe Mended Vessel itself was in the chrysalis, though metaphorically a chrysalis might rule out the necessity of failure. We have to uncover so many dead-ends before we see our successes. We have to record instruments to find out they don’t belong in a song. I wonder how many sentences we’ve deleted from these letters while in process. To paraphrase Emerson, failures are preparations for success.  It’s a shame that the word failure feels, and perhaps is, pejorative. And maybe that word makes it feel like a process has ended.  Scrapping a record twice, that feels more like brave quality control to me. I can’t deny her interview responses though, sometimes the art waits on the artist.  

There is a  stark, shocking, unapologetic timbre to Audra’s voice on “Tear Out Your Eyes", as you’ve said, with nothing to lose. Souls as lined up paper dolls, the crying trees, walking to the ocean, these images get us there. This song has no qualms with its own darkness. I truly feel this resoluteness you speak of, but it feels as though that information comes only from her vocal delivery, and is transmitted indirectly. While lines like “Is it god that you’re bowing to, or is it your fear, either way you cannot win”, do point me to existentialism and realism–a profound combination.  That rawness, and I’m in full agreement when you say “Beautifully raw”, is something that has gripped me across Mended Vessel as well, a purposeful vulnerability.  Though, this specific song's lyrics, accomplish a very specific kind of rawness, that feels shellac’d into us, by this morose and, again, nuanced arrangement. 

These electrics, whether they are slide guitar or lap steel, deliver a kind of mournfulness that embodies a slightly different emotion than Audra’s vocals.  The design of their melodies are transcendent in their own right. This instrumental section at 2:21, the call and response in the stereo field, is a totally cathartic wash over me moment.  The left ear singing into the next chord, the right ear repeating this sorrowful melodic shape, is  the sleeper-hit moment, for me on this record.  Just that little break, its math, reaffirms and adds something ineffable to “Tear Out Your Eyes”.  I can’t let this letter close without mentioning the understated organ.  So simple, yet potent. I wonder, if we in a way are programed to hear organ, organ like this, as sacred.  Perhaps my own early days of church going are causing me to inject my experience onto this song, but it ads an element of bereft, solemn ceremony.  We learned early on, the production decisions made by Audra and her team have honored and created subtly and nuance. This songs choral line, “If love is too tired and the pain is too fierce, let the tide come and wash you clean” is one I’m fascinated with.  What seems to be a solution, or perhaps a resolution, does not attempt to undo the trespass that perhaps caused us to seek solace in the first place.  Maybe this is another gesture of Audra’s “realistic/existential/resoluteness”.  As though we can’t change the things that have happened to us, or that we’ve had to bare, but we can find rejuvenation in other ways, without undoing, to let the tide wash us clean. 

The ending lines of this song, so far, are my favorite closing lyrics, across mended vessel.

“Then I saw her on the shoreline, a starfish in her hand, she looked up at me and she smiled. She pointed toward the setting sun, as a flock of birds blocked the moon, and in the stars she traced the word: Dream”. 

The impact of that language is slightly on the edge of sense, you feel it before you try and understand it. I have to note that the sparseness the song traverses just before this closing line is delivered, is further proof of intelligent design in this songs production. At 4:00 minutes, the acoustic guitar takes a rest, the organ drones on, a light tambourine is in the distance, and every part of the song steps back to let the word “clean” ring out, in solitary significance. 

One more, what a journey. 

Best,
Chris