Saturday, January 30, 2016

River Street Anthology (pt. 1 of 3): the Kalamazoo Sessions (chapter 1 of 2)

The Go Rounds


When I walked out of the First Congregational Church in Kalamazoo, after seven hours observing (and interviewing) Matt Jones during his recording session for his River Street Anthology, I felt like everything made sense again.

I forgot the sting of cynicism, jaded thoughts evaporated... Not that this was any kind of Hallmark swath of saccharine sentimentality...We didn't have any kind of movie-moment inside that church; this was ineffably authentic. It's inevitably a feeling that won't be done any justice by my anxious scrambling for adjectives or smattering of vivid connotations...

But everything that you want to believe about a music scene, all of the good and the sincerity and the camaraderie that your darkest sides are certain of being just a myth or a matter of lip-serviced rhetoric emptied of true intention.... I saw it, like Sasquatch or a freaking unicorn, on full display, in the faces and in the voices of every artist who shuffled past the Altar to contribute their songs to this ever-growing posterity project (in the spirit of Alan Lomax' famous field recordings). The legacy of (our modern) Michigan music scene is being captured, documented, paid-tribute-to, celebrated....with The River Street Anthology....

Matthew Borr, Lisa Moairey, Andrew Whiting 
And, I have to say, for me to travel to all the way over to Kalamazoo  from Detroit and still feel a supernatural sense of familiarity, is saying something; that I was instantly at home, welcomed. And, at many moments, I was downright captivated with the signature blend of solidarity and easy-going alliances crackling like an inviting bonfire out there, toward the west side.... I'm...well, I was speechless.
G'Itis Baggs 

Now, with more on Kalamazoo...here's Anthony Roth....


"I never lived in Michigan until 2006, when my wife and I moved to Kalamazoo. I have always loved live music, so we started searching out where to go. I remember paying three dollars to see Steppin In It in the Bell's beer garden, having no knowledge of the band before then, and being completely blown away by the quality. I kept having similar experiences all over Kalamazoo, which led me to have conversations with many of the musicians that I was watching. So, we started making a lot of new friends who happened to be musicians. Who Hit John? were the first good musical friends we made here. Their culture of care and openness were crucial to our understanding of the community. The Go Rounds are also slightly newer great friends. Both recorded on Sunday.

My wife and I left Kalamazoo for a little less than two years in 2009 and 2010 when she took a job in another state. We moved back to Kalamazoo pretty much because of all of the friends that we had made here. We bought a house with a third floor loft apartment and we generally make that available to touring musicians or musicians who are recording in Kalamazoo for a few days, usually at La Luna with Ian Gorman. 



Northern Fires 
The overall vibe that we are aiming for is probably that of Seth Bernard and Harvest Gathering: love, respect, inclusiveness. We and Paul Janson started a monthly event at our house that ran for a few years called "Songshop", which basically covered any aspect of songwriting and was welcoming to people of any skill levels. We usually had a special guest who was an expert, so to speak. Those experts have been Seth Bernard, Jay Gavan, (both recorded with the RSA so far) and many others who were kind enough to donate their time. A friend of ours is picking up the tradition this Saturday and the expert is G'Itis Baggs, who recorded on Sunday, too. The Northern Fires recorded Sunday with the RSA and I believe that Noah and Laurie met at a Songshop. At least I hope they did. They are so good together.

Outside the snare drum in the grade school band, I never played an instrument until my wife bought me a guitar for Christmas in 2009, when I was 39 years old. The musical community in Kalamazoo is so welcoming and encouraging and collaborative that I found some of the most talented, experienced and skilled musicians encouraging me. I certainly haven't been everywhere, so I hesitate to say that the Kalamazoo music scene is unique. I do not hesitate to say that it is rare in its focus on encouragement, collaboration and cooperation as opposed to competition. There is certainly competition and I certainly do not know every musician in Kalamazoo, but I never would have guessed that such a welcoming culture would also include so much excellence. 
Roth recently performed with
Perilous Cats at Louie's Back Room;
a fundraiser for the Pat Carroll Foundation.


I could make a long list of just Kalamazoo-based musicians that meet this description. Megan Dooley is a great example. She is talented and skilled (not at all the same thing). She works very hard and recently released a really nice record under less than ideal circumstances. She’s not rolling in dough, but she brought coffee and donuts to the RSA on Sunday just to show her appreciation. She runs an open mic locally that has resulted in skill level and confidence increases in lots of people like me, at least in part due to her encouragement and her own experience as a younger musician being encouraged similarly.

Really, all I wanted to do was learn a new skill (guitar) that would be fun, but it has led me to experiences I never thought I would have. I have now played guitar and bass on stage in front of people, mostly at benefits. I have written songs and I sing them. I have recorded with the River Street Anthology. I think Matt had only recorded maybe 30 people when he asked me to record. I refused, confused as to why he would want me on there, but he also refused to stop asking. I could not understand why anyone would want me to record a song. I think it was probably Seth Bernard, the great leveler, who set me up for it with Matt.

Patrick Carroll was a friend of mine and his story and his music are a huge part of all that I do musically. I find this project of Matt's to be something that Pat would have thought was really cool. Pat was one of the very best people I have known, along with one of the very best musicians. I would say the same about Matt. I think that Matt has maybe learned as much about himself as he has learned about the musical community in this project. 

The fact that (Jones) is giving so much of himself through this project makes him one of the most important players in the community, I think. It is just this sort of example that keeps the river flowing. I use the metaphor of a river whenever somebody tries to say that we started any part of this in Kalamazoo. I certainly didn't start anything, but I am involved in enough music-related stuff that people who don't know better can be confused trying to figure out how we fit in. I feel like I simply stepped into the river that was already flowing right through here. Musical communities like this don't have a single starting point and they have to be fostered by a whole bunch of people regularly in order to keep it flowing. I think we are continuing a tradition. I think that's what Matt is doing extremely well. Laurie Laing called it a Framily (friend family), and that is right. There is a lot of mixing of band members and it seems sort of impossible for anybody to stagnate in the big Framily.

When I recorded in Matt's basement, it was transformative. I had spent about two weeks really working hard on what I was going to record and, although I have not heard the recording, I believe it was the best I could do at the time. But since then I have had many more opportunities to play in front of people, including playing in the barn at Harvest Gathering at the insistence of Seth Bernard (he's all through this narrative, to nobody's surprise). I am certain that if I had not recorded with Matt I would not be anything like the musician I am today, which is not to say that I am particularly skilled. But I am much better than I was nine months ago and the project has energized me in the direction of musical endeavors. I feel like some of what you noticed happening on Sunday is the same sort of thing happening to many of the musicians who recorded. 

(The RSA) is certainly special, but it also makes people feel special and that makes them try hard and think of giving of themselves as Matt has. His example makes people try hard toward building community, which is probably the key point that I would make. The caring musical community keeps getting larger (and more skilled) because of what Matt is doing."


_________________________________________________________

Anthony Roth is a musician and singer/songwriter, but he prefers the identifier of Participant, when it comes to elucidating his connection to- and role within- not only the Kalamazoo music scene, but the greater Michigan music community.
You can read more about the River Street Anthology in an upcoming Detroit Free Press feature.
For now, here are some joyful images.

Friday, January 29, 2016

The Walking Beat



Walking Beat didn't exactly get off to a running start... But, I've always been rooting for this band, so I'm quite glad to see them poised in the ready blocks, now, seemingly set to sprint down the track for 2016... That said, this proper "debut" full length has been a long time coming.

You can hear a song (below) and see the Detroit quartet live at PJ's Lager House on Feb 27, with Colorwheel



The Walking Beat started four years ago, performing consistently throughout the years at gigs in Detroit and releasing a handful of singles. They kinda went dark for a bit there, but McFevers was busy getting married, renovating his house, doing life-stuff, you know how it goes...

Introducing, by the Walking Beat, will have its official release party at the end of February (at PJ's Lager House).

Lead singer/guitarist Steven McFever wanted to move away from some of the woodsy/Americana-twangs of his recent project, Scarlet Oaks, and find a happy, melody-centric, toe-tapping middle ground of pop/rock, a bit more Big Star than Uncle Tupelo.

But the winning distinction for Walking Beat lies in its eclectic ensemble. Each of its current players are free (and encouraged) to bring their own signature styles to the table, informed by pasts invariably including punk, blues, garage and a refined pop/rock. With Joe Lavis (bass), Danny Kanka (drums) and Jon Berz (on keys), the recordings also feature guest vocals from Kara Dupuy-McCauley. The result is a bracing, buoyant composite of twanged out revelries, boot-stomping rock, piano-bar-blues-belting and some quality, nostalgia-itch-scratching college-rock-riffage. It's a music that's got its collar undone, maybe one strand of shoelace is loose, too busy running or dancing to care but carried with panache all the while to affect a ruffled charisma.

Listen at: https://walkingbeat.bandcamp.com/releases



The Walking Beat





Then...They're on the lineup for the Hamtramck Music Festival Kickoff Party, March 3 at the Fowling Warehouse. 

Thursday, January 28, 2016

The Go Rounds - Texas Desert Rose (video)



Kalamazoo-based space-funk/clunk-pop quartet The Go Rounds released a music video about a month ago, this time for another single from 2015's Don't Go Not Changin. I've gushed enough about this record, already, so I'll spare you and get right to the lovely lake-heavy visuals...


The Go Rounds - 'Texas Desert Rose' from Marguerite Mooradian on Vimeo.



By the way..
.....if you haven't heard (or read) already...
Line ups for Hamtramck Music Festival
& for MOVEMENT
...have been announced.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

More Swan Songs (from Phantom Cats) with Liz Shar

Phantom Cats singer/lyricist Liz Shar shared some insights to three songs featured on the now defunct Detroit quartet's final album.




"I grew so much as a singer and artist through the golden years of this band, and I'm eternally grateful to have been a part of it. Nick (Landstrom) doesn't even realize how much he has influenced my life and changed me for the better as a person, within the realm of music, and otherwise. I always felt so honored to be his lead singer, and be able to sing to such moving, and entirely magickal compositions..."

"Words"


Liz Shar: ...simply about feeling something so intensely that you can't express it properly with words. Sometimes the only way I know how to express myself and to purge overbearing feelings is to sing or growl or yell, as if the animal part of my humanity is the one  processing emotions.



"My Body"

Liz Shar: ...about the back and forth of being confident in yourself, and then letting societies standards weigh you down. I've been a big girl my whole life, and society is always telling me I'm wrong for it. I have this anchor in my heart that says, "no I love my body, I don't need to lose weight for them," but then I'll find myself letting society's standards put me down, but then I'll back track again and ground my feet in what I know is true--that beauty standards are created by society, by men, by the media, to make money and control people's minds, in many ways. I'm not about that life. This is my body!


"Lil' Demon"



Liz Shar: ...about my experience being bi polar. The lil' demon is the mental illness, which I've been managing since middle school. I've been on and off meds, been in the psych ward, getting into and out of addictive/compulsive behaviors, and after all this time, when that lil demon strikes, it makes me feel 18 again.. Out of control, indecisive, impulsive, confused, and crazy


Shar is currently finishing up a Master's Degree in Linguistics at Georgetown University. She and guitarist Nik Landstrom haven't ruled out another "final" recording (for a possible release) for the songs they wrote together as Fancy Street. No official word on that... In any case, as you can hear on these recordings, Shar pours her heart and soul into her singing and her live performances with Phantom Cats will be missed. Though, I heard a rumor she's picked up the guitar, lately... So, I"m sure we'll be hearing more from her soon. 

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Drunken Barn Dance - Big Bend EP (out Feb 5)

I want to be there every time any of those guys picks up a guitar… --Scott Sellwood on "Chruches," lead single from Drunken Barn Dance's forthcoming Big Bend EP




It's been nearly three years since we've heard from Drunken Barn Dance. The quintet's leader, Scott Sellwood, has spent the last six years living in New York and California, but his heart will always be in Michigan, the soil from which his songs truly blossomed. Sellwood, despite his semi-itinerant home-base and relative distance from the Mitten, is nevertheless granted access to Michigan's VIP music room, where he meets the minds of Matt Jones, Fred Thomas, Chris Bathgate, Matt Milia and many more, as equals, comrades...hell, brothers. You'll hear him name-dropping those names, along with Tim & Jamie Monger (of Great Lakes Myth Society) and producer/wizard/bass-sage Jim Roll.

Drunken Barn Dance started around the Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti area back in early 2007. It was around this time that he served his tenure in Thomas' Saturday Looks Good To Me. Sellwood has since perfected his sensibility for rollicking indie-Americana romps and twanged-out tough-n-tumble baroque ditties. He's backed by Roll, Scott DeRoche, Ryan Howard and Greg McIntosh, and they've continued to maintain their sometimes fast and fierce (and occasionally functioning-Bacchanalian) approach to recording throughout the years, including with Big Bend, their latest EP coming out on Quite Scientific Records, Feb 5.


As is often the case, Sellwood has written an exuberant and hyper-endearing love letter to Michigan with their lead single, "Churches." I think it's the most vigorous incarnation of reverence and kicking camaraderie I've ever heard... This is windows-rattling guitar rock with a Rustbelt warbled voice so full of gladness you can almost hear its source ricocheting around the room. That said... the ears of this blogger have heard the forthcoming EP, and I can assure you, you find a wide variety of tunes, including some heavier traipses & jukebox slowdancers and everything in between.



I’m just thrilled that the formula still works and the guys are still down," Sellwood said. "We basically took two years off, far more time and distance from each other than in the past. This was largely due to all-encompassing day jobs, but also other things ranging from geography to family to bad weather. Like with every DBD release, the songs we can successfully record according to the rules are the ones that make it. The others don’t. That doesn’t necessarily make for the most thematically coherent group of songs.

The band knocked out two EP's, said Sellwood, with only a small amount of 'song casualties" left behind. Don't get excited now, but there will eventually be two more DBD EP's coming down the pike.... No official word yet, but you should stay tuned via Quite Scientific for more info. Sellwood is anticipating a summer release.

In the meantime, DBD are headed out on the road next month.

Drunken Barn Dance Tour Dates:
Jan 21st - New York, NY @ Leftfield
Feb 4th - San Francisco, CA @ Hotel Utah
Feb 18th - Detroit, MI @ PJ's Lager House
Feb 19th - Ann Arbor, MI @ Elk's Lodge
Feb 20th - Grand Rapids, MI @ Tip Top Deluxe

" Individually," Sellwood said, " think the songs are among our best. St. Russell is the latest in the line of DBD good-versus-overwhelming-evil songs. 'Churches' is a simple rock song that is propelled forward by our love for the subjects - songwriters from Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti who make our lives better every time they walk on stage. They just also happen to be dear friends. I want to be there every time any of those guys picks up a guitar… Another song, "Celebrate," is the first ever break-up song in the DBD canon. Sellwood admits he's not typically interested in that kind of song, but wanted to create some characters dealing with it. "Always grow, right?" said Sellwodd. "Scott DeRoche had the idea of making it a dirge like Richard & Linda Thompson’s 'Calvary Cross.' Greg McIntosh added the militaristic cadence to the chorus. The combo works!"


Then there's the song "We’re All Much Smarter Than Our Drinking Buddies Believe," which Sellwood considers "... classic DBD and among the better solo folk songs I’ve written. It’s typically spastic and wordy, but hopefully with some purpose."

Spastic. Propulsive. Wordy. But with purpose... That's Drunken Barn Dance...in a succinct, whimsical whirl!


Chris Bathgate




Chris Bathgate performs tomorrow at the Ark in Ann Arbor

Thurs.
7:30 pm
The Ark 
316 S. Main St., Ann Arbor, MI
$15
http://www.theark.org/ 
(734) 761-1800

Having grown up between Iowa and Illinois, young Bathgate started playing guitar and singing around the turn of the century, when he located to Ann Arbor for studies in art and design at Univ. of Michigan. He became a fixture in the Arbor/Ypsilanti music scene with his first two bands and his initial solo performances in the early 2000’s.

Bathgate’s acclaim went international, though, in 2008, when he signed with Michigan-based Quite Scientific Records for the release of A Cork Tale Wake, with the cinematic, subtle, and yet utter show-stopping piano ballad “Serpentine” winning praise both from the BBC and The Independent (UK). His 2011 follow-up took an unintended three years as Bathgate wound up scrapping-and-restarting Salt Year, several times. Regardless, it only expanded his following nationally, leading to a memorable Tiny Desk Concert on NPR’s All Songs Considered.

At what seemed like a height, Bathgate climbed back down for a couple years, starting in 2012, with a quasi-hiatus (at least breaking from touring), to work as a teacher for U-M’s New England Literature Program out near Lake Winnipesaukee in New Hampshire. Though he restarted touring in 2014, it should be noted that Bathgate never ceased writing or recording music.

He’ll deflect you with modesty and self-deprecation, but Bathgate’s music, particularly on this latest, Old Factory, is a powerful conduit of all those goosebump-inducing, sigh-exerting, watery-eyed sensations comprising the human experience; the soul’s expanded gaze into the bigger picture’s full frame.

The 33-year-old currently calls Grand Rapids home. This month marks not only the release of Old Factory, but also the beginning of a Midwest/east coast tour and the revelation that he’s already at work on future recordings.  The Free Press spoke with Bathgate about his lyrics, his patience and the importance of legacy, not just his own but every musician’s.

READ THE FULL INTERVIEW AT FREEP.COM 

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Phantom Cats - Swan Songs



Phantom Cats have closure, now.


The now defunct Detroit quartet releases their proper finale on Friday with Swan Songs (on Tool & Die). Recorded in one day on a top floor loft space overlooking Eastern Market, guitarist Nik Ländstrom, singer Liz Shar, bassist Adam James and drummer Matthew Dahler, cranked out a keen cache of genre-defiant denouements, blending soul, samba, indie-pop and bossanova, with impressive fret-mincing on the guitar, radiant lead vocals, and snazzy/jazzy/adventurous rhythmic grooves from bass & drums.

Phantom Cats were always a weird blend.

“Weird is good…” Ländstrom said, approvingly. “Nobody wants to be a normal band, right?”

Ländstrom, a classically trained wizard on the guitar, moved back to Detroit (from Grand Rapids) in 2010, when he began writing more of his own songs with singer Shar. By February of 2011, James and drummer Max Daley joined the pair to form what would become quite a dynamic composite of rock flavors and performance styles. Shar could soar to operatic belts, James and Daley found a exquisite pocket blending jazz and garage rock, while Ländstrom went to work on the guitar like some kind of sorcerer, often too immersed in his own fleet-fingered frays to even notice an audience of guitar-geeks and pedal-heads losing their shit at the edge of the stage.

Phantom Cats will premier Swan Songs digitally this Friday: https://phantomcatsdetroit.bandcamp.com/



Now, in any given week,  Ländstrom will likely be listening to anything from D’Angelo, to 16th Century Madrigolds, to bossanova, to Gregorian Chants, or maybe some Hayden…and then some early heavy-metal. So, it’s that kind of kaleidoscope kiln from whence lots of Phantom Cats music was structured and cooked.

 “That’s a big part of Phantom Cats’ sound,” said Ländstrom. “It’s all these different things…especially on (Swan Songs); moments of Latin, funk, some definite James Brown-moments, some R&B…and you’re taking all that and then applying more of a classical approach to it, with the way we’re writing it, ya know, almost thinking motivically about a song’s big picture. I was into the idea of everyone doing their own free response to these songs, after I’d worked them out on the guitar. It makes it more interesting that way. Liz has this insane ear; she can hear things and just sing it with perfect pitch. And I always let drummers do their own things because it’s important to get character in the rhythm.”

The band initially thought that March of 2014 would be their final days. But their would-be final performance felt too disconcertingly off, weird, or flat for them to just let it be… So they first decided to take all of the songs on Swan Songs and give them a proper send-off with a recording session. They didn’t know, then, that it would take a good year-and-a-half before that ball could get really get rolling, (Shar, it should be noted, is currently studying at Georgetown Univ to get her Master’s in Linguistics, so their windows of time were limited). (For that matter, they’re all pretty busy, lately: as Ländstrom  also performs with Earth Engine whilst working as a freelance music teacher, James just joined Cosmic Light Shapes and Daher has his own solo music project). 

Anyhow… Suffice it to say, they finally performed their final-final show in April of last year and then in the late autumn of 2015, they finished up Swan Songs with Three Lions Media producing/engineering, inside the former HQ of Pink Lightning.

“You know when you can sort of feel it, with something, like it’s going to be your last chance…That’s a whole album of songs that would have been gone,” Ländstrom said. “They should be out there! I mean, maybe only 50 people will download it, but still, there are people I meet who tell me they’ve listened to our first EP…”

Swan Songs represents the (late) Phantom Cats in their most purest essence. “These songs represent myself having made a lot of headway as a guitarist and us having more of a deliberate understanding of music. There was a lot of patchwork on that first EP. These songs are through-composed and are written with certain ideals in mind, just with a much more deliberate process.”

Swan Songs is bittersweet, in that regard. It’s the band at their peak, musically with their technique, compatibility as friends and collaborators, and…yeah…just in maturity and sensibility, as these players are now nearly five years older and wiser than the scrappy charmers who broke onto a scene back when they likely raised a lot of politely perplexed eyebrows from the rest of the (garage) rockers around here.

There’s more confidence, too. That shines through on Swan Songs, freer and more confident. “As long as it’s not overly indulgent, there’s a clear structure and the songs go somewhere…There’s a trajectory here.”

It’s a classic tale of a band making some brilliant and, yes, weird pop songs that burned out before we could their curious comet could complete a full span of our horizons… I mean, they didn’t even ever sit down for a band photo! They never even had a proper release show for that first EP! They’re like a freshly-forged urban myth.

Fittingly, Tool & Die will collect both of their releases, Swan Songs and their debut EP into one big album: The Collected Works of Phantom Cats. Stay tuned.
______________
This weekend, Phantom Cats singer/lyricist Liz Shar will share insights on three selections off of Swan Songs... 

Mountain Babies - The Cottage, The Creek & The Spirit

The Mountain Babies perform on Saturday at Raven Cafe up in Port Huron.



The Cottage, The Creek & The Spirit is streaming now.



It isn't often enough that I write about bands that aren't from Detroit...or Ann Arbor...or Ypsilanti...or Grand Rapids...or Kalamazoo. I mean, those are typically the Big 5. Port Huron's not that far, people... Meet the Mountain Babies, working toward an eventual physical release of their latest album, The Cottage, The Creek & The Spirit via Detroit-based ZZZ Records and Chicago's Flesh And Bone Records.

I doubt there's a better record for your January's, friends. Ghostly/angelic vocals and icicle banjos, distant gales of tenor sax and frostbite brass, twinkling tinny acoustic guitar strums and a measured rustling of rhythmic arrangements evoking warm exhales to the palms for heat-generating friction. It sounds cozy and mystical at the same time, something you'd read Faulkner to while you sit beside a fireplace or perhaps something you'd pack into your MP3 player for the next shoe-shoeing hike over the next horizon of the unknown, with the faint luminescence of a winter's dusk.

The spell cast by this Port Huron quartet is that of the "quiet close," the music that instills a contented calm, pauses all the white noise and hassle of the otherwise-raging-world-about-you and settles in for a resplendent cascade of chimes, tones and soft harmonies. There's something elemental about it all, like the first deep breath after an inclined climb, when the trees come to a clearing and you see a river, pure, untouched, secret almost... There's also something escapist about it; these tunes are elixirs, daydreams, salves and sweet rejuvenation's.

So hold me close. It's dark in here. You hold the quiet close and I find that home is here

Has that book gotten to ya? Are the characters real? Has that book gotten to ya? Keep your mind free and clean. Oh Oh Oh. There's a river I walk to where my head clears just fine

Maybe those lyrics can say it better than I could....^ 





Saturday / Raven Cafe (932 Military St., Port Huron)
7:30 PM

Did I mention that this is possibly my favorite coffee shop on the planet? 

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Alan Rickman

"Man, he was so great at playin' 'Bad-Guy-parts...'"  (--my dad's estimation of Alan Rickman)


Today, a considerable portion of Alan Rickman's fans will primarily mourn the loss of Prof. Severus Snape, But in my estimation, from age 5 forwards... Alan Rickman was the quintessential "bad guy." When my parents finally got cable and we could get HBO, I probably watched Die Hard and Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves 35 and 26 times respectively between the years of 1990 and 1993. So, before he charmed everyone in Truly, Madly, Deeply, or showed his truly majestic Royal Acting Society-chops in Sense & Sensibility... or before Snape and certainly before Love, Actually..., 

He was THE bad guy. But he was so grand at it, he brought panache and profundity to the role of the villain. That voice helped, of course, (aptly cast as "the voice of God..." Dogma). But I think it was those eyes. Could any actor stare through you like this one? His gaze came right off of the celluloid screens of cinemas and could shoot through an audience like lightning to the sternum, make you shrink down in your seat and feel a nuanced kind of dread... Not the typical dread a monster or a slasher or a maniac or some Marvel machination would instill in you; no, it would be something much more subtler and much more effectively stultifying.

That gaze, either as Hans Gruber or as the Sheriff of Nottingham, greeted you, the viewer, as if you were, yourself, in the shoes of the hero... You would imagine facing off against this presence, this aura, this voice, these eyes, and wondering if you could beat him with your wits. And that gaze would always curiously compel you to conjure up your own stores of spirit-spraining self-doubt. How can I beat this guy, when he's so cool, calm and collected? When he seems so confident, himself... He didn't have to yell, but when he did - that made it much scarier. He had such composure.... He was Snape before Rowling even wrote page one of the Sorcerer's Stone. 

With respect, to a guy who could bring that same kind of crystalline composure and brilliance to any role... even something as fun & cheesy as CBGB. 

With love, Alan....

RIP

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Nigel & The Dropout (Stream "Rearrange" ft. Passalacqua)

Friday
8pm
Nigel & The Dropout
     @ The Loving Touch (22634 Woodward, Ferndale)
All ages / $10 adv / $12 day-of-show
ft. Passalacqua, Eddie Logix and Racehorses are Resources 
INFO
__________________________________________________






Nigel & The Dropout....& a couple other dudes, too! 

Detroit-based ambient/electronic/pop-rock duo Nigel & The Dropout were always open to experimentation. They were always open to interpretation, too... Nigel Van Hemmye and Andrew Ficker blend elements of rock with EDM, exuberant-post-industrial and some indie-art-pop. 

Also, over their 3+ years together, so far, our two heroes have demonstrated a keen appreciation for a needed vitalization of music as an experience: that carries over into their often visually dazzling live presentations but it blossoms from their adventurous modus-operandi. That's also why it was probably inevitable that they'd hook up with Passalacqua, who, themselves, have been redefining preconceptions of what's hip-hop through their marvelous and often quite mindful-raps. 
Rearrange -by Nigel & The Dropout (ft. Passalcqua)
The pair of dynamic duos synced up for a song which goes live today... (Streaming above^^) Check it out^

In the meantime, you can also remember to listen back to their most recent album, Folderal, which came out in May of 2015. (In fact, I chatted with Nigel and Andrew to get their full bio HERE). 


 Nigel & The Dropout, Passalacqua, Eddie Logix and Racehorses Are Resources ~~Friday night at The Loving Touch. INFO




















Monday, January 11, 2016

David Bowie

"Changes" was always my least favorite Bowie song. I felt it sounded insipid sometimes. Or that it was too adored by an otherwise-indifferent mainstream, maybe. Or, maybe it was because a well-intending soon-to-be-ex-girlfriend used the notion of the song as an example of why she needed to dump me....

It's 6:26 a.m. and 25 minutes ago, that song made me cry. Why does it hurt so much? Because David Bowie was an element on to himself. It's going to feel like a piece of the natural world (or very unnatural world), however small or substantial in your weighing, is now gone....



David Bowie is dead. Can you imagine how many times you're going to read that across your news feeds, today, in hyperbolic headline form... How many times will you have to read it, eight, nine, before it doesn't sound surreal...

I mean, let's get hyperbolic here: was there ever a "pop star" more mystical...or mythical-seeming, for that matter. I mean, I'm even having trouble keeping my focus, here, because I was sure the words would just come, but I keep pausing and staring up at a spot in the ceiling or through a certain pane of my window glass as I listen to his music, to his voice...

Was he ever really here? Such an air of the ethereal wreathed no other singer so densely. And he's died before. He's been re-invented, before, so many times. You could swear he was immortal or you could swear that he was never truly here, on this mortal coil, some other celestial being, or an embodied concept from halfway round the galaxy, some alien program made corporeal to step softly and sing powerfully as he subtly showed us some kind of way....

Not to make this religious, but Jesus...how many of us wanted to be as cool as David Bowie? As stylish, as together, as graceful, as smooth....that voice...the way it broke....those eyes...the way they glared.... Even when he put out a cheesy song or if he danced with puppets...it was somehow still cool. Even when he danced in unfortunate pastels with Mick Jagger in the 1980's for a cover song, it was still like Mick was the foolish one and David Bowie was still...infallible.

The iconoclast, in art, blazes a trail in which others follow, helpless but to mimic the dynamic grace of their inventive progressions because one cannot question the torchbearer (especially when said-torchbearer is so supernaturally charismatic) in the midst of a storm of complacency; the iconoclast cuts through, struts in full vivid weirdness and goshwow flamboyancy toward a validation that quickly congeals and becomes unquestionable, such strange new emotions excavated through wobbly, shimmying, dazzlingly nightmarish songs, translated from a seemingly primal core. You could feel truly outside of yourself when you heard a David Bowie song... even "Changes."

The whole Ziggy Stardust iconography helped, and The Man Who Fell To Earth helped, and the different eye-pigments helped....but (and this is a credit to his vision and sense for aesthetic,) he affected that sense that he was above us...not in class or in worth, but the closest thing we could find to the divine inside of a vinyl record shop. This was the guy, you'd say, while holding a copy of Low or of Aladdin Sane, who lives in the clouds, or can teleport, he probably travels through propelled levitation, he could read your mind if you stood too close to him....he knows exactly what kind of almost-moody/yet-super-cool song you want to hear at this moment in your life... Even if it's "Changes." Even if this is a "Change" I still am having trouble accepting, even after the fourth or fifth headline announcing his death. Even if I'm crying, now, more (or more sincerely) than I had for any girlfriend...

David Bowie was supposed to live forever because part of his  magic was suggesting that he stood (or soared) outside of the boundaries and rules of our material sphere; mortality did not apply to him. Even now, as we grieve, the type of cancer David Bowie died from has not been declared... What took him? Who took him? Did he leave voluntarily? The mythology will spin and spin... David Bowie was unconquerable, to me; his name, itself, felt like an adjective as much as it felt like a religion. I know... Super hero worship. But the wound's still fresh, as I write this. Brace yourself for cliches amid the sentimentaly, today... Everyone's going to want to say: There was David Bowie and then there was everyone else... And even I couldn't avoid saying it. I always believed it. Still will...that won't change.
RIP

Friday, January 8, 2016

Local Music Love: Chris Bathgate / Sound and Silence

The delicate and devastating Chris Bathgate has emerged; the fog is clearing, we can hear alert commotions peeling from the lighthouse bell, heads from the shore turn, arch back, we peer out toward the tide to see which boat is pulling into the bay: It's Bathgate.

His voice as ephemeral as dust yet as heavy as a hammer, his careful balance of baroque instrumentation, Americana twang and rustic folk, sutured with embattled sentiments, of hope and of disenchantment. That guttural, throat-clearing sigh you emote... It's natural. It's Bathgate.

You can hear the full, finished version of his new single "Calvary" (off of the forthcoming Old Factory, via Quite Scientific) over here at NPR

To somewhat bring you up to date (almost...), you can read an interview I conducted with Chris back in mid-April of 2015 HERE

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While you're here, though... Why not check out some more local music. The exceptional music blog Sound and Silence (who, we should note, has a considerable soft spot for Michigan Music,) went and curated a fine playlist via Spotify, featuring Protomartyr, Turn To Crime, Jamaican Queens, Valley Hush and MORE. CHECK IT OUT

Catch up on the most recent interview I conducted with Sound and Silence HERE.

Monday, January 4, 2016

Belle Isles (demos)

I was at Lo & Behold! Records & Books yesterday, shooting Episode 5 of The Milo Show. 



While we're waiting for the Kickstand Band to set up, Lo & Behold! proprietor Richie Wolhfiel invites me to the back counter, by his laptop, his record player, his towers of 7"'s, spray paint cans, antique fan, decades old tomes and a few other charms and treasures, ...and he starts playing this song through the sound system...



It bursts. It grooves. It's syrupy but it's barbed, it's heartbroken but it also couldn't give a shit. It's soulful, it's grimy. It sounds 40 years old and yet forever fresh. The guitar solo peaks out of the crackling waves of fuzzed-out bass like something emblazoned, a meteorite with a veil of distortion tailing behind its funky wake. And those drums, I tell Richie, those drums are just how I want almost every drum to sound, hollow, guttural, snapping close right up to the listeners ear, angry yet graceful, something you can feel in your chest. And that bass? That bass is a beast.

But the beauty is in Richie's lead vocals; because of how much heart is heaved into it... This project, The Belle Isles, is something Richie's been wanting to do for years. He'd been  utilizing most of his time, these last five years, establishing Lo & Behold! as a local sanctuary and support center for local arts and neighborhood organizations, not just operating as a store (with Richie as its one-man-staff) but as a commons for local culture. Now that he's got Deb Agoli on drums and Connor Dodson on guitar, he's got the opportunity to create his ideal vision of Motown grooves, garage-cacophony, funk smoothness and soulful danceability.

I tell Richie that you could start playing this kind of music subtly in the background at any party, start amplifying the volume ever so subtly, and by the 2nd chorus, they'll all begin, pied-piper style, to start dancing... Not a rave... Just grooving...

The Belle Isles open up an excellent line up of bands tomorrow night, performing inside Lo & Behold!, with Mega Bog (touring in from Seattle), Shells and Stef Chura.
Jan 5
Lo & Behold
10022 Jos Campau, Hamtramck
10 pm
$5

Friday, January 1, 2016

Mega Powers X Flint Eastwood

Mega Powers (Eddie Logix and Pig Pen) debut a remix of Flint Eastwood's "Find What You're Looking For..." A fine way to start off a New Year. Stay tuned for more.




Mega Powers
Flint Eastwood
Assemble