Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Mountain Babies - "Pine Cones & Grindstones" (new video)

Photography by Ryan Nisbett Studios

This ethereal-sounding Americana twang-team from Port Huron are a must-hear. In fact, I wrote about their Existence of Resistance EP in the middle of last summer and expressed how I was drawn to the Mountain Babies' sensibility for manifesting something that can rustles up the soul. It's ambient folk's spacey vibes meets math rock's intricate fretwork; it's country tumblers evoking rural road trips but slathered in post-rock noise experimentation; and its all arranged, recorded, and mixed for optimal balance so as to dazzle your ears and make your head swim...

They demonstrated a capriciousness and a laid back charisma with their playful video for 2016's "Pointe Aux Barques/Dead Man's Walkin" - featuring a psychedelic journey through the woods. Now, with "Pine Cones & Grindstones," they become paper-cut outs on a diorama stage, with impressive edits that literally tear away one layer to reveal campfires, mountains, underwater milieus and a desert oasis, collaging the four players onto each new page and taking them on an adventure--even as they're standing still and playing this tune for you. Then you get to the 95-second mark and they become surfers upon a cresting wave of swelling tones, only to pare back for a minimal denouement that expresses the heart of not just this song, but much of the EP from whence it came....a holding on to hope, even in the face of nuanced darkness. "The sun will be rising....soon."

Mountain Babies' next performance is Saturday, at the annual Porch Fest in Port Austin, MI

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Detroit Songs of 2018 (...So Far)

I know I'm missing at least 20 (or 50) more releases from the first six months of the year. Then again, I am limited to what I could track down on Spotify. But here we are....

...each year, it seems, more and more great new music is coming out from Detroit-area artists. Each year it's more active. Each year, more artists are experimenting and exploring, pushing their own boundaries and producing something that tops their previous output.

I think it has a nice mix when the artists are arbitrarily set in alphabetical order... Or, you could just shuffle-play it...

Indie-rock, hip-hop, neo-soul, R&B, ambient electronica, fuzzy psychedelia, blues, Americana... It's all here, right here around Detroit... Some of these releases came out way back in January, and others were dropped not even two weeks ago... I know it's going to be a busy 5-6 months ahead, but here's a midway point survey of what was spinning on my weekly playlists.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Ohio Wild

Ohio Wild can carry you away, like a tide down the shore at sunset.  The melodies sung and swelled together in harmony by Allison Laakko and Jim Byrne flutter with caprice, keeping to tender volumes and delicate intonation. 

It's a closeness evoking a solitude from the city's clamor, heightened by a gossamer whisper of rhyming secrets incanted through cupped hands inside secluded environs, a country cabin where you're audience to something breathtakingly intimate, or playfully magical... Lullabies that give space for the voices, the rusty, reedy croon of Byrne and the dulcet, woozy serenade of Laakko, to gracefully bend, dip and waltz every note to apply the fullest potential for a melody's vine-like ability to lasso you off into their reveries. 

Ohio Wild's Greatest Hits comes out July 10  See them on Wed., June 20 at PJs Lager House opening for Blac Rabbit MORE INFO
Byrne and Laakko started singing together on a whim, not too long ago. The alchemy was almost instantaneous. A curious eavesdropper down the hall from them entered the room to interrupt their jam session and proclaimed that they weren't just singing; they'd  "...just formed a band...!"

For much of their lives, as individuals, Byrne and Laakko have both been a bit more cosmically attuned than most of us, with preternatural abilities to express themselves in song. But the experience of Greatest Hits does feel (and sound) like two halves finding complimenting harmonies and an overall aesthetic symmetry. And that aesthetic is a pastoral folk that feels detached and tranquil, with some gothic graphite shading the corners of the portrait. It might be telling that they fittingly soundtracked a surreal horror novel's theatrical adaptation, set in the late 19th century wilderness...

It's giving a baroque and dreamlike ribbon's curl to the silklike song strands laid out from a James Taylor or a Joni Mitchell kind of vibe, but adding their own characteristic inflections and melodic blends, always adding distinctive colors to the songs' canvas. Kudos to engineer Jim Diamond, who captured the inherent ability of these songs to seem as though they're enveloping you in this spellbinding fog, never too thick and never evaporating, coaxing you...ever further..., into the next song's uniquely dazzling sphere.

Laakko and Byrne bring Ohio Wild to the stage of PJs Lager House on June 20. 

Friday, June 1, 2018

Kimball's New EP + Interview

photo credit - Rob Dawson - Zion Creative

Emily Barr, Austin McCauley and Brodie Glaza were friends first. They're in a band now, writing and performing songs together, but something special always emerges when the foundation of a composition come back to a friendship. That band is Kimball, and this week they're releasing their debut EP, North Wilson, capped off with a concert at the Loving Touch (INFO). The Doozers, Remnose, and Who Boy will also perform, along with the unveiling of Kimball's debut 7-inch on colored vinyl via Jett Plastic Recordings.

Kimball create an indie-rock that's accentuates melody, balance, and propulsion. The drums build, elevate, soar, the chord progressions and cresting basslines feel like a summer wind at your back, and there's a sense for the cinematic when they go from a calm, pared back valley, to a skyhigh peak where each intonation, be it the honeyed lead vocals, the intertwining acoustic and electric guitars, or even the clasp of cymbals, each get space to blossom and then blend.

And its fitting that this batch of songs evokes a sense of rising.... since that's essentially what instigated the band: a rising to an occasion, of sorts. They actually formed Kimball, officially, after a debut performance at Arts Beats & Eats in 2016. But to get back to the beginning, first: McCauley knew that Barr was a singer and a couple years after they became friends finally made the suggestion that they start writing and recording music together. You can hear a finalized version of their first song, "Guns," streaming above... Glaza brought a live drumming element to replace the sequenced midi beats they'd initially demoed. McCauley said that it gelled, even though they each had distinctive musical tastes and brought unique approaches to the table.

McCauley asked why not? Because another friend from school had asked him to record a few demos for another band to potentially submit to Arts Beats & Eats but it fell through. So why not try recording a live video of "Guns" with Barr and Glaza and submit that? It worked! "I remember getting the call that we got on the line up," said McCauley. "...I freaked out with happiness in public." Soon after that performance, they added bassist Christian Fifelski and Jacob King on electric guitar.

"A lot of our songs sound and style have been inspired by what we were listening to at the time," McCauley said. "So with 'Guns', (Barr) was listening to a lot of the Neighborhood at the time... For the song 'Wildflower,' I was listening to bands like Hippo Campus and Real Estate. Sometimes I look at our changing sound as a positive and negative. There's maturity and comfort in keeping one solid sound and sticking with it, but at the same time that can get stagnant for the artist. We try to create a balance between allowing our creative inspirations influence us, and keeping a constant between the different styles."

McCauley said that they prefer to show the emotion, a suggestion, or an intonation, or a bit of wordplay to unpack, rather than lay something out too bluntly. "I thnk that's where a lot of that texture comes from," Glaza said. "(It's) trying to communicate that emotion in our music..."

The key, then, is channeling that emotion and this energetic playing style to the stage. But another tricky element will be finding a way to properly capture it on a recording... Something I've learned working through this EP," McCauley said, "...is that a lot of the finished product was because of other people. Yes we wrote the songs and played the instruments, but the EP sounds the way it does mostly because of our engineer/producer."

North Wilson was recorded at Aashrum Studio by Steve Saputo. But McCauley has been writing and recording music for most of his life, starting out on piano; 'Wildlower' was actaully recorded in his basement. Glaza said he also had an overwhelming passion for music, but it really didn't kick in until middle school, when he "fell head over heels in love" with the drums.

They cherished their time in Aashrum Studio, up in the woods of Ortonville, last summer, where they recorded the EP. McCauley says that recording the EP, just like their submission to AB&E, was "somewhat of an impulsive decision." An opportunity to be picked up by a label came around and they decided if the demos they sent in didn't get them picked up that they'd go ahead and record an EP at a studio. "We didn't necessarily write these songs to fit perfectly together, but as we started recording them and hearing them all in the context of an EP, we noticed a common topic of struggle within our home lives..."

Kimball's keen on rising to occasions, clearly. It's all about forward momentum. Having since sutured themselves into the local music scene, they're eager to continue building after this EP, honing the live performance, playing as many shows as possible, linking up with new bands, getting out of town. "Since this EP was recorded about a year ago," said McCauley, "we've already been dreaming up ideas for an album, planning out singles releases, and really focusing in on the technical aspects of our music--live, and in the studio."

EP Release Party
June 8
Loving Touch

Find the band on Spotify 

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Science for Sociopaths - Love & Life

If not properly channeled, our emotions can get the better of us.  Best, then, to channel those emotions into a song. Tempestuous or overwhelming affections, impulses, reactions and ruminations can be wound and threaded into melodies, rhythmic chords and minimal percussive heartbeats for the betterment of the soul...and Maggie Cocco has that process down to a science....

Writing, recording, and performing under the moniker Science for Sociopaths, Detroit-area singer/songwriter Maggie Cocco is getting ready to drop two EPs next weekend.

Cocco has been writing and performing around the metro Detroit area for several years and one thing has remained constant - there's this fearless addressing or expression of sentiment and truth, coiled into rhymed lyrics that bridge indie-pop to a soulful blues-rock, taking on a wider gazed perspective on "life" and "love." In fact, her two new EPs, Love and Life drew inspiration from icons like Carole King, Emmylou Harris, or Patti Smith, but also contemporary commentators on daily emotional tumult, like Kelly Clarkson or Taylor Swift.

Produced with Nashville-based Benjamin Warsaw, these two ambitious EPs tackle the big questions: how we can feel so out of our minds around circumstances involving love, loved ones, close bonds, or even self-esteem, then taking on a more existential look of forks in the proverbial road of life and how, if at all possible, to be one's best self.... Now, as heavy as that sounds, the "science" part is finding a way to address these truths in a graceful arrangement of music and voice...

Science for Sociopaths

Dual EP Release Show
June 1st - at DIME
1265 Griswold St., Detroit
More info

Friday, May 18, 2018

Ancient Language (Interview) + "At Last We Are Nothing"

Ancient Language are releasing a new batch of sonic worlds (condensed into 5-minute scopes) on June 2nd and the newest single is streaming below...

This six-piece post rock ensemble's new album,  HYGGE, glides, marches, or drifts dreamily with sculpted arrangements of cinematic strings and cymbal crashes, chill saxophones and stratospheric guitars, warming pianos, and airily tender vocals threading heavily meditative lyrics.

This song sets a pulse for your breathing, with chimes and a calming bass essentially stretching things out and letting in some oxygen; then the drums kick in and set a stride, the piece moves forward and the viola comes in... This is what Ancient Language have always been best at, steadily adding more sonic pieces to the collage with a carefulness so as not to overbear the ears, but to harmoniously bring you into the next dream state (verse, bridge, etc). After the second chorus scoops you up and evokes a sense of floating, you could snug those headphones to your ear and key in on the subtleties of any element and find a quiet richness - if it's the breathlessness of the vocals, the cherubic simplicity of the looping synth melody, or the variably expressive or sparse booming hum of the bass....

Founding member Christopher Jarvis said that the recording process for this one was "...started with (brother/bassist) Zach and I writing demos in Arizona and sending them back and forth to Matt (Beyer)." (And this goes back almost two years, now.) (Beyer) would add something, we'd add something or take something away, sculpting the songs as they took shape. It was actually really exciting to work this way. I'd never given up so much control before. (Beyer) wrote so many amazing melodies and progressions. When Zach and I moved back to Michigan we continued writing and recording together, eventually adding Abby(Abigail Jaske) on viola. The whole thing was recorded in (Beyers)'s basement. 

Continuing in their character, this is music to sort of pause you in your daily anxieties and hustles--with contemplative lyrics that make you wonder just quite how that surmising is delivered... At last, after all our worries and wanderings, we are but  nothing? In sort of a zen way? Or is it like, At last! with excitement, as though one had been anticipating this all along...yes, we are nothing. But this song is not about worrying where we'll end up and it isn't existentially casting off what significance our actions may have "in the end," it's more of a song about being in the moment.

"I think my approach has shifted away from the production aspect," Jarvis said, "and now I'll focus more on melody and emotion. I'm trying to get at something honest and truthful instead of just making music that sounds cool or music you can party to or chill to or whatever. The music I like is music that makes me feel something real, even if it's challenging; so that's what I try to do." 

And then he uses that beautiful word, "maximal..."  "...My music has always been pretty maximal so creating music for 5 or 6 people wasn't that much of a challenge. We went in writing these songs with the intent of playing them live without a computer, so naturally the arrangements were a little more minimal at first but we ended up adding a lot of instruments in recording so I think it ended up being just as complex anyway."

The best kinds of post-rock odysseys will do that - even though it's a complex meshwork of musical elements interweaving together - it is about a peacefulness... A sudden throw into sharp relief of the very big picture that is, you, me, and everything...

And yes, the album title does come from the Danish art of comfort... "hygge," at its core is about an approach to life that is about recognizing and living within a moment of peacefulness. "We're all searching for wellness and peace in our lives," said Jarvis. "And it's so fleeting but I think music can be a way into that..." 

Ancient Language - HYGGE release party
Saturday, June 2nd
with Man Mountain and Earth Engine

Thursday, May 10, 2018

High Strung - New Single: "If You Wanna Roll"

The High Strung are back in action. Back in rare form, really. It's been almost four years since their last album, I, Anybody, but they're returning with even more energy and soul as guitarist Mark Owen, a co-founding member, comes back to the fold in time for Quiet Riots, a new batch of songs the group plans on releasing later this summer. I'm thrilled to debut the latest single, "If You Wanna Roll..."

....I was curious if singer/guitarist Josh Malerman and artist Allison Laakko could spin together a music video earlier this week for my favorite song off the new album.... And I give you...

Owen rejoins Malerman (guitar/vocals), Chad Stocker (bass/vocals), and Derek Berg (drums/vocals) after a time away. That trio sustained the band during a 6-year span throughout much of the 2000's, during which they went on an odyssey-like non-stop tour together. Guitar sage Stephen Palmer is already marking his eighth year in the band and you'll hear his sinewy guitar streams throughout this song and particularly blazing as it builds into the second chorus. Not that you need a condensed history of the band, but its notable how intertwined their personal and musical lives have been. They basically grew up together, and have been making music together for half of their respective lives--and that chemistry radiates infectiously throughout Quiet Riots; the soundtrack of five sonic muralists, each keenly aware of where to fill in their instrumental spaces in graceful harmony of polychromatic power-pop.

"If You Wanna Roll" embodies the essence of all great Strung songs in that it lifts you to your feet and implores you into any kind of kinetic whimsy, motion or burst that fits your mood, be it a jog, a dance, or just a stretch that shakes off the dust of a lingeringly chilly Spring. Three guitars create a cresting tide and the dynamic basslines coil across the buoyant percussion. But "Roll" gleams with that chiming piano and those anthemic harmonies. When Malerman "bah-dah-dah's" his way through the bridge, it evokes a sense of running up flights of stone stairs two at a time until you reach a precipice and leap into a levitation, carried by the backing vocals that assure you not to worry about the laws of physics... "...we'll pretend / we'll pretend..."

The song rolls past self-imposed barriers, it cartwheels over any neurotic self-doubt and it steamrolls apprehension or uncertainties. It's zen...but it's also exuberant and ebullient. And it's telling you, dear listener, that if the proverbial spirit moves you, and said spirit is willing, than they'll roll right along with you... ... I think that zen-vibe I'm picking up is coming from a band that's equipped to reach another level. They're probably already there. You'll probably hear it yourself, too, not just in this song - but when the entirety of Quiet Riots comes to light.

The High Strung
Performing next Saturday
May 12
@ Trixie's in Hamtramck
INFOwith Matt Jones and Drift Mouth 

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Virginia Violet & The Rays - On the Fringe (Interview)

I think they call it soul music because it makes you feel that much more alive. The drum is like a pulse, the brass makes the blood in your veins feel electric, the percussive hooks get you dancing and the vocals fill up the room and fly up to the rafters. That's the kind of music, a music with a signature kind of energy, that Virginia and Joe were drawn to when they started working on songs together in 2016. It wasn't long before they formed Virginia Violet & The Rays--the story of which lies in the interview below...

This coming Friday, Virginia Violet & The Rays celebrate their debut album, On The Fringe, at the Loving Touch in Ferndale. Below, we've got the lead single from their soundcloud (where you can also find their first EP), and right after that, their second single, "Where I Belong," which just came out Friday as a music video.

While countless other contemporary bands may dig deeper into searching for strange new sounds on synthesizers and sequencers, Joe Myers and Virginia Violet realized there was still so much raw, untapped potential left to be revitalizing from the classic soul and funk of the 60's and 70's, particularly Motown and its sometimes grittier or higher-energy offshoot, Northern Soul....

...And I feel like energy is the word I'll repeat four more times before this post about Virginia Violet & The Rays is done...

A band of nine musicians would inherently generate a lot of kinetics, but their arrangements, tempos and key signatures are meticulously composed to manifest movement, whether its frenetic or just a slow swoon, with exuberant serotonin-rushes from the warmth of the saxophones, trumpet and trombone, to the ambient flavors of the organ, that extra rock n roll kick of the guitar/bass/drums, and then Virginia's splendid vocals, that can glimmer across a spectrum of emotions, so expressive and grand that you wouldn't need the visuals of the video above to otherwise suggest how vibrant and animated she, and the entire band, can be.

The band includes Eric Childress (drums), Tommy Porter (guitar), Evan Mercer (keys), Garrett Gaina (baritone sax), Adam Dib (alto sax), Chris Kendall (trombone), and Dave Vessella (trumpet). You, of course, can hear Virginia's vocals leading the way, with Joe providing sleek rhythmic anchor on the bass.

I spoke with Joe and Virginia recently, and they mentioned the importance of "balance" when it comes to composing for a large ensemble. Akin to the Dap-Kings, Mayer Hawthorne, Leon Bridges, or Lianne LaHavas, the songwriting duo appreciate that balance builds into optimal an harmonization of such distinctly effervescent flavors and arranging them into a balletic composite of metre and melody that's meant to, more than anything else, set a groove....

...and this is the kind of groove you just want to let loose to..., dance to, clap your hands to, close your eyes while singing along to...., perfectly inline with the spirit of Motown.

On The Fringe was produced in Woodbridge by Gordon Smith (of The Kickstand Band), with assistance in mastering by Adam Cox.

Release Party, May 11
The Loving Touch
with Ryan Dillaha & The Miracle Men
and DJ Ben Van Camp

When and how did the band start? Was it always a 9-piece ensemble? Was it always inclined to soul? 
Joe Myers:    Virginia and I met in early 2016 after I had just gotten back from Europe. I spent some time traveling and my old band was breaking up, so I wanted to start fresh in Detroit. We hit it off over our mutual love of old Motown. But I had also just been turned on to Northern Soul when I was over in Europe. It blew me away that there was so much English interest in old Detroit soul records that I had never even heard of. It was definitely a "where has this been all my life?"-kind of moment, and I got super into the idea doing something like that. Virginia brought strong musical ideas and wanted a big ensemble, so after we started writing and got the band together I don’t think there was ever a chance of us being anything else. Motown runs deep.

What's the key to arranging all the various instrumental parts? And, for that matter, what's the key for capturing your signature soul-sound?
Joe:   Normally, I’ll come up with the music and cut a demo at home with all the instrumentation and then send it over to Virginia but it varies all the time. Sometimes she comes up with the structure on guitar and sends me an idea to work off of but she handles all the lyrics. Usually we’ll do the melody together. It’s pretty back in forth but once we’ve agreed on most of it, we’ll introduce it to the band and make adjustments with them. I think the key for our creation process is balance. You need a strong foundation to get through the trenches but being open-minded to change is essential with a writing partner.

What drew you to go back to a classic soul sound, and what is it you always aspire to create when you work toward a new song
Virginia Violet:  I’ve always had a soft spot for songs that I can dance to but, being raised on a lot of gospel and folk music from my mom, I have always been drawn to strong voices telling stories, putting their soul into everything they’re writing. I think that expression of creativity encompasses soul music to me. I aspire to create characters and tell stories in each song that reflect the experiences of life through different perspectives.

What was the recording experience like for 'On the Fringe?'  What were some standout moments from the recording?
Virginia:   Recording ‘On the Fringe’ was a summer long process, a lot of sweat and love in that record. My favorite moments of recording were the sweaty sweaty days I spent in Woodbridge putting down my vocals, playing with Allison the tiny cat under the bed-- we became best friends.

What inspired the title? And what, overall, guided it, in terms of, just, what kind of record you wanted to make, or what experience you wanted to foster for a listener?
Virginia:   The title was inspired from a painting my grandmother did titled "On the Fringe". The phrase represents where we are as a band, as we approach the release of our first full length album.  Like the rest of the experiences I have had with this project, the record guided itself into its own unique thing that I don't think any of us could have planned for at the beginning.

Joe, what do you appreciate most about the contemporary Detroit music scene?
Joe:   Diversity. I love going to things like Dally and WheteverFest because it’s an opportunity to be exposed to great bands I would never know about. There are phenomenal bands in Detroit but you’ve gotta do your homework. Or keep up with a blog that will do some of that homework for you. Thank God for you, Jeff Milo.

Virginia, what about the road ahead? Plans for the rest of the year and beyond? 
Virginia:    Just keep on pushing and writing tons of new music! Maybe tour at the end of the summer? We’re shooting for another release by the fall of this year.


Thursday, May 3, 2018

DUDE - Single Premier: "Own The Day"

DUDE's lead single from their forthcoming second album, Autobiograffiti, is the kind of song you'd like to glide on for twice as long as it lasts, if not longer. This waltzy, fluttery lullaby of a heart-on-the-sleeve psyche-pop ballad only lingers for 154 seconds, but with its warbling guitar, tender celesta twinkles, a purring B3 organ and singer/songwriter Tony DeNardo intonating at his most celestial, you're left levitating there long after it fades - as though this could have flowed on to "Hey Jude"-level expansions.

DeNardo has always been a thoughtful musician, passionate about how music can express deeper feelings and philosophies. And I think this song, more than ever before, is demonstrating that sensitive side. Having survived a stroke 15 years ago, DeNardo persevered, unwilling to ever let go of a life full of music; he is about to leave on tour with his bandmates in The Muggs, soon. But these lyrics are evident of a zen-like appreciation for every day that comes, valuing the simplicity and the purity of life.

This is also an interesting quasi-departure from some of the more driving, jangly, riffy rock that DUDE's ensemble have created on previous records, but it's a welcomed bit of musical mediation. "Own the day..." What a powerful little song, able to say so much in its arrangement and in its sparse lyrics. Take it to heart.

DUDE is on Facebook and you can get the single here.

Monday, April 30, 2018

Shady Groves - "Hourglass"

Shady Groves really set a groove with a breaktout single from their debut album, "Hourglass." That bass grins as it slaloms in under those spacey/hazy keys and then the delay-heavy guitar ripples over top while the kickdrum keeps a heightening pulse. The rhythm section maintains a sweetly danceable anchor while the keys creates a catchy melody of mostly minor keys and that guitar leans in to a deliciously surfy riff. The Detroit quintet worked with Elaine Smith to create a video for it and released it about a month ago.

Shady Groves draw from a well that includes the melody-worship of power-pop, but also immerse themselves into emotive new-wave and ambient rock. Adam Fitzgerald and Dylan Caron started making songs together more than 3 years ago, with Jeff Yateman (who wound up playing an integral role in recording songs like "Hourglass"). They put out a debut as a trio in 2016 (Bitzer), but Yateman went on to form his own project (Jemmi Hazeman), and the band grew to a quartet, with Jamie Dulin, Colt Caron, and Sage Denam. "Hourglass" is a single from their second album, titled Dreamboat, which their aiming to put out later in the summer.

Meanwhile, Shady Groves' propulsive, hook-heavy indie-pop incarnations are going to fit in nicely with the breakout New York trio Sunflower Bean - paired on a bill together on May 9 at the Crofoot. INFO. (Shady Groves will also at Kelly's a couple days after that, with Jemmi Hazeman, Remnose, and Charlie Millard.

More info

Saturday, April 28, 2018

TIME comes to Michigan

The instant I hear this, I wanna see it. Because this Gainseville darktronica duo sound akin to outerminded music-utilizing oracles that we have around town here, like The Imaginatron. TIME are interested in, working toward, and possessed by...a contemplation of totality.

Electronic dance music often suggests or deploys a sense tension, urgency, and an ineffable feeling of ominousness - and yet, in a cosmic sense, when you "Let Go..." and give in to the grander scalar quantity such as "time," bound as we all are, when one pauses to consider such things, in the pull of collective tides making up an ocean of this ever flowing, unable just how it could be measured or even perceived. And once that heavy conjecture hatches and unspools in your brain, it'll likely be too much to bear - so, best then, at that point, to give your viscera over to the trance of those sequenced beats, celestially intertwining synth melodies and those mantra-like vocal chants.

To my ears, I hear the essence of Numan/Nomi, Daft Punk, Rammstein, and even ADULT....., the Florida duo's most recent self-titled album all but beckons you into the odyssey I described above. When you get to a song like "Sri Guru Vandana," it becomes apparent that the aspiration is a transcendence.

The dreamy distortion, echo-splashed vocals and various other dazzling pitches and pulsations would easily accommodate anyone eager just to close their eyes and rave in a crowded, neon-light-blazed room of throbbing bass - as could be the case when this duo makes their tour stops, but who am I to presume to get into the heads of their audiences. I just know that they will find a welcoming crowd here in Detroit for two upcoming performances, where we'll be eager to experience another artist taking the concert experience toward something like ceremony---

TIME will be at Offworld Arcade on May 9 
And then they'll be at WhateverFest on May 12
The full tour schedule is on their bandcamp.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Emily Jane Powers - Restless

And sometimes we are just restless. We can't put a name to whatever this emotional inflammation might be, some kind of "haze overflowing..." Not dispirited, per say, but just anxious to examine that spirit and find out wherever the hell its taking us.

It's Not Hard To Decide (Lyric Video) by Emily Jane Powers from EJP on Vimeo.

photo by rachel winslow

Awake in the dead of night, you might have four thoughts go through your head in under a minute - it's fitting, then, that Emily Jane Powers latest album, Restless, expresses itself with at least as many, or more different genres/sounds/styles/moods as there are songs on the album. And I do mean album - this DIY guitarist/singer/songwriter and former Michigander has been making 'bedroom pop ballads' for years, with numerous releases between 2009 and 2014 - Restless was released last month on 180 gram vinyl. You can also download the album, here. In the meantime, you can see and hear Powers when she comes back to her former home state with a visit to Trixie's Bar in Hamtramck. INFO.

Powers sings of cyclic hearts and sullen days and mourning lights, but there's nothing overly tender or emotive about her poetic lyrical renderings. In the same way that unapologetic autumn mornings deliver early frosts, she comes at subjects with a kind of objectivity that manifests a beauty--even if it's a heartbreaking beauty--processing all those restless thoughts about marriage, womanhood, motherhood, society, materialism, general dread, nuanced self-doubt, sentimentality, emotional distance, strength--and the possibility of renewing said strength... In her oracle-like way of putting these contemplations into poetry that feels both raw and resplendent, I'd put her in a class with other artists I've written often about in the past such as Audra Kubat and Fred Thomas.

And then there is the musical arrangements. Restless was three year's in the making and was recorded by Erik Hall (In Tall Buildings), featuring performances from Jenn Romero (The Jellies), Chris Smith (Luno), Alec Jensen and Eric Brummitt (Dream Version). "It's Not Hard To Decide" sets a minimal groove with woodblocks and a splindly acoustic guitar, while "Blood" adds guitars and bursts with a gliding chord progression and an irresistible hook during the chorus that leads into a cathartic riff. "Who Pays" brings it right back down, a hypnotic wavy groove facilitates an expressive guitar phrase as Powers' vocals is able to put so much emotion into an economical amount of words. That's just the first three songs, alone...

The variety and explorative nature of the compositions consists throughout. And her voice will continue to give you poignant pause, reaching falsettos on "Talk and Beg" and exorcising something tangible in a grittier mid-range on the title track. It's comforting and haunting, all at once, that I've heard similar questions and ponderings in my own head - given melody and music and profundity, with the music and instrumentation on this record.

Emily Jane Powers
May 5
Trixie's Bar
w/ VNESSWOLFCHILD & Eliza Godfrey


Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Sara Marie Barron - "Wanna Know" (Interview)

You may not be aware of the healing you needed until you hear Sara Marie Barron. The Detroit-area soul/jazz/songstress has a voice that can conjure up a deep breathed sigh from you, listener, that you hadn't even realized was building. 

Something about Barron's voice, precious and powerful, almost instantly acquaints you with her, whether or not you've heard her or seen her perform before hearing singles from her upcoming album like "Wanna Know," there's just some kind of deep emotional essence to her lyrics and intonation that make you feel like you know where she's coming from. 

Spring is here and everything outside is thawing and coming back to life--and that's what Barron's first pair of new singles can do for a listener, restoration of the mind, heart, and your overall aura.

It might be the versatility to her voice that you respond to, a lower croon to a higher aching arc, gracefully and coolly stretching out her vibratto over woozy brass and jazzy keys. Or, it might be that you're responding to a kind of classiness to her sound, an old-school classiness, that is... 

"When I was young, my mom used to listen to Carole King's Tapestry album constantly in the car," said Barron, who worked with a stellar ensemble of musicians at Homestead Studios on these recordings. "I think, looking back, that (King) was a really big influence on me, melodically and lyrically. I also go really into R&B, Motown, and soul music later on, and I think that shows on this record, like Etta James, Billie Holiday, The Ronettes, Otis Redding. The emotion and power behind their vocals really moved me, and for some reason I have always been fascinated with music and objects from the past. I love the nostalgia of it all." 

Barron has also been at it a while, despite being still in the young/up-and-coming category, she's still been singing since she was barely four-years-old. She was also classically trained for 10 years and performed in school musicals. Once she started writing her own songs, her theater work, and the potent dramas of the opera sutured into her songs--albeit transmitted into the form of a blend of folk and soul. "I'm also just a very sensitive person and I think that comes through when I sing," said Barron. 

Her new album will be released soon, but today, you can stream the lead single, "Wanna Know..." ^^
And tonight, at the Lager House, Barron will announce the title of said-new-album, as well as perform her new songs. She'll be joined by White Bee, and The True Blue

While she was enmeshed in the theater as a teenager, she realized that while she had a strength for expressing her emotions, acting and the whole thespian life just wasn't for her. She started writing her own songs after she turned 13 and eventually started performing at open mics and eventually performing shows. Though nerves would surge before those first performances, she always felt a deep sense of fulfillment afterwards--indicating to her that this was the right path. 

She studied at Vanderbilt in Nashville, a decision inspired by the city's active music community. She thrived under the insights of songwriting and musical-history professors while in school there, surrounded by "a really rich musical history and all different types of music." 

But that wasn't necessarily the undoubtedly "formative" moment for her, because she still feels like that formation continues. "Every day I'll fall in love with a new artist or genre, and a lot of my songs are all over the place. One day, I'll write something that sounds like garage rock, and the next I'll write an Adele-esque pop ballad!" 

Pop songs deal with love differently than other genres. While Barron bridges soul, R&B and folk to a bit of pop's melody and catchy hooks, she's definitely dealing with more complex, heart-heavy, unlucky-in-love feelings than your typical pop fare. 

"I think piano, the instrument I generally write on, really lends itself to more soulful, emotive music, and I think the songs naturally take shape that way when I'm writing. But my songs also come from personal experiences, which is why I think there's so much feeling infused in them. Like a lot of musicians, for me, writing songs is pretty much my coping mechanism, and a lot of the situations I write about are complicated and sometimes heartbreaking. It can be emotionally taxing for me to perform these songs in front of people, because it feels like I'm sharing some of my most personal experiences and feelings with an entire room of people... But there's usually one person who comes up to me to say they really connected to a certain song or lyric and that makes it worth it to me."

Barron worked with Jimmy Dixon at the aforementioned Homestead Studios, working with Max Bauhof on drums, Phil Hale on keyboards, Dave Vasella and Garret Gaiana on horns, and John Barron and Alex Lyons playing the bass parts. You can also hear Mario Sulkasana playing a potent piano accompaniment one a couple songs, as well as Natalie Frakes playing vioin throughout. 

"I was really touched and grateful to all of the incredible musicians who were willing to help out and play on this record, and also by people who donated to my crowdfunding campaign," said Barron. "I definitely wouldn't have been able to make the record without that help...." 

You can anticipate a couple more singles being released by Barron throughout the upcoming months, leading to the eventual release. And she's already at work on the next batch of songs. "I feel like my sound is constantly evolving, so it's really exciting to work on new material, but also be able to share this body of work with everyone." 

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Street Corner Music - Record Store Day

There's something about Street Corner Music in Oak Park that always draws me back... It's the one store I'm sure to visit on every Record Store Day... 

While working on a feature for the Detroit Free Press, I was asking shop owners around the Metro Detroit area, including People's, Hello, Stormy Records, Dearborn  Music, and more, about items in their retail collection (or treasures they choose to store away) that are considerably rare. If not ultra rare, I also asked about items that were unique, special, held a certain significance to the store, or were just too weird to believe...!

Aaron Anderson is the store's manager, and he told me this excellent story about a longtime patron of Street Corner. It really communicated to me the poignancy that these flat, black and circular discs of pressed, groovy wax can bear between a sleeve of paper. Every record you hold has a story, some big, some little; a journey that they've been on....

I'll let Aaron Anderson take it from here...

Records do not only capture the music of the time, sometimes they capture a historic moment in time and the person who was there. Carl was an early regular customer at Street Corner Music and an all around great guy. When I started working here, I did not care much for jazz, and Carl was a through and through jazzman. Early on he told me "I have faith in you... Sooner or later, all intelligent people come around to jazz music!" When Carl passed away it saddened us, and even now when the someone mentions the "electric" Miles Davis records, we often quote his harsh comments on the subject. 

When we purchased his record collection, we got a glimpse into a jazz lover who was there from the beginning! It was well known that Carl frequented the legendary Detroit jazz club The Blue Bird Inn in the 1950's. What was unknown was that for as cool as he was, he was also a starstruck autograph seeker. In 1958, the Miles Davis Quintet played the Blue Bird Inn and Carl had the wisdom and nerve to ask Miles Davis, John Coltrane, and Philly Joe Jones to autograph his records. We have kept the first press copies of "Cookin' With The Miles Davis Quintet" and "Blue Train" that are signed by the three jazz legends. 

The records remind us  of these three jazz giants humble beginnings and of the amazing people we have come to call friends here at Street Corner Music. A moment in time that can never be repressed or remastered, truly one of a kind copies. While the condition of the two records are far from mint, the loving and personalized autographs to our dear friend Carl more than make up for it. The man who believed in the power of jazz music and in me so much that he foresaw our collision course. Two records previously owned by a man so cool that John Coltrane wrote "To my main man Carl". And if you were wondering why Miles Davis would sign a copy of Blue Train, you probably know enough to know that's just the kind of thing Miles would do.

Miles Davis "Cookin' With The Miles Davis Quintet" Prestige 7094 (VG/VG-) (1957, deep groove, NYC address, flat edge, autographed)
John Coltrane "Blue Train" Blue Note 1577 (VG/VG-) (1957, deep groove, W. 63rd address, ear in dead wax, autographed)
Value = ??? - we had an offer of $2,000 about 10 years ago for "Blue Train" by itself but turned it down

You can follow Street Corner Music online, or via Facebook

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

W.O.M.B. - Soundtrack for a Heated Conversation

Take off your rose-colored glasses. Take your fingers out of your ears. Stop changing the subject.

W.O.M.B. is a five-piece Detroit hardcore punk band whose name is an acronym for "War on Man-Babies." Their defiance and provocation does not stop at their name's mere challenge against the patriarchy and the outing of machismo's vulnerabilities, flaws and hypocrisies, said defiance and provocation expands and is imbued upon each of their songs in contexts that address several important and frustratingly-ongoing/unresolved issues of inequality, misogyny, prejudice, greed, apathy, complacency...

We can all speak up or get involved with a cause for the first time, if we feel so inspired--it's definitely always easier to stay couched in the status quo... But W.O.M.B. are not just any punk band throwing up middle fingers for shock value - each member has been involved and supported various causes and groups working to effect change, to manifest tangible/actionable results in the struggle for justice and a transformation away from a culture of myriad toxicity. That being said, the music speaks for itself...

W.O.M.B. released this intense 11-minute set of music at the end of March - and you'll likely hear most of the five songs that comprise Soundtrack for a Heated Conversation at their next show, Sun., April 22 at Cellarmen's in Hazel Park. The lyrics would no doubt start a certifiably "heated" conversation, but because these songs initiate topics of conversations that are typically all-out-avoided if possible, the music, the insistent rhythms, the ferocious guitars, the frenetic time signatures, the fortissimo frenzy of each member in a harmony of rage, that energy is necessary. If no one else wants to talk about it, it's going to take W.O.M.B. to scream about it.

More info

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Shawn Butzin's Westbound Train

Shawn Butzin has a new song from his upcoming EP, Adventures, that's all about what it's like falling in love in a place like Michigan. It's a strummy, toe-tapping Americana-pop tune that's adorned with the accompaniment of a pedal-steel and a wheezy organ, the kind of stuff you'd anticipate in a country ballad. But let's also talk about how Butzin has a naturally brassy tenor embodying that same country-aesthetic.

But here we are, in Michigan, so far north that we can touch Canada, and so far east that we could hit Niagara Falls in a few hours, and yet this up-and-coming songwriter might strike you as something from Nashville, Southern Cali, or maybe Austin...and Butzin is bringing brio and panache to this embrace of the country-rock/Americana aesthetic. And now, after all that talk about being an eastern state, here's a song about heading west... The debut single from Butzin's EP.

...."runnin' from my daddy's ol' shotgun..." ♫.... "I needed beauty to escape the damage I've done..." 
Butzin's evokes that outlaw-on-the-run aesthetic and imbues it effectively with his poet-ly songwriter sincerity. Country tunes don't survey the same kind of laments or starkness as the blues might, but songs like Butzin's are still narrating a life that's encroached upon hardship stakes, only with this single, it's about a longing, a search, without a desination albeit, but sort of an escaping-kind-of-search toward that untold horizon, with a heart full of love, to get away from some none-too-sunny circumstances. And that energy, that escape, that adventure, is present in the propulsive rhythms, the restorative warmth of the back up choir's harmonies and those cathartic guitar expressions. 

Adventures is out May 31
You can see Butzin and the Buskers April 22nd @ PJs Lager House
with Ian Lee Lamb and the Whiskey Charmers

Sunday, April 15, 2018

The Good Things About Your Potential New GoverNerd

Ryan Henry Cox is a musician. He’s also a sports trainer, teacher, intermediate philosopher, tutor, and a father; he’s many things. But he’s also running for Governor of Michigan this year. I’ve written about Ryan in the past, regarding his band, the Good Things. The Good Things are/is just Cox, at least in the compositional/creation/recording stages. If and when (and emphasis on “if”) The Good Things ever perform, he assembles a capable crew of versatile musicians to help bring his clattery-but-charismatic “fractured pop” stories of melody and melodrama to life.

 In fact, while Ryan is busying himself with an ambitious run for the Governorship, he’s getting ready to release an epic, (and emphasis on epic) album called Defeats The Porpoise, an intricately realized serial-adventure style concept album pop opera imbued heavily with spaghetti western grit, compelling magical realism and polychromatic comic book whimsy…

That being said, I’m talking about an album of songs, but it is, as you’ll hear later on this summer, so much more. A fleet of unconventional or eccentric instruments, some of them underutilized in the “indie-rock” realms and some of them actually invented or fused together out of necessity, so it’ll wind up sounding like a sun-splashed baroque-pop album of chimes, strings, hums, croons and various other characterful intonations.

But about a month ago, I picked Ryan’s brain as he gets ready to dig in for four considerably intense months of his DIY campaign. As you can see by his poster, he has no intention to actually win or even make his way into pack with other frontrunners. For him, it’s about creating a unique kind of impact. Or sort of an inception, if you will…, a change of the narrative.

Do you know if this is going to be worth it?
I don’t know that it will be worth it. I only know that it COULD be worth it, and that is enough to try for…But you’re going to notice that some themes in Defeats The Porpoise connect directly to my campaign. The idea of taking something on that’s way bigger than you, out of concern for others, and not caring if I’m likely to ‘fail.’

I wonder if you chose to name your band “The Good Things” because you, as a candidate, have this drive to bridge disparate and entrenched factions and see “the good in everyone…”
I wear my brain on my sleeve, I guess…It’s not optimism—optimism can be easily deluded. I’m more of a realist. There is good in everyone. That isn’t optimistic, it’s real. I don’t need optimism to find good things. ‘What matters in the end’ is a guiding principal in my life, now. How will I feel about  myself based on my history, while living in my ‘death bed.’ If I were reading my biography, would I see myself as someone worth being, someone worth having in the world?

And things are still going alright, running as an Independent?
Of course! Running for a party would ‘defeat the porpoise…’ as it were…. But that is bittersweet. Because it’s kind of incredible how many people of how many different backgrounds have found me and are reaching out with their stories and worries…But, after starting this campaign, it’s much clearer to me now how badly our state wants to keep Independents out of office.

The laces are a bit double-knotted, in terms of parties entrenched against each other. You’re one voice entering a big room of two warring sides yelling at each other.
Yep, that’s why I shut up and listen, first and foremost. People tend to be more patient and their minds a bit more open when you carefully and courteously listen to them first, listen to them sincerely, and then respond. I can’t come out swinging, or people just hide behind party lines and assumptions. But even more fundamental to the system, our campaign laws are stacked against Independents, and promote candidates of the  major parites. I have no chance of winning in “traditional terms,” but I’ll still “win….” I already am winning, in a sense.

And we would presume to ask the Independent what their goal or end-game is, or whether they think they even have a chance, and if not, why bother….People might read a paragraph about you and make premature conclusions about you.
That’s politics in a nutshell. Try to change minds that are certain they won’t change in attempt to influence society. Entering politics at this level and standing apart from the parties has a sort of an emotionally masochistic aspect to it—I know I’ll mostly just get beat down and pushed around or ignored in all of this. But sacrifice is key to worthy achievements.

Is the goal to shift the collective mindset? Change the conversation? Open minds to the overlooked issues?
Definitely. But far from the main goal. That's more of a theme, I suppose. A politician better have some practical goals to pair with any conceptual/inspiration/general intentions. Anyone can say, "I stand with everyone. I stand for [insert anything and everything.]" But that doesn’t mean anything if they can't tell you the solution that they are standing behind.

How do you approach the beast of cynicism? The presupposition that every politician wants something to gain with the job
My slogan is "Don't Vote for Ryan Cox"… Kind of knocks presuppositions off balance. And the question I ask most is, "What do you think we should do?" Then I shut up and listen again. That usually sets up a pretty level playing field for a deeper, friendlier, and more productive conversation.

Do you feel a kinship with the wave of ...for lack of any other word...progressive... candidates that we've seen rise in a post Bernie/Trump era?  I'm thinking of the percentage of women, persons of color and even Trans candidates coming to the fore….did it spring from that, similarly, for you? This calling? This cultural moment? This imperative, of sorts
Yes, but not because they are progressive...The kinship comes from their willingness to accept the (often incredibly ironic) challenges that come with trying to help others who are suspicious of your intentions; the willingness to be insulted and despised in order to help those same people. To be honest, I am quite miserable much of the time during this campaign. This is emotionally tumultuous, isolating and lonely, straining mentally and physically, stretching my intelligence and waking hours to my limits.

Seeing others take the same stand knowing they cannot "win" but still may do great things to better the lives of others...yeah, there is kinship there? Or what about just breaking down a platform? You’ll often see candidates whittle their platform down to a catchy motto… But it never suggests why they’re running. Why are you running?
I'm running because I don't feel I am doing enough to achieve my life goals. If you know me personally, you know that I've been making massive strides to improve all aspects that I think are subpar in myself in order to achieve my most desired goals. One of those is to dedicate my life to helping others and leaving the world in a better state than I came into it. Yes, trying to engage with people at differing interest levels, differing perspectives, and differing attention spans has been tricky!

You’ve got a website up….
Yes, and you can see that all of my Policy Reports are written in 3 ways:
1. a simple breakdown at the top of the page of the basic concepts and suggested solutions regarding an issue or issue set (for those who just want a quick overview of that platform perspective and for those who are interested enough to stop at the website, but not about to read a 5 page report!)
2. A more substantial summarization section that brings up more explanations, solutions, and context
3. A full report on a legislative idea with sources and comprehensive explanations (this is more for journalists, political researchers, nerds like myself, other politicians to steal, etc)
And each one has a catch phrase….

You can find out more about Ryan Henry Cox’s run for Governor of Michigan HERE
Follow The Good Things on Facebook, here.