Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Mittenfest X (uncut)

“…I remember one Mittenfest at the Elbow Room, finding someone’s birthday cake in the backstage area, and reflexively grabbing it and trying to smash it into Greg (McIntosh)’s face. Pretty soon, there was cake flying every which way and cake-covered ElBros also flying everywhere. I still have a photo of myself tackling Ryan Spencer (of Jamaican Queens), covered in blue cake. I didn’t even really know him, then. If that doesn’t say “Community,” I don’t know what does…” –Matt Jones, Mittenfest Memories

This might be the first you’ve heard of Mittenfest. If so, then, well, it’s an exciting five-day-long music festival that raises funds for 826 Michigan’s educational endeavors with local students, primarily tutoring expository writing skills along with an awesome overall encouragement of their creative expression (through short stories, poetry, and even songwriting). But, as some of you already know, this is the tenth Mittenfest, which has always been hosted around the holidays, just as the New Year dawns. 


Mittenfest, which features several unique Michigan-based bands per night Bona Sera in Ypsilanti (Dec 29-Jan 2), always manifests as something more than a big benefit concert and more like a second Thanksgiving (with a little more whiskey), where the music scene’s myriad members convene as a family typically would, only around a stage (instead of a fireplace), and raise a cup or a can in tribute to this rich, wide-ranging and overall resplendent foundation of local talent that can sometimes be more closely-knit than we realize.

Do I sound sentimental? You bet your artsy scarf, I’m sentimental! Mittenfest in general, and it’s cause (supporting 826Michigan’s vital work), always evoke all the feels. In fact, it’s surreal in a way, because it seems like Mittenfest has been here for 15 years, not just 10…hell, feels even longer. Because once something happens at Mittenfest, be it a poignant “whiskey toast” that quiets the room with goosebumps, or someone riding a motorcycle into a venue, maybe a reunion for the Great Lakes Myth Society, “pint-glass baseball” or just a rousing midnight round of Auld Lang Syne from Chris Bathgate, it all becomes as nostalgically cemented in the collective memory of those in attendance as though it were Jimmy frickin Stewart winking up at to Clarence as the bells ring. Yes…sorry…sentimental.

In honor of ten years, the opening night of year 10 will mirror the lineup of year 1, with Frontier Ruckus, Misty Lyn Bergeron, Matt Jones, Fred Thomas and more.

I spent my Halloween contacting several past performers and the current group of volunteers and 826 staffers organizing this year’s event, so I’m going to let them take it from here…

photo by Erik Granning

The Fest
Chris Batghate (Singer/songwriter/frequent Mittenfest-performer):
Mittenfest accomplishes something I consider miraculous. It marries my love of music and performance with something bigger. It splices communities together. It provides me with an opportunity to use music to do something other than just get friends in the front row. Mittenfest creates its own holiday tradition of supporting the arts and the development of youth, and engaging with amazing local music. 

Timothy Monger (Singer/songwriter/ frequent Mittenfest-performer): The solidarity of getting to pal around with friends who have traveled from all over to couch surf and feast from a king-sized menu of quality music over five wild days is a unique and weird gift. The Great Lakes Myth Society sets we’ve played at Mittenfest have been among the highlights of my career. 

Dina Bankole (Mittenfest co-organizer / Local musician): Last year was my first year in the planning committee and I knew I wanted to help book Mittenfest again as soon as last year’s ended. I definitely brought my “fest philosophy” from the planning of (the first two Best Friends Forever Fests in Detroit), like always keeping an eye toward diversity, mixing old and new…so I was really excited and ready to join the MIttenfest team. I think my first Mittenfest I played was at the Elbow Room with Secret Twins and we always had a blast. It was always an honor to be invited. 

Linda Jordan (Mittenfest co-organizer): I’ve been to every Mittenfest except one. I’m from Michigan, currently in Detroit, but I lived in New York for several years. I always came home for the holidays and Mittenfest served as an annual reunion; it kept me connected to my favorite musicians and dearest friends. I got involved because Mittenfest highlights the very best of the Michigan music scene, and I have always been inspired by the community’s willingness to come together and volunteer for a good cause.

Matthew Milia (Frontier Ruckus singer/songwriter/ frequent Mittenfest-performer): We were honored to be asked to headline the first night of this 10th anniversary. It’s a celebration of what I feel must be one of the most special music scenes in the country: this trans-Michigan network of diverse yt likeminded artists and a rare spirit of good-natured connectedness that has forged over so many years and through so many bands’ lifespans.

Matt Jones (Singer/songwriter/consistent performer): I’ve played every one and the strange thing is that while I can remember all the antics happening off stage, I can rarely remember anything that actually happened on stage. Off stage is the best part…. and then the after parties. Or, the dawn trips to Abe's, all washed out and exhausted, waking up in the morning with an entire bottle of hair gel (also a backstage find) in your hair, and having to go to your band rehearsal like that- hair rock-solid. Or… breaking the house drums every year without fail...and of course, as always, the bands...But,more importantly and way more exciting that any one song or any one bunch of Jameson-fueled musicians on stage: it’s the people WATCHING the bands: watching people enjoy live music; that’s better than any set you could ever play…

The Perseverance
Bankole: Mittenfests hosted at Woodruffs, though, was the best; kind of like the defining era for me. All of the love in that room! Mittenfest, and even Ypsi/Ann Arbor’s music scene, hasn’t been the same since (Woodruff’s) shut down. I think it can be said that there are noticeably fewer bands in the Ypsi/Arbor area now and I think the loss of local venues isn’t helping…though, groups like Ypsi Music Guild and Crossroads are fighting the good fight. 

Jeremy Peters (Mittenfest co-organizer/Ghostly Intl’s Director of Creative Licensing & Business Affairs): Leaving Yps was tough, with the closure of such an important venue in Woodruffs. But, it was nice to engage with the Ann Arbor crowd a bit more, that being said, I’m excited that Bona Sera has welcomed us with open arms for this coming year.

Bankole: More bands from Detroit played last year because I think Detroit bands, like Double Winter, Deadly Viper, Little Animal, Prude Boys, Bloodstone, Tunde Olaniran…were having a moment and they wanted an opportunity to play in this area which still isn’t easily achievable. This year, I’m looking forward to the recreation of Mittenfest # 1 on first night of the fest.

Jordan: Booking the bands takes up the bulk of our work, followed by logistical concerns. (Peters, Bankole, Pierce) and I are all volunteers, so finding all the time can be challenging, but we make it work. I’m extremely excited that Mittenfest X is coming back to Ypsilanti at Bona Sera. Ypsilanti has hosted the majority of the festivities over the years, and the community has always been very involved. The mayor has attended the festivities in the past and local businesses, like Beezy’s CafĂ©, gear up for the event and find creative ways to contribute.  

Read all about it....in this month's CURRENT (photo by Doug Coombe)

The Cause 
Brandan Pierce (826Michigan’s Detroit-based program coordinator): I started volunteering with 826Michigan four years ago and had an amazing time working with students. The interactions I've had with students, helping them unleash creativity they didn't think they had, has been the most rewarding aspect of this work. When a student suggests "Maybe the world is taken over by unicorns?" and they hear an adult get SUPER excited about that idea, you can watch a student transform into a well-oiled generator of imagination. When my band, Pity sex, performed last year it was a special moment because it combined the two passions I have in life into a highly impactful moment. 

Graham Parsons (singer/songwriter for The Go Rounds): The cause…is what really draws me to want to participate, now. 826Michigan is a tangible, active and important organization and I think raising money for educational efforts through music is undeniably positive. 

Peters: It is amazing that we’ve raised more than $115,000 to date. That goes a long way to helping students learn that writing doesn’t have to be something you have to bear, it can be fun. It’s been a long haul; I’ve been to every single one and helped with eight of them. I’m excited to see how this event changes and interfaces with the music community in this state, going forward
Parsons: Music, and its communities, are immensely powerful entities and I love to see that power channeled into something outside itself, creating ripples that extend beyond the egotism and sallow boxes we call ‘music venues.’ Mittenfest seems to be a truly joyous affair; a reunion, something bigger and more impactful than itself and its parts. 

Pierce: 826Michigan is expanding so much right now. We’re in our third year of programs in Detroit, and we are getting new requests from teachers and programmers for assistance, constantly. We’re hosting after school tutoring programs four days a week in Ypsilanti & Ann Arbor, along with field trips and tones of other creative writing opportunities for students. We serve over 3,000 students annually! This festival has been a financial asset as much as it’s helped spread the word and gets more people involved. We need help designing chapbooks, assembling robots, putting stickers on envelopes even… If even one person comes to one night of MIttenfest and starts volunteering after, I’ll be ecstatic. Also, the true artistry of Fred Thomas will be mesmerizing, I’m sure. 

Fred Thomas (singer/songwriter/frequent Mittenfest performer): The work that the organizers do in conjunction with the 826-staff is tireless and seems to crest annually with Mittenfest. I’m happy to be playing this one, just as I was to play the first one! It’s interesting to look at the longetivity of Michigan’s independent music celebrations, isn’t it? 

Jordan: I think the work (of 826Michigan)is invaluable, especially given the deficiencies in our public education system. 826Michigan provides kids in Southeast Michigan an opportunity to be creative and develop their writing skills. 

Amanda Uhle (826Michigan Executive Director):  Much has changed in ten years, but we’re still offering young people unique opportunities to grow, learn, and create with help from caring adult volunteers. We continue to be committed to helping students succeed in school and in life by way of tutoring, writing workshops, and publishing opportunities.

The magic
Bathgate: Most of my fondest memories are the moments when I felt lost in the music, standing in the audience. (Mittenfest) provides an incredible environment; there’s always an undeniable magic in the air. Through the combination of cause, dedicated volunteers, motivated performance and enthusiastic crowd…, there’s a camaraderie that seems to ooze out of the walls. The audience is in a consistently giving state, there’s a distinct positive exchange between the crowd and performers, and there’s a mutual feeling of merriment and support. 

Milia: During Mittenfest, it’s as though every Michigan town from Ypsi to grand Rapids to Houghton to Lansing and back all occupy one unified, timeless space of heightened community.

This magic will be conjured again, starting December 29th.
Mittenfest X: Featuring Frontier Ruckus, Fred Thomas and much much more! Hosted Dec 29 through Jan 2 at Bona Sera (200 W. Michigan Ave, Ypsilanti) starting at 7pm each night. For more info, visit 826Michigan.org, and find the full lineup at mittenfest.org

Shady Groves

The bandwagon's idling at the station....this is your chance to hop on...

Shady Groves are a pretty much brand-new band here in Detroit. Their debut single just came out this morning.

The trio have a full-length album called Bitzer coming out in early 2016, but if you start following their soundcloud, you'll probably get a couple more singles streamed as previews throughout the forthcoming winter. Harmony-heavy, vocal-centric, ukulele-utilizing folk-pop, with tones as smooth as honey and cooing guitars (sounds like slide-guitar, almost) shearing in softly like the morning's first sunrays, but really, this is like anytime-o'-day music, kinda laid back and exquisite in its own way, affecting that traditional folk singer's furrowed and world-weary timbre yet not exactly tranquil (particularly with the lithe word-tumblings building up to that bridge).

This music feels like that certain invigorating ascension you might feel halfway through the hike, near the top of the hill, when you're feeling enthused and assured cuz you see that light through the clearing... Could stuff to stave off winter blues, I'll say...

Stay tuned. 

Sunday, November 29, 2015

This Week in Ann Arbor: Flint Eastwood, The Landmarks, Human Skull and More

Are you over Thanksgiving, yet? Are you already worn down by the Holiday histrionics? Maybe a good a concert…no, a great concert…could help ease your exasperation.

Flint Eastwood

This is the epic, life-affirming, genre-splicing pop project of singer/songwriter Jax Anderson. The band has been evolving over the last five years, starting from a souped-up dance rock and blending elements of cinematic spaghetti westerns in with straight up synth-pop balladry. Their latest, Small Victories, was produced in a repurposed Church under the shadow of the formerly ghostly Michigan Central Station. The songs are as invigorating and empowering as they are tear-jerking; Anderson wrote these potent and poignant lyrics after her mother, her greatest supporter and fan, passed away in 2013. With the production of her brother Seth, a maestro in the realm of hip-hop/electronica, they created a record of propulsive pop jams that can be heavy and reflective, but also just pure fun. I can attest from very recent experience, the live presentation of these songs is just as moving as the record.

You also get to see Ypsi’ own The Landmarks (who just released their own record, before Thanksgiving). Let’s listen to one of their latest tracks:

December 3 
Blind Pig (208 S. 1st St)
8 pm / $12
ft. The Landmarks / Valley Hush / Air is the Arche


Human Skull & Spelling with Ritual Howls

I know a band named Human Skull suggests something brutal, something metal. It’s not really that, though I would say that they approach their songs with impressive intensity. Imagine more of a Minutemen-esque punk, guitar-centric without going too full bore into surfy terrain yet also avoiding indulgent J. Mascis soloing. There’s subtle shades of twang and a bit of surfy froth going on but not entirely psyche-rock. I know I’ve been extremely coy with the description of their music, but if anything I’ve said triggered any catapults of nostalgia in your brain, then I encourage you to check out Human Skull, they’ll seem eerily familiar, eerily intense, and really not at all that eerie. Just awesome.

Spelling, meanwhile, will also defy genre categorization; a minimalist avant-folk duo with guitars and sparse electronic and acoustic percussion. Ritual Howls, meanwhile, come from Detroit with a mutated reformation of industrial, no-wave, dark-as-hell post punk and caustic electronica… I assure you, it will be a groovy evening. DJ Charles Trees will be spinning between sets, joined by DJ Dick Jones (of Loose Joints) and DJ Ryan Spencer (of Jamaican Queens).
Human Skull

Ritual Howls

Friday, Dec 4
Arbor Vitae (336 State St)
9:30 pm / $5
Ritual Howls / Human Skull / Spelling

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

New Music: Beekeepers / Deadbeat Beat

Beekeepers II Album Release Party
Saturday, Nov 27
Kelly’s Bar (2403 Holbrook St, Hamtramck)
featuring Deadbeat Beatand Sros Lords$5

First, some thoughts on the Beekeepers latest: Beekeepers II
“What are these thoughts? Where are they coming from…?”

That saxophone comes in with that organ and I’m already feeling haunted. Nightmare jazz a-go-go and circus rock groove… The Beekeepers II

I’ve said it aloud, once or twice, that I relish the opportunity to write about the Beekeepers music.
The local quintet has been conjuring sublime pop storms and a strange breed of punk-twisted Tin Pan Alley standards for more than seven years now. Now, it’s typically not a fun task to attempt “writing about music” because it’s not only a futile effort to elucidate, in words, just how an instrument, whether keys, drums or strings, can swell in such a way with its eerily bent tone to match the more honeyed hum of a human’s voice… Or, worse, the music you are trying to write about lacks depth or liveliness…

Not with the Beekeepers, however. Depth? It’s a never ending rabbit hole, a never ending, ever-winding swirly slide…Liveliness? The Beekeepers evoke a sense of disorientation akin to stumbling onto the stage in the middle of an off-Broadway musical, a basement production lit by strobe lights with backdrops redolent with fresh latex paint, and you’re dodging elaborate cardboard set pieces and actors dressed as trucks pantomiming motorboat-sounding engine noises… At least, that’s what I see when I hear this  music…

If I haven’t yet gotten the point across, the Beekeepers spark a stimulating strangeness; the imagination of this music is marvelous…with meandering lyrics teasing and tip-toeing around rambling saxophones and shuffling jazz percussions, a spacey, soulful organ and a guttural punk guitar. The melodies match the melodrama and gravitas of supernatural operas and Tolkien-esque odes. Danny Elfman and Tangerine Dream and Low might each love a song like “Distant Lands,” while Mark E. Smith and Ornette Coleman and Mark Mothersbaugh would love a song like “Normal Dressed Man.”

There’s theatricality in each note, be it the wobbling wail of the organ, the excitable mustering of those drum fills, or the dynamic emoting of those vocals. And the time signatures shift whenever they damn well please; from a steady shuffling beat, to a sharply hooked refrain, to an inebriated-sounding slithery spill…. And then you have a song like “Billboards,” with its free-for-all bridge, inviting each player to improvise whatever kind of mischievous noise they can meld onto the piece.

But then there are true ballads here, too… like “Evil Is Real,” a poignant and unsettling show-stopper with a vocal delivery that almost demands a single spotlight for that vital 3rd Act Opener… Is this a musical? The pianos settle like dust after an explosion, the bass groans like a toad and the drums are so mindful of when to patter and when to pummel… Is this the soundtrack to a hallucinogenic dream you’ve been trying to piece back together?

Wait… Is that a hip-hop beat on the closing track? Is he actually just singing about gum that got stuck to his carpet? WHO…? WHO ARE the Beekeepers?

And why do they keep making music that drives me delightfully delirious?

Listen: http://bzzbzbzzzbzz.bandcamp.com/


And then some thoughts on Deadbeat Beat’s latest: Only Time Will Tell

“Everybody’s….everything’s happening fast / and everybody’s talking loud…”

Alex Glendenning and Maria Nuccilli started making some indie-tinged power-pop together way back in 2007 as The Decks. And it probably embarrasses them for me to bring that up, since they’re demonstrating a lot of progression (and mastery of a delicate discordance) with Deadbeat Beat…But the roots that they laid down with The Decks, a swaggering kind of Kinksian tear into garage and bubblegum pop with a bit of noise-pop and surf-boogie, have blossomed with the thorny sweetness of Only Time Will Tell. It’s way too easy and reductive to call this punk/pop since there’s something a bit more subtly psychedelic going on in tracks like “When I Talk 2 U” and something more groovier and grungey going on in a song like “I Wonder.”

Are there earwormy bah-dah-daahs and swirly-slide guitar riffs? Are there splendid harmonies and strutting beats…? Yes…so call it pop, sure. Are there sheets of dissonance and a broken radiator-esque hum of feedback? Are there backhanded barbs and unsparingly graphic scene setters in the lyrics even as they shimmy along a half-pipe slaloming melody? Yes…so you can hear that punk element coming through. Ya know… maybe we should just listen to “I Don’t Wanna…”

I know Maria doesn’t have any vocals here, but I still think it’s her most dynamic drum part… And there’s confidence as much as there’s catharsis in Alex’s voice…Not to mention the stellar guitar solo at the 1:07 mark… But there’s always a growl underneath the grin.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Dear Darkness - 12/5 - Be Nice Honey

Dear Darkness
Album Release Show ~ December 5
PJs Lager House
(1254 Michigan Ave)
w/ Mountains and Rainbows
& Sex Police 

Honey, Be Nice 

Dear Darkness has such a splendid snarl to it... The local duo features Stacey MacLeod on guitar/vocals and Samantha Linn on drums. It's a steady-tempo'ed punk, not the speedy throttled stuff you might expect, yet equally as venomous; indulging in minor key murk and raw guitar churns, foot-stomp, snare-punch drums and empowering/cathartic sing/scream exertions that trill over the riffs.

But it isn't all minimalist thwomp and headbangability; the duo experiment with some graceful time-signature switch-ups and vocal acrobatics on the opening "Pale Blue Ribbons" and showcase some of their sweetest melodies during the opening verses of the bittersweetly barbed "Hey, Mister" You'll find similar-ish ingredients from forebears like Bikini Kill, Royal Trux, or maybe even some hints of Siousxie-esque new wave with a mean left hook packing brass knuckles. I know the word "extreme" was getting thrown around a lot in soda commercials and skater vernaculars during the early 90's, but it occurs to me that, with a subdued elegance beneath the coarser punk veneer, MacLeod and Linn are exploring the extremes of whats capable with just the guitar, the human voice and a couple of drums and drum sticks... Gnarly, yet pretty. Demolishing, yet delicate... That's the blend... Dear...and Darkness. 

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Barter Boys - Doc Waffles x Goldzilla


Just when I thought I'd nearly had my year-end list of local albums completed, tallied and typed up...

Doc Waffles and Kwe (Goldzilla) come and up and heave my whole system off the desk, open the windows and turn up the stereo and start haggling me for a trade, a typewriter for a Hawaiian shirt... or pawning off a pair of white tigers, like what am I gonna do with those?

But these guys, they're just Warhol-enough to win me over with their sophisto-snark satires and pop-art articulations.

I've been waiting for Goldzilla to get another batch of raps out for a couple years; dude really spun my head with that album he put out with his DJ SomeKid (Paul Wilson). Every time I ran into him at a rap show, he'd remind me that he was still writing lyrics...but....strangely...whenever we started shooting the shit, the convo would always coast toward the subject of Doc Waffles...with the talented young lyricist intoning that it was Waffles who was his biggest inspiration...

...now...they're powers combined! With production by Jaws That Bite, Eddie Logix, Sheefy McFly, Pastel Arsenal, and Crate Digga.

Goldzilla x Doc Waffles bring you Barter Boys...an evolution for both of these quirky hip-hop commentators, fusing their unique sensibilities for dense verbiage suturing scenes of suburban ennui and pop-culture's disconcerting hollowing-out...along with indictments of idolatry for long-gone/half-forgotten basketball stars, moment-of-clarity-esque ruminations wrought between anti-climactic parties and underwhelming space explorations, splicing of self-referential mythologies mingling local icons like James Linck or anthems about Broncos with dome lights running all the time...

Indeed. Each rapper gets a couple of singular tracks to strut their surrealist stuff. Doc Waffles nearly breaks the mystical weirdo wonderland mold when he goes on his rant during "Rites of the Honey Vapor Princess..." Goldzilla, meanwhile, kills it on the punchy, swaggery "Da Vinci Code..." (wherein J. Walker illuminates us upon the versatile compatibility of tortillas).

That said, we should draw attention to the aural atmospherics melded by this supergroup of producers, embracing some fresh flairs of dark new-wave glam and spacey krautrock crypticism during the middle sections of this record with those eerie synthesizers and sparse percussion. Per usual (and, again, with an even more refined intricacy,) Doc and Kwesi are shrewdly cinching re-looped thematic lyrics and recurring locales to create an interlocking universe of imagery, iconography and lore.

"Illuminati Snacks?" "boats to ice-cream island...?" "...interesting spoofy commercials with satisfied customer testimonials?"

"Pass the jug... Barter Town / every single day is a holiday..."


The wordplay on "Look Who's Bartertown 2" alone.......

Monday, November 16, 2015

Echo Fest VI - Saturday

Limited 3D posters available at ECHO FEST VI
When I first interviewed Sisters Of Your Sunshine Vapor seven years ago, they admitted feeling a bit outside of "...the scene." At that point, things like pop, hip-hop and garage-rock had a bit more magnetism because those are inherently more popped-and-kicking kinda music.

The Sisters were making something more psychedelic, sludgier, dissonant. It wasn't shoegaze, but it wasn't blues...it wasn't druggy metal and it wasn't dream-pop... It was somewhere in a nebulous middle-ground. Seven years later, they've found a burgeoning batch of bands subscribing to the same mindset of defying genre-boundaries. And, seven years later, they're now celebrating the sixth occasion of gathering these bands in one room and under one roof for ECHO FEST. The 6th installment of this local music festival is this Saturday in Ferndale.

The lineup of bands each demonstrate unique sensibilities for applying decorous effects (echo, delay, reverb, distortion, fuzz...) to their sublime and evocative blends of guitar-based adventurism. So, what began as a means of making their own "scene," has blossomed into a new community of bands and fans... 

Check it out.... attendees are promised 3D visuals, fuzzed out guitars, and "...so much delay that time travel may become possible..."


Saturday -- The Loving Touch -- (22634 Woodward, Ferndale), 5:30 pm / $12

--- Red Stage ---
12am - Sisters of Your Sunshine Vapor
11pm - Heaven's Gateway Drugs
10pm - Electric Retro Spectrum
9pm - Killer Moon
8pm - 800Beloved
7pm - Isles of ESP
6pm - Senna Rise
---Blue Stage ---
12:45am - Mexican Knives
11:30pm - Heaters
10:30pm - Moonwalks
9:30pm - Oblisk
8:30pm - Friends of Dennis Wilson
7:30pm - Duende!
6:30pm - The Red Plastic Buddha
Live 3D visuals by Waynewoodward

Monday, November 9, 2015

Flint Eastwood - Small Victories Release Show

Did I tell you that I started hosting my own Talk Show? It's called the Milo Show and I recently had Jax Anderson on as a guest, talking about Flint Eastwood's upcoming EP Release Show for their latest, Small Victories. 

Flint Eastwood's latest can be streamed here...
And the release party is this Saturday -hosted by Assemble Sound 

Click HERE for more Milo Show

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Duendesday w/ The Oscillating Fan Club, Carjack, Los Sueltos & Duende

So I've been involved and implicated, supportive and sympathetic, inspired and encouraged  in/to/by  this music scene...for more than a decade...

If my presumably exciting life as some subtle scenester, as a 21st century music journalist, were a movie... then the opening credits sequence would be happening at the nightclub once known as Mephistos, on Florian in Hamtramck. We'd be upstairs, the third floor of this house retrofitted into a dance club...and Carjack would be opening for The Oscillating Fan Club...

That was ten years ago. It was almost nine years ago, now, that Duende played their first show. And, while it's at this point in the blog post that I treacherously tip-toe near the frothy tides of nostalgia, I'd rather remark upon the unique opportunity we have, tonight..., to experience, observe, enjoy... the respective evolutions of these three bands, Carjack, Oscillating Fan Club & Duende. That, or you'll at least be able to feel the resonance of ten years' worth of musical friendship, conveyed in loud, fast, boisterous song form... This concert, just as it was 10 years prior, has Duende drummer Laura (The Boom) Willem's birthday party at the center of it... And, original OFC drummer Robin Veresh has returned to do the graphic design for the show poster.

If you're nearabouts Ferndale, it's Duendseday tonight...& this could just be the show of the month! Los Sueltos will be opening up and it's free admission.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Small Victories by Flint Eastwood

I know “album reviews” are irrelevant to a streaming culture, but we gotta talk about this new Flint Eastwood E.P.

Small Victories sticks a tricky landing with unfound poise; sweeps its toe across an otherwise all too easily muddled line and backflips onto the balls of its feet, let’s talk about sincerity and message-music and let’s also talk about potent pop production and invigorating mixes of triumphal tones. Let’s talk about toeing that line: celebratory yet sobering…, anthemic door kickers and soul-pumping striders yet also with these poignant, heart-on-the-sleeve asides and vital impartations of guidance, encouragement, commiseration and sincere wisdom, which, honestly, must feel, to this generation, like the wrung-out droplets of fresh, revitalizing springrain after a season of Internet acid.

More than five years ago, when I first heard about Flint Eastwood, it was a brother-sister pair, the songwriter & performer Jax and the producer & musical mad scientist Seth. They called themselves POWER, initially… And it’s always been about that, hasn’t it? Empowerment. The wary & thoughtful & contemplative pop song that invites you to lose yourself in that dancing-like-no-ones-watching-fit that you’ve fallen into and yet bends your ear open to those confessional, relatable lyrics…the lyrics of a folk ballad but the energy of a ceiling-shaking dance-pop powder keg.

Flint Eastwood’s latest EP, Small Victories, started streaming earlier this week but it’s officially available on iTunes FRIDAY.

We’ve heard music that’s about excess, we’ve heard music that’s about telling everyone to go fuck themselves…we’ve heard music that’s about self-celebration, but this is not quite that… And we’ve heard the tragically tender and the hauntingly beautiful stuff of the 90’s and the cynical strychnine indie-rock contrivances that pocked up the post-Millennia and this stuff…Flint’s stuff…Jax’s songs…obliterates that, obliterates cynicism, obliterates any self-consciousness over being to sincere. And after it does that, then it starts to stir you to dance.

So, I just thought we should talk about all that…

And then, the actual tracks: “Find What You’re Looking For” is marvelously produced, multi-tracked vocals jetting this goosebump-bursting harmony over a subtly explosive, stop-start drum pattern hitting with primal energy; the guitars start to sizzle through the second verse and fresh percussion starts overlaying the original drum hits leading up to the bridge. This song displays a keen sense that prevails throughout the EP, a sense for stripping it all back, for giving silence vibrancy and using it to augment the breathy voice, the solitary singer, backlighting her words, almost. The poignancy punches even harder, at these points.

And the harsh fuzz around those synth keys striking at the opening of “Glitches…” The sledge slam of the drums and the tension of those bass lines… They represent the noise and anxiety of the every day, the commotion of the big media machines and the whirlwind of the cars and neon lights and billboards and oh did you see about that thing on Twitter? Glitches… And yet, “I will stay with you… I will follow you…” Through the glitches, through the distortion, through the disorientation of the senses through all the dangers real and perceived, live-threatening and self-inducing… This song might have one of the heaviest messages and thus it fittingly has the most measured tempo, a slow jam, really…in the form of a throttling electro-rock gospel thrum.

 “Oblivious” opens with spaghetti-western style guitar and it harkens back to Late Nights In Bolo Ties, while Jax’s lyrics bring the dividing line between the digital and the natural worlds into stark relief, shaking you out of your complacency. With “Monster,” we need to reiterate the production’s sensibility for accentuated sparseness, with that buoyant-yet-barely-there-bass blip like a groovy heartbeat. With “God Only Knows,” we can hear the influence upon the Anderson “syblings” from having being raised in a religious household and producing their music inside churches…because it begins like a hymnal, only to metamorphose into what might be the most kinetic pop track on the whole E.P., with a percussive & synth hook that all but cartwheels into jumping-jack exuberance. And yet…those heavy lyrics…unloaded:

“This year, got a new perspective / this year, things are gonna change / I wanna talk about it / when they say: How ya been? / Where to begin? / God only knows…” Refraining… “…that I’ll be alright / I’ll be just fine.”

Sometimes you just have to unload, unpack, unwind, get it out, get it off your heart, your head… But take those heavy sentiments, those frustrations, those observations, sculpt it to the unique architecture of an electro-pop aria…

From title track,“Small Victories…” 
“Me and my friends / we forecast dreams that just aren’t clear…”

….but one day you will find a way…just don’t lose your head. For now, and for the foreseeable future, until you get there…wherever it is, …you’ve got to rely on small victories… (In that way, as the song surges, you’re “…a champion…”)

Now, who wouldn’t feel consoled, enthused, rejuvenated, after hearing that kind of advice, set to an irresistible beat?  That’s a rhetorical question, obviously, because the cynics feel we don’t need album reviews. But I thought we should just talk about Small Victories for a second… Enjoy listening…


Monday, October 19, 2015

Midwest Fest VIII

Midwest Fest returns this week, hosted at Hunter's Ale House in Mt. Pleasant, MI

We see festivals, miniature, medium and massive..., all throughout the Detroit, Ypsi and Ann Arbor regions throughout the year, but this Fest reaches its web strands out to every corner of the Mitten (I'm aware there's no corners to a mitten-shape) and beyond, to northwestern IL or throughout Ohio, and brings them all toward a central location in the name of celebrating the great music of the Great Lakes.

There are 15 bands on the bill, with five performing each night throughout the weekend ($5/night - $10/weekend).

Big Sherb
Lady Ace Boogie
Gosh Pith
Pleasant Drive

Elliot Street Lunatic
The Cardboard Swords 
Heavy Color

The Go Rounds
Walsher Clemons
Luxurious Vegetation
Strawberry Heritage
the Mudpuppys 

More info 

And... a new music video from one of the three headliners
The Go Rounds

The Go Rounds - Shock n Awe from Symmetry Films on Vimeo.

Wanna read more about the Go Rounds? 

Wanna learn more about Midwest Fest?